CHIEF HOPPERS SUNDAY SERMON
It was the Sunday morning after our first Navy Liberty. Just a few mere hours ago, Saturday night belonged to us and us alone along with four thousand other sailors. When we woke up, or should I say, came to, many of us had awful headaches. Some of us were in the head throwing up. There were a few black eyes in the crowd and, two or three of our guys smelled like very cheap perfume. In short the night was a big success. We all agreed that after six or seven weeks of boot camp it sure was great to get out and howl a bit.
Only one scandal besmirched the night of a thousand dreams. It seems that one of our guys got nailed by the Shore Patrol. What was rough, was that this guy, let’s call him Gronsky, was our flag bearer. Most of our drilling and marching routines centered round him. We were worried that without his expertise, we might not do to well in formation drill competitions. This could cost us valuable competition points.
Evidently, Gronsky had gotten, like most of us, way more than half tight while on liberty. He was evidently singing and, barfing in the train station when the shore patrol spotted him. We heard that he spent the night in the brig. That could mean that he’d maybe get sent back a whole week in training. We wouldn’t even see him again except maybe in passing on the parade grounds. We felt bad for the guy but, what could we do?
Our compartment needed a bit of a cleanup and our recruit master at arms hollered for us to get busy and police the place before our chief came by. One of us asked if we could see the tassels again that the girl at the theater threw his way. He said that the girl threw them his way because she liked him so much. We all thought that as fat as he was, she just wanted to see if he could swing them in different directions just like she could. A bit of a howling match ensued. We almost had our master at arms ready to stick the darn things on and spin them when our door sentry hollered, “ATTENTION ON DECK!!!!!”
Chief Hopper, our CO, entered our compartment shouting at the top of his lungs for all of us to get our pieces on the double. Man, he was mad. We climbed over top of each other in a crazed and panic filled dash for the rifle rack. By the way, in the Navy, a rifle is called a piece. Ours were impossible to shoot. I don’t think that they had firing pins. Even if they did, I don’t think they had triggers either. Mostly, they were used for drilling or exercising. There was this routine called the manual of arms where you stood in one place and moved the piece from one official looking position to another. Do this for an hour or more, and you could get very tired.
Chief called us to attention. We snapped to. Then, he told us to hold our piece out at arms length and, keep it there. The way he said it meant that even blinking was out until he said it was ok. If anyone let the piece drop even an eighth of an inch, he’d have killed us all. This was not a time to get away with anything. Not right now. Something very serious was on Chief Hoppers mind and he was about to tell us what it was. As we stood there in our underwear, reeking of booze and French fries, Chief Hopper started one of the worlds great speeches.
“Men!!! In this Navy, you will get to go on many, many, liberties. It’s one of the benefits of being a sailor. There are some basic rules of common decency that I assume your parents taught you when you were young. I know some of those rules you will promptly ignore the second your foot steps off the gangplank. You can always square that with your folks at a later date. If your dad was in the service, I’m sure he will understand. Hell, if your mother isn’t around, he might even smile and tell you about a few of the liberties he was on. Maybe he and your mom met when he was on liberty. It happens quite a bit.
Men! Some rules are meant to be broken. But then, there’s also rules that must never be broken. I’m going to give you that rule right now. Keep those pieces up!!!!
Whether you are land based or whether you are in a far off port of call. When you are on liberty, you never abandon your drunken shipmate to the shore patrol. NEVER!!!! You must do all in your power short of murder to get him back to his ship or the main gate. Last night Gronsky was with four of you and, when he was crawling on his hands and knees on the train platform, in his underwear singing Anchors Away as he barfed his guts up, he caught the attention of the shore patrol. He was then whisked away and brought back to base by them. I know that this kind of scene is nothing new to the shore patrol. They deal with it every night that sailors hit the streets. They certainly weren’t going to hurt Gronsky. He was safe in their hands.
BUT, HE WAS SAFER IN YOUR HANDS!!!! What if you were at a foreign port and you let him wander off drunk into an alley while you headed back to your ship? That might have been the last you ever saw of your shipmate. In this Navy, it’s all for one and one for all. If you don’t look out for each other, you won’t make it out of the service alive. We do not believe in every man for himself here. Do you understand???!!!”
A screaming, “YES SIR!!!!” Echoed through the building. It sure made sense to me. Boy did my arms ever hurt. Still couldn’t let that darn piece drop. Chief Hopper continued.
“It would have been better if all four of you with Gronsky at your side, pretended to be just as drunk as he was. At least then you could keep an eye on him and then if you all got thrown in a cell you could take turns making sure he didn’t fall asleep on his back and choke. I’d have been proud of you if you had done that. It would have shown that you knew the meaning of being shipmates. Of course, I’d have been even prouder of you if you had happened to outrun the shore patrol. That, would have been outstanding!
Chief Hopper told us to put our pieces down. That was a relief. As we groaned and rubbed our arms, he had one more thing to tell us.
“Men, we are in this together. We must look out for each other or we’ll sink! Do you understand?”
We gave out with a massive, “Yes Sir!!!”
Chief Hopper smiled and looked around the compartment. We got his message and were, for a brief while, forgiven. His gaze fell upon our Master At Arms. Chief just looked him over and shook his head and grinned. He had to ask a question. “Master at arms, why are you wearing tassels?”
Gronsky, our flag bearer, came back later that Sunday. He was a bit green still and didn’t eat much at mess call that night. Funny, but he had some tassels too. He didn’t remember getting them.
Sad to say that I didn’t have much of a future with the Navy. I was only in for a little over four months. I am technically a veteran but, not really. It’s always been a source of real shame for me. But Chief Hoppers message to us that Sunday morning when our head and arms hurt so bad, made a very big impression on me.
The idea that you should stick up for your shipmates is not a bad idea at all. This is especially true for any branch of the service. But, it’s also true for any police, fire, or rescue company as well. In fact, I don’t think that any of these groups could function long without that attitude. Chief Hopper knew his stuff and lived it too.
Eventually, I did find a way to serve my country as a volunteer member of a very busy rescue squad in the City of Wilson, North Carolina. We had some mighty wild calls in that city. We got through them nicely because each one of us was ready to do the job knowing that everyone else in our company was ready to help too if need be. The plan works. It permeates the very being of almost everyone who lives a life of service.
Even when you’re retired from a particular service group, the attitude sticks. Look at the good people of Operation Chillout for instance. Most everyone in that group is retired or discharged military. They could be out fishing all day I guess. I’m sure they get in their share of the fun things retired people do. But, they also remember that lesson my boot camp company got from Chief Hopper. Oh, their lesson may have come in some other manner. Great ideas can hit you from almost anywhere and in almost anyway. The source is a kind of well spring fountain. It just pops up and squirts you right between the eyes. Good life ideas are like that.
You know how Operation Chillout seeks out, finds, and helps homeless veterans. In essence, it’s no different than the basic idea of helping your drunken shipmate get back to the ship. It’s the very good idea of being your brothers keeper when need be.
Drunken sailors have shipmates. A lone police officer walking the beat once had his whistle. He now has a radio and get back up before you know it. There’s always a second ambulance ready to roll in a heartbeat. There’s always a group like Operation Chillout walking into an old abandoned railroad tunnel to see if a homeless veteran wants to get straightened out or at least needs some fresh water or a new pair of shoes.
Watching tassels is great fun. Still, be glad that there’s a lot of wonderful people out there who are watching your back when you’re watching someone elses back, who has his or her eyes on someone elses back, who has their eyes on someone elses…..well, you guessed it.