In anticipation of our upcoming ‘What Are You Working On?’ blog series, Rachel Sutcliffe, an Archives Technician in the Holdings Maintenance Division at NARA, shares her experiences and insights on some very interesting records.
One of the best things about working with the National Archives’ records as an employee is that you get to discover something unexpected in records you would not normally request as a researcher. What may on the surface look like a run of the mill re-housing project ends up revealing a treasure-trove of poems and verse that are sometimes funny and other times profound. This is exactly what I found working with the Navy deck logs from the Vietnam War and World War II. But first, you may ask what are these logs? Deck logs contain the Navy’s daily chronology of certain events on, to, and around the ship for administrative and legal purposes. In them, you will find everything from ship movements and location to accidents, honors, and arrests occurring during a particular month. You can find the vast majority of them in Record Group 24 here at the Archives.
It is hidden in these daily reports that we discovered poems conveying the average sailor’s patriotism, pride, and feelings of intermittent boredom and anticipation. While working on a holdings preservation project for the deck logs for ships in commission during the Vietnam War, my co-workers and I started to notice something different in some of the daily log entries. At first, we thought they were isolated pranks written by sailors somehow related to each other attempting to amuse themselves in the face of a very boring, monotonous job. Yet when I tried to see if these officers were somehow related, whether by author, ship, or captain, I came up empty handed. I did, however, see a trend. I noticed that when these poems did pop up, they were on the first of January. After a little research and discussion with a colleague, I found out that the Navy had a tradition of writing the first deck log of the New Year in verse. These poems, little diamonds in the rough, have been part of Navy tradition for at least 73 years and they reveal a side of the average sailor’s experience on ships taking part in big moments in American history. While some ad hoc poets like PN 1 Garcia of the USS Rigel pay homage to our country’s greatest poets like Edgar Allen Poe in 1972, others like AR Grainger ENS of the USS Severn, also from1972, tap into classic verse such as “T’was the night Before Christmas” for rhythmic inspiration. Many others still try their hand with creating their own rhyme and meter as they fold in the necessary information of the ship’s location, movements and status in their poetic and often deeper telling gem. These short, lyrical, verses are not only entertaining surprises, but testaments to being able to encounter an historical glimpse of one sailor’s imagination and emotion in the most unlikely of places.
Thanks for all of the inquiries about the Navy deck logs!
If you are looking to do some research yourself in these interesting records, please contact the Archives II Reference Section for logs that are more than 30 years old at:
Archives II Reference Section
Textual Archives Services Division
8601 Adelphi Rd.
College Park, MD 20740-6001
The series is “Logbooks of the U.S. Navy Ships and Stations, 1941-1978” (ARC Identifier 594258 / HMS Entry Number A1 118). In your request, please include the ship name as well as the month and the year of the particular log you would like to request.
Navy deck logs from 1980 and later are still in the custody of the Navy. The records are held by the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) at the Washington Navy Yard. Requests can be sent to:
Naval Historical Center
Ships History Branch
805 Kidder Breese SE
Washington Navy Yard
Washington, DC 20374-3643.
We would recommend checking NHHC’s web page for more information before sending your request, particularly the two policy and procedures pages under the “More Information” section at the bottom of the home page. Veterans may submit a request for the deck log through the Veterans Administration. Alternatively requests may be submitted directly to NHHC. A request submitted directly to NHHC would be considered a general public FOIA request.