Halloween

Halloween

By: Garland Davis

My neighbors are putting up Halloween decorations and all the stores stocking great displays of tooth rotting candy to placate the little goblins bring back memories of a couple of Halloweens where I grew up in Western North Carolina.  Halloween in the country in the fifties was a little different.

The road I lived on was dirt and gravel until 1958.  It was about a mile and a half long and ran from NC 411 to NC 66.  There was a total of eight occupied houses, one antebellum log house without a roof, various stock barns and two tobacco curing barns along its length.  If a kid were of a mind to go Trick or Treating all he would get was an apple at the Vanhoy sister’s house.  Everybody had apple trees.  We were burned out on apples by the time Halloween came around.

Besides, being pre-television farm country, most people went to bed at sunset and were up and had the cows milked by sunrise.  Just about everyone had a pack of free range dogs who would raise hell if one put a foot on their property.  Most dogs would just raise a ruckus, but some folks had dogs that would bite.  Which brings to mind my grandmother’s Blue Tick Hound, appropriately named Blue. Blue would bite anyone except my grandmother.  She would baby talk to him, and he would wag his tail and act like a little puppy.  My uncle used to say that Blue was “so God Damned mean that he was afraid to go to sleep.  He feared might wake up and bite himself.”

My grandmother lived in a three room house. One room was originally a log cabin (BTW it is still standing) built in 1825.  Two other frame rooms had been added.  The kitchen was on one end and the log cabin room on the other end.  Each room had a front and back door.  Blue was usually on the porch in front of the door of the room containing my grandmother.  When my grandmother went to work at the hosiery mill, Blue would sleep in the driveway. My uncle Frank had just gotten his first car and came home one afternoon while Blue was napping in the drive.  He blew the horn and yelled for Blue to move.  Blue just looked at him and went back to sleep. He jumped out of the car and yelled, “Blue, you son of a bitch, I’m gonna kick the shit out of you.”

Blue had a different idea.  He came up off the ground with a growl and grabbed a pants leg in his mouth and ripped it half off.  Frank in fear of his life, scrambled for the car, dropping his keys as he did so.  Blue went back to his bed and went back to sleep.  Every time Frank tried to get out to get his keys, Blue would jump up and growl.  He spent the entire afternoon in his car waiting for my grandmother to come home.

The only people on my street that didn’t have dogs were the Vanhoy sisters and Mr. McCandless.  Mr. McCandless lived in the first house off 411.  He farmed a little but primarily raised ducks which he sold to a butcher in town.  He refused to keep any dogs because he was afraid they would kill the ducks or suck the eggs. Mr. McCandless was a crotchety old fellow whom we used to torment.  In the spring and fall, we would walk to school instead of take the bus.  Mr. McCandless would be on his porch reading his paper.  We would stop out of his sight and pass his house one at a time.

The first boy would say, “Good morning Mr. McCandless.”

He would look over his paper and reply, “Good morning boy.”

A couple of minutes later a second boy would pass, “Good morning Mr. McCandless.”

He would lower the paper a little more forcefully and say, “Good morning” In a gruff tone.

And so on with a third and fourth boy and each reply to the “Good morning” getting gruffer and louder.  About the time the fifth boy offered him a good morning, he would jump up, stomp around, throw the newspaper and yell, “Good morning, God dammit, Good morning!”

It was the fall of fifty-five or fifty-six, a few days before Halloween.  The four of us that usually ran together, Junior, Bobby, Joe, and I were walking home from school when Mr. McCandless accosted us in front of his house.  He was carrying a double-barreled shotgun.

He said, “I knowed it’s you boys that turned my shithouse over last year’s Halloween. I’m letten’ you know that I’m spendin’ the night in the shithouse with this here twelve gauge loaded with number six shot.  Jist letten’ you know afore you come messin’ around my shithouse.”

We assured him that it wasn’t us who turned his toilet over the previous year. But he had thrown down the gauntlet.  Now we had to do something.  We had a stock of cherry bombs, and M-80’s that we were saving for New Years, but decided now would be the appropriate time to use them.

We snuck through the woods and came up behind the shithouse. Junior threw a couple of rocks against the outhouse to ascertain if he was actually in there.  He hollered, “I told you,” and stuck the shotgun out the door and fired it.

Joe had the deepest voice and yelled, “Come out of that shithouse with your hands in the air or we will shoot.”

