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August 26, 2006

The Watch

"Boatswain... Stand by to Pipe the Side!!"

This order has been passed on naval ships from the 1500's through today. Spanish, French, English, Dutch... Yes, all navies of the world use the boatswain, sideboys and call to bring aboard or send ashore all ship's company officers, visiting officers, dignitaries and VIP's.

The sideboys would haul on the ropes and raise or lower the boarding platform so officers would not have to climb the rat line (which were hanging over the side and used by the enlisted crew) when going ashore or to get aboard. This honor was extended to visiting officers, dignitaries and port officials.

It was not uncommon for the Commanding Officer of the ship to order up the Jolly Boat, a crew of eight strong backs, sideboys boatswain to send an old shipmate and fellow officer to his shore retirement... home... never to sail on naval ships again.

"All hands on deck!" was passed, speeches were made about great victories, battles fought upon the open sea, raging storms weathered, and voyages to distant and strange lands with ports-of-call others only dreamed about.

Then, a fine sword... a brace of pistols... or a rifle or musket... or maybe a sea chest of find wood and bound in brass... was presented to remind him of crews and ships he had served with. The boatswain would stand tall the sideboys, the retiree would request permission to go ashore- step to the platform and the sideboys would lower away. As the Jolly boat pulled away, the gunner would fire a salute from the ship's main battery, the retiree sat in the stern sheets... going ashore.

In the late 1700's, the U.S. Navy set sail with new ideas, new goals, and a desire to build traditions that would last through the tests of time. The U.S. Navy led the way with providing honors for crewmen. The 1800's saw enlisted men holding retirements for enlisted men for the first time. The Captain would allow the Jolly Boat to take the enlisted retiree ashore. The, after the Civil War, commanding officers began to hold enlisted retirement ceremonies to the crew that he, and the Navy, recognized the contributions of its enlisted crewmen.

Today our history has given most of the pomp and circumstance, the honors, traditions and ceremonies back to history... time does not give us the freedom to do these things from the past... but, we still have to stop all engines, lay about smartly and drop anchor to pay honor to one of our shipmates going ashore. To Honor the years served, the guidance, the leadership, the friendship and the expertise that this shipmate has freely given these 20 years.

Aye mates, for many years... this man has stood the watch. While some of us lay in our bunks at night... this man stood the watch. While others of us were attending school... this sailor stood the watch. And yes, even before many of us were born... this shipmate stood the watch. As our families watched storm clouds of war building on the horizons of history... this shipmate stood the watch. Though he saw his family ashore, often needing his guidance... he still stood the watch. For 20 years he has stood the watch... so that we and our fellow countrymen could sleep soundly, in safety, each night.

Today, we are here to say, "Shipmate, The Watch Stand Relieved." Relieved by those you have led, guided and trained. "You stand relieved... We have the watch."

Boatswain... Stand by to Pipe the Side... Shipmate going ashore.

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