The Sea bag
There was a time when everything you owned had to fit into your sea bag. Remember
those nasty rascals? Fully packed, one of the suckers weighed more than the poor
devil hauling it. The don 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. Heck, you could bolt a handle
on a Greyhound bus but it wouldn't make the darn thing portable. The Army, Marines
and Air Force got footlockers and we got a big ole' canvas bag.
After you warped your spine accessing the goofy thing through a bus or train station,
sat on it waiting for connecting transportation and made folks mad because it was too
darn big to fit in any overhead rack on any bus, train and airplane ever made, the
contents looked like stampede . All your gear appeared to have come from bums who
slept on park benches.
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 tincan sailor who had a
raincoat? A flat hat? One of those nut hugger knit swimsuits? How 'bout those shops
that rolled 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 peacoat, and three sets of bleached out dungarees. The rest of your
original issue was either in the peacoat 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 mother's 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 tincan 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 heck did they expect from a bunch of jerks that lived in the crew’s hole
of a 2100 Fletcher Class can. After a while 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
peacoat 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 ships picture on the side of one of the darn things with black and white
marking pens that drive old master-at-arms into a 'rig for heart attack' frenzy? Make
their faces red... The veins on their neck bulge out... And yell," Jeezus H. Christ! 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 1955' 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- 8
Sometimes I look at all the stuff stacked in my garage, close my eyes and smile,
remembering a time when everything I owned could be crammed into a canvas bag.
“The Navy Days”