Dear John letters were a fact of life in the Navy. Typically, they came roughly mid-way through the deployment. To be fair, it wasn't all the sea duty sailors being broadsided. There were sailors who met someone else and fell in love when visiting foreign ports and who then dumped their stateside spouses. But for this post, let's talk about those who were dumped. Also, for the purposes of this post, I'll refer to the sailors in the male gender and the spouses back home in the feminine gender, though the opposite cases were becoming true (and now are certainly true).
The reasons why the dumpings happened were fairly similar. There were the wives who realized after a few months that their husbands were scum and didn't want them back. There were wives who fell for newer models, an appalling number of whom were other sailors. There were wives who already had new boyfriends lined up and used the deployments to carry out their plans.
The commencement of the breakup was stereotypical: There was the letter. The recipient would react in varying ways: In stoic silence, tears, screams of anguish, smashing fists into bulkheads (never a good thing to do) or smashing things. If the letter came during a port visit, the recipient would find a telephone exchange and try to call home. Those who had the money (usually officers) would try to take leave and fly home. Sleeplessness was common. So was heavy self-medication during liberty ashore.
Where the wives strayed often wasn't unusual. While some husbands were known to regard their marriage vows as being suspended once the ship passed the sea buoy out-bound, the wives, in turn, sometimes became "deployment widows". For example, the Friday night dance at the NAS Oceana Officers' Club was notorious for being a place where single officers, especially airdales, could go to find a deployment widow for some fun and games.* Every naval community had a place or three like that, some off-base, some on-base. Probably most of the time, what happened was a short fling. But not always.**
Sometimes there wasn't even a Dear John letter. The husband would come back to find his place cleaned out, his bank account emptied and his family gone. That was usually facilitated by a trusting husband who gave his wife a legal power-of-attorney. I knew of one wife and boyfriend who wound up in prison for forging a power-of-attorney to sell the home.
There was one guy who came back from deployment and, like everyone else, was eager for the reunion. What happened was that another one of the wives sorrowfully gave him his car keys and told him that his car was in the parking lot. It was, jam-packed with all of his stuff.
There was another guy who, also eager for the reunion, was met by a process-server with a set of divorce papers.
There was the guy who found out where his soon-to-be-ex was with her new boyfriend. The sailor and a few of his buddies rode up on motorcycles, shot the shit out of the boyfriend's house and rode off.
The ones that were probably the worst to see were the ones where the wife broke the news and took her leave right there on the pier.*** Those probably set the record for the amount of spirit-crushing that took place. It was bad enough when the sailor had suspicions that the relationship was in trouble. It was terrible when the sailor was deluded or had no clue whatever that his marriage was imploding.
The aftereffects could be, well, interesting. In a good and supportive unit, the dumpee was looked after and helped, under a theory of "there but for the grace of G-d go I". In most commands, however, the attitude was "it sucks to be you". Self-medication with alcohol and other women was common.**** If things went well, the dumpee would recover and move on. But many times, there was enough self-medicating to hurt one's job performance, or if the captain was a self-righteous prig who regarded any family drama as career-limiting, then the dumpee had better plan on drafting a resume.
Dear John letters and their aftermath probably ended more careers, whether the sailor opted to leave or left after career suicide, than any other factor.
_______________________________ * Not just deployment widows, too. Lots of single women came to such places on the hunt for their own "officer and a gentleman" (I cannot tell you how much I hated that particular movie.).
** Even the flings could be destructive. I knew of one marriage that ended when the returned husband found a parking ticket in his car; the parking ticked was issued at the Oceana O-Club on a Friday night six weeks after he had deployed.
*** I've seen it go the other way, as well, when the sailor told the wife right there on the pier that the marriage was over.
**** In an interesting twist of fate, such sailors often pursued deployment widows for some meaningless sex.
It was a standing joke back in the day that when the Air Force was given money to build a base, they'd spend all of the money to build the Officer's Club, the EM Club, base housing and one runway (in order to fly in the booze) and then go back to Congress for more money for incidentals such as repair shops and hangars.
Condition I: Condition I was Battle Stations, everyone on duty. All of the weapon systems and all of the repair lockers were manned and ready and the ship was kept in Condition Zebra. There was a limit to how long everyone could be kept on station, though.
Condition II: Condition II was almost battle stations. Certain weapon systems were manned, usually the AAW missile battery. The divisions that manned the systems were usually in two-section duty (six hours on and six hours off).
Condition IIAS: This was specific to ASW ships, usually the ones with towed arrays. Passive ASW, when done by hand, took a lot of people. On a 1052, there would be at least eight people in Sonar Control. CIC kept their ASW plots manned and a R/T talker on duty for helo ops. The LAMPS Det was in something like Ready 30. Sonar and CIC were in two-section duty.
Condition II manning could be maintained for two months, but it took a hell of a toll on people. Some maintenance had to be deferred. The XO would begin to go batshit because the berthing compartments were half-filled with sleeping men in the morning from the six-hour midwatch, which made cleaning for his inspection difficult.
Condition III: This was the standard condition for wartime steaming with no immediate threat and for at-sea exercises. CIC was manned for air and surface tracking. The TAO watch was manned. The AAW and gun batteries were often lightly manned (enough to get the first shots off), but not for exercises. Officers were normally in three watch sections, CIC would be in two or three. There were any number of voice radio circuits monitored on the Bridge and in CIC.
Condition IV: Peacetime steaming. Depending on the number of qualified OODs, the officer watches may be in four or five sections. CIC was manned for surface tracking and maybe one OS might sit at the air-search radar scope head.
The enlisted bridge watch was normally in four sections for all but Battle Stations. Steam engineers always tried to achieve three watch sections, but two-section duty was very common as the loss of one or two watch-qualified sailors, whether to illness, being sent home for family emergencies or being transferred, was enough to kick the hole watches back to two sections.