Notes from the Southwest Corner: A Sailor’s Happiest and Loneliest Moments

From my Lebanon Democrat archives — it’s a good thing i saved most of them as the new owners disowned anything written there before their takeover. i repeat it here as i wish to remind myself of those sailors, soldiers, and airmen who will not be home for Christmas. We also won’t be back home for Christmas but will be home in the Southwest corner, which is just fine.

SAN DIEGO – Thanksgiving is gone, and Christmas is now truly just around the corner.

The Southwest corner Jewell contingent will be in Tennessee. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” just like Elvis sang a long time ago and Bing sang a long, long time ago.

These first few weeks of December evoke my recollections of the mariner and the sea with its wonderful and wonderfully sad moments.

Many deployments to the Mediterranean or the Western Pacific ended just before Christmas. For the first few deployments, I kept a short-timer calendar. I numbered backward from the day we were to return to home port. Then I marked off each succeeding day to note the count of days remaining.

I quit when I realized it seemed to make the days pass more slowly.

Christmas Landings

Deployments ending around Christmas could be especially happy. Not only was I home from seven to nine months at sea, but I was home for the holidays. I certainly could relate to Bing and Elvis when they sang Kim Gannon’s lyrics. It was truly “the most wonderful time of the year” as Andy Williams sang to us in the 1960s.

It could also be about the most lonesome time.

During my sailing days, ships had a month’s Rest and Relaxation (R&R) period split by Christmas. Half of the officers and crew would get the first 15 days off and the other half would get the last 15 days. If I was in the wrong half, it meant I would spend Christmas working.

After every deployment, single officers, actually or geographically, would get the duty to stay on board the day the ship moored in her home port. The two together could put a real whammy on the holidays.

A Single’s Duty

When I was single, geographically, or otherwise, having to stay on board when my ship moored at home for the first time in months, the first night was most lonesome.

The furor of docking the ship next to a pier clobbered with a military band; Navy brass to welcome us home and get photo ops; and wives, children, and girl friends waiting to take their husbands, fathers, and lovers home kept my adrenalin flowing.

When the brass exited, the women, children, and girl friends took their men home, and the music died, the duty section went to work. The engineering plant had to be secured in consonant with connecting the shore power, water, and auxiliary steam lines. Mooring lines had to be tripled, triced, with rat guards installed. The quarter deck had to be rigged to spit and polish standards.

The command duty officer (CDO, a.k.a. me) was briefed by the captain. The duty watch sections had to be set. The duty section had to muster; damage control and security drills had to be run; colors had to be observed at sunset, and watertight integrity had to be set and checked. After the evening mess, eight o’clock reports had to be taken. A walk through all of the ship’s spaces was my final evening duty.

After taps, an empty hush ensued. I would ponder my lonesomeness in the empty wardroom, which had been a bustling center of khaki for months.

Christmas Away

Even more lonesome were deployments which sailed right through the holidays.

Christmas in Cam Rahn Bay was not too bad. After a year in and out of Vietnam, I was going home in less than a month, and a great guy, Ollie White from West Virginia, an Army Korean Military Advisor Group (KMAG) officer and i shared our Christmas with a pretty young lady, whose father was a general had volunteered for the the U.S.O., and was manager of the base officer’s club.

Christmas in Hong Kong was spectacular, including an evening dinner at the British Officer’s mess atop a pier side skyscraper, followed by the Episcopalian midnight mass.

Christmas on the U.S.S. Yosemite in Diego Garcia was particularly poignant. Only a few of us were conditioned to long deployments. We needed to take the novices’ minds off their distance from home.

Our wardroom mess specialists (formerly stewards) conjured up a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, including non-alcoholic sparkling wine. The uniform was service dress blue, and the wardroom was candlelit.

All of those holiday celebrations were well done, fun, high quality, and very, very lonesome.

My family has been coming back to Tennessee for Christmas since 1992. For me in many ways, it is like a sailor coming home from the sea, and it is far, far away from lonesome.

Note: We have only missed two Tennessee Christmases since 1992. Covid whacked us out of it last year. Christmas on Signal Mountain is dear and oh, so Christmas. Yet, our low in the Southwest corner yesterday was 39, so it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas here as well.

 

1 thought on “Notes from the Southwest Corner: A Sailor’s Happiest and Loneliest Moments

  1. It is interesting that you say “family coming back to TN” and not going to TN. Your heart has never left…………..Thank goodness your part of TN was spared the horrific weather. Merry Christmas to all!! See you when you return.

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