Never Volunteer

By Bernard Lehrer


First let's get rid of the National Geographic stuff. The Pribilof Islands are about 300 miles north of the Aleutians in the barren Bering Sea. St. Paul is inhabited by about five hundred native Aleuts and visited yearly by thousands of Pacific Fur Seals eager to propagate their species in (I imagine) a rather delightful way. The natives are kind of "wards" of the U.S. and their only occupation, as of that time, was that of "sealer" with various grades. 

Our arrival on the Island seemed to coincide with the arrival of the seals for birthing and re-conceiving with the mild weather. The sealers segregate the three year old males and drive them to the killing grounds. Then, a smart conk on the head, which sounded like a coconut, and the hapless animal would wake, white underbelly facing the sky, with the fur neatly removed.  No pictures allowed, please!  

I was attached to Unit #370, a construction outfit. Our site was within walking distance of the town with Government built and maintained shacks for the sealers and families. There was a church, a dancehall and a small hospital. We would come to work in small boats, work on the temporary quarters (Quonset huts), heads (outhouses), and a large warehouse. Then we would return to the ship to sleep. 

The skipper was a Lieutenant. with a background in plumbing. 

It was easier once we could stay on land in the huts. We were given a "pep" talk about getting operational, that is my stuff, so we could help in the bombing of Japan. I convinced my two man crew to join me after evening chow and work on the equipment by flashlight for a few hours each night after a full day of the same. Finally operational I smartly saluted the C.O. and announced our exceptional progress. 

He then gave me the headline news that I should have known,There were no operators to work the stuff. None of the other stations on the chain were operational so there would be no way to get fixes on wayward bombers. In short, our rewards for volunteering were assignments working under the builders, i.e., digging ditches, loading cement mixers, stuffing sheets of fiberglass insulation up under the buildings. 

I finally got a good job as the Garbage Truck Man. Driving around the back of the site one day I saw my friend Jim smoking his pipe and reading a book with a length of pipe at his side, relaxed in the shade. I pulled up and he explained, "To keep from getting the shit details you always have to look busy." He would regularly lay down the book, put the length of pipe on his shoulder and walk through the construction site. 

My day came later after the radio crew arrived when one of the transformers went on the blink. I stayed in the warm radio shack, beefing with the RM's for a whole week trying to find that part that needed replacing. 

The war over, I was one of the first to be relieved "on points".  

Next: The Long Voyage Home;  A Burial at Sea; and "Mother Sill's Seasick Pills".

But that's another story. Bernard Lehrer


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