Black Car, Blue Flags, Headlights on....
BLACK CAR, BLUE FLAGS, HEADLIGHTS ON…
In port I stood there in the hot sun standing topside watch on the hot black deck of an aged submarine. The boat had just brought me and a hundred and fifty other souls or so in from four or five weeks underwater operations in the Pacific. The last few weeks the ship didn’t want anything to do with us and seemed to start shutting down. The lady we sailed began her woes in the reactor compartment. The nuclear power plant wanted more and more of the fresh water the ship made so the crew mathematically got less and less. At best sailors that sailed old submarines stunk. Normally we got one thirty second shower every five or six days. We did have three uniform changes each and could usually wash them every week or so. Two thirds of the crew got to go home as we moored to the seawall. The duty section I was privy to be a part of drew the first day’s duty and I wondered about the deck wondering what it was like to be clean. Everything on me was sticky and I’m sure stinky. I didn’t remember when I brushed my teeth last or shaved.
I noticed a big shinny black Chevrolet Impala with blue but white stared flags flying from each side of the hood turning toward me, a very scrounge me, while minding my own business. I was bored to death. I was starting to accept and even enjoy the feeling of boredom.
It was a peaceful but sweltering day in the middle of summer while sitting in the middle of California. The car was closer now and I could tell that it had its headlights on under the blue stared flags on those forward fenders. I started to think that whoever was in that car was not coming to visit me and was unannounced to anyone aboard the ship I was guarding.
It was so hot outside that the sticky sweat all over my body actually felt like an undercoat to the filthy uniform I was wearing. The jet black submarine I was standing topside watch on seemed to be at the point of a magnifying glass under the sun. I felt so tired and miserable that I just wanted to jump over the side to cool off while my being got cleaned before I sank.
It was immediately noticed by me that my luck held and that damn car stopped right off the brow. I felt a bit conspicuous standing there, being the dirtiest thing in the yard when the enlisted first class petty officer jumped out of the drivers door and ran around to open the backdoor on the passenger side for his passenger. The thoughts that were bumping around my mind were thoughts of someone very tired and frustrated about this entire day. I even thought of running down the gang plank and throwing this visitor over the side. I felt that before interrogating me they would likely hose me off and put me in an air conditioned room to await my lawyer.
The man, a bit short and a bit stout, stepped out of the car and spoke softly to the sailor that just let him loose. He smiled at the driver and motioned him to take the car away. My wishes that he was lost and just needed directions to another ship faded quickly as he strode up from the pier to me and the ship I guarded. The man was wearing kakis and had more medals and ribbons dangling all over him then a late night war movie. I did notice though the one thing that told me it could be worse. The man was wearing gold dolphins signifying that he was at least a submarine officer.
The salute he gave our American Flag aft on the fantail was sharp and brilliant as he stopped up on the brow. He then looked at me looking at his name badge and face. He simply said something like ‘good morning son, welcome home’ and gave me a recognition salute that rivaled the one he gave our colors. I returned his salute as sharply as an exhausted sailor could and blurted out ‘welcome aboard admiral’. He jumped down onto the deck two or three feet away from me and surprisingly said ‘wood decks?’ then he just smiled. I smiled a little and told him that I needed to announce him over the 1MC. The system I was using went everywhere within the confines of the ship and was a loudspeaker. The admiral just smiled up at me and mumbled ‘of course, lad’. It is written somewhere on a big stone or a slate that when a visitor or rank visits a United States ship his rank or position in the world is announced. If the governor of California came on board he would be hailed and announced ‘California arriving’. If the president stepped onto the deck it would be ‘United States arriving’.
I didn’t have the governor or the president with me but I felt pretty good anyway. I knew exactly why this admiral was grinning since I saw him get out of that shinny black Chevy. I announced ‘Commander, Submarine Force Pacific arriving.’ I would have eaten a bug to have been in officer country below decks in the wardroom. I should have given a heads up below decks when I first saw that car turn towards us.
The admiral bid me ado with that smile, that knowing smile as he stared at the poor duty officer, a junior officer nearly falling from below decks up and onto the deck. The junior grade lieutenant was in character of man that God was agitated with. Included with the duty officer luck of the draw he found out that he didn’t trip with grace or being able to ‘chat’ with brass. The junior officer took charge of our visitor in a way that will likely go down in sea lore. They did, in time get below decks and stopped in the Wardroom to have a cup of black and bitter while they discussed the mission the ship had just completed.
A telephone or a runner or Morse code or smoke signals must have been used to let the commander of the ship, our captain, our commanding officer that brass stopped by for a chat and that they might want to get together. I had never seen a full grown man run so fast from quarters ashore to a ship that was port side tied to the seawall.
The admiral came topside through the wardroom hatch to welcome the commander and he got to see what powers admirals have unannounced.
Commander, Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet, it was noted aboard the ship, had a knack of saying things that miraculously came to pass. The visitor uttered toward but not actually at the captain “where am I going to sleep?....