In 1942, Stanley Johnston published Queen of the Flat-Tops, a Ken Burris-quality documentary about the last few passages and ultimate destruction of one of our first purpose-built aircraft carriers (1), and he did it alone, putting you on deck, in the messhall, engine spaces, bridge, etc.
The following is the last page of the first chapter.
THE LEX CROSSES THE LINE
From the Lex’s bridge I looked out over our task force and could see that aboard every other vessel homage was being paid the Ruler of the Raging Main. Aboard the cruisers and destroyers with us at this time, scenes quite similar to those aboard the Lex were being enacted.
When I went below for lunch I ran into my cabin boy, (2) Duke, a slender happy-go-lucky Negro youth from Harlem.(3) He had joined on in New York, where he had worked with a band. He was a most intelligent and enthusiastic youngster who spent his spare time playing his accordion. It was his “hot” musical style that had won him the name Duke, after “the” Duke Ellington.
“How’s it feel to be a Shellback, Duke?” I asked him.
“Well, sire, they certainly poured it into me,’ he replied, massaging his bruises. “Serveral of those boys in that line-up there certainly is hot with them flagellators. I won’t be able to sit down for some days.”
“Never mind. Think of it. Next time you cross the Line you’ll be with the Shellbacks passing it on to the Pollywogs.”
“Ah can’t hardly wait for that time.” He flashed his teeth(4) at me. “I’ll be right there handin’ it out.”
Neither of us could know that the Duke had just crossed the Line for the first and last time.(5)
1- She was to be a heavy cruiser when her keel was laid.
2- Relax. Navies had cabin boys, black and white, for hundreds of years. (Hollywood still has “best boys”, but, like all good liberals, they exempt themselves from the hypocrisy.)
3- Oh, my!
4- You did not just say that.
5- Duke was killed in action defending your country. He never “took a knee