We started lighting the bombs and throwing them around the toilet.

Mr. McCandless yelled, “Git away from my shithouse,” and discharged both barrels through the door.

Mrs. McCandless, thinking that the old man was involved in a gunfight, yelled out the back door, “Herman, I called the Sheriff, stay in the toilet till he gits here.”

Hearing that, we all ran off through the woods.  By the time the deputy sheriff arrived we were safe in the old barn across the road from my house.  The sheriff picked up a group of boys from across the railroad tracks. They were on their way to turn the McCandless outhouse over.  It seems they had been the culprits the previous year.

The other Halloween that stands out in my mind was the year before my dad died.  Four sisters lived about a quarter mile down the road about a quarter mile from our house.  Their last name was Rising.  Most everyone referred to them as the Rising girls. I halfway had a crush on and lusted after one of them, but that is a story for another time. They went to a different school than we did.  The demarcation line between two school districts ran between our houses.  Our school bus came in from 411 and turned around at our drive.  Their school bus came in from 66 and turned around in their yard.

Their mother owned all the land across the road, including the old log barn across from my house.  We had used it for our cows for a while when Hurricane Hazel flooded out our barn.  Other than that it was vacant.  To us, it became the Alamo surrounded by Mexicans or Fort Apache surrounded by Indians.  To the Rising girls, it was a play house or a Sweet Shoppe for their girly games.

That Halloween they came up with the idea to turn it into a haunted barn.  They enlisted our help.  We thought it a good idea and fell enthusiastically into their plan.  They were cutting bats and spiders from craft paper and wanted us to make ghosts.  They had a bunch of old sheets and wanted us to stuff them with straw, paint eyes on them, tie a rope around them and hang them from the rafters. There were also four or five old pairs of overalls and shirts.  They wanted headless bodies lying around.

We worked hard making ghosts and dead bodies.  There was a bag of athletic tube socks included in the pile of clothing.  I came up with the idea and the others, enthusiastically joined in.

We stuffed the socks and put dicks on all the ghosts and dead bodies.

The girls discovered our additions to their creatures about the time my dad came home from work.  As he was getting out of his car, the youngest girl ran over to him and, crying said, “Mr. Salmons, we were trying to make a haunted barn and them mean old boys put Peters on all the ghosts.

My dad gave me a halfhearted ass whipping, but I figure he thought it was funny.  I heard him laughing about it when he told my uncles and cousins.

We had to make our fun at Halloween without the rewards of today’s tame trick or treating.

 

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A Letter to Dad

A Letter to Dad

Anonymous

I’m sitting in my room tonight, I don’t know where to begin
Mom and I are arguing, about writing you again
When I was young we always came
To see the monuments on the Mall
Mom would have me help find your name
Upon the Granite Wall
Mom always told me, you were watching from above
And that you were always with me, showering me with love
Hey dad did you see me hit the ball into the stand?
I was so excited I didn’t watch it land
I’ve been doing good In school, my homework I have saved
I still don’t understand Algebra, but I’m getting an outstanding grade
There is a play in Drama, I got an important part
I get to play the hero, and win the fair damsels heart
We got a small puppy and I named him Jax
He’s smart and energetic, he really loves his snacks
Do you remember Mrs. Bartlett, who lived two doors down
She always baked goodies, for all the kids in town
She got sick last year and passed away, we went to say goodbye
I asked her when she got to heaven if she would meet with you and say hi
We had to move to a new house, it’s small but very nice
The kids I met are different so I could use some advice
The kids here have both their parents, but the kids don’t spend the time
To talk to their parents, I think it’s such a crime
The kids don’t understand the precious gift they have
Of being able to actually talk to their mother and their dad
When I talk to you I know you’re listening, I often feel you near
On the letter tapes you sent to Mom, is a voice I love to hear
I’m learning of the war you fought in our history class
Now I have more questions that I need to ask
Why did you go there, when no one wanted war?
Was it really like they said, with protesters on our shore?
There was so much anger over the war, conflict and strife
But I’m proud of you being there, even though you lost your life
To have such a brave father, I’m proud as I can be
You gave your all for Country, to help others be free
I will not listen to the kids, when they tell all those lies
To me you are a true hero, true honor can’t be disguised
So this ends my letter. It’s now ready to send
Mom is still against it, she doesn’t understand
When she insists that it’s too dangerous to go down to the mall
I smile a small smile and say “58,307 Angels guard me by the Wall”

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Ghosts at the River

Ghosts at the River
By: Garland Davis

It happened on a clear night shortly before Halloween when I was a little boy. I think I was ten or eleven years old. I remember it well. It was the night the ghosts talked Grand Pap into whipping Uncle Buddy and me.

