Bosun’s Mate First Class

A snapshot of a US Navy Boatswain's Mate First Class taken in the late 70s
BM1 “No Nonsense” Powledge

See that guy pictured above? His name was BM1 Powledge, and he made my life hell for a short time, which seemed like a long time but, hey, I was young and time moves quicker now.

I never knew his first name. I wasn’t supposed to since we weren’t buddies; we were as far from buddies as you can get. He was my division petty officer. To all of us, his first name was “Boatswain’s Mate First Class,” which you could shorten to “Bosun’s Mate” or, better yet, “BM1.”

He was every bit as nice as he looks in the picture. Here, let’s have a close-up:

I eat sailors like you for breakfast

I got out of the Navy in 1982, after a few years aboard a ship called the USS FANNING. Here it is:

USS FANNING at Hunters Point, San Francisco

Please note that the photo above does not employ a “vintage filter” to make it look old. It actually IS old. I snapped this pic while heading to the ship one morning with my little Kodak Instamatic, and the above was scanned from the only print I have, which has been turning yellow as the years slide by.

In June, I’ll be sixty, which has taken me by surprise. I really don’t know where the years went, mainly because I don’t have very many of those old, yellow photos to show for all of that living.

My first job right out of high school was washing dishes in a restaurant, and I barely remember the two guys who ran the place. I don’t remember if they were good bosses or bad. I guess, if they were one extreme or the other I’d remember, so perhaps they were “just okay” bosses.

From that job I went into basic training for the US Navy. I suppose you could say my first two REAL BOSSES were First Class Petty Officers Frix and Holversen, who, of course, made my life a living hell for three months of Navy “Boot Camp.”

If you’ve ever seen Full Metal Jacket then, yeah, they were kind of like Gunny Seargent Hartmann (portrayed perfectly by an actual Gunney named Ermey, may he RIP). They weren’t really bosses at all, more like demons whose sole job was to terrorize young guys and mold them into mindless drones who would just follow orders and shut the hell up.

That indoctrination didn’t sit with me very well so it was surprising I even made it out of basic training, but BM1 Powledge took over the job once I reported onboard the Fanning in 1978.

I’ll put it this way; I didn’t take the photo of Powledge above, my old shipmate pal, Jeff, did and he sent it to me a few years ago. This was my reply to him:

Thanks a LOT, Jeff! When I saw that pic it struck terror into my heart and I ran and hid for a half-hour.

Back in the day, we in First Division had a little game called, “Hiding from BM1,” which a fella would get quite good at after he’d been on the ship for a while. A lot of nooks and crannies on a vessel like that.

We had officers in charge of the division, an Ensign named Shatinski and a chief named Castillo, but we didn’t have to worry about them as much as we did BM1 Powledge, who was a no-nonsense kind of guy. I don’t think he ever cracked a smile.

Looking at his photo now, I see a different guy – mostly because I’m a different guy at this point in my journey. Back when I was nineteen, he looked very old and experienced, at about thirty-two.

Yeah, now I look at that and I see a young guy very set on his Naval career and busting his ass to make good for his bosses, who happened to be Chief Castillo and Ensign Shatinski at the time.

I lost track of him after leaving the ship in ’82. I do know that he got promoted to Chief and was being transferred to head his own division somewhere right around the time I left.

However it all worked out, I have something to say to the now long-retired and possibly deceased (but I hope not) BM1 Powledge:

Thank you.

Thank you for whipping me into shape, and not letting me get away with some of the sketchier things I tried to pull off back then. Thanks for giving me a work ethic, and helping me to see that shining the brass couplings for hours on end wasn’t really about shiny brass at all (although it was nice to look at) but, rather, discipline. It was an exercise in focus.

Thanks for shaping me up and helping me to adopt some values that I’d have otherwise missed. I’d like to apologize too, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you for what. Also, you knew it was the territory.

Babysitting a bunch of 18-23 year-olds couldn’t have been easy, especially the right-outta-high school bunch getting their first taste of life away from home, and testing their boundaries.

So, thank yous and apologies galore to this man, who had a part in shaping me into who I am today.

God speed, you salty ol’ cuss.

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