I WAS A SAILOR ONCE
Reflections of a Blackshoe
Vice Admiral Harold Koenig, USN (Ret), M.D.
I like the Navy,
I like standing on the bridge wing at
sunrise with salt spray in my face and clean ocean winds whipping in from the
four quarters of the globe - the ship beneath me feeling like a living thing as
her engines drive her through the sea.
I like the sounds of the Navy - the piercing trill of the boatswains
pipe, the syncopated clangor of the ship's bell on the quarterdeck, the harsh
squawk of the 1MC and the strong language and laughter of sailors at work.
I like Navy vessels - nervous darting destroyers, plodding fleet
auxiliaries, sleek submarines and steady solid carriers.
I like the proud names of Navy ships: Midway, Lexington, Saratoga, Coral
Sea - memorials of great battles won.
I like the lean angular names of Navy 'tin-cans" Barney, Dahlgren,
Mullinix, McCloy, -mementos of heroes who went before us.
I like the tempo of a Navy band blaring through the topside speakers as
we pull away from the oiler after refueling at sea.
I like liberty call and the spicy scent of a foreign port. I even like
all hands working parties as my ship fills herself with the multitude of
supplies both mundane and exotic which she needs to cut her ties to the land and
carry out her mission anywhere on the globe where there is water to float her.
I like sailors, men from all parts of the land, farms of the Midwest,
small towns of New England, from the cities, the mountains and the prairies,
from all walks of life. I trust and depend on them as they trust and depend on
me - for professional competence, for comradeship, for courage. In a word, they
I like the surge of adventure in my heart when the word is passed "Now
station the special sea and anchor detail - all hands to quarters for leaving
port", and I like the infectious thrill of sighting home again, with the waving
hands of welcome from family and friends waiting pierside.
The work is hard
and dangerous, the going rough at times, the parting from loved ones painful,
but the companionship of robust Navy laughter, the 'all for one and one for all'
philosophy of the sea is ever present.
I like the serenity of the sea after a day of hard ship's work, as flying
fish flit across the wave tops and sunset gives way to night.
I like the feel of the Navy in darkness - the masthead lights, the red
and green navigation lights and stern light, the pulsating phosphorescence
of radar repeaters - they cut through the dusk and join with the mirror of
And I like drifting off to sleep lulled by the myriad noises large and
small that tell me that my ship is alive and well, and that my shipmates on
watch will keep me safe. I like quiet midwatches with the aroma of strong coffee
- the lifeblood of the Navy - permeating everywhere.
And I like hectic watches when the exacting minuet of haze-gray shapes
racing at flank speed keeps all hands on a razor edge of alertness.
I like the sudden electricity of "General quarters, general quarters, all
hands man your battle stations", followed by the hurried clamor of running
feet on ladders and the resounding thump of watertight doors as the ship
transforms herself in a few brief seconds from a peaceful workplace to a weapon
of war - ready for anything.
And I like the sight of space-age equipment manned by youngsters clad in
dungarees and sound-powered phones that their grandfathers would still
I like the traditions of the Navy and the men and women who made them. I
like the proud names of Navy heroes: Halsey, Nimitz, Perry, Farragut, John Paul
A sailor can find much in the Navy: comrades-in-arms, pride in self and
country, mastery of the seaman's trade. An adolescent can find adulthood.
years to come, when sailors are home from the sea, they will still remember with
fondness and respect the ocean in all its moods -the impossible shimmering
mirror calm and the storm-tossed green water surging over the bow. And then
there will come again a faint whiff of stack gas, a faint echo of engine and
rudder orders, a vision of the bright bunting of signal flags snapping at the
yardarm, a refrain of hearty laughter in the wardroom and chief's quarters and
messdecks. Gone ashore for good they will grow wistful about their Navy days,
when the seas belonged to them and a new port of call was ever over the
Remembering this, they will stand taller and say,
"I WAS A SAILOR ONCE. I WAS PART OF THE NAVY, AND THE NAVY WILL ALWAYS BE PART OF
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vice Admiral Harold M. Koenig USN (Ret), M.D.
Chair and President, The Annapolis Center 32nd Surgeon General of the Navy and Chief, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery
Vice Admiral Koenig became Chairman and President of the Annapolis Center on July 30, 1998. In this capacity, Dr. Koenig leads the organization as its chief spokesperson and chairman of its Board of Directors.
VADM Koenig became the thirty-second Surgeon General of the Navy and Chief, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, on June 29, 1995. He retired from that position on June 30, 1998 after completing 32 years of active duty service.
A native of Salinas, California, he attended the U.S. Naval Academy and received his Bachelor of Science Degree from Brigham Young University. He received his Medical Degree from Baylor University College of Medicine. He is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in general pediatrics and pediatric hematology-oncology.
VADM Koenig is a Diplomate of the American College of Healthcare Executives. In 1994 the American Hospital Association named him "The Federal Health Care Executive of the Year". VADM Koenig served in a variety of clinical roles in the Navy, including general medical officer, residency training program director, department chairman, hospital executive officer and commanding officer.
His staff assignments before becoming the Navy Surgeon General included: command of the Naval Health Sciences Education and Training Command,
Director of Health Care Operations in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) for Health Services Operations and Deputy Surgeon General and Chief of the Medical Corps.
VADM Koenig's personal awards include the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with Gold Star, Meritorious Service Medal with Gold Star, Navy Commendation Medal, and the Navy Achievement Medal.