Home Tiki Lounge Hi-Fi Book Shelf Femme Fatales Martini Hide-Away Essays Forum/Groups Radio Store Links

She Was the First Woman the Gobs Had Seen in Over a Year. What She Did to the 85 Men on the Destroyer Escort Is Something the Navy Will Never Forget.


by Jay L. Fowler



Vol. 15 No. 7, 1958

     Two little destroyer escorts, the USS Ernest C. Kaufman and the USS Jonathan Wood, had been operating in the Pacific since June, 1943. Now, in July, 1944, the men on both boats had one thought uppermost in mind, and it wasn't the enemy submarines they were to hunt out and destroy.
     "What exactly does a woman look like?" asked Shellman, on the USS Wood. "I seem to remember something a long time ago, but the image is kind of hazy. Let's see, how long has it been? Yep--just thirteen months this week." Somebody else added: "When we finally pull in somewhere but these crummy islands I'm going to buy the biggest bed around and get all the women I can find. What a ball!"
     The weather-beaten chief walked over and said in a gruff voice: "What is this, a holiday? Turn to or I'll have you all down in the boiler rooms working off extra duty!"
     The men took the hint and disbanded quickly.
     He looked after them and muttered: "They think they're the only ones who miss women!"
     The crews weren't completely without liberty, though, for once a month each of the two ships would anchor off one of the little islands and have what was referred to as a beach party. The crew would play softball or volleyball or simply drink up their ration of four cans of warm beer per man. The crews hated these parties for they were reminded of the liberty they had had before they were put on this operation.
     The Kaufman crew had had its party two weeks before, so it was now the Wood's turn. They dropped the hook about where the other ship had and the men waved and yelled to the Kaufman's crew. When the boats had ferried the men from the ship to the beach they found the only clear place was covered with litter and bushes that had been pulled out and spread around. Also, there were beer cartons with nasty references to the Wood's crew written on them.
     When the mess was cleaned up all the men could talk about was getting even with the Kaufman crew. They laid plans for what would be done if the two ships ever pulled into port together. Shellman was the ringleader, and he even hinted at murder, for it was a serious offense to mess up a man's only liberty. And to do it on purpose--that was even worse.
     When the two ships got underway again they operated side by side as usual, but all was not the same This prank could not be dismissed. When the Wood crew talked of their hated sister ship, they spoke as if it were some form of monster.
     Twelve days after the party incident the Kaufman pulled into a close position and the signalman on the bridge spelled out the following message with his flags, for radio communication could not be used:

