Go to Chapter One Section Go to Book World's Review

Slow Dance to Pearl Harbor
A Tin Can Ensign in Prewar America
By Capt. William J. Ruhe, USN (RET.)

Chapter One: A Tin Can Ensign in Prewar America

A year after graduation from the Naval Academy, I was ordered to the destroyer Roe (DD-4 18). Lieutenant Commander Speed Rogers, the first lieutenant of the cruiser Trenton from which I was being detached, remarked to me, "You're lucky to be assigned to a tin can, because you've already lost a year in the Navy through your playing around in Europe." Lucky? Well, perhaps, since a tin can was generally thought to be the best place to learn how to be a top-grade surface ship operator. What Speed Rogers had considered to be playing around I felt was creating good will among the people of Europe. At least that was the advertised purpose of European Squadron 40 T, of which the USS Trenton was the flagship.

After detachment from the Trenton in late August 1940, I took seven days of "proceed time." Thus, I arrived late in the evening of 30 August at the destroyer Roe, which was tied up in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was the start of the Labor Day weekend, so there was just a skeleton crew on the Roe and only a duty officer to provide the traditional, "Welcome aboard."

Lieutenant (junior grade) Burris D. ("B.D.") Wood, the duty officer, was called topside to meet me as I marched up the gangway carrying a single suitcase and my guitar. The cruise box that I'd left in my fifty-dollar Chevrolet car was hauled aboard by two enlisted men whom B.D. ordered to "bring it to the quarterdeck, for Ensign Ruhe." After studying my orders to the Roe, B.D. had me "logged inn by the quartermaster of the watch. I was alarmed that B.D. kept shaking his head from side to side as he studied me closely. "You've come to a tough ship, Mr. Ruhe," he gloomily ventured.

"It's 'Bill,"' I corrected.

"Okay, Bill. You might as well know from the start that this isn't the happiest of tin cans. Captain Scruggs likes to describe it as a 'taut' ship." I'd been in the Navy long enough to learn that those commanding officers who ran taut ships were considered to be "sundowners"--strict disciplinarians with a mean streak. In the very old navy, a "sundowner" was one who sadistically had all of his crew return to their ship by sundown so they would have to spend the night aboard. Was Captain Scruggs actually a sundowner? Or was B.D. exaggerating?

"The skipper is a rough taskmaster," B.D. continued, "He's a stickler for details and a bit erratic. Part of the time he's the nicest, most congenial senior officer you'll ever know. Then he's stamping all over you for some piddling thing. He thinks he's either trying to get your attention or he's trying to make you a better naval officer." B.D. paused to let this sink in. Then he continued, "Stay rigged in for awhile--that means saying, 'Yes, sir' to everything. And don't let him see you wasting time while you're on this ship. He keeps quoting, 'life is real and life is earnest,' which means, 'act serious and dedicated to your job,'--at least while he's watching you."

"Job?" I asked.

"You're going to relieve Ozzie Wiseman out of '38 Naval Academy as communications officer. So get together with him as soon as he comes back to the ship. Ozzie is leaving for flight school at Pensacola soon, and is eager as hell to get off this ship as fast as possible. Ozzie is no fun to work with. But stick close to him and learn all about how to stay out of the Captain's hair, while carrying out your communication duties. Unfortunately, the Captain is more bugged by communications problems than by anything else. So you've got a tough row to hoe ahead."

"How does Ozzie get along with the skipper?" I innocently asked.

B.D.'s frowning response was not optimistic: "Captain Scruggs thinks that Ozzie is the best officer aboard because he keeps claiming that he's spending hundreds of hours keeping his publications corrected, while working hard to train his men. And he is. But he's as slow as molasses in whatever he does. So he's working at his job without letup and acting never caught up. When the skipper is watching, Ozzie puts on a great act of being exhausted from overwork. He'll be a tough act for you to follow. And you don't look like the type who'll be overwhelmed by a communications job." B.D. was right on. I wasn't going to lose my liberty time just to impress the Old Man. There'd be no act of keeping my nose to a grindstone when work was finished. I believed in enjoying activities ashore. Perhaps things might change, however, while I was on the Roe.

"Am I now 'George' on this ship?" I asked. As the lowest-ranked officer on the ship I'd be handed a host of menial, no-account jobs. And this would really complicate a swift reduction of my workload--which I was counting on, so I could pursue my many interests on the beach.

"Well, perhaps your classmate, Blatz Helm, who's aboard, is lower than you in class standing."

