"I Was a Sailor Once"
I recall enjoying standing at sunrise on the wing of
the ship's bridge, salt ocean spray upon my face,
feeling the cold clean ocean winds whipping in, from
the four compass quarters of the globe. The engine
vibrasion beneath my feet on a destroyer like a
living thing, and I knew the great power of her
engines drove her through swiftly on the high sea.
I enjoyed waking up to the sounds of Navy - the
piercing trill of the boatswains pipe, the quarter
deck syncopated clangor of the ship's bell, the harsh
squawk of the 1MC, and strong language and loud
laughter of sailors at work.
I enjoyed Navy vessels -- Navops of destroyers
nervous darting, plodding fleet auxiliaries and
amphibs, sleek submarines and the steady solid center
of aircraft carriers manuevering at sea.
I enjoyed hearing proud names of Navy ships a reminder
of historical times: Midway, Lexington, Saratoga,
Coral Sea, Antietam, Valley Forge - - memorials of
great battles won and tribulations overcome.
I enjoyed the lean angular names of Navy "tin-cans"
and escorts: Barney, Dahlgren, Mullinix, McCloy,
Damato, Parks, Mills - - reminders and mementos of
heroes who went to war before us. And the others
named for our cities - - Providence, San Diego, Los
Angeles, St. Paul, and Chicago - -their names
familiar across our nation.
I enjoyed the music tempo of a Navy band blaring
through the topside speakers as we pulled away from
the dock or coming home from a cruise, and after
refueling or replenishing out at sea. At these times I
also looked forward for the familiar "Mail Call" which
was sure to come.
I enjoyed liberty call at a foreign port: the spicy
scent of people a reminder of their food and the rich
soil of where it was grown and to see their
environment and habits which are far different than
I even looked forware to the never ending paperwork
and all hands working parties as my ship filled
herself with the multitude of supplies, both mundane
and to cut ties to the land and carry out her mission
anywhere on the globe where there was water to set her
I enjoyed my shipmates and it made no difference if
they were enlisted or officers because to me they're
just sailors and shipmaes too. They came together from
all parts of our land, farms of the Midwest, small
towns of west coast and New England too, from cities
across the United States and some from foreign
countries too, the mountains and the prairies, from
all walks of life. I trusted and depended on them as
they trusted and depended on me - for professional
competence, for comradeship, for strength and courage.
In a word, they were "shipmates"; then and forever.
I enjoyed the surge of adventure deep in my heart,
when the word was passed: "Now set the special sea
and anchor detail - all hands to quarters for leaving
port," and I liked the infectious thrill of sighting
home again, with the waving hands of welcome from
family and friends whose long wait was near its end at
I enjoyed the prevailing companionship of robust Navy
laughter, the hard work and danger too; at times the
rough going; the parting from loved ones was painful
too, but ever present in our minds was "Anchors
Aweigh" and the strong salutation of "all for one and
one for all" are indicative of the philosophy of the
I enjoyed the serenity of the shipboard life and sea
after a day of hard ship's work, as flying fish
flitted across the wave tops and sunset gave way to
I enjoyed the feel of the rolling deck of a Navy ship
in darkness to see the night shadows of the horizon
up and down movement, masthead and range lights, the
red and green navigation lights and stern light, the
pulsating phosphorescence of radar repeaters - they
cut through the dusk and joined with the mirror of
stars overhead. Most of all I enoyed the drifting off
to sleep lulled by the myriad noises large and small
that told me that my ship was alive and well, and that
my shipmates on watch would keep me and my ship safe.
I enjoyed quiet but serious midwatches with the aroma
of freshstrong coffee for the incoming watch injection
of the fuel for a wake up-- the lifeblood of the Navy
permeating everywhere. Take your position on the
hectic watches when the exacting minuet of haze-gray
shapes racing at flank speed kept all hands on a razor
edge of alertness.
I enjoyed the sudden electricity of "General quarters,
general quarters, all hands man your battle
stations," followed by the hurried clamor of running
feet on ladders and the resounding thump of
watertight doors as the ship tansformed herself in a
few brief seconds from a peaceful workplace to a
weapon of war -- ready, watchful, and alert.
I enjoyed the sight of space-age equipment manned by
young men and women clad in dungarees and
sound-powered phones that their grandfathers could
still recognize. Again, not a playful matter and no
shortcuts. Know what you are doing and know why its
done the way its done.
I enjoyed Navy traditions and the men and women who
made them. I enjoyed the proud names of Navy heroes:
Halsey, Nimitz, Perry, Farragut, John Paul Jones and
Areleigh Burke too. Yes, a strong Navy heritage to
I enjoyed what a sailor found in the Navy:
comrades-in-arms, reverence to God, pride in yourself
and country, and mastery of the seaman's trade. It's
where adolescent turns to responsible adulthood.
In years to come, a sailor remains a sailor, and
recalling when sailors come home from the sea, sailors
will remember and never forget the fondness and
respect of the ocean in all its moods - the
impossible shimmering mirror calm and the storm-tossed
green water surging over the bow. The memory will
immediately recall it's self with aroma of a faint
whiff of fuel oil or stack gas, a faint echo of engine
and rudder orders, a vision of the bright bunting of
signal flags snapping at the yardarm, a refrain of
hearty laughter in the wardroom or chief's quarters
and noises of the mess decks.
When sailors make their last port of call then gone
ashore for good they will grow wistful about their
Navy days, when the seas are memories belonged to them
and new ports of call are never more. Those former
sailors keep looking evermore to the horizon wishing
for the call of the sea they once knew.
They recall old memories at the sound of the bos'n
whistle or the music of Anchor Aweigh, they'll stand
taller and say, "I WAS A SAILOR ONCE."
Writing by By VADM. Harold Koenig, U.S.N. Ret.and
submitted by Gene Peach - USS Floyd B. Parks DD884