The Night I Was Nearly Captured
By: Pat Dingle
I’m guessing now but I think it was in 1966 on our second tour when the USS Yorktown was relieved in the Gulf of Tonkin by another CVS for the search and rescue of pilots who could make it out near the coast or to the Gulf after being hit. We were ordered to steam southeast to the ass end of the South China Sea to take part in a South East Asian Treaty Organization (S.E.A.T.O.) naval maneuvers with U.S., Pilipino, Australian, Thailand and England navy war ships. I gathered it was meant to reassure our allies and show the Commies we’re in full cooperation with each other. I recall I talked with the Brits and Aussies over the radio network from our respective Combat Information Centers (CIC) while conducting war games for about a week (I’m guessing our side won). At the end of the mixed fleet operations we all headed east to Subic Bay but instead of our normal berthing, we dropped anchor in the bay, off Manila, along with the rest of the mixed bag of war ships, meaning we had to take our liberty boats ashore. If I recall correctly we landed right by the famous old Manila Hotel, an upscale landmark. There were about six of us guys from OI division going over together and I remember walking into that hotel with potted palms, doormen and tuxedos everywhere along with dirty glances from most guests and staff at us heathens. I took it that we’re not the first sailors to sully the premises but didn’t see the No Sailors sign posted anywhere. Still, we could take a hint (and no service) so we moved on until locating a bar more suited to our class of customer.
Seems the Manila Hotel also held a dim view of Aussie sailors because the first good joint we found was already full of them. I remember bellying up to the bar for the first of many 7-7s that night when one Aussie walked up to the one I’m sitting next to and said “Mate, I don’t like your looks”, hauled off and slugged him so hard in the face he dropped off the bar stool like he had been shot in the head. Sitting on his ass rubbing his jaw the Aussie on the floor replied “Neither do I mate”, got up and bought his critic a drink. They were the best of buddies after that, and I’m sure long before. Shit, we’re drinking with a rough crowd here and only six of us more civilized American sailors. Fate stepped in and soon we were buying them drinks almost as fast as they were buying us drinks, each with a toast. Shortly it came down to whose Navy sucked the most with examples of unfair use and abuse flying back and forth. But when it was revealed that your first hitch in the Aussie Navy was a mandatory twelve years, we immediately conceded that they and their Navy really sucked the most. Pleased upon hearing that they won the “Who Sucks The Most Contest” they bought more rounds for us six losers.
Late in the evening and God knows how much booze consumed, the diplomatic relations efforts between our two countries got around to which Navy had the better-looking uniforms. This time, it was a tie, I thought they did and my new down under mate thought we did. Under the circumstances and to be fair, I got (slid) off my bar stool and stripped down to my skivvies and said something like “Here, you like it so much, take it”. And he did. But he also was a fair man so he too stripped down and handed me his uniform. Who am I to refuse a gift from our closest allies against the commie bastards and any and all others who tried to walk into our bar that night. Right there and then before the cheering crowd, we put on the other’s uniform while less daring drunks only traded hats. Was this becoming a great liberty or what? Now I’m in the Aussie Navy and telling my former OI companions to bugger off in my best Aussie accent. It was about this time the shore patrol came in and told everyone it was time to head to the beach and get in the liberty boats and go back to our respective ship’s last call. We all decided to go together and when we stumbled down to the docks, we all got aboard the same Yorktown boat, now an unwilling water taxi, along with other inebriated sailors from other ships who seemed lost as well. The festivities from the bars came with us, most in a mix of different uniforms from three or four different ships.
The liberty boat first pulled up to the Aussie ship’s sea ladder and a few of them crawled up it on their hands and knees like they know the drill. The OOD up topside was yelling for the few Aussie’s still in the boat who wanted to go AWOL to get up there or they’re coming down. We offered sincere sanctuary aboard the Yorktown assuring them it was so big they’ll never find you but in the end they too went up the ladder. I’m just sitting near the back of the boat trying to understand what’s going on around me cause the Aussie OOD and other thugs up topside kept screaming down to us Americans left in the boat to get up there right now or else. It was all so baffling and our coxswain wouldn’t pull away until the offending Aussie was captured and flogged. They took a few steps down the ladder, now enraged at the insubordination of a lone Aussie in the boat who refusing direct orders to come up topside. The officer and his backup were coming down the first few steps on the ladder pointing at the about to be convict when it hit me. They’re after ME, in a full Aussie uniform. I stood up in the boat, mustered up the only proper response I could think of to help clarify the situation, and shouted from the top of my lungs “FUCK YOU”. Oh shit, now they’re scrambling down the ladder to snatch my young impersonating one of them teenage ass and throw me in irons aboard an enemy ship for years. I heard all about it back at the bar just a little while ago.
Fortunately, our Yorktown coxswain thought that was a very American response indeed and backed the boat up just as they were about to board us with a cutlass in hand. As we moved away from the Aussie ship all our hard drunk efforts at improving relations between our two navies sunk with each catcall from us to them and back at us. And a good time was had by all. When we pulled up to the Yorktown’s ladder guys in the boat were patting me on the back for having a way with words under adverse conditions. If I wasn’t so drunk I could have agreed with that but as it was I couldn’t get any words out, all I could do to very slowly climb our sea ladder, salute, and remember request permission to come aboard Sir. Our JOOD had a very sad disappointed look on his face as he just nodded his head OK, if you must. I made my way down to the OI compartment with a little help from my friends and crashed on top of my rack wearing a full dress Aussie Navy uniform. Was this a great liberty or what?