Seven or eight of my cousins, my brothers and I wanted to camp out overnight down by the river. Our parents said okay as long as Buddy stayed with us. Joe Davis Jr. (AKA Buddy) was four years old when I was born. He was more like an older cousin or brother that an uncle. Since buddy and I were the oldest kids, our folks gave us the responsibility of overseeing the activities along the river.

Our parents provided three or four packs of weenies, buns’ and mustard. We also had a box of graham crackers, marshmallows and a couple of Hershey bars each. We were set for a big night on the river.

It was between a quarter and half a mile to the area we had selected for a campground. Buddy had a large square of canvas that he and I pulled over a rope stretched between two trees and pegged the corners down, creating a tent-like structure to sleep in. We each had a quilt to wrap up in.

We set up the camp, gathered stones for a fire ring, pulled up logs to sit on, laid in enough dry wood to keep the fire going all night and settled in for a memorable night. The fire was started, after a couple of arguments about the best way to do it. My cousin Tony, a Boy Scout, tried to start it by rubbing sticks together and got mad when someone else struck a match and set his sticks on fire. This almost started a fight until Uncle Buddy threatened them with bodily harm.

Once the fire was going and the sun was sinking low, we settled in for supper. Weenies were roasted, hot dogs were consumed and marshmallow and chocolate sandwiches were eaten as the mosquitos began snacking on us. Green leaves and water plants were thrown onto the fire to create smoke. I don’t know whether it bothered the mosquitos more than it did us. It did seem to help a bit with the skeeters.

At sunset, as the dusk settled, my little brother and my cousins began to hear things moving in the woods. There was talk of alligators, ghosts, haints and painters (country for haunts and panthers). Buddy and I added to their unrest by periodically exclaiming, “Did you hear that! What’s that noise?”

Buddy says, “I’ll bet it is the haint of Jim Westmoreland and his four boys that drownded in the river back a few years ago. I’ve heered it said that if’n you call out their names, they will come and set with you.”

We were all quiet. One cousin, began crying, saying, “Don’t call them. I’m scared. I don’t want to set with no haints,” as the wind shook the leaves in the trees. By this time, I think staying close to the fire and the dark was the only thing that kept them from running for home.

We all gathered closer to the fire, one cousin adding more wood. I said, “Don’t use up all the wood, it’ll get dark and they will come for sure.”
Buddy laughing, calls out in a loud voice, “Jim, Jim Westmoreland, Bob Westmoreland!”

I joined in calling, “Franklin, Junior, come sit with us.”

My youngest brother begins crying, screaming “I want to go home.”
Buddy and I are laughing. The others are caught between laughing or running. More wood was thrown on the fire. By this time, we had a veritable bonfire going.

“Ooooo, Jim, Bob, William, Franklin, and Junior Westmoreland come set with us. Oooo.” Buddy says laughing. The younger kids were crying and begging to go home.

I threw a stone into the river and yelled, “They’re coming, I hear them in the river!”

My youngest brother wet his pants. The other brother and he broke for the path toward home, both screaming bloody murder. The others took off behind them leaving Buddy and me. Laughing, we put the fire out and followed the path back up to Pap’s house.

Pap was on his way to tend the mash barrels at his still as my brothers and a stream of cousins came screaming into the yard and house. Half of them had wet or messed their britches. They all had tears and snot running down their faces. Their mothers ran to comfort them while their dads were laughing saying, “They held out longer than I thought.”

It seems that a great flood of the river in the early nineteen hundreds had relocated the river from a point near Pap’s place to its present location. The Westmoreland’s had drowned just down from Pap’s still. He had been covering the mash barrels when Jim and his four boys appeared out of nowhere and told him. “Joe Davis, stop them boys from calling us. I thanks they need a good hidin’””

When Uncle Buddy and I got back to the house, Pap took his razor strop down and whipped our butts for disturbing the ghosts.

