We Were Still Boys Back Then

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  1. Neubarth
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    Neubarth At the Ballpark July 30th

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    We Were Still Boys Back Then

    In June of 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War, I graduated from a small town high school in sunny southern California. Our community was strongly conservative. My classmates and I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties. We were not as liberated or affluent as subsequent generations. That probably was because we were raised by parents who experienced The Great Depression. Many of our parents were happy to have a steady job and exhibited more loyalty to their employers than is customary now. Patriotism was still strong in the land and we supported our country in our foreign obligations; yet, change was beginning to alter the standard and traditional values of America. In the coming years the most consistent thing was the wave of continuing change that swept the nation.

    My values were as conservative as the region that I grew up in. I supported my country and knew that we were right in what we were doing in Vietnam. That was not from any intellectual insight. I just blindly accepted that our country was always right in our goals and actions.

    I decided in high school to join the Navy and contribute to the war effort. Having just graduated without a real job, I had little money. Subsequently, my future expectations were simple. I had only two goals for the next few years of my life:

    1. I was going to use the Navy to go out and see and feel the world. I was going to experience monsoon rains, eat different foods, live in different cultures, sleep in bamboo huts, listen to different music and learn world history by actually going to the great historical sites of the world.
    2. I was going to have some adventures. Beyond that conviction, I could not even begin to guess what the adventures were to be, but I knew I was going to have them.

    I was a kid of German ancestry and culture and this desire to travel and seek adventure was an expression of the German need for “Wanderlust.” Nobody can really explain it, but it is a cultural value that has been present in the Germanic countries for hundreds of years.

    The day I graduated I attended an all night graduation party at Disneyland. A few hours after the sun came up and with almost no sleep in the preceding twenty four hours; I set out on the road to find summer work in Chicago, that toddling town where I lived from age five to age ten. I wanted to see old friends, relatives and visit all the places that would bring memories back to me.

    After spending the summer working in Chicago I entered Navy boot camp back in San Diego on September 11th 1967, as many of my long time friends were starting college and becoming antiwar activists as they became more politically aware.

    My intentions were to see the world, have that “adventure” and then return to civilian life, go through college and commit matrimony. Eventually, I could see myself doing the family thing and working a nine to five job, but first I had to go out and see the world. I was convinced that world travel was the key to a good education.

    While most guys do not have fond memories of their boot camp military experiences, I really liked Navy boot camp. Perhaps, that was because I was a Recruit Chief Petty Officer. That roughly translates into the fact that I was a recruit who had special privileges and benefits.

    While in boot camp, I agreed to extend my enlistment from four years to six years so I could go through Nuclear Power School as well as a host of other schools. If you were willing, the Navy would educate you. You just had to agree to serve additional time to compensate the Navy for all the schools they sent you to. For a young man just starting out in life, it is time well invested because it adds tremendously to the maturation process.

    After Navy boot camp, I went through a host of schools, starting with Basic Electricity and Electronics (BEEP School, or so we called it). Motion Picture Operator School, and Electrician Mate A (EM-A School), where I learned how to be a Naval Electrician. There was lots of stuff to learn. We learned how to build and repair motors and generators, how to troubleshoot and repair controller boxes for large motors, how to repair battle damage without getting ourselves electrocuted, and how to change light bulbs and replace fuses.

    It was fun, but not necessarily an adventure. There is a strong benefit to learning any skill and that is the better sense of self worth and ability that the individual acquires. The Navy is restocked annually with new recruits who are young and essentially lost in the world. They eventually find that they have value and can be strong contributors to society after they have learned a few job skills.

    There is something that needs to be said about going to school in the military. They teach you how to study. For me that was an extremely important thing. I had lived by myself during my four years of high school and never developed any decent study skills. I simply did not know how to make myself study. Though somewhat intelligent, I was, at best, an average student.

    In the Navy, way back then, you HAD to learn the material. If you did not show a high proficiency in the material studied, you were sent (ordered) to mandatory evening study in the classroom where an instructor would monitor you and ensure that you were actually spending your time purposefully. They would ask you questions about the material you had studied and would answer any questions that you had. To avoid mandatory study, I went back to the classrooms on my own to take advantage of the atmosphere and the assistance of the duty instructor. My key learning from attending Navy schools was that you have to have the proper atmosphere for learning. Set that up and the learning comes easy.

    While in that school and with four other young men who were going on to Nuclear Power School with me, our class was asked to fill out our “Dream Sheets.” These were requests for your next duty station after you graduated from school. You could ask for a specific location and an individual ship or station preference. Well, I and the four other Nukes (As we were called) in that class knew that we were going to Mare Island, Vallejo, California to attend six months of Nuke School. After that we were slated to go on to six months of prototype school way out in the sticks of Idaho far from civilization, where we would actually qualify on and learn how to operate several nuclear power plants.

    Well, I looked at the other four and realized that Nuke Power School for a whole year right after half a year of Navy schools and boot camp was not going to be my adventure. Gosh, I had just finished high school. All I had experienced in life was school, school and more school.

    I wrote on the dream sheet, “Send me to Vietnam.” The other guys thought it was funny, and they did the same thing. They were all certain that their education would not be interrupted for a war.

    Well, when graduation day came, we five were delayed for a while and when we were handed our orders, we were not going to Nuke School. We had orders to the USS Paricutin, AE-18, a World War Two style ammunition ship. We all had specific orders to fly from Travis Air Force Base in California to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines where we would be bused to Subic Bay Naval Base where our ship would pick us up. We were going to see some of the “old Navy.”

    Because we were being ordered to the War Zone, we were given the opportunity to take a full thirty days of advance leave. Since it was a War Zone, there was always the possibility that we would not come back alive, so the Navy made certain that the young people who were sent there could attend to personal business before leaving. I had some of that business to attend to, so I took the full month of leave. The other guys took less time and flew to Southeast Asia before me.

    As a boy from the age of ten to eleven, (1958 – 1959) I had lived down in central coastal Mexico on a coconut plantation ten miles north of the port of Manzanillo in the state of Colima. I took advantage of the leave opportunity and headed down to see the little primitive village that stood near our plantation. When I left, I had a crush on a girl by the name of Maria Guadalupe, or just “Lupe” for short. Unlike most of the dark brown kids of the village who were mainly of Indian ancestry, she had light olive skin, hazel eyes and light brown hair and was very pretty in my eyes. Her mother was an actress in the principal Mexican city of Guadalajara and could not raise her daughter so had sent Lupe to live with her sister, the wife of a cantina (tavern) owner in the village. The cantina served the village and the hundreds of ranches to the east where there were lots of vaqueros (cowboys) who wanted to come into town and drink a little and spend their money on the ladies who sold their charms in the cantina. This was much like the old American West, as the cowboys often rode their horses into the village every Friday or Saturday.

    Well, I found Lupe. It had been nine years since I had last seen her. She was the mother of five children. Three of them had been born to a somewhat incestuous relationship with her Aunt’s husband who got her pregnant for the first time when she was only thirteen. She had two more children by him when she was fifteen and sixteen. She then moved in with a successful store owner and had two children with him, but was now with her third husband.

