Without sounding like an old Navy salt . . . some things change, and some things remain the same. Drinking has been a tradition in many navies. The British Navy gave sailors daily rations of rum. The United States Navy was the first to abolish the rum ration, removing it in 1862 – thanks, Abe Lincoln!
I served in the US Navy aboard the aircraft super-carrier, USS Forrestal (CV-59); the USS Alameda County (LST-32), a converted LST-31 tank landing ship; and the USS Monrovia (AP-64), an attack troop transport. From 1958 through 1962, I think we had many alcoholics on board the ships. While I was on active duty, I do not remember hearing anything about AA or treatment.
That was over 50 years ago. Some things have changed; but then as now, drugs and alcohol cause problems.
I look back on those years and remember good shipmates and many great times. I learned a lot about life. I think every man should serve time in the military. In my opinion, we did a disservice to our country by doing away with the draft.
I drank in every port. I drank homemade alcohol overseas that would not be legal in the States. I received the Drinking Champion award on one ship. I was proud of that!
I was often in trouble, going AWOL and sometimes getting back to the ship a few days late. I did brig time and extra duty restriction. I was told many times, if you got drunk, you paid the piper – which I did over and over again. In my mind, though, I was just doing what everyone else was doing.
We learned how to work with a hangover and little sleep. As soon as liberty call sounded, I was back ashore drinking, yet again, even after saying I was going to rest and not drink that day.
Thank God we went to sea! There was no drinking aboard ship. However, overseas I could buy candy with brandy inside of it. I would put it in my coffee on a cold night’s watch. But going to sea did give me a chance to recuperate.
In spite of it all, I was honorably discharged as a Petty Officer Second Class (E5) after four years of service. At that time, the drinking age was 21 in many states, but service men could drink at any age overseas or at enlisted men’s clubs. Years later, just like on the ocean, there were some calm days; but there were many more storms. I needed help; I was sinking fast and had no life preserver.
After discharge from the Navy, I join the US Merchant Marines. We sailed into Thule, Greenland from the North Pole, which at the time was part of the Distant Early Warning Line, known as the DEW Line or Early Warning Line. It was a system of radar stations in the far North Arctic region of Canada, with additional stations along the Aleutian Islands and north coast of Alaska. In addition, there were stations on the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Iceland. It was set up to detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold War, and provide early warning of any sea and land invasions.
Thule had the largest enlisted men’s club I was ever in. A bottle of beer was cheap, and we had the money to join the club. I still have my membership card #1615. Funny what we hang on to!
That fall we needed the help of icebreakers to get us out of Thule – we almost had to spend the winter there. If we had stayed, I am sure the enlisted men’s club would have been my second home!
Today I laugh when I read page 101 in the Big Book, “His only chance for sobriety would be someplace like the Greenland Ice Cap, and even there an Eskimo might turn up with a bottle of scotch and ruin everything!“
In 1976, I did not know anything about recovery. However, I was twelve-stepped by an actively drinking friend who told me about a homeless shelter called St. Christopher’s Inn, a Franciscan ministry located at Graymoor Spiritual Life Center, just north of New York City. I went, but when they found out I was a veteran, they had me admitted into a 90-day program at the VA Hudson Valley Health Care System in Montrose, Virginia.
People used to say, “Why can’t you drink like a normal person?” Today I compare alcoholism to seasickness. I’d been in North Atlantic storms and had never become seasick; yet on the other hand, I got morning-after-sick from alcohol. Some people don’t. Bodies and minds work differently.
Today, I am a sober US Navy veteran and am active in my Twelve Step community. In sobriety, I have been on six cruises, have attended Twelve Step meetings on the cruise ships and have met many new people. Now, when on board a ship I can sleep in; and I don’t have to paint anything!
Thank you, AA.