Don’t Wash That Coffee Mug!

All Hands Magazine (August 1949)

The obsession began over seven years ago.  In 2006, I began at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum as a wide-eyed intern, ready to take on the new and fascinating world of naval history.  I thought the coffee mess at work was reserved for staff and volunteers only.  I did not feel comfortable partaking in the delicious brew until somebody told me I could.  When I finally got the green light, I happily brought my coffee mug in the next day, eager to drink from the well all working class souls go to each morning.

This was my first experience with “Navy coffee.”  It was hot and strong.  Very strong.  The thickness of it closely resembled crude oil.  It tasted both wonderful and terrible at the same time.  Your mind can trick you into believing anything.  When a supreme pot of joe is brewed, many of the volunteers would call it “Signal Bridge Coffee,” recalling the nostalgia of long nights and many cups consumed.


After that first morning of coffee, I went to the break room to wash my cup and let it dry for the next day’s angry fix.  As I washed out my cup, I felt the sting of glaring eyes from behind my back.  I’m sure whoever it was, they could sense my hesitation.  I turned around to see GMC Dana Martin, the museum’s active duty OIC.  He had a puzzled, concerned look on his face.  Chief Martin was grizzled and salty.  He was by far one of the saltiest sailors I have ever met.  He grabbled my arm washing the cup.  My hesitation grew to fear.  He leaned in close and told me to “never wash it again,” staring back down at my cup and back to me.  I looked at him, puzzled with fascination and disbelief.  Although I drink my coffee black, my mind struggled to find reason in the practice.

“I don’t understand,” I told him.  ”I need to clean my cup.”  I was merely doing what I was taught.  Bills should be paid on time.  Five minutes early is five minutes late.  Coffee mugs should be washed out after use.  Simple, right? Wrong.  I held my  breath and found out just how wrong I really was.

He leaned in again, this time more relaxed (and less confrontational).  “I know you are just starting out here, but I want to let you in on a little secret.”  He was almost whispering.  ”If you intend to stay here at the museum, you can impress the Navy guys with your mug.”  He went on to explain to me the significance of an unwashed or “seasoned” coffee mug, particularly in the Navy Chief community.  ”And keep it as tarry black as possible,” he added.  ”Sometimes it’s the only way you can drink this swill.  But you will grow to love it and depend on the taste.”  I would never think I would believe him.  Boy, was I wrong.

Old coffee in a cup signifies seniority and stature in the military, particularly on deployment.  As one blogger noted, “You may not be able to embrace your loved ones while you are gone, but at least you can still taste the same coffee you drank the day you left.”

To many in the military, this is nothing new.  Ask anybody who served or is currently serving in the military, and they will likely give you a story about an experience involving the practice of “seasoning” their cup.  Navy Chiefs, however, are considered by many to be the most Spartan of stalwarts to the unwashed coffee mug.  I spoke to some retired CPOs who counted four or five deployments on a single unwashed cup. The August 1949 edition of All Hands Magazine declared that coffee was the “Lifeblood of the U.S. Navy.”  The article goes on to discuss why many sailors take their coffee so seriously.  The article opens with this paragraph:

Screen shot 2013-11-25 at 10.21.11 AM

The 1945 Cookbook of the United States Navy lists several reasons why a clean mug and pot of coffee is essential to a flavorful experience.  All parts of the coffee mess had to be “scrupulously clean,” according to the cook book.  Sailors today might read those guidelines and laugh at the rules and regulations.

130715-28coffeemovingcolor397Several recent articles about the practice surfaced on the internet on message boards and military news blogs.  One blogger from the Military Times (Broadside Blog) wrote about it this past August.  ”There are only a few things you need to know about Navy coffee, and most of it involves the cup,”  the blogger writes.  ”You do not wash a Navy coffee cup. Ever.”

I took Chief Martin’s advice, but not at first.  For the first few weeks following our confrontation, I washed my cup out after he left for the day.  But I got lazy after a while.  I starting noticing dark brown rings inside my cup.  My mug started to look like the inside of a tree, and I started to like it.  The mug was white, so it was easy to measure my progress.

The rings grew larger and darker until the entire inside was jet back.  Although I was never in the military, I felt a swelling of pride at my Frankenstein creation.  Unfortunately, that mug did not survive.  My latest and greatest creation came about in 2009.  It has not been washed or cleaned since its purchase.  I don’t know if my peers understand it.  My wife surely doesn’t.  I have a similar mug at home that she avoids looking at, and, on rare occasions, will clean when I am not looking.

