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The WWS’ Maiden Voyage

19 Nov

At eight PM that night, we lowered the WWS into the water, broke a nearly empty bottle of San Miguel on her prow, and Casey set off on the inaugural voyage. As Jimmy leaned over and pulled the 250 engine to life, Casey screwed his cap on tight, and grasped the throttle like it was his favorite woman. Six seconds later he was out of sight in the dark, and all of our jaws were bouncing on our chests.

The average banka boat uses either a 5.5 or 8.0 HP B&S engine. We had thought about a 16 HP, because of the additional power/speed. Only one of us had any idea of what we were creating when we put the 250 engine in the WWS.

“Hey, Tony, how many horses has that puppy got?” asked Emmet.

“Oh, it depends,” answered Tony, as he looked worriedly along the wake Casey had left.

“On what?” I asked.

“Oh, mostly on your reduction gear,” mumbled Tony.

“Yeah, but Casey doesn’t have any reduction gear. He’s direct drive, right? So how may horses has he got?” asked Jimmy.

“Well, I guess it would be close to, or almost, anyway, mphmhpmhp.” Tony mumbled.

“Huh? What’s that?” asked Rudy.

“Well,” Tony said uncomfortably, “near as I can guess, he’s pushing between 90 and 120 horses.”

“WHAT?” coughed Jimmy. “There’s no way he can handle that in that toy. It’s WAY too much power!”

“Well, actually,” offered Tony, “it’s not as bad as you think. He’s got nearly two miles of straight water before he has to make the turn at Chiquita Island.”

“TURN? That thing can’t TURN! It can only explode in a different direction! Knob, start the boat,” snapped Jimmy. “Emmet, cast off. Knob, grab your medical kit. Let’s go!”

As we rounded the same turn around which Casey had earlier disappeared, I was on the helm, with the throttle wide open, and Jimmy was on the radio, trying to raise Harbor Patrol. I suddenly glimpsed what I first thought was a flying fish, shooting across my port bow. When it screamed, I recognized Casey. He went into a hard right turn, about a half mile off the shore and skipped like a flat rock, to within probably 20 feet of the shoreline, with the 250 screaming wide open. He quickly faded out of my vision, as I heard Harbor Patrol responding to Jimmy, “Negative, Sierra Tango1. I repeat, Negative. Do NOT get underway at this time. Be advised we have possible hostile craft in the harbor. We have gunboats in pursuit. Do NOT get underway. Acknowledge. Over”

Jimmy turned to me and said, “Boy is Joe ever going to be pissed if Casey loses his engine.” Then he keyed the mike and said, “Hotel Bravo X-ray, this is India Charley Two. Be advised we are taking small arms fire from a hostile craft 300 yards west of Pier 15. Request assistance. Over” He then quickly keyed again, changing the tone of his voice, “Roger, Hotel Bravo X-ray, this is Sierra Tango One, standing by. Over.” And turned and grinned. Jimmy had just sent Harbor Patrol on a wild goose chase, at the other end of the harbor.

I killed all our lights, and eased out into the waterway. No sign of Casey. No sign of Harbor Patrol. Then Rudy pointed off my port beam. “There! Is that him?” I came about as quickly as the old Swift could, but by that time, Casey was far out of sight. I decided the best thing to do was to get back to the pier before we took friendly fire, and began easing back toward our base. As I approached, I saw the WWS alongside our barge, with Casey, Tony and Joe standing nearby. I docked and secured the engines, as Joe took a deep breath and began cursing each of us. He went on for about three minutes, never repeating himself once. When he finally noticed that we were paying more attention to Casey than we were to him, he muttered, “Aw, the hell with it!” and stalked off the barge.

We found many uses for the WWS. We used it occasionally during training operations in the harbor, ‘til the Harbor Patrol complained that nothing could catch it. Another was when Casey and I rented bungalows at Gaines Beach, to avoid having to live in the barracks. We used the Special as transportation to and from the barge, as well as to go from Gaines Beach to Subic City. Ours was the fastest boat in the bay and would handle up to four people with no problem.

On one occasion, we were at the bar at Gaines Beach, drinking away the weekend, and shooting dice with Ernie. There was a couple spending the weekend, and they had gone down the beach for some privacy. After an hour or so, they came stalking back, to inform us that they had been robbed. It seemed that while they were swimming on this deserted stretch of beach, two guys had rushed out of the jungle, grabbed her purse, and his watch and wallet, and disappeared back into the jungle.

