Spent the night with an old Shipmate from the early 70s last night in Memphis, we got to talking and his wife (who married him after he retired), didn’t understand half of what we were talking about, so “Splat”dug out a cruise book from back in the day, and then the stories started…Β 

I ‘really’ think about half way through she was questioning who the hell she’d married… πŸ™‚

In Splat’s honor, I give you Sailor Bars… Β Where most of us grew up!!!

Our favorite liberty bars were unlike no other watering holes or dens of iniquity inhabited by seagoing men. They had to meet strict standards to be in compliance with the acceptable requirement for a sailor beer-swilling dump. The first and foremost requirement was a crusty old gal serving suds. She had to be able to wrestle King Kong to parade rest. Be able to balance a tray with one hand, knock sailors out of the way with the other hand and skillfully navigate through a roomful of milling around drunks. On slow nights, she had to be the kind of gal who would give you a back scratch or put her foot on the table so you could admire her new ankle bracelet some “mook” brought her back from a Hong Kong liberty. A good barmaid had to be able to whisper sweet nothings in your young sailor ear like, “I love you no shit, you buy me Honda??”

“Buy a pack of Clorets and chew up the whole thing before you get within heaving range of any gal you ever want to see again.” And, from the crusty old gal behind the bar, “Hey animals, I know we have a crowd tonight, but if any of you guys find the head facilities fully occupied and start pissing down the floor drain, you’re gonna find yourself scrubbing the deck with your white hats!”

The barmaids had to be able to admire great tattoos, look at pictures of ugly bucktooth kids and smile. Be able to help haul drunks to cabs and comfort 19 year-olds who had lost someone he thought loved him in a dark corner booth. They could look at your ship’s identification shoulder tab and tell you the names of the Skippers back to the time you were a Cub Scout.

If you came in after a late night maintenance problem and fell asleep with a half-eaten Slim-Jim in your hand, they tucked your peacoat around you, put out the cigarette you left burning in the ashtray and replaced the warm draft you left sitting on the table with a cold one when you woke up. Why? Simply because they were one of the few people on the face of the earth that knew what you did, and appreciated what you were doing.

And if you treated them like a decent human being and didn’t drive ’em nuts by playing songs they hated on the juke box, they would lean over the back of the booth and park their soft, warm tits on your neck when they sat two San Miguel beers in front of you. And the Imported table wipe down guy and glass washer, trash dumper, deck swabber and paper towel replacer. The guy had to have baggy tweed pants and a gold tooth and a grin like a 1950 Buick. And a name like “Ramon”, “Juan”, “Pedro” or “Tico”. He had to smoke unfiltered Luckies, Camels or Raleighs. He wiped the tables down with a sour wash rag that smelled like a billy goats crotch and always said, “How are choo navee mans tonight? He was the indispensable man. The guy with credentials that allowed him to borrow Slim-Jims, Beer Nuts and pickled hard boiled eggs from other beer joints when they ran out where he worked.

The establishment itself. The place had to have walls covered with ship and squadron plaques. The walls were adorned with enlarged unit patches and the dates of previous deployments. A dozen or more old, yellowed photographs of fellows named “Buster”, “Chicago”, “P-Boat Barney”, “Flaming Hooker Harry”, “Malone”, “Honshu Harry”, “Jackson”, “Douche Bag Doug”, and “Capt Slade Cutter” decorated any unused space. It had to have the obligatory Michelob, Pabst Blue Ribbon and “Beer Nuts sold here” neon signs. An eight-ball mystery beer tap handle and signs reading. “Your mother does not work here, so clean away your frickin trash.”
“Keep your hands off the barmaid.”
“Don’t throw butts in urinal.”
“Barmaid’s word is final in settling bets.”
“Take your fights out in the alley behind the bar!”
“Owner reserves the right to waltz your worthless sorry ass outside.”
“Shipmates are responsible for riding herd on their ship/squadron drunks.” This was typical signage found in any good liberty bar.

