In the late 50s and early 60s during my years as a Scout, the military was pretty good to us. As a scout, I went on about half a dozen tours of various military installations. I’ll try sharing them as I write them.
A few years back I was given the job to lighter the carrier Wasp. The company I was working for got the Navy contract to do the job, and my vessel got assigned the job. Wasp was slated to go to the shipyard and get refitted, routine maintenance, really. The fuel had to be pumped out of the bunkers before she was laid up.
We came alongside in a stiff breeze and one of the deckhands kept trying to throw down a heaving line, but because of Navy safety policy, the old fashioned Monkey’s fists had been replaced with little more than a waffle ball. The wind kept blowing the heaving line all over hell and there was no way I could grab it.
I grabbed one of our heaving lines, one with a fairly heavily weighted Monkeys fist on it and sent it up. It practically tore up my rotator cuff, but I made the flight deck with it and one of the guys snagged it. I tied the bitter end to one of our deck lines and up it went. The sailor dropped the eye over a strong point, and I made our end fast. The tug now had something to work against. We sprung in alongside, sent other lines up and soon were nestled alongside Wasp.
The Chief of the deck was a salty character, and looked like he could use a good-natured ball busting.
“Hey, Chief,” I said. “I remember the old Wasp! First Man O’War I ever boarded. Back in 1959, I gave my blue pants a hitch and stumped up the gangplank and boarded her.”
“1959? You ain’t that old!” the Chief challenged.
“Cub Scout uniforms were blue back then,” I shot back.
The chief gave me a shocked, perplexed look. He said nothing. An officer standing behind him, drinking coffee, almost snarfed.
The Chief looked down at my shipmate and I.
“You Merchant guys think you’re pretty hot stuff. Name me one thing you guys can do that us Navy guys can’t.”
“I can tell that officer standing behind you to go piss up a rope without losing my stripes or going to jail,” I countered.
The officer, a Lieutenant Commander, did snarf, blowing coffee out his nose and all over the front of his uniform shirt.
The Chief turned to the officer, turned red and stormed off, red-faced.
He looked down on us delightedly and said, “I’ve known his since he was a Third Class, and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen him speechless!”
I knew immediately that he was a good officer. He introduced himself as the Engineering officer, the ChEng. His age told me that he was a Mustang.
The job turned out to be a fun one. We got the work done and had a pretty good time, to boot. The Navy was good to us. The Chief recovered, regained his humor and invited me up to the Goat locker for coffee.
“Tell me about the WW2 Wasp,” he asked…………..
Back in the fall of ’59, Bobcat Cub Scout Piccolo gave his Cub Scout uniform pants a hitch and stumped up the gangplank of the carrier Wasp, an aging flattop that had survived World War 2.
Pack 50 was boarding her, and things didn’t look too good. Mrs. Broomstick was our Den Mother and I knew that there was going to be hell to pay because she’d get easily upset over every little thing. I had hoped that Mrs. Broomstick would have let Mrs. Lambert take the tour. Mrs. Lambert was a whole lot easier to deal with. She had seven sons and knew boys. Mrs. Broomstick had three girls and one boy.
I also didn’t have a whole lot of faith in Mrs. Broomstick come lunch, either. The Navy was supposed to feed us in a real live Navy chow line, and I knew Mrs. Broomstick would make sure we took and ate our vegetables. No dessert otherwise. The old witch would also give us the standard lecture about how we ought to eat our vegetables on account of the starving people in Europe.
Even at eight years of age, I was smart enough to know that my eating something didn’t do anyone else any good. It was a dumb lecture.
No lie, Mrs. Broomstick could fuck up a Navy chow line.
Still, it was a trip aboard a real live aircraft carrier.
On the flight deck I remember seeing steel bulkheads that were buckled by age, and in my childish curiosity, I wondered if it was leftover battle damage from the war.
I also saw a painted row of little Japanese flags, one for each plane the ship shot down during the war. There were a few planes on deck. It was pretty neat. Some officer type told us about how planes were launched and recovered and we went below.
Seeing how Mrs. Broomstick was at the head of the Pack, my pal, Louie and I dragged our feet and became tail end Charleys. Distance was the key, out of sight, out of mind.
One of the white hats was near us, and I had to pee. I asked him where one went and he gave me directions to the nearest head. “Use the one that says ‘officers’ on the hatch,” he told us.
Louie and I both slipped out, found the head, peed and returned.
When we returned we found that the rest of the Pack was gone! We were terrified!
I was almost to the point of tears, and so was Louie.
Being eight and lost on an aircraft carrier is quite an overload for a country boy!
We reported to the nearest sailor who immediately took us in tow. The three of us went down a companionway and the sailor opened a hatch and stuck his head in and said, “Hey, Chief, we got a couple of Cub Scouts that got separated from their unit.”
