Wednesday, February 03, 2010


On those occasions when Blog Day rolls around--as it has three times a week for the past couple of years, now--and I find my mind stuck in neutral with no idea of what to talk about, I take sanctuary in stepping back in time 50-plus years to see what I was writing about to my parents while I was in the Navy. I like to stay as close to the present day and month as I can, but that' not always possible. So I chose two not-too-long letters written in a February long lost in the fog of time, but still bright and clear in my heart and mind. I hope you won't mind my sharing them here.

February 4 - 7, 1956
The ship has been writhing all afternoon—at supper the tables slid across the mess decks and water sloshed out of cups. The soup was up to the brim on one side of the bowl and touching the bottom on the other. At the moment, she’s creaking like a Spanish galleon.

Currently engrossed in a quasi-legal discussion—we’ve gone from courts martials to Canadian-American relations. Andrews says “Canada and America will be the same thing some day.” It probably never occurred to him that Canada might not want to become a part of the great U.S. If I remember correctly , we tried that once. As any map can tell you, we didn’t quite succeed.

The conversation, from which I have been generally excluded, has broken up while Andy goes in quest of some hot bread and Coutre has gone to fetch some butter.---The bread won’t be hot for half an hour, so Nick has substituted some good old Navy hardtack.

Quarter till ten and here I sit, reading Christopher Marlowe.

10 February, 1956
Just finished reading, in one of those twenty-five cent Man’s magazines, an article on the assassination of President McKinley. From this article and one I’d read previously, McKinley was evidently shot by two different men with the same name (Czolgosz). My subconscious, or alter-ego, or whatever you wish to call it remarked bitterly—it’s always bitter—that I’d better go out and shoot a President, because that’s the only way I’ll ever become famous. Oh, well….

The storm continued all through the night and up until late this afternoon—I loved it; twice the ship lurched as though it had been thrown into the air and let drop down again. All hands were warned to stay clear of the Foc’sle and all weather decks, but I, curious as usual, decided to go back to the fantail.

The sea thrashed about like a madman in a straight jacket—steam and spray were mixed with the heavy snow and the clouds of smoke from our breaths—yes, there are others as curious as me.

Water washed an eighth of an inch deep across the hangar deck, and the cold was enough to force me back below before too long. After warming up, I went back with the wastebaskets. One I dumped into the chute hanging over the fantail fell directly into the water—the other had a fifty-foot drop, and colored bits of paper flew off into the snow like bright birds. Waves were breaking even with and above the level of the fantail, which somehow escaped getting swamped. In the distance, the dark grey of our destroyer bobbed between the lighter greys of sea and sky. If I’d had a coat, I’d have stood there a lot longer, but that was too much for me.

Cut off as we are from the world, our only contact is through the ship’s Daily Press—printed on two sheets of 8 1/2x13 heavy paper. I haven’t even seen one of those in two days. From what I’ve gathered, Italy is in bad shape because of the snows—rumors of hunger riots and other major catastrophes float throughout the ship. If this is true, we will no doubt put into port as soon as possible and set up soup kitchens for the Communists, who will take it and curse us for not giving them enough.

I don’t see how we can spare anybody anything—we are on slightly low rations ourselves. The food used on this ship is tremendous—we give away over 500 lbs of coffee a week to different divisions here on board—that doesn’t count the amount we use for meals.

Tomorrow, if the sea has calmed down sufficiently, we take on another 116 tons of supplies—including 25 tons or so to be delivered to the USS Courier—a radio ship off Rhodes broadcasting propaganda to Russia and the Communist countries.

In Naples we are to pick up five hundred cases of baby food for somebody or other. Ah, such is life on our great ships of war.

I wish I had some cocoa—maybe mom will be nice enough to send me a box of Nestles’ individual bags.

A trip to the calculator shows I have just 184 days to go—tomorrow will make it exactly one half year! And with that cheery news, I leave you….

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