Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | June 20, 2010

They Stand the Watch

Approaching this Fathers Day, my thoughts went to the website NavyDads, where the fathers of young sailors and Marines gather to share thoughts and tips.  There’s a NavyMoms site too, an offspring of the NavyDads site, and it’s interesting to look through the companion sites and see the subtle differences.  The dads, as you might expect, are terser and more matter-of-fact in expressing anxiety and concern.  They are wonderfully specific when talking about how their young sailors have matured, through boot camp or officer candidate school, training, and deployment in the fleet.  Mom might say, “Soo-ooo-ooo PROUD! Junior is so grown-up!”  Dad will say, “He’s a lot more confident now. Talks like a man, not a kid. Remembers to do things Mom used to have to nag him about.”  The dads have a lot of practical advice and solutions to offer.  Fixing things, making them go; steady course and proper stowage, whatever the sea state – that’s the dads.

There are some granddads too.  Between dads, uncles, and granddads, there’s a running theme of veterans’ pride – memories of Korea, Vietnam, Gulf I, and Navy ships past and present.  (As a sailor myself, I can vouch for it that you never forget “your ships.”  Memories of them encompass good times and bad, from your fellow sailors, to your pride in the national ensign aloft over your own gray hull, to the hardest things you ever had to do.)  Memories of World War II are getting harder to come by; this dad was grateful when his sailor son got to meet an old veteran during a commemorative visit to Iwo Jima.

Navy dads today post online about talking to their sailors via Skype the night before.  This we definitely didn’t have when I entered the Navy in 1983.  (Today’s younger sailors would probably have a hard time believing how primitive communications were then.)  But otherwise they sound much as Navy dads surely sounded in 1965, or 1945, or any of the years back to the founding of the Republic.  They’re proud of their sons and daughters, prouder than they can put into words.  They believe in the nation their children are fighting for.  There’s a special forum for political discussion at the website; the dads there, as you’d probably guess, are pretty conservative on the whole.  There’s a special forum for prayer requests too.  It sees a lot of visitors.

There’s a natural turn to symbolism and philosophy among the dads, one that is perhaps best conveyed through illustration rather than explanation.  Read this brief story from the U.S. Navy website – about a sailor son burying his sailor father’s ashes at sea on USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77) – and you may gather what I mean.  An honorary shipmate (and guest editorialist here today), this Air Force tech sergeant puts some words to at least part of the concept as he talks about trying to explain to his children why Dad has to leave again for a deployment:

… I returned [from Iraq] to my assignment in Okinawa, Japan, as a changed man. While others went about their daily grinds, I had gone to a foreign land to serve something greater than myself…

For 234 years, America’s security has rested on the shoulders of those who were willing to answer the call when and where it came. For that same amount of time, I imagine parents have tried to find ways to explain this to their children…

Last week, a message came saying it’s my time to go to again.

Now my 3-year-old is nearly 9, and my 7- and 8-year olds are 12 and 13.

How do I muster a proper explanation to them? Should I simply say that Daddy must, once again, go feed the camels?

They won’t buy it.

Still, this past weekend I told them that very thing, and no, they didn’t buy it. Nonetheless, I’m compelled to go forward and do whatever I can to help…

We are making sacrifices today for a better tomorrow.

If that’s not the Dads’ Creed, I don’t know what is.

My own dad, who also did a hitch in the Navy, has gone on to glory now, taken too early by a troublesome heart at 68.  But he, like so many, stood shoulder to shoulder with the generations that came before and the ones coming after, making our world go and moving it forward.  Our fathers are far from perfect, as they would be the first to point out, but in each generation their backs and shoulders and hearts have been up to the task.  To all the fathers out there, a 21-gun naval salute.  Here’s your sign, dads – shipmates all:

The Watch

For twenty years,
This sailor has stood the watch

While some of us were in our bunks at night,
This sailor stood the watch

While some of us were in school learning our trade,
This shipmate stood the watch

Yes…even before some of us were born into this world,
This shipmate stood the watch

In those years when the storm clouds of war were seen
brewing on the horizon of history,
This shipmate stood the watch

Many times he would cast an eye ashore and see his family standing there,
Needing his guidance and help,
Needing that hand to hold during those hard times,
But he still stood the watch

He stood the watch for twenty years,
He stood the watch so that we, our families,
And our fellow countrymen could sleep soundly in safety,
Each and every night,
Knowing that a sailor stood the watch

Today we are here to say:
“Shipmate…the watch stands relieved.
Relieved by those YOU have trained, guided, and led
Shipmate you stand relieved…we have the watch!”

“Boatswain…Standby to pipe the side…Shipmate’s going Ashore!”

William Whiting, 1860

Cross-posted at Hot Air.

Seaman Eric Chittams, from Baltimore, Md., stands ready aboard the guided-missile frigate USS Taylor (FFG 50) to conduct evening colors while at anchorage. Taylor is participating in theater security cooperation activities in the Adriatic Sea. (U.S. Navy photo, Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Edward Kessler)



  1. There is a rather good piece on fathers, sons and the Navy in today’s NYT (Sunday Opinion section, p.8). It is by Richard Snow. His father volunteered for the Navy in WWII and then volunteered again for sea service. He spent two years on a destroyer escort hunting U-boats in the Atlantic.

    “He was an uncommonly lively and interesting father, I think now, but I really had little idea of that at the time. I was just glad, in the self-conscious way chidren are, that he didn’t seem too different from anybody else’s father. I knew he’d been in the war, but so had most of my friends’ fathers, and it made no particular impression on me: if I thought of his military service at all, it was as just one more civic thing that happened to grown-ups, like voting, or going to P.T.A meetings, or spending a morning at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

    Then, a decade after the war ended, his old skipper, Capt. John
    Greenbacker, brought a destroyer into New York Harbor and invited my mother, my father and my 7-year-old self out for a ride. It was a fine, bright day and I was thrilled to enter a sharp-edged gray world full of enticing machinery.

    We went upon the bridge when it came time to cast off and back away from the pier, a feat that Captain Greenbacker achieved with no fuss whatever, just a few quiet words to the helmsman. When he’d got his ship’s nose pointing downstream, the captain turned to my father and asked, “Want to take her out, Dick?” And my father–my father in his drab-brown, standard-issue father suit–was saying things like “steady up on oh-eight-oh” to blue-clad demigods who jumped to do his bidding.

    I couldn’t have been more surprised if he’d taken wing. My comfortable present swung like a door giving on the past as I realized that this man had not been put here solely to buy me Good Humors and make sure that I got to bed on time. This is a lesson, however administered, that no son ever gets over.”

  2. By the way, please allow me to recommend Richard Snow’s recent book: “A Measureless Peril: America in the Fight for the Atlantic, the Longest Battle of World War II.”

    An excellent history, given a fine personal edge by his use of his father’s letters and diaries.

  3. I know this is off topic so pardon my manners, but I thought of you, OC, while reading Mort Zuckerman’s take on 0bama’s pathetic presidency. He made a point of saying his visit with the Saudi King was a disaster. Why do you think it could be called a disaster? Because Saudi has no interest in peace with Israel? Because Saudi wants us to confront Iran, and Mister Peanut won’t? Because they just think Barry 0 is just a lightweight and arrogant mishuganah?

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