REFLECTIONS OF A BLACKSHOE
By VAdm Harold Koenig, USN (Ret)
I like the Navy.
I like standing on the bridge wing at sunrise with salt spray in my face
and clean ocean winds whipping in from the four quarters of the globe - the
ship beneath me feeling like a living thing as her engines drive her
through the sea.
I like the sounds of the Navy - the piercing trill of the boatswains pipe,
the syncopated clangor of the ship's bell on the quarterdeck, the harsh
squawk of the 1MC and the strong language and laughter of sailors at work.
I like the vessels of the Navy - nervous darting destroyers, plodding fleet
auxiliaries, sleek submarines and steady solid carriers. I like the proud
sonorous names of Navy capital ships: Midway, Lexington, Saratoga, Coral
Sea - memorials of great battles won. I like the lean angular names of Navy
'tin-cans': Barney, Dahlgren, Mullinix, McCloy - mementos of heroes who
went before us.
I like the tempo of a Navy band blaring through the topside speakers as we
pull away from the oiler after refueling at sea. I like liberty call and
the spicy scent of a foreign port. I even like all hands working parties as
my ship fills herself with the multitude of supplies both mundane and
exotic which she needs to cut her ties to the land and carry out her
mission anywhere on the globe where there is water to float her.
I like sailors, men from all parts of the land, farms of the Midwest, small
towns of New England, from the cities, the mountains and the prairies, from
all walks of life. I trust and depend on them as they trust and depend on
me - for professional competence, for comradeship, for courage. In a word,
they are "shipmates."
I like the surge of adventure in my heart when the word is passed "Now
station the special sea and anchor detail - all hands to quarters for
leaving port", and I like the infectious thrill of sighting home again,
with the waving hands of welcome from family and friends waiting pier side.
The work is hard and dangerous, the going rough at times, the parting from
loved ones painful, but the companionship of robust Navy laughter, the 'all
for one and one for all' philosophy of the sea is ever present.
I like the serenity of the sea after a day of hard ship's work, as flying
fish flit across the wave tops and sunset gives way to night. I like the
feel of the Navy in darkness - the masthead lights, the red and green
navigation lights and stern light, the pulsating phosphorescence of radar
repeaters - they cut through the dusk and join with the mirror of stars
overhead. And I like drifting off to sleep lulled by the myriad noises
large and small that tell me that my ship is alive and well, and that my
shipmates on watch will keep me safe.
I like quiet mid-watches with the aroma of strong coffee - the lifeblood of
the Navy - permeating everywhere. And I like hectic watches when the
exacting minuet of haze-gray shapes racing at flank speed keeps all hands
on a razor edge of alertness. I like 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 transforms herself in a few brief seconds
from a peaceful workplace to a weapon of war - ready for anything. And I
like the sight of space-age equipment manned by youngsters clad in
dungarees and sound-powered phones that their grandfathers would still
I like the traditions of the Navy and the men and women who made them. I
like the proud names of Navy heroes: Halsey, Nimitz, Perry, Farragut, John
Paul Jones. A sailor can find much in the Navy: comrades-in-arms, pride in
self and country, mastery of the seaman's trade. An adolescent can find
In years to come, when sailors are home from the sea, they will still
remember with fondness and respect the ocean in all its moods - the
impossible shimmering mirror calm and the storm-tossed green water surging
over the bow. And then there will come again a faint whiff of 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 and chief's quarters and mess decks. Gone ashore for good they will
grow wistful about their Navy days, when the seas belonged to them and a
new port of call was ever over the horizon.
Remembering this, they will stand taller and say,
"I WAS A SAILOR ONCE. I WAS PART OF THE NAVY & THE NAVY WILL ALWAYS BE PART