But You Cannot Take the Navy Out of the Man, Part 2 of 2

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

I didn’t have the $600 for our original uniform issue of Naval Academy uniforms: Dress Blues, Overcoat and Reefer (Peacoat). Instead of being measured for my own, I was escorted by a friendly Italian lady to a room in the Academy Tailor Shop filled with racks of these garments. I tried-on several samples and finally found an issue for me. As she measured me for the necessary alterations, I read in the breast pocket the name of its former owner. The seamstress informed me that these uniforms were owned previously by mids who did not graduate from the Academy and sold-back this gear. When my properly fitted items returned to me, my name replaced theirs. As a result and for some reason, I had a special sense of my Dress Blues and winter coats. A kind of a “who ends up with what?” and “where are they now” curiosity.

After my naval service, I worked for a stint at Bath Iron Works in the persistent winter of Maine. Shipyards and winter weather are harsh on clothing so the ‘inside people’ kept shoes and coats in their offices for the trips to production meetings in the Yard. I concluded that my reefer would be a near perfect Yard coat if only I changed the brass buttons to civilian style. Off went the six brass and my wife sewed-on 6 brown replacements. The reefer withstood its consistent use and the rugged climate, ending-up in the back closet of our home in Raleigh, North Carolina when we relocated to warmer mid-Atlantic in 1985. Say ‘Amen.’

Divorced in 1993, I lost track of many items in that process including the twice modified midshipmen reefer.

My older son, Alexander, is a Lieutenant, Junior Grade, stationed in Naples, Italy. We agreed to meet in London for the past Thanksgiving, saying good-bye to the last of my inherited IBM frequent flyer miles. I meet his train from Gatwick Airport at Victoria Station. Arriving at 1130 pm, he strolls down the platform in his hipster travel gear wearing my fourth classman-issue reefer with the brown buttons.

I put it on in our hotel room, laughing and remembering those innumerable trips down Stribling Walk between classes at the Academy in the Maryland snow complete with our regulation trousers that had no front pockets so that we cannot put our hands in them.

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Photo taken in the dining room of the Old Royal Naval College. Admiral Nelson lay in state here after Trafalgar.