Here is my (meager) contribution to this fine naval tradition.  I warn you, if you are unfamiliar with the practice, you might be shocked.  Behold: My four year “seasoned” mug:

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66 Responses to Don’t Wash That Coffee Mug!

  1. Gil Bashore says:

    Wow … This brought back the memories of my four years (1967-70) of consuming the brew aboard the USS Oriskany (CVA-34) … After I broke a cup and had to start with a new one from the Ship’s Store, the coffee didn’t taste right until many weeks later !! … Thanks for the laughs, also !

  2. Bob G says:

    Having spent over 26 years in the Navy, and NOT being a coffee drinker, I am familiar with the practice of not washing one’s coffee cup. But there were a couple of times during my early Navy career that, for whatever reason, I felt a need to wash someone’s coffee cup. I mean, some of those folks just needed to be taken down a notch or two. Mind you, I did it surreptitiously so no one knew who to blame. I don’t regret doing it even now, but I would not do it again. Age has a way like that.

  3. Gary says:

    23 Years in the Navy, retired as a Senior Chief and my unwashed coffee cup sits right here in front of me still today. Although I will say, they don’t understand it as well in the civilian community….what was “salty” then is just “gross” now.

  4. Tommy says:

    I have used the same mug since December 1981 when I reported aboard the USS Forrest Sherman (DD-931). It is definitely well seasoned. Can’t imagine drinking from anything else.

    • Joseph says:

      My father was commissioning crew of the first USS Forrest Sherman!

      And I have had well seasoned mugs at each of my own commands. At an early one, my then fiancé came to visit and while I was out of the office, she grabbed my mug and cleaned it to my horror. From then on, I learned to hide my mug whenever she came to visit…

      • James Sirles says:

        The ex Forrest Sherman is in our cage here at Inactive Ships Philadelphia. Sorry to say, she smells like a dirty coffee cup.

    • Ed H says:

      My grandfather was a WW2 vet (radioman on a remote radio outpost on Guam) and very much a believer in the coffee patina. That’s how I learned, even though I never served (I was in ROTC in college, but was never commissioned.)

      After his death, my grandmother washed his decades-old coffee cup. She hadn’t realized until that time that the interior of his cup was actually white, not dark like the exterior (it was dark green.) She expressed a little sadness – she thought she was just cleaning it, not scrubbing the history out of it – until it was too late.

      I don’t “scrub” my coffee mug, but I do rinse it with boiling water every day it gets used. I also only drink plain black coffee in it. I wouldn’t dare leave a cup unwashed that had contained dairy or sugar. I have a separate cup I use for ‘foo-foo’ coffee drinks or tea. Basically, anything I add anything other than plain-black-coffee to. I just got a new coffee mug last week that will be my new “at work” mug – it’s already starting to build its protective layer.

  5. Kyle K says:

    My father served from 1951 to 1971. I had a friend who had spent about 4 years in in the early 80′s and he asked my Dad if they didnt wash coffee cups back in his day. My Dad told him that yes, the old chiefs would often not wash their cups, and one old lifer dog who had actually joined the navy as a cabin boy at the age of 14, and had about 40 years in at that point had taught my Dad this custom.

    Apparently, according to the old chief, it had less to do with taste than it did with keeping people from using your coffee cup. Dad said he started the same custom and it worked like a one wanted to touch the cup, let alone drink out of it.

    There, another tidbit of knowledge to add into the arcane custom. :)

  6. Ang Brown says:

    Bob G, that’s about the best comment I’ve ever come across. Sabotage by detergent, just imagine! Well, I can rest assured that I’m cutting back on dishwater time around here by a good few minutes starting tomorrow.

  7. Garrett says:

    My hubs and I have stainless steel cups – and his is way darker than mine LOL (I don’t drink coffee when pregnant so he has a few months on me lol)

  8. KellyJ says:

    Nice cup. In about 10 years it may even be respectable.
    Really, nice to see some traditions survive.

  9. Dan T says:

    Just don’t leave coffee in it and forget it in the office while you go ride a boat for a week or two!

  10. Becky Bernard says:

    As a Hospital Corpsman, there were times I’d be awake for 2 or more days straight. I had a 24 ounce mug that I treasure to this day. It was red on the inside when I first bought it. It turned black pretty quick, and has NEVER been washed. I used to hide it because I didn’t want some smart aleck taking it and washing it. I now have that mug encased in plastic. It is displayed amongst my other Navy items. I plan to take it with me when I go. Afterall, I’m sure heaven has coffee and it would be perfect to have that mug with me.

