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NAPLES, Italy — There’s nothing unofficial about a ship’s deck log. Governed by naval regulation and watched over by the ship’s navigation department, deck logs are the permanent, day-to-day record of a commissioned Navy vessel’s life.

Entries cover nearly every aspect of a ship’s operation and are always written with block letters in a terse, matter-of-fact sort of way.

Always, that is, except for the first deck log entry of the new year. On most ships, the midnight entry is traditionally written as a poem.

The deck log entry for USS La Salle, the Sixth Fleet flag ship, for Jan. 1, 2004 begins:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of someone gently rapping, it was the OOD standing there as before.

He asked, “Have you filled out my deck log? This must be done I implore —

Only this and nothing more.”

Quartermasters are the Navy’s navigation specialists, and when a ship is under way they make deck log entries for the officer of the deck, who is in charge of driving the ship.

“These deck logs are very important,” said Cmdr. Jeremy Gillespie, director of the Naval Historical Center’s Naval Warfare Division. “They tell the story of the lives of the Navy’s ships. They show what we do, an accumulation of who we are and what we have done for our nation.”

The La Salle deck log continues:

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December

And each separated dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor

Eagerly I wished the morrow; — vainly I had tried to borrow

A poem or there is no tomorrow — for tomorrow is two thousand — four

It has been one long year, where lives were lost in the second Gulf War

Remembered here forever more.

And the silken sad insecure we must write a poem to endure

Each month, the logs are sent to the Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C. The center stores the records for 30 years before turning them over to the National Archives and Records Administration.

Gillespie made his comments in a news release about the move of the deck logs to a new facility at the Washington Navy Yard. According to the release, the center received about 3,600 deck logs this year.

Ships have kept deck logs since the early days of the U.S. Navy and the poetic New Year’s entry has been around for at least 67 years.

Robert Cressman, head of the Naval Historical Center Ship’s History Branch in Washington, said the earliest New Year’s deck log poem he can recollect is from the aircraft carrier USS Ranger on Jan. 1, 1937.

“This was the only time they did this in their entire career,” he said. Cressman recently published a book on the Ranger, which was in commission from 1934 to 1946. It was the first Navy ship built specifically as an aircraft carrier.

Cressman says the center has files with many New Year’s deck log entries, and the center is researching New Year’s deck log entries from Vietnam-era ships.

Copies of some New Year deck log entries from as far back as World War II are posted on the Internet, most on the Web sites of ship reunion groups.

Some ships leave the New Year’s deck log’s composition up to the person making the actual entry. Other crews prepare it beforehand and enter it when midnight comes around. Either way, it’s the only time when a ship’s deck log takes on a little personality.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Wesley Russell and Seaman Nikolas Appel, both quartermasters, wrote this year’s deck log entry for the USS Cole. The guided-missile destroyer is on its first deployment since a suicide boat bomb damaged the ship and killed 17 sailors in October 2000.

In their deck log entry, they reminisce about Cole’s attack, shipyard experience and current deployment.

The year of ’03 has come to an end

Sit back and listen to a story, my friend.

The story of Mighty Warship COLE,

And her survival of the “Big Black Hole.”

The entry also carries the necessities set down in the Navy’s nearly 50-page instruction that governs what goes into a ship’s deck log.

The Cole’s New Year’s entry notes the ship’s speed, course and location in the Ionian Sea and who its operational commanders are.

So here we are in the Ionian Sea,

Destroyer 67, as bad as can be.

DESRON 18, a part we are,

Sailing the seas, near and far.

Our course 045T, Speed 7 knots,

Our plant full steam, our guns ready with shots.

…

One last comment, to the terrorists, before I leave,

The message we send should be clear to see.

In honor of our shipmates lost in the blast,

Remember our motto “17 Reasons To Kick Your Ass.”

Decklog, Jan. 1, 1942

The New Year’s Day entry as it was written for heavy cruiser Houston on Jan. 1, 1942:

Steaming on course one zero eight,

Enroute Port Darwin to Torres Strait.

The standard compass reads one two three

(the degaussing increases the error you see).

ALDEN, WHIPPLE, and EDSALL; destroyers lean,

About us form an inner sound screen.

Seven, six, three and two are the boilers we need

For fifteen knots, which is standard speed.

To keep from sinking (and that’s no joke)

Material is in condition “Yoke.”

The guns in condition of readiness TWO,

Are waiting to sink any ship named Maru.

While all is dark as the ace of spades,

As a means of protection from enemy raids.

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