Every photograph tells a story… and it’s often the little details… forgotten until too late to even ask. If only I’d started telling their stories earlier… I would have all the answers, but the photograph still tells me a story!
Daddy with his Navy buddies
My father, Clayton Bryan, with his Navy buddies; daddy is second from the right. The names written on back (L.toR.) are Delong, Hamilton, Meare, my father, and Bates… seems they only called each other by their surnames. Mama always said “Bates” was his best friend in the Navy, but sadly now his first name is long forgotten.
This photograph passed again across my eyes the other day, which had me taking a deeper look… always looking for that story. To me, it looks as if it was taken on the bow of a ship… now what ship would that be… as Daddy served on two ships, the USS Blue Ridge and the USS Washburn.
To my inquisitive “Nancy Drew” eyes, and if I’m correct in that they’re standing on the bow of a ship… what is showing in the distance… if it’s land with trees, it might possibly be the USS Blue Ridge while anchored near the Bikini Islands. Did they stand in that spot to show the background on purpose… as their ship was there for all 3 of the atomic bomb blasts at Bikini Atoll in 1946… and “secret” was always the word in writing letters and snapping photographs.
Wherever it was taken, this photo shows me that daddy was already inked with his “swallows” Navy tattoo before shipping out… and probably at one of the many located near the Navy base in San Diego, California… so probably this photograph was snapped on the Blue Ridge. If only the photograph was of better quality like todays digital photos, and I could zoom in further… but I still can see his swallow tattoo. It was just a tattoo I saw all my life as a young girl… just accepting that it was a part of him… but the tattoo never caused me to ask the… where did you get it… or when… or why… instead it was just a part of him that I never questioned… leaving me today to wonder and wish I knew the real truth!
I wonder what his mother said when he returned home with that tattoo… I know her eagle eyes didn’t miss it!
After learning the tattoo was a swallow, I began searching out more information on that specific style of tattoo, and learned the swallow bird was a symbol often used by sailors to tell of their sailing experiences; if the sailor spotted a swallow in the sky, they knew they were nearing land. The tale through the years transformed into meaning a safe return to home for those who wore the tattoo. It also marked their sailing miles of traveling over 5,000 nautical miles across the seven seas, or crossing the equator… which my mother mentioned he had done; supposedly they are given a certificate to denote their maiden crossing of the equator, but she never knew of that. It’s also said, that if a sailor drowns, and he wore the tattoo of the swallow, the swallows will carry his soul to heaven.
As I peered in closer… I see daddy posing with pants too short, showing white socks… wearing his navy sailor hat cocked back on his head, and, as always, a cigarette in-hand; it was always told that Daddy smoked from the age of twelve. The pose the guys struck there on that day, had me looking in more detail at those happy, but definitely thin sailors… all leaned in toward each other with hands clinched at their belts… with a couple guys distinctly forming their hands into a heart. Was that meant as a sign to a sweetheart?
I have other photos of daddy wearing his sailor hat cocked forward and backward on his head… those will be for another day. Daddy’s hat was never saved, but in loving the Navy uniform, I bought my son a Navy suit and hat for his one-year old photo. Even though I’ve always loved seeing a man in a sailor uniform, it was a young Air Force guy who won my heart… sorry Daddy!
Daddy would have been possibly around 17, 18 years of age here, as he joined at age 16… but the real story is he first joined at age 15 with a fake ID, and making it all the way to basic before being discovered; his father was soon called. When he turned 16 the following year, his parents relented and signed for him to go… but it wasn’t long afterward, that he then wanted to come home; he served 4 years in the Navy.
I colorized this photo to give these guys a little more life!
So what had this motley crew been up to before taking this photo… possibly swabbing the deck?
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