  11. Andy Rutigliano says:

    Ahhhh the days when the quality coffee was checked by how long you were able to keep the spoon vertical, and coffee came in a 5lb tin… good times..

    • Tiny Artigue says:

      ours was packed in some giant cans……wayyyyy bigger than 5 lb….even after being out for over 20 years, my mug remains unwashed, my wife does not understand this!!

  12. ChipBuffalo says:

    My first week on USS Thomas S Gates, sent to Chiefs Mess for my week of Galley Duty. The first thing I was told was to NEVER wash the coffee cups. I never would have thought that that tradition would stick [with me] after all these years…

  13. James says:

    I remember my first shot of that wondrous swill. Black as tar and twice as thick. CIC’s was the thickest. Not only did the spoon stand, it never touched the bottom. The bridges coffee was a gourmet experience.
    I was Mess cranking when we were having a unit inspection (Ney?) and Suppo had me hide all of our regular pots and put out brand new ones. As soon as the inspectors left, back out they came. He feared a mutiny if we had actually washed them.

  14. Terry Brewster says:

    I remember right after I got out of the Navy…I flew home and stayed with my parents. I did take my well seasoned mug out of a box and placed it in the kitchen for coffee the next morning. After a great nights sleep…I awoke to my mom bringing me a hot cup of coffee and saying “Good morning honey…I thought I’d bring you in a cup of coffee”…with sleep in my eyes, I smiled and said “Thanks Mom”…then, noticing she had scrubbed my mug clean…I screamed “WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY MUG???” Her was so filthy took me 20 minutes of scrubbing to clean it”…I was heartbroken and had to explain to DO NOT clean a mug EVER!!

    Eventually I forgave her…I mean, she IS my Mom afterall…and needed to be educated :)

  15. Harry G. West says:

    After 3 years in the Navy and a tour in the South Pacific I thought I was pretty salty but this was just a little too much for this “ole salt”. When asked if I am retired military I reply, “yes, and it only took me three years!” I believe in all of the other Navy traditions but this is worse than getting “sea sick”.

  16. Dave Berry says:

    After being told to make coffee (which I had not yet started to drink yet, at the tender age of 19) , I decided to impress my Chief and also cleanup the coffee mess by scrubbing all the dirty old mugs and the coffee pot (32 cup aluminum) with steel wool. Everything was bright and spic and span and AJ squared away, and I was sure I was gonna get early liberty for taking the initiative. My Chief, a grizzled old Aerographer’s mate of 32 years just about had a heart attack when he saw the scrubbed mugs (so lovingly “aged”, as he put it) over 3 years, and the shiny aluminum coffee maker). Luckily the rest of the Chiefs weren’t there to see it or me. I didn’t get early liberty, but they did put me in for an Officer Program to ensure that I would never ever clean a coffee mess again.
    Dave Berry, LCDR, USN (ret),

  17. Tim says:

    I was stationed on Guam when the Section Chief called a young “Wave” to face his desk. She had made the mistake of washing his coffee cup. He chewed on her butt for about fifteen minutes and then sent her crying to powder her nose and get back to work. Then he threw the cup in the trash can and fumed the rest of the midwatch. No one dared to approach his desk that night and we all gave him a wide berth for weeks thereafter – until his new cup – that we bought him – had started to mature and grow rings inside it.

    Needless to say – that young sailor never washed another cup in her Naval career. She was determined she would rather stand in front of the base Commanding Officer at Captain’s Mast than incur the wrath of a Navy Chief Petty Officer.

  18. Matthew says:

    As with everything there is still a practical application to the “seasoning” of one’s coffee cup. Has anyone ever seen a Chief w/o their first coffee? A horrendous sight. One should NEVER approach one who has not had their first cup (should they be lovers of the brew). It was my understanding that the actual reason was that should the mess EVER run out of coffee (and of course the Chop and MSC would be keel-hulled promptly), a Chief could merely pour hot-water into the mug and “reconstitute” the brew to get on with orders of the day!

  19. Dave Simpson says:

    When I was an E3 on my first ship I made the mistake of washing my Chief’s coffee cup. He was furious! I got nearly the same speech as the OP, and I since saw many a “seasoned” cup. I ended up retiring as a Senior Chief, but I never cottoned on to the practice. My cups were always shiny clean and to this day, they still are :)

  20. Scott Bailey says:

    Best Revenge. Clean their cup and leave it on their rack! Don’t ever let em know who did it. We had a COB everyone hated. He always had a fresh clean cup every day.

