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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Sunday, September 4, 2016

You Don't Get a Good Conduct Ribbon for being an Angel

I had still not lost my dream of getting into the Naval Academy at Annapolis.  I did not confide in anyone, however—even my brother—because the average enlisted man in the Navy would deride anyone with ambitions to be a “gold braid”.  It would be a kiss of death with many of my new shipmates.
I went to the VP-23 squadron educational officer, a young reserve ensign named Rodney Foss, fresh out of the Naval cadet program, ostensibly for the purpose of getting some reference books to study for my third class petty officer’s examination.  I waited until Ensign Foss was alone in the office then, after swearing him to secrecy, told him what I wanted.  The young officer checked my personnel folder for my high school record and was delighted.  He felt that I had a chance to take the examination for the Annapolis preparatory school.  I was near the age limit (twenty) but Foss thought there would be time.
When I impressed upon ensign Foss the reasons that I wanted my application to be a secret, he promised that he would file the application himself and keep all the records locked in his desk.  If he entrusted it to a yeoman in would no doubt become an item of scuttlebutt and I would be subjected to much derision.  I told Foss that if that happened I would request a transfer and I did not want to do that.
The friendly young ensign swore on his honor as an officer that he would say nothing to anyone.  If my application was turned down, he would destroy all records and that would be the end of it.  He also promised to quietly check into the requirements for the examination and promised to provide me with a list of reference books that I could study.
It would be less than honest if I painted myself in those days as lily white.  As I mentioned before, I did my share of carousing in those early days in Hawaii and I did not always stay out of trouble.  I did receive a Good Conduct ribbon after four years in the Navy, but the reason was that I managed to avoid getting caught.  My troubles were usually personal and resulted from a combination of too much booze and the quick temper that seemed to come with my reddish blond hair.
One such incident occurred one night when I had gone on liberty with a good shipmate, Oscar Hook.  We decided we wanted to go dancing and see if we could pick up some girls.  Hook stated that he knew a coke joint that had live music and a dance floor out in Waikiki near the original Trader Vic’s (I forget the name of the place so I will call it “Jack’s” since that might well have been it).
There had been some problems at Jack’s with some inter-service fights between either sailors and marines or sailors and marines together against Army riff-raff.  Jack had banned booze from the premises.
We, of course, wanted something to spike the cokes (we figured the old saying “candy is dancy, but liquor is quicker” was true).  Hook had an answer as to how to smuggle in some bourbon.  He stopped at a drugstore and bought a douche bag and a bottle of bourbon.  In a filling station head, we cut the nozzle off the douche bag tube and poured the bourbon in the bag.  I was too skinny, but Hook weighed around two hundred pounds with a generous belly and he was wearing a loose regulation jumper.  He tucked the douche bag inside his waistband and it hardly showed.
At Jack’s, Hook remained seated at a table and I carried the cokes and ice from the bar.  Hook would then slip a drink under the red-checkered tablecloth and squirt a shot of bourbon into the coke.
We had gotten a pleasant glow on when two hapa-haole wahines that Hook knew came in and sat with us.  Both were terrific looking.  One was Kay with short black hair, quick happy smile, and laughing eyes.  The other was Lani (short for Leilani, meaning “heavenly flower”).  Lani had black hair down to her waist, the face and body of a beautiful young Polynesian wahine, and a very quiet voice and smile.  Both girls worked as models at a souvenir photo shop in Waikiki.  Lani was, indeed a heavenly flower in my eyes and we were soon on the dance floor.
The trouble began when a very drunken Army private tried to cut in on us and dance with Lani.  She did not want that and resisted.  When the private kept pestering us, my temper flared and I shoved him hard enough that he fell backward.  He came up off the floor sucking and swung a wild roundhouse punch at me.  I retaliated and almost instantly the place was bedlam with sailors and marines coming to my aid and soldiers fighting back.  The girls present were cowering along the palm frond walls.
I had just decked the drunk private when Oscar appeared on one side of the me and a green-clad marine on the other.  The marine yelled over the noise, “Back toward the window.  The shore patrol will be here and we’ll have to bail out!”
Sure enough, in a couple of minutes over the sounds of battle and breaking furniture there were shrill whistles of the shore patrol outside the door.  The marine shoved Nook and me through a side window and dive headfirst after us into the thick shrubbery.  The marine vanished into the darkness in one direction and Hook and I took off in another.  As we went I heard someone yell, “Watch the back!” and a white-clad shore patrol came around the building.
The SP spotted us and gave chase.  We cut over to the next street and ran for our lives with his pounding footsteps a half block behind.  He pursued us down Kalakaua and, as we came to the Wagon Wheel restaurant there were two SP’s coming up the street from the other direction.  Hook yelled, “In here!” and shoved me into the restaurant.
The Wagon Wheel had an open dining patio in the left of the front door.  We cut through there, causing no end of consternation among the diners.  The rear wall of the patio on the alley appeared to be made of woven palm fronds.  Hook, with his two hundred pounds charged the wall like a football guard and hit it with his shoulder.  It was not just palm fronds—behind them was a steel mesh fence!
Oscar bounced back with a curse.  I could hear the SPs approaching the restaurant door.  Using a vacant table by the fence, I boosted Hook over and swung after him.  We sprinted down the alley to the next street then swung off into the tree-lined streets of a quiet residential area.  Two blocks along and getting short of breath, we cut through an alley and discovered a detached garage with the door ajar.  The SPs were not within earshot as we slipped inside the garage.
The garage contained an ancient Model A Ford sedan.  We sat down on the running board to catch our breath, listening for sounds of pursuit that did not come.  When we were breathing normally and still heard no sounds, Hook produced the tube of the douche bag still in his waistband and we each had a shot.  I realized then that we were bareheaded.  I produced my white hat which had been folded and tucked into the back of my waistband.  Oscar felt around, then cursed, “Dang it, I must of left my white hat on the table!  I can’t get back to the base out of uniform—they’ll pick me up for sure!”
We each had another pull at the douche bag bourbon, (it had developed a slight taste of rubber but we were far enough along to ignore that) and solemnly considered the problem.  I had another shot and the little light bulb came on over my head.  “Tell you what, old buddy,” I pronounced owlishly, “I’ll go get you a white hat.”
“Where an’ how you gonna do that?”
“By now there’ll be a bunch of drunken sailors over at the Waikiki Tavern.  I’ll jist borry you one.”
“Hate to swipe an’ ol’ shipmate’s hat.”
“Aw, I’ll pick me a fireman off a ship.  You sit right here an’ save me a belt and I”ll be back before you know it.  Now don’t you try to go ennywhere—the SPs may still be out there looking for us.”
I straightened my rumpled whites, squared my white hat, listened at the door, then slipped out into the warm darkness walking as steadily as I could.
It went as planned.  I passed a couple of SPs with a careless wave of a hand, made it to the Waikiki Tavern, and as I reckoned the bar was in full swing.  I strolled through the din to the head where I was washing my hands when a very drunk sailor stumbled in headed for a booth.  His white hat was tipped on the back of his head and he never felt it when I lifted the hat as he staggered by.  I flipped it flat and tucked it in my waistband under my blouse as retching sounds came from the booth.
When I arrived back at the garage, I was dismayed to find the running board empty.  Hook had disappeared.  I called his name softly and was answered by a snore form the car.  Oscar was happily asleep in the back seat.  I felt the douche bag—it was flat and empty.
I finally got Oscar out of the car and unsteadily on his feet, straightened his uniform, and clapped the filched white hat on his head.  Hook was a big man and the hat was too small.  It perched precariously atop his mop of unruly black hair.
I considered our options.  There was no way I could get him on the bus to downtown Honolulu, onto the bus for the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, and into the Ford Island boat without getting picked up.  Even as I thought it over, Hook slowly slid down to a sitting position on the running board.
I investigated my wallet, then checked out Hook’s.  Between the two of us we had enough cash for a taxi to the Navy Yard.  My problem was to find one and get him into it.  Finally I got him on his feet and we unsteadily made it out of the alley and to a corner under a streetlight where I propped the big man against the pole and told him to hang on.
My heart sank when the second car past was a Honolulu police car.  It slowed and backed up to us.  The officer in the passenger seat said, “Got a problem, boys?”
I was now sober enough that my words did not slur.  “No sir.  My buddy here just doesn’t feel so good.  I need a taxi to get back to the base.”
The policeman looked us over carefully, apparently decided we were harmless, and said, “Stay right there.  We’ll send a cab.”  The police car slowly pulled away.
It worked.  In a few minutes, during which Hook slid down to sit on the curb and snored leaning against the pole, a taxi pulled up.  He deposited us at the Navy Yard gate and we had no problem.  The liberty boat coxswain was used to such sights.

