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Spotlight on the Navy:
The Navy's Tradition of the
New Year’s Day Deck Log
By Brian Shottenkirk, Ph.D,
Deputy, Histories Branch with Assistance From
Karolina Lewandowska, M.A., M.L.I.S., Archives Branch,
Naval History and Heritage Command
(Reprinted from the Tin Can Sailor Magazine)
Well, this is the watch on that special night,
When the OOD writes poetry by gangway light;
‘Tis the 1st of January, 1968,
And I've the watch that runs quite late.
USS Agerholm (DD-826)
The naval service, by its very nature, thrives on specific rules and regulations.
Above all else, a ship and her crew must promote self-reliance, discipline, and teamwork to maintain effectiveness and ensure mission accomplishment in the unforgiving and uncertain environments of both ocean and fog of battle.
This truism of rules and regulation is particularly reflected in the official record maintained by all
commissioned U.S. Navy vessels―the deck log.
The deck log is kept by the Quartermaster of the Watch and prepared by the designated Officer of the Deck (OOD) for each commissioned ship in accordance with Navy regulations and specific instructions. In either handwritten, typed, or in electronic format, the deck log chronicles the daily locations and movements of the ship, and captures all significant and prescribed events taking place either aboard or otherwise in the immediate vicinity of the vessel. Deck log entries are reviewed daily by the ship's navigator for clarity and final approval as they document particular circumstances for administrative and legal purposes.
Completed deck logs are subsequently forwarded each month to the Washington Navy Yard, where the Naval History and Heritage Command is tasked to maintain the records in its archives. At the end of thirty years, the individual deck logs are transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland, for ultimate retention and future research access. As a permanent official record of the ship, the deck log is efficient and succinct in its purpose, professional in appearance, and certainly not a forum for creativity.
And yet. ..
On the first night of the New Year, an unofficially endorsed truce allows the sacrosanct veil of regulation to be pierced - if only for a brief moment.
During the mid-watch from midnight to 0400 (and only during the mid-watch) it is permitted for a ship to record the first entry of the New Year in verse. In this annual, fleeting, first entry of the New Year, the deck log bears witness to a hint of individuality, personality and sometimes the mind set of shipboard life.
However, Navy regulations remain ever obstinate, and the leeway for creativity comes with a caveat: all entries should still include the specified requirements noted in current Navy Regulations, and administered under OPNAV instruction issued by the Chief of Naval Operations.
And therein lies the rub.
The OOD (often with some assistance from the crew) is granted the freedom to compose the entry as they artistically deem fit― provided they include such mandatory details as the sources of electric power, steam and water; the state of the sea and weather; position of the ship; status of the engineering plant; courses and speed of the ship, bearings and distance of objects sighted; changes in status of ship's personnel, disposition of the engineering plant, and even the strain upon anchor chain or cables when anchored and the placement of lines while moored.
This tradition presents a challenge to the imaginative (or unlucky) author to maintain meter or rhyme and still report all these details in an original manner over multiple stanzas whether on wartime patrol...
At 8 knots, steaming with Hanson in stride,
Richmond K. Turner serves country with pride.
Dangerous waters are these on the coast,
Rimmed with Viet Cong who are hardly our host.
Nothing must daunt on this New Year's night,
This year, as last, we must concentrate might,
Fighting aggression, and guarding our home,
Wary, lest Commies try farther to roam.
This ship is darkened as Hanson is too,
Hiding the fact we're on 020 True.
SOPA and Officer in Tactical Command -
The Captain of Turner is much in demand.
His is the judgment, on which we rely,
He calls the shots, and TE 220.127.116.11 does comply.
COMSEVENTH Fleet has positioned us here,
Near North Vietnam, where our purpose is clear.
USS Richmond K. Turner (DLG-20)
1 January, 1967
... or moored pierside closer to home...
I'd like to say 'Happy New Year to you,'
And tell you our ship is moored starboard side to.
Berths Mike and November, and here's the location:
San Diego, California at North Island Air Station.
