Shortly after finishing high school, I decided to join the Navy and see the world. After numerous schools and various duty stations, including two tours in Vietnam, I found myself and the other six members of our Seal/UDT Mobile Support Team, leaving the States, bound for the Far East, aboard LSD-39, the USS Mt. Vernon.
Transit time was supposed to be about 30 days, with only a couple of brief stops, so we immediately got as comfortable as possible. About four hours out of San Diego, a Ship’s Master-at-Arms entered our compartment, and delivered orders for us to report to a work crew. It was at that point that we learned that transport vessels (we usually traveled by air) typically utilize transients as slave labor, en route. This serves a dual purpose” it accomplishes a certain amount of maintenance on the vessel, and it keeps the troops busy and tired…hence, out of trouble.
Joe Suther, our Chief, told the M.A.A. to shut up and get out… we were in the middle of a classified briefing. That got us clear for the first day. The next morning, the same thing happened, and Joe said we would be up as soon as the X.O. had briefed us on our upcoming mission. This bought us another day of grace. We knew we couldn’t continue to skate by so easily, so we began trying to find an inconspicuous location to hide out for the next four weeks. But Joe didn’t make Chief by being inconspicuous. He sat in the corner, deep in thought for a few minutes, then disappeared abruptly, leaving us wondering what he had in mind.
About an hour later, he reappeared, and told us to grab our mats and dive shorts, and follow him. We were going to do some sunbathing. So we all suited up, grabbed our mats, towels and coconut oil, and marched off down the passageway, much to the puzzlement of the M.A.A.’s running the various work crews on the way.
Our journey ended on the helo deck, directly behind and beneath the Captain’s Bridge, and Joe quickly began spreading his mat.
“Uh, Joe, this isn’t exactly inconspicuous, you know!” said Casey, our resident sun worshipper.
“Don’t worry about it. All we have to do is work out once in a while. I told the skipper I was worried about taking you guys into action without having you in tip-top shape, and he graciously offered the use of his helo deck. Besides, the exercise will do you slobs some good. Now spread out and warm up. We’re going to have to give them a show.
It didn’t seem like a bad deal, really. We had lots of room, a nice breeze, plenty of sun and a great view of the ocean. Kind of like Waikiki, but without the sand.
A crowd of sorts had formed to see if we really were going to sunbathe right under the Captain’s nose, so we began slowly, and kept a modest pace. By the time we broke for evening chow, we had managed to get in about three hours each of exercise and sunbathing.
Each morning after breakfast, we mustered on the helo deck, slowly increasing our workouts, until we were spending about an hour per day resting, and the rest working out. I was amazed after 2-1/2 weeks, when Casey handed me a piece of paper, explaining as I read, “That’s what we did today, Knob. 2,400 jumping jacks, 1,200 push-ups, 1,500 sit-ups, 45 minutes of leg-lifts, and a shit-load of fillers, just so we’d look busy. Not a bad work-out, huh?”
I couldn’t believe it! I wasn’t even sore or tired, and according to his notes, we had managed to get ourselves into prime shape! On top of that, no booze or cigarettes, so we had gotten a lot more out of the deal than just exemption from work and a dark tan.
A couple of days later, we learned that we would be pulling into White Beach, Okinawa, where the ship would participate in ten days of joint maneuvers. These hadn’t been on the schedule, and the delay was going to cause us a major inconvenience. In other words, we were ready for beer and women, and had been counting the days! So when we anchored two miles offshore the next day, Joe hopped in the shore launch to see if he could arrange air passage for the remainder of our journey. He said to get packed, and be ready to move fast, so we got our gear packed, and were standing by the quarterdeck, waiting for good news. Joe always came through, and it never even crossed our minds that he would fail in this.
After three hours or so, though, our confidence in our Little Fat Chief began to waver, and the general consensus was that by now, Joe had absorbed all the beer on the island, and molested all the women and much of the livestock.