  21. Lisa Johnson says:

    Kevin and I had been dating a couple of weeks and I was here at the house while he was at work, so I thought I would be “helpful” – you know Kevin, so you know the house was immaculate to begin with…but, there were some dishes from dinner the night before and the coffee pot looked a little “brown” and there was this very yucky coffee mug…and considering what the rest of the house was like, I just couldn’t figure it out…so I put EVERYTHING in the DISHWASHER! He must have loved me from the beginning, because I’m still here – shwew! That was a close call!! HAHA I learned that lesson very early – Don’t mess with a Cheif’s coffee cup…under any circumstances!!

  22. GMC (SW/AW) Dana L. Martin USN Retired says:

    Yes, I am that guy from the article, and what fond memories I have, in my 24 plus years of service, that particular tradition was passed on to me. As a newbie aboard my first ship USS Seattle (AOE-3); I guess I hadn’t been onboard a full two months, when while doing field day in the Weapons Office, I was task to clean up the Coffee Mess, think it was for a zone inspection. Anyhow as fate would have it as I was looking at the only two cups there, only one needed cleaned in my eyes, it was dark, and had the oddest pattern on the inside and out. Some kind of what I thought was a green logo, (I was to find out was maybe mold). This belonged to GMC Donald Platt, a man in stature that reminded you of Don Knotts in appearance, jovial and comical, or so we thought…..

    During Nam, he was on River Boats, I can’t remember how many tours he said he did, but at times I would hear metal clinking, as he worked a small piece of shrapnel out and would throw it towards the trash can. Anyhow, I took this dirty “thing” quickly into Ops Berthing Head, and between a Greenie Winnie and some steel wool, he had a nice clean cup that my mother would be proud to place in her cupboard. When he came in an saw it, you would have though Hell had opened up, I actually had fear for my life, for a moment, he told everyone to get out, even the Gunner was running for the door, and I know that they were all in the P-way as the shouting ensued. After that barrage was over he got quite and told me to sit down, shaken and scared I did as I was told, and then he said, let me tell you a secret “never, and I mean never wash your cup, son”

    To hear him tell it, was an amazing thing, it made the midwatch mud that you had to put hot water in bearable, it made the weak as tea drinkable, but most importantly, it was leaving your mark, as one of the few things you could leave out, that now one was to mess with. I took all this in, and the next day ordered my first ship mug, at the end of that tour, it was a thing of beauty and to this day still is. Each subsequent Command I got a victory mug and seasoned it proper, and in 24 plus years only had one time where the unthinkable happened, someone washed my mug. But at that time I was such a coffee addict that I was actually working on two mugs one for the CPO Mess and one for the office. My wife looks at them in disgust, at times, I look at them in wonder, and with fond memories’, where she only sees a cup that needs washed, I see deployments to the Med, or off the Horn of Africa, or the many long nights in the Persian Gulf. Memories, my own personal memories of where I was, and what helped wake me up for the day or keep me awake on long nights.

    and if you remove the cleft in the chin that does look like me then….

    • Joe Garhart says:

      I Served onboard the USS Camden AOE-2, it was my second ship, 83-86, but I can remember vividly how the coffee used to be like mud in the early morning on the mid-watch and as an EN I had a cup that was seasoned and I used to tell the newbies that if there was no coffee all I had to do was ad water and had a “weak” but doable cup……….ah yes the good times drinking the mid-watch mud!!!

    • Darin Howard says:

      My dad was a YNC on the Seattle in the early 80′s. All of his mugs were jet black…even the one he used at home. I joined the Navy myself but was never a coffee drinker. My first Chief used to get on my case for not drinking it. I told him…”Chief, you have your caffeine (coffee), and I have mine (pepsi)”. Needless to say, that didn’t go over to well with him. HA HA.

  23. David Falknor, TMT2 says:

    My wife learned to never wash my cup. I enlisted in 1981 and today, my cup is seasoned to my liking. My mother holds it dear and never lets anyone touch it. My whole family knows my cup. As the little ones grow, they learn the tale of the blackened cup and the torrent that comes if you wash it.

