Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Seabag

The Lone Sailor, a 1987 bronze sculpture created by Stanley Bleifeld.
The statue is modeled on then Petty Officer 1st class Dan Maloney.

You sailors out there will appreciate this.  Our whole life was stuffed into a 4' canvas bag.

The Seabag
Author Unknown

There was a time when everything you owned had to fit in your seabag.

Remember those nasty rascals? Fully packed, one of the suckers weighed more than the poor devil hauling it. The damn things weighed a ton and some idiot with an off-center sense of humor sewed a carry handle on it to help you haul it. Hell, you could bolt a handle on a Greyhound bus but it wouldn't make the damn thing portable. The Army, Marines, and Air Force got footlockers and WE got a big ole' canvas bag.

After you warped your spine jackassing the goofy thing through a bus or train station, sat on it waiting for connecting transportation and made folks mad because it was too damn big to fit in any overhead rack on any bus, train, and airplane ever made, the contents looked like hell. All your gear appeared to have come from bums who slept on park benches.

Traveling with a seabag was something left over from the "Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum" sailing ship days. Sailors used to sleep in hammocks, so you stowed your issue in a big canvas bag and lashed your hammock to it, hoisted it on your shoulder and, in effect, moved your entire home from ship to ship.
I wouldn't say you traveled light because with ONE strap it was a one shoulder load that could torque your skeletal frame and bust your ankles.

It was like hauling a dead Greenbay linebacker.

They wasted a lot of time in boot camp telling you how to pack one of the suckers. There was an officially sanctioned method of organization that you forgot after ten minutes on the other side of the gate at Great Lakes' or San Diego's boot camp.

You got rid of a lot of the 'issue' gear when you went to a SHIP. Did you EVER know a tin-can sailor who had a raincoat? A flat hat? One of those nut-hugger knit swimsuits? How bout those 'roll-your-own' neckerchiefs... The ones girls in a good Naval tailor shop would cut down & sew into a 'greasy snake' for two bucks?

Within six months, EVERY fleet sailor was down to ONE set of dress blues, port & starboard, undress blues, and whites, a couple of white hats, boots, shoes, a watch cap, assorted skivvies, a pea coat, and three sets of bleached-out dungarees.

The rest of your original issue was either in the pea coat locker, lucky bag, or had been reduced to wipe-down rags in the paint locker.

Underway ships were NOT ships that allowed vast accumulation of private gear.
Hobos who lived in discarded refrigerator crates could amass greater loads of pack-rat crap than fleet sailors. The confines of a canvas-back rack, side locker, and a couple of bunk bags did NOT allow one to live a Donald Trump existence.

Space and the going pay scale combined to make us envy the lifestyle of a mud-hut Ethiopian. We were global equivalents of nomadic Mongols without ponies to haul our stuff.

And after the rigid routine of boot camp, we learned the skill of random compression, known by mothers world-wide as 'cramming'. It is amazing what you can jam into a space no bigger than a bread-box if you pull a watch cap over a boot and push it with your foot.

Of course, it looks kinda weird when you pull it out, but they NEVER hold fashion shows at sea and wrinkles added character to a 'salty' appearance.

There was a four-hundred mile gap between the images on recruiting posters and the ACTUAL appearance of sailors at sea. It was NOT without justifiable reason that we were called the tin-can Navy.

We operated on the premise that if 'Cleanliness was next to Godliness' we must be next to the other end of that spectrum...

We looked like our clothing had been pressed with a waffle iron and packed by a bulldozer. But what in hell did they expect from a bunch of swabs that lived in a crew's hole of a 2100 Fletcher Class tin-can? After awhile you got used to it... You got used to everything you owned picking up and retaining that distinctive aroma... You got used to old ladies on busses taking a couple of wrinkled nose sniffs of your pea coat, then getting up and finding another seat.

Do they still issue seabags? Can you still make five bucks sitting up half the night drawing a ship's picture on the side of one of the damn things with black and white marking pens that drive the old master-at-arms into a 'rig for heart attack' frenzy? Make their faces red... The veins on their neck bulge out.... And yell, 'What in God's name is that all over your seabag???'  'Artwork, Chief... It's like the work of Michelangelo... MY ship... GREAT, huh?"

"Looks like some damn comic book..."

Here was a man with cobras tattooed on his arms... A skull with a dagger through one eye and a ribbon reading 'DEATH BEFORE SHORE DUTY' on his shoulder... Crossed anchors with 'Subic Bay-1945' on the other shoulder... An eagle on his chest and a full blown Chinese dragon peeking out between the cheeks of his butt... If ANYONE was an authority on stuff that looked like a comic book, it HAD to be the MAA...

Sometimes, I look at all the crap stacked in my garage and home, close my eyes and smile, remembering a time when EVERYTHING I owned could be crammed into a canvas bag.


Steve: The Lightning Man said...

My generation in the Army lacked footlockers per se, though in our barracks we had a wall locker to store our uniforms in...I was issued a duffel, the olive drab equivalent to a seabag, and picked up a second one along the way. When I stepped off the plane home from Germany I was hauling two stuffed duffels and two briefcases, dressed all in black like some Eurotrash tourist. My mom barely recognized me after 2 years in Germany.

Jamie said...

What a great article. I cannot even begin to imagine what life would be like in the Navy, either then or now. But every now and then your post or write something that makes me get it a little. Thanks. :)

Anonymous said...

That, my love, is a wonderful piece of writing. Very nice.

Momma Fargo said...

Very cool and very very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Coffeypot said...

Steve, I've seen many an Army dude come through the airport with duffles. I think the point is, Navy dudes just don't have that much stuff to carry. No gear, just clothes and shaving kits (we called our kits for razors, cream, toothbrush, etc, douche bags. We were cool like that.)

Jamie, Basinah and MF, thank you but I didn't write this. That would mean I have writing talent. I have copy and paste talent. But thanks for the kind thoughts.

LOLA said...

Nut hugger knit swimsuit? I'd like to see that.


Anonymous said...

I don't think that thing is even big enough to hold all my shoes, never mind everything I needed to survive!!

CI-Roller Dude said...

.we called them "Duffle Bags" and when we deployed to Iraq, I had 4 of them packed full of crap...and a foot locker. Most of the stuff we never needed and I left it at base camp for the entire year...(gas mask, mosquito nettting and useless stuff like that.)

Damon said...

nice post

Ed said...

Remember these fondly. Still have mine in the garage.

Julie said...

Catching up on my blog reading....should have known the day I'd be here you'd be writing about old bags. ;)