Running Mates

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

There were special shipmates known as 'running mates'. Running mates were the lads you pulled liberty with… The guys who were tighter than Siamese twins… A submariner's running mate was second to a bride when it came to close relationships.

He hauled your drunken worthless, good-fer-nuthin butt back to the pier… He checked on you in sick bay… He picked up your laundry when you were on leave… Provided sexual services to your barmaid girlfriend when the Exec sent you to Advanced Undersea Weapons School or the Navy jerked out your appendix. In short, if you fell over the side in feeding frenzy, shark infested waters, the sonuvabitch would have been thirty yards on the other side of your limber holes before the lookout shouted, "MAN OVERBOARD, PORT SIDE!".

You shared money, your beer, your clothing, smokes… Liberty secrets… You name it.

I once saw a guy coming down the sidewalk up on Hampton Boulevard… Up near the main base gate… The area known as the 'NOB (Naval Operating Base) Gate One corner'… It was where Mr. Devil ran all his earthy franchises.

This sailor comes tooling along and notices several members of his crew being loaded in a shore patrol wagon after some fisticuff activity in some gin mill.

"Hey, you guys got L.C. Maxwell in there?"

"Yeah, I'm in here… Who'n the hell wants to know?"

"Me… Dusty."

"Hey Dusty, you missed a good one… I put some First Class Electrician's lights out."

(Note: The Navy didn't have any of that "You have the right to remain silent… Or anything you say can and will be used against you" bullshit… Why? Because it is damn near impossible to shut up a drunken submariner. With a good load on, a boatsailor will admit to damn near anything… Train robberies that took place fifty years before the sonuvabitch was born… The Chicago fire… The sinking of the Titanic and blowing up the Maine… Volcanic eruptions… Lack of rain in Arizona… Stuff no sober sonuvabitch would believe. Submariner resumes were mostly a litany of misdeeds. It was not unusual to see some guy on the pier and have a shipmate say, "You see that big ape... Engineman off the Carp… Saw the sonuvabitch clean out an entire bar in Montevideo.")

Where in the hell was I? Oh yeah…

"L.C., you in there?"

"Yeah, I'm in here."

"It's me… Dusty."

You can't let a running mate go to the pokey without company.

"Hey you dumb, shore duty sheriff posse, stupid sonuvabitches… You titless, sugar plum fairies got a seat in there for a real honest-to-god seagoing sailor?"

Calling a shore patrol a titless sugar plum fairy would get you a seat in the First Class section of any Navy paddy wagon ever operated anywhere in the free world.

That's what true running mates did. Nobody had to tell you, it was something boatsailors did instinctively for running mates. You never abandoned, let down or forgot your running mate. If God paired you up with a good running mate, you've never lost contact… Your entire life.

I drew a rapscallion named Adrian Stuke… One of the greatest gifts I was ever given and Adrian gave my wife and I Janie, and they never made a better lady than Janie. Adrian led me into temptation and out the other side… Through the valley of the shadow of Captains Mast… And taught me to tapdance in non-regulation gumbo and survive. At our first Requin reunion, his first inquiry to our skippers was,

"Sirs, Has the Statute of Limitations run out on willful destruction of Navy gear and light-fingering stuff off Orion?"

Running mates… One of the reasons you never forgot them was their stenciled name and serial number kept turning up on stuff in your skivvie drawer four or five years after you cleared the RECSTA with your freshly typed DD-214.