For: Sea Stories
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.
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)