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The Pea Farm

08/06/2013 9:15AM

By: Commander Ed Bookhardt, USN Retired

I was the first Chief Petty Officer on the staff of Commander, Operational Test and Evaluation Force, Norfolk, Virginia to be selected under the newly established E-8 Senior and E-9 Master Chief pay grades. With the promotion came the duties of Senior Enlisted Advisor [SEA]. The Admiral, in recognition of this milestone event had a special Command promotion ceremony …I was one proud Sailor!

The Command SEA responsibilities were in addition to those of my assigned billet. The Advisor’s duties included such things as liaison with the Officer staff, Quarters for Muster, inspection assemblies, watch-lists, leadership training, good order and discipline, and of course those of Clergy and Sea-Daddy.

Since the Admiral’s staff was made up primarily of Commanders and Captains, we worked in close proximity with, and under the constant scrutiny of seasoned senior officers. Yet, even with that pressure I truly enjoyed the responsibility and the one-on-one relationship I shared with those in my charge. The military bearing and conduct routinely displayed by all-hands were traits I had personally strived for throughout my career. Things in general were functioning on an even-keel and I was smugly basking in my envisioned self-importance.

With the arrival of a pair of Third-Class Yeoman fresh from YN school, namely Milton Presley and Wayne Carter the tranquility of my domain was about to change. Standing uneasy before my desk were two young rubes with check-in sheet in one hand and white hat in the other. One lad was spunky and outgoing with a glint in his eye. The other was rough-edged, quiet and cautious. Though opposites, their mannerisms indicated they had already formed that special bond known only to “shipmates.” I gave them my welcome aboard spiel, and as we conversed, mentally evaluated them…they seemed different from your average sailors.

Though he had some of Elvis’ pleasant features, Milton Presley was not related to “The King.” However, imitating that trademark upper lip curl he would boastfully elude they were first cousins at every opportunity. Presley was from Bond, Mississippi. Bond, a wide spot in the road north of Gulfport was the current home of Jerome H. “Dizzy” Dean. Dizzy was a famous pitcher in the Major Leagues, having played for the Chicago Cubs and the St Louis Cardinals during the 1930-40s. He later became a popular radio sports announcer who was noted for literally destroying the English language during his play-by-play broadcasts. He was inarticulate to the point; some school systems actually petitioned the network to take him off the air. Presley mimicking Dean’s jargon further boasted he was Uncle Diz’s favorite nephew. I chuckled to myself; here was a tadpole that was so full of himself he definitely needed watching.

Presley’s running mate, Wayne Carter was from Murphy, North Carolina. Carter was a shy backwoods mountain lad who had been sheltered from the ways of the world until his enlistment. He was tall and lanky with mousy brown hair that was parted precisely in the middle. His most distinguishing feature was his wan complexion. It was ashen to the point of taking on a chalky hue. Carter was a follower.

Sailors are notorious for pinning “handles” on everything…within days; Presley was tagged with the nickname “Swiv” for Elvis’ swiveling hips, while Carter was hung with “Pasty,” playing on his sallow complexion and lackluster personality. He was goofy looking, but a nice naive kid. The pair became well liked at the onset and were team players. I was pleased with the lot I had drawn…

While taking the morning muster a few days later…“Admin Division reporting two absentees… Carter and Presley!” Oh, shit I thought, are those two about to dick-up my parade? I was angry, yet concerned. Following Quarters, Chief Yeoman Bob Farley the Administrative Division Chief and I went to check the barracks and if need be other leads before filing the morning report. I had always kept our fixable problems within the ranks. Getting the Brass involved was always the last resort…so far, I had been successful. That is not to infer that I did not keep my superiors informed, but there were certain things that did not need to be passed up the ladder.

There in blissful slumber, reeking of stale beer and pickled-egg farts lay our wayward revelers. Fanning our way through the funky haze we each grabbed a bunk and flipped it over. Presley, Carter, blankets and mattresses went sliding across the waxed deck. Disoriented, they sat up wild-eyed flaying the air…then gaining their senses, sheepishly looked up. Presley wiping the sleep from his eyes became remorseful and apologetic. Carter dislodging himself from the twisted blanket…rose to his knees, bowed his head and began to pray. Bob and I looked at each other; it was all we could do to keep our composure.

