This is the first in a series of posts about a curious tradition in the US Navy. Anyone who has ever seen a Deck Log from a US Navy vessel knows that it is typically a place for exacting administrative detail regarding the status of the ship, it’s location, speed, etc. However, for a four hour period at the beginning of each year, the Officer of the Deck (OOD) is allowed to be creative by writing the Mid-Watch report (0000 – 0400) in verse. For a more thorough history of the practice check out this article from the Naval History and Heritage Command.
My interests in WWII Naval operations and my access to deck logs at the Fold3 website led me to begin this series. Unfortunately, I had access to only those deck logs from 1943, but I was still able to find about two dozen deck logs written in verse during this critical time during the war. In this series, my intent is to provide the original verse from the log and to add as much information I can find about the author of the poem.
This first installment comes from the deck log of the USS Maryland (BB-46). Maryland was a battleship of the Colorado-class, commissioned in 1921 and decommissioned in 1947. She earned seven battle stars during her time in WWII.
On January 1, 1943, the USS Maryland’s Mid-Watch deck log entry was as follows:
00-04. Oh, it is the mid-watch on New Year’s Day,
And the Mary Maru’s rigged in battle array.
The US’s at war with the Germans, Italians, and Japanese,
Roumanian, Hungarian, Albanian, and Siamese.
The Mary Maru’s moored in berth twenty-nine,
With eight fathoms of chain instead of a line-
Anchor chain to the starboard out through the hawse–
Attached to a buoy. (Now, I must pause).
In fifteen fathoms of water she sits very dandy,
In the British Harbor of Tombako Nandi-
Which appears on the chart as Levu Viti
(This is transposed – It’s an island of Fiji).
Number two kettle’s cut in on the line,
For auxiliary purposes this is so fine.
Let’s see now, number two goes with the forward space
(Which is just how we have it in the present case).
The ship is all darkened, the yoke we have set,
Modified slightly because of the net,
Which encircles the ship, torpedoes to turn
Away from both sides, from our stem to our stern.
At present, the net is open to starboard,
And has swung to the current around to the larboard.
Guns we have manned in Condition “Tres”,
To let bullets fly at the Jap’s evil face.
Here there is gathered the Pacific Fleet,
Minus some ships that will our foe defeat.
Oops! The district craft I almost forgot,
Which gives us a headache, every one of the lot!
In the New Mex is the SOPA,
He’s ComBatPac for the USA.
That’s all for the present I have to relate,
Any more details will just have to wait.
J. A. Shefrin
Jack Allen Shefrin was born in the Kansas City, MO area on December 30, 1915. He attended Central High in Kansas City and based on his 1932 yearbook entry he intended to pursue a career in writing. He attended the University of Missouri, Columbia, earning bachelors and masters degrees. A college yearbook shows Jack as a member of the Poetry Society, so his interest in verse preceded his time in the Navy. Records indicate that he enlisted in the Navy on July 3, 1940. On July 15 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he boarded the USS Wyoming (BB-32) as an Apprentice Seaman as he embarked on his training to be an officer. At that time, the Wyoming provided a platform for training. By August 10, 1940, Jack was transferred to the USS Illinois (BB-7), an old battleship that served as a training vessel for the Naval Reserve Midshipman School in New York. At some point in 1941, he earned his commission as an Ensign in the Naval Reserve and began his service on the USS Maryland. By the time Jack wrote the January 1, 1943 deck log entry above, he had risen to the rank of Lieutenant. On August 17, 1943, he left the Maryland and headed to the U.S. for other duty. A 1952 article in the Kansas City Times indicates that he served as an Air Combat Intelligence Officer through the rest of the war. By 1944, Jack had risen to the rank of Lieutenant Commander, which he held until he retired from the Naval Reserve in October of 1955.
Over his lifetime, Jack held many positions in broadcasting across the country (CA, TX, and NY, to name a few). He eventually moved back to KC where he taught history and English at the University of Kansas City for a few years and worked for the IRS until retirement. He was a fixture on the stage in college and community theater in KC. After his service to the Naval Reserve, he continued to serve his community in many capacities. He was active in the Kansas City Jewish community. He died on January 10, 1991 and is buried in the Sheffield Cemetery in Kansas City. A short obituary and photo of his gravestone appears on the Find-a-Grave website.