A Pocket of Resistance: Bridge Watches on a Destroyer, circa 1969

This poem continues to be a work in progress. In fact, i am not sure i will ever finish it because i continue to think about adding something else: general quarters, port and starboard, ASW ops, check-sight observer, full power runs, liberty, etc. But i wanted to share. The editing continues so please be understanding of misspellings, lack of agreement in tense, person, etc.

i would like to know what you think of it, if you have the patience to read it all: it is lengthy.

And as the man would announce at the end of another Saturday afternoon serial of Lash Larue, just before the matinee of Roy Rogers or Gene Autry, “To be continued…”

Bridge Watches on a Destroyer, circa 1969

I. Sea Detail:
engineers man their stations
in the bowels of the tin can
hours before sea detail is set
with the sun arising
wisps of vapor mist off the harbor waters;
the bridge is manned,
the OOD begins his check-off list
captain and the xo huddle in the wardroom
over coffee, small talk
as if getting underway is no big deal
the boatswain’s mates
shinny up the six crisscrossed mooring lines
removing the rat guards
remove the dressing off the lines
(not ropes, you landlubbers: lines)
first division forward and third division aft
unrig the bird nests around the bollards
the bridge is manned in white sparkling purity
with dixie cups and garrison caps,
enlisted wearing black oxfords
the officers and chiefs gleam noble white
down to their toes
the boatswain’s mate’s pipe hits the high note
before he passes the word
over the 1mc;
the women and children stand on the pier
shore steam and phone lines are secured
the public affairs officers and the brass,
act like they are responsible
the boys on board get the work done
the pier master from port ops
hustles about with
line handlers from the other ships
standby to let go
when it’s time to get underway;
three short blasts,
springing on line three,
slacking four, five, six,
port ahead slow
the bow nudges toward the pier
the stern swings out
the conning officer
with deft touch
at the right moment
backs all engines
the order is received
to let go all lines
when the last line;
falls from the dutch bollard
to the water;
the pipe again
“shift colors”
the ship backs into the channel,
swinging the bow
to stand out
the women cry
the brass walk away
the ship is underway;
standing out the channel,
sailor men all in a row
on the forecastle
dress whites with dixie cups,
impressive in their splendor
the men on the bridge
take the bearings on navigation points,
receive the radar fixes from combat
plot the track and report:
“navigator holds us on track,
fifty yards from center of channel;
nearest shoal water
six hundred yards from port beam”
the bridge watch stands
taut and erect,
ready to respond to helm and lee helm orders,
the boatswain’s mate of the watch
makes his pipe sing
before passing the word
the conning officer shoots the range
nervously checking over his shoulder,
making small degree course changes
for the helmsman to steer
the captain stands behind
the conning officer’s right shoulder,
confidently checking
the xo, the navigator bends over his chart,
in less tense moments
checks the formations
on the forecastle and fantail
for correctness
the sea buoy is cleared
the boatswain’s pipe shrills
its song again
the word is passed:
“Secure sea detail;
set the normal underway watch.” 

II. Midwatch (0000-0400)
the thin steward in his official white frock
timidly whispers,
then murmurs almost fearfully,
“get up, get up, sir; midwatch;
time to relieve the midwatch;”
the oncoming OOD
can see the steward beyond the flashlight’s red rays,
is pretty sure the Filipino is grinning at the thought
of waking him from a sound sleep
will grin again when making up
the rack in the morning,
before turning it into a sofa
by lifting it up into the bulkhead,
making the other two racks
finally departing the stateroom –
they, these stewards, are careful
in awaking the oncoming watch
since one rustled the shoulder of a burly lieutenant,
catching a foot in the temple
from the violent awakening –
so the OOD struggles to rise
with the ship rolling:
“’bout ten degrees, steady,” he thinks,
knowing it’s a good sea
for the midwatch;
the red lighting for darken ship
casts eerie shadows
as he lift his legs into watch khakis,
fumbles with the shirt buttons,
splashes his face with cold water
from the stateroom sink before
unsteadily lurching from after officers quarters,
to head forward,
up the narrow passageway, dimly lit red
to the wardroom;
the speckled gray-haired xo and the hulking, bald captain
sit in their appointed places of rank
as they do nightly at twenty-three fifteen,
to relish mid-rats:
midnight rations which might be
soup from the noon mess
stew from the evening mess;
perhaps tonight,
tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich,
coffee, hot coffee, always hot coffee;
the oncoming OOD leaves them waiting for the off-going watch
before they all hit the rack
the new OOD stands alert, semi-comatose on the bridge,
binoculars hanging by a halyard from his neck,
olive green foul weather jacket keeping him warm:
in control for four hours
there is sea traffic mucking up his quiet time
bad weather in an open sea with no evening stars