    Well, if I had any dreams of a future with her when I headed down to Mexico, they were shattered. I visited with other old friends. These were former playmates that I used to ride horses with and help them with their work in their communal fields. When I look back at that time in my life, it was a fantastic education. Time was running out on my thirty days, and I returned in steps, moving to Guadalajara and then Mazatlan where I read the headlines on the local newspapers that said Bobby Kennedy had been shot. I was heading north. About the time I reached the port city of Guymas, the newspapers read that Bobby had died. Mexicans by the dozen extended their sympathy to me and to my country over our great loss. It was obvious to me that many of them followed the Amerian political scene and had seen Bobby as a shining light for the future of America.

    I continued on my journey of learning and headed back to California, Travis Air Force Base and a long flight across the Pacific.

    I was eager and was very glad to arrive at Subic Bay and my first ship assignment, only to be greeted by those four guys I knew in school who could only say one thing, “You and your damned great ideas! Joe! We’ve been screwed.” They were not enthralled with their situation. Hey, they did not have to fill out their dream sheets requesting to go to Vietnam That was my desire and I got my request. I didn’t really expect to get it, but I did, and was happy.

    To me, it was an adventure. I would be able to participate in the war. We believed that we were going to save the southern part of Vietnam from the evil dictatorship and horrible enslavement of Communism. Needless to say that most of the young men in the conflict did not have much political awareness. That would come to all of us as we grew older.

    The Paricutin made several trips between Subic where it was loaded with ammunition and the coast of Vietnam where we passed the high explosive ammunition and other items of war to the cruisers, destroyers and aircraft carriers via a means we called underway replenishment. We also replenished US Coast Guard Vessels that were quite active in the war. If we were passing the ammunition to the destroyers within three miles of the coast, the Viet Cong would occasionally shoot their winged rocket type mortars at us. It is hard to judge distance looking out to sea, and they never hit us. Had they done so, they might have blown a hole in the ocean that would have taken years to fill.

    Eventually the time passed and a few months later we steamed across the Pacific with our one propeller making a whump, whump, whump sound every few seconds. This continued twenty four hours a day all the long way back to California. I still wake up at night with dreams of that long trip with the “whump, whump, whump” sound haunting me as if it was a symbol of something else that I need to remember.

    The long days at sea came to an end, when we saw the Farallon Islands off of the coast of central California. Soon the coast could be seen and all hands were on deck, happy cheerful and hopeful of seeing their loved ones. I had a feeling that we were experiencing the same joy that soldiers and sailors experienced in World War Two while steaming home from the war. I was glad to have had the experience.

    Having bought a 35-millimeter camera while on liberty in Hong Kong, I used a full roll of film just taking photos of the Golden Gate Bridge as we approached from sea. I was excited to be home, too.

    The ship moored in Port Chicago, California, its homeport. That was right across from a gigantic fleet of mothballed ships from World War Two. Somehow that added to my sense of sharing a simple experience with the men who had gone before me in that great war to stop totalitarian aggression.

    A few days later, all five of us nuke students drove a few miles down the Sacramento River to Vallejo, California where we crossed an old bridge to Mare Island Naval Shipyard and the start of our “higher education.”

    One of the most interesting stories from that experience was that all of the incoming students took a variety of SAT test so that we could be placed in class “Sections” where we would be taught according to our past education and ability. The sections were to be numbered One through Eight with the students in Section One being the ones with only a basic high school education and those in Section Eight being the best educated. All of them had several years of college study and some were college graduates.

    Well, all of them but one. Somehow, I was in Section Eight, and I only had a high school education. When we started our classes, the Section Eight students were taught their Nuclear Physics, Physics and Heat Transfer and Fluid Flow classes with all the proofs using calculus. I had high school algebra, but I never studied Calculus and was at a loss in those classes to understand “why things were the way they were.” Since the Navy wanted us to fully understand these points, I was in academic difficulty.

    I called my father back in southern California, and told him, “Dad, I’ve got a serious problem.”

    “What is wrong?” he questioned.

    “Well,” I explained, “they have placed me in Section Eight.”

    Dad immediately responded, “Don’t take any of the medicines they offer you. I will get a lawyer and we will have you out of there as soon as we can get a court order!”

    A light immediately turned on in my head. I realized that “Section Eight” had a different interpretation to his generation. In World War Two, it meant somebody who was a candidate for a psychiatric ward or a person who was confined to one.

    I carefully explained to my father that we did not need a court order or a lawyer. I was just in a class too far above my ability and that I needed to be reassigned to a lower section, but the Navy was slow to do that and it was hurting me.

    Eventually I was placed in a section where most of the young men were just high school students with some college (one to two years), and I did well.

    In late November of 1969 I graduated from Nuclear Power School in Idaho. I was two years out of Navy boot camp and had an opportunity to fill out my second Dream Sheet. Because I was a little bit homesick for my family in California, I did not want to go to the East Coast three thousand miles from home. Still, I did not feel the need to be in California proper so I wrote that I wanted to go to the Pacific Northwest and serve on a large combatant ship like a Cruiser or Battleship, (if they were going to pull one out of mothballs.) I wanted a large ship that had some history behind it so I could say I was part of that tradition.

    Well so much for Dream Sheets! I found myself reporting for duty at Mine Squadron Ten in Charleston, South Carolina. When I received my orders back in Idaho Falls I was disappointed that my request for a large ship on the northern Pacific coast had not been honored and I asked the personnel man who handed me my orders, “What size ships does Mine Squadron Ten operate?”

    “I don’t know,” said he, but they probably are not big. If you ever saw the movie Caine Mutiny, that ship in the story was a minesweeper and it did not look as big as a regular destroyer.”

    I had to wait until I arrived in Charleston after spending all night flying and changing flights while crossing the country to find that Mine Squadron Ten did not operate ships at all. They operated 56 foot long Mine Sweeping BOATS for close inshore mine sweeping. In addition to that, they operated 39 foot long Mine Sweeping LAUNCHES for sweeping very shallow waterways and rivers. There were such things as ocean going minesweepers, but they did not venture into the shallow water that we were expected to clear of mines.

    The motto that I kept on hearing around the minesweepers was “Iron Men in Wooden Ships. Well, that sounded impressive, but the Mine Sweeping Boats (MSBs) though made of wood would never qualify as ships, and the smaller Mine Sweeping Launches were made of fiberglass.

    Both the Boats and the Launches swept mines in the same manner. They could try to cut the mines loose from their moorings if they were buoyant by streaming gear that would cut the cables holding the mines to the sea floor or riverbed. The mines with cables on them were the old variety used in the previous wars. They detonated on contact and were hidden just beneath the surface of the water.

    More modern mines would be magnetic activated or acoustic activated or a combination thereof, and they could lie on the ocean floor. It was found through experimentation that a mine hundreds of feet below a ship could still damage the ship if the underwater explosion was large enough and timed right. In fact, some of those modern mines could break a ship in half with only half the explosive charge of the old moored mines.

    To counter these magnetic and acoustic mines we had to develop new styles of minesweeping. The magnetic mines would be set off when their control mechanism sensed a large iron object overhead interfering with the normal magnetic lines of flux that surround the globe.

    To trick the magnetic mine into activating itself, we had to find a way to generate a large magnetic distortion in the Earth’s magnetic field. The mine would sense that distortion and set itself off “in hope” of destroying a large ship. Since we did not want to set that mine off under our hull, we dragged long cables behind the boats and ran electrical currents through them, thus generating that strong magnetic field well astern of our boats.

