Jack, I'm sending you this little shore-based sea story to add to your collection in the hope that you and your readers might find it enjoyable. The bear fight did, indeed, take place in the time and at the place indicated, although I have taken considerable liberties with the way it unfolded. You know how it is with us old Texas boys, we never let facts get in the way of a good story. Here 'tis.
The Great Bear Fight©
By Joe W. Rush
"Just sufficient time had elapsed to enable each story-teller to dress up his tale with a little becoming fiction, and, in the indistinctness of his recollection, to make himself the hero of every exploit." - Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
It all started innocently enough, as they say in the thrillers. At a military base at Targaburun, on the shore of the Sea of Marmara in that part of The Republic of Turkey known as Thrace, something momentous was about to happen that would, in later years, take on truly historic proportions when recounted by the participants, the later the years the more historic the proportions. Those merely watching would hardly remember the event at all. Thats usually the way it happens, your memory of an event is colored by the extent of your involvement in that event.
A traveling caravan had made a stop at a small compound of buildings and antennae which comprised a U. S. Coast Guard LORAN Station, set in that spot by the grace of Uncle Sam and permission from the Turkish government, and also known as TUSLOG DET 52. If that last little tid-bit of information confuses you, and if you need an explanation, here it is: TUSLOG DET 52 is one of those famous military acronyms and simply stands for Turkish/US Logistics,
Detachment 52. See how interesting that is?
This was primarily a camel caravan, but there were several other animals, one among them being a rather large bear. Having inquired and been allowed to enter the gates of this compound, the owner of the animals made it known to the gawking "Coasties" that his camels and donkeys were available to be ridden, and that his muzzled bear was available to participate in a wrestling match should anyone be slightly interested. A small fee would be required in each case, of course.
Now, that particular day had been locally declared a "Rope-Yarn Sunday", so known by persons of the seagoing persuasion, and most of those not on duty, instead of tending to their mending and other such personal things as the day was intended, had been imbibing of alcoholic spirits and were, therefore, unable to even recognize a camel, let alone stay on one. They did, though, recognize the bear. They could all see the size of him, and most of them werent foolish enough to think they had any sort of chance in a wrestling match with him. They hadnt had that much to drink. He was a big dude. And he growled loud, too.
Now, I said most of the guys werent foolish, I didnt say all. Charlie was there, and this proud example of genus tejano erectus had a self confidence born of arrogance. Or was it ignorance? Whatever -- At any rate, he considered himself a masterful combatant in any sort of upscuddle and he had proven it on several occasions. He figured he could probably make that bear cry "uncle" in Turkish or English, and maybe even Spanish, depending on how bad Charlie hurt him.
So a deal was struck between this most happy warrior, a descendant of that breed who defended the Alamo and who would fight any damned thing that walked, and the owner of the bear. The fee was paid, the rules were agreed upon, an inspection of the bear revealed that, while the bear had not actually been de-clawed, the claws had been rendered useless through the simple and ugly means of snipping the working tendons.
Discovering this, Charlies already wide grin got wider and wider. Charlie always grinned when he was about to engage in personal combat. Hell, anybody would tell you that a bear without workable claws and wearing a muzzle was dead meat in the hands of one such as Charlie.
Well, not anybody would tell you that, but Charlie certainly would. What Charlie wouldnt tell you was that he had no intention of abiding by any silly rules. Everybody already knew that though, except for the handler and the bear, and it turned out that, while the handler might take exception, the bear didnt really care.
At any rate, the fight was definitely on. Charlie, not being the sort to wait for his opponent to bring the fight to him, set straight to work on that poor hapless bear. He rushed in and was in the process of putting a masterful headlock on that poor bear so as to put him out of it once and for all when he, Charlie that is, found himself about twenty feet from where he once was, flat on his butt, and with the definite feeling of having had the doo-doo slapped out of him with a bicycle chain. Actually, thats just about what happened, except that when Charlie surreptitiously checked the condition of his skivvies he noted that they were in no worse shape than usual, meaning that he had not shamed himself, but that his face was somewhat skunt-up. He was considerably relieved but he was also particularly irritated, because he just knew that the bears handler had pulled some sort of sneaky trick on him. No mere bear could have done that all by himself, especially with Charlie about to put the lock on him.
Getting up, he looked the situation over pretty carefully, noting the position of the handler - way out on the end of a strong leash and not in any position to do harm to Charlie. Attached to the other end of the leash, of course, was the bear looking none the worse. Actually, he looked bored.
"Well," thinks old Charlie, "If a headlock wont do it, I guess by damn Ill just have to give him my Sunday punch. Thatll chill his shit for sure."
Forthwith he approached the bear and did just that, just knocked pure hell out of him, ker-WHAPPP! right on the end of the nose. Trouble was, a bears face is shaped a bit different and doesnt receive a Sunday punch in the manner in which it must be delivered for the most effect. Charlie had delivered a tremendous clout to that bear right smack-dab on the end of his muzzled snout, pissing the bear off real bad and skinning-up Charlie's hand in a similar manner, real bad. Charlies immediate reaction was to "grab a-holt" of his hand, force it downward toward his crotch, bend over, and yell real loud; " SHEEEE-ITTT!" He hadnt ought to have done that, cause that left him wide open for the bears immediate reaction which was to slap old Charlie up side the head so hard that his pants ran up his legs like a window shade.
