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Continuing a Naval Tradition One Poem At a Time

29 April 2022

From Petty Officer 1st Class Abigayle Lutz, Naval History and Heritage Command

WASHINGTON NAVY YARD - “A starry night in 7th fleet/ Another year we sail to meet/ 3,000 miles across the mighty Pacific/ Dreaming of home, how could we not miss it?/ Leaving San Diego’s June gloom in our wake/ Deployment ’21 a salty Sailor will make” wrote Ens. Sarah Weinstein, on the first night of 2022 while aboard USS Lake Champlain (CG 57).

One may be surprised to discover that Weinstein wrote these stanzas in the ship’s deck log. Typically deck logs are not the place for descriptive language, as their purpose is to serve as a ship’s daily chronology of events for administrative or legal reasons.

However, these lines that will forever appear in the official record of Lake Champlain’s deck log, are part of a long-standing Navy tradition called the Midnight New Year’s Day Poem. This tradition allows the first entry in a ship’s deck log to be written in verse.

To encourage Sailors to carry on the unique naval tradition of the Midnight New Year’s Day Poem, Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) holds a fleet-wide New Year's Deck Log Entry contest.

NHHC announced the 2022 New Year’s Deck Log Contest winners, which are as follows:
1st Place: Ens. Sarah Weinstein – USS Lake Champlain (CG 57)
2nd Place: Lt.j.g. Megan Stilley - USS Russell (DDG 59)
3rd Place: Lt. Austyn Sutton – USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54)

This tradition provides a human aspect to the deck log, giving a glimpse into the minds of Sailors and shipboard life throughout the years.

“The important, heavy work that gets done onboard a warship rightfully gets the lion's share of focus, but it’s important not to overlook the tradition and levity that create each ship's sense of identity and community,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nick Ruesch, one of the contest judges and Navy Reserve Naval History and Heritage (NR NHH) Operations Officer.

The Midnight New Year’s Day Poem is unlike any other deck log entry. On this night once a year, Sailors can express their creative side by poetically writing the first deck log entry.

“I enjoyed the creative way the various authors shared their ship's accomplishments, deployments, and major milestones,” said Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Eggleston, a contest judge assigned to NR NHH. “2021 was another challenging year, and many logs did a great job documenting the tougher side of sea duty with a bit of humor. They also added some great views into daily shipboard life.”

In USS Curtis Wilbur’s first deck log entry of 2022, Lt. Austyn Sutton highlighted activities for each month of 2021, including aspects of the ship’s arduous deployment and extended time spent at sea with no port visits due to COVID-19 restrictions. “After five months at sea, April was a rest/Mount Fuji by morning had us feeling our best,” the deck log noted.

The Midnight New Year’s Day poem written by Lt.j.g. Megan Stilley in USS Russell’s deck log echoed Sutton’s sentiments about 2021: “We made decent headway across the Pacific/ No port calls no problem, we sailed amidst a global pandemic.”

Capt. Liz Leonard, one of the contest judges assigned to NR NHH, connected to this year’s contest entries in a special way.

“I enjoyed this tradition when I was a navigator, and it was a pleasure to read so many outstanding entries this year,” said Leonard. “I thoroughly enjoyed the creativity and professionalism our Sailors showcased through their efforts to transform a routine log into a poem with meter, rhyme, and word pictures.”

The exact origin of the New Year's tradition is unknown. The Navy Times promoted the tradition in 1968 with a contest, and they received hundreds of entries. In 2020 NHHC revived the contest hoping to preserve the tradition and boost participation throughout the fleet. This year NHHC received 37 entries, which is an increase of 12 percent from the previous year.

“Traditions like these reinforce pride in sea service and distinguishes itself from other professions," said Leonard. “It makes daily routines memorable and showcases the talent of our Sailors.”

The first prize winner will receive an engraved piece of copper sheathing from the USS Constitution and a certificate. All of the winners will receive an NHHC commander's coin. To read the winning entries, visit https://www.history.navy.mil/research/archives/resources-for-the-fleet/deck-logs/new-years-contest/2022.html.

NHHC, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for preserving, analyzing, and disseminating U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy's unique and enduring contributions through our nation's history and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC comprises many activities, including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, 10 museums, USS Constitution repair facility, and the historic ship Nautilus.

 

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