Chapter Seven - The US Navy and World War II




	The mess went on for five or six days. We kept refusing to wash
clothes. The gunnery officer left the ship and one member of the gun
crew left and came back with a quart of whiskey and started drinking. He
got pretty drunk and when we went to the gunners mess for coffee he came
in. There was a long shelf with jars of pickles in mustard and he took a
jar and broke it against the wall (okay, bulkhead). He thought it was
such a pretty stain that he did three or four more. The merchant mess
boy went for the gunnery officer and when he walked in the drunk gun
crew member said, "There is that long, tall, ugly son of a you-know-what
I have been looking for." He reached in his pocket and pulled out a long
knife and told the gunnery officer he was going to kill him. The gunnery
officer said, "These men are not going to let you hurt me." He then
looked at us and told us to take care of the guy. We looked back and
told him what that boy did was no concern of ours and if he wanted to
kill a snake that was his business. The gunnery officer had a 38
revolver but was too chicken to draw it. Finally the boy charged him
with the knife and I stuck my foot out and tripped him and then took the
knife. The gunnery officer left the ship in a hurry. Several hours later
a boat came along side and two shore patrol people came on board. They
had a list of names and had us pack our stuff and lash our sea bags and
hammocks and come with them.

	They took us to the Brooklyn Armed Guard Center and we were
given a bunk. The next morning they said they did not have the complete
story and we were to come to the office every hour and sign in. We
checked at four PM and were told we could go on liberty but to resume
signing in the next morning. The one that had threatened the gunnery
officer was not allowed to go. The next day we were told to just sign in
every two hours and the day after that it was changed to twice a day. We
met as a group and talked about what was going on and decided something
had happened to the gunnery officer before he filed a report. It was
decided that it would be best to get on another ship and I was elected
to talk to Commander Coakley, the center commander. I made an
appointment and asked him if we could be assigned to another ship as we
wanted to get on with the war. He checked and said the gunnery officer
had listed all names and indicated a serious charge would be filed
against one man and he had to assume the rest of us were witnesses. I
told him none of us had seen anything. He sent for the entire crew and
each man said he had seen nothing. He selected one man at random as a
witness and said the rest of us would be assigned to ships but no two of
us would be aboard the same ship. I met the gunnery officer one time
after that but never learned what happened.

THE S.S.CHARLES SUMNER

	They were desperate for Gunners Mates and I was promoted to
Gunners Mate Second Class and assigned to the S.S. Charles Sumner. We
made trips to Great Britain. This ship was very slow as they were trying
a new device. They had huge steel nets secured to the forward and after
booms on each side of the ship. When we got to sea they lowered the nets
in the water. They were designed to intercept torpedos. They reduced
maximum speed from twelve knots to eight knots. We thought they were
really ludicrous until they pulled them up and the merchant crew said a
torpedo was hung in one of them. They had to get a special crew to
remove it. I still really doubt they were worth the effort. We
considered them to be a lot like the devices they always installed on
the deck when we were in Great Britain. The British came aboard and
installed small rockets with a box of wire next to them. We attached one
end of the wire to the rocket and if planes dived at us we were supposed
to fire the rockets and the wire was supposed to get tangled in the
propellers of the plane. We fired one now and then just to watch the
wire fly in the air but never fired one at a plane. I did not personally
see the torpedo in the nets, but the merchant crew we had was a pretty
honest group.

	We took on cargo for Great Britain. We returned to England and
docked in Liverpool. The gunnery officer got us cleared for liberty but
we could not be paid until the next day. None of the gun crew had any
money. The chief cook, a Black man, was a good friend or maybe we just
had a good working relationship. I frequently gave him steel wool to use
in cleaning the stove. Anyway, he asked if I wanted to go along as his
guest as he had plenty of money. He said his girl friend had a daughter
I could date. I just looked at him and he laughed and said they were
white. I decided to tag along. We picked up the girls and started going
from pub to pub and soon he was pushing his drink over to me every time
he ordered a round. I began to get pretty looped. He went to the bar and
bought five or six bottles of wine and had them put them in a cloth bag.
We left and headed for the girls' house but I had a problem seeing and
kept stumbling. The cook came back and got the wine and told me to come
on. I suddenly went totally blind and yelled for them but they did not
hear me and I ran into a wall. I got up and felt my way along and came
to a door I could tell was a pub from the sound. I went in and felt my
way around and found the bar. I decided a drink might clear my sight up
and ordered a scotch. I drank it down and the bartender was asking for
money. I remembered I did not have any and told him. He got very loud
about it and soon several people were slapping me around. I could not
even see who they were. I heard a voice say (imagine this in a thick
cockney accent) " I say now, the Yank is getting the worst of it, don't
you think?" Soon there were more voices telling the ones who were
slapping me around to quit. It got louder and louder and I slid down to
the end of the bar and found another drink.