Remembering that Blatz claimed to be the anchorman (the graduate with the lowest academic standing) in the Naval Academy's class of '39, I strongly--and with great relief--stated, "He is. He's several hundred numbers below me, so he continues to be 'George.' Right?"

B.D. chuckled and pleasantly nodded. His round, boyish, open face made me feel that he would be a good shipmate and ally on this "taut" ship. Then I noted a look of concern on B.D.'s face when I glanced around the topside. "The Roe's in refit right now," he explained, "and doesn't look shipshape. It's my job as first lieutenant to get her cleaned up. In fact, we'll all be working hard as hell to avoid the Captain's wrath for having a dirty ship. His threats can't be taken lightly because he doesn't mind giving unsatisfactory fitness reports. Or even restricting us for almost anything he doesn't like."

At this point, B.D. remembered that there was mail for me on his desk. He sent a messenger, who returned with three letters, one of which was an airmail letter from Holland. The address on it in Lucrece's stylish handwriting made my heart beat faster and I felt a little light-headed. It was the first letter from my girl in Holland since the Lowlands were invaded by the Germans on 10 May 1940. I wanted to tear it open then and there. But with B.D. watching, I resisted the great urge to find out what had happened to my Lucrece. So I crammed it into my pocket until I was alone. Then, I could properly savor the contents of this agonizingly delayed letter. It should show whether our love affair was still strong or whether it had been wiped out by the Nazi invasion of Lucrece's harmless country.

Thus, as soon as B.D. left me alone for a moment, I ripped open the envelope and read the first few lines to be sure that Lucrece was still healthy and uninjured. She was. And I noted that under the date of the letter, 28 July 1940, she'd penned, "your birthday." Since something good always seemed to happen on my birthday, I expected that her written words would be favorable:

My darling Bill, The German invasion was a nightmare. But the occupation troops have strict orders not to harm Dutch women. So, I've been able to carry out my Red Cross duties without fear of being molested. Unfortunately, young, handsome German soldiers are always by my side trying to help me in my work with the injured. I hate them when they're so close to me. They are trying to gain my favor and my affections. . . ."

I read no further and put the letter back in my pocket. It was evident that my Lucrece was not a victim of the war. Nor did she seem too unhappy about the German occupation of the Netherlands. Moreover, she was apparently resigned to her fate, as well she might be, since the Dutch had lost all hope of being liberated quickly after the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk in late May.

Later, after I pleaded a need for sleep, B.D. assigned me to an officer's stateroom. Again alone, I continued to read the letter from Lucrece:

When the air raid sirens began howling about nine in the morning, everyone rushed around wondering what was going to happen. Was Rotterdam going to be bombed? And why would the Germans want to bomb our poor old port city--an "open city"? I quickly put on my Auxiliary Red Cross outfit and rushed into the Oostplein to see where help might be needed. But then the sky was filled with parachutes near the airfields and many German soldiers came floating down. Most of our people were in the air raid shelters expecting bombs to drop--not heavily armed enemy soldiers. A few of our young men were at the airfields and had old rifles, shotguns, and pistols to kill the descending paratroopers. But the Germans shot the men who were in the open. The enemy's fast-firing weapons were too much for our brave Dutch boys. So not too many of the Nazis were killed before they landed. Soon there were so many Germans on the ground that our armed men had to flee for safety. But they were killed under the bridges or pulled from homes and shot. The Germans paid no attention to me because I was wearing my Red Cross uniform and was a woman. The fighting was all over so rapidly that I felt terribly ashamed because we Dutch were so badly prepared for this unexpected kind of invasion and could be conquered so easily. Later I heard that the Germans had expected to have 65 percent casualties on their first drop of paratroopers at Rotterdam. But it was laughable at how few Germans were either injured or killed. Soon after, the Germans bombed Rotterdam, killing fifty thousand citizens. It appears that the Germans enjoyed the same quick takeover of all the large cities of Holland while suffering few casualties of their paratroops. When I rushed to provide first aid to a wounded Dutch soldier there was always a young German soldier beside me, acting protective. Their attitude, that they were the very considerate conquerors who you'll come to appreciate and soon cooperate fully with, was unbearable to me. I've never liked Germans and these Nazis are the worst. Their occupation of Holland will be a dreadful thing. Already they've rounded up all the Jews and have shipped them to Germany to work in the munitions industries. Perhaps I should leave the above out of this letter if there is any hope for its reaching you. Still, an International Red Cross worker here feels that she can smuggle this letter out of the country without it being seen by any Germans. My love, we might have to wait until this war is over to get married. But I'll keep loving you devotedly every moment that we are separated. Your Lucrece

That night, after finishing Lucrece's letter, I lay awake for several hours remembering and reliving the very few days we had spent together in July 1939. That's all we had to build on, but it had produced a love that robbed me of my sleep on many nights. Lucrece had become a main part of my future.

