Home Sweet Home

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
 
 

The single guys, the lads to whom the ship was, in point of fact, the only residence these fellows had, became identified as the 'Boys from Requin'. Requin was the only home we had… It was our 'old girl'… It was our address and the place where what little earthly effects we had were stored in bunk bags and side lockers. When the married guys went over the side to spend what little domestic time they had with family and friends, we were left with the care and cosmetic maintenance of the old girl.

Requin was no teenage dolly as boats went in those days. The old girl was the naval equivalent of a can-can girl who was rapidly losing her high kick and whose bloomers had been patched so many times there was no doubt of her veteran status. She had been converted to a radar picket in the '40s and converted back to a straight 'SS' boat at the end of the '50s… They gave her a high sail (conning tower fairwater), one of those high fiberglass monstrosities held together by a zillion monel metal bolts. They left the old fleet boat bullnose… You know the raked bow with the identifying hawser hole above bow buoyancy. She looked sharp… Still does, floating in retirement in Pittsburgh.

We, the single guys, were proud of her. Oh sure, we cussed her a lot… She could be an ornery gal… But she was our ornery gal… We were man and wife, compliments of the United States Navy.

When we came in, the old girl always looked like hell. We held the world rust-stain record. The Requin could develop rust runs in a heavy fog… You could chip, grind and wire brush the gahdam limber holes, zinc chromate the bastards for three days and slap on three coats of number seven gray and a thousand yards past the lightship, rust made its appearance. And we, the deck force, owned all the rust.

Requin was a floating graduate school in rustology. While we were working like galley slaves to earn our Dolphins, we were minoring in rustology. We were the best rustologists in the fleet… We fought oxidation day and night. I am firmly convinced that without us, the boat would have been reduced to red powder and could have been carried away in a shopping bag.

The fiberglass sail did not rust… It peeled. Paint peeled off in Life magazine-sized chunks. Under the #7 gray, it was green… Stupid translucent green. When the paint fell off, you could see light through the inside of the sail. We wondered why the bright minds that thought up the Nautilus, couldn't have invented gray 'no paint' fiberglass. What the navy has always needed was a savvy leading seaman on their shipbuilding staff.

We weren't geniuses but we had a lot of exposure to the major problem.

"Stuke… How come the guys who invented no-paint aluminum siding couldn't come up with a solution to superstructures and salt water?"

"Because Einstein, you'd be outta work. Whacking rust is a navy tradition… Someday it'll be a plastic navy… You wouldn't like it. Steel boats and iron bluejackets… That's boat service… Gotta be that way."

He was right… Usually was. Progress always means change and change has a way of destroying the things you associated with the life you loved. Making things better and easier makes life different. We always loved the way it was. I never could imagine a day when a submarine pier wouldn't be crawling with paint-spattered kids in acid-eaten dungarees… Rust brought us a lot of our memories.

After a long day of dancing with the Wicked Witch of Rapid Oxidation, we would knock off and lay below. We would help the duty messcook… We only used one messcook in port… The two lads assigned to the job, alternated for the evening meal. One hit the beach, the other peeled spuds and set up. We would draw a cup of coffee, grab a paring knife and help the messcook knock the hides off a few spuds and figure out what flick we'd watch that night.

The OD usually came aft and watched the movie with us… That's boat service.

The squadron yeoman was a great guy… The best. The old rascal would come down and bum stuff. In the old days, officers got a ration allowance... They pooled their bucks and bought the stuff they ate on board or they could forgo the allowance and eat whatever the animals ate. On Requin, the wardroom ate what we ate. I always admired them for that… We were one crew.

The squadron yeoman would go from boat to boat scrounging stuff for the squad dog's pantry. A good squadron yeoman knew everything we needed to know… Make that, wanted to know… We traded coffee and canned hams for straight dope… Underway assignments were worth a lot of groceries.

In our day, before the days of 'political correctness', whatever the hell that is… In those days, yeomen were called 'tit-less waves' and the squadron yeo was the #1 tit-less wave. He would drop down the after battery hatch…

"What's for chow?"

"Wazzit to you, you gahdam leech?"

"Is that any way to talk to the only friend you bastards have on Orion?"

"You're right, Chief… Only the duty section aboard. We've got beef stew, spuds and Rat's famous horse biscuits tonight."

"Can you fit in an old beached Chief?"

"We can if you can fill us in on what we'll be doing next month."

"Now gentlemen, I don't need to tell you that's closely held info."

"Bullshit Chief… What's it gonna cost us?"

"Yeah Chief, what's the going rate for finding out who's going south on LANTFLEX?"

"Got a canned ham?"

"Yeah, a canned ham if it's us… A can of Spam if it's the gahdam Grampus!"

That was typical raghat mole intelligence. We had SUBRON 6 wired. Between yeo and the pier head laundry truck… Old Hop Sing, the chink spy, we usually could unravel the future. Not to mention Thelma at Bells… Thelma knew damn near everything.

I recently learned something at a Carp reunion. I learned it 40 years too late. Some Carp sailor found a way to keep Thelma from taking swallows from your beer… Seems he would call for a draft and when Thelma would bring the glass over, he would toss in his false teeth. Why didn't we figure that out? If the word had ever gotten out, the local funeral home would have done a great business in no longer needed dentures.

Evening chow alongside was a relaxed affair, after which we would show a movie… Maybe two… Hell, sometimes we would declare a movie marathon and go all night. We were young… All-night movies seemed like a good idea at the time. We weren't worth a damn the next day, so we usually let rust take the day off. Movies alongside were the best… Plenty of room. We'd break out chow… Popcorn… Interrupt the film with wisecracks, inappropriate remarks and comments on various female anatomical features. Like scout camp the day your scoutmaster was sick. The inmates took over the asylum… For a night.

Around 2200, someone would take up a collection and make a burger run.

"Cheeseburgers and Last Train to Gun Hill in the after battery in ten minutes. Old Maid game aft… Dutch said to bring lots of Old Maid tokens and folding certificates… Anyone bunking in the after battery who desires uninterrupted sleep, better grab a rack in the forward room… Duty section declaring movie marathon… Ten minutes… Bring your own smokes!"

An all-nighter… Great.

Home was great. The address was always 481 and pier 22 was always home plate. The neighborhood changed regularly but the front yard was always the North Atlantic.

BACK