New Year’s poems from Navy Deck logs

Today’s post comes from Rachel Bartgis, conservator technician at the National Archives at College Park, MD. 

In 2019 the National Archives entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to digitize U.S. Navy and Coast Guard deck logs from vessels with Vietnam-era service (1956–78). The more than 200 million images will be used to validate the claims for those who served in Vietnam and establish service connection for disability benefits. The National Archives is making the digitized records available on, after images are transferred by the VA and screened for privacy concerns. 

A port bow view of the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-60), 8/13/1993. (National Archives Identifier 6484365)

What is a deck log? According to the U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command

“The deck log is kept by the Quartermaster of the Watch and prepared by the designated Officer of the Deck (OOD) for each commissioned ship in accordance with Navy regulations and specific instructions. In either handwritten, typed, or in electronic format, the deck log chronicles the daily locations and movements of the ship, and captures all significant and prescribed events taking place either aboard or otherwise in the immediate vicinity of the vessel. Deck log entries are reviewed daily by the ship’s navigator for clarity and final approval as they document particular circumstances for administrative and legal purposes. . . . As a permanent official record of the ship, the deck log is efficient and succinct in its purpose, professional in appearance, and certainly not a forum for creativity.

The sole exception to the tight regulations of the deck log takes place on the first night of the New Year during the mid-watch (midnight to 0400), when a ship may record the first entry of the New Year in verse. Navy regulations still apply, however, and however artistic the poet may be, they must still include the mandatory requirements of the current Navy Regulations: “the sources of electric power, steam and water; the state of the sea and weather; position of the ship; status of the engineering plant; courses and speed of the ship, bearings and distance of objects sighted; changes in status of ship’s personnel, disposition of the engineering plant, and even the strain upon anchor chain or cables when anchored and the placement of lines while moored.”

The New Year’s log poem arose at some point in the 20th century and possibly reached its zenith during the Vietnam War, when the tradition was so widespread that the Navy Times promoted a “New Year’s Eve Log contest.” However, Navy culture is always evolving, and the current generation is less prone to poetry at the change of the year. The Sextant noted that “In 2016, fewer than 30 ships made a New Year’s Eve mid-watch verse; in 2017 that number dwindled to fewer than 20.”

An aerial starboard bow view of the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66), 4/24/1983. (National Archives Identifier 6369198)

Kitty Hawk–class supercarrier America (CVA-66) is an example of one vessel that kept the tradition of the New Year’s poem for many years. America was a New Year’s Day ship, laid down on January 1, 1961, at Newport News, Virginia. She was launched on February 1, 1964, and commissioned at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard on January 23, 1965.

America sailed for her first Mediterranean deployment late in 1965, and as the deck log recorded, New Year’s Day 1966 found her at Livorno, Italy:

A visitor boarding
new from the East!
To the OOP a report
is due at least.

“Reporting for duty
and full of good cheer,
Permission to board sir,
for I’m the new year.”

“Permission granted,
and welcome to the crew.
But be assured, friend,
your name is not new.

“For 66 here,
with numbers of gold
Has had a head start –
almost a year old.

She’s taut and she’s bold;
her performance is true.
Her record stands out
above quite a few.

“From Commissioning thru Shake Down
on into the Fleet,
She’s sailed and she’s flown
a record to meet. 

In service of country, far from home this night,
She stands a mighty vanguard
in the half-moon’s shimmering light.

“In 10 fathoms of water
at anchorage XRay-3
America is anchored
at Liverno, Italy.

With 90 fathoms
of chain to her bow
She’s anchored – 
secure from the Northwind’s howl

“The Liverno light at 028.8°
shines its silent goria
And America lies 293°
from Torre Della Meloria.

“The quartermaster 
is recording the lore.
Her reading tonight
is condition Four.

“The Marines are on guard,
that you may bet
And the engineers provide
us with condition Yoke set.

“In Liverno tonight
your eyes will meet
Various units of the
U.S. Sixth Fleet

“Naturally SOPA has
chosen the best.
Rear Admiral COBB, CCDII,
makes America his nest.

“Under the keen eye
of Polaris to the north
Her lights thier [sic] good will
are sending forth.

“Her reputation with
hard work was won,
For being 66
means being number one.

“I’m proud to be aboard
this brave and true ship.”
Our visitor impressed,
he replied with a tip.

“I offer you hope –
as the spirit of peace.
Together we’ll sail
from Naples to Greece.

“By joining our missions
of peace and of strength,
We’ll make this a year
with happiness in length!”

With all best wishes for the year of the “66”!

The ensuing seven years saw America serve with distinction in many theaters, including a second Mediterranean cruise in 1967 that included the Six Day War, and deployment in Vietnam in 1968. New Year’s Day 1969 found her back in Norfolk, Virginia.

America would be deployed a second time to Vietnam in 1970, return to the Mediterranean in 1971, and deploy to Vietnam for a third time in 1972. NARA’s digitized logbooks for America currently end in 1973, when the carrier was anchored in Hong Kong Harbor:

Anchored in Hong Kong Harbor, Hong Kong, B.C.C.
Eight fathoms of water, mud bottom below us, we
Layed forty-eight fathoms of chain from the waters edge
To the bow anchor beneath the sea.

This anchor bearing holds true tonight
It’s 324, 3000 yards to Stone Cutter’s Light.
With the ship in readiness Condition IV, we’ve pledged,
To set material condition Yoke and the following sights:

Normal lighting is in effect and anchor lights too,
Plus aircraft warning, to name just a few;
With Comcardin Seven, as SOPA, embarked aboard ship,
The officers are safe, and so is the crew.

A happy new year to you all, and if you’re awake for the mid-watch, may it be uneventful!

See digitized images in other America logbooks with New Year’s poems:

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