THE NAVY SEABAG CAN TELL TALES....
They make-em now with straps to carry like a back pack.
There was a time when everything you owned had to fit in your
seabag. Remember those nasty rascals? Fully packed, one of those
suckers weighed more than the poor guy 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
The Army and Air Force got footlockers and we sailors and
Marines got a big ole' canvas bag. Lucky us!
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 or airplane ever made, the contents looked like
hell. All your gear appeared to have come from bums who slept on park
Traveling with a Sea Bag 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 and complete inventory of earthly possessions 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 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
boot camp gates at Great Lakes, San Diego or Parris Island. You got rid
of a lot of issue gear when you went to the 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
the girls in a good Naval tailor shop would cut down and sew into a
'greasy snake' for two bucks?
Within six months, every fleet sailor was down to one set of
dress blues, port and starboard undress blues and whites, a couple of
whitehats, boots, shoes, assorted skivvies, a peacoat 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 engineroom. 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 the global equivalents of nomadic Monguls without
ponies to haul our stuff.
And after the rigid routine of boot camp we learned the skill of
'random compressed packing' - otherwise known by mothers world-wide as
'cramming'. It is amazing what you can jam into a space no bigger than
a breadbox if you pull a watch cap over a boot and push it in 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 the hell did they expect from a bunch of jerks that
lived in the crews hole of a 2250 Gearing/Fletcher can. After a while
you got used to it. You got used to everything you owned picking up and
retraining that distinctive aroma. You got used to old ladies on busses
taking a couple of wrinkled nose sniffs of your peacoat 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 old
masters-at-arm 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 Sea Bag?" "Artwork, Chief... It's like the
work of Michelangelo... My ship... Great huh?!" "Looks like some damn
comic book..." was the reply.
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 this chief!!!
Sometimes I look at all the crap stacked in my garage, close my
eyes and smile, remembering a simpler, younger time when everything I
owned could be crammed into a canvas bag.
In fact, I'm thinking of having my remains crammed into my
trusty old Sea Bag, with my 'comic book' artwork on the side (yep, I
still have it!) and being buried in it. Hmmm... I've put on a few
pounds over the years. Wonder if I'll fit? Oh, hell yes! You can cram
anything in a Sea Bag.