‘The Best Watertender’
Commander Louis D. Chirillo, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Naval History’s February focus on African-Americans’ wartime experiences made me remember something that occurred soon after World War II ended.
“I’ll have no nigra in my fire room!” That’s what my red-headed, florid-faced, overweight chief watertender from the Deep South shouted as he burst into the log room. I must have looked somewhat steely-eyed as I digested his words and watched his countenance slowly change to one of shock. No doubt he was suddenly warning himself: “Yipes! This new engineering officer is a Yankee from Brooklyn!”
In mid-1946 the end of such Jim Crow attitudes was well under way both in and outside of the Navy. I responded menacingly, “Whose fire room?” The startled chief departed, it seemed, with the speed of light.