So it was Perth, West Australia, and the year was 1999. Just before entering port, I had casually reminisced in the hearing of one or two junior officers of my mess that there had been a loverly photo in my first ready room back in 1987. Two young ladies a-wearing US naval officer summer white uniform tops and not much else, guests of the admin, like. This was of course back before we had female officers at sea aboard aircraft carriers, either for the wearing of summer white uniform shirts, or to take offense at such proud and may I say artistic displays of feminine beauty being so prominently displayed, especially juxtaposed (or just posed) in martial accoutrement. If only for the horrible sexism that was in it.
Our first night ashore there was an official function, and the skipper and myself, then serving as his exec, were required and desired to deliver ourselves in the uniform of the day to that function, which – this being Australia after all – had none of the customary drudgery and rubbery chicken so common to such affairs. We returned to the admin happy and content, hanging our uniforms in the closet for the duration of the stay, our military duties largely discharged, the blackshoes professional surface warfare officers for their part having to content themselves with only the odd opportunity to conduct fire drills and cleanliness inspections back aboard ship.
The third night ashore, the entirety of the officer’s mess made its serpentine way into town in civilian clothes for to dine on the local comestibles. A sweet young thing stepped up to our table, and – anticipating as we were the West Australian brogue – asked us in a pleasant Midwest accent what we’d be wanting, at all?
Gobsmacked ain’t in it, so quickly did the boys fall in instant love. A couple of them swooned right into their plates, or would have done had not their dearest friends and fiercest rivals for the young lady’s attention so rudely shoved them out of the way. The lass and another American girl of her acquaintance – college students taking a year off, it turned out – were asked to come by the admin for to grace us with their presence, wit and sparkling conversation, and so they did. Squadrons of dashing and hospitable US naval officers being but an intermittent treat in that utterly remote part of the world.
The skipper and I parted ways with the younkers not long thereafter, for they were dissolute wretches and wicked rogues to a man, but indifferent company ashore, and all too liable to lead us into social catastrophes and unintentional blunders of the sort which might require Official Notice by the powers invested with officially noticing such things. Especially when perpetrated (or even attended) by, as who should say, senior officers hoping gamely to make a career out of it, the terrible odds to the contrary notwithstanding. That and of course we had to stop by the local orphanage for to do some charity work for the convent nuns before winding down our evening over a cup of warm tea with perhaps just a little milk at the Christian Science Reading Room, as was our inevitable custom.
Don’t call us saints, the skipper and me, for we couldn’t abide the comparison, neither then nor now. It’s just that there are all kinds of duty, and we humbly accepted our own.
So another day went by ashore, and if there were more than the usual number of smirking glances and antic gestures exchanged between the junior officers when they came in sight of us their betters, well we thought nothing of it, for most of them had a merely simian sense of humor.
Upon returning to the ship aboard which we had the honor to serve, we found that a certain digital photograph entitled “how was your admin?” had been snapped whilst ashore, and then circulated around the local network at such a dizzying pace that it had somehow found itself circulating off the local network, spilling over the rim and and bouncing around back home again.
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