Navy ship deck logs tend to be bland and eye-glazing entries on the day’s activities, even in times of war, but there is a New Year’s Day exception, in which sailors are encouraged to take poetic license and make the log rhyme.
In its wisdom, the Navy’s top leadership, not always known as the fun bunch, has decided that this year’s ending would be a good time to bring back the New Year’s rhyming log contest.
On Dec. 18, the Naval History and Heritage Command announced that it was “hereby reviving the tradition of the New Year’s Deck Log Poetry contest. Let your poetic prowess be celebrated!”
“By reviving the contest, the Naval History and Heritage Command hopes to preserve the tradition and boost participation throughout the fleet.”
Lest that be taken as a suggestion, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday followed up two days later with a FRAGO. Roughly translated, a FRAGO, or fragmentary order, means that whoever came up with it has devised “timely changes” to an already existing order.
When a FRAGO comes from the CNO, the rough translation is: You WILL do this.
In his FRAGO, Gilday said the deadline for submitting entries for the rhyming log contest was one minute before midnight, or 2359 hours, on April 2, 2021. He thought the contest was a terrific idea.
“As we focus on the future, we will value and celebrate our heritage,” Gilday said. “Harkening back to our heritage connects us with the generations of sailors that came before us, creating a sense of belonging and responsibility to uphold their legacy of valor and sacrifice.”
“The contest also reminds the fleet of the importance of the deck log as a historical document, one that preserves for future generations the actions and voices of our sailors,” Gilday added.
And there will be a prize for the first-place selection, judged by the Naval History and Heritage Command. Gilday said the winner will get a piece of copper sheathing from the USS Constitution, or “Old Ironsides,” the three-masted frigate best known for actions in the War of 1812.
The examples of Navy deck logs through the years show sailors sticking to just-the-facts presentations even under great stress and, sometimes, the weight of history.
On the sleepy Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941, in Honolulu, Lt. j.g. J.R. Hansen had deck log duty aboard the Mahan-class destroyer Conyngham in Pearl Harbor and recorded a delivery:
“Moored as before. 0630 [6:30 a.m.] Received the following provisions for use in general mess … from Dairyman’s Association Ltd: ice cream — 6 gal.”
Of course, Hansen was duty-bound to attest to the ice cream’s quality by having a taste. He noted that Pharmacist’s Mate P.C. Parcheski seconded his opinion om the ice cream’s acceptability.
Then came the next log entry: “0755 Japanese planes commenced bombing Pearl Harbor Area. Held general quarters, manned all guns, commenced breaking out powder.”
Then as now, the emphasis for deck logs was on the terse recording of facts, with the exception for the New Year’s midnight log, when rhyming was permitted.
According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, “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.”
Aboard the battleship New Jersey off the coast of Vietnam at midnight on Dec. 31, 1968, Lt. T. J. Thornton put to rhyme the firing of the ship’s formidable 16-inch guns in support of troops ashore:
“Independently off Viet Nam
In search of Victor Charlie Cong
And now just south of the DMZ
Shooting at targets too far to see.”
There are some things we hold so dear
Among them peace in this New Year
Good cheer, good luck and safe trip home
And with that thought I’ll end this poem.”
A more recent example from the archives branch of the Naval History and Heritage Command was the deck log of the midwatch on Jan. 1, 2020, from the Ticonderoga-class cruiser Princeton:
“It’s New Year’s Eve on the Princeton
Last year’s, last midwatch has just begun
Alas I find with trouble I am smitten
For the midentry in the deck log must be written
In poetic form so I am told
A long naval tradition to uphold
I have the deck and am ready to go
The quarterdeck heater is broken, it’s freezing cold.”
More information on the history of deck logs and how to submit entries for the contest can be found here.
— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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