By Ralph H Davis *

This is a bawdy tale from the Old Guard

When a friend or shipmate "Crosses the bar" it brings on a feeling of sadness, sorrow and grief, depending on how close you were to the person. Such an occasion happened to me while I was reading the most recent issue of The Chief* I saw the name of a man with whom I had served, shared a mess table and spent some liberties with at one time or another. While not a close friend, it did grieve me some to note his passing.


His departure from this world brought to mind one of the liberties we had together. Names will not be mentioned, but the tale should be told, for it is in keeping the rich traditions of being a "Sailor of the Guard," of which he truly was one.

 On board the Cutter GRESHAM we got underway from Base Alameda and headed north for our turn at the Alaskan Fisheries Patrol. The weather was good and seas were calm all the way to our northern state.

Every Friday was "Steak Day," a weekly event that was looked forward to by the crew. Just before noon chow on steak day, and one day prior to docking, I was brushing my dentures when the upper slipped from my grip, falling to the tile deck and breaking in half. That, I thought, was a bad omen for me. I asked "Doc" to put me on the list to see the dentist for a little repair work to my bridge when we arrived in Juneau.

Upon arriving I was sent to the local contract dentist who in a short amount of time had the plate repaired and in good working order. The receptionist was not bad looking and while waiting for my dentures to be repaired, being a true Coastie, I turned on what little charm I had left and in short order had a date for that evening. She, however, insisted that I provide a partner to date a friend of hers as well. I agreed and upon my return to the ship, I spoke to several of the chiefs before one finally agreed to go on a blind date with me for the evening.

Dressed in civvies, the chief and I headed uptown to meet with the ladies and have supper. I do not recall where we ate, but I do know that afterwards we visited several of the local watering holes around town and danced until the wee hours.

Having been on the "short leash" of marriage for several years, my capacity for fine food and large quantities of spirits was somewhat limited. The chief and the ladies, on the other hand, did not suffer from this handicap, and after I had embarrassed myself with a burp or two and a stagger, I was driven back to the pier and dropped off at the foot of the gangway.

With some degree of difficulty, I made my way up the ship’s gangway and then down below decks, where I rolled into my bunk. Placing one foot on the deck to help stabilize the vessel to keep it from capsizing, I soon fell fast asleep.

Sometime later I was awakened by someone pounding on the upper bunk with a brass dogging wrench. Every stroke of the metal pipe brought a sharp pain flashing through my head as well as a churning in my stomach. A curse passed over my lips and, glaring at the perpetrator, I added a few more choice words about his ancestry and the immediate future of his health. It was then that I noticed that the individual with the wrench was the OOD.

This young man had arrived aboard just prior to our departure from Alameda, fresh from New London. The gold on his sleeve was as bright as any new ensign’s ever was, and the tone of his voice was that of a very frightened young boy. This could well be understood as he was trying to get the attention of a very drunk, large CPO in the middle of the night. He had in fact awakened the whole "Goat Locker," which set up a chorus of gripes and curses.

The bunk over mine belonged to the chief that had gone ashore with me earlier that evening. His current "date," however, was not the lady that he had been with when I had left the party. Where he found this one, we never did find out. The OOD was trying to get his attention, but the grunting from above along with the shaking of the bunks could not be slowed by beating on the bunk frame with a brass pipe. With a mighty sigh, a final moan, all motion ceased and the young man standing alongside could at last be heard by the chief as well as everyone else in the dark compartment.

"Chief, your guest must leave."

Now this CPO was about 6’ 2", 275 lbs and not too inclined to listen to anyone when he had a few too many, and this night he had downed more than a few. The large man rolled over, saw the "boy" standing there but did not recognize him as being an officer. When he started to reach for the OOD, his brain cleared enough to see just who was standing there, and with a dogging wrench in his hand at that.

"A-h-h-h, aye, aye sir, soon as she gets dressed I’ll take her topside."

With that the OOD nodded his head, did a beautiful parade ground about face and hastily marched out of the berthing area.

A great hulk fell to the deck and moaned. A very large, nude woman was now on her hands and knees groping around the deck, hunting for her clothing. She located the chief’s shorts and with a slight struggle, pulled them up over her more than ample rear end. Finding the rest of her clothes in a heap nearby, she scooped them up and glared at the upper bunk.

The chief leaned out of his bunk and asked if she needed a hand in finding the gangway. She replied that "judging from your performance for the past twenty minutes, I don’t need any @#$%ing help from a drunken sailor!" And with that, staggered out of sight, in his drawers, clutching her clothes under one arm.

The QM of the watch said later that she was quite a sight as she pushed the OOD to one side, swayed her way down the gangway and hailed a cab with nothing on but a pair of GI shorts and someone’s flip-flops. Soon, peace and quiet returned to the CPO berthing and we all went back to sleep.

The following morning, prior to quarters, the chief was called to the captain’s cabin where he was advised that the "provisional" following his chief’s rate would be extended for one additional year and he best keep his nose clean or he would be looking for some cheap first class uniforms to replace the khakis he was now wearing.

So you see, a shipmate’s passing can bring memories of good times as well as sorrow, and it is better to remember someone with a smile rather than a frown.

Rest in peace, Oran. Semper Paratus!


* * * *

Source: CommOne Vol. I No. V—June 1996 [A monthly newsletter of the CG CW Operators Association]

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