    To set off the acoustic mines we had to make acoustic sounds that approximated a larger ship class, in hope that the mine was programmed to go off under a large class vessel. We generated this sound with a large drum like metallic “hammer box” that could make a great many sounds that mimicked the propeller and engine sounds of different ships. Most were like those cruisers I wanted to serve on out of a West Coast port. I soon started wondering if my original request was a bad idea and Providence had spared me.

    I quickly learned how to do my job as a minesweeping electrician, and even though I was not religious did pray on occasion that we would never have to actually sweep mines. There were mines to be swept, like the ones in the Suez Canal that were placed there in 1967 during the Six Days War between the Arabs and Israel. If we were called to sweep the Suez Canal clear, one of those things just might go off and ruin the last few seconds of the rest of my life. Not a good prospect for a young man just starting to learn about life, and who still had not had many adventures.

    In the spring I was informed that I would be going to the “MSL Detachment in the Mediterranean for the summer.

    Adventure! Hopefully not too close to the Suez Canal.

    I really wanted to go, and had told everybody and anybody that “That was what I wanted to do.” After all, I had joined the Navy to see the world. Now, I had the opportunity to see Europe, after having already seen South East Asia. To think, some people save all their lives just to be able to spend a summer touring Europe. Many would take ocean tours of the principal port cities and pay thousands of dollars for the privilege. Here, I was going to do the same thing and get paid thousands of dollars for the experience. Nothing could be finer.

    We had several weeks to form up as a working group and learn to function as a cohesive unit. I learned all that I could about those MSLs. We practiced and practiced and practiced some more while operating them from every position of responsibility. I learned to drive them and stream the gear as well as operate the electrical generators that generated the magnetic fields through long cables that we dragged through the water. I also learned to operate the electrical pulsing unit that drove the acoustic hammer box that we streamed hundreds of feet behind us.

    Two MSLs could work together, one with the hammer box and another with the streamed cables generating a large magnetic field. We could simulate the USS Enterprise if we wanted to. Don’t ask me what the Enterprise would be doing in shallow water. That wasn’t my department. My job was to generate the sounds and the magnetic signature to try to trip the mines. If I was told to simulate the Enterprise, that is what I would do.

    The military was a great life. Nothing had to be logical. All we had to do was follow orders.

    We became very proficient at what we were expected to do.

    In Charleston the MSB’s would stream the gear for both the MSBs and for the MSLs, as the MSLs did not have the cable reels from which to stream the gear. We also did not have the winches with which to pull the heavy streamed gear back in. So, when we were done minesweeping we passed the cable to the MSBs and they used their large winches to recoil the cables on a cable reel that they had built right into the boat.

    In the Mediterranean we would not have any MSBs to stream out gear. So, years earlier, somebody had improvised and modified an old World War Two style beach assault craft (called a Mike 8 Boat or an LCM-8) so that it could stream the gear and recover it like the MSBs did back in Charleston. It was equipped with large cable reels and winches strong enough to do the job. It also had a small built in storage shed in the bow where the ramp had been located. The ramp was the bow of the LCM that could be lowered to the beach. Its original purpose was to let the Marines bravely charge out on to the sand and gravel and face the enemy machine gun nests where they were expected to do battle or die.

    Well, those opposed beach assaults were back in World War Two, but you never knew when you might be ordered into combat or an opposed rescue operation, such as rescuing an American Embassy staff and their families; or, for that matter, any Americans who needed rescuing anywhere in the world. That was one of the reasons why we were deployed.

    The ramp on the LCM-8 was still there, but it was completely welded shut. With a few more sheets of steel welded on the top and in the rear we had a watertight enclosed storage area complete with a watertight door.

    It was a great place for taking a nap. By the time somebody had undogged the water tight door, you could wake up and pretend that you were reading an instructional manual to further your education, an issue that was strongly stressed in the Navy. The “Mike Boat stayed in the Mediterranean along with four MSLs. All five vessels were carried on Amphibious ships along with hundreds of Marines. When a new amphibious group arrived in the Mediterranean the MSLs and the Mike Boat would be transferred from the departing Amphibious Ship to the arriving Amphibious Ship, usually at Cadiz, Spain.

    More often than not our five craft were carried on a Landing Ship Dock (LSD). On this cruise we were on an LPD, the USS Austin. Both of these ship classes could ballast down in the water and flood the stern of the ship to allow landing craft to proceed out of the stern of what was called a well deck. Those were the landing craft that would carry the Marines to make the beach assault.

    The four MSLs would be carried in boat racks just forward of the flight deck and the large ship’s crane would lift them up and place them gently into the ocean swells alongside the LSD or LPD. To reach our launches, we had to climb down what we called Jacob’s Ladders, a flimsy looking free swinging ladder that hung from a boom sticking out from the side of the ship at a right angle. Jacob’s Ladders took a little getting used to.

    The Mike Boat would be kept in the Well Deck of the LSD or LPD at the very stern. That was because we had to put the Mike Boat into the water before we could stream the heavy gear for the MSLs. We had to sweep the area of operation before the Marines could be expected to go across that water and storm the beaches.

    We mine sweepers always wished the Marines well, because we had already spent the night before their landing making the way safe for the Jarheads. UDT would also go in after we were done sweeping to make sure the last few feet of beach were clear of obstacles before the Marines went in. Contrary to what UDT would claim, the minesweepers were always the first in action in any landing. We always used the one Mike Boat and two MSLs in our operation. The two remaining MSL’s were kept in backup as it would be in a real combat situation. They would relieve the first two boats after they exploded and sank after a mine detonation. We were realists. We knew that if we actually had to sweep mines in those little boats, we would be killed. If it wasn’t from the mines, it would be from sharpshooters on the beach. Fiberglass does not stop bullets very well.

    Though the minesweepers did not leave any signs on the beach for the Marines, UDT frequently put one up on the morning of the Marine landing. That was so the Marines would always know that the beach was safe thanks to the hard working sailors of the United States Navy. We did not want them to get hurt before they charged those machine gun nests so we were willing to guaranteed safety up to that sign.

    So, at least, they had some reassurance as they approached the sign. Of course, after that, they were totally on their own other than the availability of Naval gun fire and air support. Such was the case in all the Marine landings in World War Two.

    The beaches that the Marines stormed were in Spain, Sardinia, Greece and Turkey. Those were the countries that had joint operations with the United States. Their troops and our troops would storm their beaches, camp out for four or five days and then pull up camp and return with all their dirty and sandy gear to the amphibious ship and head to another operation or a liberty port. Liberty ports were preferred.

    I envied the Marines as they were always doing what real men back in the United States got to do only on vacation. Those vacationing businessmen got to travel to foreign countries, or they got to go camping along the beaches or in the forests, and they got to commune with nature to steel themselves for another drab year back at the business office. And to think that so many of those young Marines were only too eager to get back to the States so they could get a “real job” and marry their high school sweethearts who were all waiting patiently and faithfully at home for them. At least, I hoped they were. Those Marines were some idealistic young men, dedicated to serving their country. They needed that faithful young woman back home. That is what dreams are all about.

    The young guys, of course, were not getting the whole picture. I could well understand how those Gunnery Sergeants and Master “Gunny” Sergeants could make a whole career out of the Marine Corp. They had the “total picture” and knew what it was that men really needed to do to live their lives to the fullest.