“Send ‘em in,” growled the Chief.
Louie and I reported to the chief, giving him a Cub Scout salute. The Chief returned it and calmed us down. We relaxed and told the Chief about Mrs. Broomstick and how we wanted to look around and all sorts of eight year-old boy stuff.
The Chief smirked. Then he picked up a phone.
“Sir, I got a couple of strays. Please do not let Pack 50 leave until you hear from me.” He said.
Louie and I relaxed. We knew we were not going to be left behind. The Chief looked like a kind soul, too. Maybe he could get us off the hook with Mrs. Broomstick, who was sure to have a fit when she discovered our absence.
I asked, and he laughed. He picked up the phone again and a few minutes later, reported to us that everything was squared away. Someone would have a word with Mrs. Broomstick and get us off the hook.
“I hope she listens,” I said.
“She’ll listen,” he answered. “I called Chief Benton, it’s his boat. He’ll fix it.”
“She’s worse than the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz,” said Louie.
“That bad, Huh?” asked the Chief.
“Hmmm. Probably like Mrs. Ben…Never mind. Chief Benton is fire proof,” said the Chief.
“I spose you guys would like to look around the ship,” asked the Chief.
“Gee! That’d be neat!” said Louie and I.
He shouted and in came another sailor.
“Give these two the nickel tour and get ‘em both to the Chief’s mess for noon chow.” He ordered.
The next two and a half hours were a tour that started at the bridge and ended in the bowels of the engine room, and the poor sailor that guided us answered countless eight-year-old boy’s questions. We even got to sit in the cockpit of one of the airplanes!
Four and a half decades later, I wonder what major crime the poor sailor had committed in order to be assigned the pair of us! There is nothing more energetic than a pair of eight-year-old Cub Scouts, nor as curious, too. Of course, we wanted to know everything about everything we saw. There was a lot to see.
At the stroke of noon, we entered the Chief’s mess.
Louie and I impressed the Chief and some other senior NCOs with our ability to wolf down a man-sized cheeseburger apiece, followed by half a dozen doughnuts, a dish of ice cream and two or three bowls of green Jell-O. All washed down with a quart of milk, The Chiefs of Wasp seemed pretty impressed with our appetites.
As Louie and I dug into the green Jell-O, the Chief commented that it was a good thing, as now he could tell Mrs. Broomstick that we ate our greens. Hearing that made both Louie and I feel like we had just won the lottery.
After lunch, the Chief took us in tow and reunited us with the Pack. They were finishing lunch. We saw that Mrs. Broomstick was in position, reigning over our buddies making damn sure every single carrot and pea was eaten. The Chief explained to Mrs. Broomstick that he had asked us for some help and laid it on pretty thick. When he told her that he had made sure we had both eaten our greens, we relaxed. We were off the hook. At least to a point.
We knew that we had escaped an ass chewing, but we still knew we’d have to face her being whiney about not staying with the Pack. That woman could sure make life pretty miserable on a pair of 8 years olds. We pitied her son.
Years later in high school, Louie and I recalled the tour and he commented that Mrs. Broomstick had been given 2 sets of lips so she could piss and moan at the same time.
We rejoined the pack and slyly asker Mr. Sorkel if we could ride home with him. We had ridden up with Mrs. Broomstick, and probably were expected to ride back with her. He said that if Bobby and Steve would swap, that it’d be OK.
That was a gimme. It took Louie and I about two minutes to agree to the swap because we simply used the expedient known as Blackmail. Louie and I had something juicy on both of them.
This was a pretty good deal, as Mr. Sorkel was a pretty neat guy. He had been a weatherman during the war and had taught us a lot of neat stuff about he weather and the stars, too. What was important, though, is that he didn’t get all whiney and pout on us.
He treated us like young men.
He also owned a boat and was the sailing merit badge counselor for the Boy Scout troop we knew we’d graduate into.
Anyway, we finished the tour with the pack, but it wasn’t as much fun as it was getting the real scoop from the sailors, but it was OK.
We never let on to our buddies what happened until a lot later because we knew it’d get back to Mrs. Broomstick and there would be hell to pay.
Besides, we had figured out that we were often better off on our own and didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag, so we told everyone we had missed out on a lot by getting separated.
We kept his secret for years.
There would be other tours……………
When are you writing a book?
Every piccolo post should be tacked for at least a month.
God, that brings back memories.
Dad was Navy (Mustang) and as a youngster I spent plenty of time aboard a couple of ships.
Dad would have me tag along just about any time my school schedule and his work schedule would allow. Even got to do an overnight aboard one of them (USS Vancouver/LPD-2 of which dad was a Plankowner).
Keep it up Pic.
I agree with the idea of giving these a tack.
I always read Piccolo's posts.
edit for spelling