Gitmo Eight

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

Military protocol, saluting the flag.

Charley Eight


"Colors" is the name of the tune the bugler blows in the mornings when the color guard raises the flag and "Evening Colors," when it’s taken down at sunset. Then with swift military precision, it’s folded into a tri-corner, tucked under the armpit of the Corporal of the Guard while he marches off the podium. Called an Ensign on board ship, it is also known as "Old Glory," our national flag. When flown upside down, is used as a distress signal.

When you are living on a military base, etiquette and protocol is of the utmost importance. Like I said earlier, everything was done by the book. Dad gave me a copy of “The Blue Jackets Manual,” the enlisted men’s bible. It was the guide to military life. General Orders, how to fold your clothes, make your bed, military drills, oral commands, military protocol, how to tie knots and the "do’s and don’ts," essential for life below and above deck were all in the book.

One Saturday morning before a monthly inspection at 1300 hours, Dad was wearing his dress whites and he and I went by the barber shop to get our ears lowered. It was a father and son thing. We did it almost every Saturday. Three sailors in their dress whites passed us going in the opposite direction. They must have been “Reserves.” Instead of saluting Dad, they turned their heads the other way as if they didn’t see him and walked on past.

My Dad's nickname was Sparky. He was a Mustanger. Before he received his commission, he was a snipe, an enlisted man that worked below decks. He came up through the ranks in the “Black Shoe Navy." He once told me that below decks is where he grew up. When he walked down the gangway, he reminded me of Popeye the Sailor, strolling with his arms bent swinging from side to side. He even had a tattoo in the same place as Popeye on his forearm, an eagle with open wings carrying a torpedo in its claws.

No telling what these three sailors had on their mind that morning. I am sure that tangling with Ole Sparky never entered their minds. 

Dad barked out, “Attention on deck.” 

The three sailors stopped walking away from us and turned around. The biggest guy who was pretty good sized looked down at Dad and said, “Are you talking to me? Whattaya want?”

Dad pointed to his shoulder boards that showed his rank of Ensign. He told the big guy, "When you see a man wearing these, you salute and you hold that salute until it’s returned." 

He pointed at the flag waving from the top of the flagpole in front of the barber shop. “When you salute me, you are saluting that flag and all that it stands for,” he said. “If I let you disrespect me, then I’m letting you disrespect that flag. I can’t tell you how many men, better than you, fought and died for that flag. I want you to stand at attention, salute me and salute that flag until I tell you to carry on."

It seems to me that these guys had to have been "Airedales," attached to a flight squadron TAD on a carrier. They have a different set of rules than the Blackshoe Navy. 

The big guy in the middle told Dad, "I’m not stationed on this base so I don’t have to salute officers of other commands. If you weren’t wearing those shoulder boards, I would teach you a thing or two about being a smart ass."

No sooner said than done. Dad started peeling off his shirt and handed it to me to hold for him. Dad told him he was fixing to get his wish. Then he turned to the three enlisted men and jerked his thumb towards the dumpster and said, “Your sails are full of wind. Now is your chance to be a big shot. Bring your buddies with you. Let’s step behind this dumpster and we’ll forget about rank for a minute.”

This whole shebang didn’t last more than about 20 seconds. Dad always told me that it isn’t always the size of the man in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the man. The enlisted man was a bully at heart, using his size to intimidate folks. His bravado didn’t work on Sparky. They squared off,  The big man held his fists up like old timey boxers used to do. Dad sailed in with a punch to the big man’s gut. When he doubled up, Dad caught him right in the nose with an overhand right. It was all over but the crying. When he dropped anchor, he didn't get up.

Dad turned to the two onlookers rubbing his fist and asked, “Who wants to be next?” These two must have had chevrons in their skivvies. They both said, “Not me, it was him,” pointing to their fallen comrade. 

Dad helped his bloody foe up, brushed him off and gave him his handkerchief to stop the flow of blood coming from his nose. He told the three men that he wanted them to stand at attention and salute that flag while he got his haircut. Then he put his uniform shirt back on. He told them that he would be watching them from the inside of the barber shop. Before turning his back he said, “Don’t make me come back out here and take my shirt off again.”

We went inside the barber shop. I went first. I wore my crew cut proudly. I wanted to be just like my Dad. When the barber finished, he dusted my neck with talcum powder. He shook the cut hair off the smock with a loud pop. 

Just about that time, Admiral O’Neal entered the barber shop. "Attention on Deck." He nodded to everyone inside and said, "Carry on." Then he pointed to the three men outside standing at attention and saluting the flag.

“A fine display of Military Justice no doubt, making boys into men, I love it,” he said. 

Dad stood at attention when the Admiral entered the barber shop, he didn’t salute because it was indoors. After the Admiral said, "Carry on," he sat back down in his chair and picked up a copy of the Gitmo Gazette. Rank has its privileges, so Dad let the Admiral go ahead of him for his haircut. The Admiral and the barber talked about how these men must be off the carrier Forrestal that was in port. It was hooked up to the base water supply. Its mission was to desalinate ocean water to make drinking water for the base, since Fidel was up to his shenanigans again.

When the Admiral’s haircut was finished, the barber held up a bottle of greenish liquid and asked him if he was ready for some “Foo Foo Juice” to make him smell better. The Admiral said jokingly, “Hell no, my wife will swear up and down that I’ve been in a French whore house.” 

When the Admiral left the barber shop, he walked a circle around the three sailors saluting the flag in the hot boiling sun. He smiled, shook his head, saluted the flag and walked away without saying a word.

The barber swept the loose ends of the Admiral’s hair off the chair and said, “Who’s next?”

Dad stood up, took his place in the chair with his back towards the front of the building.  He pretended to be reading the paper while he got his haircut but was he kept the wayward sailors in his vision with one eye looking in the mirror. When the barber finished, he grabbed that bottle of green liquid and asked Dad if he wanted a shot of smell good. “Foo Foo Juice?” Dad told him, “Sure thing, go ahead, my wife ain’t never been in no French whorehouse.”

When Dad and I left the barber shop, he walked up to the sailors still standing at attention, staring at the flagpole and saluting our flag. He stood at attention, saluted the flag then turned to the sailors, returning their salute and said, “Carry on men, as you were.” He told them to remember that, "When you salute me, you are saluting that flag and America, for which it stands.”

Submitted: April 16, 2021

© Copyright 2022 mike frailey. All rights reserved.

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