Warm Summer Nights

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Remember those summer nights... Full moon... Calm seas... Night steaming surfaced... Lookouts and O. D. on the bridge? Phosphorescent water slipping past the tank tops and sliding away aft into the glow of the stern light... Soft, light snapping made by the nylon ensign flying aft of the sail.

"Bridge, conn... Permission to lay to the bridge."


"Sir... Got two blond and sweets and a black and bitter."

"Very well."

"Dex, take a sweep around... Report your contacts then drop down and give 'em a hand with the coffee."

"Aye sir... Can at about zero-eight-zero still holding position... Lights at one-one-zero, possible fishing boat, closest point of approach considering running lights would put her well aft."

"Very well... Permission to lay below."

"Lay below aye, Stuke, watch that can for me."

You always zipped your 7x50s in your jacket. Swinging binoculars could hit a ladder step when you rode the rails down. If they bounced off a step, they could bust your nose or do a job on your front teeth. A little lesson even a dimwit could figure out after one bloody experience.

Coffee always tasted great after midnight. You got that Iguana plasma, bottom of the pot stuff... So strong, you could damn near whittle off chunks to chew on. Caffeine at the 'wake the dead' level. Great stuff.

Night steaming meant the chief standing watch on the hydraulic manifold had nothing to do but tell lies about the 'Old Navy' and make sure folks ran coffee to the guys 'on the roof'.

There is no closer group on the face of the earth than an underway watch section. After forty years, I still remember how they all took their coffee and who you could bum a non-filtered cigarette from.

I take a lot of undeserved shots at the guys who bummed stuff at sea. In Mesa, Arizona, I can hear my old running mate, Adrian Stukey turning to his lovely bride and saying,

"Who is Dex kidding? I'd like to have a gahdam nickel for every time the worthless sonuvabitch fished my pack out of my dungaree pocket and hit me up... Must have a very selective memory!"

To tell the truth, boat sailors were the most generous people I have ever known. That needs to be said.

An upturned white hat on a mess table was a silent signal that indicated someone on the boat needed you to dig in your pocket to fund something.

One instance comes to mind... Came through the messdeck and there was an upturned raghat with a little piece of paper... 'Little Requin angel needs first communion dress.'

One old barnacle-encrusted engineman tossed in a twenty... Drew a cup of coffee, looked at the cook and said,

"What'n the hell's a communion dress?"

That was Requin.

He also said,

"Boy, THAT'S a switch... Some Requin sailor wanting to put a dress ON a female."

John T., if you're alive, we all knew what a selfless, giving rascal you were. I tried to say 'thanks' to you one night in '60... A little gal I dated at Mary Washington college, came down to Norfolk to visit family. I didn't have a dime and a nickel to rub together... Hit everyone aboard up to scrape together money to pick up my blues that had been re-piped in Bells Naval Tailors, and fund a modest dinner. When I went to pick up my blues, the lady said the work was paid for... And she smiled and told me to look in the jumper pocket - It had $25 folded up inside.

You were in Bells smoking one of your gawdawful cigars and shooting eight ball. I tried to thank you and tell you I'd pay you back, and you said,

"I have no gahdam idea what you're talking about... Didn't your mother teach you not to interrupt grown men shooting pool? Get the hell outta here!"

You took a shot and told some burnt out barmaid,

"Requin is crawling with idiots like that..."

John T., we had crabcakes and Pepsi out at Ocean View.

The bridge on a summer night was a great place to be. Some nights, a signalman would haul up a signal light and fill the night with light flashes that exchanged greetings and information that radiomen could have swapped with a lot less trouble in a helluva lot less time... One of those questions far beyond E-3 comprehension.

Some nights, porpoise would leap in the bow wave... That is something guys who did time in the Wisconsin Guard missed.

One thing about the North Atlantic... When the wake closes in and the foam settles back, there is nothing to mark your passage...

Nothing but the pictures in your head.