    Since we, the MinRon Ten contingent were assigned to the ship, we were treated just like the Marines and lived in troop berthing. Beds in troop berthing were just like the World War Two ships and just like that ammunition ship I was already familiar with. Each bed was a rectangular aluminum frame laced with quarter inch rope that supported a stretched canvas tarp lashed to the frame. The tarps had grommets all along the side and ends. The rope would be passed around the aluminum bar and through the grommet and around the bar and through the next grommet and so on all the way around the frame. That frame would then be bolted to two poles that ran from the overhead to the deck on one side, while the other (outer) side was supported by slender poles or chains suspended from the overhead. Each bed (“Rack” in Navy jargon) was about twenty inches above the other all the way up to the ceiling. That allowed for five racks in a tier. I usually chose the upper rack.

    Of course, what you were dealing with in construction like that was a single point of failure on that rope that ran all the way around the frame. Unpopular Sailors or Marines found that some how one of those loops of rope suddenly failed. The canvas covered with a two inch thick mattress and a sleeping individual would come falling down on the bunk below in a matter of seconds. If you woke up fast, you might grab the frame or a pole before you fell through to the deck or the man below you. If there was a man below you, he would usually not be happy if you landed in his bunk with him. That usually would end up with a lot of cursing.

    Troop racks were usually stacked five high. Now, if you were smart, you never took the bottom rack as it was usually just as hard as the deck below as the canvas sagged just enough to come in contact with the deck. The man who had the bottom rack also had the responsibility of tricing up his rack so that the deck could be cleaned underneath it every day. All berthing compartments were inspected by officers every day and those bottom racks had to be tilted up and tied (triced up) to the rack above them so the deck that the rack covered could be cleaned and inspected.

    There was another reason not to have the bottom bunk but that had to do with having your shipmates return drunk from liberty. Quite often some drunk would disgorge the contents of his stomach over the side of his bunk. Drunks do that, you know. The guy in the bottom bunk usually got the splatter. I never had a bottom bunk, for good reason. Of course, if you were unpopular, the bottom bunk made a lot of sense, even if it was hard as the iron deck below it.

    Well, after the Marines went in to take the beach and set up their camp, the young men who manned the minesweepers found that we could make work for ourselves that required us to take our Mike Boat out of the well deck and use it for training. We would only do this if there were lots of irregular inlets along the coast. If there were irregularities, we might find an inlet from the sea that led to a small village, and we would take the Mike Boat in to access the situation and order a few beers or glasses of wine from a local tavern or waterfront inn. This was usually done with our senior enlisted men in charge. Most were long term career sailors (old salts) who had been in trouble before and were not afraid to take risks. Those of us who were young sailors were being well schooled on the real traditions of the Navy and that included taking an occasional liberty when it was not authorized.

    We had a busy summer. After a turnover in Cadiz with no liberty, we sailed to our first operation on the rough coastline of Spain. The Marines were only inshore for three days. After their return we pulled our first liberty in Malaga, Spain. I had shore patrol duty on the first night and saved a drunk Marine from committing suicide.

    All of our men went ashore with the exception of one, an old salty sailor we called Shakey. Supposedly, the Guardia Civil (The Gestapo of Spain. Remember Generalisimo Franco dictator of Spain was a Fascist.) had been looking For Shakey for over twenty years. Whatever Shakey did, he would never go ashore in Spain again and risk getting picked up by the Guardia Civil. We all suspected that it was pretty serious.

    About that Marine. I discovered him trying to smash his arms through a large and thick store front window. This was on the outskirts of the tourist area of Torremolinos, Spain where I had been assigned. The Marine was standing in front of a large department store that was closed down for the night. He was swinging both of his arms in an overhand motion at the same time and pounding the window which vibrated like a drum each time he hit it. The window looked like it was going to shatter every time he made contact. This guy was a big man who stood about six foot five and I would guess that he weighed 260 - 270 or more pounds. I wrestled 148 my senior year in high school and knew that I was no match physically for this guy. But, I had to do something.

    I yelled out to him, “Hey, stop that!”

    He responded, “Why? I want to kill myself.”

    I could not think of anything smart to say to him, so I just asked “Why?”

    “Because I want to die. I’m fed up. I just can’t take it anymore.” was his response.

    His uniform was torn. His hat was missing. He looked a mess. I figured if I could get him to walk into town, the regular Marine military police would subdue him. Now, how could a light weight like me get a Big Man like that to walk to where I knew the MP station was? Well, first I had to try to get him to stop hitting the store window. Telling him to stop was not the solution. I decided to reason with him and said, “You can’t commit suicide that way. That store window is safety glass. If you do break it, which I doubt, it will just break into little chunks. You might get some glass chunks in your eyes and go blind, but that would be the worst of it.”

    He stopped hitting the glass! He looked at me and said, “I know what to do.”

    “What?” said I.

    So, he told me, “There is an excavation three stories deep several blocks down and I am going to jump in and kill myself there.”

    I didn’t know what to say to that, so told him, “You know, I have got to try to stop you and you sure are making it difficult on me because you are too big for me to try to hold.”

    “That is the reason why I am going to jump. Because you can’t stop me.”

    “Then I will hold on to you.” said I “and you will be responsible for my death, too. Do you have any religion? Could you go to heaven if you were responsible for the death of the person who was trying to help you?”

    “Just leave me alone.” he cried.

    Now, started the most pathetic scene ever in the history of the Shore Patrol. I grabbed him by the back of his pants to try to prevent him from walking down the street to this excavation site and he was dragging me along. I could almost get him stopped, and like a plow horse, he would garner some more energy and drag me further. If this was doing any good at all, it was making him burn calories in his effort, and might have served to sober him up a little faster. Well, he dragged me two whole blocks. There were black skidmarks on the sidewalk from the soles of my shoes. Before we crossed the last street, he tore his ribbons from his jacket. He was a Vietnam Vet and had been decorated for something else beyond that. He threw them in the gutter. I guess that was a statement about the war and his service in it.

    He dragged me right up to the excavation site, and all I could tell was that it was at least two excavated levels deep and might have been three or more deep, but it was too dark to see. I was still holding on to his pants, but that was not what stopped him. There was a three foot high wooden barrier to prevent people from falling in the excavation. He could see over it, but could not climb over it because I was holding him down. All this time I was hoping that somebody would come to help, but passing cars did not want to stop and get involved.

    Finally, he kicked the boards until they fell down. He dragged me forward. For some reason, he could not bring himself to clobber the man who was trying to stop him from killing himself. Something in his brain told him that he could not hurt the man who was trying to rescue him.

    He tried to plead with me to release my grip on his pants and let him jump.

    I told him, “No, I am going to hold on. If you jump, you will be responsible for my death, too. Do you really want to do that?”

    “Just leave me alone,” said he. “You don’t know me. Why do you want to try to save me?”

    “Simple,” said I, “Somebody has to try to help you. Today it was my turn. Tomorrow, if you still feel this bad, somebody else will try to stop you. Let’s go back into town and have a beer on it.”

