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    Southern Life

    My Navy Days

    by | 12 | Feb 10, 2011

    When I tell people that I served in the Navy, their eyebrows go up when they hear that I was stationed in Oklahoma.  For the geography-challenged, Oklahoma is landlocked. For the vocabulary challenged, “landlocked” means “cut off from the sea.” For the connections challenged, think “sailors,” then “ships,” then “oceans,” and then “Oklahoma.”

    Sound suspicious?

    It did to me, too.

    And I grew even more suspicious when my next duty station was in Jacksonville, Florida – and I still hadn’t seen a ship.

    Long story short, I was in the Navy for two years – and never saw a ship!

    Let me repeat that: I was in the United States Navy for two years and never saw a ship.

    Talk about embarrassing! People see you wearing a sailor suit and just naturally assume that you are a sailor and that sailors sail, and that sailing requires a flotation device of some kind, and that the device is probably a ship. Anchors aweigh, ship ahoy, and all that – remember?

    Bottom line, I came to believe that the Navy had no ships.

    None.

    Nada.

    Zero.

    But once I got over the shock, I began to think: Sonofagun! How clever! How economical, too!”

    After all, how many times have you read in the newspaper, or heard on TV, something like this: “The Seventh Fleet steamed into the Mediterranean today”?

    Didn’t you naturally assume that it was true, that it in fact happened?

    Didn’t you picture this great flotilla of battleships and destroyers and aircraft carriers and various other vessels gliding east through the Straits of Gibraltar, flags flying, sea water spraying, radar scanners fairly bristling with alertness, checking out anything and everything that moved on land, sea, or in the sky.

    But how could any of this happen without ships?

    Note also that these news stories are never eye-witness reports. They never say, for instance, “I saw the Seventh Fleet steam into the Mediterranean today.”

    They don’t even say “I know a guy who knows a guy whose cousin saw the Seventh Fleet steam into the Mediterranean today.”

    No. It’s always a simple announcement. A flat-out, take-it-or-leave-it announcement. And it never comes with attribution. Or if it does, the attribution is something vague, like “Naval officials said.”

    So there you have it, and you heard it here first: The Navy has no ships. Doesn’t need any ships. Simple news reports do the job. It’s a phantom navy, is what it is. Like the Emperor’s clothes, it simply isn’t there – but doesn’t need to be because everybody believes it is there. Brilliant!

    But try as I might, I could not get our executive officer, ol’ Blood and Guts Richards, to understand it.

    This was after Captain Richards called me into his office to “discuss” the “unusual theory” I had been “spreading among the men.”

    But I spoke right up. “It’s not a theory, sir.”

    “Eh?”

    “It’s all a big mind game. Smoke and mirrors.

    “Eh?”

    “And I believe the Navy owes me an apology.”

    “A what?”

    “Apology.  You people got me into this uniform on false pretenses.”

    He looked at me hard for a minute. “Well, Sailor, tell you what I’m going to do.”

    “Yes, sir?”

    “I’m going to get you out of that uniform, pronto, and there’s nothing false about my intentions.”

    With that, he called for his clerk, Chief Somethingorother, who only a microsecond later stood in the exec’s doorway, eager to do his bidding. Pointing at me, Richards demanded, “Has this sailor ever been up to 650?”

    Six-Fifty was the number on the building that housed the base’s mental cases.  The number had become a shorthand way of saying someone was crazy: “Oh, he’s 650.” Or “Oh, he went 650; didn’t you hear?”

    The chief smiled. “No, sir. He’s what we call a 325.”

    I knew that one, too. It meant only half crazy.

    “He’s from Georgia, sir,” the chief added, as if my being Southern explained everything.

    Capt. Richards did not crack a smile. He said, “Well, Chief, this is Seaman Lamb’s last day in uniform. We’re going to ship him back —” He caught himself and began anew.  “We’re going to send him back to Georgia. Draw up his discharge papers for my signature within the hour.”

    “Aye, aye, sir. What kind of discharge, sir?”

    “What do we have that’s just shy of Nutty as a Fruitcake?” the captain asked.

    The chief smiled again. “Sir, that’d be a general discharge.”

    “Then write him up as a general.”

    “Aye, aye, sir. A general it is.” He went back to his desk just outside the door. Soon I heard typing.

    I have to say that it kinda hurt my feelings to be given the heave-ho just for telling the dang truth. But I figured I’d better quit while I was ahead. Not many people go into the Navy as a seaman recruit and get promoted to general on their way out after only two years in uniform.

