The galley opened out onto a long screen porch where dinning tables were arranged. The Mess was assigned two mess cooks. The food was prepared in the main galley and trucked to the Mess for each meal. The Chief Commissaryman kept the reefers and pantry stocked with all the usual cold cuts, eggs, bacon, bread and other goodies. The mess galley was always open, with very specific rules for its use, cleanup, etc. After settling into the daily work routine and tropical environment, things went quite smoothly…with a few exceptions, there was good comradeship in the Mess.
Before proceeding further, the main characters in this saga need to be identified: First and foremost is the Chief Master at Arms and President of the Mess, Chief Boatswains Mate Elmer “Red” Watson. A no-nonsense, “by the book,” Navy issued certified ass-hole. He had a permanent “eat-shit” expression etched across his weathered face. It was rumored; he smiled only once in his life…that was the day he entered this world, having licked his lips as he breached the birth canal! Not to say he was Gung-ho, but he wore his badge on his red-white and blue pajamas…well, maybe this a bit exaggerated. “Boats,” was a teetotalerand had little tolerance for those who drank…a strike against many Mess members at the onset.
On the flip side, was “Number Two,” Chief Hospital Corpsman Fredrick “Beetle” Bailey, a very strange pale little man in his early fifties. He was a closet alcoholic who drank a fifth of vodka a day…yet he never appeared intoxicated. He did not drink socially. Doc on occasion conduct “Sick Call” in his room, dispensing “Doctor Bailey’s Tropical Elixir,” known to ward-off malaria, jungle rot, hangnails, troublesome piles and other maladies. It was also used to polished brass and remove stubborn stains. Those that sought medication swore by it! The concoction’s ingredients were never revealed...
Doc ate like a bird, and except for his extended belly, was so skinny his khakis hung on him like the velvet drapes at the O’ Club. He wore a moth-eaten faded blue hospital bathrobe and skuzzy terrycloth slippers about the Quarters. The scuffing of his slippers across the course concrete deck made irritating scraping sounds as he wandered about bitching in monotones about sanitation, bugs and items left adrift. In simple words, he was a whiny lovable pain inthe ass. Between Boatsand Doc Bailey, the Mess existed in a perpetual state of pre-menstrual syndrome.
Number three, was Chief Commissaryman Eric “Dutch” Vonholzer. Dutch was a huge 240-pound hulk, who was “God shaven,” …he had no beard or eyebrows. Except for the blond shock of hair on the very top of his head, he was hairless and resembled the famous wrestler of the era, “Gorgeous George.”
Some thought Dutch lacked a full sea bag. This impression was due in part to his wanderingleft eye, which would drift off in various directions. A slight stutter appeared when he got excited. He loved his Heinekens and after a few, wanted to arm-wrestle for beers. He had beaten everyone in the mess to the point their arms hung like dishrags. Dutch was given a wide berth when he drank, as he was often unpredictable. Yet, he was very popular with the crew and ran a tight, jam-up general mess, which was a hell-of-a-feeder!
The last two players are Chief Equipment Operator Dale “Clutch” Smith and Chief Construction Mechanic Frank “Killer” Watts. These two “Acting Appointment” tadpoles were initiated into the Mess just before leaving the States. Both were young free spirited bachelors and full of themselves. They were roommates and often pulled liberty several times a week. The local watering holes were in Ceiba, just outside the gate and Fajardo,a picturesque seaside community some miles up the highway toward San Juan.
Mama’s place in Fajardo was very popular with the pair as all the local young lovelies came there to dance with sailors and look for husbands. Mama was a large cheerful middle-aged woman with raven hair and a black mustache. She worn colorful muumuus and had a knack for knowing every sailor by his first name. Not only was she the bar owner, but also the town’s official chaperon. The girls were eager, the jukebox was free and rum and coke was fifty-cents, for Clutch and Killer it was a Sailor’s paradise…
After an evening at Mama’s, the twowould often come back late at night and fix a snack. Depending on their state of sobriety, they did not always clean up the galley. This infuriated Boats, for like Moses,Boats felt he had personally chiseled each of the Mess’ rules in stone and he alone stood atop the mountain. To rub salt in the wound, Doc would continually flit about nagging him about sanitation and bugs problems caused by the dirty galley.
