A gaggle of Navy Officers, including me, were standing around prior to the retirement of one of our Shipmates. We were to be sideboys, saluting with the boatswain’s pipe, rendering honors to our shipmate going ashore after a successful Navy career.
During the hot summer days, we wear our Dress Whites for most ceremonies. This is the uniform that brings back memories of the closing scene of “An Officer and A Gentleman”, as Richard Gere carries Debra Winger out of the paper factory at the end of the movie. Very Romantic – usually.
One of the sideboys, a LTJG (young male), was talking to me and a fellow female LCDR. (I was a newly pinned LCDR, so the mere fact that he kept calling me ma’am was already making me feel strange.) This LTJG was acting so nervous, and I had the feeling it was more than the extra shiny thin gold stripe on my sleeve. I am a really nice person, usually, so I was trying to analyze him and figure out why he was so uptight.
Finally he said, “Ladies, there is something wrong with my uniform.”
We looked him up and down, and carefully asked him “What’s wrong?”
Then it started… the day he wished he could have gone back to bed.
“I’m… I’m not going to tell you. You can guess if you want, but I’m not going to tell you until after the ceremony has ended.”
My friend and I just looked back and forth at each other, trying to figure out if the LTJG was serious or not. Then my playful nature got the best of me, “This sounds fun! Let’s try to figure it out!” (A bead of sweat rolled down the LTJG’s temple.)
“Your shoes!” I shouted, sure I was right. They were the same color as the brown shoes aviators wear, only they were supposed to be white.
“N…No, not the shoes” he hesitated.
“You didn’t shave!” My friend guessed.
“No, I mean, yes… I shaved, but no… no, that is not it,” he stammered.
I thought carefully for a minute and inspected his coat jacket, then declared “A ha! You have a stain right there,” as I pointed out a faint, old coffee stain portside of his bottom gold button.
“No, no, no! That’s not it!” He protested loudly, finally showing us his grit. “Just quit guessing! That’s Enough!”
Then my friend and I felt kinda bad, he seemed to be a good kid, very young, in need of a good Leading Chief Petty Officer to get him on the straight and narrow. But, HEY – he told us to guess!
Once the ceremony was over, he held true to his word and finally came to tell us what the BIG problem was with his uniform. Are you ready???
He lost his pistol sharpshooter ribbon, so he replaced it with a rifle sharpshooter ribbon (in other words, he was wearing two of the same ribbon.) I listened how upset he was about his missing ribbon, and giggled about how much more upset I would have been about those shoes, shave, and coffee stain! (We did not even discuss his haircut!)
Goodness…. These young whipper-snappers today. Sheesh!
UPDATE: I had the opportunity to serve with the same LTJG in a retirement ceremony just one month later. While we were at the practice the day before, I jested with him, “So, are we going to play the uniform game again tomorrow?”
His eyes grew wide, and he just said, “No ma’am.”
The next morning I was in the uniform shop getting the new Navy Working Uniform prior to the ceremony, and who did I see? Yep, my little LTJG. He was furiously buying new ribbons, white shoes, stain sticks, and razors. I guess he really didn’t want to play the game again after all. Too bad, it was so much fun!