We threw our gear into the next launch, bluffing the bos’un with some phony “Priority Orders”. All the way to the beach, we watched for Joe in the outbound launches, hoping we wouldn’t see him on his way back to the ship. When we didn’t see him on the pier either, we bummed a ride with a Marine, to the MAC air terminal. Nobody at the air strip had seen Joe, or heard of any request for air transport, so that meant we’d find him in a bar. There aren’t too many bars close to the airstrip, and we knew he wouldn’t have had the patience to go far, so we figured he’d be easy to find.
Exiting the MAC terminal, we saw a brand new jeep standing at the curb, engine running, unattended. Casey removed the two star banner from the fender, and hopped behind the wheel.
“What are you figuring to do, Warthog,” I asked, “drive all the way to Clark Air Base?”
“Hurry up, before some asshole wants his jeep. We’ve got to find the Little Fat Chief!” he answered. We piled in, and headed for the gate. I flashed our “Priority Orders”, and we were on the way to town, such as it was.
The first two bars were empty, and no one had seen Joe. So it shouldn’t be a total loss, we had a beer or two wherever we stopped. In the third bar, they had seen him, alright! They described him as though he were a drunken, sexually over-active Tasmanian Devil.
“That’s him!” I said. “Where did he go?”
“Who cares? He’s crazy!” answered one of the working girls.
We figured chances were that the nearest bar or cathouse would turn him up, so we headed back to the jeep. There weren’t any more bars in sight, so we headed down the road, watching for a flash of khaki.
“Hey, G.I.!” hollered a girl from a doorway. “You want party?”
Radar figured if she had hollered the same thing within earshot of Joe, that’s where we’d find him.
He was right!
Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness inside, we made out Joe, dancing on the bar. He was buck naked, with a bottle of Ten High in one hand, and his “manhood” in the other. His glassy-eyed expression told us this wasn’t going to be easy. Mama-san ran up and began jabbering at us that she either had, or would, or couldn’t call the M.P.’s – we weren’t sure which.
Casey wisely figured that the easiest way to get Joe to do something was to tell him he couldn’t, so he jumped up on the bar, and started taking off his clothes, too. Mama-san looked apoplectic, but her girls were cheering. Chalk one up for the earliest version of Chippendales!
“They won’t let you leave now, Joe. It looks like we’re all going to miss our plane,” hollered Casey.
“Wha?” mumbled Joe, nearly falling off the bar when he turned his head.
Casey signaled me and the Baron up onto the bar, too, so we jumped up and started disrobing. Mama-san fell back into a chair by the door, mumbling incoherently. The girls were now chucking their clothes, too.
“I said, we’ll never make the plane! Mama-san won’t let you go,” Casey screamed in Joe’s ear.
“Tha hell ya say!” mumbled Joe, looking confused.
“Yeah, the way you’ve picked up the business here, I figure we’d have to fight our way out, so we might as well enjoy the party and head back to the ship later. What the hell, it’s only a ten day wait.”
That seemed to soak in, and after a couple of seconds, Joe managed to focus on me and Casey, one eye each, and said, “Gitcher clothes on! We got a plane to catch!”
“Aw, come one, Joe. We just got here!” I said, with a wink to Casey.
“Don gimme no lip, goddamit! Get dreshed! Now!” he hollered, as he fell off the bar.
We all started getting dressed, with the semi-naked girls not helping a bit. Mama-san looked interested in whatever was going on, but didn’t seem to have the energy to take an active part.
Suddenly, Jimmy, Radar and Tony began throwing our bags into the bar, in a panic.
“What the hell’s going on?” I asked.
“M.P.’s!” Jimmy hollered, as he nearly decapitated Mama-san with a thrown parachute bag.
“Shit!” This from everyone, except Joe and Mama-san.
“Where are they?” I yelled.
“Just turning around to come back. They spotted the jeep outside!”
