USS Warrington (1945–1972)
What is a ship on the ways
but twenty-seven hundred tons
of waiting steel, a maze
of empty bunks and unworked guns?
No captain? No resolve.
No crew? No dash, no muscle — no means.
But plankowners arrive,
fire the boilers, take in line —
shake the ship alive.
More than iron, more than human,
ship captain crew bond
and out of three emerges one:
Bessemer-built and -boned,
a man o’ war that hauls and sails
wherever missions command.
A month out of Newport, monsoon swells,
the storms of Tonkin Gulf.
Rain, fog, the midwatch bells,
and — somewhere — Pratas Reef:
graveyard for ships whose lookouts fail
to see its breaking surf.
Off North Vietnam, gun line patrol,
the still waters erupt —
two mines explode beneath her hull.
Engines wrecked, pipes
ruptured, flooding, listing port —
the crew reclaims the ship,
pumps and patches, keeps her afloat
and headed East Sou’-East
for the tow to Subic and her fate.
Condemned, struck from the List,
sold for parts and scrap. To Taiwan
breaking yards released.
Work of the cutting torches done,
fed to furnaces,
the atoms in her metals find
an afterlife as traces —
a small part on a ship perhaps,
a hawse pipe or a windlass.
And what of a crew without its ship?
Sailors grow old, go on
as atoms — all things go on, except
for this: The mythic bond —
a beast half steel half soul — gone
never to return.