Whither the Marines?

As Instapundit would say, “Read the whole thing.” Follow some of the links as well, while you’re at it.

I was in the navy, on a steam-powered, automatic-nothing guided missile destroyer, of the Charles F. Adams (DDG-2) class; they were universally known in the fleet as “Adams cans,” the reference being to the destroyer type’s appellation of “tin can.” It fit, too; once an A-6 Intruder was practice bombing our wake with smoke bombs, about ten-pound chunks of inert metal with a smoke flare in the nose which was activated by contact with seawater. The idea being the plane would target our wake, but about 500 or so yards astern of us. This goof-ball dropped one clean through our ship. And when I say “clean through our ship,” that’s exactly what that little ten-pound chunk of inert metal did – it went in on one side of the ship, through an exterior bulkhead, blew apart a power panel for our missile fire control radars, went through a deck, through the weapons department office, out another external bulkhead, through another deck and a passageway, almost unburdening us of our chief boatswain’s mate, through the brand-new refrigerator in the chiefs’ mess, through another external bulkhead, and out onto the main deck where it finally hit something capable of bringing it to a halt, viz. the starboard boat davit, a rather massive chunk of steel, and bounced back into the scupper. 

That’s what a small, inert piece of metal did. Had it penetrated not the superstructure three decks up, but rather main hull in a main engineering space, this is what would have happened: We ran on super-heated steam. If my memory is correct the outlet temperature of a boiler was 945 degrees Fahrenheit at 1,275 p.s.i. A pinhole leak of live steam will cut a human body in half (oddly it also cauterizes as it cuts, so you have two half-men, but comparatively little blood). A significant irruption of main steam will boil alive everyone in the space. The fuel oil running to the burner face was under something like 400 p.s.i. A tiny breach of a pressurized fuel line would produce a fine mist of fuel oil, which if – when is better – it hit a piece of exposed metal that had steam behind it, would flash into a fire ball that would consume the space. And everyone in it. That happened, in fact, to a sister-ship of ours, USS Conyngham (DDG-17). A fuel oil strainer had been overhauled in the yards, but the technical drawings were incorrect; they didn’t show a retainer pin going all the way through a shaft. The retainer pin vibrated loose and the pressure inside the strainer ejected the shaft, much like a projectile from a Nerf gun. The resulting quarter-inch or so geyser of fuel oil lit off. Conyngham burned for two days (miraculously only one man died). One of our squadron-mates had a main steam line rupture, shortly after we decommissioned. Cooked several people in the boiler room.  Modern non-nuclear combat vessels tend to be gas-turbine powered, and if anything the jet fuel they run is even more highly inflammable than our good ol’ DFM.

The ladders coming up out of the main engineering spaces are maybe eighteen or so inches wide, vertical or nearly so for a good part of its length, and at the top the egress is through a round scuttle not much wider than the average male body. That’s your route out of hell, and if you’ve had your legs cooked down to the bone, or a falling chunk of machinery has crushed a foot, or you’ve been knocked senseless off a platform down into the bilges twenty feet below, how you get out is your shipmates manhandle you up that ladder and out of the space. Failing which, you die. 

Isn’t it nice to know that your shipmates in that space, on whose upper-body strength your own survival depends, won’t be able to shift your body (try hauling around an unconscious person for a distance; try maneuvering that person, say, up an ordinary stairwell; you’ll get a good understanding for the expression “deadweight”) because the strongest 5% of them are only as strong as the bottom half of their male shipmates. 

My father-in-law served in World War II. He earnestly counseled his daughter to have any son circumcised. Not for any religious reason, you understand, but because the male foreskin is a vulnerable point of infection (I’m given to understand that one of the more effective non-medicinal AIDS preventives is circumcision; apparently that li’l ol’ flap of skin is just transparent to pathogens for some reasons). He related (without too much detail) how it was the uncircumcised men who were forever getting infections, in the inevitable dirt of active service. What would have happened if those sailors had, as a female friend of mine put it once, “an interior organ mounted on the outside of their body” beggars imagination. I refer the gentle reader to Eugene B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa for a physical description of the hygienic conditions attendant on prolonged combat operations in warmer climes. 

It is simply dishonest to pretend that the political decision to declare that no meaningful, material distinctions exist between the halves of the human species has no consequences for the lives of the Americans in uniform, of both sexes. What makes the facts behind this story so scandalous is that the people driving this are practicing intellectual dishonesty with the lives of the men (and women, too) they’ve sworn to protect.

For shame.


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