Ernie dispatched one of his boys to run a boat over to Subic City and fetch Moy L. Moy was then the Chief of Police in Subic, a much feared man who, we learned, had earned his reputation. After 45 minutes or so, Moy showed up in a banka boat, accompanied by a 250 LB assistant, with a lousy disposition.

After questioning the couple, Moy nodded to his “torpedo”, and they walked down the beach to the spot where the robbery took place, looked around a bit, and then walked into the jungle. We went back to drinking and gambling.

About three hours later, someone noticed Moy walking toward us from the edge of the trees. His sidekick was in the shadows just inside the tree line, holding someone. Moy approached the couple at the bar, and placed a watch, wallet and a few odds and ends on the table. When they identified the items as theirs, he turned and faced the jungle, and waved toward the beach. The then saluted them and headed down to the dock, to his waiting boat. We heard a shot, and turned and saw Moy’s assistant carrying a body toward the beach. Moy took his boat down the shore, picked up his man and the body, and headed for Subic.

Ernie reached for the dice cup and said, “two bucks says I qualify in one roll!” His wife, Linda, brought us a platter of lumpya. Neither seemed the least bit surprised at the outcome of the “investigation”.

The couple went to their bungalow and packed, and they were on their way to Subic within a half hour.

Ernie was a retired Chief Bosun’s Mate, US Navy. He retired while stationed in the Philippines, married Linda, and never left the island that I ever heard of. He had five bungalows, as well as their own house, the bar and restaurant, a dock for the boats, and about 500 yards of prime beachfront property, backed up against dense jungle. I could easily see how Ernie decided to stay there. Linda was a beautiful woman, a classy lady and a good cook. Put all that in the middle of a private paradise, and you have Gaines Beach. The months I lived there were some of the most relaxing of my life.

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The Wonder Warthog Special

18 Nov

Our main responsibility while in the Philippines was to train a squadron of Philippine sailors in the proper procedures for river patrol, coastal interdiction and board-and-search. They were combating Muslim rebels in Mindanao and Zamboanga, and were suffering casualties at an alarming rate, in spite of their superior equipment and armament.

For a period of six or seven weeks, three of their boats and crews joined us in Subic Bay for training, which consisted mostly of simulation exercises. We would go out at night, with our boats as well as theirs and alternately play “cops & robbers”, simulating chase maneuvers, gunnery exercises, and board-and-search operations. We gave them the best training we could, and apparently it helped. Some time after they had returned to their base in Manila Bay, their Executive Officer, Rafael C. contacted us. He informed us that their previous casualty rate of 45% per week had lessened to about 20% per month. He also invited us to Cavite, to join in a party, and to stay as long as we liked.

Our schedule was light, and largely self-enforced, so we loaded up our PCF “Swift” boat, and left as soon as possible for what promised to be a vacation.

As we were entering Manila Bay, a bright red dugout shot across our bow, doing something like 40 knots. We saw several similar vessels in the harbor, each about two feet wide, and fifteen or sixteen feet long. All of them were VERY fast, but not very maneuverable.

When we arrived pier-side, Rafael and some of our alumni greeted us, and we asked about the boats. They referred to them as “banka boats” which evidently served as water taxis. None of us noticed Casey’s pensive gaze into the harbor, at the time.

After two and a half days of non-stop partying, Dave said he’d better get us back while we were still able, so we said our goodbye’s and headed for the Swift and the long trip home.

When we arrived pier-side, we found a grinning Casey, and a large VERY ugly object across the fantail of our goat. It resembled a rotten log, with various species of fungus attached, and a hunk of rusted iron embedded in the middle.

“Ain’t she pretty?” beamed Casey.

“Gorgeous, man! What is it?” chortled Tony.

“It’s a banka boat, man! I got it for a song, too. Only 200 pi!”

“You got fucked, Warthog!” said Jimmy.

“Without Vaseline!” added Dave.

“With a stick,” I tossed in.

“Aw, you guys just don’t have any vision. Picture her with a new coat of paint. She’ll be beautiful!”

“I’ll bet he didn’t get kissed, either,” said Radar.

“How much did they pay you to haul it off, Warthog?” asked Emmet.

“Alright, fuck you guys! I’ll fix her up myself. And you can all rot in hell before you ever ride in her!” snapped Casey.

“Thank God for small favors. Hell would be a blessing, compared to that water-logged gator-turd!” said Jimmy, laughing.

About that time, Joe came down the pier, lugging something that looked suspiciously like a case of beer.

