“Now Muster a Stores Working Party…”
By Brion Boyles
USS MONTICELLO (LSD-35), ’79 or ’80, shipyards at Swan Island Marine Works, Portland, OR:
I was a young, mischievous seaman Quartermaster, little more than a year or so into my Navy career.
We were in the process of moving the crew aboard a Vietnam-era barracks barge tied up alongside the “MoBoat.” MONTICELLO’s senior cook was an ornery, hated, skimpy-rationing, prematurely bald-headed MS1 (Mess Specialist First Class) of questionable intellect. He had arranged for an all-hands work party to transfer the ships’ food stores to the storerooms and reefers on the barge, while work was being done to those on our ship.
It was going to be a long day of hard work…and NO ONE was happy about it.
Beginning at 0900, a line of about 100 sailors ran from 3 decks below the main deck of the “MoBoat”, up to and across the Quarterdeck, into the barge and down 3 decks. As the MS1 couldn’t be everywhere at once, all manner of foodstuffs where subject to all the sailor abuse and skylarking 100 unsupervised 18-19 year-olds could think of.
Guys were playing hockey with the contents of a split box of frozen “veal patties” in one passageway; some were tossing loose frozen Cornish hens over the side to see who could make the biggest splash. The much-hated frozen tamales were broken open and lobbed thru the air like hand-grenades. Hell, one corridor looked like a Timothy Leary LSD-induced nightmare… green, orange and red from a fight involving 1-pound Kool-Aid packets.
I myself was stationed at the foot of a ladder, taking stuff handed down from above and handing it around to go another deck down.
All this activity got me thinking, though…
I had the good luck to have rented a little hootch in Vancouver, across the river with another shipmate, a fellow Quartermaster. While he and I could afford the rent, filling our pantry and fridge was another matter. With all this food passing by, the temptation was just too great.
I began accumulating a stash of bounty behind the open hatch… first a box of frozen pork chops… then a huge bag of lobster tails and fish filets…several bags of frozen shrimp…rasher upon rasher of bacon… great big blocks of ham and Swiss cheese… No. 10 cans of clam chowder, corn, beans… another box of steaks…
When the work party broke for chow, I went to my berthing compartment and retrieved a couple of empty seabags, returned to my pile and stuffed it all in… and brought it back down to my berthing. I hadn’t quite planned this out very well, so I placed the full seabags in an empty top bunk and threw a blanket over them. Now, my treasure looked just like a sailor taking a nooner in our darkened berthing. Satisfied I had successfully covered my crime, I thought, “Good. Off to get some hot chow.”
About 20-25 minutes later, I went below to catch a catnap myself.
When I got below, I could barely make out my LPO (Leading Petty Officer); a fat, usually-drunk but jolly Navajo named QM2 Z*****a (“The Zoomer”) napping in the middle bunk, directly under my secret trove. All seemed secure.
After about 5 minutes, Zoomer mumbled out, “Anybody smell FISH?”
To my utter horror, I realized my stuff was beginning to thaw…and drip down onto Zoomer’s rack! I was just about to freak when the ship’s announcement system (1MC) burst out “Turn to…Continue ship’s work!”
Lunch-time was over.
Zoomer thankfully popped up and was gone in a few seconds (probably headed for sick-bay to ask for another bottle of “cough syrup”…).
Nonetheless, I had to think fast.
Bold action was required.
On this day I had the “duty”…which meant that I couldn’;t leave the ship unless I was on official business. What to do?
I went up to the ship’s post office and confided to a buddy… Our postal clerk (PC3) was a good friend and compatriot in many petty shipboard crimes. He said he was going to take the ship’s van on a run to the Post Office out in town soon… and I asked for a ride.
“Sure…no problem. Meet me in 5 minutes.”
With that, I loaded up the two seabags on my shoulder, walked straight up to the Quarterdeck, and asked for the keys to the van… “Postal run. Giving PC3 a hand with the mail.”
I was afraid the Officer-Of-The-Deck would become curious about a load of off-going mail that would rival the entire Christmas season, but no…
Still, trying not to show panic…a trickle of ice-cold water from one of the seabags was now was running down the back of my neck … I took the van keys from the Officer-Of-The-Deck and fled down the gangway, trailing the faint odor of lobster tails…
PC3 arrived at the van, and drove me to my little place…leaving me there while he went to the Post Office on his legitimate business. I was gonna stow this stuff and catch a ride back to the ship with him… and dream about the feast to be had when I got off the ship and home the next day.
Problem: The capacity of our tiny refrigerator’s freezer was hardly more than a few pints of ice cream.
Now in full panic, I stuffed as much of my loot into the itty-bitty freezer compartment as I could… but what to do? I still had a TON of it to go…
Find more freezer…and fast.
I called the house of a shipmate and spoke to his wife (one of a large group of wives who regularly partied at our house).
“Sure. We have some freezer space. Bring it on over….IF we can have some of it…”
Well, OK. No time for argument.
PC3 returned in the van…and was cool with yet another side trip. I still had at 1 and 1/2 seabags of frozen stuff… and my shipmate’s wife’s eyes bulged when she saw it…but again, time was running out.
“Do what you have to do,” I instructed, as we peeled out of her driveway and back to the ship.
“Whew! What a guy has to do to get something to eat!”
The next day, my roommate and I pulled up to retrieve my ill-gotten gains. We had decided to throw one helluva dinner party to reduce the pile… and pack our fridge with ice to preserve the rest for as long as possible.
However, our shipmate’s wife had run into storage difficulties of her own…and some stupidity.
“I unpacked EVERYTHING and wrapped it all… individually… in aluminum foil…and so only a tiny bit fit in OUR freezer. I had to ask my friend (yet ANOTHER Navy wife) to hold the rest. We can go get it, but…
You guys owe me $60 for 20 rolls of aluminum foil.”
Well, I paid her…and then she took us to her friends’ house.
Our knock on the door was answered by her friend, and we went inside…
…and there, sitting on the living room Laz-E-Boy…
…was MS1…with a huge shit-eating grin.
“Nice try, boys. Thanks for the gift.”
By the way, a few months later… PC3 walked off the ship with the keys to the van…the money order machine, and a seabag-full of blank money orders. They caught up with him in Florida about a year later.