By: Commander Ed Bookhardt, USN Retired
It was the latter part of December 1950. The United States was again at war. The Korean conflict had brought wartime mobilization of the Armed Forces and extensive call-up of Reserves. The heightened tempo of military activities gave the Norfolk Greyhound Terminal an aura of the recent World War II years. Uniformed personnel milled or scurried about in search of transportation home for the holidays.
“Cooter” Bradley and “Tubes” Ashworth were dressed to the nines in their new fifty-dollar tailor-made gabardine Blues. Between them, their uniforms had enough zippers to bring tears to die-hard Harley bikers! Embroidered silk dragons and other oriental designs embellishing the jumper cuff linings were right out of the Ming Dynasty. With skin-tight bell-bottom trousers and pressed neckerchiefs tied up around their Adams apple, they were a pair of cool Navy dudes!
After suiting-out in the bus terminal men’s room they lurked in the shadows, scanning the crowds for the ever-present Shore Patrol. A report chit for being “out of uniform” was not a way to kick off Christmas leave. They could not understand why the high mucky-muck Brass frowned on such uniforms. They were much nicer than the lint grabbing Melton-cloth regulation ones they had just stashed in their tote bags. It was probably sheer jealousy on the “Os” part, as its universally known, gals flock to sailors in “bell-bottom trousers, coats of Navy blue…”
Tippy-toeing about searching for the bus, their clandestine movements resembled the bungling characters of “Pink Panther” movies. Bradley was relieved when he spotted, then dashed toward the “Miami Express” mid-way the loading platform. The bus driver, a pleasant middle-aged man smiled broadly as he punched their tickets, commenting of having served as an Engineman on the Battleship New Mexico during the Saipan Invasion back in ’44...
Bradley immediately scanned the passengers for possible conquests, seeing none; he selected a seat near the rear. As they stowed their bags and caps in the overhead luggage rack, Ashworth nudged his buddy aside and grabbed the window seat. He settled back with a grin anticipating the ride south to Wilmington where his family would meet him. Home was a small fishing village near Bald Head Island. He was from a long line of commercial shrimpers.
Bradley still standing ignored his shipmate’s maneuver as he carefully turned his jumper cuffs up so passengers could see the exquisite embroidered work. Pleased with the admiring eyes and his envisioned saltiness, he sprawled out with his legs extending into the aisle. As the bus pulled away from the terminal, he took a deep breath and sighed, Orlando and sweet Ginny Lynn were miles down the blacktop…
Bradley a Second Class Machinist Mate met his friend at the Norfolk Naval Base, Receiving Station. They were both on hold, awaiting transportation to new assignments. Ashworth a Torpedoman Third had just finished TM school, thus the nickname “Tubes” i.e., torpedo tubes. Bradley got his handle as a senior in high school. “Cooter” is an old Southern term for a couple of things. Coming immediately to mind, is that most mysterious of female body parts. Second, it is a reference to longneck and mossy-back lake turtles.
Seems Bradley and a couple of school chums who caddied at the prestigious Orlando Dubstread Country Club, were caught on the course one night wading for golf balls in the pond hazards. A strictly enforced no-no, as golf balls during the war years sold for a buck a piece…a tidy sum in that era. They were banned from the premises. In clandestine revenge, the trio put turtles from a muddy pond into the pristine water of the club pool, the hobnobbing place of the social elite. To find dozens of turtles swimming about in the now green slime, must have been a spectacle as it made the newspaper! As word of the incident filtered through school, Bradley gained the nickname “Cooter.” He milked the roguish notoriety until he left for the navy.
Back to the story…The old diesel Greyhound lumbered along Highway 17 South without incident. The North Carolina piney woods and coastal flatlands seemed to drift by the window in slow motion…boredom sat in. Ashworth drifted off to sleep, while Bradley, a master word-smith and self-appointed spinner of yarns, was looking for an opportunity to vent.
A number of Marine Privates boarded at Camp Lejeune. Lost among them was a statuesque young lass who later would turn out to be one Amber Marie Murphy, a sophomore at North Carolina State. She had caught a ride from the Raleigh campus to Camp Lejeune with a Marine brat classmate. Amber heading home to Savannah for semester break took the seat behind the driver. Bradley did not see her board.
Two Marines sat across from Bradley who immediately began a conversation with the naïve young Private adjacent to him. The Private became fascinated with the dragon linings on his turned-up cuffs, which in turn, set the stage for the laying on of a ludicrously concocted “sea-story.”
Leaning across the aisle, Bradley in hushed tones relayed that he had just gotten back to the States from serving with the China Fleet. In his travels he had found the very rare set of dragons in a quaint little shop in Shanghai. According to ancient oriental customs, only fifteen year-old virgin seamstresses were allowed to stitch the fertility design in the purest silks found in a sacred region of Tibet. Bradley looking around to see if others were listening continued…
Tradition further dictated that the purchaser of the very expensive items had the option to buy the virgin who embroidered them. Bradley leaning closer indicated with a whisper that he had bought the beautiful ivory skinned virgin for a thousand yen. Following a secret ritual, she became his sex slave and remained his lover until his ship redeployed. The young Marine was hanging on every word…
Tubes awoke to Bradley’s bull and after listening a few moments, kicked him in the leg with humorous disgust. Continuing unabated, Bradley turned and introduced Ashworth as a secret weapons specialist [pointing to the torpedo on his rating insignia]. That he was hand picked for a classified UDT assignment behind enemy lines in Korea. He was on his way home to bid his family farewell before undertaking a mission from which he may not return! The Grunts were in awe, Bradley was on a roll; Ashworth was embarrassed, and the miles clicked away…
The bus pulled into Wilmington at dusk. There would be a short meal layover. Ashworth’s parents were waving from the platform. Bradley left his white hat on a folded newspaper in his seat to save it, then accompanied Ashworth to meet his family, grab a bite and say goodbye.
On returning to his seat, Bradley stopped in his tracks…there in Tube’s seat bathed in the soft glow of the overhead lights was a breathtaking beauty! She sat at an angle with her back arched against the window emphasizing her ample bosom and figure. The simple lavender frock molded the outline of alluring sinuous legs! The stage was set…with his white hat atop her shoulder length auburn hair, she cocked it over one eye, hesitated for Bradley to absorb the moment, then gave him a perky little salute. “Ahoy there Swabbie, I am Amber Marie Murphy…pull your dingy along side, I like the cut of your jib…”