The Men Who Wore Peacoats

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
 
 

I was enlisted... Have no idea what it feels to be commissioned... Never was. Like circus acrobats, if you never did it, how in th' hell would you have any idea what it felt like?

I always felt we did the heavy lifting... We fixed sick ships... We shoved the fish in the tubes... We fed each other... We were the muscle and guts that brought the boat to life. I have always felt more comfortable sharing coffee and trading lies with the men who wore dungaree shirts and slept in shared racks. They were my friends and made me one of them. For that I will be eternally grateful.

When I watch the old Victory at Sea films... I look for the powder-blackened 40mm Bofor gun crews slamming five round clips into the breech and pouring it into Jap aircraft. I look for the grinning kid standing at the breech door of an 21-inch tube in the forward room... Standing there stripped to the waist, streaming sweat... He gets a six-foot smile and pats the tube door just as someone in the conn squeezes the pickle and a Mark 14 takes off on a run that will come to an abrupt end against a hull containing sonuvabitches who will soon be sucking salt water.

Gun crews... Torpedo gangs... Cooks in grimy aprons... Grease-covered snipes with a bandanna hanging out of a hip pocket... Radiomen... Electricians in battery acid-eaten dungarees... My kind of people.

On Pennsylvania Avenue, there is a Navy memorial... If you get to DC, make it a must on your sightseeing list... You won't find a bust of Nimitz or John Paul Jones... You will find a life-size representation of a raghat with his peacoat collar turned up and his seabag, with that look in his eye we all remember... That look that said,

"Hey world, you name the game... Pick out your chunk of ocean and we'll find you and whip your ass."

That cocky look only U.S. bluejackets have.

Loved it... Everyone in every seaport on the globe knew when the Americans came in. We brought that little American touch, a combination of pride and good times.

Most of my friends and present day professional associates talk of their alma maters... Princton, Yale, Harvard, NYU, Penn State... A boatload of techs... You name it and somebody went there. I graduated from SUBDIV 62 of SUBRON SIX... You could list my credentials on the bottom of a Krispie Kreme doughnut box... My classmates were unshaven raghats who were the smartest, most heads-up folks I was ever around.

I have no idea how the submarine force selection process worked, but worked it did... They sifted through bus loads of idiots and came up with us.

This time of year, officers sit by a cozy fire in their three-car garage, ten-room retirement homes and address beautiful five bucks a pop Hallmark cards to those they served with...

"Jack, how are you, Ruthie and the boys? Guess Jack Jr. is close to graduation at the Academy. Did George pass the Bar? It has been too damn long. If you ever get to Florida, ring us up. Alice joins me in conveying best holiday wishes, Pete."

Not so us... We punch up Rontini's cyberspace boxing ring and spend hours telling each other what worthless, good-for-nothing reprobates we are. A fact long established and universally recognized.

How many of you had to sit your lovely wives down and explain why some guy named so-in-so (ss) in San Francisco... Better yet, Reno, Nevada, calling you a rotten smoke-eating, uncouth sonuvabitch, is a good thing... Not a bad thing. No... It's an enlisted thing. Was, is and hopefully always will be, a wonderful thing.

Some nights after I click off Rontini's magic demolition derby, I walk around sporting ten or twelve skillfully placed harpoons hanging out of my ass... Placed there by great shipmates I have yet to buy a beer. Officers don't do that... Ain't polite. They make long distance calls to talk about the weather... They never turn on their home computers to find that Cowboy wants to know if their parents ever got married or just simply to let you know how his donkey herpes is coming along.

They will never read a line from Old Gringo on Veteran's Day that goes...

"They will be forever young..."

And have a silent finger trace 'God bless them all' on the inside of a most grateful heart.

They will never know the joy of Ray Stone crashing through their front door yelling,

"HEY DEX, TURN ON RONTINI!! THE NUKES ARE TYING HANGMAN'S KNOTS IN LYNCHING ROPE! YOU SILLY BASTARD, YOU CAN'T BUY INSURANCE TO COVER A LOS ANGELES BOAT SURFACING IN YOUR JOHN AND BLOWING YOU AWAY!"

We then laughed like kids and started whittling another stick to poke in another hornet's nest. We got our battle cry from Patty Wayne,

"Hyman Rickover... Anti-Christ... Yaddah Yaddah, Sis Boom Bah!"

"That..."

Says Olgoat,

"Is Latin for 'Blow it out yur ass."

If you wore shoulder boards, you missed a lot... The action all took place aft of the control room. While you guys were reading the Wall Street Journal, doing crossword puzzles and cheating each other at gin rummy, mutinies were being considered, diabolical plots were unfolding and stupid stunts were being planned. Grown men were insulting each other... Cooks were being ragged... Towel fighting world championships... The virtues of tit size were being academically discussed... Lousy coffee was being consumed and sea stories were being told under the guise of pure naval history.

We had to read Tom Clancy to figure out what went on up forward.

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