John and the Super Mongoose

John and the Super Mongoose
USS Oriskany
Mar 3 1976
By Robert ‘Okie Bob” Layton


John Franklin Massey, probably the most well-known aviation maintenance Chief who ever went to sea. Leader of men, respected, and admired by all.

We were pulling into Alameda the last USS Oriskany cruise.

A few days earlier John was up in my shop, [VF-194 Power Plants] doing what John did best— scrounging up F8 parts!

You see we were going to decommission the old F8 fighter,

but John was in VFP-63 and he was looking for parts for the RF8 photo bird that was still going to be in service. Well I gave him all I had and as he was gathering up the goods he says

“Okie you got any springs?”

“What kind” I replied

“Well I need one to make me a mongoose box”

“What happened to your old one?”

“I got drunk and left it on the beach in the PI, I think
one of them hookers got it”

Well, we looked around and found a really strong spring used for the hold-back panel. John left and said he would be back. He comes back with some wood and starts to build a 1 X 2 foot 10-inch high box. Puts a divider in the middle with a little opening in it. Then makes a lid, now this is the whole operating part of the trick. The lid on top has a wire mesh screen on one end and the other end is just a spring loaded hinged lid that will pop up when released from its latch.

After John got it built we spent quite a while adjusting the hook under the lid used to hold the stuffed sock that would jump out of the box on the person standing in front of it.
When everything was adjusted just right the lid would whack open with a loud bang and the stuffed sock would be catapulted onto the unknowing victim.

Now John had probably built a dozen of these in his naval career and this was to be his finest.

He had gotten some white paint and painted the entire box white. Bordered the wire mesh with a red stripe like a Jet intake warning with DANGER written on it. On the sides, he put “WARNING MONGOOSE” “KEEP HANDS AND FINGERS AWAY”. Hell, he even perfected the Mongoose. Made a little head, cut up some hair off a fox tail broom and added a little tail. Topped it off with little strips of Velcro to make it stick to cloth. As it flew in the air that stuffed sock looked like a bad ass angry mongoose.

After adding some shredded up paper on the floor and a little water and feeding tray [with oat meal] it appeared looking into the wire mesh that something did, in fact, live inside that box.

We even positioned the fox tail next to the center divider opening just enough so that a person would bend down to try and look into the opening for a better look at the mongoose.

It was time to spring the trap.

After the fly off all the squadrons were staging their gear down on the hanger bay a perfect place for Mister Mongoose.

We had our gear next to elevator 3 right by the hatch going down to the galley. John and his crew were downstream somewhat off the beaten path, so pretty soon John comes over and sits up the box where we were at.

It wasn’t long before he was in business. Along came what looked like a deckhand, had that marlin spike holster with an embroidery tasseled buck knife on his belt with some clean pressed dungarees. Just ready to throw over the lines! He was strutting along with a black silver top walking cane [the kind that had the sword hidden in the handle] and a pair of John Lennon wire sunglasses you could almost hear the song “Soulful strut” playing in the background—– this cat was cool.

A few feet behind the box, John was sitting on his haunches perched on a cruise box like he always sat one knee up the other down, arms resting on the up knee John always had something in his hand, this time, a rolled up piece of paper.

As the young sailor was walking by he spies the box, stops in mid-stride, backs up a step, body still pointing forward, turns his head, drops his Lennon glasses on his nose, takes a closer look, shoves them back up, and starts to proceed on.

John yells out, “Hey buddy you ever see a Mongoose”

Sailor, “No man”

“Well, I got one here.”

“Want to see it?”

“Yeah man.”
The sailor gets up close still standing up straight he was leaning side to side trying to get a look see while still maintaining his cool swagger.

John comes down off the cruise box walks over to the mongoose box.

“He’s in the berthing compartment.”

“Here I’ll tap the side and see if I can get him to come out.”

“You see him?”

Sailor, “No.”

“There he is see his tail?”

Sailor, “Where”

“Right through that little passage.”

Sailor, “Oh yeah I see now.”

And just as he bends over WHAP goes the door—- Swoosh out springs the mongoose onto his chest.

The young lad jumps straight up like a frightened cat, glasses go flying his sword comes unsheathed from its cane holder and a loud 9 year girl eeeeeeeeeeeK comes out of him all the while he was swatting at his chest with his free hand and swinging his sword-cane with the other, in fierce battle, trying to get Mr. Mongoose off of himself

Of course, everyone is laughing their asses off.

He got a hold of himself pretty quickly and regained his composure. Without cracking a smile or uttering a word, he just picked up his glasses, put his sword back into its scabbard, and with a quick pull using both hands straightens his shirt facing the way he was headed not looking our direction with his classic swagger, strutted off on down the hangar bay.

John, beaming widely, said to me. “That was a good one, Shipmate!”

“I don’t know, John. He might be pissed.” I replied, a little worried that John might have pushed his luck with that kid.

“Hell, he’ll get over it.” John assured me, confident that the deckhand had a sense of humor somewhere underneath all that coolness.

John reloaded the trap. In just a few minutes the same sailor came back…Flanked left and right with a couple of big buddies.

At this time, John wasn’t wearing anything to denote his rank as Chief. All he had on was a pair of green pants and a green jersey with “VFP-63” on it. As they approached, John turned to me says “Hey Okie, you going to back me up? I don’t know if I can take all three of them.”

“I guess,” I answered, unenthusiastically.

“Well, I need to know.” John persisted. “All I got is this here rolled up piece of paper!”

“Okay.” I answered, “I got your back.”

The strutting sailor and his entourage stopped directly in front of John. The situation was getting tenser by the second, attributed mostly to the fact that the young, embarrassed Sailor still hadn’t uttered a single word since his encounter with the mongoose.

Finally, he speaks. “Hey!” He hollered out at John.

Then he asked, “Can you show that mongoose to my buddies?”

You could almost hear an audible sigh of relief come out of John.

“Sure!” John happily replied, as he jumped down off his cruise-box perch and gladly demonstrated, as requested, with that showmanship he was known for.

After John sprang the trap on his friends the “Sailor with Swagger” laughed so hard his sides hurt to the point he wrapped his arms around himself, bent over, and he was crying actual tears.

They all three departed, and brought back more victims. That led to even more and more…
As the flow of victims grew exponentially, we had to set up shifts just to give each other breaks. We kept that gag going clear on up to off-load, and after the tie-up, we even pulled it on some of the dependents that came aboard

I was on the same plane back to Miramar with John. Red Jordan picked us up and out to the Jet Center Bar we went. John, Red, Me, and—– Mister Mongoose!




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