“Petty Officer Marcom! Your Fifty Cals are Rusty!”
I had to admit. Yes they were. I had tried so hard to keep ahead of the rust, but here I found myself on the leeward side of the second half of a six-month, ‘round-the-whurl-West Pacific Deployment’, and somewhere just off the coast of Somalia.
Yes, rust was my enemy, certainly never my friend—the machine guns were always mounted while we (The USS Callaghan DDG 994, full cast and crew) were Haze-Gray and Underway.
Yes, always mounted and underway:
Haze-Graying, even then
My Guns were always supposed to be… somewhere upon the sea… this is what they were purchased for…
And subject to rust. Rust Relentless. Relentless She Be: That Sea. That Salt of the Fucking Sea
My Moby Dick-lessness! How could I not keep Rust off my guns?
Freud certainly would have had fun with me
(Sadly, now I know why)
My professional life was to be found somewhere rusting in those machine guns.
And that rust you see, that rust occupied a great deal of my daily routine.
The Navy had a solution though. She had provided canvas covers to cover those guns and make them safe from rust. Alas, those canvas covers had seen better days, probably back when Pearl Harbor was just an ordinary Naval Base that no one had ever heard of.
But rust is relentless and timeless.
While scrubbing the Indian Ocean rust off’n my fifty-cals one morning I hatched a plan. Knowing full well we were soon to pull into Mombasa Kenya, after so many month at sea, I conspired to save my money:
Once in Mombasa, I would smuggle one of the moth infected, salt- digested, jig saw’d, Swiss Cheese, ‘holy’ canvas shards off the ship. I would rent a taxi, find me a young child, show him my smuggled ‘prize’, ask him to direct me somewhere, where I could find and nickel and dime (I did not have much money then, not un-life-like now) find a leather shop in Mombasa, present to the leather-maker my Holy Canvas, My Shroud, My Naval Career, and demand, (for US Dollars), that he make me four such more yet new and brand new.
And This is exactly what I did, and to the amazement and astonishment of my Master Chief Petty Officer and my Department Head (almost a Navy Commander… he kind of looked like JFK, now that I think on it. I did not like particularly like him, but I respected him. Hell, he reminded me of all the things I could have been if I had joined the Nav when I was twelve instead of twenty-eight (Different story. Sorry)
The next time they inspected my Fifty Cals, they were pristine! (They did not take notice nor time to notice that the canvas covers were not exactly Haze-Gray-Naval Gray. No, more like Third-World-Rustic, with just a tiny bit of water buffalo…left over…but Goddamn sure water and sea salt proof.
And I was so desirous that they did NOT notice, but my Master Chief did notice, yet, never ever noticing nor voicing his ‘inner thoughts’ in front of what he referred to as “Shit Birds” — ‘Officers’ — Never let on.
Master Chief never, ever let out his truth thoughts in front of Shit – Birds. This was his genius.
And I should have been cognizant of this, yet I was so somewhat giddy after my .50 Cals had finally passed inspection, that I did not stop to think on that anyone. “Not even Master Chief had seen through my ruse” Yeah, Rite!
I was drunk with my own cleverness and lying back on my back in my rack, curtain drawn, congratulating me.
(Now, you must realize how the Military Mind works. I was my Ship’s Armor All–Armorer– IN Charge of All The Ship’s Small Arms! .225 Cal to .50 Cal. If it took two men to lift, wasn’t mine. But one-man-band? Yep! I was the shit! I was a Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class! Freshly rocked out of SEAL Training (twice now, but who counts these sorts of thing? I suppose I do) and trying to retain what little was left of my pride and my so-fifty-caliber-called-life.)
And I loved and Respected My Master Chief. Did not ever want to become an embarrassment to him, nor to my Fellow Gunner’s Mates who worked on the “Big Guns”. (Those ones what ‘bullets’ took two and a half-men to lift)
And even more important, (anyone who has ever ‘Served’ will know this), the Military is Run On Fear:
That kind of fear.
Well, as I was lying on my back in my middle rack right before Taps with my little blue ‘privacy’ curtain drawn back when someone jerked that sucker back.
Along with my reverie.
Master Chief Anderson!
MY MASTER CHIEF
“Son, tell me where you found those brand new gun covers.”
Trying to lie on my side and find an elbow to lean to, I half-coughed out, feigning sleepy-eyed ignorance,
“Master Chief, I had them made while we were in Mombasa.”
(There are people one may lie to in life, but, A Master Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy is not one found amongst those people. Not if one wishes life beyond that moment of sweet deception)
“I see”, was all he said, as he yanked my curtain back shut, thus leaving me alone with my various and sundry.
I did not sleep that night. For you see, I knew I had broken Naval Regs by doing something not-in-the Naval-Seaman’s-Bible–The Blue Book–The book, inches thick as a brick, “The Book” I had been made to almost memorize while at Recruit Training Command, i.e. boot camp.
I had broken the rule.
In the Nav, there is a sea sailor preamble, most requisite when one wants to recount a story of ‘when ships were made of wood and men were made of iron’… “When Moses was a pup” This validates and is a ritual never broken. In other words, one never breaks the rule.
Sometime mid-morning the next day, I was summoned to the berth/office of The Department Head of my Division, Lt. Commander ‘Kennedy’.
Shitting bricks is too trite.
I was nervous.
I gave a hearty rap on the bulkhead door as I was trained to do in boot camp…
“Petty Officer 3rd Class Marcom Sir!”
“I know who you are Lance; sit down.”
(What??? Lance??? Sit Down???)
Mouth agape I sat down, speechless
“Son, Master Chief Anderson tells me you went out on your own, designed, commissioned, smuggled off a prototype, and paid for, with your own money, those .50 Cal Gun Covers. Is this true?”
“Yes, uh, yessir,” I stammered.
“Well, that shows some fine initiative. How much did you pay Son?”
“Un Sir. Doesn’t matter…. I just, well, the .50 Cals, you know SIR, cost ten-thousand dollars each, and I thought…rust….an…”
“How much did you pay?!”
“250 Dollars Sir.”
Without saying a word he opened a little three-lock-box (OK; I made that up. It was only a one-lock-box) that he had in a drawer, carefully opened it, and proceeded to hand me two-hundred and fifty bucks.
I sat there, dumb founded, a moment too long, still in shock, looking at the bills in my hand…
“Petty Officer Marcom! “
“Huh…Uh, Huh… Sir?”
Jumping up, knocking my chair over, some tears welling in my eyes,
As I saluted him and abruptly left his quarters, quite in haste.
And thus I had survived yet another day in MY Beloved Navy.
And Just As a Reminder Kids:
Don’t Rain on my Parade: I have enuff Rain for All
*And this just once more a rough draft, full of error, so be kind. Trust me: there is no harsher critic of me than me. I sweat commas.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,