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Sailors, soldiers, airmen and conundrums

Conundrum: a question or problem having only a conjectural answer.

Over the span of my lifetime—not the complete span, because I’m still adding to that lifetime—I have heard a certain conundrum repeated an astonishing number of times, and I’ve always wondered why it refers only to a certain branch of our military services, namely the United States Navy.

The term that is always used is on the order of spending money like a drunken sailor or like drunken sailors. I have never heard anyone say spending money like a drunken soldier, or airman, or coast guardsman or marine—not even spending money like a National Guardsman. I consider the term a conundrum because any answer given would be purely conjectural.

What particular feature, what aberration, whether physical or mental, can we attribute to sailors to explain why we hang that peculiar phrase only on sailors and not on other uniformed personnel? Is it predilection on our part, or in it animosity toward them? Why not on members of the other services? Other military service members—not all, but some—are prone to imbibe strong drink in generous amounts under certain conditions, namely being off-duty at the time, but invariably we toss that bomb at sailors.

I will at this junction attest that I have seen members of the other services in conditions that would rival—nay, perhaps surpass—the conduct of any drunken sailor in any situation and I am prepared to sign an official document to that effect. As a retired member of a military service other than the US Navy I have a right to speak, particularly because I have seen non-sailors spending money like—well, like a drunken sailor.

Why sailors? Perhaps there is something about naval personnel that causes them to over-imbibe and recklessly, generously, blindly spend money like—well, like a drunken sailor. It may be the fact that after spending weeks without touching port, their pay accumulates because they have nowhere to spend it, so when they manage to land in port, regardless of the location, they spread the money around faced with the full knowledge that soon they will again be at sea.

I considered the US Navy for a career before I enlisted, but was daunted by the thirteen buttons—one for each of the original thirteen American colonies. I was also advised by my brother, a salty seagoing sailor veteran of World War II, that the tibia of my right leg, shattered in a baseball game but nicely repaired, would preclude me from sea duty assignments because volleys fired from a ship could aggravate my injury. He told me that sailors on deck when the big guns were fired were told to put most of their weight on their heels or their toes to avoid damage to the lower extremities, that if one stood flat-footed the vibration could possibly cause damage to one’s lower extremities, particularly to lower extremities with previous damages.

I had a problem imagining sailors in wartime standing and walking around either on their heels or on their toes, and I had serious doubts as to the veracity of that advice. The real reason I did not join the navy was the 13-button trousers worn by enlisted men. Had the trousers been opened and closed with a zipper I probably would have joined the navy and seen the world through a porthole, as the old saying goes.

Sailor’s joke: Have you heard the one about the young sailor that was told by a well-seasoned old salt that if he stuck his head through a porthole he would see a submarine. He complied, and a moment later exclaimed to the old salt, I don’t see no su-UB-marine!

If you’ve already heard that one, just skip the previous paragraph.

I enlisted in the United States Air Force and I have never regretted my decision. I spent 22 years in that service and not once did I spend money like a drunken sailor, primarily because I was never paid enough to enjoy such actions. I joined the United States federal civil service and made more money in wages the first year than I did in my twenty-second year in the US Air Force, including overseas pay, separate rations, and housing and clothing allowances. Today the lowest enlisted rank with two years in service is paid $17,616 in base pay plus all the other benefits. My total pay for my twenty-second year of service, with a wife and three children, including all benefits totaled $14,400 per annum—before taxes.

I may bring all sorts of condemnation on myself, but I’m going to say it anyway. Our military people are paid well—extremely well. Let the barrage begin—fire at will!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Comments on “A letter from a Union soldier, 1861 . . .”

I recently received an e-mail from my nephew in Mississippi that included a copy of a letter written by a Union soldier on the eve of a battle early in the War Between the States. Click here to read that soldier’s final written words, beautifully written in a fashion that is largely lost to us in this day and age. My posting of the letter garnered a comment from a reader, a comment to which I responded at some length.