“Hey, who shit on our deck?” he hollered.

Casey pouted all the way back to Subic.

The next morning, we arrived to find the “boat” on blocks, and Casey hard at work, scraping, gouging and chipping at what was beginning to look more like a hull than a colony of parasites. When we called out to him, he just glared at us, and bent to his task.

“I don’t know about this,” said Dave. “What if someone from H.Q. comes down here and sees that thing?”

“What if they do, skipper?” answered Joe. “They sure as hell aren’t going to think we stole it!”

“I don’t know. There’s GOT to be something wrong with having that kind of junk laying around on deck,” worried Dave.

“Ah, hell, skipper. Let him keep it. In a few days, he’ll have it all fixed up and ready to put in the water. Then it’ll sink, and your problems will be over,” I snickered.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. If anybody shows up and starts asking questions, play dumb and send ‘em to me. I’ll think of something.” Dave left and headed for H.Q.

When we got below decks, Jimmy piped up, “Hey, Joe! Did you see Noah topside?”

“Yeah,” added Tony. “We’re expecting the two termites to show up any time now.”

Emmet added, “Hey, you know, it’s already starting to look salvageable. And if he can get that engine to run, it’ll be quick!”

“Gimme a break, man! That hunk of rust isn’t even good for an anchor. The best thing to do with it is to heave it over the side,” said Tony.

“Yeah, but can you imagine that thing with a P-250 engine in it? I bet they couldn’t even catch it with a spotlight!” mused Radar.

“You guys belay that P-250 shit! That pump is Navy property, and if I catch any of you even looking at it, I’ll have your ass!” growled Joe.

“Joe! Would we even think of something like that?” said Emmet, as Tony stole out of the cabin. “Besides, I don’t think it would even fit, if we want to. That toothpick isn’t wide enough to change your mind in. What he needs is a Briggs and Stratton lawnmower engine, like the rest of ‘em use.”

“Yeah,” agreed Joe. “Besides, with the weight of a 250, you’d have to add two or three struts to support it. A B&S would be perfect. Wonder where we can find one?”

“No problem,” said Jimmy. He was our “cumshaw” artist. He could find a whole sewing machine in a haystack, and talk someone into delivering it. “I think I know where to look.” To Joe, he asked, “Mind if we dedicate a little effort to finding Casey a new engine?

“As long as you don’t get caught, I don’t give a shit what you do! Just make sure we’re ready for that boat-op tomorrow night, though,” Joe answered.

Jimmy and I grinned at each other, and Jimmy added, “Yeah, I’ve got an idea to keep those jarheads guessing tomorrow.”

“Good,” answered Joe, absently. “Listen, I’ve got to meet the skipper in the compound to draw ammo. Clean this hole up a little, will ya? I don’t need H.Q. on my ass with this damn inspection coming up.”

“You got it, Chief!” yelped Jimmy, with a larger than life smile.

By 1:30 that afternoon, Tony and Jimmy had removed the engine from our brand new P-250 pump, and fitted struts into the dugout to serve as engine mounts. Casey was taken aback at our sudden interest in his “baby”, but when he saw the gleaming new engine, he wasn’t about to complain. Emmet showed up, after a visit to the exchange, bearing a selection of enamel paints that would make a blind man blink. I was busy rigging lights on the “Wonder Warthog”, when Rudy showed up with an “extra” .50 cal. Machine gun and mount.

Casey and Emmet were painting the hull when Dave and Joe showed up with our ammo issue. Dave smiled, and said, “Now THAT looks a whole lot different. She’s starting to look like one of those babies we saw down in Manila. What’s that on the bow, Casey?

“It’s a snout, skipper,” said Casey, with a twinkle in his eye.

“A snout? What the hell kind of a boat has a snout?” queried Dave.

“The Wonder Warthog Special!” we all hollered, in unison.

Dave laughed, but Joe looked puzzled.

“Is that a Briggs & Stratton?” he asked Jimmy.

“Well, not exactly, Chief. I tried to find a 16 HP B&S in the Boat Shop, but when I came up dry, I decided your idea was better anyway,” Jimmy answered innocently.

“Which idea is that?” asked Joe, with half a frown.

“The P-250 idea, Joe. All we had to do was add these struts, and it fit fine. I didn’t think it would, but you were right!” offered Tony.

Suddenly, Joe found the other half of his frown, when Dave said, “I’m not sure that was a good idea, Chief, but since you okayed it, I’ll go along with it.”

Anchors Aweigh!

17 Nov

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!