    He looked at me, smiled and started walking back towards town. Ironically, the route he chose was taking him directly towards the MP headquarters. I followed him for seven blocks and as we approached the MP’s, I walked right behind the Big Guy and kept on pointing to him for the Marines to take over. They saw me about a half block away and three big Marines came out from the building. It was easy for them to see that they had a drunk Marine on their hands because he was out of uniform. They manhandled him and took him into an alley where he was restrained. I explained to the Marine officer in charge what had happened. He shook my hand and said thanks and I was on my own. I sure hope that they were able to get that man some psychiatric help. War leaves a lot of men disturbed like that. Perhaps some day I will meet him again, and he will thank me.

    Well, that was enough of that. Back to the ships. We then sailed across the southern coast of France to a landing at Porto Scudo, Sardinia. I remember it well because we were put in the water to do our minesweeping between midnight and four in the morning while a storm was brewing. The seas were choppy, and our little MSL’s were not designed for that. We modified our operation to sweep only for moored mines.

    We did not need the Mike Boat because the MSL could sweep for moored mines with the gear that we have on board. We had a quarter inch cable that we placed an “Otter” on. An otter was a rectangular device with wings inside of the rectangle. It would plane in the water and pull the cable down and off to one side. With a large float attached to the end of the line, the otter held the line down about ten meters. Just before the otter we would put a cutter on the line. If the mooring line for the mine was caught by the line thirty feet down, it would slide to the end of the line where the cutter was. The cutter had an explosive charge that would cut the mooring line and the mine would come floating up to the surface. Back in the United States we could practice with dummy mines. If a moored mine actually did come to the surface, we were supposed to take it under fire with an M-1 Garrand rifle.

    At any rate, we streamed our gear to port. I don’t think we had an explosive charge in the cutter, but the rest of the gear was as it should be. The current at Porto Scudo was strong.

    With our gear streamed we were barely making headway after we turned into the current. This was frightening because we were along a coast with a jagged rock shoreline that was backed up by high cliffs. If the launch was stranded on the rocks it would break apart rapidly, and we would probably be beaten to death on the jagged rocks by the heavy sea state.

    The storm conditions increased and the waves were getting larger. The launch I was on was being strongly buffeted and we were taking white water over the sides. Since I was not operating my electrical equipment, I took the bilge pumping as my task. In a launch that small, the pumping was by hand, but it took a lot of muscle to keep on pumping.

    Pump as hard as I might, the water was building in the bilge. Our Boatswains Mate, nicknamed Shakey seemed worried. He was called Shakey because he always got the shakes when we sailed away from land because he was an alcoholic. He always went through withdrawal when we set out to sea because there was drink allowed on board Naval ships. He was a red striped first class petty officer with nearly thirty years of service. Red stripes as opposed to gold stripes. You got gold stripes for good conduct. Red stripes meant you had “blemishes” on your service record. He had seen and done it all and had been in many dangerous situations before. He had taken the helm because conditions were too rough to trust the two youngest sailors we had on board.

    Shakey was trembling but it wasn’t from drink withdrawal. Soon, as he steered, he loudly announced that we were not making any headway against the current.

    We all looked to the rocks to starboard. They appeared to be growing bigger and we were certain that the current was taking us to our death. As far as forward motion, we were in the same place for over ten minutes. In fact, it looked like the current was now taking us backwards while the rocks just to starboard grew bigger. The engine was at full throttle, but we were, indeed, being dragged backwards and were sliding towards a jagged cliff face. Shakey’s voice was faltering and he yelled to winch the gear in. We had to cut out sweep short.

    The two young 18 year old kids we had on board tried to winch in the gear, but simply did not have the strength. Our first class Engineman, Fletcher, who was a very powerful man jumped to the stern and tried to winch the gear in. We were within twenty feet of the jagged rocks.

    Shakey told me to grab the fire axe and cut the cable. We were going to cut our gear loose. At best it cost a few hundred dollars and we all felt we were worth more than that. I grabbed the fire axe, but noted that we had been swept past the rock outcropping. I suggested that he throttle back on the engine because the current was now taking us away from the rocks. Without pulling the towed gear so taut, we might be better able to winch that gear in.

    He took my suggestion but gave me a weird look as if he had never had a good suggestion from an electrician before. Fletcher and I worked the two handles on the small winch, and brought the gear back to the stern and the kids lifted it in. Shakey gunned the engine, and we were making headway again.

    We used all of our power to take us back to the ship. Once there we yelled for them to have the crane operator lift us out of the water with the full crew on board. There was no way that we could safely climb up a Jacob’s Ladder with the wind blowing and the sea getting more and more choppy. The crane operator swung the hook down to us and we lifted the heavy hoisting ring and slipped it into the hook on the third try as we bobbed up and down a good six or seven feet with each swell. We were lifted to safety and placed in the boat rack.

    That was a very scary episode, but it qualified as a real adventure. I had never been sea sick before, and used to brag about that, but I went to the ship’s rail and off loaded anything I had eaten for the past day. My system kept on trying to expel more, but there was no more to expel. One of our crew members, Al, the electrician in the other boat that was outside of us from the rocks, and had less to fear came over to me. He was a good ol’ fun loving southern boy from Alabama. Laughing, he patted me on the back and said with a bit of a southern twang that if I didn’t stop all that dry heavin’, my keister was gonna start suckin’ air.

    To a conservative Yankee like me, that sounded awfully crude. It must have taken my mind away from my fear over what had just happened. Luckily, I got my stomach muscles under control, but I probably came very close to proving his theory to be true. That was the only time I was ever really sick at sea, but I strongly suspect that it was a delayed result of being terrified.

    During our operation that had us in fear of losing our lives, the Austin had lowered the stern gate to her well deck to allow the UDT team into the water. The swells that were giving us so much difficulty in our minesweeping operation somehow jammed the stern gate and the operator could not it to come backup. The swells kept on pounding on that open stern gate and by late afternoon that hundred ton chunk of steel broke off and sank. The Austin could not continue on her mission in the Mediterranean. The entire operation was scrubbed at Porto Scudo, and we headed to the island nation of Malta for emergency repairs. While we waited in Malta an LSD was diverted from the Atlantic and told to take the rest of the original tour of the Austin. Within a week our launches and the Mike Boat were transferred and we headed to Turkey for out next operation in Turkey.

    Now the Turks had gained a reputation for strict and ruthless behavior with their military. They had invaded the island nation of Cyprus and oppressed the Greek Cypriot people and then transplanted thousands of Turkish immigrants on that island so as to extend their influence further into the Mediterranean. Their military continued to have a bad attitude and a belief that they had to be nasty.. Both Shakey and Fletcher told us that they were not fond of operating with the Turks and would be glad when the operation was over.

    Well things started OK. Our leading officers had a meeting on a Turkish ship before the operation started laying down the ground rules. The Turks were not supposed to fire on our men if it appeared that we were in disagreement during the operation. After all, it was a peacetime operation. Out schedule of operations was given to them. On the first night we were supposed to have our minesweeping operation. The Turkish and American marines would not land on the beach until daylight to avoid any confusion of assigned landing zones. We thought we had it all worked out.

    At midnight, the LSD ballasted down and we sent our Mike Boat out to stream the long magnetic cables. We were going to sweep between the ships and the beach for magnetic mines with two launches. For this operation the seas were calm and I was relaxed. We picked up our streamed cables from the Mike Boat about a mile out to sea from our ships. I set the electrical package to run a different pattern of electrical currents to simulate certain ship patterns and everything was working fine. We started our first sweep that carried us from in front of the American ships towards the two Turkish war ships as we went parallel to the landing beach which was about four miles long. We expected to be done after about twenty sweeps that would carry us from in front of the ships almost all the way to the beach. There were no rocks to worry about this time.

