by Bob ‘Dex’ Armstrong
Man has done wondrous things with the art of fermentation. History is replete with examples of fine and delicate spirits brought to us through masterful experimentation with fermentation and distillation. As an East Tennessean, I am proud to be associated with the fine products developed and made available worldwide by Mr. Daniels.
At the other end of the spectrum, man has found a way to harness the full destructive power of sugar cane… Bottle the stuff and market it to the idiots of the planet. 151 proof rum is a perfect example of just such an invention. The sonuvabitch who created 151 rum, took something innocent like molasses… Briar Rabbit syrup and did something to it that turned it into moon rocket fuel. Selling 151 proof rum to submarine sailors ranks up there with passing out fragmentation grenades to kindergarten kids.
I’d never heard of the stuff. Most of the lads in the after battery on Requin were beer drinkers. In port, the lads regularly flushed their kidneys with a variety of draft brewed products that over an extended and most enjoyable period of time, reduced you to a level of stupidity that allowed you to still operate thirteen button blues and remember a large part of the elements of verbal communication. The descent into silly behavior was gradual… Took the better part of an evening interspersed with convivial trips to the head.
While we were out in our saltwater world gainfully employed poking invisible holes in the ocean, men in the land of warm sun and palm trees were cooking off stuff with the lethal qualities of contraband ordinance. The employees of something called the “Three Daggers Company” were producing and bottling a liquid product that could reduce otherwise responsible adults to blithering idiots in less time that it took them to order a third round.
Any sailor who got introduced to 151 proof rum will tell you that it was the same as wrapping your lips around the muzzle of a 16-inch gun on the forward high turret of the main battery, USS Iowa… And jerking the lanyard. One minute, you were a productive member of the human race and the next minute, you were directing traffic in downtown Kingston in a straw hat, sandals and skivvy shorts.
I am sure there are members of the smoke boat establishment out there who mastered the art of 151 proof rum consumption… But I will tell you, none of you rode the Requin in the early 60s.
One of the amazing properties of 151 proof rum is that it can reduce your I.Q. to zero-point zip but leave you convinced that you could win the bull-riding event at a championship rodeo. Every bottle sold should come with an insanity defense chit.
There is no energy crisis… We could tell all the OPEC oil ministers to go molest their camels. 151 proof rum is highly combustible… You top off a Tench boat with Three Daggers Golden Supreme and you can overhaul Miss Budweiser in a state five sea.
In 1962, we pulled into Charleston. I had gotten five fifths of 151 rum as my allotted gallon of duty-free booze. My intent was to return home and give some old high school buddies the opportunity to destroy themselves.
I had family in Beaufort, South Carolina… An aunt and an uncle who was a recently retired army colonel. I was invited to visit. I took two bottles as a gift figuring it would be a novelty and a great conversation piece. After dinner, my aunt, a reserved southern lady, left the table and went to the kitchen to build herself a rum and coke. I followed her.
“You don’t want to fool with that stuff… It packs one helluva wallop!”
“Oh, Dex… I was drinking rum before you were born.”
“Not that stuff… It’s lethal. Just use a little.”
“Dex, I went through Prohibition… You name it, we drank it. Don’t worry about your dear old aunt…”
During the next hour, I got to witness a dear old aunt pass out on a porch swing and a former army colonel fall out of a hammock.
The next morning, my uncle appeared… Standing there in his robe, his silver hair looking like he used an eggbeater for a comb… He put on his reading glasses, picked up the bottle and said,
“Jeezus, this stuff is three quarters alcohol!”
God never made an O-6 officer that ever listened to a jaybird kid he’d seen running around in diapers.
“Yes sir… Damn stuff is wicked… Seen members of our forces afloat do some amazing things after getting wrapped around a few drinks.”
“I’ll bet you have, son.”
“If you ever fool with this dynamite, do me a favor… Throw your car keys up on the roof.”
It was all part of being in the diesel boat navy. If it was out there, we got next to it. As Cowboy would put it,
“There never was a horse that couldn’t be rode… And never was a cowboy what couldn’t be throwed.”
I never saw any sonuvabitch in SUBRON SIX get up in the stirrups of the 151 pony and go the distance. I saw several that had to be extracted from extremely high vegetation and one lad returned to the quarterdeck with a police car hood ornament hanging out of his jumper pocket.
It was all long ago… In the days where society forgave the antics of young men who did rough work on their behalf and good officers understood that you couldn’t burn down civilization on E-3 pay no matter how stupid you were or how hard you tried. At times, silver dolphins were your best insanity defense.