Most everyone thinks U.S. Navy ships are dry. In 1914, the Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels took away the booze. But not all of it.
There are three situations in which the Navy actually serves booze. One, on long at sea periods, some ships have a ‘steel beach picnic’ and issue two cans of beer to each member of the crew.
Back in the 70s and 80s, if you were an aviator and landing on board the carrier at night when the weather is particularly nasty, then the flight surgeon would come around to the ready rooms and dispense one shot bottles of brandy. This was assuming of course, one wasn’t going aviating again that night.
On religious and diplomatic occasion, wine, beer and spirits are served. I’ve attended several seders (the service and dinner on first two nights of Passover) when wine was served because it is part of the liturgy. And, I’ve been on ships where the flag officer has held a reception and the selections from the bar were impressive.
Then there are the ‘unofficial’ times when adult beverages appear on board a U.S. Navy ship. Before the turn of the century, I made several long cruises on a variety of aircraft carriers and destroyer/cruisers and every so often ‘guest speakers’ – Johnny Walker, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels and they were often guarded by the Beefeaters – appeared in my stateroom.
The drill was this. In the evening, several of us would gather in someone’s state room and have an adult beverage or two. As long as no one got drunk, showed up on watch blitzed, or attempted to fly shortly after having a drink, not a word was said. We kept the booze in our rooms and kept quiet about it.
Did I drink a lot? No. Normally guest speakers appeared on stand-down days when the carrier wasn’t going to fly the next day. As a helo driver, it didn’t apply to us because we flew pretty much every day so those on the flight schedule or alert, didn’t drink. Peer pressure made it drink self-policing.
Each officer had a small safe in the corner of his desk. The combination lock was there so he could store classified material and personal items. It also was just the right height for a fifth of your favorite scotch, bourbon or wine.
For ice, I’d go down to the officer’s mess and fill up an ice bucket and bring it back to my stateroom. Mixers, for those who wanted ginger ale, coke, club soda, etc. were readily available.
Again, it was done quietly and discreetly but it was a welcome relief from the tension of combat operations or even the humdrum and boredom of a long at sea period.
Did ship commanding officers know about it? I believe they did. More than likely, they had their own stash in their stateroom. Given the era when drinks were cheap at the officer’s, chief’s and enlisted clubs, they simply turned a blind eye. It was an early version of “don’t ask or tell.”