    As we approached the area in front of the Turkish ships they went to General Quarters. All their men were running to their battle stations, shutting their watertight doors and manning their guns. They trained their machine guns on us and lit up our two launches with four or five search lights and started using a bull horn to ask us questions in Turkish. It sure looked to me that they were going to blow us out of the water. I could think of noting to do but wave to them and to act as friendly as possible. Shakey was steering again, and he put his best smile on his face and started waving with his non steering hand, but he was cursing up a streak. Fletcher started waving and the two young sailors all waved. Fletch kept on saying the same thing over and over again, “I didn’t come here to get shot by a bunch of damn crazy Muslims.”

    Well, I guess they figured that we did not need killing because they did not shoot. Somebody had not made them aware of our minesweeping operation and they responded like the Turkish military was trained to respond. Luckily for us, this time, they did not shoot. What we had here was a failure to communicate.

    When we came to the end of our first run, we made a wide turn and made our second pass in the other direction well inside of our first run. We wanted to put space between those Turkish ships and our launches. If they had fired on us when they first went to General Quarters, we would all be dead. Our operation was being charted on the LSD. They were tracking us on radar and confirming that we were sweeping the designated area. They were supposed to let us know if we missed any of our assigned area.

    When we made the wide turn, they told us that we were missing about a hundred foot swath of our operation area. We confirmed that just as clearly as we could. On our launch the electrician usually answered did the communicating on the portable radio we used. I was the electrician. I responded to their statement. “Roger. I understand that we have a wide section that has not been swept. That is because of Turkish contingency. Over.”

    They responded, “Say again. Over.”

    I repeated my message.

    They replied with, “Request you explain contingency? Over”

    I explained, “According to the newly improvised Turkish modification of the operation plan, that path is not necessary any longer. Over.”

    They gave me a “Roger” to that, and we continued for hours with the rest of our minesweeping. About five o’clock in the morning we were back on the ship and UDT was doing their thing. I did not feel the least bit seasick this time, but I was scared for a while. I wondered about the dangers associated with any further joint operation with the Turks. Like Fletch, I did not come to the Mediterranean to be shot at by accident because a foreign navy’s officers did not read joint operation orders.

    After the operation and all the Marines were on board, we sailed to Antalya, Turkey. The streets of the town were dirty and dusty and sewer trenches ran right through the center of the streets. It appeared that we had stepped back into the Middle Ages. There were many horse and donkey drawn carts. The impression that I got was that Turkey was as poor as Mexico.

    I pulled shore patrol duties on the first night, and had to go to the local whore house to keep the sailors away. The building was a long single story structure. I was assigned there with a Turkish policeman who spoke some English. We stood out front with the assigned task of turning any American sailors back to the main part of town. No sailors were to use the state whorehouse.

    As we were waiting outside the Turkish policeman explained to me that, “Young girls who had shamed their families or committed illegal activities such as petty theft were sentenced to the whorehouse to work off their sentences, which were usually monetary fines. For the girls who have shamed their families, this is better than cutting their throats.”

    I had heard about the Islamic laws that required the death penalty for girls who were found to have engaged in sexual intercourse before they were married. Knowing the pressure that teenage boys in our country put on their girlfriends to exceed heavy petting, the brutal Islamic law seemed crazy. Of course the Biblical Jewish laws required the stoning to death of any one caught in an act of fornication, so the Islamic law from the same ancient region was, in reality, not much more different. There was nothing I could say to that. I guessed that being a state prostitute was better than being dead, but what would happen to the women thus shamed and humiliated? Could they ever live normal lives in Turkey?

    To keep the conversation going, I said, “Girls?”

    He explained that, “Girls who were ‘old enough to perform as a woman’ could be sentenced to the whorehouse. They would work off their sentences by taking the equivalent of twenty cents from each customer until they had paid of their debt to the state.”

    To me that seemed totally insane. “Old enough to perform as a woman” appeared to imply that they were old enough to get pregnant, and that could include girls as young as 13. I did not ask him if 13 or 14 year old girls were in there. I was too afraid that the answer would be yes. I immediately thought of the girl I was fascinated with down in Mexico when I was eleven. Did Lupe have the opportunity to refuse her uncle when she was thirteen? Where was her aunt when this was going on? If she had been in Turkey would she then be punished for having “shamed her family” by having to work as a prostitute for the state?

    I asked, how long does it take for a girl to pay off her fine?

    He replied, “Usually one to two years.”

    I just knew that there were girls or young women in that building who were victims of their cruel society and religious laws. It seemed so wrong to me. You really start to question your values and the values of society when you see how cruel and insensitive the world can be.

    My shift at the whorehouse front walkway was over at midnight. I was glad to leave and get far away from a reality that was really bothering me. I was ready to become part of the change that was sweeping America. There was far too much wrong with the world and too many things that needed to be changed.

    It was about this time that I formulated my “(Non Religious) Rules For Life” It went something like this:

    1. Life is supposed to be fun.
    2. If you are not having fun, you are not doing it right.
    3. Find out what you are doing wrong.
    4. Admit it to yourself.
    5. Correct the situation.
    6. Get on with your life and always remember rule number one.

    The rules as posted above can be used by both religious and non religious people. It does not mean that we have the right to be hedonistic, just happy with life and where we are going.

    I had to start looking for positives in life. I had seen way too many negatives as I was growing up. I had been raised as an atheist/agnostic by my father. When Dad was drunk, he was an atheist. When he was sober, he was an agnostic. I came out of that experience with no need for religion as a boy turning to manhood. I was to change my opinion on that years later.

    On the second day we were in Antalya I went on a day long bus tour of ancient sites within a hundred miles of the port city. Almost everything we saw were ancient Greek ruins. There were open air theaters and city walls and other ruins. My main educational learning was that all of this land called Asia Minor by the Romans was heavily populated by Greeks.

    It seemed a shame to me that all of this land that was once part of a great culture had been taken away by something that appeared to me now to be horribly inferior. My experience with the Turks and their culture really bothered me. Something was wrong with their society, and I strongly suspected that it was their religion.

    Well, we headed out to sea a few days later. I had no desire to go on anymore operations with the Turks. We probably came very close to being killed there. We sailed to our next operation site which was to be in northeastern Greece (Macedonia), not far from the Turkish border. In this case we would be operating with the Greek Navy and their Marines.

    We sailed through the most beautiful stretch of clear blue water I had ever seen as we passed by the hundreds of little Greek Islands scattered across the Aegean Sea. It was easy to see why the ancient Greeks became mariners. The Islands just off in the distance called to them to explore. The waters were so beautiful they were alluring. Like the Polynesians mariners who controlled the central Pacific, they could not refuse to venture forth.

    Venture forth is what five of us did after a Marine landing on that Greek beach. WE had completed our minesweeping about four o’clock in the morning. We returned to our bunks and wrapped several towels and blankets over the announcing system so we could sleep. Gosh they could have sounded General Quarters like those Turkish Ships did and we would have never heard it.

