Friday, November 28, 2008

Things I Did Not Learn At School

When I first flew into the Stalag, so many years ago, it was complements of Uncle Sam, sending me on a scenic cruise around a pretty big chunk of the western hemisphere. The first stop was the Recruit Training Center on Point Loma, a part of the seaside town of San Diego. Thence to the Training Center in Waukegan, Illinois to learn to maintain and repair diesel engines, and then to Mayport, outside of Jacksonville, Florida to spend the remainder of my enlistment aboard the USS Saratoga, which was not powered by diesel engines, but steam turbines.

The ship did have a number of diesel powered utility boats though, so I guess it was all right.

While billeted aboard that ship, I had no small number of adventures, some of which might have been the death of many a lesser man. I've decided that as the mood strikes me, I'll relate some of these tales for the amusement of friends and relatives. In fact, a few of these tales already find themselves languishing in the archives.

Several of we who graduated high school in the Central Class of 1961 opted to join the Navy within weeks or months of graduation. Every one of them, but myself, ended our training with orders to such places as Japan and the Philippines. I went to a ship on the east coast. Months later one friend, Gareth Johnson from East Grand Forks, suddenly appeared aboard Saratoga. We had been acquainted in Grand Forks; we became fast friends in that foreign setting.

Soon, we were off to the Mediterranean Sea for a cruise of several flight exercises and many foreign ports. Somewhere off the coast of Spain, we had a ship-to-ship with the other carrier in the fleet, the USS FD Roosevelt, as I recall. There was about a twenty-foot swell as we anchored, and we of the utility boat crew were to run some supplies and foodstuffs between the ships.

Handling a fifty-foot utility boat in a twenty-foot swell can be an adventure in itself when you're 20-years old. My job was the bow line. The trick was to secure the line to a vertical line tied high and low on the ship's hull, so that as the boat rises and falls with the swell, the lines slide up and down with it. Half a dozen fenders keeps the boat's wooden gunwales from getting chewed up by the steel ship's hull.

You wait for the top of the swell, then grab the jacob's ladder and scramble up as fast as you can, before the boat can come up on the next swell and hit you.

The funnest part of the day was the moment when I was standing 'pon the bow, bow line in hand, ready to tie off. Suddenly, the swell dropped away with the boat, leaving me ten feet in the air, holding onto the bow line for dear life. Luckily, the boat rose to meet me coming down, and I landed hard on the deck. Multiple bruises and a slightly sprained wrist.

Not far from this rendezvous was the island of Mallorca, where we anchored for a couple of days. This liberty turned out to be more of a plain old fashioned good time than what you'd call an adventure, and I wouldn't have missed it.

Gary and I were in the process of trying out local beers when we stumbled into a group of revelers from Britain. There were about eight or ten of them, visiting on holiday, and celebrating their last night before their return flight home.

The group, both boys and girls around my own age, turned out to be an excursion group, none of whom had known each other, before this holiday. There were no boy-girl friends in the group, as was evidenced by the fact that two of the girls quickly fastened onto to Gary and I, and there were no fights.

Mary Collins was her name, and she was from Cardiff. She was (and still is, one hopes) a very pretty and fun-loving girl. She told me I looked like Paul McCartney. I asked her who was Paul McCartney? In all fairness, it was 1963, and I'd been kind of out of circulation aboard the ship for a while. The Beatles weren't very widely known in the States, at that time.

I probably wouldn't recall her name (although there are things about her that I'll not forget), except that we kept in touch for a while, and as it happens, I still have one of her letters.

She reminds me of some of the things we did. There are other things of which she doesn't need to remind me. Seems we did some more beer drinking, and at one point, ran off from a sidewalk cafe without paying. Now, I don't remember doing that. It's something I'd never do, although I did drink a lot more in those days than since.

We ended up in a secluded corner of a park, each with a bottle of beer in hand. Alas, the night was too short. She had to catch her plane and I had to muster aboard the ship. I had to call in a favor to get my pals on the utility boats to smuggle me back to the ship, five hours late.

An indisputable fact: it was worth it!

Never stop having adventures.

Warm regards,

Col. Hogan
Stalag California


MK said...

A favor to smuggle you back on board eh. Sounds like a great ol time you had there.

Col. Hogan said...


Yes, it was! I was supposed to be back aboard by midnight. I've missed sleep for far lesser reasons.

The Wine Commonsewer said...

A British girl named Mary and Mallorca?

That's practically a movie......

Col. Hogan said...


I'd like to see that movie. Maybe it'd help fill me in on some details that were drowned in beer.