Sunday, March 18, 2012
Louie and I Man the fighting tops.
Louie and I were in our third year of Cub Scouts and the fall tour sponsored my the military was a visit to the USS Constitution, ‘Old Ironsides’, located in Charleston, Mass.
This was not really as exciting as it sounds. My aunt had taken me to see ‘Old Ironsides’a few months earlier during the early part of the summer when my mother was in the hospital. My aunt was a new schoolteacher and decided her nephews needed some ‘cult-chah’ and dragged my kid brother and I through the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (booooring), the Boston Science Museum (pretty neat) and to keep our interests up, we went to see Old Ironsides The Navy’s ‘canned tour’ was pretty good, and they had let my brother and I play with the smashers, the heavy 32 pound guns.
Still, I wasn’t going to miss out on a trip with the guys, so I went. Louie and I teamed up again, as usual.
This was a great deal. Mrs. Broomstick was no longer our Den Mother, Mrs. Lewis was ands she was pretty good in that she didn’t over mother us and raise hell over what we ate. She had several kids of her own, mostly older, and she had a lot of things figured out. She figured out that simply feeding us was good enough and that there were better things to raise hell about than a couple of lousy peas left on the dinner plate.
One other thing she had figured out is that Dr. Spock was an idiot.
I heard her tell my mother that once. She raised her kids the old fashioned way. She used common sense.
‘Mother’ Davis was Cub master. This was about three or four years before we started calling him ‘Mother’. Back then he was simply Bob Davis to adults or Mr. Davis to us kids. A couple years later, he became a Boy Scout leader where he earned the nickname ‘Mother Davis’.
Mr. Davis, I later learned had been a Navy veteran of WW2 and his battle station on an Attack Transport was the helm. During Okinawa, he had spent a hellish 70 hour-long stint at the wheel dodging Kamikazes. He was pretty proud that ‘his’ Marines had gotten into Okinawa all right. I learned this later in Boy Scouts.
He was also sometimes a real character with a real deadpan sense of humor.
At the Pack meeting, he explained that we were going on the tour with another Pack from across town. This was pretty neat because we knew most of the guys in the other Pack from school.
Two Packs of Cub scouts, almost 100 kids were lined up and Mr. Davis got in front of all of us and carefully explained that Constitution was a bona fide Naval vessel and that we were to show her some respect. We were supposed to board her properly and demonstrated the proper way to board.
We started up, following Mr. Davis. He was wearing his old Navy cap.
When he got to the top, he faced the Officer of the deck and saluted.
"Former 1st Class Petty Officer Davis requests permission to board, Sir," he said.
Mr. Davis faced aft and saluted the colors.
Then he stood next to the Officer and watched almost a hundred Cub Scouts board.
"Cub Scout Johnny Smith requests permission to board, Sir," giving the two fingered Cub Scout salute.
The officer of the deck returned the salute, and the Cub Scout faced aft and saluted the colors.
Mr. Davis watched the scene repeat itself almost a hundred times with a big self-satisfied look on his face. The poor officer of the deck must have worn out his arm returning all the salutes, but he did, returning every single one crisply.
Another officer, one with oak leaves on his collar, watched and chuckled at the hapless officer of the day. So did a Chief. Louie and I knew what Chiefs were from out trip to Wasp, two years earlier.
"Hey, Chief," I asked. "You let the captain run the boat?"
Mr. Davis laughed out loud, the Chief grinned appreciatively and the officer with the oak leaves on his collar points smirked.
"The Chief does a pretty good job of keeping an eye on me," he said.
They all laughed.
"I like you, kid," said the Chief.
They laughed again.
After the last of us boarded, the tour started.
The Navy was smart, figuring that no human should be forced to give a tour of any type to 100 children of Cub Scout age, split us into a couple of groups. Anything over one thousand, two hundred and thirty four questions in a two-hour period was enough for anyone. The two packs were split up, which was a pretty good deal, considering we got to pal around with other guys we knew, but shared Cub Scouting in common.
Seeing that I had been through the tour and had briefed Louie, we plotted out escape.
We didn’t want to be sailors. We wanted to be Marines.
Mrs. Lewis had shown us a picture book about Constitution at our Den meeting. One of the pictures was a picture of US Marines on the fighting tops. They were shooting muskets at the British from a platform halfway up the masts. We asked her about what the guys there were doing. She read us the cutline.
‘Marines man the fighting tops during a battle in 1814’, read the cutline.