I recalled spending the early afternoon of my previous birthday with most of the Trenton's officers touring the docks of Rotterdam in the burgomaster's boat. It was very boring stuff, but considered necessary to emphasize our "good will" toward Holland. Then, at the Town Hall, the burgomaster gave a tiresome, long-winded welcoming speech, which was followed by an equally flowery, dull speech, by Admiral Charley Courtney, who was the head of European Squadron 40 T. His command consisted of a single cruiser and two destroyers and was a simple force to carry out a modest task. His speech, both wordy and almost meaningless, had to be suffered through.

I was falling asleep at the back of the crowd of forced attendees when there was a slight stir at the rear of the hall. A glance over my shoulder showed the most beautiful girl in all of Holland. She was cautiously entering so as not to disturb the distinguished admiral's speech. How did I recognize her as the most beautiful girl in her country? It was easy.

The Trenton had arrived in Rotterdam on 22 July 1939, and for the next four days Maxie Berns and I had ridden our bicycles around the city of Rotterdam looking for attractive girls. Finding none, we had put our bikes on a train to Amsterdam the next day. Once there, we joined the thousands of pedalers who thronged the city's wide streets. The bicycle traffic moved so fast that our inexperienced, weak-legged low speeds caused many of the cyclers to yell, "Hurry up!" or "Get out of the way!"

The rapid flow of women and men on their simple, one-speed bikes--additional gears were unnecessary on the flat surfaces of the Lowlands--caused me to focus only on the bare legs of the girls gliding by. Most appeared muscular and a bit heavy. However, when I spotted a slim leg pumping away, I'd speed up to examine her body and to get a good look at her face. But failing to concentrate on the traffic flow brought me more curses and bicycle bell-ringing, which I ignored as I studied one after another pretty Amsterdam girl.

It was while I was zeroing in on a blonde with a shapely leg, nice body, and pink cheeks, that I observed that other Dutch fellows were ogling the same girl. One particular male who wanted to show his especial interest in the girl rang his bicycle bell twice and the girl answered with two rings and took off as though in a drag race. Evidently the two rings meant, "I like what I see and I'm going to catch you." Her answering two rings meant, "Come ahead, but I'm not easy to catch." It was a game of courtship being played out. The furiously pedaling girl was acting coy and hard to get, while the fellow had to prove that he really wanted to make a conquest. After initially widening the gap between herself and the chasing boy, she eased up on her pedaling, as if she wanted to be friendly. This let her pursuer catch up and grab her bicycle seat. At this, the two would drop out of the traffic, move to the sidewalk, and mumble words of introduction. It was an easily understood charade. I also noticed several other chases where the fellow never overtook the girl bicyclist by the time both had disappeared from view far out ahead of Maxie and me.

Understanding the game and recognizing that Amsterdam had a considerable supply of good-looking girls, Maxie and I pulled out of the moving traffic pattern and stopped on the sidewalk to discuss how two cyclists in poor shape could be successful in this girl-boy game. Maxie suggested: "Let's just pedal close to a likely prospect and let her look us over. Then we ring our bells twice. Since we're clean and decent-looking American guys, the girl might be persuaded to slow up after she's initially raced away at a great speed." This plan left out our first having to hear her two rings of assent--if she wanted to be chased.

Why not give this idea a try?

So, when back in the traffic, on spotting an exciting, clean-limbed girl with flowing blond hair, I rang my bell twice. At this, the girl rang her bell twice and took off like a bat out of hell. Shortly, she glanced back and a look of disgust spread across her face as she noted that I was not closing the gap. In fact, our separation was widening. Consequently, she sped off and got lost in a dense crowd of bicyclers. I made several more unsuccessful attempts to get acquainted with a beautiful creature. But no luck. Maxie did no better. So we decided that the Amsterdam girls felt that the two of us were not worth slowing down for. Dejected, we put our bicycles back on a train for Rotterdam and returned to the Trenton.

