Category Archives: Troop Ships


Sherlock and Watson

Two years ago I wrote about The Buckner Banner.  I rode the USNS Simone Bolivar Buckner to Germany and home two years later.  For some reason known only to the military gods, I was chosen to edit the ship’s newspaper, The Buckner Banner, although I was a lowly private.  It was great fun, and our nine issues were a big hit because we serialized a Sherlock Holmes novel.

There were civilians aboard, military dependents, and lots of troops in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for nine days with little to do.  The Banner was printed on a worn-out mimeograph machine, and the result was lots of gaps and unreadable copy in the paper.  Passengers got involved in the story and had great fun trading issues back and forth to be able to read each installment.

I got lots of compliments, and had the run of the ship as newspaper editor.   Strangely I have never read Arthur Conan Doyle’s works until now.  Sherlock is one of the best-known fictional characters in English.  He is probably better known today than in the Victorian era because of movies and television.  Basil Rathbone starred in seventeen Sherlock movies.  Robert Downey Jr. starred in a movie, and there are two current TV shows, Elementary, set in New York and starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu (Dr. Watson a woman!); enjoying a five year run, and Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, also with a long run with just a few episodes each year.  At least 99 actors have played Sherlock.

We are steeped in Sherlock Holmes.  Barnes and Noble has a two volume edition of Doyle’s Sherlock stories, and I am well into Volume One.  The story I just finished is set in London and Brigham Young’s Utah.  The Mormons had a lot of bad press in Doyle’s era, what with polygamy and Brigham’s Theocracy.  The story reflects that bias, featuring three murders.

Doyle gives the Saints a bad rap, but a lot of their infamous deeds were a response to the persecution the saints endured in Missouri and Illinois, which led to their trek west.  2017 is not the only time people in America have faced religious discrimination; hate directed against Jews, Catholics, and Mormons for starters.

This was part of Doyle’s appeal.  He made the events of the Victorian era come alive for his readers then. They come alive for us now, here in a land of Anglophiles.  I am going to have a lot of fun with Sherlock, Watson, and company.

The Buckner Banner


USNS Buckner

USNS Buckner

One of my first literary adventures was as editor of The Buckner Banner, the ship’s newspaper on the USNS Simon Bolivar Buckner,  a troopship sailing from New York to Bremerhaven, Germany.  It was 1963, and the U.S. Army was shipping me to Europe.  Just out of technical school, I had one skinny little stripe on my sleeve. I must have been chosen as editor by some random process, as I had no experience.  I guess that has always been the Army way.  The Banner ran a news digest from the radio room every day, and had a lot of canned content used on every nine day voyage.  My job was to come up with some original content. I had a crew of clerk typists who made mimeograph masters we ran off every morning.  The most valuable thing I learned as editor is to listen to your people.  One of the guys suggested we serialize a Sherlock Holmes novel. The passengers on the ship were a lot of GI’s headed to their first real duty station in Germany, stacked four deep in bunks in the cargo holds, and a large number of dependents, family members of career Army personnel.  There were daily movies and a library, but little else for people to do.  The Banner was a major defense against boredom. That Sherlock Holmes novel was a big hit.  The mimeographed paper was hard to read.  The machine was worn out, and the reproduction quality was terrible.  We made no effort to make each paper entirely readable, so the passengers were forced to share their copies in order to be able to read every page.  A detective novel became a shipboard community building event. People loved it, and I got a lot of compliments for someone else’s idea.  I also had the run of the ship as the editor and got to explore the entire vessel, from the heads in the bow to the fantail.  I was also exempt from all the nasty little jobs the Army gives troops to keep them busy.  I was on the same ship on the way home, and knew all the places to hide. Mostly, the voyage was routine.  There were stories about previous trips with bad weather.  Those cargo holds full of troops had waves of vomit sloshing back and forth as the ship rolled and pitched.  Then it had to be cleaned up.  The most excitement we had was the lifeboat drill the first day out.  The dependents lined up behind the lifeboats.  All the GI’s in their life jackets lined up facing the water.  We used to joke that part of the Army nomenclature for us was “expendable, non-returnable, with cover”. There have been some interruptions in my literary career, such as as the need to make a living, but the Army gave me a start.