 

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The Value of Bullshit

The Value of Bullshit

by Bob ‘Dex’ Armstrong

 

There were nights laying alongside with the old girl putting a strain on her lines, keeping her properly aligned in the nest, that it was damn good to be nineteen and alive. Looking back and sifting through the mental pictures that combine to form the ‘connect the dots’ that have become your life… They were some of the best days.

I became a ‘night person’ riding the boats. After 1600, the married guys slowly melted away… They had a place to go… People to see and things to do. But there were some of us who had no place to go or money to do it with… The boat was home… We were the raggedy-ass ‘stay aboards’… The kids who turned up for evening chow and some tired-ass movie.

When we got tired of the movie or found out it was one we had seen a half-dozen times on a run the year before, we’d crawl topside.

We had guys who knew guys on other boats and would go visiting. They were known as the ‘gahdam grasshoppers’.

“Hey Dex, you gonna go grasshoppering tonight? Or, you wanna get a Hearts game up?”

“Screw Hearts… I’m not up for losin’ another fist-load of wampum tonight. Think I’ll go up topside and if nobody has his ass planted on the after capstan, just sit and listen to the water slap up against the tanks.”

“Want company?”

“Sure why not? Grab your foul weather jacket and a cup of coffee… If you want something to sit on, there’s an empty MEK can up forward next to the trunk in the beartrap.”

Sharing time with a shipmate was not wasted time… Sharing dreams of what you wanted in the future… Knowing that a guy was helping to put his kid sister through nursing school or sending money to an eighty-year old granny to put a new roof on her falling down house, made it a lot easier to tolerate his stupid opinions, his idiotic devotion to a loser team and his loyalty to the Ford Motor Company. It is very easy to overlook a lot of dumb stuff a guy says when you know his mom is fighting a losing battle with a terminal condition. Knowing what is inside men’s hearts is what makes sub sailors a tight crew. Anyone who tells you otherwise, never rode smokeboats.

So you sat there, listening to the waves created by stuff passing up and down the Elisabeth river slosh up and down your tanks… Watched the shadows made by your screwguards on the gently rising and falling water between you and the next boat in the nest. You drank bottom of the pot coffee and flipped Marlboro butts into the darkness… Inventoried the stars and engaged in what was affectionately known to old-time boatsailors as ‘bullshitting’.

Civilians call it the art of ‘gentle conversation.’ The words ‘gentle’ or ‘genteel’ never fit the verbal exchange of submariners, so it was just called bullshitting.

Bullshitting in it’s purest form has a thread that allows you to jump from subject to subject… Apply totally stupid logic to solve exceptionally complex problems… Evaluate prominent people far more successful than yourself and discuss the probable merits of having sex with beautiful women who, on a clear day, wouldn’t touch you with a ten-foot boathook.

“Dex, whad’dya think of that Sputnik?”

“I don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Think about Sputnik. Could care less… It’s a harmless little space toy. Can’t see why everybody figures it’s a big deal. Have no interest in space. To me, it’s a big empty void with nothing going on in it, like the inside of a basketball.”

“You think the gahdam Russians really want to blow us all up?”

“Who cares? Whatever you and I think doesn’t matter a whole helluva lot. If they try, they’re going to get one big surprise, ’cause they are going to get a butt-load of that stuff those boomer boats are hauling around and chunks of Russians and pieces of Russian-made crap is gonna be landing all over Kansas for three days.”

“You really think that?”

“Yeah.”

“How ’bout Kroot-chef?”

“What about Kroot-chef?”

“You think he’s a crazy man?”

“Hell, all Russians gotta be nuts… You gotta be crazy as a North Georgia hoot owl to live in that gahdam dump.”

“Dex, when you were a kid, were you scared of the atomic bomb?”

“Didn’t have time to be scared of the atom bomb… I was afraid that Dracula was gonna find me.”

“How old were you when you had your first sexual experience?”

“Eight.”

“Eight?”

“Yeah… We had a little girl in the neighborhood who set up a medical clinic in her old man’s tool shed. She got buck nekkit and let me examine her… I mean she hung her panties and pinafore on a lawn mower handle and Doctor Dex did a complete diagnosis. I couldn’t understand why her chest wasn’t getting lumpy and how in the hell a baby was gonna get out her belly button. My medical career came to ‘All Stop’ when her Mom caught us… My medical career lasted about thirty minutes and raised more questions than it answered.”