  24. Shannon Hart says:

    It has been a running joke at my command to mess with the 3MC’s (ETC Vivio) mug. It has been kidnapped several times but the last time I was challenged by my Chief . He said I didn’t have the guts to clean that mug that was very well seasoned. I did. I am still waiting for the hammer to drop. You see, I know as an ET when you punk another ET and they don’t immediately flip out on you it means they are formulating a devious type of revenge. As a side note my English Bone China diva mug has a nice seasoning forming on it.

  25. Randell Himes says:

    After I retired in 1996, I was given I’M Retired or did the Permanent Grin give that Away Already? coffed mug. Took it to my new job and started breaking it in. It took a few months to get the blackened rings started going and the taste just right. Then I made a mistake and left it next to the coffee pot for the night. To my shock, the next morning one of the Japanese workers had cleaned it I mean CLEANED it like the first day it was given to me, bright and WHITE. I yelled so loud and long that to this day no one touches my cup. Going on 17 years and my cup does not see water.

  26. trista says:

    This is just a fantastic piece! My dad and big brother were both in the Navy and both have a penchant for a dirty cup that is misunderstood! Myself..I just never wash my cup cause I figure the hot coffee kills germs. Ha!!

  27. Winky White says:

    At a shore command in Japan – we had a salty SK1. I don’t think he EVER made Chief for reasons only his Navy personnel record would reveal. But, his coffee cup would rival any Chief’s mug there were. For some unknown reason, the cleaning lady (an elderly Japanese worker) saw his cup and thought she’d do the “nice” thing and clean it. I do not know how long he had been seasoning his cup, but that next morning there was HELL to pay. I had never seen a grown man cry until then.

  28. Jay Mishler SN USN says:

    While serving on mess deck duty I made the awful mistake( when told to field day the MS office) to clean MS1 Sanborns coffee cup. I caught 30 kinds of hell that day. The next day MS1 sat me down and told me while I did a great job cleaning the office I was to keep my F***ing hands off his coffee cup… because it now has to be re-seasoned and it took him over a year to get that one just to where he liked it…
    that is one ass chewing I will never forget.

    0 to

  29. Kevin Denson says:

    I am a retired 28 year (Submarine Force) Master Chief. My seasoned mug story is from my time serving as Chief of the Boat(COB) on USS Wyoming (Blue). I had left my mug adrift in the Officer’s Study after a meeting and when I returned to get it, the JO’s handed it to me full and said he you go COB a fresh cup of Joe just for you. I should have suspected something then but just thought they were being respectful of the old salty COB. As I got to the bottom of my cup I noticed something scratched into my mug in the residue from years of not washing that mug. It said JO’s Rule. I smiled and chuckled inside and quickly returned to the officer study to see which JO had done the deed. To my expectation none would admit to the act so as I was leaving I said I wasn’t mad but thought that who ever had done it would have had the B!@ls to stand up and face me. The Senior JO(if there is such a thing) came running out the door telling me it was him. I told him it was to late then but that he had just missed the chance to be a hero in their eyes and instead hid amongst the group not saying a word. He was one of the best JO’s I ever served with and know they did it because they respected me not because they wanted to do something hateful. I sure miss all those guys and my time with them.

    A grateful Master Chief

  30. Don C . East says:

    I had just checked into the NavSecGruActy station at Karamursel, Turkey in 1958 as a seaman CT striker right out of “A” school. On my first day at work (which was a mid watch), I was assigned by a CPO to clean the Chief’s coffee mess and it would be inspected the next morning by the oncoming watch Chief. I felt this was a good way for me to start off on the right foot by doing a super job. After rendering the room and all the fixtures spotless, I noted the coffee urn and the cups all had a brown deposit of coffee in them. So, after an hour or so of scrubbing, all were spotless and shiny. It is now time for the day watch Chief petty officer to come in and inspect my work. I stood by knowing I was going to receive a “well done.” Instead the Chief appeared to have a massive heart attack and sputtered curse words I had never heard before. It seemed I had committed a cardinal sin by washing the coffee urn and the chief’s cups. I have never before or since received such an expert ass chewing. I was taken to the cleaners verbally, not only from the day watch Chief, but from all the other CPOs that dribbled in about that time. It took me almost two years of “atta boys” to cover up the one massive “aw shit” that I received that day in far away Turkey.

  31. Edward Elliott says:

    I worked in the forward engine room of the Bon Homme Richard. from59 to 62 we never washed our cups I didn’t know why but I went along with it.I do remember we bought our cups in japan and most of them had pretty nasty pictures on

  32. Craig Johson says:

    I was LCPO of a Torpedo shop on a Submarine Tender. I had noticed that I was not getting special request chits until almost noon. I asked the the Steam Torpedo shop LPO why I was always getting these Special Request Chits so late? He goes Chief the crew has learned that you disapprove all chits that you get before you get your coffee and after you have had your coffee there is a better chance that you will approve the request.

