Social Polish

Sometimes, it seems that the powers that be smile on us and grant us a favor. It’s not until you’re in the middle of the situation that you actually see the great joke.

We were in Brisbane, Australia for the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. The cruiser USS Chicago was involved in the battle and they were trying to gather all the namesake ships for the celebration. All the important ships were to meet at Sydney. Since the USS Chicago sunk in the battle, we were sent to Brisbane.

During the voyage to Australia, to put us in the mood, our venerable captain gathered us together on the mess decks. He split the crew into thirds, but it was still quite a challenge to fit fifty people into a space designed for twenty-four. He then proceeded to read from the battle log of the cruiser. He read log entries for over an hour.

Fifty of us, crammed around little tables, listening to his voice drone on…and on… and on. The air conditioning, which is always challenged to keep this area cool, decided that this was a futile task. The temperature started to rise.

The captain, his bald head shining in the florescent lighting (every submarine captain I’ve seen is bald) continued to recite the log entries. This was a man you did not fall asleep in front of. If he caught you nodding off, you could just forget about being paid for a few months. I saw men bite their tongues trying to stay awake during that hour. Finally, the ordeal was over and we were allowed to return to our duties. If his was to put us in the mood, what were we in for? We found out all too soon.

We finally arrived in port, moored the sub, and connected to shore based electricity when the word arrived: The Secretary of the Navy was in town for the celebration. Tomorrow he would visit us, talk to us, and answer any questions we had. It was his idea of improving morale.

What does anyone do when they find out someone important is coming to visit? They usually like to straighten up a bit. Fluff up the pillows, do some quick dusting, vacuum the rug. In the navy, this process turns into an all hands, four hour cleaning extravaganza.

Once this cleaning (known as a field day) is finished, the off duty crew got to go ashore and the duty section continued cleaning. I was in the duty section. I got to wash the floors in the engine room and make sure the bilge was nice and clean. You never know when a Secretary of the Navy might want to crawl down inside a bilge.

I didn’t mind though. I knew that my duty section would be relieved at eight o’clock the next morning. This meant that I would not be there when the Secretary arrived. Little did I know…..

The next morning we were rousted out of bed and told that we would remain with that day’s duty section until the Secretary’s tour was over. We were to gather in our work areas and be ready to answer any questions when he came through. Oh, and we had to be in our dress white uniforms. So I find myself, on my first day off in Australia, standing in the engine room in my dress uniform.
We spent an hour waiting for the Secretary to arrive. Finally, the executive officer (XO) came over the announcing system and told everyone to gather on the mess decks.

The XO was an interesting officer. He’s a rapidly advancing officer. His last position was in Washington DC, writing orders for other officer’s tours of duty. It seems he sent all the bright fast track officers to the USS Chicago, then he wrote himself orders to the USS Chicago. The rest of his career has been mainly spent in Washington as an aide to numerous admirals and politicians.
There were now approximately fifty of us on the mess decks waiting for the XO. Almost like a few days before when we were listening to the captain. The only difference is this time we’re wearing 100% polyester dress uniforms. The XO finally comes in and addresses us.

“Men,” he says, “if the Secretary of the Navy asks you if you’re in today’s duty section, tell him yes.”

I being both a smart ass and part of yesterday’s duty section, raise my hand.

“Yes, petty officer?”

“Sir, wouldn’t that be an integrity violation?”

“No, petty officer, that would be …um…er…that would be social polish.”

And here I thought polish was what we did to all the brass on board during the previous day. That comment of his showed me that there was one major difference between myself and that rapidly rising officer. We both did a lot of polishing, he just polished a different type of brass.

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