Now, Charlie re-slid that original twenty feet plus a few more, on his butt again mostly, and stumbled to his feet with blood, dirt, and snot on his face, most definitely perturbed by the turn of events. The onlookers thought it was the funniest damned thing they had ever witnessed. One of them laughed so hard that he actually peed his pants. You could tell real easy, cause they were khaki pants. He would later tell the story that he had spilled some of his beer trying to get out of the way of Charlies slide. Everybody knew what had really happened, but since this fellow was the skipper nobody said anything about it, at least not where he could hear.
Charlie called the bear and his handler a famous name of the hyphenated variety, and hinted that anyone who thought it was funny was of the same lineage, and was getting squared away for another charge at the bear when the fellow with the big wet spot on his khakis, being in charge of everything on the station, called it off. He allowed as how he need all the help he could get for watch standing, painting, and whatnot, and was in no mood to have one of his help injured, killed, or otherwise incapacitated by a bear, even a tame, de-clawed and muzzled bear. Everybody was relieved to hear that, and I do mean everybody. The spectators were relieved because the proclamation by "he-who-is-in-charge" meant that they werent expected to take a turn, and Charlie was relieved because it gave him a chance to quit gracefully and claim at least a draw. What had actually happened, though, was that the bear had kicked old Charlies country ass.
Now, the other person who was destined to take part, unbeknownst to himself, in this historic event had completely missed the main attraction. This other true son of Texas, and all around good guy, had been in his bunk fast asleep. Either that or he was passed out. Whatever, he wasnt aware. However, Charlie, having completed his own engagement, had quickly cleaned himself up somewhat, applied bandages to his skinned-up right hand and face, and was busily engaged in looking for this poor innocent devil. Charlie had a devilish grin on his face, knowing that what others had just witnessed him do he would now witness his good ol buddy do and would, knowing full well what to expect, just absolutely enjoy the hell out of it.
Charlie found his old pal Joe sitting up on the edge of his bunk, looking like the dogs had dragged him up under the house, and growling at his feet because they hadnt been installed up higher so that he wouldnt have to bend over to get his shoes and socks on. It hurt like hell to bend over. Made him dizzy. He was considering the advisability of going barefoot the rest of the day when Charlie came in.
"Come on out here Joe, youre missing all the fun," says Charlie. "Theres a Turkish caravan out in front of the barracks with all kinds of animals. Youve got to see it to believe it."
Now, old Joe had seen all the animals he ever wished to see during the night, some of which defied description, and he was in no mood to make a special effort to go see some more of the same. His head hurt, his eyes looked like two piss-holes in a snow bank, his tongue was three sizes too big, and even his hair hurt. But Charlie was insistent and Joe had to go out that direction anyway to attend to his toilet. His quarters were in a small bunk trailer situated to the rear of the barracks, and were without amenities - just four bunks and four closets. He and his bunk-mates were a detached unit and there was not enough space for them inside the main barracks.
Had Joe been more alert he would have suspected that skullduggery was afoot. Charlie was keeping his right hand in his pocket and he had a grin on his face that Joe had seen before, but he thought Charlie was just enjoying the fact that he, Joe that is, was hung-over and Charlie was not - for a change. The bandages on Charlies face set off no alarms because Charlie was always getting into a fight, when he could find anybody who was willing to test their prowess against him. What Joe didnt know, though, was that Charlie had set him up for what Charlie hoped would be the main attraction. He had paid the bear handler an extra stipend, you see, after a surreptitious conversation with Ali, the station interpreter. Joe did manage to get his shoes on, and following a detour into the barracks to relieve himself and throw some water on his face, these two idiots headed back outside toward the front of the barracks. Sure enough, the place was full of animals and Turks. About six of the Turks were trying without much success to hoist the Chief Bosuns Mate up onto a camel. The camel had no appreciation for the ample bulk of the Chief and was therefore not cooperating, and the Chief, beer can in hand, didnt know what was going on in the first place.
When Joe walked by the bear he was attracted by the action over near the camels, he hadnt yet seen the bear. Hell, he hadnt even gotten his eyes focused well enough to recognize the camels yet. The bear, however, had seen Joe. A signal had passed from the interpreter to the handler of the bear, thence to the bear. The bear was trained, you see. He knew what the signal meant and as soon as old Joe was within reach the bear reached and got him. The first thing Joe knew he was wrapped up like he had been stuffed inside a cotton sack, except that this thing had lots of hair and smelled like his Uncle George. The damned thing was almost as big, too.
All of a sudden it occurred to Joe that something bad had "a-holt" of him and he let out a loud yell; "OH! FIE AND FIDDLE-DI-DEE!", or some other such phrase suitable to the occasion, and once more the fight was on!
