A BLACK SHOE
By VADM. Harold Koenig, U.S.N. Ret.
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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 IMC, and the strong language and laughter of sailors
I like Navy vessels - nervous darting
destroyers, plodding fleet auxiliaries, sleek submarines
and steady solid carriers.
I like the proud names of Navy ships:
Midway, Lexington, Saratoga, Coral Sea - memorials of great
I like the lean angular names of
the Navy - 'tin-cans': Barney, Dahlgren, Mullinix, Parks,
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
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. 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 midwatches with the
aroma of strong coffee - the lifeblood of the Navy - permeating
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
And I like the sight of space-age
equipment manned by youngsters clad in dungarees and sound-powered
phones that their grandfathers would still recognize.
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 adulthood.
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
Remembering this, they will stand
taller and say, "I WAS A SAILOR ONCE. I WAS PART OF
THE NAVY, AND THE NAVY WILL ALWAYS BE PART OF ME".