The mentality of being a basic rifleman is something that someone is born with, or one does not have it. Louie and I must have had it at the time. The picture fired our imaginations.
We both knew where our spiritual battle stations were.
Anyway, we sneaked out of the tour and hid near the officer of the day. Sometimes the best place to hide is in the lion’s mouth.
"Wait until he’s talking to a pretty lady," said Louie.
We waited. Shortly thereafter, a woman from the Baltimore area showed up and came up the gangway. She had to be from Baltimore because she had a set of breastworks that looked like they came from Fort McHenry.
While the officer of the deck was busy with her, Louie and I interrupted.
"Permission to man our battle stations," I asked, giving the Cub Scout salute.
"Granted," snapped the officer, returning our salutes.
Our little asses were now covered!
John Paul Jones would have marveled. The Gunnery Sergeant of Bon Homme Richard would have been in tears of joy seeing the speed the ‘tops were manned!
We did not climb the rigging, nor did we scale the mast.
No way in hell. There is a proper nautical term for what happened next.
Louie and I swarmed up the ratlines, and in record time, too.
Seconds later, two ten-year-old wannabe Marines were on the fighting tops of the forward mast. How we got up there without being caught is still, forty-two years later, beyond me.
Still, we were there.
We sat there, out of sight and enjoyed the view.
Then we did sort of a dumb thing. We looked down.
We were a bit scared. The Officer of the Deck looked like a small dot from there. Slowly we relaxed, and the inevitable happened. We started fucking around, which is to be expected of ten year-old boys.
It wasn’t long before one of us did something stupid like shout "Land, Ho!" or something dumb like that. It wasn’t much, but it didn’t take much, either.
That’s when the shit hit the fan. Chaos reigned on the main deck. Orders were being barked and suddenly we saw a sailor start up the ratlines toward us. He was coming up the starboard side. At a glance, we saw that all the action going on below was on the starboard side.
So Louie and I started down the port side ratlines as fast as we could. I guess we figured that if we could hit the deck running, that we could scurry below and mix in with another group of Cub Scouts. They’d probably give up if we did that.
We were pretty close to the deck when we both saw that there were people headed toward us to head us off, so when we were pretty close to the deck, we both jumped.
I landed in the arms of a pretty beefy Chief. The grip he held me in let me know that I wasn’t going anywhere.
The officer with the oak leaves caught Louie and they both fell in a heap. Louie bounced up like a cat and took off like a shot. He almost made it, but was nailed cold by a sailor that scooped him up like a sack and returned him to the Skipper, the Chief and I.
"What were you doing up there," asked the Captain.
"Me and Louie are going to be Marines when we get bigger," I said. "We were just manning our battle stations."
"We had permission," added Louie.
"Who gave you permission?" asked the Skipper.
"He did," we both said, pointing at the Officer of the Deck. "He said we could man our battle stations!"
"Mister," said the Skipper. "Do you have any children?"
"When you have children, you’ll learn."
"Yes, Sir." He looked embarrassed.
The Skipper and the Chief exchanged looks. They seemed somewhat amused. But were trying to hide it.
"I’m glad I have girls," said the skipper.
"Hell, Sir," said the Chief. "In a couple of years, you’ll gladly trade stuff like this when the girls discover boys and you find a dozen young men outside their window baying like hounds."
The Skipper turned ashen.
"That’ll be enough of that, Chief. But I do take your point."
We got off pretty easily, with a lecture of sorts. The skipper also told us that we couldn’t do Marine things until we were actually old enough to be Marines.
"We figured that if we learn to do Marine things now, we’d make stripes faster when we went in," said Louie.
"You two will do OK just the way you are," said the Chief.
The Skipper and the Chief were both kind men and they escorted us back to the tour.
"Why did you guys start running? Asked the Skipper.
"Because you were chasing us," I answered.
The Chief actually laughed outright.
"Yeah," said Louie. "And if we were caught, we’re supposed to try and escape."
"You two will make pretty good Marines," said the Chief.
It was well over thirty years before I found out why we never caught hell for this from Mr. Davis or Mrs. Lewis. I found out from ‘Mother’ Davis a couple years before he died.
He told me that he figured that two ten year old boys that had been caught raising hell by a Navy Chief had gotten whole lot more of a punishment than they deserved.
edited to add, these days it's pretty funny telling Marines that 'When I was a whole lot younger than you, I was manning the 'tops on Old Ironsides!'
my other blog is: http://officerpiccolo.blogspot.com/ http://piccolosbutler.blogspot.com/