The Duties and Perils of a Guard Mail Petty Officer
Memoirs of the USS Denebola in WW2
By Stephen Sherman, April, 2010. Updated March 1, 2012.
Guard mail is intra-navy correspondence, usually delivered by P.O.3/C, left arm. (Petty Officer, Third Class).
Guard mail did not involve regular U.S. mail in any way. It was limited to the official correspondence of officers of ComDesLant (the Admiral and, Commander Destroyers Atlantic Fleet) and other officers and/or functions within the naval establishment in Portland. These included the Denebola, Navy pier, Frontier Base (Grand Trunk Pier), the distribution center, and the shore patrol office.
There were two guard mail trips daily, morning and afternoon. The Guard Mail Petty Officer (G.M.P.O.) would report to the Yeoman 1/C in the exec's office and pick up the packet of correspondence. At this point he must make an entry in the G.M. record book of each piece of mail, and sign for it. He was then responsible for it until delivered, at which time he must get a signature for it. Proper maintenance of this book was a matter of importance and accuracy. It often settled a dispute over who sent what to whom and when, as well as whether it was delivered/received.
Guard Mail duty was regarded as good duty and was the only duty the G.M.P.O. was required or permitted to perform during his 30 day stint.
For some reason the G.M.P.O. was pulled from the eighth division repair force. To our recollection the parameters for selecting the individual were never clear. Apparently the selection decision was based on nothing more than the most recently arrived P.O.3/C. For that reason it had no hint of favoritism, patronage, ear banging, or even disfavor. The guard mail trip itself did not require leaving (nor was it permitted) the environs of the well-fenced area of the naval complex in Casco Bay.
A shipmate, a good friend, once implored me to make a quick detour to a nearby pier to deliver to his wife who worked there, two boxes of Kleenex, which was scarce then. I had to turn him down. It would have been a serious breach of regulations and could have resulted in the resurrection of the ancient English punishment of swinging a convicted man from the yardarm at daybreak. And over two boxes of Kleenex? No thanks. Commander Bagshaw might not have been so lethargic that day.
Commander J.R. Bagshaw
Commander Bagshaw was a somewhat reserved officer, perhaps a little more so than most.
The occasion was one of the mail trips to "the beach" while I had the guard mail duty. The mail P.O., being the highest rated man aboard was in charge the trip that day. It made sense, chain of command and all that. I had made my rounds as usual and returned directly to the launch to find all hands waiting for me.
At least the mail P.O. was waiting for me and he made it known in it no uncertain terms. He opened fire with "What took you so *%!#@$+ long? He finished his harangue with, "Wait 'til you git back t' the ship and see if you don't go on repote." (He came from Dixie.)
And so I did go on "repote."
In about ten minutes, Cekander Y1/c came clattering down the ladder from the repair office to the forward machine shop to tell me that "Commander Bagshaw wants to see you in his room right away." A drapery hung across his doorway. I knocked on the door casing. "Yes," he said, noticeably unconcerned. I had rehearsed my aye aye sirs over and over again. CDR Bagshaw was sitting behind his desk in a relaxed, even slouched, position looking for all the world like he wasn't ready for anything. He lifted his head a little and with a puzzled look said "Well?"
Clearly he had forgotten that he had sent for me. Quickly the thought flashed through my mind; "Here's a chance to get out of this mess." But I had no plan. I hadn't anticipated such a turn of events, so just as quickly I banished the thought. Perhaps if I had been prepared to tell him that I was there to shine his shoes or to empty his ash trays . . .
As it turned out I didn't need a plan. At that point I simply bit the bullet, and said "Sherman, sir, guard mail petty officer." I then witnessed an amazing transformation. He pulled himself together, drew himself up impressively and rearranged his countenance to a posture of authority far more befitting a full commander and executive officer of the mighty Denebola. If I hadn't felt so close to the hot seat I might have had a hard time keeping a straight face.
He commenced to read me off. Other than "What the hell took you so long," I don't recall much of anything else he said. He kept firing questions while trying to look and sound fierce and authoritative, but I got the impression that his heart wasn't in it. After making liberal use of such phrases as "no excuse sir," and "aye-aye sir," for what seemed like twenty minutes but was probably twenty seconds, he dismissed me with the stern admonition "Don't let it happen again." Not exactly original I thought, but I must have been on the ball that day because I didn't point that out to him.
After saluting smartly I turned to leave but only after being careful to close the drapery after me. As I returned to duty it suddenly occurred to me; no disciplinary action, no extra duty! Commander Bagshaw seemed like, and must have been, "a nice guy." It was my only contact with him, and I never saw him again. He was transferred not long afterward.
Memoirs of Milton W. Sherman (1919-2010). He served in the U.S. Navy during WW2, on board the USS Denebola, AD-12, when he was in mid-twenties. On board the Denebola, he spent many happy hours in Casco Bay, Maine, where this event took place. You might enjoy reading a fuller version of his travels in the Denebola.