Thus, when this truly stunning young woman appeared in the doorway at the back of the hall, I moved swiftly toward her to preempt her attention. Her loveliness was like a rare and beautiful landscape. The looks of awe and the gaping jaws of other officers who had turned at the interrupting noise made me realize that she was worth risking the fury of the admiral by furtively shuffling across the parquet hardwood floor of the hall. Even so, the immediate pause in the admiral's speech, when he heard my footsteps, struck my back like a well-directed arrow.

But when the swarthy-tanned girl, who had sparkling dark-brown eyes and wavy bronze sun-bleached hair, smiled warmly at me, my impulsiveness seemed justified. It was love at first sight! Compared to the blond, blue-eyed, plain beauties bicycling around Amsterdam, this new arrival resembled a movie starlet who could charm males everywhere.

Soon, I was to learn that she actually was starring in Dutch films. She revealed this as we walked back to the Trenton for dinner. Also, that her name was Lucrece Dolee. She pronounced it "Lew-cress Dolay" in such a melodious way that I felt she must be very good in musicals. Her last name, "Dolee," didn't seem to fit her volatile, yet fluid gestures. She resembled a hula dancer interpreting a Hawaiian song. Evidently, she was of Italian heritage. I also noted that she walked beside me discreetly and shyly, keeping a considerable separation between the two of us. There was no touching of shoulders or grasping of hands. Lucrece was undoubtedly feeling out our relationship. And that was good, because overly aggressive girls usually turned me off

In the Trenton's wardroom I smugly introduced Lucrece to ogling junior officers, who seemed enchanted by her presence. Maxie Berns had also brought a girl with him for the evening meal--Lucrece's friend, Lillian. Thus, after the meal, Maxie suggested that the four of us go dancing somewhere. Lillian felt that we'd do best at Scheveningen--the Atlantic City of Holland, located on the North Sea. I was all for dancing with Lucrece since it would bring us closer together. So, we borrowed the wardroom's automobile and Maxie drove us fifteen miles to the Casino at Scheveningen.

On the way there I held hands with Lucrece, discovering with a rude shock that her palms were heavily callused. "I row almost every day for exercise," she admitted. "In the early morning I do a few miles around the canals in my scull--when I'm not on location for a movie." Her rough, muscular hands had me worried. But her nice, dimpled knees and smooth, soft thighs, displayed when she accidentally repositioned herself on the backseat, allayed my concerns.

The movie business intrigued me. So I asked about her roles and their importance in the films she was in. She dodged these questions but was emphatic about the work. "I hate it. I have to get up at five-thirty in the morning and work until the mid-afternoon. The shooting goes on for only a few weeks and I get no more than a hundred dollars a day when I'm working. I'm not getting rich like your Hollywood movie stars." A hundred dollars a day? That was really big money to an ensign who was being paid only $125 a month!

When asked about her travels, she said that she and Lillian had just returned from Germany, where they'd been wined and dined by some of Hitler's aides--Goering, Hess, Himmler. Apparently, the Nazi party leaders doted on having beautiful women at their social gatherings. What that meant about Lucrece I could only guess, but it suggested that she might admire top-dog Nazis.

The following afternoon, Lucrece and I rode bicycles to her swimming club. When I rang my bell twice, she laughingly answered with two rings and took off like a sprinter coming out of the starting blocks. Then she slowed down and let me overtake her and grab her bicycle seat. At this, she giggled in such a silly fashion that I knew she was embarrassed at her too-easy acceptance of my courtship.

At the pool she devastated me with her breathtaking, shapely body. She was truly a thoroughbred. Her swimming was strong and graceful. So I had to show off on the diving board, doing difficult trick dives. My double-twist corkscrew dive was new to her and she clapped for it enthusiastically. Lillian, who'd come with Maxie on bicycles to join us, added to the applause.

Again we returned to the ship for dinner. But this time I insisted upon first meeting her parents and her sister, Manon. Her mother proved to be an effervescent, plump, black-haired woman who was always short of breath as she enthused about "her Lucrece." The father, on the other hand, was a low-key, taciturn, wiry Dutchman who ran a jewelry store. Only the hint of a smile showed on his face when he shook my hand when I was introduced.

Then there was Manon, the younger sister, who was much like her mother, bright-eyed and dark, but slim. She told of being a dress designer who created dresses for Lucrece to wear in her movies. When we took her back to the Trenton for dinner, she was well impressed by the watercolors I'd painted and said that they were "very good for a naval officer who did such things." Manon was definitely the kid sister, not too attractive, but likeable and clever. And evidently not jealous of her exceptional sister.

Only three more days of swimming, dancing and walking together beside the windy North Sea remained before the Trenton departed for Saint-Nazaire, France, for another good will visit.