At breakfast, after a second incident, Boats gave the two an ultimatum: One more violation and it would be a 30-day suspension of mess privileges. Taking the warning to heart, the two juniors turned into model CPOs, treading lightly for several weeks. They even sustained from liberty at Mama’s, which was a major sacrifice.
However as time passed, the thirst for monkey run and the sweet smell of a dark haired beauty following a Latin dance overpowered the duo. They faltered, succumbing to the age old sins of man. It was Saturday night and the full moonhad stirred their primal lustto the flash point! Firing-up the old 47 Chevy they had purchased from a transferred squadron sailor, the Fajardo Marauders motored off to Mama’s.
At approximately 0130 Sunday morning, it was General Quarters! The stillness of the night was fractured by strange; unbelievable crashing sounds reverberating from the galley. All Hands responded! There leaning back in dining chairs with feet propped up on the steel topped worktable were…Clutch and Killer! Oblivious to the clamor, they were casually sipping suds and stuffing the remnants of their repast in their faces as the washing machine churned glasses and utensils into shards as it went through its cycle!
Dutchlike some maddened bull,came charging from his room, his ill-fitting GI shorts hanging precariously below his paunch. His face flushed deep with rage, accentuated his left eye which was dancing like an arcade pinball! He began to stutter as he approached the pair, “We’ve ha-ha-had it with you-you goddamn dum-dumb assed dic-dickheads! You are inconsiderate juveniles and yo-you have pissed Old Dutch off for the last time!” In a split second the huge man grabbed Killerby the back of his shirt and belt and heaved him headlong through the porch screen! As he turned for Clutch his shorts fell to the deck…a sight no man should ever see! Dutch really was hairless! Trying to step out of his drawers he stumbled,crashing intothe steel utility table which went sailing across the galley splintering the door to Boats’ room.
Boats peered peevishly through the cracked door as Dutch now naked, slid on his ass across the linoleum pinning Doc to the bulkhead! Doc squealing struggled free and with robe flapping ran to his room and slammed the door. Clutch, face contorted and puzzled sprang to his feet screaming, “Goddamn fellows we were just cleanin’ up our mess! What, what the hell is wrong?” Seeing Dutch trying to get to his feet, Clutch darted for the porch and jumped through the torn opening, disappearing into the darkness.
The conclusion of this saga…brings the introduction of Cardisoma Guanhumior “Land Crab.”Whatever it’s called; it is one ugly scary creature. Its multi-colors of reddish-greens and purple add to its ghastly appearance. They have extremely hard shells. When standing up on the tips of their numerous legs they can run sideways at surprising speeds. Massive pincers and black beady eyes mounted atop their body like tiny periscopes give them a definite aura of alien life form.
Land crabs are native to the islands of the Caribbean and other tropical areas. Roaming freely in Puerto Rico, they are a highly sought after delicacy. The locals raise the crabs like domesticated pigs or rabbits, fattening them in pens for roadside sale and their own consumption. Image if you will, awaking from a peaceful slumber to strange clicking and fluttering sounds from the concrete deck below your bunk. In the darkness you catch a glimpse of some mysterious form flitting across the cubical. Leaning over the side of your bunk for a better look you find yourself eyeball-to-eyeball with several of those menacing fluorescent-clawed creatures! Is the finale of this sinister tale of the tropics taking shape in your inquisitive mind?
Following the washing machine fiasco, things returned to normal. In fact it became downright boring…however, beneath the tranquil surface grudges still lurked and dastardly deeds were afoot. That fateful night came after a spirited mid-deployment party. Some mischievous evildoers purchased a number of the fearsome creatures and in the wee-hours clandestinely slipped them into rooms of certain sleeping senior CPOs.
As the full moon turned the placid emerald sea to shimmering silver and the fruit bats darted across the ebony sky, horrific screams mixed with scathing profanity pierced the tranquil setting of a warm Caribbean night…
Some of my tales may seem as written with a demeaning approach. Just the opposite…they are based on real events in which, in most cases I was a participant. By nature, I seek to find humor where possible. In my era of naval service these endearing individuals as thousands of others, were respected senior who as “average-walk-of-life” youngsters answered our Nation’s call in a time of great peril. Youths, who grew into dedicated honorable men, winning a global conflict that changed the world. It was a time less complicated, of unpretentious leaders who shaped and molded some damn fine sailors! I will forever hold in revered esteem those who have donned the fouled-anchors…