A bellowing voice called out, “Who here can cut hair?” My father, a fresh Navy volunteer who had never cut a hair on another human being’s head, stepped forward.
“I thought it would be better than standing on the hot deck or washing clothes,” he recalled as my sister and I giggled. He continued, “Well, your grandfather always cut my hair and I guess I just figured it wouldn’t be that hard! The next day they came down to my bunk and said, ‘You’re the new barber. Report tomorrow.'”
The USS Borie destroyer was headed to Vietnam and my father started his duty as soon as they were underway. One day the captain came down. He needed an actual haircut, not just a buzz job. Dad’s hands trembled, but the captain walked away with “a nice-looking haircut and both ears intact,” he told us, smiling.
Every night while on gun duty, he watched the dark sky light up with tracer bullets, flares, and gunfire. Every day, wearing his clean white smock, he manned his barber chair. He worked six hours on, six hours off, for 30 days straight.
On the trip home, he got a message that the admiral would be on board in 48 hours for an inspection. Dad, an E3 Petty Officer, cut 279 heads of hair in two days. No ears lost, no complaints. Dad even walked away with a letter of recommendation from the captain.
My father didn’t continue cutting hair when he was out of the Navy, probably because my sister and I would never let him get near ours! He doesn’t talk much about the war. But he does smile proudly when he tells us the story of how he became the ship’s barber.