  33. Ken Mitchell says:

    Fresh out of school, I reported to my first squadron, VP-8 in Patuxuent River, MD as a very junior AW3. My Chief said to me, “Mitchell, make the coffee.” I didn’t drink coffee; 43 years later, I still don’t. I told the Chief, “But Chief, I don’t drink coffee.”

    The Chief looked at me and said “Mitchell, make the coffee”. I replied “Chief, I don’t know how to make coffee.” The Chief fixed me with his steely glare and said “Mitchell, make the #%^&* coffee!”

    So, I went over to the coffee maker. Our division had one of those enormous percolator coffee urns; probably 40 cups or something. So I filled it up with water. There was a big basket for the coffee grounds, so I filled THAT up with coffee grounds, and plugged it in.

    They never asked me to make coffee ever again. But our Command Master Chief who had spend 30+ years in destroyers, kept coming back for more and more that day, and said it was the best coffee he’d tasted since he left destroyers; just a pinch of salt to take down the bitterness….

  34. John T. Gregg, MD says:

    Reported aboard USS Saratoga, CV-30 June 1973 straight out of Corps School – dry dock. Promptly assigned to “clean it all” duty – and did the Coffee Pot – huge thing.
    Spent several weeks chipping paint after the HMCS found out.

  35. john Henry says:

    I was an MM on the USS Great Sitkin (AE-17). We had one of those 30-40 cup aluminum percolators that we never washed, Just dumped it and made a fresh pot at the end of each watch. It had fur on the inside. Great coffee.

    Before the ship I used to take cream and sugar. The sterilized (canned) milk took one try to teach me to drink black coffee.

    We had a big #10 can of sugar beside the pot. Mostly we used it, with lubricating oil, as hand cleaner. You weren’t supposed to actually stick your hands in the sugar but it got pretty grungy pretty quickly anyway.

    Been drinking my coffee black, no milk, no sugar ever since.

    And not washing my favorite 16oz coffee mug.

    John Henry

  36. john Henry says:

    Not coffee but similar:

    We were homeported in Bayonne NJ, USS Great Sitkin. The USS Leyte was mothballed in the drydock there and scheduled for scrapping so we sent some working parties over to scrounge what we could. One of the things we took was a 30 gallon steam kettle. The justification was that it was for boiling out rags and we even did that on occasion.

    We installed it in the engine room and would scrounge some potatoes, onions or anything we could talk the cooks out of. Underway we always had a nice big kettle of soup. Never emptied it, never cleaned the pot, just kept it on a low simmer, adding water and whatever else we could get.

    Good soup.

    John Henry

  37. SGT B says:

    Favorite coffee mug is the unwashed one from the goat locker, USS Dubuque…
    While admiring this treasure, one of my fellow Leathernecks is bound to observe: “But you were neither in the Navy, nor a Chief Petty Officer!”
    To whit I answer, “Aye, true on both counts!” (but when a young Lance Corporal on mess duty, well, let us draw a curtain on the perfidy of youth…)
    Don’t get me wrong, though… I have mucho respect for Navy Chief Petty Officers, especially the sea-going ones.

  38. Gary P. Clark says:

    My first 4 hour watch in the steam torpedo shop was from 3:45 until muster. Check the warhead locker temps, the air temp where the Navol was stored, wander about, pretty boring. So to keep myself busy I cleaned out the coffee pot. I scrubbed the hell out of it, got rid of that grime of the ages and proudly brewed up a new pot of coffee for the shop. We had several WWII guys, one was a burly gruff fella we called Warhead Willy because he could manhandle a Mark 14 warhead by himself. He poured his usual cup of black java and took his morning swig only to have revolting look on his face. He yelled at me asking what the hell did I do to the coffee. I said I put in the same amount as usual and wasn’t sure what could be wrong with the coffee. He looked in the pot and saw all that old brown was now gleaming metal. He unplugged it, walked up the ladder to the mess deck, over to the port side where a large hatch was. He dropped it over the side between the tender and the subs. I was then sent to get a new pot with instructions it was never to be cleaned ever!!! He gave me a break because he liked me but I am sure he was temped to drop me over the side as well. I never washed anybodies cup or pot again as long as I was in the navy. I could have been keel hauled except it was well known the Bushnell rested on coffee grounds and there would not have been enough water under the keel to haul me the length of the ship.