During another liberty after we had moved to Kaneohe and I was on mess cooking duty, I was on the other end of such a problem.  I was on Saturday evening liberty with a shipmate—Pickett, I believe it was—and we went into the Honolulu Café on Beretania Street for some supper.  There we ran into two of my Vancouver High School 1939 classmates, George Stonehouse and Frankie Enz.
Turned out that Stonehouse and Enz had gone through boot camp together and both ahd been assigned to the heavy cruiser INDIANAPOLIS.  The “INDY” had just moored at Pearl and they were on their first Honolulu liberty.  We had some drinks after supper, then took them for a tour of the joints in the “tenderloin”.
After considerably more drinks than we needed (I recall the tip of my nose got numb which was the signal I had had enough, but I ignored it and was having a great time) we wound up in a place down on Nuuana Canal.  Later I vaguely recalled that there was a crap game in a corner and I got into a beef with a drunk Marine corporal.  When we started to come to blows the madam ordered us to take it to the alley outside, which we did.
It was a dandy scrap and we each decked the other a couple of times when an SPs’ whistle shrilled down the street.  Pickett hustled me off down the alley, got me back up to Beretania, and we boarded the “Red Peril”.  I slept in the back seat all the way to Kaneohe.  I do not know what happened to Stonehouse and Enz as they were otherwise occupied at the time of the fight and I never saw them again.  (Late in WWII the INDIANAPOLIS was torpedoed, blew up, and sank in minutes with few survivors.)
The next morning when we mess cooks were turned out at 0400, I was on my bunk still in my whites and I was a mess.  I stank of gin, was sick as a dog with a hangover, and there was blood on the front of my blouse.  Checking myself over, I could find no damage to account for it.  I asked Pickett later about it and he just laughed, “Hell, Frieze, you beat up on that Marine.  It was his blood after you broke his nose!”
Like I may have said earlier, you don’t get a Good Conduct ribbon for being an angel—you get it for not getting caught!

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