    After sleeping a few hours, we knew we had to get up and about or we would not be able to sleep that night. We had breakfast and then assembled on the deck to watch the remainder of the Marine landing. What caught our attention was the fact that we were looking at a beautiful curving beach that had small peninsulas on either side. Even from a distance we could see that the marines had taken up positions on the top of each of the two peninsulas. From the peninsula on the left to the peninsula on the right the beach was about a mile long. The Marines on the top of the hills were setting the limits of the operation area. They were posted there to keep local citizens out and Marines in the operation area.

    Our Minron Ten Chief who was in charge of our detachment came on deck, and we collectively asked him if we could take the Mike Boat into the beach for training and upkeep in the morning. All we really wanted to do was have a beach party and go swimming on the beach. The Marines could be marching up and down the hills in the background getting sweaty and dirty but we were going to have a beach party.

    Sure enough in the morning the Ship’s Plan Of the Day listed that Minron Ten was going to take their Mike Boat into the operating beach for maintenance and upkeep. The LSD was scheduled to ballast down at 08:30 to float the Mike Boat for our operation. We were provided a large box of lunches to take with us. The lunches consisted of fantastic multilayered sandwiches of ham and cheese and pickles and lettuce and fresh fruit. The only problem was that the Chief did not go with us. Our senior petty officer was Shakey who had been on a bender while we were in Turkey and now felt like warmed over death and had a bad case of the shakes. He looked like he was going to die, and was not happy that he had to take the Mike Boat into the beach and watch over a bunch of young guys.

    Well, the appointed time came, and Shakey was in the Mike Boat as were eight more of us, the two kids from my launch, a third Class Boatswains Mate, Me, Al, Wee Willy Wilcher, Ron Southern and a third class Electrician by the name of Bill, a fellow who kept to himself a lot.

    Wee Willy was a second class electrician who was just a few months short of his end of enlistment. He intended to go back to his hometown of Philadelphia and start college at a local community college. We called him Wee Willy because his first name was William and he stood about Six feet Seven inches tall.

    Al was Al Manning, as previously mentioned, a good ol’ boy from Pell City, Alabama. He was one of those special guys who was so good looking that girls fought over each other just to be able to talk to him. He always had a pretty girl friend, and the rest of us envied him tremendously.

    Ron Southern was a slender boy trying to turn into a man. Everybody liked him. Blond haired and very boyish looking, he was a fireman, which meant he was pay grade E-3 and not yet a petty officer. He was striking for Engineman like Fletcher and would soon pass the Third Class test. The kid, a good worker, had our respect, though we gave him a lot of ribbing when the cruise started. As sailors often do, we poke fun at each other over real or imagined faults. Ron’s hair being blond looked a little thin, so all of us started kidding him about the fact that he was going bald. Each day as we were slowly crossing the Atlantic Ocean, we told him that more and more of his hair looked to have fallen out over night.. Well, after about a month of that, his hair actually started falling out. By the end of the cruise, he was almost bald down the middle of his head, with a big patch of nuttin’ but skin on the top back part of his head. To this day I feel guilty as I think we talked him into going bald from worry.

    Bill was married, and unlike the rest of us, was a bit serious. He kept to himself, and some of the guys thought that maybe his wife was giving him trouble. That usually caused sailors to turn to drink like Shakey.

    Supposedly, Shakey had done his first four years in the Navy in World War Two with the dream of going back to his small home town and marrying his high school sweetheart. During those four years, first his mother and then his father and then his brother died. Shakey got his discharge just at the end of the war and rushed home to the girl he loved only to find that she had taken off with a traveling salesman the week before Shakey had arrived in town. Then the family house was repossessed. They say Shakey started drinking after that and never stopped except when he was out at sea. He returned to the Navy after a year of drunkenness and just managed to survive year after year, occasionally getting in trouble because of his drinking.

    Well, he drove the Mike Boat to the beach and told us not to play around (skylarking as it was called in the Navy), or drown as he could not rescue us in his condition. He was going to go into the storage area on the Mike Boat and take it easy.

    The four of us electricians and fireman Southern decided to walk along the beach towards the peninsula to our left. When we reached the peninsula it was hard to see any of the Marine sentries as the scrub brush and bushes almost shielded them from our view.

    I remarked that it was very hard to see them. Wee Willy wondered out loud if it might be possible to climb up the side of the peninsula without being seen by the sentries. And of course, that became a challenge to all of us. So, slowly, crawling between the bushes, we climbed up over a hundred feet of steep incline. When we reached the top of the peninsula, we could see that there was a narrow pathway that ran along the top, but it was irregular and did not present each sentry a straight line of view to the next sentry.

    Well, we were young and foolish. The challenge now became one of trying to get past the sentries. One by one, we crawled across that top pathway and a few feet down the other side of the peninsula, safely out of sight because of the high bushes around us. Well, we had proved that we could sneak past these young marines, but now that we were on the civilian side of the operation, we needed to do a little bit more exploring. To do that, we needed to get down to the beach a hundred feet below. That was easy. We just scooted on our butts and got our blue dungaree working uniforms all dirty. At the bottom of the peninsula there was a barrier of razor grass about twenty feet thick. One single blade of this desert plant could cut your arm quite well if you let it slide along your arm as you walked by the plant. We managed to work our way through to the sand on the other side with some difficulty, but eventually we were walking along the beach.

    It dawned on all of us about the same time that if the Marines saw us all in dungarees, they would probably report that they saw five sailors hightailing it out of the operations area. We took our shirts off and wrapped them around our waists and felt proud that we had managed to get this far. As we trudged along, I saw something ahead that looked like an officer’s khaki hat complete with gold braid. I ran ahead and grabbed it and plopped it on my head. Ron Southern wanted to try it on so he ripped it off of my head and put it on his balding head. I told him that keeping the sun off of his head might be good for stopping his hair loss. The other guys took turns grabbing the hat off of each other’s head and trying it on. We were doing a good job of skylarking in the greatest of Naval tradition.

    AS we trudged along I found myself walking beside Wee Willy who was the senior Petty Officer in our group.

    I asked him, “Do you realize that if they wanted to throw the book at us, they could. We are AWOL. We have illegally entered a foreign country. We are in violation of several orders that deal with proper conduct. We have been impersonating an Officer by wearing his hat. We are out of Uniform. And we have breeched a security perimeter. Do you think that if they catch us they will court martial us?”

    “Nope,” he said, “because they won’t catch us.”

    I liked his positive attitude, so did not say anything else as we trudged along.

    We continued on and on and on for about a half hour. In the distance we could see a small town, but it was miles away. The area along this beach was all cliffs that dropped off to the sand below. At the top of the cliff was a road. We could see cars and trucks passing along it on occasion.

    It occurred to us that we would make far better time if we were hiking on that paved road instead of the loose sand. So, we climbed up the cliff face and started hiking along the road. We hiked along for about a half hour when we heard the sound of jeep engines. They were distinctive and told us that Marine officers were coming our way. We ran off of the road just in time to avoid being seen by the Marine general’s jeep and four more that were following him in his “flag car.” They were headed into town.

    We knew that we had come real close to getting busted. Perhaps Wee Willy was wrong in his prediction?
    Knowing that we could tell when the Marine officers were coming we decided to go back to walking along the paved road again. Somewhere along the way we lost the Officer’s hat.

    Eventually, we turned a corner as we approached the town and there was a roadside restaurant. We approached it and a waiter came out to ask if he could be of service. Together we all said one word. Biera!

