LT James Buckner, USN

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

The cat's out of the bag... Mr. Buckner (he climbed the rank to greater heights following our seagoing association) is reading this inane drivel. I am in deep trouble... He is one of the few people who can boil the horse manure out of these ramblings. If so, Ray and I will have a literary package that will fit nicely in the inside of a matchbook cover... I'm sure there was gospel truth in there somewhere but would be hard pressed to give the exact location.

He's Mister Buckner... Always will be... He was our 'Mr. Roberts', only better. Out of earshot and over a cold beer, he was Jim Buck... Or just Mister 'Bring 'em Back Alive'... After a real-life African big-game hunter of our generation called Frank 'Bring 'em Back Alive' Buck.

Mr. Buckner must have been a redeemed sinner because God gave him a terrible penance. One day, he woke up to find he was getting Art Conaty, Adrian Stuke and Dex Armstrong in his underway watch section. This was the equivalent of winning blind dates with the Wicked Witch of the North, Typhoid Mary and the honey that gave birth to Adolph Hitler. It wasn't a prize package this gentleman got handed... Not by a long shot.

It is just a matter of time until he ties a massive tin can to my tail... So this should be taken as a pre-emptive strike.

I shared enough salt water-diluted midwatch coffee with this gentleman to collect a seabag full of memories. He took three green idiots and kicked their collective stern sections into a more than halfway decent watch section. That wasn't an easy job.

One of the first things he did, in the interest of our personal well being was to get us all nice warm official navy headgear... Goofiest looking contraptions ever designed by human beings. Unlike enlisted men, officers don't go around telling each other how stupid they look... It's an Annapolis thing. There were no such constraints on the folks who ate aft.

"Hey Mabel, where'd 'ja get the silly f--kin' hat?"

"Dex, anyone ever tell you that that thing on your head reduces your I.Q. fifty points?"

"Hey guys, Donald Duck lives..."

We heard it all. The damn things looked like the top part of a Mongolian kid's snowsuit. Buck said it was official United States Navy heavy weather issue... We weren't so sure. We figured they were dreamed up by surface craft yeomen to wear on Halloween... But when a two-striper tells you,

"Trust me, you will thank me."

You strap the dumb thing on and hope God bestows an armadillo hide on you that your shipmates can't get a verbal harpoon through.

Let me describe this North Atlantic fashion statement.

The sonuvabitch was green... Color coordinated to be a matching accessory to that lovely number, the underway bridge parka. It had a bill... Make that visor that when flipped to the 'down' position. Looked like a plastic surgeon had attached Daffy Duck's speaking mechanism to your eyebrows... And a flap down the back that looked like a flea market toilet seat cover. Stenciled in the middle of the flap in big black letters was 'USN'... Thus, taking away the argument that something this stupid and ugly had to be created for the Marine Corps.

We did our damnedest to convince our shipmates that Mr. Buckner was engaged in some kind of top-secret naval psychological Cold War program... The idea being that when a Russian naval vessel got a load of the three of us on the bridge decked out in these ridiculous monstrosities, they would promptly laugh themselves to death... That was if we didn't laugh ourselves to death first.

To this day, Mr. Buckner defends the damn things... As for thanking him for making us wear those fool contrivances... That day hasn't arrived yet. Maybe when we're old, senile, living in the old folks home, leaned up against a wall, wearing lampshades on our heads, the day will come.

Please keep in mind that he did this to us... Clearly, abuse of enlisted personnel... And use this to template any of his posted officer-type revisionist history or purposeful debunking of the pure diesel boat historical fact that Ray Stone, Prince of Accuracy and I have struggled so hard to put at your disposal.

Author's note: Ray Stone also pointed out that the headgear previously described was designed for freak bluejackets with heads starting at bowling ball size and working their way up to something two inches less than the diameter of the Goodyear blimp. Your average boat sailor could execute a 360-degree rotation while wearing one without the fool thing changing position. A marvel to behold.

For those of you riding present day subs, I hope the Buckner gene has been passed down to your underway watch officers. If so, you could have done a helluva lot worse... Take that from someone he fished out of the shark's jaws on more than one occasion. My blessing for you this Christmas would be to find old 'Bring 'em Back Alive' crawling out of your Santy Claus sock... Someday you'll thank me.