By Commander Ed Bookhardt, US Navy, Retired
Chief Frank Connelly was in one of his scowling morning muster moods. “What in hell is some jerk-off named “Sargent” doing in my Navy? Why didn’t the kid join the Marine Corps where he could have started out as a Private Sergeant? [Chuckles] On the other hand, explaining “Sergeant Sargent” if the piss-ant ever got that far would have probably caused him some “Major” [laughter] headaches!”
Moments before he had been lamenting to some of the plane captains his peeve of the hour, Navy pay or lack thereof…“Ike still had his friggin’ “old General’s” attitude that all the enlisted man in these Armed Forces needs is a cot and three-hots! There hasn’t been a damn pay-raise since Eisenhower has been in office! It’s a down right crying shame! Congress ain’t going to act if the Commander-in-Chief doesn’t give a diddly crap! Doesn’t he realize we’re not eighteen-year old Buck Privates…hell, most of us are career men with families to feed!”
Connelly liked to hear himself do the B&Ms [bitchin’ and moanin’] for which he was a pro. Pacing back and forth behind his beat-up metal desk, he scanned the Plan of the Day clipboard while taking a long swig from a chipped brown-stained mug. Over dramatizing, he groaned at the foul tasting brew and banged it down on the desk. A half smoked Camel teetering on the edge of the wire “IN” basket rolled off on the desk. To the delight of the crew, Jim Fowler the Division Yeoman standing behind Connelly’s had been mimicking his antics. Fowler liked the colorful old curmudgeon and enjoyed his warm hearted chatter…the Chief was definitely a master.
Before dismissing muster he said, “Fowler, pick up Sargent from Personnel and finish checking him. I will dub him as our new division Jack-o-the-dust. Then we will let Striker Barnes here go out on the line and play with the airplanes before his damn coffee kills me!” Connelly coughs and beats his chest a couple of time to emphasize his remark. “Barnes you are now appointed number three wiper on the Skipper’s shiny new Bearcat. Jackson is plane captain, you will report to him.”
AD1 Jackson beaming nodded concurrence. Connelly pleased with his decision stopped pacing, unbuttoned his Aviation Green jacket and sat down. Propping his feet on the desk and picked up the still smoldering cigarette he looked about with a menacing stare bellowing, “Well, what are you people standing around with your fingers up your butts, get the hell outta’ here and do something to make your old Chief proud!”
“Chief, this is Airman Aaron Sargent. I got him checked in and assigned a bunk and locker. Sargent, this is Chief Connelly the Squadron Leading Chief.” Connelly squinting one eye, took a drag on the cigarette…hesitated a moment then said, “ Well Son, you’re going to be working here in the line shack doing odd jobs, running errands, making coffee and keeping the place squared away.” Taking another deep drag…he coughed several times before continuing. “Now let’s get one thing straight from the start, there are no damn Sergeants in my Navy…so what would you like to be called?”
Sargent shifting from one foot to the other looked down at the deck and sheepishly replied, “Back home in Bogalusa they called me “Booger.” Connelly choking on the butt sputtered at the comical reply, “Well hot damn, Booger from Bogalusa…now that has a nice ring to it don’t you think, Fowler?” Fowler grinned. “Booger from Bogalusa I think I can guess, but why did they hang that handle on you?” Blushing, he mumbled, “Cause I use to pick my nose and flick ‘em at guys in class.” Connelly rolling his eyes toward the overhead shot back, “Okay, okay, sorry I asked…now listen up Booger Boy since you’re gonna’ be making my coffee your nose picking days are over, gone bye-bye…you got that?” “Yes sir! I don’t do it since I’m grown…it was a kid thing.” The Chief sighing, “I’m relieved, now work hard and keep your nose clean [chuckle] …oops, sorry I said that! Anyway, we will have a crow on your arm before you pick up [laugh] another bad habit!”
Booger was a personable non-assuming young man. He fell right in with the unit and was well liked by his fellow airmen. He was a team player and conducted himself in an exemplary manner. Connelly was most pleased with his Jack-o-the-dust, his cleaning and coffee making skills were nothing short of perfection!
Over time, Booger had shared with the Chief that his father was a restaurateur. He had a family restaurant in Bogalusa, Alabama and had served as a cook on a carrier during the big war. That he had apprenticed for his father and he too wanted to be a Navy cook but the Recruiter told him they needed Airman in the new post war Navy…too many cooks remained in the Service after the war. Connelly assured Booger he would find aviation exciting and enjoy it once he got involved with aircraft and flying. He would see that it happened and looked forward to personally pinning on his Aircrewman wings…
The following weekend Booger had hanger watch duty. Monday morning the squadron personnel arriving for work were met by the alluring fragrance. The delicate bouquet drifted across the hangar bay and into the adjacent shop spaces. All hands began sniffing the air like a pack of trailing coonhounds. Where was the source of the appetizing aroma? The line shack was soon overrun with the curious…
Earlier in the week Booger had received a large crock-pot and the fixings for the family navy bean soup recipe from his mother. During his fire-watch Sunday night he put on a batch as a surprise for Chief Connelly’s birthday. On entering the office the next morning Connelly quizzically barked, “Damn, this place smells just like my dear old sweet departed mother’s kitchen. What in hell is going on Booger?”
“Happy birthday Chief, it’s a little something I cooked up for the special occasion.” Connelly, apparently moved became flustered and mumbled a few expletives. Soon the soup was gone and word of the culinary delight spread. There were immediate discussions of establishing a soup mess and before long the entire line-crew wanted to join and chip in…
At the end of work, Booger put on another batch for the following day. And so it went… A locker and fridge was set up to accommodate soup supplies: a sack of beans, onions and other accouterments materialized from the General Mess. Ham hocks and other ingredients came from the local supermarket, courtesy of Chief Connelly. Thereafter, “Booger’s Soup Mess” became a squadron mainstay. The Skipper and XO dropped in on occasion to have a cup…Chief Connelly strutted about like a peacock!
Sargent did his three months as Jack-o-the-dust and then as promised, Chief Connelly moved him out on the line to strike for Aviation Machinist Mate. He did well, earning his Aircrewman wings and Second Class Petty officer before his enlistment expired.
He had initially intended to reenlist as he loved the Navy, but returned home to help his ailing father and eventually take over the restaurant. He remained in touch with the Chief through cards, letters and photographs of his marriage and growing family.
Some years passed, Connelly now retired was passing through Bogalusa on a vacation trip to New Orleans. He decided to stop by and visit with his old Shipmate. There in the window of the modest downtown restaurant was a sign superimposed under an ornate fouled anchor: Special of the day: NAVY BEAN SOUP.
BOOGER’S NAVY BEAN SOUP
1 pound white Navy beans [washed, then drained]
1 ham hock
2 onions chopped
1 carrot chopped
2 celery stalks with tops chopped
2 bay leaves Thyme or other spices to taste
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 large can crushed tomatoes
Use chicken broth as required, to cook and obtain desired thickness. Beans can be cooked in water if broth is unavailable, but not recommended.
Combine all ingredients; Bring to a boil then set aside for an hour to further soften beans. Follow by cooking covered on low heat until done. Season to taste after cooking.