August, 1968 by ER August 3, 2014 7:57 pm
At 4 bells (0600 local time) you’re usually wide awake by the time the bosun’s pipe sings, the body learns exactly when the blast is coming and mercifully gets you ready for it, or maybe you subliminally pick up the click of the mike button on the 1MC on the bridge before the shrill whistle blasts through the berthing space. When the long note finally tapers off (the bosuns pride themselves on how long they can blow the pipe before they have to stop and take a breath) comes the call for reveille.
“Now reveille, reveille. All hands heave out and trice up. The smoking lamp is lit in all authorized spaces. Now reveille.”
A few seconds after that comes a short blast, a low, short note with a rising second accent, the call for sweepers.
“Now, sweepers, sweepers, man your brooms. Give the ship a clean sweepdown, fore and aft. Sweep down all lower decks ladders and passageways. Now, sweepers.”
By this time, the crew in the compartment is awake (except for the guys who stood the midwatch, who are authorized an extra hour of shuteye if they want it). Everyone else is staggering naked towards the head for the three esses. A few announcements about the ship’s routine come over next, scheduled drills or evolutions, and the welcome
“Now, breakfast for the crew”.
But today we were steaming towards Japan, the great naval base at Yokosuka. We had been on the line for a few weeks so we were rotating back to base to refit and a little R&R in the waterfront bars and skivvy houses that cluster around every US Naval facility abroad.
As soon as the routine announcements were over, the guys in the radio shack piped in Armed Forces Radio from Japan over the 1MC. Live music. The first song they played was the Beatles, “Hey Jude”. It had been released while we were on Yankee Station, and none of us had ever heard it. There was no need to tell us who it was, the voices and style of the band was unmistakable. For the next seven minutes (in those days of Top 40 AM radio play, no one had ever recorded a song that long before) it got very quiet in Operations Berthing Space, everybody stopped what they were doing and listened. This was a new tune from the Beatles, and it was like nothing we had ever heard before. The long coda seemed to go on forever, and we didn’t want it to ever stop.
1968 was such an important year for all of us, for the whole country. But we missed it.