from the archives
While serving aboard an aircraft carrier on a nine-month cruise, I became as attuned to the comings and goings of our C-1A Trader carrier onboard delivery (COD) plane as a desert dweller is to a drop of rain. Long before Navy ships had e-mail service, the COD–as we called it–was our primary connection with home.
When the plane arrived, the words “Mail Call” echoed throughout the ship via the 1-MC public address system. The ship’s post office would be mobbed in minutes as each department sent a guy to the small window on the 03 level just forward of the island.
Many of us would head toward the post office before “Mail Call” was announced because our TV sets were generally tuned into PLAT, our ship’s Pilot Landing Aid Television. It was always on during flight operations. The retrieval of the slow-moving COD really stuck out amongst the landings of the jets.
One had to lurk, though, because if you bugged the post office guys before the mail was ready, they tended to work a lot slower. For a few moments after the arrival of the COD, they owned the boat.
Large packages were sniffed and poked and prodded en route back to the shop, office or berthing area for the slightest evidence they contained cookies. One of the top rules of the sea is that cookies are shared with everyone. A guy would be lucky to get one cookie out of a box of 50, crumbled or whole, as the gods of the mail service decreed.
Envelopes reeking of cologne or perfume brought a sailor a string of profane jeers and suggestions by anyone else close enough to pick up the scent. Smart guys told their wives and/or lovers to stop spraying My Sin Perfume on letters filled with sweet nothings or the suggested sins within would soon become public.
More often than not, the mail contained the every-day news of the moment, roughly three weeks after it happened back home. It always amazed me how much of home could be contained within a small envelope.
I left the ship in the Gulf of Tonkin aboard the COD for a trip home via Danang and Manila and to this day that remains one of my favorite flights. Before I flew off the ship, the old salts warned me that a catapult takeoff was similar to getting a kick in the butt from something large and angry.
They were right. But for once, it was a welcome kick.