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?



4 thoughts on “The Navy Exchange Mobile Canteen

  1. Bob Cornish HMCM ret says:

    I remember being moored at pier 3, in San Diego, in the mid 70’s. We would go over to the EM club for liquid lunch and stay until we could no longer remain in the club wearing dungarees. We would stumble back to the ship, change, then return to the club for another round of drinking. Would crawl out of the club and wait at the head of the pier for the roach coach; after a day of drinking those roach coach burgers tasted good. Sadly, today’s sailors will never experience, or get away, with that kind of behavior.


  2. robert pete says:

    After being hounded by the Career Counselor to reenlist, I told him my plan was to get out of the navy and leave submarines forever. My first step was to go get a job for Krispy Kreme Donuts driving their delivery truck in Charleston South Carolina. Every morning I would stop in front of the USS Batfish and yell “Free donuts for the Batfish!” and just as the topside watch would get halfway down the brow, I would jump up and down on the box of donuts. The plan was to do this every day for the rest of my life.


  3. Mike Herron LCDR Ret. says:

    As an RD3 I was PO of the watch on the USS Horne DLG-30. We were going through RefTra in 1970 and were at anchor in San Diego Bay on a Saturday afternoon. The Navy Exchange Floating Canteen was making a run to the Horne. I passed the word ” Muster Weapons Dept to starboard to repel the Navy Exchange Floating Canteen. The CDO was on the QD in about 5 seconds. He took one look at me and started laughing. He said he had never heard that one before and he better never here it again. I gave him a aye aye and was thankful I wasn’t in trouble.


  4. It used to amaze that so many sailors would opt to eat the items available on the “roach coach”, especially when the chow being served on the mess decks was so much better and healthy for the blue jacket. Maybe i was fortunate as all of my ships were good feeders.


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