On our last night together, Lucrece and I went to Scheveningen to hear a symphony, played by the National Symphonic Orchestra and directed by Ernest Ansermet. He was one of Europe's best conductors, according to Lucrece. The guest piano soloist, Mary Barrett Dew, was "world renowned," and the music was powerful and enchanting, Lucrece was ecstatic during the Debussy Chanson du Mer suite and transmitted her deep feelings through her hand, which I held throughout the concert. Her shivers of delight at a beautiful passage of music produced in me a strong emotional reaction, which generated a heightened interest in classical music--and Lucrece.

Coming back late at night in a taxi, we kissed passionately. But Lucrece said, "You shouldn't kiss me as though you love me when you're actually only fooling with my affections." She said this so sadly that I felt a little guilty. "And I am deeply hurt since I have begun to love you and you aren't serious about our relationship," she added. What Lucrece was saying was that my lovemaking was mere flirting. She protested, "For me, this is a great tragedy in my life. I feel that it would be much better if we never see each other again." Give up this perfect liaison with this wonderful woman? Didn't she realize how smitten I'd become?

Then she told me of some of her unhappy, short-lived love affairs with overly aggressive movie people--handsome but shallow macho men who were anything but considerate of her deep feelings in their relationships. She told me these things so woefully that it made me love her more tenderly. Her reproach for my sexual desire, however, was disturbing, and this tragic side of her personality was most puzzling. How could a person who was so beautiful and outgoing not hold the world by its tail and be fully able to enjoy her destiny? Finally she said, "At least let's continue through the years to be good friends." She sounded like a member of the gloom-and-doom crowd who were groaning that war was coming soon to spoil their easy lives.

Walking hand in hand on the beach at Scheveningen in a strong gale on our last night together, I felt a supreme sort of happiness. Lucrece, on the other hand, acted very depressed. She said that I was withholding from her my involvement with some other girl who obviously had intentions of marrying me. So I told her about my hometown girl, Polly, who for the preceding three years had been my main love. But that had all ended when I had reported to the Trenton as an ensign just out of the Naval Academy. Polly had flatly stated that she wouldn't accept the two-year waiting period required before ensigns could get married. She said she couldn't picture herself following a naval officer from port to port as a service wife. So she'd given me a good-riddance talk before I sailed to Europe. I had remained firm on not leaving the Navy. Marrying her and then settling down somewhere to raise a family weren't my cup of tea. That's the way it was for me. At this, Polly had flippantly given me an "it's-best-that-we-part" talk and gone home to Allentown, Pennsylvania. Our parting was cool and final. Lucrece accepted this explanation, but it didn't dissipate the dark cloud that she was brooding under.

Thus, Lucrece's letter, which I reread a fifth time, only heightened my desire to get her out of Holland before things got much worse. If she stayed, the opportunity to have a long life together would evaporate. So I had to start calculating how she might be extricated from Holland and delivered to the United States, there to wait for me. Work through the Red Cross? Use political pull with a Pennsylvania senator? Get her to escape in a fishing boat and go over to England, as they had done at Dunkirk? It could be done, and I had to find a way to do it.

Instead of clearing my mind of the past, I tossed around in my bunk most of the night, cluttering my thoughts with things unrelated to the tough business of becoming a good destroyer-man. Hence, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, I went to the eight in the morning quarters for the few hands who had to man the R oe during the holiday weekend. Ozzie Wiseman, a sharp-faced, dour person with pale white skin, was there. He was the man I was relieving and the tutor for my first few days on board the R oe. Charley King, another '38er, signified, "Here" when his name was called. Charley was a tall, handsome, well-browned man with a slow, amused smile for everything except when the skipper was berating the officers. Blatz Helm, my classmate, had also answered, "Here." Round-faced, semibald, and with a broad toothy smile, he looked like he should be in a beer ad. In fact, he was called "Blatz" because of the large amounts of Blatz beer he consumed while at the Naval Academy. Then, of course, there was B.D., who was relieved as duty officer and who later departed for the St. George Hotel to join his wife for the remainder of the weekend. The early morning quarters were a required, meaningless routine since there were no special instructions to be promulgated, but the duty watch would rapidly report any of their relievers who didn't show up. And the grimy, soot-stained Navy Yard buildings beyond the dock where the R oe was tied up made the dockside environment depressing.