Now, it has been said, and it was partially correct, that old Joe was as strong as an ox and just as smart. Strong he was, but that strength was not to be his main salvation. Smart he was not, and in the end that was mostly what saved him from what he figured was certain death at the hands of whatever had him. Right now, though, he didnt know what that thing was, and he was scared to death. How the hell was a fellow supposed to react when he was still half asleep, entirely hung-over, and clasped in the suffocating embrace of a someone or something to whom he hadnt yet been properly introduced? Seemed like there just wasnt any decorum these days.
To give the bear credit, he was not mean and vicious. He was, however, pretty well trained to act mean and vicious, and his act was fooling the hell out of old Joe. The bear twisted and shook Joe like a captured groundhog, growling all the while and making motions like he wished he didnt have that muzzle on so that he could have a bite. Joe, by this time, had managed to squirm around to a position that put his face squarely in contact with the hairy chest of the bear - jam-up close, as they say. Actually, he was about to suffocate.
The only thing Joe could think about, of course, was how to get the hell loose from this wide-awake nightmare and make some sort of escape. Then he realized that his feet were actually still attached to his body and that the right one was situated in such a manner that he could do a "cockroach stomp" on that varmints foot and get some relief - he hoped. So he did it. He drew his foot up as far as the situation would allow and gave it a mighty downward thrust. Crunch! It had the hoped-for effect. The bear grunted and turned Joe loose long enough for Joe to realize that it was a bear, and it all lasted for about half a split second and-the-bear-reached-for-him-again-and-he-was-about-to-be-wrapped-up-in-that-bearhug-and-he-wouldn't-be-able-to-breath-and-he-would-die-and-he-had-to-do-something!
Just that quickly it all coursed through Joes clouded brain. Now, as was previously stated, old Joe was not overly smart, and he was right now about to prove it. Nobody else in the entire air-breathing world would have had the presence of mind, or the stupidity, to do what Joe did next. Just as that bear was about to pull Joe back toward his hairy chest, Joe remembered a trick that an old girlfriend had pulled on him. He hauled back on his mighty right leg and kicked that bear most squarely and distinctly in the crotch. WHAMMM!
Oh Lordy, what a lick. Lifted that bear clean off the ground. Trouble was, it turned out that this was not a ball-bearing bear, so that particular kick didnt have just exactly the effect it would have otherwise had. This was, in fact, (a fact learned later from Ali the interpreter) a female bear, but that mighty kick had evidently hurt her considerably, and it irritated her profoundly! Oh my goodness, how she carried on. You wouldve thought somebody had stolen her cubs. Fact is, she probably wouldve been happier if somebody had stolen her cubs. All you could see was a cloud of dust and a furry blur dragging a cursing Turk behind a hastily retreating U. S. Coast Guard seaman.
God is good, even to the undeserving. Joe managed to make his escape only by virtue of being slightly faster than a bear dragging a Turk. The Turk had made the mistake of looping the leash around his wrist, now the bear had looped the Turks arm around the station flag pole, thereby slowing down the bears forward progress just enough for Joe to gain a corner, slip into the building, and then into the far reaches of the station galley - specifically, inside the walk-in freezer.
But all this escaping had evidently not been done by Joe alone. For whatever reason, Charlie was in the freezer too, either just before or just after Joe arrived, neither of them could later remember which. They both remembered, though, that it was amazing how much the cold doesnt bother you when you have other things on your mind. They must have stayed in the freezer for half an hour before venturing out to check on the status of the bear. To Joes great relief they could see the entire caravan making its way down the road, a few of the Turks making various unfriendly gestures, one of them with his arm in some kind of bandage and holding that arm close in to his body. The bear had somehow been gotten into a cage on wheels, the cage being pulled by a couple of the caravan donkeys, and to Joe and Charlie it looked like the wheels might come off the whole damned thing before long. The bear acted like it was still in the middle of a raging fit, rocking the cage from side to side, from end to end, bouncing up and down, and just generally raising a whole bunch of hell.
Joe looked at his buddy and said, "Charlie, thats got to be the damnedest thing ever happened to me. Whered that damned varmint come from, anyhow? And how in the blue-eyed, buck-naked hell did I ever let that sumbitch get a-holt of me?"
For his part, Charlie confessed that he had no idea in Gods gracious world how something like that could have happened to such a good and innocent fellow as his old buddy Joe. Seemed like bad things had a way of happening to good people, and there was just no way of knowing when something awful might happen, but wasnt it wonderful that nobody got hurt. Oh, Charlie laid it on right thick, but there was a twinkle in his eye.
For his part, Joe wasnt altogether sure that he wasnt hurt. Once he thought about it, he made a detailed inspection of his person and discovered that, all things considered, he was just fine, minus some skin here and there and some torn clothing. No worse than many of his other encounters, and better than some.
"Charlie, Ive got to get me a shower and get rid of this here bear-stink, and get some clean clothes on, too. Then why dont we slip over to my trailer and take a break and discuss this whole episode. I think I remember where I hid that last bottle of I.W. Harper, and if somebody wasnt watching when I hid it. . . "
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