	The police came and restored order and asked about me. My new
friends paid for my drink and vook me with them and put me to bed. I
remember waking up several hours later and I was still blind. I got real
sick and vomited and I knew I had my sight back as I could see I had
vomited all over my hat. About six o'clock they woke me up and gave me a
bottle of beer and told me to go back to sleep. Later on they woke me
again and gave me a cup of tea and told me to get up and dress. I told
them I had ruined my hat and they said they had already washed and dried
it. I got up and dressed and they took me to breakfast with them. I was
surprised at the small breakfast they got, just a small piece of liver
and a piece of bread.

	They told me I was in an anti aircraft unit. They had not liked
the treatment I was getting, not fair even for a Yank, eh what? They
wrote directions for getting back to the ship and determined the cost
and took up a collection. They were really nice to me and were very
concerned. I started for the ship and found the first tram and made it
okay to the place I was supposed to change. I made that okay but when I
made the next change and got on the last tram I found I had over paid
someone and did not have enough money. I got off and started walking
down the tram tracks and eventually made it to the ship and went to bed.

	In a little while someone woke me and said the gunnery officer
wanted me at muster immediately. I told him to go to hell. He came right
back and said the gunnery officer said I was to get up there
immediately. I told him to tell the gunnery officer to go to hell. The
next time my ribs were punched I told him to tell the son of a
you-know-what to go to hell. The voice said, "This is the son of a
you-know-what" and I said, "Go to hell son of a you-know-what." I was
put on report, which meant he was going to tell Commander Coakley I had
been a bad boy. The first offense before Commander Coakley was always a
year in the Naval pen at Portsmouth. I was hurting too much to care.
Castration would have been better than getting up.

	I finally got out of bed the next day some time and apologized
to the gunnery officer in front of the entire crew and he tore up the
report. I knew I would not have done that if one of the men had done me
that way and I admired him and made a public apology every day for a
full week. He was a good man, interested only in what was best for his
crew and the war effort and there was not a vindictive bone in his body.
I have never had the qualities he did and I admired him very much.

THE S.S.LEWIS LUCKENBACH

	Next I was assigned to the SS Lewis Luckenbach, a terrific
German made freighter. The Luckenbach was not as new as the Liberty
ships but it was ten times tougher. The merchant marine
captain was a tough old bird and immensely proud of the Lewis
Luckenbach. He would even be caught talking to the ship once in awhile.
If we were assigned to a convoy he would find a way to get lost from it.
Convoys were miserable with all the zig zagging and escorts running
around and speed reduced to the speed of the slowest vessel.

	Our rooms were terrific, with beautifully panelled walls and
nice decks. Some of the gun crew found a way into the after hold and
discovered we had a cargo of scotch whiskey labeled as communications
equipment and also a shipment of candy in five pound boxes. They knew
none of this was for enlisted men so they confiscated our share. They
also found several crates of cigarettes in the old Lucky Strike green
packages. They took our share and removed the panels in one of the
quarters and stored the loot behind the panels.

	The thefts did not go unnoticed when we got to England. The ship
was searched from stem to stern and then a guard put on board to search
us when we left the ship. The next day they gave up and the crew was
free to start using the booty. They had a great time drinking scotch and
eating chocolate candy. They never did get all the cigarettes out of the
Luckenbach. Cigarettes were only fifty cents a carton at sea and most of
us preferred to pay that and smoke the brands we wanted, like Camels for
me.

	The British always refused to give us the ballast we needed for
the return trip and the ships usually rode much too high and were too
rough in high seas. The Luckenbach was not as rough as the Liberty
ships. 

THE S.S.ESSO PROVIDENCE

	My last ship was a Tanker, the S.S.Esso Providence. I decided I
was going to start saving money. They told us we would be gone about
three months so I tore up my partial pay card so there was no way I
could draw any money during that three months. The problem with that was
we were gone much longer than they said we would be.