When dismissed from quarters by B.D., Blatz, who smelled strongly of stale liquor, dragged himself to his bunk to sleep off "a hard night." Ozzie had to drone on about his mix-up with his wife. Looking haggard, Ozzie explained that he had gone to Wilmington, Delaware, the day before so he and his wife could be together for the weekend. But she had come to Brooklyn to be with him. "Fouled-up communications," Charley loudly whispered "You can expect that from a communications officer." Ozzie winced at that and his jaw tightened. But nothing more. Evidently this was only mild criticism compared to what he normally got on board the R oe.

Then Ozzie took me around the ship, introducing me to a few men who were standing around doing nothing. It was obvious that with the Captain off the ship everything had slacked off. However, on his return Tuesday morning everybody would then be buzzing around--at least looking busy. When in the communication spaces, Ozzie tediously described how each piece of equipment was used. This included searchlights, signal flags, tactical radios, sonars, etc. I kept muttering to myself, "Why don't you just shut up and join your lonely wife at the St. George Hotel . . . and get out of my hair?" But Ozzie took no hint from my evident lack of interest and kept giving me even the most insignificant of facts about anything he thought I should know in order to do my new job effectively. "You'll be responsible for the cleanliness of all communications spaces, including the flag bags. And no dirt or dust in equipment. You'll have to make sure your communication personnel are clean, have short haircuts, and their uniforms look like new. And they will have to have full bags of the proper clothing--stenciled. You'll have to draw and correct all classified publications and ensure their security at all times. You'll have to . . ." Ozzie droned on and on, making me blank out on what he was saying. Later I would ask him what additional duties I had to worry about.

So the morning dragged on endlessly. I guessed that Ozzie was showing me what a well-trained Scruggs man was like.

Saturday night, the Roe was too dismal for me to remain on board reading publications--ones that Ozzie insisted needed reading before I could relieve him. So I went to Lieutenant DeMetropolis's quarters in the Navy Yard where Blatz hung out, doing his drinking. Demo, a bachelor, had a refrigerator full of beer and an open liquor cabinet. But of primary importance was a massive five-cent slot machine in the living room. Demo's unfettered hospitality depended on all visitors literally standing in line to pull the one-armed bandit's lever, trying for the jackpot. The profits from this gambling device, according to Demo, more than made up for all the free alcohol drunk by his guests.

The rest of the weekend was a wash. It included a church service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and a browse around the Central Park Zoo that was highlighted by a badger doing hilarious stunts and a black panther that looked like a good pet for the Roe. Finally, I ambled slowly through the Museum of Modern Art on Fifty-third Street. In between stops, I bought a copy of Marjorie Kinnan Rawling's The Yearling--a story about an orphaned fawn that was found by a very compassionate woman who lovingly raised it to adulthood. It was the sort of thing Lucrece would enjoy reading. I'd have to get it to her somehow.

At breakfast after Labor Day all the officers were back aboard and seated at the wardroom table. They silently stared into their plates as the Captain mapped out how all would have to get down to business, to get ready to sail to Newport on the 4th.

Captain Scruggs was a broad, fine-looking, graying man with a keen eye. He was, as he stated, "a rules and regulations man who goes by the book." And he insisted that all of his officers scrupulously carry out existing rules, no matter how foolish some of them might seem in practice. The rule put out by the district commandant to wear a coat and necktie when going on liberty--even to go bowling--was one such irrational rule.

Then, after the Captain had studied a slip of paper alongside his plate, similar to slips beside everyone's plate, he roared with a note of anguish, 'A thirty-dollar mess bill for August! My God, B.D., don't you supervise the buying of food by your mess stewards? This is a scandal."

B.D., who was serving as mess treasurer since July, when Ozzie had relinquished the job, cringed at the Captain's words. Ozzie had fed the officers for only $23.90 in July. But that was a month, according to Charley King, when the officers spent very few hours on board because it was the start of the Roes refit. In August, however, the officers had to oversee the completion of work in their spaces and were on the Roe for most meals.

B.D., I noticed, was in a jittery state. He had the nervous shakes, perhaps sensing that the ax was about to fall on his neck. When the Captain snarled, "This is margarine you've got on my butter plate!" B.D. sprang from his seat and rushed to the pantry window to see who had dished out margarine instead of butter for the Captain's hot rolls. At least the hot rolls were tastefully served in a basket and wrapped inside a snow-white, clean napkin. Margarine instead of butter? That was a big deal? It sure was to the Captain!

A few months of this stuff and I'd be putting in for flight school and follow Ozzie to Pensacola.

© 1995 Brassey's, Inc.


Back to the top