III. Morning Watch (0400-0800)
one sleeps hard in the middle of the night
until the messenger taps upon the metal rack
and says,
“morning watch relief, sir,”
the junior officer rustles awake,
jumps into his khakis
before taking a leak
in the red-light washed head
to stumble down the passageway,
up the ladder
for the short three-hour watch
relieve the OOD
take the conn:
steady course, steady speed;
no contacts
because the battle group
is calm
before the flag
arrives upon his bridge
after a substantial breakfast
to kick things into gear
with exercises and formation changes,
but now,
the OOD
hangs across the bulwark
of the starboard wing
to smell pancakes, eggs, bacon, coffee
wafting up from the galley below
the murmur of first light
suffuses the night
yields to the coming dawn’s
pink glow on the eastern horizon
the reliefs show up
after a quick breakfast
the relieved dash to the wardroom
for a late breakfast:
a draining watch
which will catch up around
ten hundred hours
the junior officer will struggle to make it
to the midday mess
where he will hit his rack
to recoup. 

IV. Forenoon Watch (0800-1200)
the gray ships scattered precisely on the deep blue green.
tinny radio commands
accompanied by signal flags hoisted
half-mast for understanding,
two-blocked for receiving and understanding,
hauled down for execution,
while the extra signalmen
stand tall on the signal bridge
with white dixie cups
at a jaunty tilt atop their heads ,
converse with their counterparts
on the ships close by in semaphore
combat and the JO’s scamper to find their maneuvering boards,
fourteen-inch squares of paper pads
with a paper-wide circle with spokes extending
to use their compasses and parallel rules
to calculate course to station
the OOD takes the conn
relays to the lee helmsman
to kick up the speed to twenty knots;
right standard rudder to three  one five
the wake spume aft, a highway of white
to the horizon of the blue-black sea
the other ships appear pell mell
in some macabre dance of destroyers
heading to station;
when there,
the OOD barks
left standard rudder to two two zero;
all ahead standard, turns for 15 knots;
the helmsman obeys
the lee helmsman sends the speed
with the engine order telegraph
to the watch standers
in main control in the bowels of the engineering spaces below
the ship falls into station
like a horse reined into a trot;
the OOD checks his position
smiles if he was no more than 100 yards off. 

V. Afternoon Watch (1200-1600)
in relieving the watch it seems
the day has slowed down;
the captain and xo take their chairs, starboard and port respectively
the OOD, knows the xo will soon tilt his head back and sleep
the captain will talk of small things or perhaps career decisions
combat reports a contact zero four zero, ten miles,
on course two seven zero
the OOD begins to watch when the starboard lookout reports
contact 084 relative, hull down
the OOD spies it also
he knows it will pass close astern if you both
retain course and speed
the ood knows he is “privileged”
he knows these Mediterranean merchants will
do what they please,
he watches with caution
knowing he is obligated to maneuver
to avoid a collision
the proper thing to do is slow
turn to starboard
to pass astern
he slows, turns starboard to pass astern
by a large margin
the captain says,
“good job.” 

VI. First Dog (1600-1800).
16-18 they call it now,
the oncoming watch, officers and men,
knocked off the working day early
changed into clean khakis and dungarees
headed to the bridge
for the short watch.
quiet time; the sea seems to cooperate
even though grey is becoming the tint before sunset:
the navigator may have problems shooting evening stars.
before the meal time
cutting the work day short,
but making it longer
with the two hours on the bridge,
usually quiet as the other ships
are knocking off, relaxing
before the evening meal on the mess decks
in the wardroom.

VII. Second Dog (1800-2000)
the second dog watch,
what the new-fangled sailors
have come to call eighteen-to-twenty,
climb up the ladders
to the bridge from the quick evening mess;
after all, the off-going watch needs a hot meal
while relieving the watch,
shades of gray:
no blue, no brightness of the sun,
gray ship on a gray sea
with a gray horizon under gray clouds
define your world
the OOD settles into what should be a quiet two hours
on the port bridge wing, arms akimbo,
one draped around
the gyro-compass repeater:
staring abeam at the deep, deep blue sea
to the horizon, lines of gray variation;
feeling the wind stir,
watching the low dark clouds
looming close to the sea;
the sea itself stirring:
wavelets forming with
white beginning to
flick at the top
on the horizon,
the low cloud projects a finger down
while the sea responds
with a finger  pointing up,
all a swirling, growing,
until they touch,
until the sea and sky join
in a water spout;
until the gray
becomes an ominous seascape,
a water spout;
yet the bridge watch is not perturbed
standing on the port bridge wing
as the storm rushes past
on the  horizon. 