“I had somethin’ like that”

“Yeah… What happened?”

“I had an ugly cousin named Alice… She let me lift her dress and pull down her drawers.”

“You learn anything?”

“Yeah… It was a lot of fun.”

“How’d you end up riding the boats?”

“Wanted to get out of Utah.”

“Hell, there’s a lotta ways to get outta Utah without riding a gahdam submarine.”

“I just joined the Navy and ended up at New London… The rest kinda took care of itself.”

“You want another cup of coffee?”

“Sure, why not.”

“Hey Below!”

“Yo…”

“How ’bout one of you worthless bastards drawing two cups for two worthless idiots topside?”

“Sure thing… How do you take it?”

“Black and bitter… Make it two black and bitters.”

That is what bullshitting was. Aimless, go nowhere conversation between men who had no life beyond the tanktops. Lads whose closest friends slept in the same bunks on rotation. Kids in the sunrise of life, indivisibly forever linked by common experience that no one who never did it will ever understand.

Bullshitting was the natural mastic that bonded us in the cohesive team we were… It was the sticky side of the Submarine Force flypaper.

“Think I’ll head below, knock the lid out of a can of peaches then hit the rack.”

“There’s a couple of cans of peaches in the waterway outboard Stuke’s rack… The sonuvabitch has a fully stocked grocery store in that outboard waterway. That’s an E-3 secret so don’t let the below decks watch or anything above a second class catch you going in there… And also keep your mitts off the five boxes of Grape Nuts… They’re mine.”

“Do you guys always hold out on the crew?”

“It’s not holding out… It’s E-3 survival knowledge. When you get qualified, we’ll tell you where we stash the peanut butter. The COB found four boxes of Saltine crackers in the OBA locker and found out we had six frozen pizzas in a box marked ‘liver’ in the reefer. He was actually pissed… The idiot eats liver. We thought nobody actually ate liver on purpose.”

“Well, like I said… I’m heading below.”

“So go… Jeezus, you can’t get lost… Just follow the salvage air plates until you get to a big hole with light at the bottom of it.”

And so, you sat there. The air got chilly and every now and then the topside watch would wander aft… Check his lines and mumble some gripe about having the damn eight to twelve.

“Yeah, it’s a helluva way to make a living… And think we could be freckle inspectors in a WAVE barracks. If I ever catch the sonuvabitch that invented these diesel boats, I’m gonna cut out his heart and eat it.”

“Naw… He’s probably some officer who can smell a boatsailor a mile away.”

“Dick, anyone tell you, you are as nuts as me?”

“No, I’d kill myself.”

“You seen Stuke?”

“Yeah, he went over about an hour ago… Had some good-looking honey waiting for him up in the pierhead parking lot… He was looking for you… When he didn’t find you, he hauled.”

“My luck.”

“Gotta go scribble in the topside log.”

On a clear night you could count the stars up in that empty space and wonder if that Sputnik contraption was really up there running around.

You knew that somewhere, some place, Admiral Arliegh Burke had the helm. He knew and understood his bluejackets. With Admiral Burke standing the conn everything was going to be O.K…. I never had seen God so I didn’t know that he actually existed… But, I had seen Admiral Burke once, and that was all I needed… He was a man who was the ultimate leader and we all knew instinctively that he was the kind of sailor who fully understood the value of E-3 bullshit with coffee.

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“Here Be Monsters”

“Here Be Monsters”

By:  Garland Davis

 

On April 30, 1918, during the waning days of World War I, the British patrol ship HMS Coreopsis, while patrolling off the Belfast Lough in Ireland, spotted a disabled German Submarine, the UB-85, disabled on the surface of the North Atlantic.  This was very unusual, as submarines were rarely sighted during daylight,

The crew of UB-85 was picked up by Coreopsis after they abandoned ship.  The UB-85 commanding officer, Captain Gunther Krech, after being taken aboard Coreopsis was immediately interrogated. He was asked why UB-85 did not submerge once Coreopsis was sighted.

According to Captain Krech, UB-85 had surfaced at night to recharge the boat’s batteries.  Krech was on deck with some crewmembers and a few of his officers getting some fresh air and smoking when an abrupt surge rocked the ship and a heavy weight seemed to pull the starboard bow downward.  The Captain said that a strange beast climbed from the ocean and onto the side of the U-Boat.

