Your Mother Did What to Your Uniform?

By Craig Johnson

For: Sea Stories

Liberty cuffs are a continuing Navy tradition

Liberty cuffs are a continuing Navy tradition

I was stationed on the USS Orion AS-18 home-ported in Norfolk, Virginia.  She was moored on the starboard side of pier 22 as you looked out to the harbor.  Pier 22 was located on that part of the Navy complex called Destroyer & Submarine Piers.  Captain Bell was the Commanding Officer; LT Walraven was the Weapons Officer; TMCS Dubious was the W-4 Division Leading Chief Petty Officer (LCPO); and TM1 Mike Clifford was the division Leading Petty Officer (LPO) while I was a TM3 in this division when this story developed.

Just outside the gates for the Main Navy Base and D&S piers was what was known universally throughout the Navy as “the strip.”  The strip was made up of a collection of businesses whose entire reason for existing were the enlisted sailors on the ships in port.  These consisted of a collection bars, tailor shops, tattoo parlors, and locker clubs.

liberty cuffs

These were hidden until flipped back when on liberty

One of the things sailors of this time did was have a second Cracker Jack uniform tailor-made to wear on liberty. This saved your uniform issued in boot camp for personnel inspections. Plus the tailored uniform was custom fit and each jumper had custom designed sewing on the inside; mine was a very elaborate and colorful dragon.  Plus each rate had patches that were sewn on the inside of the cuffs of the jumper that stood out when you folded them back on liberty to make you look different from the other sailors. These are called “liberty cuffs” and this tradition exists until this day.

You have to understand that sailors E-6 and below were not allowed to have civilian clothes.  When you left the base if you belonged to one of the locker clubs you could go to your locker and change into civilian clothes.  I never joined a locker club because everyone could tell you were in the military by your hair cut, especially in those “hippie” days when all the civilian guys had long hair.

I had gone home on my once-every-two-year visit to Ohio to visit my mother.  I do not know about your mother, but I was 21 years old and mine still talked to me, and doted on me like her little boy –which irritated me at the time.  Now that I am older and she passed away several years ago, I would gladly have her treating me that way now.  When I got home I had hung my uniform on a hanger in the closet and forgotten about it while I wore civilian clothes for those two weeks.

It was about time to go back to the ship and I was packing my sea bag.  I pulled my uniform out of the closet to make sure it was ready to go, I screamed, “Mom, what the hell did you do to my jumper?”  The back of my jumper had a huge square hole in it were the dragon used to be.  My mother liked the dragon in the back of my jumper and had cut it out.  She had framed it in a picture frame under glass and placed it on the wall in her bedroom.

I called TM1 Mike Clifford at his house to tell him what my problem was and asked for help.  I had his home number because he and his wife would have TM3 Tom Hubbard and me over for parties and we would watch the kids while they went out once in a while.  When I told Mike what she had done he exclaimed, “What the hell did you say she did?”  I repeated myself and Mike said, “what can I do for you Craig?” I asked him to contact my tailor and see if he could get me a new jumper by the next night.  Mike contacted the tailor who said he had my order form and could have a new jumper ready for me by 5 PM the next day.  Mike called me back to give me the good news and arranged to pick me up at the Norfolk airport at 3 PM the next day.

 When I landed at the Norfolk airport Mike was waiting.  Once I got my sea bag we went to Mike’s car and off we went to the tailor.  When we get to the tailor; I paid for the new jumper.  The tailor let me change into my uniform in his fitting room.  While I was changing, Mike and the Tailor kept laughing about what happened; both saying they had never heard of this ever happening before.

After I changed into my uniform Mike took me to the ship so I could report in.

Mike had saved me from reporting back to the ship out of uniform.

I knew Mike both professionally and as a personal friend until he passed away. He never let me live this down, sometime during our meetings or phone calls he would always say, “Your Mother did what to your uniform?”

Other Sea Stories by Craig Johnson:

Rum, Coke and Roosevelt Rhodes (Bangari)

Learning to Fly in Frederikssted, St. Croix (Bangari)

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4 responses to “Your Mother Did What to Your Uniform?

  1. Love this page, just discovered it today. 1/13/14. I was on the U.S.S. Henrico APA-45. When I saw the pic on the 3 ships with one of them being a 45, I thought, it can’t be. AND it was not. Wrong type ship, but right number. Mine was a converted Banana Boat from the late 30’s and saw action during WWII and was awarded several battle decorations during that time. I was on board her during the Vietnam era as well as the Cuban Blockade, 10-62 to 6-65. Made 2 cruises to WesPac the last being the first landing in ‘Nam on March 5th 1965. Celebrated my 21st at point Yankee off the South China Sea. My First deployment was upon reporting aboard, we went through the CANAL and became part of the BLOCKADE, the whole Pacific Coast had NO Navy then. It was a Fun Experience, I would not give up for a heart beat. Went aboard as a SA and got out as a QM3. Later converted to a DS3 as a Reserve.

    • I’m glad you like this “sea story” content. It became instantly popular. As a co-founder of this site, I’m chomping at the bit to recruit more talent like Craig Johnson. Would you like to contribute some of your own anecdotes? Sounds to me like you have a bucket load. And just by your comment I can tell you have a way with words. Just say the word, and I’ll get you set up. It’s a great [paying] hobby. More importantly, it preserves personal and Naval history for posterity. Lastly, it encourages youngsters to follow in our footsteps, and keep the American Navy the best in the world!

  2. Hey Patrick! Wow! It’s been a month since you said “Aye” to my invite. Sorry, I didn’t see you response till just now. Just fill out the “Join Us” form (click the tab, top right) I’ll set everything up for you to get some Sea Stories of your own published.

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