As an added precaution against any trouble,
Our mooring lines are not singled, but doubled.
Our boilers are cold at the start of this year,
So we must receive various services from the pier.
To list all ships present indeed would be hard;
But Oklahoma City (CLG-5) and
Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31)
Are two of the ships, one forward, one aft.
The others are various yard and district craft.
SOPA Admin said tonight, and I quote,
‘COMFIRSTFLT is senior officer present afloat.’
He's presently embarked in Oklahoma City,
But being aboard tonight, what a pity.
The night has been long, but would you believe,
That this watch is over - I stand relieved.
USS Constellation (CVA-64) - 1 January, 1968
Occasionally, the tradition even allowed a venue for personal lamentations as well as good wishes extended to all:
As OOD I greet with scorn
This wet and dreary New Year's morn!
It seems to me as I shiver with cold,
That the Year is nearly 100 days old.
The New Year is greeted with much good cheer,
As Mauna Kea is moored to Number 2 pier.
At berth Number 1 port side to is this craft,
Standard lines are doubled with wires fore and aft.
The Paricutin; the Firedrake, and the Mt Katmai
Along with yard craft, are moored nearby,
At NAD Concord our home port we wait.
A long sea detail to the Golden Gate.
Boiler #2 and Generator #1 are in use this hour
To give to the ship the much needed power.
The pier provides services as they usually do;
The brow, fresh water, and telephone too.
The pertinent facts; I have told them all,
While other this night have had a ball.
0345 has come and I must not glance back;
I look ahead to a siege in the sack.
I must end this verse, I cannot go on,
For very soon will break the dawn.
To all the world, and to those near and dear,
I wish a peaceful, prosperous, and HAPPY NEW YEAR.
USS Mauna Kea (AE-22) - 1 January, 1963
The exact origin of the New Year mid-watch verse is hidden in the recesses of Navy history, but was certainly known among some younger American Sailors in the years following World War I.
Indeed, the tradition is not practiced in the Royal Navy or her Commonwealth, and appears wholly American in nature - with all the informality and irreverence that often brings. Former Lieutenant (j.g.) Arthur Ageton was aware of the New Year's Eve entry as early as 1926 while he was stationed aboard the battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38).
In the 1972 issue of “Shipmate,” the official alumni magazine of the United States Naval Academy, Lt.(j.g.)
Ageton related his unsuccessful attempt to submit a mid-watch entry of what must have been a relatively new endeavor since the experienced “... Skipper was a humorless fella who had never heard of
this tradition and sent the Log back to me for rewriting in less rhythmical style.”
The commanding officer instead recommended submitting the verse to the ship's paper.
An article in the Jan. 1959 issue of U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings says “generations” of U.S. sailors had practiced the tradition, and provided contemporary examples, but regrettably offered no additional historical background. By the time of escalated U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, the tradition was well enough known throughout the Navy to generate a “New Year's Eve Log contest” promoted by the “Navy Times.”
In 1968, the publication received over 1000 submissions competing for the grand prize of $100 awarded to the author and $50 to the winning ship's Welfare and Recreation Fund. The finalists were published over several issues with a generous $5 sent to each entrant and their commanding officer.
By January, 1970, “All Hands,” the official magazine of the U.S. Navy, confidently referred to the New Year's mid-watch verse as a “growing naval tradition.”
However, despite the optimism of All Hands, the Navy culture changes with each generation, and the annual Navy Times contest of decades past appears to be the heyday of the tradition. With a focus on operational commitments and warfighting, it is under-standable that ships and crew of the new millennium devote valuable time, energy, and manpower to training and readiness, rather than composing verse for an extremely limited audience.
In 2016, fewer than 30 ships made a New Year's Eve mid-watch verse; in 2017 that number dwindled to fewer than 20. And, although the outlet for creativity in the form of the New Year's Eve deck log is waning, it is certain that today's sailors, both at sea and on shore, will continue to ring in the New Year with hope for the year to come.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
and The American Legion
On March 4, 1921, Congress approved selecting one American serviceman who had been killed in World War I and whose remains were never identified be brought back to the states and buried in the burial plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington Cemetery.