    ###
    Robert Lamb

    Robert Lamb

    I grew up in Augusta, Ga., where I attended Boys' Catholic High. After a stint in the Navy, I attended the University of Georgia, majoring in English (Class of '61). I began my (wholly unexpected) journalism career on the old Augusta Herald, an evening paper, and went to work for The Constitution in, I think, 1976. I left in Sept. '82 to write The Great American Novel. That goal has proved remarkably elusive, but my first attempt (Striking Out, in 1991) was nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award and my second (Atlanta Blues, in 2004) contended for an Edgar Award. My latest novel won no honors but might well get me nominated for a hanging. Titled A Majority of One, it is about a clash between religion and the Constitution over book-banning in a small Georgia town. I've also published a collection of short stories and poems: Six of One, Half Dozen of Another. Before retirement, I taught creative writing and American literature at the University of South Carolina and its Honors College, and feature writing in its School of Journalism. I maintain a now-and-then blog at boblamb.wordpress.com and I walk my dog on the beach a lot at Pawleys Island, S.C.

     

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    • Monica Smith

      I know a fellow from Indiana who was in the Navy and I don’t think he was ever on a ship either. He did, however, take some real sailors on shore leave in New Hampshire to the brig when they upset the locals with their carousing. And he did learn to keep a really neat bunk. Or perhaps, it was being a neatness freak that attracted him to the Navy in the first place.
      Thanks for a really good read. If I hadn’t cried so much over Egypt yesterday, I might have cried laughing this morning.

    • Tom Poland

      So Bob, did you ever get as drunk as the proverbial sailor?

    • boblamb

      Monica, thanks. I was with a fellow sailor from Indiana the first time he saw the ocean. It blew his mind. “I always thought the ocean was just sort of a very big river.” he said. “Wow!”

      Hi, Tom. I did indeed get that drunk — but only once. I could not have lived through another hangover like that one. I had naively mixed beer and wine, and then, when I got back to the barracks, mouthed off to the biggest guy in the company. He knew I was out of my mind (that is, more than usual), so he let it pass. But he did consult with me about my insults the next morning. I apologized religiously and he forgave me. I can’t say that I’ve never been in my cups again, but I certainly learned not to mix beer and wine — or pop off to guys twice my size.

      • Monica Smith

        The Germans have a saying about beer and wine.
        ” Wein auf Bier, das geht gut; Bier auf Wein, das lass sein.”
        It’s the order that counts. No beer chasers, when you’ve had wine.

    • Gita

      Fiction or nonfiction, very funny. I expected the Commandant to reassign you to a ship where your job would be swabbing decks and cleaning the galley.

    • boblamb

      I guess it would fall into the tall-tale category, but all of it is true up to the captain’s “interview.”
      Actually, he turned out to have a good sense of humor and everything ended well.

    • Dawn P

      Hi Bob. David sent me this to read, and it gave me quite a giggle. Especially considering that I was also in the Navy and stationed in TWO landlocked places…Tucson and Atlanta. I think your theory is genius. I took a tour of (not “did a tour on”) an aircraft carrier, also known as the USS Enterprise, and I’m sure it was just a big prop. In fact, I asked to be stationed on said prop, only to be told I couldn’t be because I’m a girl. Apparently we females have cooties that render this prop/warship ineffective.

      You now have a new fan. I look forward to reading more.

      • boblamb

        Wish I’d thought of the prop idea; I’d have used it. Consider it stolen for use in the future.
        Glad you enjoyed the piece. Was that David Lamb who sent it to you?

    • Dawn P

      It was :) And please, steal away. Also, I read “Atlanta Blues” about a year ago and loved it. Had no idea I knew the author’s son. It really can be a small world.

    • boblamb

      I’m very proud of David. He’s one of the best people I know. Smart, too.
      Thanks for the compliment on Atlanta Blues. Glad you didn’t read Striking Out. Though it’s a good novel, IMHO, it’s not a novel for women. A friend of mine who gave it to his mother, innocently thinking to please both her and me by giving her a book written by a friend of his, has never lived it down.
      But, hey, it was nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award.
      I see that you are a reader. Are you a writer?

    • Dawn P

      I like David a lot as well…wonder if his ears are burning right now? ;) And now that you’ve piqued my curiosity, I’m going to find ‘Striking Out’. I often like things that aren’t “for women”.
      I am a writer…in my journal lol. It’s always been my dream to write and publish an amazing novel. What’s your secret? Any advice?

    • boblamb

      I do have some that might benefit you. But Like the Dew isn’t the place to continue this. Send me your email address at boblamb@hotmail.com and we’ll go from there.

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