JUST A SAILOR

by Steven L. Waterman
Published by Random House/Ballantine
originally in October 2000

The following reviews were not solicited from the readers, but were sent to the author via email, as his email address was displayed inside the back cover of JUST A SAILOR.

For the new version, which has more photos and is printed in larger format on acid-free paper, click on book image.

 

REVIEW BY CAPTAIN LARRY W. BAILEY, USN, RET.

Every now and then I encounter a book that evokes "the way it was" in such a manner as to awaken long-dormant memories and stimulate sounds, smells, and feelings that bring me back to places I've been and things I've done. One such book was Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, which so accurately captured the sights and sounds and attitudes of the small-town South.

Steve Waterman's first book, Just a Sailor (Ballantine Books, New York: 2000), evokes and stimulates in much the same fashion.

To tell the truth, I've read so many military "I-was-there" books that I dreaded reading this one, even though I have known Waterman for several years. My incentive to read Sailor coincided with a visit to my mother-in-law's house a couple of months ago.

Starting the book out of a sense of obligation to Waterman and a desire to make myself invisible to mother-in-law, I quickly found myself transported back in time and place to the Navy of the 1970's. I read the entire book at a single sitting, so fascinating was it to re-live the events of the world the author documents so well.

There's nothing to commend a book to a reader like its propensity to confirm one's own attitudes; Waterman got inside my own head with some of his observations about life in the Navy of his era. One example involves a Navy lieutenant of my own acquaintance about whom he writes. This individual was viewed by his superiors, peers, and juniors alike as borderline incompetent-exactly the opinion voiced by the author!

Just a Sailor chronicles life in the Navy I knew and with sailors and officers I still know, especially those with whom I dealt aboard the Naval Amphibious Base at Little Creek, Virginia. Strangely, even though we were aboard the same command, Naval Inshore Warfare Command Atlantic (he worked in the photo shop and I in Operations), we cannot remember ever meeting. However, we shared more than a handful of friends. Pat Badger, Dean Nelson, and Slator Blackiston-those names conjure up many a Little Creek memory.

Waterman's narrative is unique in that he doesn't use the power of the pen to promote his own point of view. While it is clear that his attitudes toward the world in general and the Navy in particular are those of a man who loves his country and his service, he doesn't try to foist his views on the reader. He simply reconstructs people, places, and things as he saw them, and, from this reviewer's perspective, he does so masterfully.

Waterman is particularly adept in describing "what it was like" when on patrol with his Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) 13 teammates in Viet Nam. Details of slogging, crawling, and swimming through and over Viet Nam's swamps, beaches, canals, and rice paddies while avoiding hostile fire evoked a lot of memories of my own time in that country. I could almost smell the mud and hear the noises, so accurate is his account.

For a sailor who had never gone through UDT/SEAL training, Waterman managed to get shot at more than "just a sailor" could ever expect. In fact, there were SEALs who spent six-month tours in Viet Nam who were on the receiving end of enemy fire fewer times than he, yet he treats those events as just routine occurrences.

Why Waterman never went through Basic UDT/SEAL (BUD/S) training is a matter of some interest, since he not only operated with the Teams but possessed the training and inclination to do "Team things." He explains how fate intervened when it appeared that he would get orders to BUD/S.

Waterman deals with one subject about which I, a pukin' officer, have very little knowledge-the social life of a 1970's enlisted man. I'll say one thing-it was interesting! His accounts of barracks life, on-the-beach escapades, and love and marriage are riveting! Olangapo City (Philippines), Coronado (California), and Virginia Beach are described in loving detail, as is his romantic life both back home and in the Navy.

Steve Waterman has performed a unique service to the baby-boomers who passed their young-adult years in the US Navy. Those of that generation will not only recognize many of the places they went and the people they knew, but also the attitudes they felt during the 1970's. He has also performed a service to those who have wondered what it was like to be in the U.S. military during the days of the anti-Viet Nam riots. Through his eyes they can see and feel and hear exactly how it was.

And that is the genius of Steve Waterman-to capture a decade-plus of Navy life in such a way as to make those who were "there" think they were there again. He also enables those who were not there to experience what it was like to be diver, combat swimmer, Viet Cong-hunter, photographer, and "just a sailor" in the U.S. Navy of the 1970's. Just a Sailor belongs on the bookshelf of every student of that era. Two thumbs-up! - - (Retired Navy SEAL Captain Larry Bailey)

I'm proud of you for doing it and very glad you wrote it down. I'm not done yet but enjoying it immensely. Every sailor had the unique experience of their lives there and they could all tell many tales. Thank you very much. -- Sandy (Navy Diver's wife)

I finished your book this morning and found it to be interesting reading as I am a commercial diver in Portland, Oregon. Your diving (and photography) stories seem to want readers wanting more. -- Jim (commercial diver)