Seems our young rogues had made their first trip to Norfolk’s infamous East Main Street. It was a salacious and bawdy corridor along the Elizabeth River that had drawn sailors to its decadence for decades. Navy lore confirms that more fluids had been pissed into the gutters and alleyways of East Main that fell during the Great Flood! Swiv and Pasty having made their contribution, staggered into the barracks as the four to six fire-watch went on duty. For missing muster, Farley and I strongly “suggested” that for the next two weeks they not leave the barracks, coupling the restriction with “sweepers” and “mid-watches” during their period of atonement.

Several months passed, our repented twosome had become model sailors. Their off-duty hours however, were apparently a different story…they spent much of their liberty time polishing the vinyl topped stools at the Krazy Kat. The bar, an East Main landmark was better known in Fleet circles as the “Insane Pussy.” Seems our amorous cocksmen were wooing two of the IP’s pretty but somewhat tarnished barmaids. They were in love…

It was a lovely Monday morning, the sun was shinning and birds were singing. I had spent the weekend dutifully taking the kids swimming and picnicking. Since Mama was happy with my fatherly pursuits all was right with the world! Then the inevitable, “Admin Division reporting two absentees, Carter and Presley!” My day suddenly took a dive into the shit-locker…that pair of assholes had stuck it to me again! Their names went in on the Morning Report and then listed AWOL. I was sincerely saddened and disappointed at the turn of events.

Several weeks passed, were Carter and Presley to be classified deserters? It was hard to accept as I liked those two screw-ups; they had kept things exciting and me on my toes. I tried to put it behind me but memories of their comical antics lingered…then while working through my in-box I heard a commotion and caught a glimpse of a number of the staff enlisted in the passageway, what the hell was brewing? Beaming with excitement, they opened ranks and stepped back. Standing there hale and hardy in the same damn gaudy civvies they had been arrested in a month prior stood Swiv and Pasty, sheepish grins etched across their tanned dirty faces!

Digressing, the scenario unfolded something like this…seems young Presley had come up with a cunning plan…they would hide their military ID cards in their sock and wear civvies on liberty. As civilians they would have more freedom, avoiding the watchful eye of the Shore Patrol. As an aside to this tale, it has always been my observation, that you could put a sailor in a bear-suit and still know he was a sailor, but if the plan works, have at it! In this case, as indicated below, it apparently did!

Wobbly-legged on Granby Street late Saturday night, our “civilians” were picked up by the police for public drunkenness. As a standard policy the Norfolk Police turned arrested military personnel over to the Shore Patrol for processing. Civilians in turn were placed in the city drunk-tank and released the following morning. Presley and Carter managed to slip through the screening process and were placed in the tank. Presley’s diabolical plan had come to fruition…no Shore patrol! In a few hours they would be released and return to the Naval Base unscathed.

It was spring in Virginia. The huge County Prison Complex affectionately known as the “Pea Farm” was in the planting phase. Additional laborers were sorely needed as the crops grown on its vast acreage sustained the prison population throughout the year, saving untold tax dollars. On that fateful Sunday morning the drunk-tank detainees were marched as a group before the Judge and when the gavel fell the entire lot was sentenced to thirty days hard labor! Fearing repercussions for lying, and for not revealing their military status, our “pea-farmers” kept their identity secret throughout their confinement!

Several years later I was checking into the Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake, California for duty. There behind the Personnel counter was Yeoman First Class Wayne Carter! He had married and fathered two handsome boys. The youngest, was named for Chief Farley and yours truly…“Robert Edward Carter!” Now ain’t that a kick in the head! 

Milton Presley’s East Main Street life style continued through his enlistment. If he did not succumb to the bottle, I have a gut feeling he became some hotshot politician or lawyer somewhere in Southern Mississippi. Old Elvis’ cousin and Uncle Diz’s nephew sure had a knack… 

Commander Ed Bookhardt, USN Retired posted on August 06, 2013 09:08