This is the reader’s comment:

I was educated in the British system and for a long time, the Civil war meant either the War of the Roses or Cromwell’s war. It was as an adult that I started to understand our own Civil War. It is a sad thing the young man did not survive, consigning his small children to the very horrors of an orphaned existence. That said, I have always been struck by how beautifully young men wrote 150 years ago.

My response to that comment follows:

Thanks for visiting and thanks for the comment. Your observation that the written word was beautifully constructed 150 years ago necessarily invites comparison with today’s pitifully penned letters. Cursive writing is a lost art, soon to be consigned to the graves of history, along with Egyptian hieroglyphics and prehistoric cave drawings.

Our children are not learning penmanship. At best, they learn the art of printing letters, then graduate from there to thumbing letters and numbers on digital devices and clicking on an infinitesimally huge host of pictorial characters that represent thoughts, locations, ideas and emotions, expressing themselves silently without leaving any sort of footprints for the future, other than those captured and held in digital form.

Should the unthinkable occur—nuclear war with the resulting loss worldwide of the atomic movement of electrons, neutrons and protons through electrical circuits, whether land based or hand held—without access to that method of communication mankind will eventually regress to its original system of grunts, groans, hand signals and facial contortions to communicate, and millenniums later will probably advance from there to crudely drawn pictorial representations on rocks and on cliff sides and in various caves around the globe—that is, of course, if anyone remains after the holocaust of nuclear war. Civilization is by far the worst for the deficiency in communication wrought by binary bits.

And finally, just to wrap up this response to your comment, I will quote an unknown contributor to our language:

What goes around, comes around.

That astute observation, obscured in the ancient mists of time, may be reversed without any loss of its meaning, namely, What comes around, goes around, a truism equal to another obscure saying:

There is nothing new under the sun.

It’s useless to Google that affirmation—there are endless variations that effectively say the same thing, whether or not shown on the Internet. Somewhere on our planet, probably penned on a cave wall or on a stone buried in the rubble of some ancient civilization, there is undoubtedly a series of identical crude pictures or symbols. That series ends and continues with unrelated pictures or symbols, and then centuries later, perhaps millenniums later, the original series is repeated.

And even that is not the origin of that contribution to our language. It was undoubtedly expressed in the grunts, groans, hand signals and facial contortions that were used to communicate with others of the human species, and even before humans appeared was expressed by the physical appearance and the sounds and poses adopted by non-humans, the so-called lower orders of animals.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2011 in civil war, death, Family

 

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A letter from a Union soldier, 1861 . . .

I received the following e-mail from my nephew in Mississippi, the nephew that toils lovingly and highly successfully in his chosen profession of designing and renovating churches of various denominations. The e-mail included a copy of a letter written by a Union soldier on the eve of a battle early in the War Between the States—I refuse to refer to it as a civil war—there was not a trace of civility in that bitter conflict. The letter was untitled and is reproduced in its entirety following my nephew’s e-mail, exactly as I received it.

Note: Letters to and about Janie can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and here. My not-so-humble opinion is that all are worthy of being read—I wrote them and published them to commemorate Janie’s life and to serve as a reminder to all that life is fleeting—in the words of British poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674), Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying. Click on that excerpt to read the entire poem and more about Janie.

This is the e-mail I received from my nephew:

Uncle Mike,

Your most recent posts, your letters to Janie, have reminded me of a letter I learned about from a public television series done by Ken Burns. The series documented some of the history of the American Civil War. Specifically, the program included parts of a letter written by a Union soldier who later became a casualty of that war. Although the letter was written before his death, the spirit of the letter, for me, transcends life and death. I believe your letters do the same. A copy of the text of the letter is attached.

Larry

This is the Union soldier’s letter to his wife, written on the eve of battle:

July the 14th, 1861
Washington DC

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death—and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear death” have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar —-that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night – amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.

Sullivan

A special note: The soldier, Sullivan, did not survive the battle—he died, but his letter and his spirit live on.

That’s the story of my nephew’s e-mail and the letter written by a Union soldier, and I’m sticking to it.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on January 4, 2011 in civil war, death, Family, marriage, Military

 

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Revisited: An historic event? Oh, puhleeze!

