A retired officer reflects on his 11 years in the U.S. Navy.
Raised in Owosso, Michigan, Slaughter (Cottonwood Summer ’45, 2012, etc.) attended the University of Michigan on a Navy ROTC scholarship. In this memoir, he describes his life at various ports and aboard Navy aircraft carriers and destroyers during a relatively peaceful period (1956 to 1967). “I immediately fell in love with the Navy,” he writes, and it’s easy to see why. Besides getting a free education courtesy of the U.S. government, he also toured the world gratis, visiting enticing spots such as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. In addition to going on organized shore excursions to relieve boredom, Navy sailors enjoyed snorkeling, bowling, tennis, golf, and beer parties. At times, Slaughter’s service sounds like an extended voyage aboard a floating Club Med. Even the occasional scrape, such as an encounter with a Russian submarine armed with nuclear-tipped torpedoes during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, comes across as an exciting diversion rather than a threatening doomsday scenario. Despite a few hairy moments amid mutual misunderstandings, the standoff resolves peacefully and the Americans give the Russians “freshly baked bread and American cigarettes.” In addition to describing his life at sea, Slaughter also recounts many moments on shore, including his efforts to find a girlfriend —one Irish Roman Catholic grandmother in Providence, Rhode Island, quashed a budding romance when she learned his name was English—and his eventual marriage, fatherhood, and domestic and social life. Slaughter has written an entertaining, breezy account of Navy life during a rare peaceful interlude in U.S. history. He includes some deft portraits of his colleagues, such as an “affable” steward’s mate who ran a kind of shipboard loan-sharking business as a way to boost his income. Some of Slaughter’s anecdotes need more development, however. He misses an opportunity to describe his encounter with Adm. Hyman Rickover, for instance. At other times, he tells too much, such as indulging in a chapter about reuniting with an old friend’s sister at her college. While his writing style is easygoing and usually highly readable, Slaughter displays a weakness for sentence lead-ins such as “needless to say,” “to be honest,” “honestly,” and “frankly.” Needless to say, these are needless.
An enjoyable account of a surprisingly pleasant Navy life.