He described the beast as having large eyes set in a horny skull. It had a small head with teeth that could be seen glistening in the night.  All the officers and crewmen on watch commenced firing their sidearms at the beast, but the animal had the forward gun mount in its teeth and refused to release the boat.

Captain Krech continued, stating the proportions of the beast were so immense that the U-Boat rocked and listed greatly to starboard.  Fearing that the boat’s open hatch would be pulled below water and subsequently flood the U-Boat and sink it, the Captain ordered his men to continue firing.  The crew maintained fire until the beast finally released the forward guns and disappeared back into the sea.

Krech said that during the struggle, the forward deck plating of the U-Boat was damaged so severely that it was incapable of submerging and why Coreopsis was able to catch the submarine on the surface.  The British cleared UB-85 of any remaining crew and sank the submarine.

Until recently there was no explanation for the events resulting in the sinking of UB-85 and the capture of her crew.  But now, nearly a century later, it looks as if the secrets of UB-85 may finally be revealed. Last week it was announced by energy firm Scottish Power that engineers laying undersea cables had discovered the wreck of a U-boat lying close to the last position of UB-85 reported by the Coreopsis.

Although no photograph of the submarine has been taken, a remarkably clear sonar image certainly shows the unmistakable form of the 180ft craft lying 340ft below the surface.

Unfortunately, the image is not sufficiently defined to show whether the foredeck has been damaged by the monster in the way supposedly described by Krech.

Despite the absurdity of the German commander’s claims, plenty of Scot and Irish locals maintain that UB-85 could well have been set upon by a savage sea serpent.

Among them is Gary Campbell, the keeper of the Official Sightings Record for the Loch Ness Monster. ‘The area of sea where the attack took place has a history of sea monster sightings – they range from the north coast of Wales to Liverpool Bay,’ he said. ‘What the captain said could well be true. It’s great to see how Nessie’s saltwater cousin clearly got involved in helping with the war effort – she even managed to do the damage without anyone being killed.’

It seems like a hoax, but where had it come from, and why was a more plausible story not readily available?

It seems an American naval historian and retired detective from the San Jose Police Department in California called Dwight R. Messimer had done all the hard work to answer that question. He presented it in an obscure 2002 tome called Verschollen [Missing]: World War I U-boat Losses. Captured German files contain at least four interviews with crew members, including Krech himself.

In his account, Krech recalled how he decided to crash-dive the U-boat after he spotted Royal Navy patrol boats. ‘The Navigator reported the conning tower hatch closed,’ he said, ‘but as we went under, heavy flooding occurred through the hatch.’

Now unable to close the hatch, the submarine was clearly in trouble. Water poured from the conning tower into the U-boat, causing the pumps, batteries and electric motors to fail. To make matters even more dangerous, the air was starting to fill up with chlorine gas emitted by the flooded batteries, which meant the crew was either going to drown or be poisoned by the gas.

The only option was to surface, and quickly. Krech ordered the ballast tanks to be blown, and the U-boat rose slowly. However, that did not mean the crew was safe.

Senior stoker Julius Göttschammer reported: ‘We opened the watertight door into the control room and managed to make our way against the in-rushing water into the control room and exit the boat through the conning tower.’

In fact, it is Göttschammer who held the key as to why water had managed to enter the boat from the conning tower – and he laid the blame squarely on Krech.

Göttschammer said Krech had insisted on the installation of a heater in the officers’ compartment. He said the cables to power it had to be run into the control room through the conning tower, compromising its ability to be completely sealed. ‘The result was that the new cables allowed water to flow unhindered from the conning tower,’ said Göttschammer.

Had these new cables not been in place, only the conning tower would have flooded, which would have posed no danger to the submarine.

On the surface, the submarine came under heavy fire from the Coreopsis. ‘We could not return fire because our ammunition was underwater and the water was rising in the boat,’ said Krech. ‘The crew was taken off in rowboats.’

Shortly afterward the submarine sank.

Perhaps I should have titled this piece. “Here Be Space Heaters”

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The Navy Exchange Mobile Canteen

The Navy Exchange Mobile Canteen

By:  Garland Davis

 

“Now the Navy Exchange Mobile Canteen is on the pier.” This word passed over the 1MC would start a veritable stampede beginning in the deepest hole in the Snipes pit, from the dizzying heights of the Signal Bridge, and all points in between.