  39. J. William Cupp says:

    I retired in 1997. I picked up a “Navy Dad” mug at Great Lakes in 2010 when my daughter completed boot camp. I am still trying to get my lovely wife to quit washing it on occasion. Sigh.

  40. Phil Goetz says:

    I don’t see how it’s possible. I had a co-worker who never washed his coffee mug, and after a few years, the barnacle-like crust on the inside of the mug was a centimeter thick, and would have cut you if you’d tried to wash it.

  41. Steve says:

    My dad told me the Navy used to use thick white ceramic mugs without handles for coffee. Are those not around any more?

    • Jim Bowman says:

      I was in the Navy in the mid 1960s. Stationed on Adak. During WWII, there had been 10,000 or more troops on Adak, and most of the supplies remained there after the war. We had those handleless coffee cups, stuffed in a closet near the EM Club. I took a couple, and used them on watch. They held a couple of cups worth of brew, and were very thick walled. In the war, the cooks would preheat the cups, fill them with coffee, and pass them out to watchstanders. Combination coffee cup and handwarmer.
      When I got discharged at Treasure Island, my cups were confiscated as Navy property. I think the guy who took them, brought them home with him.

    • William A. Pancake says:

      I join the Navy in Feb.1958 they still had those type of cups without the handles they were great, then some dumb ass decided to replace them with one’s that had handles, I still have one of the old type, it sits proudly in my China Closet, no one is allow to touch it.

  42. Not having ever been in the Navy, I go with this as a defense against coworkers, especially the pr staff entertaining their guests. They looked for the best clean coffee mug to offer their guests. So mine was… not.

  43. Bruce Hart (Coyote) says:

    The Flight Deck Officer on USS Enterprise during our first F14 work-up and cruise was the epitome of an old salt. His favorite saying was that when he got out, the first thing he did would be to get a job in Balboa Park (San Diego for you Med guys) picking up papers with a pointy stick, and get his self-respect back. But that’s another story.

    Anyway, his coffee mug was tarred on the inside, and the inside was crawling out. Probably someone put the Ensign up to it, telling him it would get him in the Deck Officer’s graces, if he thoroughly washed that hollowed cup. Regardless, the Ensign washed it clean and actually proudly handed it to the Flight Deck Officer, telling him that “I washed your cup for you.” The explosion was legend on the ship for a long time.
    Nearly 40 years is a long time. Sorry I don’t remember the names.

  44. ChaosRN says:

    Dateline: 1973 USS Towers, DDG-9
    I was stationed with an OS2 who used to draw the LAST cup of the day, when we were dry docked), and taste it, and then lock it in the TacPub safe we had in CIC. The following morning, while waiting for the new pot to be finished, he would pull out that cup (closer to a chilly bowl), and drink that brew, until the fresh was done!

  45. Master Gunnery Sergeant Crampton says:

    Semper Fi Sailors, My Dan Daly cup has never been washed, nor will it ever be!

  46. Jim Case says:

    Stationed in Keflavik, Iceland as CM2, 1978 to 1980. Being assigned to the Public Works Transportation Motor Pool working the Rehab Shop, the mechanics worked some long hours working on school buses and some of the base vehicles. Had a CEC CWO4 who always enjoyed a good cup of coffee with us during the morning meeting. The Icelanders could never figure out why the SeaBees in the motor pool would have a coffee cup/mug that was white on the outside and well blackened on the inside. Coffee was an important part of our daily requirement to stay awake while we were running the snow plows to keep the roads open during snow storms. At times running for 36 hours straight until the snowstorm was over. During those times of keeping the roads open, the coffee we had range from colored water to what we called “battery acid”. The spoons for some reason always seemed to corrode away if used to stir the coffee to keep the dreggs suspended in the coffee.

  47. AuntFlower says:

    My daddy was in the NAVY, served in Vietnam and other places. I remember the time I washed his coffee cup, it took me about 20 minutes to scrub that thing out. I was a little girl, I got in so much trouble! He kept it on top of the refrigerator after that, I was afraid to wash it again. I never understood why he kept it nasty until now. Thanks for letting me know!

