Story by Chief Petty Officer Torrey Lee
WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
PHILIPPINE SEA (Dec. 31, 2019) Quartermaster 3rd Class Luke Farley, from Springfield, Ill., writes the New Year deck log entry on the bridge of the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62). Chancellorsville is forward-deployed to the U.S. Seventh Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeremy Graham)
Over the 247 years of the U.S. Navy’s active service, commissioned vessels have served across the globe, building new traditions and legacies. With entries dating back to 1929, the first day of January has marked the start of one of the Navy’s most uniquely creative traditions, the New Year’s deck log poem.
These poems, written by deck log watches across the fleets, provide a creative outlet for Sailors to encapsulate the previous year’s trials and events through verse. U.S. Navy vessels have been encouraged to keep this tradition, as Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) continues to spotlight the most creative poems in an annual deck log entry contest.
"These poems help illustrate the mindset of Sailors because they are not restricted by the usual constraints of what goes into a deck log. They can write about what they feel and what has happened," said Alexis Van Pool, the deck log program coordinator at NHHC.
Over the years, enlisted and officers of every paygrade have authored these deck log poems. The poems narrate stories from places of pride to others sharing their thoughts on their fellow crew.
Ironically, one of the first recorded examples was brought to light due to a commanding officer’s disapproval. A junior officer aboard USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) recalled that his skipper was a humorless fella who had never heard of this tradition and sent the log back for rewriting. Since then, the Navy has made this an official tradition with a supporting NAVADMIN message.
“I don’t remember which ship it was, but the 2021 poem had a line that read, 'they thought 2019 had been a crazy year, but 2020 said hold my beer'. And I thought that was clever and funny," said Van Pool.
The heart of the competition is to show the emotions and mindsets of the ship’s crew. Deck logs tell the operational history of a vessel. These poems give a uniquely human element to the Sailors serving aboard.
“Both my grandfathers served during World War II, and getting to read the deck logs from the ships they served on provides me with an enormous feeling of connection and closeness to both of them, especially since they’ve both passed on,” said Van Pool. "This tradition is essential because it will allow not only historians and researchers insight into the mindset of the modern Sailor, but because it provides a connection between Sailors and their descendants.”
To be eligible for the competition:
- Entries must be from a commissioned U.S. Navy vessel deployed or at shore.
- Entries must be submissions to the ship’s official deck log.
- Entries must be written as the first entry on January 1, 2023.
- Entries must be unclassified.
- All paygrades active and reserve are eligible.
First to third place winners will be announced in April, National Poetry Month. The first-place author will receive a piece of historic copper sheathing from USS Constitution.
Submission will only be accepted by email at NHHC_HAD_DECKLOGS@us.navy.mil. Scanned PDFs of the deck log entry are the preferred form of digital submission.
“When I read the deck logs, I feel an enormous sense of pride because I am preserving not only naval history but the voices of the Sailors and helping to facilitate the connection between them and the people who love them,” said Van Pool.
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