Regarding the war within the war that was fought to resolve whether I had to become a deck-watch stander, the eccentric skipper of USS EAGLE 32 made another decision without thinking about all possible consequences.
Being a qualified deck-watch stander was prerequisite for being the command duty officer in port. I had not voluntarily qualified because I was recruited from the Merchant Marine Reserve of the U.S. Naval Reserve for “duties: engineering.” Due to foul ups in the Bureau of Personnel I was assigned to a ship for the second time in which an engineering only specialist was not needed nor wanted. My skipper had already been figuratively keel hauled three-weeks before for ordering me off his ship without specific orders to report somewhere else. The subsequent truce didn’t last long.
I was called to the captain’s cabin and informed that it was unfair to the other officers for me to have free gangway. I was ordered to stay aboard every third evening. There was no other reason.
I think that the skipper and the officers who had provoked him, thought that I would be unhappy. But unlike them, I had arranged for a third of my monthly pay to be deducted and sent as an allotment to my parents. I didn’t have enough money to be ashore all the time and I soon realized that having to stay aboard was an opportunity for dates that I could not otherwise afford.
I had met a girl at a weekly dance for servicemen in San Diego’s Grant Hotel. Her roommate had a car, a rarity for single people during the war, so I invited both of them on the few occasions when I could afford to go out on the town. Since the wardroom mess treasurer billed only seventy-five cents for each dinner guest, I invited the two girls to have dinner with me the first evening that I had to stay on board.
My guests were thrilled not because they were visiting a Navy ship, but because they didn’t have to plan and cook a meal. As luck would have it steak was served and of course with mashed potatoes, a vegetable and a dessert. Also, they were ecstatic because they didn’t have to give up any of their meat-ration coupons. Consequently, I invited them aboard for dinner every third night. Usually they stayed a few hours afterwards and on weekends, sometimes as late as midnight. I taught them how to play cribbage and that other Navy favorite, acey ducy, the seagoing version of backgammon.
After about three weeks of being aboard every third night with no responsibilities other than having to entertain guests, the skipper sent for me, and told me that he was again being bugged by complaints from the other officers. I couldn’t imagine why. He then said that they complained this time because, when having the command duty, they didn’t dare go to sleep while two females were on board. What’s more the base duty officers had complained because they too had to stay awake until the guard at the gate logged out the car with the two girls.
The exasperated skipper then yelled at me, “For God’s sake, go ashore every evening!”
Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo