Destroyer Coffee


This was story was sent in by Erik Gilliam.

I was a young Corpsman working the night shift on a ward at Bethesda when I learned a very descriptive bit of Naval lexicon. At the time of this educational experience it was about 0500 and I was alone (the Nurse covered two wards during nights) and was kicking off the morning routine. With a number of patient care and admin tasks to complete before the day crew arrived this was typically a busy time of the shift. As I was in the midst of a number of such tasks one of the patients, a retired Admiral, ambled up to me and asked where he could get a cup of coffee.

I politely told the Admiral that I was in the middle of patient care activities and that since the chow hall wouldn’t open up until 0630 he’d have to wait a few minutes until I could put on a fresh pot of coffee. I mentioned that there was a pot on the burner in the ward galley, but I warned him that I had put that one on at 2230. I told him if he was that hard up for a cup of coffee he was welcome to what was there, but that he would probably want to cut it with some milk or water. The old Admiral started off in the direction of the ward galley and I continued with my work. A few minutes later I was coming out of a patient’s room when I met the old Admiral in the hallway, with a cup of coffee in hand and a smile on his face. Raising the cup a bit he told me that it was a great cup of Destroyer Coffee. The coal black liquid looked like tar and was leaving black residue on the inside of the white styrofoam cup. Not being familiar with the term ‘Destroyer Coffee’ I asked the old Admiral just what he meant by the phrase. With a smile he shared the following with me.

As a new Ensign his first duty assignment had been aboard destroyer where he had been assigned to Engineering. Apparently, the Chief in Engineering had taken some insulation off one of the steam pipes and rigged a grill like device that would securely hold a coffee pot. This coffee pot provided coffee for those who worked in Engineering. The water for the coffee came from the evaporators and the Chief supplied the coffee. (The Admiral said that even as a new Ensign he realized that it was best not to ask the Chief where the coffee came from.) Water and a handful of coffee went into the coffee pot which was then secured to the grate on the steam pipe and allowed to boil. The coffee that came out of the coffee pot was thick and black. There was no creamer to be had and if you wanted sugar you had to bring your own. So, this thick black coffee was the coffee that he learned to drink. And from that day on he always referred to such thick black coffee as Destroyer Coffee.

The old Admiral started off towards his room with coffee firmly in hand. He look back at me and with a smile told me, “I never could get my wife to make coffee like this.”

Thanks for sharing your Broadside Moment, Erik!


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