VIII. Evening Watch (2000-2400)
as the watch relieves,
the carrier prepares for flight ops
the destroyer is ordered to lifeguard station
five hundred yards dead astern
in the wake of the ugly thing with flat decks
the motor whale boat is swung out on its davits
manned with the rescue team;
although it could be no problem with a good wind;
any wise OOD knows it is dicey
steaming dead behind that behemoth
that doesn’t understand superheat
alerting the lifeguard destroyer what happens next
sure as shit, just as the watch settles in
without the required signal,
the carrier starts a turn to port
announcing a new course one eight five degrees to port
from the current course,
increasing speed from five knots to  twenty-five
on the sound powered phone,
the OOD calls the captain
who is watching
an oater, the evening movie, in the wardroom,
while the OOD is telling main control they need superheat
ordering the helmsman “left standard rudder”
the lee helmsman “all head full”
he’s so relieved he got it all right
except for the swinging of the motor whaleboat in the davits
with the lifeguard team on board
except the carrier
with the aviator trying to qualify as flight ops ood
begins a turn back to starboard one nine zero degrees
slowing to five knots
the OOD calls the captain again
warns main control of the slowing,
promising to fish tail the ship
while the engineers take the boilers off of superheat
the carrier steadies up
the OOD with the bridge watch
watch the aircraft pass directly over them
to catch the tail-hook
none take a dive in the drink
flight ops are secured at 2200
the watch can wait for their reliefs,
then partake of midrats
hitting the rack,

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A Pocket of Resistance: Whoa, momma: a political commentary

The below was published earlier this morning in a response to a Facebook post by Andrew Nemethy, my good friend and shipmate on the USS Hawkins (DD 873), my first ship. It seemed the right time to step in the fray. i should add i have made some edits to the original post.

i have refrained, or tried to refrain from making political comments. i have friends from nearly all of the political spectrum. i admire liberals, moderates, and conservatives for their desire to do what they believe is the right thing. i admire their drive to serve and lead our country (somebody’s got to do it). i abhor their self-serving, posturing for political gains, which always, always keeps them from doing the right thing. The process to get elected and reelected is corrupted and dirty business (i still recall Robert Redford’s “The Candidate,” which speaks volumes on this subject). i also am saddened that a great many people just grab onto the agenda they support, quit listening to, and stop thinking about alternatives and why they just might be wrong. In the past, i recognized i could upset some of my friends, if not all, with my view of politics. Therefore, i have remained silent for the most part.

*     *    *

As i commented in my earlier posts, i’m now 71. i feel alone in my ideas about politics. But my new stance on who i is and what i will do is based on my experience with my parents. They lived into their very late nineties. They had an incredible wealth of knowledge about what to do right and what is wrong. They were an unbelievable source of oral history.

They and many others like them could have been a wonderful source of information about our rich local histories. Not only could they have served to educate the future of our country, but such service would have empowered them. So from now on and as along as i am around, i am going to be less reticent in making my observations — at least in writing because i know i am not a good debater and am comfortable listening to what others think and believe. But it’s time to express my opinions based on my experience and somewhat skewed view of the world: written oral history, if you will.

*     *     *

So here we go. Andrew’s post complimented Obama on his speech. There was a response in agreement and one negative comment. I added:

As i think most know, i am not enamored with either side of the aisle, and 26 years of “aye, aye, sir” has some influence on me. i normally refrain from political comment unless i think it’s funny, sarcastic, or ironic.

So here goes:

i cannot stand to watch the pols posturing during the state of the union address. They are only there to support their cause, not listen to the president, regardless of which president is in the White House. i was not raised that way.

As Jon noted, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do, and that will be determined.

But once again, i am convinced Obama wants to do what is right. He wants us to get along. He wants to help people. He wants to bring both sides of congress together to find solutions, not bile.

Somehow the other side wants to blast that attitude as a bad thing. His party ignores it too and throws up the ramparts to defend their position. i learned a long time ago (Read Robert Ury’s Getting to Yes) taking a position and being unyielding is not a productive process of negotiation (hmm, congress could be a good (bad) example of that. They need to find the source of disagreement and work on solving the problem. i don’t agree with many of the policy statements in Obama’s speech. i do agree with many others. i applaud the man for being sincere and wanting to make things work. i also question his strategic acumen and my position on the military is different than most everyone. i plan to post this on my web site as the first political commentary i have made there or in my columns.

i’m old enough to do that.