The Mobile Canteen, commonly known as the “Roach Coach,” the “Geedunk Wagon,” or the “Pogey Bait Truck,” brought a selection of stale candy bars, sodas, peanuts, ice cream, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, hamburgers that tasted as if they were made from ground up roadkill, and hotdogs which would cause you to burp stomach acid that could burn holes in deck plate.

I have seen sailors consume crap from the truck as if it were the finest cuisine.  The same sailor that had bitched about the pork chops and chocolate cake at supper. The whole time, consuming chocolate chip cookies that had probably been lost in the Navy Exchange warehouse for the last eight or nine years.

The Roach Coach could actually be a danger to the ship.  I remember once, in Pearl Harbor, when I was standing OOD, the canteen was on the pier, parked at a point between my ship and the ship moored forward of us.  There was a long line waiting to board the truck for their geedunks.  Most were from the ship ahead of us.  I guess their cooks were more fucked up than my cooks and I were.

Suddenly, the other ship passed, “Fire, Fire, Fire in Number Two Fireroom.”  There was a stampede from the truck toward the gangway of the other ship. Evidently, most of the fire party was on the pier.  I told the Petty Officer of the Watch to call away the fire party to render assistance.  That started another rapid migration toward our gangway.

I remember a time when the Mobile Canteen handed out a form asking for recommendations for merchandise that should be added to the stock.  Of course, everyone wrote, Rubbers, Beer, Pussy, Fuck Books, and Blow Jobs.

The XO of one of the ships I served in, put anyone he considered “obese” on a special diet of his own design.  We had special items on the mess line for them.  I argued that it wasn’t a sufficient diet, that it would barely keep one alive.  The XO was adamant.  The crewmembers the XO placed on the “diet” could not buy from the ship’s store and could not go to the Mobile Canteen.  The XO threatened everyone with Mast if caught giving any of them any food other than the authorized items and quantities from the mess line.

An FN, who was grossly overweight, wrote to his mother, who was a doctor.  He sent her the POD with the XO’s rules and a copy of the diet menu.  The doctor contacted a Senator and Congressman from New York and complained to them that her son was being mistreated and that the diet was extremely unhealthy.  Shortly afterward, the Commanding Officer received a Congressional Letter of Inquiry asking for an explanation for the restricted diet of a valuable constituent’s son.   The XO was told to immediately end any weight control diets and all crewmembers could use the Ship’s Store and Mobile Canteen.  I ended up providing copies of all my menus, recipes, galley worksheets, and portion control directives for the voluminous answer to the senator.

Soon after the end of the diet was made known to the Fireman, word was passed that the mobile canteen was on the pier.  FN was first off the ship.  After he made his purchases, he kept the truck between himself and the pier.  The truck pulled away to reveal him, shirtless, with his big gut hanging over his belt.  He had smeared chocolate candy all over his body and face.  With a candy bar in each hand, he stood there with both middle fingers extended, yelling at the top of his lungs, “Fuck You XO, Fuck You XO.”, like it was a mantra. The XO stood on the O1 level speechless.  Doc called the Naval Hospital and got an ambulance.  FN was taken to the Psychiatric Ward and was sent home as a mental case.

When I was in Ponchatoula, a Petty Officer of the Watch was placed on report and taken to Mast for passing the word, “Now the Roach Coach is making its approach to starboard.”  Word came down that if it happened again, at least thirty days’ restriction and thirty days’ extra duty would befall the offender.

BM2 Pugh’s enlistment was coming to an end and he told the XO on many occasions that he had no desire or intention to reenlist.  The XO hounded him almost daily about shipping over.  He was determined that Pugh wasn’t going to impair his reenlistment percentage.  Pugh was just as adamant that he was leaving the Navy.  Two days before he was to discharge, he had the 16-20 POOW.  The Mobile Canteen was coming down the pier and, you guessed it. Pugh passed “The Roach Coach is making an approach.”

The XO came barreling out of the after house and across the cargo deck toward the Quarter Deck.  When he saw Pugh standing there with a grin on his face he stopped and said, “Well, are you happy Petty Officer Pugh?”

“Pretty much, sir.  Pretty much.”

Many diseases and conditions are attributed to exposure to Agent Orange, a defoliant used during the Vietnam War.  I wonder how many clogged arteries, cases of diabetes, and heart attacks can be attributed to exposure to the Navy Exchange Mobile Canteens?

