The Connie was my twentieth duty station, and the first thing I’ll say is that I could not have been the CO without first having had each and every experience included in the previous nineteen assignments.
Or a more eloquent way of saying that. In Falkner’s Requiem for a Nun, there are the lines: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
I’ve developed a morning coffee ritual. A sign of having entered into my dotage perhaps. But I have coffee mugs dedicated to days of the week. Tuesday I use a mug I got from the US Navy memorial in Washington D.C. with the statue of the Lone Sailor in front. I was quite taken with that statue the first time I saw it. It sure brought to mind when I, as a seaman apprentice, reported in to my first ship, USS Manley, DD-940. I waited to check in until 2300, an hour after taps. I didn’t want to have the whole crew looking at the new meat slithering aboard. I wanted to sneak aboard in the dead of night, and the next morning, at reveille, just wake up and be part of the crew. Like magic. Didn’t work out quite so slick, but it was what I thought I could make happen.
But that statue of the Lone Sailor just reminded me of how alone I felt walking down the pier, seabag strap over my shoulder. It was very clear to me I was not a part of any one of the ships berthed there. I was alone. On the quarterdeck, the OOD took my orders and records and the messenger escorted me to my berthing area. With red night lighting I found an empty bunk with folded mattress and a folded blanket. If I’d checked in before taps, I could have had a fart-sack and a sheet.
There just is no way to avoid being a new guy when you’re a new guy. Most of my year aboard Manley was spent cleaning that berthing compartment and the head and mess cooking. A very big day in my life was when I made third class petty officer, which ended my final stint as a mess cook, and I found out I was selected for the NESEP program. Big, big day.
Anyway, back to the feeling alone business, the time I felt that most intensely is when I walked off the Connie after change of command. Forever after, I would be a sailor without a ship.
So my Tuesday mug is a bit of a tribute to my first ship, the first crew I was part of, a reminder of the transformation of Jack Zerr, kid from a small farm town in Missouri, into a sailor, and a tribute to the last crew I was part of.
For a couple of minutes each morning, I lean on the kitchen counter and sip mud from the mug, and the past isn’t past, and I am not a sailor without a ship.
That is one part of what it felt and feels like.