	We went up a large river to Carapito, Venezuela. There was
nothing at the docks except valves and hoses. They started filling our
tanks with oil. I met one of the workers and we became friends. He
called someone and then told me he had permission to invite our entire
gun crew to their club that night. I cleared it with the gunnery officer
and they sent a small train down the narrow gage railroad to pick us up.
The entire area was filled in swamp land. Their quarters and club were
three or four miles from the river.

	We had a really great time at their club and they invited us to
visit them whenever we were there. Our crew was the first crew they had
ever invited. We knew we were going to Montevideo, Uruguay and then come
back so they gave the gunnery officer money to buy some whiskey for
them. We visited them five or six times.

	Montevideo was my favorite city in South America. On our way
there my one remaining wisdom tooth started hurting. It was the worst
pain I have ever suffered. We did not have a doctor so I got a bottle of
APC tablets and chewed them day and night. When we got to Montevideo the
gunnery officer took me with him to the port director's office and they
called a dentist for me. I went to the dentist and he was an American
dentist with twenty-five Uruguayan dentists working for him. He turned
me over to one of them and he knew two words of English, namely "spit"
and "hurt?" He gave me novocaine and said, "spit." and after a few
minutes checked the tooth and said "hurt?" Naturally I screamed and he
smiled and gave me more novocaine and repeated the dialogue. About the
fourth time he used the "hurt" routine and I nodded my head, he smiled
and held up the tooth. It was abscessed and they normally do not remove
them until they have treated the abscess but that one was out of there.

	I had told the gunnery officer to tell the six ship mates I
buddied around with where I would be (a bar naturally) and I went there
and got a quart of whiskey. My mouth was numb and the whiskey had no
taste but I managed to drink the entire quart before they got there.
They ordered another quart and the seven of us drank it. Another quart
was ordered and we drank it. I was amazed that I did not feel the
slightest bit drunk and decided the novocaine prevented you from getting
drunk. I was clear headed and did not feel any effects of the alcohol.
We decided to move on and I stood up and that was the last thing I knew
until the next morning.

	I woke up the next morning and some Uruguayan girl was standing
by the bed yelling for money. I did not even know where I was. I looked
around for my clothes and they were not in sight. I got up and searched
the room with no luck. I asked the girl and she just wanted money. A man
came in and I asked him about my clothes. He claimed I came in without
them. I tried to borrow some clothes and he just repeated the girl's
demand for money. I took a sheet off the bed and wrapped it around me
and left the premises. The sign outside said "Good Girls" but one of the
good girls was still running along behind me and yelling in Spanish or
Portuguese.

	I got to the docks and talked the guys there into taking me to
the tanker without identification. I walked up the gangway in my sheet
and the gunnery officer was laughing so hard he laid down on the deck
whooping with laughter. I stepped on his stomach and dropped my sheet in
his face and said, "Peasant!" and went to my room and to bed. I got up
the same day and confronted my "buddies" and they brought me my clothes
and billfold. They said they had drug me all over Montevideo and finally
got me a girl. They put me in bed with her and took all my stuff to keep
me from getting robbed. They forgot which house they had taken me to and
came back to the ship. They had told the guys at the boat house to watch
out for a naked sailor and bring him to the tanker.

	I went to one of the places that made butterfly trays and one of
the guys sketched the tanker and the club house in Carapito for them and
I got them to make a huge butterfly tray for our friends in Carapito. We
gave it to them on the next trip and they hung it on the wall. We loaded
with oil and headed for La Libertad, Ecuador. The Straits of Magellan
was fogged in and the captain was delighted as he had always wanted to
go around Cape Horn. That has to be the roughest water in the world. We
lost two of our rafts on the way around. We did make it though and then
on to Ecuador. La Libertad was really nothing but a village with shacks
on stilts and goats running around under them. There was a lively grass
skirt business and we all bought some of them. When we got back to the
docks a man in uniform demanded to see our purchases and levied duty on
them several times the amount of the cost. We refused to pay and he said
we could not leave. There was a little shack on the end of the dock and
he went in it. We were just going to close the door and try to lock him
in but during the fracas the shack went over the edge into the water. We
got in the boat and went to the tanker. The ship had finished unloading
and when we told the gunnery officer what happened he talked to the
captain and we left La Libertad hurriedly.

