By Jim Harris
The best officer I ever met or served under was Commander E. E. Lindsey the executive officer (XO) of the USS Holland AS-32. He had a great sense of humor and he loved his crew like they were his own children.
Cdr. Lindsey was the one that arranged the mail buoy watch. He had all the gear collected for the watch standers and was also the one who announced on the 1-MC (intercom) for the watch to be set. He inspected each watch stander prior to them assuming the watch to ensure that they were properly equipped. He also explained how important their watch was as every sailor aboard wanted his or her mail.
As well, he told the ‘victim’ that the buoy hook was Postal Service property and each ship only had one hook. Under no circumstances were they to drop it overboard.
Well, someone dropped it and was preparing to follow it over the side to save it. That was the end of mail buoy watch for that trip. (His next prank was after the radar men captured a sea bat but that’s another story.)
Old salts (season seamen) will send a sailor mail buoy watch, particularly if they are experiencing bad weather. A sailor is outfitted in the appropriate weather gear including a helmet and life jacket. He is also harnessed to a safety line on the weather decks topside near the bow and given a large hook.
He is told that normally, a ship or a mail plane (COD) arrives with all of the mail. However, the sailor is told that this cannot be done due to the weather, so he must use a pair of binoculars and watch out for a mail buoy. He will need to hook onto it and bring it aboard. He is also advised that if he fails to do so, his fellow seaman will certainly not be happy with him.
Usually, the old salts will take photos of the sailor’s get up before he heads to the deck and waits in the inclement weather, often for extended periods, to spot the buoy. However, the ‘‘mythical’ mail deliverer will never arrive!
The victim of this ‘hazing’ prank usually realizes at some point that he has been had. If not, one of the old salts will likely take pity on him at some point and let him in on this practice.
To this day, many a sailor has been the victim of this prank whereby they stand on mail watch for buoys that never arrive!