    He smiled at us, possibly having seen American Sailors who wanted to have a drink or two sometime in the past. He pulled out some chairs in the front of the restaurant patio area. I suggested to Wee Willy and Bill that we ask for a table towards the rear of the patio where there were some decorative flowering bushes that could shield us from street view and those Marine officers in jeeps.

    We sat there and drank round after round after round of beer and were soon quite drunk. It had been hours since we had left the Mike Boat. We were laughing and hooting and hollering about what a great day it was, but realized that we needed to head back to the operation beach before Shakey had to take the Mike Boat back to the LSD. We pooled our money and bought four bottles of red wine. Bill wanted to buy some Ouzo because he had never tried it before. So, we bought a bottle, tipped the waiter way more than we should have and headed back on the coastal road.

    We walked for about a half hour when we heard what could have been a Marine jeep coming up from behind us. Before we could all hide in the bushes, the vehicle came by. It was not a jeep, but we realized that we were too drunk to trust our senses to keep us from being caught. We decided to climb down the cliff face and continue our return on the sand, even if it was harder to walk down there.

    The only problem with this decision was that we had the five bottles with us, and we needed our hands free to hold on to the rocks and roots as we climbed down. We saw a place a few feet to the right from where we came to the edge. There was a small ledge about forty feet down and forty feet below that the sand sloped to the beach sand. We reasoned that if two guys could climb down to the bottom and one climbed to the ledge the other two on the top could throw the bottles one by one to the ledge and that person could throw the bottles to the two below. Well, I volunteered to stand on the ledge.

    The bottles were passed to me and I caught them one by one and one by one I threw them to the two men below. Al Manning and Ron Southern were on the cliff face. Bill and Wee Willy were at the bottom. The only bottle that remained was the expensive and precious Ouzo and Al was afraid that in throwing that bottle to me we were taking a risk that it would hit a rock above my head, so he called out below to Bill that he was going to by pass me and the rock and throw it all the way down.

    Bill was in the middle of screaming “NOOOOOO!” when Al let loose with his best toss. It went out past me and the rock above my head, but it did not clear the cliff face just above Bill who was still screaming “NOOOOO!” to no avail. The neck of the bottle was knocked off by a rock that was just sitting there in the cliff face and the bottle landed upside down in the sand. Bill stopped screaming and immediately tried to salvage some of the Ouzo, letting it drip from the almost empty bottle into his opened mouth.

    By the time I got down, Bill was trying to suck the Ouzo out of the sand, but it was a lost cause. That sand just sucked the bottle dry and swallowed as deeply as it could.

    Well, we took our four bottles of wine and continued our trek. Eventually, we were at the base of the peninsula. Ron Southern and I decided that we would fight our way through the razor grass and try to sneak past the Marine sentries. The other guys decided to walk along the beach to the head of the peninsula and then swim around and back to the Mike Boat. Ron and I would take two bottles and two bottles would go with the other guys.

    Sneaking back was just as easy as sneaking out. Ron and I arrived at the Mike Boat fairly quickly. We did not have to hide coming down the inside of the peninsula slope. As we approached the Mike Boat, Shakey was there and was cursing up a blue streak. I heard words that I had never heard before. He was screaming about radioing the ship, but the radio did not work, or we would be facing a firing squad and court martial and …..

    I held out a bottle of wine to him and said, “Peace Offering?”

    He took one look at that and all of his anger and wrath disappeared. He reached out with a shaky hand and took the bottle and went back to the storage shed. We did not see him for over an hour. That was about the time that the other three came swimming back to the stern of the Mike Boat. We celebrated our great day with the other three bottles of wine and then went swimming. The Third Class Boatswain drove the Mike Boat back to the ship just before sunset. All in all, it was a great day.

    Why did we do such a foolish thing? I suspect that it was a reaction to the danger of the operation at Porto Scudo and the fear that we all experienced when the Turks turned their guns on us. There is no other explanation other than the fact that we were still all boys who may have looked like men but were still very foolish and young at heart.
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2008
  2. editec
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    editec Mr. Forgot-it-All

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    Fascinating.

    But I'm a tad confused.

    You went Nukey and then weren't assigned to a nuclear vessel?

    Two years of intensive military training that you never used?

    Did I miss something?
     
  3. Sunni Man
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    Sunni Man Diamond Member

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    I have worked with several retried Navy guys during my life.

    Every one of them was a functioning alcoholic.

    They came to work in a foul mood and had a nasty attitude all day because they were hung over.

    After work they hit the bottle and were drunk all evening.

    One gay had the shakes all day till he got a drink after work. Another comitted suicide.

    I don't know what it is about the Navy that makes people become alcoholics?

    But your story reinforces my point.

    Weaved all through your story is the worship of booze, drunken behavior, and the misery of alcoholism.
     
  4. editec
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    editec Mr. Forgot-it-All

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    Retiring from it and then finding they have to work with the likes of you, I expect.

    All I have to do is read a couple of your posts a day and I'm about half ready to hit the bottle myself.
     
  5. Sunni Man
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    Sunni Man Diamond Member

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    Seroiusly, I have worked with people from all walks of life. But it seems like a higher than average number come out of the Navy with an alcohol problem.

    They were Chiefs and Master Chiefs.

    Also, they had some really sour and cranky attitudes.

    I have told more than one to go F#$% himself!! :evil:
     
  6. Mad Scientist
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    Mad Scientist Deplorable Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

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    Hahahahaha! Now you know SunniMan how we feel when we have deal with you! :lol:
     
  7. eots
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    eots no fly list

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    lol..sweet...
     
  8. Neubarth
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    Neubarth At the Ballpark July 30th

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    MY last two years of enlisted service 1972 and 1973 were on board the USS Truxtun DDGN 35.

    I believe it is now classified as a CGN. We were Air Traffic Control Ship for North Vietnam during the last part of the war.

    Sunni, as regards alcoholics and the Navy. That is a sad reality. If it was not alcohol, it would be hashhish (pot) or something else. The Navy life with all the separations and broken marriages, men not seeing their children, or having their sons raised by another man or men, leads to depression in the career sailors unless they are gay.

    The Navy is not the place to have a secure family life. Divorces outnumber the marriages in that field of employment.

    Impossible you say?

    Nope. Men who come in married usually have their marriages broken by the separations. Since alcohol is available, men who have had tremendous disappointment in their lives become abusers. Such is life. In Islamic lands men use Hashhish for the same reasons. Men try to erase the memory of their sorrows by abusing intoxicants. That goes on all over the world.
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2008
  9. Neubarth
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    Neubarth At the Ballpark July 30th

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    Hey if anybody can look up or knows of any of the guys in the story of the foolish excursion for the bottles of wine, please let me know. It is going on 40 years ago that we were so young and foolish. It would be great to reunite before we all die.

    Ron Southern was from Alabama or Florida
    Al Manning was from Pell City Alabama
    Bill Wilcher (Wee Willie) was from New York or Pennsylvania area
     
  10. editec
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    editec Mr. Forgot-it-All

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    I lost my first wife when I was in the NAV.

    Well. I didn't lose her exactly.

    I mean I still knew where she was, she just wasn't with me.

    The Service can be very hard on marriages.

    OTOH, alcohol was very cheap.
     

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