	We went to every country in South America except Paraguay. It
was a real milk run except we were delivering oil. We were on the way to
Montevideo again when apparently a submarine fired a torpedo at us and
knocked our rudder off. We could not steer and we expected the sub to
come up and finish the job but nothing happened. The Navy had a mine
sweeper in the area and they came and patrolled around us. A tug came
and tried to tow us but we were too heavy. Another tug came in and the
two of them could not tow us. They managed to get us to Fortaleza,
Brazil and the mine sweeper came with us. Esso sent another tanker and
we transferred our oil to it. The two Navy tugs still could not tow us
and we managed to get back to Fortaleza. We were given liberty and
shared a boat with the Mine Sweeper. It took us to the beach and then we
went to town in a truck.

	We got back to the truck and a sailor from the mine sweeper was
laying down on the seat on one side and there was no room to sit down. I
woke him and asked him to sit up and he told me what to do to myself. I
ignored him as long as I could. There was a Chief Petty Officer from the
mine sweeper there and I asked him to control his man but he refused.
The guy wanted to fight so I got out of the truck and drug him out and
beat on him awhile. I thought that would shut him up but after we got on
the boat he came and sat down beside me and made some really obscene
comments about my Mother. I just stood up and grabbed his hair and
pulled him up and hit him and knocked him in the ocean. I sat down and
said nothing. When we got to the mine sweeper they asked where he was
and I pointed and said, "back there." I found out later that he did not
drown, unfortunately.

	A commercial tug finally came from Newport News, Virginia and it
was smaller than either of the Navy tugs. The Navy tugs had tried to tow
us and when we were moving we would just drag them the way we were
headed. The commercial tug tied on to the stern and told the captain to
provide the power. When we started veering the wrong direction the tug
would just pull the stern around to compensate. We had no problem at all
and were soon in dry dock in Newport News.

	We were sent to the Brooklyn Armed Guard Center to wait on
another ship. Remember I told you I had vorn up my partial pay card to
save money during the three month trip and that we were gone much longer
than that. These ship mates had been loaning and giving me money all
that time and I owed them. None of them would accept payment so I talked
them into a night on the town at my expense. There were twenty eight of
us and I drew $1700. We went out to paint the town red. We went to a
restaurant and ate and then went to a bar in Brooklyn. We went to Harlem
and finally to Manhattan. None of us were feeling any pain. As a finale
we rounded up twenty eight taxis with roof windows and formed a convoy
back to the Brooklyn Armed Guard Center. It was a real parade. I spent
the whole bankroll that one night. To top it off, the Ensign on duty at
the center thought we were too boisterous and I told him he was cute
when he was mad and kissed him on the cheek. He told the Master at Arms
to put me on report. The Master at Arms drug me to the rear of the
building and started laughing when we were out of sight. He told me to
get lost, fast.

	I did not want to skip around and write about Sally every time
the ship went to Brooklyn. Sally was a special person in my life. I met
Sally in the Coliseum Restaurant on 3rd Avenue the first time I went to
Brooklyn. I spent practically every free minute with her when I was on
liberty in Brooklyn. I do not know how to describe Sally or the feelings
we had for one another. If I had to describe her I would just say she
was a girl or maybe even the girl. She had far more than her rightful
share of beauty. Even if she had been ugly it would not have mattered.
Appearances were not a part of our relationship. She was Sally and I was
Tom and that was all that seemed important. It was not even significant
to me that she buddied around with other guys when I was at sea. I did
not expect her to sit at home. When she wrote me she might just say "Hi"
on a single sheet of paper and no more. It was enough. Once she just
sent me an empty envelope.

	When I got to Brooklyn I knew about where Sally would be and I
always found her. If some guy was with her I would tell him to get lost
and if he did not get lost I would hit him. If Sally saw me coming she
would tell the guy to go away before I got there. 

	Sally always ran around with Florence Delgado. Speedy dated
Florence more because she was with Sally than any other reason. Florence
was nuts about Speedy but he really did not care for her much. I guess
he dated her for my sake so the four of us could pal around together. We
had some really great times and once in awhile some lousy times. The
lousy times always started because Speedy would get fed up with
Florence. Sex was never involved in our relationship.

	Speedy and I went on liberty one night and he said he would like
to have a night away from the girls, maybe just go somewhere and start a
fight. I agreed and two or three minutes later we ran into Sally and
Florence. I told them we were having a night for just boys and we turned
and walked away. They followed us every place we went. We walked down
and waited on a Staten Island Ferry to pull out and jumped on the ferry
after it had pulled out and waved good-bye to the girls.
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Chapter Seven Concludes

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