USS Sierra Veterans Association

Shipmate Poems


This poem was passed on to a submarine veteran, Kenn McDermott (RM 63-68 G) of the USS John C. Calhoun (SSBN 630).  He received this email from another shipmate on one of his old smoke boats, USS Entemedor (SS-340) as they were preparing for a reunion.  He thought the poem expressed just the right sentiment. The poem has universal relevance for those who serve at sea; submarine, air, or surface! 

Forty Years Gone
by Mike Hemming

Thirty, forty or fifty, the number doesn’t matter. its just a measure of the time that has passed. It’s the faces and names of the shipmates that matter. Faces and names, names and faces, are not always matched up. Shipmates remembered even if it’s only bits and pieces. We remember in snippets of things long gone, until we sometimes ask in our own minds did that happen or was it a dream or a story passed on? We would never say that out loud, for around our old buddies we always claim to remember all the good times and sometimes the bad.

They were good men that came from all over for many reasons and sailed together for a time. A time of testing and training, for men would pass on things to you that they themselves had learned. For you were expected to pass that knowledge on to those who came after you. It was a struggle to learn it all, sometimes. But you were learning lessons taught by the school of hard knocks. A school that lists the names of some 4,000 men who don’t want you to repeat mistakes already made.

There were faces of men now gone who once fought a hot war, who told you of traditions to honor those who did not return. Men that had seen too much to even tell it all. They were fighting a hard enemy that rarely gave quarter and so none was given back.

Faces of men that sailed through the years of a long cold war to hold our enemies at bay. Sacrificing years, marriages, limbs and even their lives at times to do what they thought was right. Years of stories untold even today watching the Bear and preparing for a war. Serving on boats built to fight a hot war and then holding the line through a cold war. Until the new boats that were built for the next hot war, a war that fortunately never came.

And faces and names of those that sailed with you and now are gone these many years. We all say, “I wish I could see him one more time, but I don’t know where he is.”

He was an old salt that guarded your back while ashore. Or a young kid that became a man when he stood beside you and fought fire or flooding without backing down. You didn’t say ”thanks’ that day, but now you wish you had. They are all there in the time that has flown away from us.

We have all moved on now for better or worse. Some of them did more and some we never called upon to do more again. They returned home and went on with their lives. Names of men tested and found to be shipmates, an honor which can never be taken away. Faces with names that we shouldn’t have lost as we traveled down the road. A road that led us away from what we did then as it always has to. But we shouldn’t have lost all the faces and the names for all time. The faces and names of these special men that wanted to do something few can do. They did it for reasons unknown to themselves, sometimes much less to others that can never understand the pride in the accomplishment of what they did.

For when the paths we travel meet again, we will all reconnect faces and names again. But wouldn’t it be nice to sit with that lost shipmate forty years gone and remember that life just one more time, right now?

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An Ode To Sailors – Everywhere
I liked standing on the bridge wing at sunrise with salt spray in my face and clean ocean winds whipping in from the four quarters of the globe. 

I liked the sounds of the Navy – the piercing trill of the boatswain’s pipe, the syncopated clangor of the ship’s bell on the quarterdeck, harsh, and the strong language and laughter of sailors at work. 
  I liked Navy vessels — plodding fleet auxiliaries and amphibs, sleek submarines and steady solid aircraft carriers. I liked the proud names of Navy ships: Midway, Lexington, Saratoga, Coral Sea, Antietam, Valley Forge – memorials of great battles won and tribulations overcome. 
  I liked the lean angular names of Navy “tin-cans” and escorts, mementos of heroes who went before us. And the cruisers – – San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles, St. Paul, Chicago, Oklahoma City, named for our cities. 
  I liked the tempo of a Navy band. I liked liberty call and the spicy scent of a foreign port. I even liked the never-ending paperwork and all hands working parties as my ship filled herself with the multitude of supplies, both mundane and to cut ties to the land and carry out her mission, anywhere on the globe where there was water to float her. 
  I liked Sailors, Officers, Chiefs, & Enlisted Men from all parts of the land,  farms of the Midwest, small towns of New England, from the big cities, the mountains and the prairies, from all walks of life. I trusted and depended on them as they trusted and depended on me — for professional competence, for comradeship, for strength and courage. In a word, they were “shipmates”; then and forever. 
  I liked the surge of adventure in my heart, when the word was passed: ”Now Hear This” “Now station the special sea and anchor detail – all hands to quarters for leaving port,” and I liked the infectious thrill of sighting home again, with the waving hands of welcome from family and friends waiting pier side
. The work was hard and dangerous; the going rough at times; the parting from loved ones painful, but the companionship of robust Navy laughter, the “all for one and one for all” philosophy of the sea was ever-present. 

