Signal Lights and Sailors

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Someone told me that Morse Code is a thing of the past in the armed forces and that global positioning satellites have done away with the need for Quartermasters. That all positioning is done by electronic technicians.

I don't think I would like today's submarine duty -- You crawl into one of those big ugly looking iron monsters -- Close the hatch and say 'goodbye' to daylight, sunrises and sunsets, being bounced around in heavy seas, listening to the code beeping away in the radio shack and not being able to see signal lights flashing back and forth at sea.

Signal lights and sailors... I never thought it would ever be otherwise.

You would be having a smoke and bullshitting with the manifold operators in control, when your duty Signalman would haul out the light and head up to the conn. You'd crush out your smoke in the chart table butt kit and swing up the ladder behind the skivvy-waver.

"Bridge, conn... Permission for two men to lay topside."

"Conn, bridge... Who are they?"

"Biilingsly and Armstrong... Billinglsy is hauling the Lucy Light. Said he wants to see if we can gin up a movie swap with somebody tomorrow morning -- Tells me it's the Old Man's idea -- Armstrong just wants to air armpits, catch a smoke and see what the world looks like."

"Permission granted for Billingsly. Tell Dex to bring three black and bitters up with him."

And so it went -- The gentle slap of the signal light shutters opening and shutting. Take a second and close your eyes -- Hear it? That distinctive popping sound as an intermittent finger of flashing light reached to the horizon. If you rode smokeboats you can remember the sound.

"What's he saying?"

"Sir, he reads as follows -- USS Richfield, Capt. Roscoe sends his compliments -- Requires charts for Panama approach due to revised OP Order. Can you furnish?" "Whatcha want me to tell him?"

"Return compliments from USS Requin Capt. Edward Frothingham commanding. Then say, 'Wait one' while we check our charts."

It was sailor talk -- Long range sailor-to-sailor bullshit. The Signalman's trick was to execute the official message then bullshit with the lad on the other ship. While officers were working out their officer stuff, the Signalmen would be bitching about what they just had for chow, telling each other what they would do for two pairs of clean socks or just cussing their present OP orders.

There was a very comfortable feeling you got standing on the bridge watching two guys connect your boat to the world -- And all you heard was the gentle slapping of those shutters.

Knowing the nuke navy, it is all a lot quieter -- Just some damn near silent dynathermal rizzofracting fizzmodulator cosmic wordsender that emits no sound above the decibel level of a ladybug fart and has a range of six thousand miles and thirty feet, with a ten-million word transmission taking just under one second, has replaced a really neat shipmate and his magic light.

One thing about the gahdam Rickover Navy -- The sonuvabitches are always replacing real live American Buejackets with stuff you can't bum cigarettes off of.

Hey, you moonbeam propulsion guys -- The sonuvabitch that swapped your signal light for whatever in the hell you got for it, didn't do you a favor -- He picked your pocket when you weren't looking.