Listen up, Fox News—there is no such thing as an historic event, an historical moment, an history book or an history teacher—they do not exist. There are such things as a historic event, a historical moment, a history book and a history teacher. As regards the proper—versus improper—use of a and an relative to preceding words beginning with an h, I made my opinion known to my adoring readers back in February of this year, and I am now generously bringing that opinion up from the Stygian darkness of past postings and into the bright light of today, and once again sending it up the flagpole in an effort to get someone—anyone, but especially the brilliant news readers and personal opinion sharers on Fox News—to salute it. Yes, I know that I used an preceding the h in  the previous sentence, but there are always exceptions to a rule—that phrase, an h, is one of two exceptions that immediately come to mind. The other exception is an hour—those are exceptions, nothing more, and they do not  justify the continuing use of an to precede all words beginning with an h. See? There it is again!

Fox News is the only news channel available on my television, the result of the restrictions placed by my cable provider at my request. I have absolutely no interest in any news outlet other than Fox News. If I can convince the talking heads on Fox News to use the correct article in conjunction with the words history, historic,  historical, etc., my efforts will not have been in vain.

My original post follows:

An historic event?

Oh, puhleeze!

During the recent and still continuing snowfalls across the country, talking heads on television, weather forecasters in particular, have repeatedly characterized and continue to characterize snowstorms and snowfalls as an historic storm and an historical snowfall.

In the storied (and some say fabled) history of our nation there has never been an historic event, nor has there ever been an historical event. Never. Not one. I can clearly remember reading about historic events in a history book—World War II, for example, and the wrecks of the Titanic and the Hindenburg, the solo flight across the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh, and Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent to the top of Mount Everest. I found all those historic events in a history book, but I have never found one in an history book.

If we insist on dropping the H  and saying an historic event, we should apply that rule to all words beginning with H—that would give us an Hoover for a vacuum cleaner, an Hoover for president, an harp for music, an heaven to which we should all aspire, and on and on, ad infinitum.

I realize that such terms as an herb and an herb garden are firmly entrenched in our English language, in spite of the fact that many distinguished speakers and writers refuse to deviate from the terms a herb and a herb garden. Two of those distinguished people immediately come to mind—both Martha Stewart and I refuse to say an herb—we are sticking to a herb. That’s not one of my neighbors—that is the Martha Stewart, a widely known decorator and gardener, and an accepted authority on everything, including herbs, herb gardens and stock market trades.

If both Martha Stewart and I refuse to drop the h in herb in order to use the an rather than the a, that should provide sufficient reason for everyone else to step out of the an line and into the a line—one only needs to take a teenie weenie baby step to move from an egregious wrong to a resounding right—a step from left to right, so to speak. On serious reflection, such a move would be beneficial in other venues, particularly in the political arena.

Folks in Great Britain speak English, albeit English that in a large measure has not kept pace with the times, has not evolved over time as has our use of English to communicate. English-speaking people in Great Britain tend to drop their aitches, particularly those speakers of cockney descent.

The following joke clearly illustrates that tendency (please forgive me for the joke, but I must use the tools that are available to me):

During World War II an American soldier was strolling on the beach with a lovely British girl he had just met. A strong breeze was blowing off the water and the girl’s skirt billowed up over her waist. This was wartime and many products, ladies undergarments for example, were in short supply, hence this lady wore nothing under her skirt. The soldier took a quick look, but not wanting to embarrass her, quickly looked away and exclaimed, “Wow, it’s really airy!”

The girl snapped back, “Well, wot the ‘ell did you expect? Chicken feathers?”

I realize that returning our population to the proper use of a and an is a task that far outstrips Hercules’ assignment to clean the Augean stables. In comparison with Hercules’ assignment to clean the stables in one day, this one will require a tremendous amount of shoveling. Had we two rivers adjacent to the stables as Hercules did, we could divert the  streams to and through the stables as he did, and thus clear up this problem of deciding whether a or an will precede words beginning with an H.