I liked the fierce and dangerous activity on the flight deck of aircraft carriers, earlier named for battles won but sadly now named for politicians. Enterprise, Independence, Boxer, Princeton and oh so many more, some lost in battle, and sadly many scrapped.

   I liked the names of the aircraft and helicopters; Skyraider, Intruder, Sea King,  Phantom, Skyhawk, Demon, Skywarrior, Corsair, Tracker and many more that bring  to mind offensive and defensive orders of battle. I liked the excitement of an alongside replenishment as my ship slid in alongside the oilier and the cry
of  “Stand by to receive shotlines” prefaced the hard work of rigging spanwires and  fuel hoses echoed across the narrow gap of water between the ships and welcomed  the mail
, movies and fresh milk, fruit and vegetables that sometimes accompanied the fuel.
  I liked the serenity of the sea after a day of hard ship’s work, as flying fish flitted  across the wave tops and sunset gave way to night. I liked the feel of the Navy in darkness – the masthead and range lights, the red and green navigation lights and stern light, the pulsating phosphorescence of radar repeaters – they cut through the dusk and joined with the mirror of stars overhead. 
  And I liked drifting off to sleep lulled by the myriad noises large and small that told  me my ship was alive and well, and that my shipmates on watch would keep me safe.  I liked quiet mid-watches with the aroma of strong coffee — the lifeblood of the Navy permeating everywhere. And I liked hectic watches when the exacting minuet of haze-gray shapes racing at flank speed kept all hands on a razor edge of alertness. 

  I liked the sudden electricity of “General quarters, general quarters, all hands man your battle stations,” followed by the hurried clamor of running feet on ladders and  the resounding thump of watertight doors as the ship transformed herself in a few brief seconds from a peaceful workplace to a weapon of war — ready for anything. 
  And I liked the sight of space-age equipment manned by youngsters clad in dungarees and sound-powered phones that their grandfathers would still recognize.
  I liked the traditions of the Navy and the men and now women who made them.
I liked the proud names of Navy heroes: Halsey, Nimitz, Perry, Farragut, John  Paul Jones and Burke. A sailor could find much in the Navy:
 comrades-in-arms,  pride in self and country, mastery of the seaman’s trade. An adolescent could find  adulthood.
In years to come, when sailors are home from the sea, we still remember with fondness and respect the ocean in all its moods – the impossible shimmering mirror calm and the storm-tossed green water surging over the bow. And then there will come again a faint whiff of stack gas, a faint echo of engine and rudder orders, a  vision of the bright bunting of signal flags snapping at the yardarm, a refrain of  hearty laughter in the wardroom and chief’s quarters and mess decks.
Gone ashore for good, we grow humble about our Navy days, when the seas were  a part of us and a new port of call was ever over the horizon.
  Remembering this, we stand taller and say, 

  “I was a sailor once.”

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A poem worth reading, submitted by LeRoy Graf
He was getting old and paunchy
And his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion,
Telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he once fought in
And the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies;
They were heroes, every one.
And ‘tho sometimes to his neighbors
His tales became a joke,
All his buddies listened quietly
For they knew where of he spoke.
But we’ll hear his tales no longer,
For ol’ Joe has passed away,
And the world’s a little poorer
For a Veteran died today.
He won’t be mourned by many,
Just his children and his wife.
For he lived an ordinary,
Very quiet sort of life.
He held a job and raised a family,
Going quietly on his way;
And the world won’t note his passing,
‘Tho a Veteran died today.
When politicians leave this earth,
Their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing,
And proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell of their life stories
From the time that they were young,
But the passing of a Veteran
Goes unnoticed, and unsung.
Is the greatest contribution
To the welfare of our land,
Some jerk who breaks his promise
And cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow
Who in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his country
And offers up his life?
The politician’s stipend
And the style in which he lives,
Are often disproportionate,
To the service that he gives.
While the ordinary Veteran,
Who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal
And perhaps a pension, small.
It is not the politicians
With their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom
That our country now enjoys.
Should you find yourself in danger,
With your enemies at hand,
Would you really want some cop-out,
With his ever-waffling stand?
Or would you want a Veteran
His home, his country, his kin,
Just a common Veteran,
Who would fight until the end. 
He was just a common Veteran,
And his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us
We may need his likes again.
For when countries are in conflict,
We find the Veteran’s part,
Is to clean up all the troubles
That the politicians start.
If we cannot do him honor
While he’s here to hear the praise,
Then at least let’s give him homage
At the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline
In the paper that might say:
              Author ‘Unknown’