     When Shellman was informed that he was to be the one he screamed. He raved. But he went. After all, he was the senior man working on that particular piece of equipment. He was transferred by the highline, and the crew on the Kaufman side handling the line strung between the two ships dipped him in the water. When he reached firm footing he took a swing at the man in charge of the line handlers, He said they did it on purpose, and he knew he could get away with the punch since he was needed, badly needed.
     Six hours later, after the gear was fixed, it was too dark to transfer him back, so he spent the night on the hated ship. The next morning the water was too rough, so he spent another day aboard.
     At noon chow one of the snipes from the boiler room made a crack about the crew on the Wood and Shellman heard it. The fight that followed was talked about for quite a while afterward, but Shellman eventually ended up in a bloody heap. He was forced to stay another night, and the next day he was invited to the Kaufman's beach party. At first he refused, but his thirst for the precious beer drove him to accept.
     The ship anchored in a strange bay and the boat began its trips back and forth between the ship and the beach. The island was a new one to the men, and the first man ashore took off, his shirt and stuck a stick in the ground and put the shirt on it like a flag, claiming the island as property of the USS Kaufman.
     The crew laughed at this, and then began milling around the beach, drinking beer and talking. Suddenly a scream pierced the still island air.
     "Aaaah-look, look, a dame!" The men formed a tight circle around the little native girl standing naked there at the edge of the jungle. They stared as if she were the last drop of water to a man dying of thirst. They stood openmouthed and nobody cared where she came from or what she was doing there. What mattered was that she was here. They were amazed even further when she blurted out a few words of broken English.
     Her words meant only one thing, and with a terrific shout the men mobbed her. She certainly would have been injured if the chief boatswain's mate hadn't yelled.
     The men stopped pushing and the chief rescued the girl.
     "Take it easy, men, we got plenty of time. We'll line up according to the order on this muster list. Now line up as I call out the names, and no shoving or crowding or you go to the end of the line."
     The crew, all 84 of them, plus Shellman, took their turn, and some went back for seconds. In payment they left food supplies from the ship's storerooms. That night as the men went back to the ship they were happy as never before.
     Even Shellman was happy, and though he hated the men on the Kaufman he started no more trouble.
     The moment he set foot on his own ship he began talking of the beach party. The entire Wood crew was looking forward to having their beach party at the same island, when the news hit the ship a few days later.
     Radio silence was broken that morning and, the ship decoded a message that called them off their operation. In two days the two ships would rendezvous with two other destroyer escorts and the two new ones would take over the patrol.
     The Wood and the Kaufman were ordered to Pearl Harbor for a three-month yard period. The crews went insane. The men began planning all the things they would do, and everywhere the men were shining shoes and washing liberty uniforms. Also, on the Wood plans were made to get even with the Kaufman crew.
     When the two ships steamed through the narrow channel the men lining the rail could see the people and the trees--and the girls. They could imagine the thousands of girls in town, and they thought of the cool bas and the colder beer.
     The Harbor Command put a damper on the plans, though, by imposing a 36-hour restriction on both ships for purposes of inventory and inspection for health hazards. Shellman beat even that by putting in a request to go over to the base to see about the security requirements of the log books kept on the enemy submarines they met. He really didn't care about the log but he felt kind of funny and he wanted to go to the base dispensary to have a doctor check him over. He wasn't going to let the butchers on the ship touch his precious body, not with three months of rest and relaxation coming up.
     His buddy, Thomas, was standing watch on the gangway when Shellman came aboard. Shellman was laughing at the top of his lungs and waving a sheet of red paper. As he stumbled up the wooden walkway he was babbling incoherently. Thomas tried to get him to speak plainly but didn't have any luck. Finally he stood back, watching the tears of laughter run from his crazy buddy's eyes. About a minute went by and it looked like Shellman might now run down. At last he stopped laughing and sat down on a mound of line by the gangway.
     "Tom," he said between gasps for breath, "do you remember what the Kaufman did to us at the beach party?"
     "Well, do you remember me telling you guys about that little native girl they found on that island when I was shanghaied?" 
     "Yeah, Shell, but what are you getting at?"
     "Well," Shellman said, "I just been over to the sick bay on the base and I--"
      Here the words were mingled with riotous laughter and poor Tom couldn't understand them. He said, growing impatient: "Spit that out again, Shell!"
     "I mean," Shellman gasped, "that we don't have to get even any more. The whole crew--everyone. Here, read it yourself." He thrust the paper in Thomas' face. "I'm the happiest guy in the fleet with a dose!"
     Thomas read the paper. He could hardly believe his eyes.
     "You mean, the whole ship?" Thomas demanded. "It was that girl back on that island? You sure?" 
     "Yeah, the whole ship's got the clap. They say it's the damnedest thing that ever hit the base medical department."
     "Man," Thomas said, "this is great. Let's tell the crew." He turned to the gray box on the bulkhead behind him, flipped a switch and took the microphone in his hand.
     "Now hear this! Now hear this! Attention all hands. Stand by for word from the hero of the ship!" 

More Essays>>>

Home | Tiki Lounge | Hi-Fi | Book Shelf | Femme Fatales | Martini Hide-Away | Essays | Forum/Groups | Radio | Store | Links | E-mail 
Copyright 2006, Swinging Bachelor Productions.