On October 22, 1921, the mortal remains of four unidentifiable U.S. soldiers that had been killed in France in World War I and later exhumed on Memorial Day, 1921, were convoyed to Chalons-sur-Marne. They were escorted by three soldiers and an American Legion veteran.
Laid out in state in ceremonial catafalques before him, a highly-decorated soldier of the war, Sgt. Edward Younger, was given the most prestigious honor of selecting from the four the one soldier that was to be taken back in the U.S. as being THE “unknown soldier.” Younger himself had fought bravely at Chateau-Thierry, St. Mihiel, the Somme Offensive and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
The chosen fallen comrade was escorted across the Atlantic to the U.S. and taken to Washington, D.C. On Veterans Day, he was laid to rest in what would be the new memorial, a three-level marble tomb. This lad was to represent all of those American service members who fought and died for this country, and whose remains were never identified.
In February 1969, in recognition of its upcoming 50th anniversary, The American Legion paid for and had installed a special $100,000 lighting system for what had become the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The memorial had by then been added to by two unknown warriors: one from World War II and one from Korea, both of which had been interred back on Memorial Day, 1958.
A month later, on March 15 1969, exactly 50 years after the American Legion’s birth, President Nixon pressed a button that activated the new lighting system.
An additional unknown from the Vietnam conflict was interred into the tomb by President Reagan on Memorial Day, 1984, but that individual was later exhumed in May 1998 after his body was identified through DNA testing as being USAF 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972.
In 1999, the Pentagon announced that no new remains would be interred in the tomb, since new technological advances like DNA testing would make fallen comrades remaining unknown very unlikely.
Tomb of the Unknowns: Guards
One Jeopardy one night, the final question was "How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the tomb of the Unknowns?"
All three contestants missed it.
1. How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the Tomb of the Unknowns, and why?
Ans: 21 steps: It alludes to the twenty-one gun salute whichis the highest honor given any military or foreign
2. How long does he hesitate after his about face to begin his return walk and why?
Ans: 21 seconds for the same reason as answer No. 1.
3. Why are his gloves wet?
Ans: His gloves are moistened to prevent his losing his grip on the rifle.
4. Does he carry his rifle on the same shoulder all the time and, if not, why not?
Ans: He carries the rifle on the shoulder away from the tomb. After his march across the path, he executes an about face and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder.
5. How often are the guards changed?
Ans: Guards are changed every thirty minutes and every hour in the winter.
6. What are the physical traits of the guard limited to?
Ans: For a person to apply for guard duty at the tomb, he must be between 5' 10' and 6' 2' tall and his waist size cannot exceed 30.
After two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they served as guard of the tomb.
There are only 400 presently worn.
However, Guards have regulations they must strictly follow:
The guard must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up the wreath pin.
The guards wear special shoes:
Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty. There are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform. Guards dress for duty in front of a full-length mirror.
In 2003, as Hurricane Isabelle approached Washington D.C., both houses of U.S. Congress took two days off with anticipation of the storm. On the ABC evening news, it was reported that because of the dangers from the hurricane, the military members assigned the duty of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend the assignment.
The Guards respectfully declined the offer, "No way, Sir!"
Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said that guarding the Tomb was not just an assignment, it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a service person.
The same thing happened in October, 2012, as Hurricane Sandy slammed into the capital and the government shut down, all the guards resolutely remained on duty, guarding the Tomb.
Thus, the tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, since 1930.
God Bless and keep these Guards.
The American Legion
Reynoldsburg Post 798
P.O. Box 58
Reynoldsburg, OH 43068
The next regularly scheduled monthly post meeting (2nd Thursday each month) will be on Thursday, June 14th, at 1900 hrs. The meeting location will be as normal at the Eagles Club, 1623 Brice Rd, Reynoldsburg, Ohio, (614) 861-9073.