  48. Ray Romero USN Ret. says:

    My Navy Coffee Cup was born in 1968 when I went back into the Navy. I retired in 1986. My cup has a spot on my desk. This cup held coffee while I was on deployment and pencils when we were awaiting our next cruise as it does to this day. It has been dropped and broken, It has been lovingly glued back into service. It is the only thing of mine that my wives did not touch (4). It reminds me of the lifeblood that kept me going on 6-10 month deployments. I dreamingly tghink of those times as I now drink from any old cup now as my Navy Coffee Cup has been retired.

  49. Amn Anne Hofferkamp says:

    My dad served in the Army ’66-’68 & stole a dozen brown mess hall Bakelite coffee mugs with the “US” stamped on the bottom. He gave all of us one when we started drinking coffee. He kept one at the office & one at home (both blackened). Mine was bleached 2 years ago by my aunt when I had surgery because she thought it was dirty and it was finally getting a good color to it – the outside wasn’t darkened like dad’s is. My favorite memory is from high school. I used dad’s mug to warm up my apple cider – the Bakelite doesn’t get as hot as ceramic. Oh was he pissed! He said it took years for the cider taste to go away! Of course, when I started working – I used a ceramic mug at work and never washed it. My coworkers threatened to wash it if I took a day off. My favorite memory are those days and nights drinking coffee w/ my dad now that he’s gone.

  50. Don Davis says:

    Memories that are great, thanks for the article.. I remember my coffee cup like it was yesterday. USN 1957 – 1960, USS Dashiell (DD659).

  51. Kathy says:

    I literally grew up in the Navy so this was a given. I did, however, deviate from the maxim once. The night before I was initiated into the Chief’s community, I went to every Chief’s desk, grabbed their coffee cup, rinsed (please notice I said rinsed not washed) and dried it throughly, stuffed it with confetti and turned it upside down in the center of the desk. Since I was the only CPO selectee in the building everyone knew who had done it so I did “pay” for my transgression. But the expressions were worth every bit of the payment.

  52. Tom (DocTommy) Lyons HM1(8404)-USNR-R (ret) says:

    I worked for HMC Wimbley,statiion hospital,USNTC,Bainbridge,MD and the Chief would never wash his coffee cup. Our supply officer thought it was ‘disgusting’ and told me to call him when the Chief left for the day. I did as directed and our supply officer came down to the personnel office and ‘Super Glued’ the Chief’s cup to the saucer it sat on. The next morning Chief came in grabbed the handle of his coffee cup to get his first cup of the day and behold, he picked up cup and saucer ; try as he would, the saucer wouldn’t come lose. The office would laugh as the Chief would be speaking to someone seated by his desk, pick up his cup with saucer attached and the person would grab for the saucer thinking it would fall off. Still, the Chief didn’t wash is coffee cup!! Great times, good laughs.. GO NAVY!!!

  53. Ernest Copenhaver says:

    After reporting for duty on my first ship USS Dahlgren DLG-12 in 1970 I was told to help field day CIC. Well not knowing any better, I thought it would be a good idea to clean out all those nasty coffee cups…

  54. Myrna Williams says:

    I worked as a secretary in the Charleston Police department and had the “pleasure” of summoning officers to the Chief’s office for a bawling out. One Lt. Brandon always came down with his coffee mug attached to his belt and, it looked disgusting to me. He told me Navy men NEVER washed their cups and he had his to prove it.

    I’ve spent all morning reading the history of their coffee cups of the many members of the Navy, and so now I say “hats off to you Lt. Brandon”. I haven’t had this much fun reading in a long time. Thanks!

    Myrna Williams

  55. Dr Roger Stembridge says:

    My first experience drinking coffee was onboard the USS Conger SS-477 during Korean War and I do remember drinking very strong coffee but I do not remember badly stained cups. I had the same experience onboard the USS Burrfish SSR-312. At age 82, maybe my memory of the 1950s drinking coffee just includes drinking from clean cups. I have to admit that I love my coffee in the morning but thin enough to see the bottom of the cup.

  56. Roy Greene says:

    My first duty assignment as a corpsman was at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, 1985; I was on the ambulance crew, 24 hours on, 48 hours off. During one slow nightshift, I noticed how grody the LPO’s (leading petty officer – HM1 Findley’s) coffee mug was. I thought I’d do him a favor and wash it. I soaked it a solution of soap and bleach and then scrubbed it *sparkling* clean. When I finished with it, it looked brand new and I really thought he would be grateful. When he came to work, he blew up! “Who the hell cleaned my coffee cup?!” he wanted to know. I sheepishly admitted to it and he proceeded to give me a chewing out that I’ve never forgotten to this day!

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