A HERO IS DISCOVERED

By Dave Moyer

 

The Owasco Chronicles

A true hero is a person who does a foolish thing at just the right time under the right circumstances. One may indeed set out with visions of grandeur, but once the situation warrants that deed, which would turn mere mortals into heroes, the human psyche plays tricks. This is caused all too often by our survival instincts—the will to live on, the will to stay out of trouble, or simply to take the easy way out. Heroes are not made only under fire, you know. My hero was an E-3 Radarman named Fletcher who distinguished himself (at least in my mind) as the "gutsiest" guy on the ship. No small feat when you take into consideration that this act of supreme bravery took place in Hawaii

Most of us were rather excited about our planned 3 days at the Coast Guard Base on Sand Island while the OWASCO was on its way to Vietnam. Being an East Coast ship and crew, few of us had graced the islands with our presence, and this was a first opportunity at a somewhat exotic port, even if it was an American state. The most excited crewmember was the Captain. It seems that as a junior officer almost fresh from the Academy, he was stationed aboard the USCGC IROQUOIS in Honolulu, and he was simply elated at the thought of returning.

Plans were made about the ship: Each section would get at least one day of liberty, then we would refuel, have a briefing, then head west toward our next stop, Guam. Alas, it appeared that the sailor’s patron saint, Saint Elmo, smiled upon the crew. The ship broke down and needed engine repairs. The part could not be jury-rigged like 85% of every other part that had broken down—it had to be replaced and the forge that manufactured this part was in Allentown, Penn. I said "was" because it closed in the 50's and sold all of its patents to a firm in New York or New England, or someplace. The important thing is that three days ended up being twelve. Oh well, I guess the war could go on without us for a little while longer. (Funny thing, I don’t think they missed us!)

The Captain wasn’t too put out either. He went ashore each and every day wearing the wildest flowered shirt in existence. Aircraft at 35,000 feet could take bearings off of that rag, women would scream and grab their children, taxi cab drivers would stop and point him out to their tourist passengers, and the palm trees ceased growing when he walked by. I honestly think he had to recharge the damned thing each night. He was in fine humor and seemed to enjoy himself like I never saw before or after in any port.

Liberty was granted each and every morning after Quarters and expired before Quarters the next morning. Civilian clothing was allowed. We rented cars, roamed the island, and had a ball.

The "Old Man" made a startling decision: The duty sections that would not hit the rotation during that weekend would get the full three days off. That was from 0900 Friday to 0800 Monday. Due to the uncertainty of when our replacement part would arrive, we were not permitted to leave the island of Oahu. We could go anywhere and do anything we wanted as long as we stayed out of trouble. No matter, there was certainly enough to see and do there, at least for all but one of us.

The next three days were unbelievable. We lounged on Waikiki, drank pineapple rum drinks until they ran out of little umbrellas, and ogled. Boy, did we ogle! All too soon the end came to these three days in to Eden.

Monday morning at 0800 hours, Quarters were sounded and muster was taken. The Operations section was short one man. SNRD Fletcher was nowhere to be found. Fletcher just wasn’t the type to be UA, or even late, for that matter. He was a levelheaded, kind of quiet guy who did his job well and seemed to stay out of trouble. Even though he had not been aboard all that long, most of us in Operations liked him. What could have happened?

He wasn’t with the other Radarmen or operations personnel all weekend. No one even bumped into him in town. All anyone knew was that Fletcher left on liberty with almost everyone else as soon as it was piped Friday morning. We started to worry that something happened to him over the weekend.

Around noon a lone person in uniform got out of a cab at the end of the pier and began walking toward the ship. Fletcher was a big guy and there was no doubt this was a big guy. Sure enough, Fletcher was back. Late....... but back.

As he crossed the prow to the quarterdeck, he had a sort of sheepish smile on his face and looked embarrassed. He said something to the Quartermaster of the Watch and went below to report to the Officer of the Day, then to the Operations Officer. We didn’t see Fletcher for about two hours. He was talking to the Ops officer and Exec. all that time. Finally Fletcher arrived in CIC ready for work. No one was working of course. We were all waiting to find out where he had been all this time. That’s when we learned what a real gutsy hero Fletcher was.

It seems he sort of left the island, disregarding the orders handed down by the Captain. At first glance it appeared that Fletcher was possibly an adventurer at heart. So what if he wanted to see another island?

"Where’d you go, Fletcher, Maui? The big island of Hawaii? Molokai?"

He just shook his head, looked up with a sort of the-cat-who-ate-the-canary grin and said . . . "New Hampshire."

"New Hampshire, he went to NEW HAMPSHIRE!" seemed to be the response in unison of the entire bridge and CIC gang. It seems that Fletcher got a little homesick and wanted to see his girl and family just one last time before hitting the line. He went to the airport and flew home. He had everything figured right too, or so he thought. He booked his return and connecting flights from San Francisco to New York but made one mistake—he miscalculated the time difference from the East Coast to Hawaii. Indeed, he miscalculated by four full hours.

I’m personally glad he miscalculated. If he hadn’t, no one would have known of this heroic act of bravery. Fletcher went from relative obscurity to a man of intestinal fortitude and daring. We were in awe.

Punishment came swiftly. As mentioned before, the Captain was in a fantastic mood. His handling of Fletcher reflected that.

The morning after Fletcher’s return, we were in the head getting ready for another day’s liberty. The door was open to the port main deck and the Captain just happened to stroll by, wearing a big smile and his "jump-start me" shirt, on his way to the quarterdeck for liberty. He happened to glance in and see Fletcher and called our hero onto the main deck and asked if what he heard was true.

"Yes Sir, it is true," Fletcher replied. The skipper mentioned something about it being a gutsy thing to do; however, orders were orders and a Captain’s Mast had to be convened. Fletcher readily agree it had to be done. The Old Man smiled and said, "We may as well get it over with now."

The Captain called out some of us as witnesses still wearing towels and shaving cream. Here stood my new hero in his skivvies next to a Yeoman, who was collared to take notes for the ship’s log.

There underneath the port boat on the main deck that Tuesday in July, SNRD Fletcher was found guilty of disobeying an order not to leave the Island of Oahu. He was sentenced to 12 hours of extra duty, to be served two hours per day starting at 0600 and to finish at 0800. This would still allow plenty of time to enjoy liberty on the beautiful island of Oahu. Oh yes, and Fletcher promised solemnly not to leave Oahu again for the rest of our stay.

I don’t think he did . . . but then again, he did get the time difference figured out.

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