We Were a Different Bunch

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

I remember a retired four-striper asking me one time, over late afternoon patio drinks,

"One thing I never understood about you lads in the submarine force... You were constantly at the center of damn near every 'dust up' and weird stunt involving in-port naval personnel."

He went on to relate a personal experience. While serving in some liaison role with Spanish Naval forces, he and his lovely wife Anna Marie attended a bullfight. Late in the afternoon, a gentleman dressed only in dog tags, skivvy shorts and an inverted white hat, leaped into the ring... Yelled, "Hey, POT ROAST!" and did a strange boogaloo in front of a confused bull until the Spanish constabulary forces carted him off.

"What did that accomplish? What do you think made him do it?"

I gave him the 'This is probably what you want to hear' bullshit and went on.

Why did we do that kind of stuff? Blame the selection process.

The general population of naval forces contains the full spectrum of humanity... A cross-section of middle America. Running from the exceptionally bright to the walking brain dead. In the middle of this seething caldron of raw, unvarnished manhood, a call went out for volunteers for the United States Submarine Service.

Prior to this 'Come forth, you adventurous devils' call, there was a lot of 'Most of you ain't got the cajones' talk, and 'We only take the best' bullshit. This was a form of natural selection... You had to be or desire to be, something different to hop in that trick bag.

Next, they packaged up this band of 'Have no idea what they've gotten into' idiots and sent them to New London.

I have no idea what was involved in the New London selection process... Absolutely no idea what those strange practitioners of hocus-pocus did, or wanted to accomplish. The net affect of this process was to filter out everyone but the devious, the wild, the class clown, and the 'Wait 'til they get a load of me' lunatic... All having a good grasp of mechanics, physics, common sense, logical reasoning, and a sense of humor. By some major miracle, the process magically located men who could live together in close proximity... Like a fraternity moving into a construction site portable john.

Once the process implanted the basic knowledge, weeded out the sick, lame, lazy, and the 'What'n th' hell would I want to live like this for?' crowd, and made sure you weren't a known carrier of some exotic tropical drop dead virus, they packed you off to various obsolete contraptions located up and down the coast.

Like being born, God and BUPERS just assign you to a family. When you arrive, you are just another orphan with a sea bag, dumped on the doorstep of your new home.

When you dump your gear on the brow and hand your orders to the topside watch, another subtle selection process begins. The deck force sees fresh talent... The messcook, relief! The COB, another pain-in-the-butt kid.

In three months, if you're not linked up with all the lads standing topside, in a lifetime cement job relationship, you're probably moving to a new address. Once you had been accepted and baptized with a nickname, you began to notice attitudinal and behavioral changes. You find that the Naval establishment makes allowances and allows a degree of latitude not given the rest of the fleet, supposedly to compensate for living compressed in a sardine tin... And knowing the type of lads that successfully negotiate the selection process, they constantly expand the allowances and latitude envelope, and plumb the depths of naval forgiveness.

The four-striper went on...

"Hell, you won't believe this... When the Spanish police turned this damn near nude idiot over to the duty officer, the corpsman said it was a touch of sunstroke and turned him into his rack. The exec apologized to the caribineri and that was it... If that SOB had been a lad off my ship, I would have roasted that sonuvabitch alive."

I rest my case.

There were times we didn't understand each other. If you were an East Coast smoke boat sailor, you will remember Maggie's. Maggie's house of carnal delights. Three girls - $100 and Maggie, God bless her, would hold your I.D. and liberty card to ensure gentlemanly conduct. Maggie's was highly respected institution. I once saw a Connecticut state troopers hat hanging on a hook in Maggie's parlor.

"Jeezus Maggie, where'n the hell did THAT come from?"

"Oh rats, Bill left his hat here again... He'll be back, darlin'..."

I said to myself, if a Connecticut state trooper comes in, I'm going out a window.

One night, there was a sailor out of SUBRON 8 sitting in Maggie's parlor. I said,

"Hey cowboy, what're you gettin' tonight?"

"Bed and clean sheets..."

"Bed and clean sheets? Why a bed and sheets?"

"Been out... Was out five weeks... Known Maggie a long time. If we come in and Maggie is having a slow night, she lets me shower and rack out for ten bucks. On an active night, Peggy takes me to her place when she gets off. Maggies' kinda like my mom..."

I never figured that guy out.

Last time I visited Maggies was '62... Left an I.D. bracelet I got for high school graduation, hanging on a toothbrush holder in room 2. Never went back.

If you never had breakfast, coffee, a hot shower, and a 6AM roll in the hay at Maggies home for boat sailors, you missed one of the great cultural experiences of Naval service. Breakfast at Maggies put a smile on your face at morning quarters. Lorine... Dusty... Or Lorine & Dusty... 'Breakfast of Champions', and one of the primary reasons we won the Cold War. Ivan had Katrinka and Natasha... Wool bloomers, vodka breath, all packed in a canvas nightie...

We won. .