You had to have a juke box built along the lines of a Sherman tank loaded with Hank Williams, Mother Maybelle Carter, Johnny Horton, Johnny Cash and twenty other crooning goobers nobody ever heard of. Β The damn thing has to have “La Bamba”, Herb Alpert’s “Lonely Bull”Β and Johnny Cash’s “Don’t take your guns to town”. The furniture in a real good liberty bar had to be made from coal mine shoring lumber and was not fully acceptable until it had 600 cigarette burns and your ship’s numbers or “F**k the Navy” carved into it. The bar had to have a brass foot rail and at least six Slim-Jim containers, an oversized glass cookie jar full of Beer-Nuts, a jar of pickled hard boiled eggs that could produce rectal gas emissions that could shut down a sorority party, and big glass containers full of something called Pickled Pigs Feet and Polish Sausage.

Only drunk Chiefs and starving Ethiopians ate pickled pig’s feet and unless the last three feet of your colon had been manufactured by Midas, you didn’t want to get anywhere near the Polish Napalm Dogs.

No liberty bar was complete without a couple of hundred faded ship or airplane pictures and a “Shut the hell up!” sign taped on the mirror behind the bar along with several rather tasteless naked lady pictures. The pool table felt had to have at least three strategic rips as a result of drunken competitors and balls that looked as if a gorilla baby had teethed on the sonuvabitches.

Liberty bars were home and it didn’t matter what country, state, or city you were in. When you walked into a good liberty bar, you felt at home. These were also establishments where 19 year-old kids received an education available nowhere else on earth. You learned how to “tell” and “listen” to sea stories.

You learned about sex at $10.00 a pop — from professional ladies who taught you things your high school biology teacher didn’t know were anatomically possible. You learned how to make a two cushion bank shot and how to toss down a beer and shot of Sun Torry known as a “depth charge.”

We were young, and a helluva long way from home. We were pulling down crappy wages for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a-week availability and loving the life we lived. We didn’t know it at the time, but our association with the men we served with forged us into the men we became. And a lot of that association took place in bars where we shared the stories accumulated in our, up to then, short lives. We learned about women and that life could be tough on a gal.

While many of our classmates were attending college, we were getting an education slicing through the green rolling seas in WestPac, experiencing the orgasmic rush of a night cat shot, the heart pounding drama of the return to the ship with the gut wrenching arrestment to a pitching deck. The hours of tedium, boring holes in the sky late at night, experiencing the periodic discomfort of turbulence, marveling at the creation of St. Elmo’s Fire, and sometimes having our reverie interrupted with stark terror.

But when we came ashore on liberty, we could rub shoulders with some of the finest men we would ever know, in bars our mothers would never have approved of, in saloons and cabarets that would live in our memories forever. Long live those liberties in WestPac and in the Med – They were the greatest! “Any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction, I SERVED IN THE UNITED STATES NAVY.”

And I know I’m home when I can get this…

And topped off with a piece of Pecan pie… I’m in hog heaven πŸ™‚


Shipmates… — 26 Comments

  1. My first billet was on a tin can forward-deployed out of Elefsis, Greece, and you just described every hole within walking distance of our (cough) “relocatable” (cough) concrete pier.

    My parents didn’t know (okay, my dad suspected, having been in the Army) and I won’t tell my congregants any time soon, but that’s as accurate a description as any I’ve ever encountered.

    Thanks for the memories.

  2. Really enjoyed your story. Made me feel like I was there.

    Thank You so much for your Service and can I have a bite of that food it looks so good πŸ™‚

  3. Thanks, NFO. I see the wives look at each other wondering what crazy people they married when my friends get together and start telling stories. I know the look. I’m sure you saw it as well.

  4. Splat? Has to be quite the story there.

    And you just described most of the bars around every podunk Army post around the world. Could be Fayetteville, Nurmberg, or Camp Red Cloud. Same bar, different continent.

