He Was A Swab
When I was but a youngster, and knew little of this world, I was sure of this one thing.
This Sailor was the most important person that I had ever seen.
He had sailed the world but said it was the 7 seas.
He talked of Davy Jones, and white caps, and pennants whipping in the breeze.
He also spoke of other things that were very strange to me.
General Quarters, all hands man your battle stations!
And he said “I prayed, and I knew whatever was to be would be, but I believe He answered me."
That was in Pearl, as he recalled, and he survived that day.
He never spoke of Shipmates suffering, he held it in his soul, he wanted it that way.
He always spoke of lighter things where he would have his easy thoughts create a friendly give and take.
Those serious things he was concerned might make his strong voice break.
He was on that Battle Wagon, Arizona, on December 7, 1941.
She was lost but he was spared, the real reason is known to none.
He noted he was just the lucky one, and that is all he would disclose.
He went from Arizona to other ships, for the duration as it was said, until the war came to a close.
This "Swab" as he called himself, still served on ships with wooden decks, and he still knew that holystone.
He had become a leading Seaman, and now his junior Shipmates had to moan and groan.
He still talked of washing whitehats in the wake. And of scrubbing piping with toothpaste.
Using masking tape to rid his blues of any lint, which might spoil that look that was this Swab’s taste.
He rolled the brim of his whitehat, very carefully while it was still wet; he mentioned.
It held that shape when it was dry, which was his full intention.
As it set upon his curly hair, it was not square, as the regulations state.
But it was he "the salty one" that had seen it and done it; that, no one could debate.
The whitehat was the start of it, and then the 13 button blues, belled and spiked with dragons on the cuffs.
With spit shined boots and a neckerchief that was tightly rolled and tied close to his throat.
He was the envy of every Whitehat, of his crew, as he stepped lightly to that liberty boat.
He later rode a Heavy Cruiser – I have indeed tried hard, but can't recall Her name.
He told me some about Her, and I understood She gained Her fame.
She was in many battles in that Second World War.
She and Her crew did their best to even up the score.
He told me he made Gunner Second Class before the War was done.
And he was a Gun Mount Captain, aboard that Heavy Cruiser, when that same war was won.
He can speak no more nor tell me of a Sailors way, for he’s been gone for many years.
I remain the reservoir of many of his thoughts and words and very nearly tears.
I spent my working life in Navy Blues, and it was always near to much of what he said.
To me it was an honored place, and he was right to speak of the life, which he, that Swab once had led.
1987 E. A. Hughes, FTCM (SS), USN (Retired) - used with the kind permission of the Master Chief.
"As I read over your work on the USS Savage web site I found a number of things that connected me with the USS Savage over the years, my Uncle Donald Inselman S1c was a survivor of the sinking of the Battleship Arizona on 7 Dec. 1941 he managed to escape from the Arizona before She sank. I had no idea, before you contacted me about posting “Once I Was a Navyman” that the USS SAVAGE (DE/DER-386) was given its name in honor of a sailor that was a casualty on the Arizona at Pearl Harbor, Ens WALTER S. SAVAGE, JR.
Another close connection is that I was stationed in Charleston, SC for a few years on a Submarine the USS Tecumseh (SSBN 628) which turned out to be my last sea duty, I was Chief of the Boat (COB) on the Tecumseh for three years and participated in 7 deterrent patrols aboard that Submarine. Our headquarters was just across the Charleston harbor from Mt Pleasant, SC and Patriots Point where the USS Savage has had a number of connections over the years, the unfortunate accident in Mt Pleasant, and the other things that I have read about, that took place just across Charleston Harbor are interesting indeed but I have a way to go before I can complete my research of the USS Savage.
I would like to forward a poem that wrote about my Uncle Donald Inselman. He was the first Sailor that I ever seen and I was impressed by him, he was probably the major reason that I joined the Navy some years later."