Alas, we do not have the two rivers available for our use, but we do have shovels. I will continue to wield my shovel as long as the misuse of a and an exists, but I sure could use some help!

Oh, just one more thought—the first objection to saying a herb rather than an herb usually involves and invokes the word hour. I readily agree that nobody ever says a hour—they always say an hour. I accept that, but I do not accept it as justification to say an herb. An hour is simply an exception to the rule, exceptions that all of us must recognize and accept.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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An historic event? Oh, puhleeze!

An historic event?

Oh, puhleeze!

During the recent and still continuing snowfalls across the country, talking heads on television, weather forecasters in particular, have repeatedly characterized and continue to characterize snowstorms and snowfalls as an historic storm and an historical snowfall.

During the recent and still continuing snowfalls across the country, talking heads on television, weather forecasters in particular, have repeatedly characterized and continue to characteriz snowstorms and snowfalls as an historic snowfall and an historical storm.

In the storied (and some say fabled) history of our nation there has never been an historic event, nor has there ever been an historical event. Never. Not one. I can clearly remember reading about historic events in a history book—World War II, for example, and the wrecks of the Titanic and the Hindenburg, the solo flight across the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh, and Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent to the top of Mount Everest. I found all those historic events in a history book, but I have never found one in an history book.

If we insist on dropping the H  and saying an historic event, we should apply that rule to all words beginning with H—that would give us an Hoover for a vacuum cleaner, an Hoover for president, an harp for music, an heaven to which we should all aspire, and on and on, ad infinitum.

I realize that such terms as an herb and an herb garden are firmly entrenched in our English language, in spite of the fact that many distinguished speakers and writers refuse to deviate from the terms a herb and a herb garden. Two of those distinguished people immediately come to mind—both Martha Stewart and I refuse to say an herb—we are sticking to a herb. That’s not one of my neighbors—that is the Martha Stewart, a widely known decorator and gardener, and an accepted authority on everything, including herbs, herb gardens and stock market trades.

If both Martha Stewart and I refuse to drop the h in herb in order to use the an rather than the a, that should provide sufficient reason for everyone else to step out of the an line and into the a line—one only needs to take a teenie weenie baby step to move from an egregious wrong to a resounding right—a step from left to right, so to speak. On serious reflection, such a move would be beneficial in other venues, particularly in the political arena.

Folks in Great Britain speak English, albeit English that in a large measure has not kept pace with the times, has not evolved over time as has our use of English to communicate. English-speaking people in Great Britain tend to drop their aitches, particularly those speakers of cockney descent.

The following joke clearly illustrates that tendency (please forgive me for the joke, but I must use the tools that are available to me):

During World War II an American soldier was strolling on the beach with a lovely British girl he had just met. A strong breeze was blowing off the water and the girl’s skirt billowed up over her waist. This was wartime and many products, ladies undergarments for example, were in short supply, hence this lady wore nothing under her skirt. The soldier took a quick look, but not wanting to embarrass her, quickly looked away and exclaimed, “Wow, it’s really airy!”

The girl snapped back, “Well, wot the ‘ell did you expect? Chicken feathers?”

I realize that returning our population to the proper use of a and an is a task that far outstrips Hercules’ assignment to clean the Augean stables. In comparison with Hercules’ assignment to clean the stables in one day, this one will require a tremendous amount of shoveling. Had we two rivers adjacent to the stables as Hercules did, we could divert the  streams to and through the stables as he did, and thus clear up this problem of deciding whether a or an will precede words beginning with an H.

Alas, we do not have the two rivers available for our use, but we do have shovels. I will continue to wield my shovel as long as the misuse of a and an exists, but I sure could use some help!

Oh, just one more thought—the first objection to saying a herb rather than an herb usually involves and invokes the word hour. I readily agree that nobody ever says a hour—they always say an hour. I accept that, but I do not accept it as justification to say an herb. An hour is simply an exception to the rule, exceptions that all of us must recognize and accept.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2010 in Gardening, grammar, Humor, proper english, wartime, Writing

 

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