You may have heard that Navy ships are dry, as in "no booze." That once was not the case. In 1914, during the height of the temperance movement, Josephus Daniels, the Secretary of the Navy in the Wilson Administration, issued a directive banning the consumption of wine, beer and hard liquor on Navy ships. (Back then, there was no Defense Department, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Navy were full cabinet-level departments.)
That order stood for a very long time. Wine was transported from time to time; you could buy cases of wine overseas and bring them back on the ship to be taken off when you got back (you could also do the same for some firearms), but on board, the wine was locked up as though it was plutonium. When ships from several NATO navies would have a pre-sail conference for an exercise, the conferences were never held on US ships, but always ashore on on another ship, so suitable libations could be served.
That started to break down in the late 1970s, as ships began to spend a lot of time in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf with no great port visits. Ships that had not had a recreational port visit for more than thirty or sixty days were permitted to give everyone on board two cans of beer. The beer could not be consumed on the ship; if the ship pulled into a shithole like Djibouti, then beer was served on the pier. If not, sailors were loaded into the ship's boats, which motored around the ship while the sailors had their beers.
The beer was awful tasting swill. The rumor was that it was a special formulation of Budweiser that had formaldehyde added to keep it from going bad in hot conditions. It was, quite possibly, the worst tasting beer ever canned and if you have ever had Narragansett beer (a/k/a "Nasty Garrett"), you know that is saying something.
A second problem arose with the one of the collateral jobs of Navy warships. Navy warships visit foreign ports not just to give the sailors a place to get drunk and get laid, but to "show the flag." It is common for Navy ships to host receptions for local dignitaries. The problem was that the turnout for those receptions was not as good as the Navy would have liked, since everyone knew that there was no liquor served.
The Navy kept asking for an exemption from the ban for diplomatic purposes. By the mid 1980s, John Lehman was SecNav and he was sympathetic to the need to modify the ban.
So they did. Wine and port could be served at diplomatic functions, the ship's officers were allowed to drink during those functions, but only if they were not in the duty section.
One of the first functions where wine and port were served aboard a Navy ship was in Haifa, Israel. By a funny twist of fate, the ship that hosted the cocktail party was a guided missile cruiser, the USS Josephus Daniels. The function was indeed well attended.
After the function ended, the ship's officers assembled in the Wardroom, stood before the portrait of Josephus Daniels, and drank a toast to him.
Friday Musings 04/09/2004
6 hours ago