Emmet shot past me toward the door, and we heard the jeep start up, and peel out, followed by the M.P. siren. If they thought they could catch the Baron, they were in for some serious disappointment.
“Think he’ll make it?” asked Tony.
“I’d worry more about them,” said Casey. “I just hope he can buy us enough time to get him out of here!”, nodding toward Joe, who was snoring peacefully on the floor behind the bar. Joe’s angelic smile might have been more impressive, if his pants hadn’t been bunched around his ankles.
“Shouldn’t be too hard, now that he’s passed out,” said Radar.
“Good!” I said, “Then YOU can carry him!”
“Wait a minute,” said Casey, peeking out the door. “We need some wheels!”
“That’s what got us into this mess, Warthog! Let’s leave well enough alone, and hoof it,” I told him.
“Are you kidding?” he bawled. “With all this shit? We’d stand out like a major troop movement! Hey, Mama-san! You got car?”
Mama-san jumped when she heard him speak to her. She seemed to have been far away. I’d seen that look before, in the eyes of young soldiers in ‘Nam. In the old days, they called it “battle fatigue”.
“Fuck you, G.I. You numba ten! Git out my bar!”
Casey abandoned that idea. “Oh shit! Look! The asshole’s bringin’ ‘em right back here!”
We all crowded to the door, in time to see the Baron zip past, letting loose a rebel yell as he went by. The M.P.’s weren’t far behind, one of them with his .45 out. Emmet veered sharply, nearly flipping over the jeep, took out a street vendor’s cart, and disappeared around the corner. The M.P.’s had to brake hard, to keep from killing the cart’s owner, who was waving his arms wildly, and either laughing or crying.
“We’d better get the hell out of here,” I said. “He’s not going to be able to keep that up much longer. Besides, the way he’s going, Americans are going to be mighty unpopular around here, before long.”
“Fuck you!” yelled Mama-san.
“Fuck you, too!” piped Tony.
We were gathering our bags from behind the bar, when we heard a shot.
“Oh, shit!” said Jimmy, as he stuck his head out the door. Then he started laughing. Radar and I crowded past him, and stared up the street, as Jimmy shook with laughter.
The old man had one of the M.P.’s at bay in a doorway. He had a large rock in one hand, and a stick in the other. As he swung for the guy’s head, the M.P. put another round into the ground at his feet. His partner stood back about 10 feet, unsure of what to do, and apparently in no hurry to do it.
“Hi guys!” came from Emmet, as he sauntered in the back door. “Need a lift?”
“Not in that jeep, thanks,” I said. “It’s a little too warm now, thanks to your cowboying around like Audey Murphy!”
“Naw! I got rid of that piece of shit. Wait ‘til you see our NEW wheels!” he said, leading the way out the back door.
We drug our bags out back, loaded up, laughing, and poured Joe into the back. Jimmy threw a handful of money into the bar, which seemed to perk up Mama-san considerably. We then headed back the way we had come, to find a couple of rooms for the night.
We had already jumped ship, and would have a peck of trouble if anyone ever connected us with the episode in town. We figured we’d bide our time, until Radar could dummy up some new “Priority Orders”, and we could find a safe way to get back on base, and to the MAC terminal.
We sure as hell weren’t about to try driving that M.P. truck through the gate.
At least not today!
Three days later, we arrived at Clark Air Base. Our OIC, who had flown ahead two weeks earlier, was pleasantly surprised to see us.
“Hey! This is great! I didn’t expect you guys for another week!” said our lieutenant, Dave Templeton.
“Uh, sir,” Joe and I butted in. “We need to talk to you about that…before we turn in our orders.”
By the time the next day’s message traffic reported us as AWOL, Dave had managed to pull some strings, and get some dummy orders into the system to cover our asses. He reminded us at every opportunity that we owed him plenty. Casey presented him with a small gift, but wouldn’t tell him where it had come from.
For the next thirteen months, Dave had that two-star banner hanging over the doorway of his hootch. It was his pride and joy!