Hittin' the Beach
When we knocked off ship’s work, we hit the showers aboard and waited around for evening chow. We had an old Hallicrafters TV hooked up in the crew’s mess. Waiting for chow, we watched either Rocky & Bullwinkle or a little children’s program produced locally in Norfolk and called (I believe) J. P. Sidewinder. The animals loved Rocky & Bullwinkle. Deep intellectual thought and conversation were reserved for long boring nights underwater at sea.
So in port, sitting alongside, we watched the flying squirrel, Boris and Natasha, Dudley, Inspector Fenwick and Little Nell, Professor Peabody, and all of Rocky and Bullwinkle’s wonderful pals.
Turn off that damn idiot box and clear out so the messcooks can set up
for evening chow.”
we cleared out and formed a line of ravenous beasts running down the passageway
from the messdeck After Battery airlock door, aft to the forward engineroom
watertight door. The time spent
waiting in line was filled with horseplay and major league grabass.
The evening meal is being served in the crew’s mess.
Tonight’s meal… Succulent
roast pork, savory green beans, mashed potatoes, hot rolls, milk, iced tea or
bug juice. Tonight’s movie
following chow cleanup is Shootout at Deadwood Canyon starring Buck Brown, Dave
so-in-so, and the lovely Dorothy Whatchamacallit.
The first sitting being served.”
chow, the lads going on liberty went topside, crossed the brow and disappeared
into the night.
didn’t head for our barracks at J-50, we would head up to ‘The Strip’.
Strip was a three-block Mecca of stores, restaurants, locker clubs and beer
joints catering to every sailor’s basic needs.
the most part, the submariners hung out at Bells’.
Life was always worth living at Bells’.
the ‘50s and ‘60s, the section of Hampton Boulevard between the gate at the
Naval Operating Base and the gate at DesSub Piers, was like the Main Street in
an 1870’s cow town… A wide-open
cow town. It was a
neon-illuminated, quarter mile of tree-swinging bluejackets.
Strip was where the single lads headed when they hit the beach.
naval group had its home beer joint. If
you weren’t a destroyer man, there were certain bars you stayed the hell out
of. If you weren’t naval air,
there were others where you knew you weren’t welcome.
Submarine sailors hung out at Bells’.
was home. If you rode a SUBRON SIX
boat, Bells’ had a seat at the bar to fit your butt.
you put your lines over and you didn’t have the duty, you threw on your dress
canvas and headed over to Bells’ for beer, Slim Jims and Hank Williams.
Anybody wanna buy a beer for a seagoing naval hero back from the sea?”
down, Eddie… What’re you
a draft… We had a rough run.”
“What kind of rough run?”
weather off Newfoundland… Boat
over? What’n th’ hell
periscopes fell out.”
Eddie, you know why they don’t send donkeys to school?”
nobody likes a wiseass.”
was always like that. Loud
conversation, the clink of glasses, click-click of pool balls, barmaids telling
sailors not to pat their fannys, ragging the shore patrols wandering in and out,
Johnny Horton singing about the sinking of Bismarck, some idiot extolling the
virtues of the New York Giants to a room full of fellow idiots who couldn’t
give less of a damn.
was back in the era of Schlitz, Pabst, Hamms, National Bohemian, and Rolling
Rock. The days when breakfast
following a duty night would consist of Slim Jims, Beer Nuts and a pitcher…
The three major food groups.
was the submariner’s fraternity house. Those
who patronized Bells’ never forgot it…
Even if it only lives on in our minds…
As a treasured memory.
boatsailors took the city bus into Norfolk.
They went to either East Main Street, the center of brewed products and
sinful activity, or the Granby Theater.
you were broke, there was the USO. The
Norfolk USO was a big room with very comfortable overstuffed brown leather
chairs. It was run by older
middle-aged ‘do-gooder’ women who had big boobs and wore sensible old lady
shoes. These women appeared to be
very interested in church attendance and when you last wrote a letter to your
mother. Most naval personnel who
came into the Norfolk USO were just looking for a place to take a leak and pick
up a bus schedule.
liked the USO. If you were broke,
it was a great place to go. You
could get a hot chocolate and sleep in those overstuffed chairs, knowing that
nobody was going to shake you awake to handle lines or load stores…
And yes, I wrote a few letters.
was a rundown, on its last legs, amusement park called ‘Oceanview’.
The only thing keeping the whole place from collapsing was the termites
were holding hands. There was no
such thing as amusement ride mechanical maintenance at Oceanview.
I remember that the worn out seat upholstery on the roller coaster was
all patched up with electrician’s tape.
was a vendor who sold great hot dogs using a relish made by his special recipe.
It’s funny, after all the years, I can still smell those damn hot dogs.
Another great memory.
single guys with no place to go, there was J-50, our submariner’s barracks.
J-50 was a recently built, state of the art, cubicle-divided barracks.
It had a great big monster shower that had an inexhaustible supply of
lobster-cooking temperature water and was so big that it could handle
populations the size of third-world countries.
After six to ten weeks underwater with total soap and water deprivation,
breathing dead air and cultivating major BO, a live-steam hose-down was a
virtual gift from God.
Admiral Grenfell homesteaded the top deck of J-50 for his boat sailors, it was
like casting the well known pearls before the subsurface swine.
It took the animals over a month to become adequately housebroken to
barracks life. In the years I was
an inmate in the SUBRON SIX wild beast lockup, sailors came and went but the
24-hour poker game went on forever.
There’s a line in Rudyard Kipling’s Tommy that reads;An if sometimes our conduck isn’t
All your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barracks
Don’t grow into plaster saints.
was a kingdom where you could sleep between clean sheets, listen to your
records, get a hot shower, phone out for pizzas, and breathe fresh air.
The only downside being when they needed an all hands working party, they
knew where to get all the single guys. We
were just a phone call and a short bus ride away.
Looking back, it was a great way to grow from boy to man. None of us were aware of it at the time, but we had joined a family that would last a lifetime. I’m glad that I joined the sub force… I’ve never had any regrets..