Wednesday, June 16, 2010


When sailors come ashore ti is a stange jargon they speak.  Like any lodge member - or perhaps like the great majority of Americans who cannot be satisfied with any name as it is - they delight in strange , colorful substitutes or pseudonyms for the stern official verbiage of the Navy.  Nowhere does their fancy take bolder flight than in the nicknames for their ships.

It is so much more satisfying, and impressive, when surrounded by a congenial group, to point out: "Good old Bill, who was a mess-mate of mine on the 'Swayback Maru'" ; or "I know him, too, we shipped out of Panama together on the 'Prune Barge.'"  Which is simply sailorese for cruiser Salt Lake City, and the battleship California.

There will always be the cook, boasting of the prowess of the "Ridge Runner" (battleship Tennessee), and the boatswain who can be properly patronizing to any Army shellback who asks what the "Spud Peeler" (Idaho) or the "Milk Wagon" (Milwaukee) might be.

These are rather obvious labels, with the flavor of the region from which the ship's original name sprang.  Some are even simpler, such as "Arky" for Arkansas, "Old Miss" for Mississippi, "Pensy" for the Pennsylvania, and "Misery" or "Big Mo" for the Missouri.  It is easy enough to divine Witchita and Galveston, the cruisers, from "Old Witch" and "Old Gal."

But the origins of "Cheerup Ship: for the Nevada, and "Tea Kittle" for the Brooklyn, are somewhat more obscure.  The Nevada's nickname, however, proved an invaluable asset at Pearl Harbor, where she was one of the battleships damaged by the Japs.  Signs, on which "Cheerup" appeared frequently, spurred repair crews on during the dark days, and the Nevada was the first of the damaged battlewagons readied for sea after the attack.

Even more mysterious is "Blue Beetle" for the Drayton, rarliest nemesis of Jap subs, until it is recalled that the Drayton was the guinea pig for Navy camouflage' brightest ideas - including a brilliant blue color scheme which later was abandoned.

So many ships have been called "Old Lady" that it migh almost be said to be a universal label, as well as a term of affection, especially when some overage craft outsmarts or outsails newer competitors.  One ship, however, has been "Old Lady" to its men almost since the day it was commissioned - the great carrier Saratoga, also known to the Pacific as the "Sara Maru."

Under the heading of miscellaneous would be "Reluctant Dragon for the Boise, "Old Ironsides" for the Marblehead, "Busy B" for the Brooklyn, "Can Do Ship" for the Cincinnati, "Honest John" for the Pope, "P.J." for the Paul Jones, "Battleship X" for the South Dakota, "Old Nick" for the New York, "Bonny Dick" for the Bon Homme Richard, "Big Ben" for the Franklin, "Covered Wagon" for the Langley, and "Big E" for the Enterprise.

And there is the inevitable last-word naval humorist who prophesies that all this will be changed in the next war.  Then all our ship well be named for good old American our enemies can't see them!


Bud Shortridge