  5. Thanks for the trip back to my favorite places…

    And I THOUGHT I felt a strange vibration in the Memphis air last night.

  6. !

    Nothing has taken me back to my teen-age, white-hat, nights in Olongapo and Subic City like that. Many thanks.

  7. I’m smiling because I know those places and learned quite a few lessons in them.

    Paid a guy five bucks once to paint our squadron’s trouble shooter patch on the wall next to the squadron one.

    Somewhere in PI there is a VFA-147 patch on the wall near the top, right next to the door.

    My dad was a sailor too, and like Rev. Paul said – he knew, mom doesn’t. Think I’ll keep it that way. πŸ™‚

  8. That, sir, was a BEAUTIFULLY crafted story, wonderfully written, and made me wistful with memories of my own “bar scenes.”

    You can be proud of your service, and I THANK you for your service!


  9. Great post. I’m sure we can all identify with some if not all of it. But there is one thing I’ve never been able to understand.

    Why would an otherwise normal young man (or nowadays man or woman) voluntarily absent himself from such establishments, not to mention ‘meaningful interaction’ (nudge nudge, wink wink) with the opposite sex, for months at a time?

    Don’t get me wrong. I have tremendous respect for those individuals, and am very grateful to them. But I prefer my water without salt, in a solid state (that is, frozen), and safely contained in a glass surrounded by a tasty amber liquid.

    So help me out here. Why do men – and women – go to sea?

  10. MC- Thanks!

    Rev- Yes it is/was :-0 I know NOTHING!!! πŸ™‚

    SS- Just come to the South! πŸ™‚

    45- That I did…LOL

    Jon- πŸ™‚

    LL- Gordon Ave, VP Alley πŸ™‚ Not that I’ve ever been to the Missouri Bar… Nope…

    Carteach0- I can’t take credit for writing it, I wish I knew who did so I could thank them!

    Navy One- You Sir are a generation late πŸ™‚

    Danny- Yep, we did both last night too!

    DB- Imagine an affluence of Incohol, a screen door and a fish pond… πŸ™‚

    Rick- Too bad you couldn’t join us!

    Les- And don’t forget Chicken in the Dirt!!! πŸ™‚

    Jim- You’re welcome Sir!

    WSF- I think there is a Jolly Bar around EVERY military base in the world…LOL

    Instinct- That works πŸ™‚

    BZ- Thanks!

    PH- If you’ve ever been to survival school… Remember you can and WILL eat anything by about day three (and I don’t know a damn thing about any goat turning up missing in Warner Springs in 1973… Nothing…

    Tim- The only answer I can give you is patriotism and a desire to serve their country… And knowing they WILL see the world! The sea is truly a harsh mistress, and only the best survive out there. You learn a LOT about yourself on the mid watch, when you realize how truly insignificant not only you are; but how insignificant your ship is, even if it is a carrier! And the port calls are payback for that πŸ™‚

  11. Po City, Subic, the hole-in-the-walls around Clark, Anderson, Kadena, Korat, U-Tapoa, Taipei. . .

    And then the bars around all the stateside bases, forts and ports–exactly as you described.

    The education and experience you gain through military service often extends beyond the uniform, but without the uniform, you don’t get the experience and education.

    It’s a thing called tradition, and it’s something the rat-bastards of today’s politically correct goobermint is doing its damndest to destroy and outlaw.

    Good stuff, NFO, damned good stuff.


  12. Only those who have spent extended time at sea with their shipmates can fully appreciate it!

  13. Hey Jim Remember this one?

    How do you tell the difference between a Fairy tale and a Sea Story?

    A fairy Tale begins with, “Once upon a time”!

    A SEA STORY begins with, “Now listen, this ain’t NO SHIT”!!!

  14. AOA- You are completely correct Sir! dammit…

    ADM/Mrs. C- Thanks

    drjim- You are correct, for better or worse πŸ™‚

    Ev- Yep…LOL