There was a time when everything you owned had to fit in
your sea bag. 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 foot lockers and we got a big ole' canvas bag.
After you warped your spine jack-assing 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
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 gate at Great Lakes or San Diego.
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,
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 white hats, boots, shoes, 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 engine room. 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 Mongols without ponies to haul our stuff.
And after the rigid routine of boot camp we learned the skill of random compression packing...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 crew's hold of a 2100 Fletcher Class
tin can. After a while you got used to it. You got used to everything you owned picking up and retaining that distinctive
You got used to old ladies on buses taking a couple of wrinkled nose sniffs of your pea coat then getting up and
finding another seat...
Do they still issue sea bags? 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-arms into a 'rig
for heart attack' frenzy? Make their faces red... The veins on their neck bulge out... And yell, "Holy H.
Mackerel! 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..."
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 E-7 "lifer."
Sometimes I look at all the crap stacked in my garage, close my eyes and smile, remembering a time when everything
I owned could be crammed into a canvas bag. Maturity is hell.
Added February 21, 2007
Source of this great funny remembrance is dubious… did you write it? Let the Yeoman know.