George Seal, 67, and Ed Eckert, 71, stood on the deck of the USS Kidd on Saturday morning, telling stories and chiding each other as the two Navy veterans relived bygone days spent aboard Navy destroyers.
“Coming on here, it’s like turning the clock back 50 years,” Eckert said. “We’re 18 again.”
Seal, Eckert and a few other men volunteered to spend the weekend cleaning and repairing parts of the USS Kidd during a Field Day Port Side event on the vessel.
The ship’s biannual Field Day events have seen a surge in popularity, said Tim Nessmith, ship superintendent, prompting organizers to hold an additional Field Day this weekend.
Named for a day of meticulous cleaning in the Navy, the Field Day allows participants to help restore and live on the ship for a weekend.
But the event is not just for Navy veterans wanting to relive fond memories — anyone aged 9 or older can participate, Nessmith said.
“When you step on board, we just have one rule: have fun,” Seal said.
Nessmith said the best part of the Field Days is seeing the older veterans interact and listening to their stories about the times they called the vessels home.
“Just from hearing them talk, I learn something new every time,” he said. “This ship, she’s just a piece of steel until the vets share their stories with us and walk around with us, then she comes alive.”
When asked what sort of stories someone can expect to hear from the veterans, the men just laugh.
“Well, some of those can’t be put in print,” said Eckert, who served in the Navy from 1958 to 1962.
Seal told the edited version of the old Navy joke about sailors’ stories: “What’s the difference between a fairy tale and a sea story? A fairy tale begins with, ‘Once upon a time,’ and a sea story begins with, ‘Now, this really happened.’”
Seal, who served from 1961 to 1970, eventually did recall how he once figured out a way to sneak drinking alcohol aboard ship that involved syringes and oranges.
“We’d walk around eating those oranges all day — the officers just thought we were really healthy,” he joked.
Between the laughing and reminiscing, volunteers carry out a variety of tasks such as painting, polishing silver or mechanical work, Nessmith said.
The much-needed help with the constant task of upkeep on the USS Kidd contributes to the Fletcher-class destroyer’s consistent ranking as one of the top historical ships in the world by the Historic Naval Ships Association, Nessmith said.
Nessmith said the other aspect that makes the Field Day events special is veterans bringing relatives on the ship.
“The kids, the grandkids, get to see what their life was like and what they did back then,” he said.
Elsewhere on the Kidd, Jesse Mason, 67, and his brother-in-law, Odis Aston, 70, took a break from a morning of cleaning and organizing the ship’s torpedo room.
Mason said he enlisted in the Navy in 1961, but when officials realized during his physical that Mason was blind in his right eye, “they stamped ‘rejected’ on my papers.”
“I sometimes wonder how my life would have been if that had turned out differently,” he said. “I have mixed feelings about it. I married, had kids, grandkids, great-grandkids. Everything would have been different.”
With several servicemen in his family, Mason, a bridge inspector from Dober, Ark., said it was his curiosity and his brother-in-law that brought him to the USS Kidd for the weekend.
“I’ve always heard his stories,” Mason said, pointing to Aston, who served in Vietnam. “And I’ve been hearing some interesting stories this weekend. I’d say about 7 to 10 percent of them are probably true,” he joked.
“They’re nice brothers to be with,” Mason said.
The instant camaraderie that comes from living and working within the confines of a “tin can” — as destroyers are called — can last for decades. The good memories, those of bonds formed, will overcome the bad ones, Seal said.
“That’s what comes back,” he said.
For more information on registering to volunteer for the Fall Field Day in October, visit www.usskidd.com.