Dear Mr. Waterman,
I just got finished reading your book, and wanted to tell you I really enjoyed it! I'm a Hospital Corpsman stationed in Barstow, CA (The Desert Navy) and your book captivated me because I want to be a Deep Sea Medical Dive Tech I have been trying for over a year now, they keep telling me 'no' because I was 2 points below the minimum score on the written test, I tried to get a waiver hoping they would allow a female to go to the school, but it was denied. I'm still trying, I have recommendation letters from officers, and awards from Jr.Sailor of the quarter. So I'm not giving up! unfortunately my career counselor told me "why don't you think of diving as a hobby, and go to x-ray school?" but that's not my ambition. So I hope you write more books in the future. Thanks for the great reading!- - HM3 USN

Steve,

I have just finished your book and thought that I would tell you how I liked it. I was expecting the same old SEAL stuff, but I was wrong. It is very well written and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I could see the places that you had written about because while in the Marine Corps, I had been there as well. It was like going back in time, good job! -- Bill (USAF Retired)

 Mr. Waterman,

Thank you for writing Just A Sailor and for giving civilian and college audiences a clear idea of what the life and pace of a Navy man is like. My boyfriend is currently training to be a Navy diver. He is an EOD man. It has been hard for me, a paralegal who's spent most of her life around college professors, doctors, and lawyers, to provide the right support to the right man. I was also given many warnings about falling for sailors, but assessing these comments without solid knowledge of the obligations and lifestyles of Navy men would have been unfair.

Therefore, I'd like to thank you again for your book and for clarifying the technical terms and ranks used in the Navy. All my best to Mary and your children - - A Navy Diver's Girlfriend

Hello!

I went to Bar Harbor in 1993 to work as a captain on a Whale Watch vessel and I heard about you vaguely. A couple years later I'm urchin diving and some of the divers tell me about you. Then I go take an Admiralty Law course at Maine Maritime and they use your video as a case study in how to conduct a salvage operation from the perspective of documentation.

Now I'm down here in Bermuda and I'm walking through the lobby of our station and there's a book authored by Steve Waterman- Nah, can't be, I think. But it was.

I was in the Marines, been a diver, and got my 1600 Ton Master's license. Don't think me a sycophant, but you're somebody I can admire. -- Captain Rob

BOOK REVIEW
By Dennis Cummings (Author of MEN BEHIND THE TRIDENT)

Just A Sailor, by Steven L. Waterman, Ballantine, 2001, non-fiction, paperback, 280 pages, photos, $6.99.

Just A Sailor is the story of a young man's 13 years as an underwater photographer in the U.S. Navy, including a tour in Vietnam with UDT-13. When I first picked up a copy of this book I was not sure if I would enjoy reading it or not-after all, how exciting can underwater photography be? However, it didn't take me long to realize that I was mistaken, and instead of being bored I was in for a real treat. Steve Waterman's story of his time in the Navy is as interesting as it is humorous. The author has a penchant for detail, which enables you to get in to the story in a way that few books permit. Here's a guy whose primary training after enlisting in the Navy in 1964 is photography-not much to inspire excitement at first glance, but as the story unfolds Waterman himself decides that he needs more juice in his career. He decides to take up scuba diving as a hobby, likes it and volunteers to become a Navy diver. He completes that course and moves his career underwater. During the course of his 13 years in the service the young photographer's mate goes through Scuba training, attends Airborne school, completes HALO training, serves a combat tour in Vietnam, and becomes a first class diver. At that time, he was one of only four or five photographer's mates in the entire U.S. Navy who held this rating. I can assure you that his story is anything but boring.

Written in the indisputable style of Combat Weatherman, Just a Sailor is an enjoyable read. Although every chapter is not a page-turner, Waterman's career in the Navy was anything but routine. Seldom will you read such a complete and graphic description of U.S. Navy divers going about their everyday life.

An added bonus is the outstanding photographs in the centerfold section of the book. It's easy to understand why the author's services as an underwater photographer were in such high demand. The superb quality of the photos and their subject matter justify the publisher's decision to use 55 of them in the book. Believe me, this is almost unheard of in mass-market paperbacks.

Steve Waterman is truly a remarkable man. He has enjoyed his life immensely, doing and accomplishing things that most can only dream about. Yet, to Waterman, it was no big deal. His almost cavalier attitude about it all is refreshingly entertaining. Not one to follow blindly where others may lead, the author's shenanigans often got him in trouble with his superiors. That old "devil may care" mind set, characteristic of many in his dangerous profession, always managed to surface at the wrong-and sometimes the right-time. In spite of his occasional irreverence for authority, Steve Waterman was a good sailor. He never let his viewpoint interfere with his sense of duty or his performance. I felt like this guy enjoyed himself and what he did. Even though he did it "his" way whenever he could get away with it.

So read this one. I'm a big fan of the SEALs, and this is as close as it gets without going through Hell Week. As a matter of fact, the author works with SEALs on several occasions during his 13 years in the Navy, some of whom I have known. Great book, great read.

There are many more, but for now these will have to do. SLW

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