“The Great Palm Tree Caper”
by David W. Asche
It was August 1974, and Hector was moored to a pier, bow facing shore, starboard side to the pier, at Todd Shipyards in San Pedro, California having some work done on her mess decks and some matters dealt with in her engine rooms.
I was due to go on leave in two days, and my parents were making the drive down to pick me up.
As I came down the ladder to the upper foundry one evening, I overheard some of my fellow molders and some of the divers from the Dive Locker discussing a bold plan, so I sat in on it and listened.
There happened to be, over at the next pier, moored just as Hector was, about two hundred yards away, another US navy warship. ( It was the USS Badger DE/FF1071 ) It was a Fast Frigate and the skipper of that ship had a small palm tree up on the Signal Bridge. The bold plans I was privy to were to steal that palm tree.
Later that night, Darrel Inskeep BM-2 (DV) and Frank Longville FN slipped quietly down into the water under the pier next to Hector. They had with them a long piece of rope and they found a wooden pallet floating there. They began the swim across the harbor to the side of the sleeping Badger and scaled the side of the ship. Then they made their way to the Signal Bridge. Once there, using the rope, they lowered the palm tree to the main deck then on down onto the floating pallet.
They swam back across the harbor, pushing the palm tree/pallet along and secured it under the pier where Hector was moored and left it there the remainder of that night and the next day. The following night, they hoisted the tree up to the 01 deck forward of the forward brow where they could not be seen, then up to the 02 deck and then up on top of gun mount 52, where they secured the tree with a long length of chain and a combination padlock. Then, after earning a bit of rest, they hit their bunks.
As I was going down the pier the next morning to meet my parents at the shipyard gate, I heard the following word passed over the 1MC, ” Would the person who has the combination to the padlock on the palm tree on top of mount 52, PLEASE LAY TO THE QUARTER DECK!”
I looked back over my shoulder and saw the palm tree, in all its glory, a gentle breeze fluttering through its fronds, majestically chained to the top of mount 52. I smiled and just kept on walking.
When I returned, I found there was a lot of turmoil surrounding the great palm tree caper. How swabbies from a lowly Repair ship could outsmart the security on a genuine warship caused some serious changes to the watch bills on both ships.
God rest you Mister Roberts.