The Women Who Loved Us

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
 
 

There's a lot of stuff written about submarines… The men, the ships, the schools, the equipment, units, piers, locations, bars, hookers, and God knows what else. But, we don't say a helluva lot about those wonderful women who loved us. Believe me, loving a damn diesel boat sailor took one CrackerJack woman… They were, and will always remain among God's most endearingly wonderful creations.

As a linehandler, I was always topside when we came into Pier 22. It could be 0200 in a damn hailstorm and they would be there… Snow… Rain… Hell, rattlesnakes could have been falling from the sky and they would have been there waiting for what? An unshaven, stinking, raggedy-ass idiot, hauling a sack of laundry, reeking of the inside of a seagoing submersible zoo.

They actually couldn't wait to get their arms around the smelly idiots that belched forth from the iron monster just tethered to the pier or bouncing tank tops with some other iron monster moored in the nest.

Hey, you lucky bastards sit back and close your eyes… Think back. Remember the days when the lady out there doing the dinner dishes before she goes upstairs to iron the shirt you'll wear to work tomorrow, was 24? Remember that? Back when you two lived on E-4 pay with sub, sea and foreign duty pay?

In those days, she met you with two-year-old Patrick on her hip, wearing a J.C. Penny sale sundress and a smile that needed yard markers.

Later, when you were sucking snorkel air for a living, she attended parent teacher conferences, school plays, PTA spaghetti dinners, little league games, scout awards banquets and dental appointments without your help. She sat in the emergency room at the Norfolk Naval Hospital and in the principal's office, times when it would have been really great to have you around.

They were saints. Saints who didn't exactly get prize packages. I mean, think back… Marrying a guy who spent most of his time plowing invisible holes in the ocean, wasn't such a great deal. Living on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until payday… Knitted Christmas gifts… Dropping a busted TV off at the Salvation Army simply because repairs couldn't be fitted in the family budget. Hand me down kid's clothes… Home permanents in lieu of trips to the beauty shop.

Horsefly, do you have any idea what a lucky bastard you are? Do you have any idea how rare it is for a woman to put up with crap like that?

Yes, we were loved by some very special ladies. The 'Welcome home, sailor' with arms around your neck kind. Hell, the way you smelled and looked, you couldn't have paid somebody who didn't love you, to do that.

Remember duty nights when they passed the word, "Lady visitors aboard" and the Duty Officer sent the Below Decks Watch on a Paul Revere run through the boat whispering,

"Murphy's bride is in the Crew's Mess watching the movie. Watch your gahdam language and if you pass through the compartment don't pat the actresses on the screen, on the ass."

Remember laying in your rack in the Alley and getting a whiff of some 'catch me, rape me' perfume, when some tender young thing dropped down into the boat? One whiff of that perfume and you were rooting through your sidelocker for a set of whites and heading up to Bells.

They actually ordered see through ooh-la-la baby doll nighties they wouldn't have been caught dead in under any other circumstances, to welcome you home.

Submarine sailors are not known for their sensitivity when it comes to selecting cohabitational locations. Pier head parking lot… Kroger's food store parking lot… Driveway at vacationing pal's house… Front seat or back seat, didn't matter. One returning sailor used to toss two dollars worth of nickels in the backyard to keep his kids occupied. Another first class once took his teenage daughter to the movies to see 'Gone with the Wind' and then after a raging ten minutes of cohabitational bliss, he and his dear sweet bride fell asleep… And little Trixie watched the whole damn thing twice, because the folks running the theater who knew the family, didn't want her standing out in the rain.

I once saw this TV program about nuke sailors whose wives put perfumed panties in sealed plastic baggies for sailors to tuck under their pillows to remember them by.

You have any idea what that would have caused on a smokeboat? Nocturnal fantasy dreams would have had the place hopping around like fresh-caught fish in the bottom of an aluminum canoe.

They were ours. They will always be ours. Every damn submarine base should have a memorial tribute to the smokeboat sailors' bride… Say, a stature of a beautiful girl in a Robert Hall bargain basement fashion, holding the hand of a grinning bluejacket in acid-eaten dungarees and a frayed white hat.

Ladies, this is for you. God bless you and all you represent. You and you alone made a contribution to this nation's winning of the Cold War only you could have given. It was recognized by every boatsailor who ever stood topside when his boat put her lines over and saw the kind of smile true love puts on a patriotically-inspired, loyal woman's face.

Those of us, not married at the time, learned lessons in what truly counts in a marriage from watching these amazingly wonderful ladies.

Well here's to you ladies. There was no more important part of submarining than being your friend… And being asked home for a home-cooked meal.

Your life was not easy, in fact it was one helluva lot tougher than any starry-eyed bride should have been asked to deal with. But, the reward for your personal hardships and sacrifices will be found in the memories all loyal and faithful women accumulate and in the deep respect by which you are held by the men who stood topside and regarded your $8.95 sale dress as a gown worn by an angel.


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