 

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Liberty Boats, I Don’t Miss ‘em

Liberty Boats, I Don’t Miss ‘em

By:  Garland Davis

 

Remember “swinging on the hook” in Hong Kong, Kaohsiung, Yokosuka, Sasebo, and of course Subic.  Back in the day, when you rode an Ammo ship, the closest to a pier you ever saw was an ammo pier.  These were located in the farthest, most inaccessible place on the base. To get through the gate and pass security at an ammo pier or ammo base usually required an examination just short of an anal probe.  The reason for this was, “I cannot confirm or deny the existence of Nuclear Weapons.”

So there you are, anchored in Hong Kong at the furthest anchorage from the Fleet Landing.  If the anchor chain had been long enough, they would have probably anchored us further out.

All that crap aside.  This story is about Liberty Boats and water taxis.  In Hong Kong, instead of employing the ship’s boats the Navy paid for Water Taxi service.  A water taxi was usually a boat with a low gunnel that, in addition to serving as a water taxi, also was home for the boatman and his family.  It wasn’t unusual to see kids peeking out of the after cabin area at the noisy “Foreign Devils” going to the island to get drunk and debauch innocent Chinese girls.  These boats usually had a one-cylinder engine that made a “pukka—pukka—pukka noise.  There was enough time between the pukkas that you always thought it had died.  Needless to say, these boats were slow. The recommendation was to sleep on the way back to the ship.  Because if you caught the midnight boat, you barely made it back for quarters, or so it seemed.

Yokosuka, Sasebo, and Subic provided a liberty shuttle to all the ships at anchorage.  A large Mike Boat would usually make the rounds, picking up liberty parties, starting with the ship furthest out and then a pick up at each closer ship on the way to the pier.  When returning liberty parties to the ships, they would drop off the nearest ship first and then each further ship until the ammo ship party was dropped.

The Mike boats were LCM landing craft known as “Mike” boats. As liberty parties were loaded, enlisted, except CPO’s, went into the well deck. Officers and Chiefs stood up on deck near the coxswain’s station. As the boat made each of the ships at anchor, the well deck became quite crowded.  The sailors from each ship congregated together.  There was little or no interaction between the various ships crews other than the occasional instance when old shipmates met and talked on the way into port.

The return trips were different.  Especially, the late trips.  The boats loaded and the duty officer at the pier yelled, “Cox’ shove off and carry out your orders.”

The coxswain replied, “Aye, Aye Sir.”  Fired up his engine as the bow hook took in the lines.

This was about the time when someone puked and soiled the uniform of a sailor from another ship.  That was akin to striking a match to a tub of gasoline.  After a few words between the parties, shipmates joined in the verbal war until the well deck of the Mike boat suddenly devolved into a WWF cage fight.

There was usually a soft hat Shore Patrolman assigned to the boat.  The dumb ones who tried to break up the fights sometimes found themselves playing the part of Oscar in an actual man overboard.  The smart ones cowered in the after corner with the SP Brassard on their left arm hidden. The fights usually ended when the coxswain went dead in the water and threatened to return to the Fleet Landing and file charges against everyone with the shore patrol.

During the ’63-’64 cruise I made in Vesuvius, we operated with the Cacapon AO-52 almost the entire time.  We shared many liberty boats with Cacapon.  I don’t remember why, if I ever did know, but sailors from Vesuvius and the tanker fought each in the streets, the bars, and most of all, in the liberty boats that whole cruise.  I do recall a short truce being formed between the two crews when we fought a group of Aussie sailors in the EM Club in Subic. We were friends and drinking buddies that night.

Since most of us had Cinderella liberty in those days, liberty expired at 2400 at the Fleet Landing.  As the witching hour rapidly approached the tempo of drinking increased.  Smuggling a bottle onto the liberty boat permitted one to drink longer. I have seen more bottles being passed around in a liberty boat than were displayed in some of the bars we frequented.  The coxswain could just follow the trail of floating bottles back to the landing.

The riding of liberty boats during a thirty-year career weaned me of any desire to go boating.  They were just a conveyance to some of the sleaziest places known to Western civilization, in other words, a sailor’s paradise.

I always say, “A sailor going for a boat ride when he doesn’t have to is like a postman taking a walk on his day off.”

Just another chapter in the story of a sailor out on the far rim of the Pacific.

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