We chipped paint, we buffed floors, we polished brass and we painted. There were E-5's swinging chipping hammers, and chiefs wielding paint-brushes. We held drills, drills and more drills. There were drills for General Quarters, Flooding, Fire, Abandon Ship, Man-Overboard and a few we had never heard of before or since. And then, we were ready. We were a well-oiled, fine-tuned machine. Ready for anything! Bring on the Inspectors!
The Inspectors arrived and the operation began. Every corner of the ship was investigated and evaluated. Weapons, propulsion, communications, even the mess decks and berthing compartments were scrutinized. Radars and radios, signal lights and flags, navigation systems and internal communications-everything was checked for proper operation and condition.
The key system, that operated every everything else was also tested. The Crew. We held drill after drill. We were timed and measured, evaluated and observed. Mistakes were made, evaluated and reviewed. Then we would try again, and if necessary, again.
The "Man-Overboard" drill involved one of the inspectors "kidnapping" a crewman, then calling the bridge to report a man in the water. One vital aspect of the drill was to determine if someone was indeed missing and if so, who. We did this by mustering at our abandon ship stations. The alarm was sounded, the word was passed, and we all hustled to our assigned stations. Heads were counted, forms completed and quickly sent to the bridge. In a matter of a very few minutes the bridge could (in theory) ascertain who, if anyone, was missing.
The reports indicated all hands were present, and the information was relayed to the inspectors. The "man-in-the-water" was some piece of flotsam or jetsam, not a clumsy crewman. Wrong guess-the inspectors produced the missing crewman. We would have to do it again. We were lectured about the importance of speed and accuracy. Meetings were held. We analyzed our mistakes and vowed to do better.
The inspections and drills continued, then we heard "Man Overboard! Port Side. All hands muster at your assigned station." We raced to our abandon ship stations, fell into formation and shut up. The officer in charge counted heads, filled out his form and sent it to the bridge. We waited.
The bridge reviewed the forms and found two crewmen missing. The names were reported to the inspectors. One name was correct, the inspectors conceded, but they don't know who the other person was, this Seaman Rackso. Was he really missing?
"Seaman Rackso," the Petty Officer of the Watch announced on the 1MC, "Report to the bridge." We waited at our stations, wondering who was this Rackso character. What was his division? Why did he miss muster? Has he really fallen overboard? "Seaman Rackso," we heard again, "Report to the bridge IMMEDIATELY." This was embarrassing! We all knew what to do, we trained for weeks. Where was Seaman (soon to be Seaman Apprentice, we predicted) Rackso? "RACKSO!" we heard the XO scream over the 1MC, "GET YOUR ASS UP HERE!" That's it, for Rackso's sake we all hoped he really had fallen overboard and was now beyond the earthly reach of the XO.
Our officer told us to quiet down, and straighten up our ranks. He then took a careful count, filled out another muster report and dispatched it to the bridge. A few minutes later we were told to carry-on.
Secrets don't keep on a ship at sea. It wasn't long before details of the Rackso Fiasco became common knowledge. Seaman Rackso was gone. Never would his size nine boondockers leave their distinctive marks in someone's wet wax, or fresh non-skid. His name might adorn the uniform of future Chicago "Man-Overboard" dummies, but no living sailor would ever display this moniker. In fact, no Chicago sailor ever had, you see, Seaman Rackso never existed!
Someone at the phantom sailor's abandon ship station had been a little too careless when he completed his muster report. In the space where he would have entered the name of a missing sailor he instead entered the muster location, Life-raft Rack 50.