And i remain a pocket of resistance.

Thanks, Andrew Randrew, Norman, and Jon for spurring me on.

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Notes from the Southwest Corner: Neverland

Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, January 20, 2015. The accompanying photograph was not published in the paper edition.

SAN DIEGO – I am writing this almost exactly 71 years from my birth.

I was born at McFarland Hospital, 7:30 a.m. CST, January 19, 1944. It was a long time ago. I don’t remember very much about it. But I’ve heard stories. Oh, have I heard stories.

I shared birthdays yesterday with Robert E. Lee, Edgar Allan Poe, and Dolly Parton on the day the government holiday celebrated Martin Luther King’s birthday (who was actually born January 15, 1929, but we can’t seem to celebrate anything unless we figure out how to get a Monday off work). I like the connections.

For some reason, 71 seems much older than the big SEVEN ZERO. I do not know why. Perhaps such feelings have been generated by all of the closures I had last year. I enter this 71st year with no real work except, of course, this column writing thing for The Democrat.

As yesterday approached, I mulled over my age, my new status, and my hometown of Lebanon. I have used terms of “Brigadoon,” the “cycle of life” from Disney’s movie “Pocahontas,” and several more which I can’t remember (remember I am 71 years old now). Yet this morning, I found another, perhaps more fitting analogy. Even though I bear no resemblance to the character, I have been “Peter Pan” and Lebanon (and Lebanon folks) has been my “Neverland.”

As I aged physically, I had this magic place far, far away where I could escape and be young again. I headed to “the second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning.” I do not wish to get maudlin here, but 127 Castle Heights Avenue, and later, 312 Castlewood Lane have been my “Neverland.” My parents, my family, and my friends in Lebanon gave me the power to not grow up.

My career choices had some bearing on my youth fantasy. A life at sea, especially in the Navy, takes one away from reality. It was work, hard work with long hours, but it was a different world, a different place.

Eventually, I became Mister Mom, and through my younger daughter, I lived youth again.

Even my third career of consulting in leadership, team building, strategic planning, quality management, etc. had a “Neverland” aspect. I was coaching and counseling folks about how to work more effectively. Yet, I knew those folks would never get all the way to “what it should be.” They had to deal with the real world. i was in fantasy land.

My Lebanon High School classmates of 1962, the ones who adopted me, have had significant impact on this Peter Pan. They have been my Lost Boys. The analogy breaks down here somewhat because Eddie and Brenda Callis have been in charge of this group, and their effort plus an amazing amount of collegiality among the classmates has created one of the closest  groups I’ve ever known. The frequent get togethers have continued, and being around these folks always makes me feel young.

Thinking about my 71 years as Peter Pan, I consider 1956 through 1958 at Lebanon Junior High two of the best. I don’t think I ever touched the success and joy I experienced as a seventh and eighth grader. My world seemed like a Neverland then.

The opportunities seemed endless. There were school plays and operettas. There was glee club. Girls and boys went steady, and the girls wore the boys’ letter jackets, and yes, they wore the boys’ rings around their necks. We even went to Nashville and danced on “Five O’Clock Hop.”

Most of all, for us Peter Pan types, there were sports. Our first organized football team, the LJHS Colts were undefeated. The next year we lost one, a crushing blow we were unable to comprehend.

We transitioned from the Little League Field to the full-sized diamond for Babe Ruth ball.

And as I turned 14, there was basketball. We were a good team, winning a large majority of our regular season games. We lost in the finals of the tournament to a Murfreesboro team we had beaten twice in the regular season.

Front row: Buddy Phillips, Clinton Matthews, Jimmy Gamble, Townley Johnson, Henry Harding, jim jewell, Milton Lowery; Back row: Phil Turner, LeRoy Dowdy, Malcolm Medcalf, Coach Miles McMillan, John Walker, George Summers.

Front row: Buddy Phillips, Clinton Matthews, Jimmy Gamble, Townley Johnson, Henry Harding, jim jewell, Milton Lowery; Back row: Phil Turner, LeRoy Dowdy, Malcolm Medcalf, Coach Miles McMillan, John Walker, George Summers.

Those two years were fun, and I believe they influenced me to never grow up, and I always felt I was in Neverland when I returned to Lebanon.

Though I will return to Lebanon, it won’t quite be Neverland again. After all, I’m 71, and it’s time to grow up,


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