So, Brethren, it has been a weekend of volunteering for your humble hostess and family. Last night for 49 Writing Center and today for Rabbit Creek Comm Assoc. I'm not complaining by any means; both endeavors are completely worth every bit of effort. But it does cut into my writing time. So I am thankful to my friend and frequent commenter here at Triple P Charles Wallace for stepping up to the plate on this particular day. A guest blogger was just what the doctor ordered. Enjoy and "insider's" view, and try to find all the "isms" of the sea in this chuckle-worthy tale.
Tales from the Relatively Recent United States Navy
Disclaimer: I have purposefully altered the names of individuals in this story so that:
[a] They won’t feel badly if I reveal any compromising stories about them, and
[b] They won’t sue my ass off.
I served in the United States Navy. Hasn’t been that long, thirteen years and change, yet all of my commands have been decommissioned. Like I never existed. So, I write about them, sharing them with friends and family, and you, faithful reader. In doing so, I live on. Thank you.
Sailors understand that, when the term “ship’s whistle” is used, it does not mean any plastic or metal device which you place between your lips and blow air through in order to make a, well, “whistling” sound. That would be a whistle.
A ship’s whistle, on the other hand, is known to the layman as a “fog horn”. Bear with me… More than likely, most of these were steam powered, at least at first, and made a useful whistling sound as excess steam was bled off. Kinda like a relief valve on a steam plant would operate, but I digress.
Now, it may help to understand that my ship was an Unrepper [UNREP = UNderway REPlenishment], basically a cargo ship built to carry stores, food, gas, mail, all of the things that the fleet craves but doesn’t want to have to worry about. Nowadays, these are all civilian-crewed, but back in the day, sailors manned them [and just about every other type of ship ranging far and wide under Old Glory]. Naturally, the combatant ships, the CRUDES guys and their sleek, sexy gunships rather looked down upon us. We ended up getting most of the oddball characters you could imagine. Me? I’m a Fallen Angel, started off as an Aviator and was assigned something low and slow enough that I would not crash it: a ship. Donnie, our Communications Officer? Not sure, except he was from Texas A&M. That HAD to be it.
We were steaming along in some sort of formation, out on WestPac. One of the other ships was coming alongside and passing us – a perfect opportunity to render honors. Let’s assume the skipper of that other ship is senior to our skipper. As the other ship comes up, someone on my ship is instructed to blow one blast on a whistle. That’s the indication to all topside personnel to turn and face the other ship, and salute. The other ship will respond in kind. As the ship passes, it will blow two blasts and their topside personnel will drop their salutes. My ship, being junior, will then follow suit. Finally, as the other ship is clear, it will blow three blasts, and all of their topside personnel will “carry on”, that is, go about their business. My ship, being junior, will then follow suit.
Except, in this instance, it did not happen quite like that. Normally, the Bos’n Mate of the Watch, or somebody else who knows what they are doing, is entrusted with the whistle, but our skipper was Biff Berkeley, and he was bucking for Admiral. Everything had to be “just so” with Biff, and he was worried that the Bos’n Mate of the Watch might lack the proper appreciation of the situation and not perform well enough. So, Donnie, who was at hand and relatively unemployed [the ship had an Officer of the Deck, plus a Junior Officer of the Deck who was also Conning Officer, giving steering and throttle commands; Donnie was up there for familiarity as he had recently reported aboard and was green as grass, so to say] and eager to do well, was tasked with tooting the whistle.
But, Donnie was nervous, and his head was filled with information. Good information, but not necessarily helpful to him at present. “How many blasts?” “When?” “Who goes first?” Not wanting to screw up.
The other ship came up, and Biff hollered to Donnie to blow one blast. Inexplicably, he reached up and grabbed the handle to the Ship’s Whistle, and the ship blew a mighty foghorn-sounding blast at the other ship. Biff was so angry he pulled off his combo cover [round hat that Chiefs and Officers wear] and Frisbeed it across the pilothouse as everyone scattered. The other ship handled their whistles professionally, but you could tell they were howling
Postscript: Donnie lived to make Lieutenant. I saw him in Sand Dawg right before I headed out to Lant Fleet. Biff got his star. All’s well that end’s well, I guess.
Many thanks to Wally. Follow him here on Twitter.
Header: USS Endeavor among tall ships