Destroyer Sailor
By Virgil Wing

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed—

they know the Angels are on their side.

They know in them is the Grace confessed,

and for them are the Mercies multiplied.

They sit at the Feet—they hear the Word—

they see how truly the Promise runs.

They have cast their burden upon the Lord—

and the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons!

— R. Kipling, The Sons of Martha, 1906

The after living compartment was full of moving sailors in all stages of undress, fresh from the showers to rolling and moulding a white hat. Since my section needed neither help nor advice, I climbed the ladder to the fantail. The Navy Yard Band lounged on a pier alongside, testing their instruments with muffled toots and snorts. Half the sailors were already topside in dress blues, picking at lint or checking a shoeshine.

Visiting civilians and brass were gathering on the pier forward of the brow, looking at and discussing our ship. She had what had been visible even on the building ways—the speedy rakish lines essential to her calling.

She was a warship: her guns at the insolent angle and the ten torpedo tubes in battery awaiting a target.

I had joined chiefs Scott and Walling with Norman E. (Old Settler) Smith but briefly when “all hands to quarters” sounded over the 21MC speakers.

We moved aft, carefully skirting uncovered K-guns spaced alongside the after deckhouse.

The ship was cleaned up with the brightwork gleaming; the war-color paint had been touched up and the brass highly polished. After the ceremonies we would paint the brass with two coats of warcolor paint to eliminate that shine. Below decks we would scrape off to bare metal all the paint, for paint is a fire hazard in battle.

The invited guests files aboard and I recognized some faces from Bath Iron Works, the builder. Lieutenant Commander Brown and the captain of the Yard took their places under No. 5 gun.

The Navy Department letter was read accepting delivery of the ship. Brown read his orders to assume command. On signal the band struck up the National Anthem, the colors snapped up the flag staff while the commission pennant broke at the main truck.

Captain Brown called out: “Mr. Hill, set the watch!”

Lieutenant Hill, now the executive officer, about-faced and repeated, “Set the watch!”

Chief Boatswain’s Mate Omarah stepped forward and shrilled all hands on his boatswain’s pipe: “Now set the watch! Section Two, Watch One.”

Now we had manned a living man-o’-war, United States Ship Nicholas (DD 449), the first of the new fleet destroyers that was an equal match of the enemy.

Nothing continues unmarred for very long: the band swung into that Tin-Pan-Alley groaner, Remember Pearl Harbor—a tune that is to music and martial spirit what a pigweed is to a rose.

After the guests left us, crowding down the brow, we secured from quarters and proceeded below to change into dungarees. To experienced navymen, a warship is where you work, in both senses. So Commissioning Day was not a holiday—the next three Christmases weren’t either.

That evening I began this, my war diary.