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Opportunity Knocks

New - 21 April 2006


Paint Out the Numbers


Dan Sewell Ward


Chapter One

Opportunity Knocks


Select Members of the Crew

Commanding Officer -- Charles A. Brawner, LCDR, USN

Executive Officer -- Bertrand L. Gazaro, LCDR, USN

Operations Officer / Navigator -- Hal C. Lawrence, LT, USN

Engineering Officer -- Larry G. McGee, LT, USN

Weapons Officer -- Edward O. Wales, LT, USN

Communications and Electronics Officer -- Samuel G. Marks, LTJG, USN

Supply and Commissary Officer -- James P. Milikan, LTJG, USN

Assistant Engineering Officer -- William T. Balence, ENS, USN

Assistant Navigator -- QMC Wallace P. Brown, USN

Quartermaster -- QM2 George L. Ford, USN

Leading Auxiliaryman -- MMl Ronald P. Hanco, USN

Leading Electronics Technician -- ETR3 Gerald S. Rudinak, USNR

Leading Engineman -- HMl Michael P. Mallen, USN

Leading Sonarman -- ENl Carkis L. Phillas, USN

Corpsman (“Doc") -- STS3 Frank B. Marvin, USN

Leading Fire Controlman -- FTGSN Bernard F. Martin, USNR

Scuba Diver -- ICFN George D. Braels USNR

Messenger -- TM3 Lawrence L. Markels, USN

Seaman -- SN Burke V. Lansing, USNR

Lookout -- SN Donald "Snots" Blankenburg, USN

Lookout -- SA Steven D. Braker, USNR


It's been over three years since that Patrol, the one they called Green Barnacles. Of course, the investigation afterwards took three long dreary months. But I only remember the mission itself and the people on it. And, of course, Captain Brawner. Him, I'll never forget.

Picture, if you will, the ideal submarine commanding officer: Dark­tanned, handsome, aloof but concerned, wise and mature; in essence a "leader of men". Sort of the Marlboro Man on the bridge of a submarine. Charlie was a lot like that. With a few exceptions.

His hair was light brown, and somewhat unruly. Of course, he wasn't tanned either since he had come from a job as an Executive Officer of another submarine and when serving on submarines, no one gets a tan. And there was his face: A trifle rounded from the hard, square-jawed ideal, with just a hint of a double chin. The latter disturbed Charlie Brawner no end.

I have always thought of Charlie as making a good spy; no one would ever take notice of him. He had hazel, muddy eyes, and the expressionless face that, when you meet, you can never remember. It's not that he couldn't attract attention; because he could. Many times he would get a grin on his face, no one could ignore. His eyes flickering with glee, he would stand rubbing his hands together furiously and uttering barely audible chuckles. Then you had to notice him. I know I could never forget that look; something akin to an eight year old boy, plotting another sure-to-succeed raid on the cookie jar.

All in all, it was an amusing sight, until you remembered that he was the Commanding Officer of your warship. Then it simply scared the hell out of you.


When Green Barnacles came along, I had even more reason for concern. We first got wind of the plan on the morning after our arrival at Yokosuka, Japan. This port was our first stop after leaving the States. I had come back to the boat, from a short night's shore leave, to take over the watch from Hal Lawrence, the Operations Officer.

As I walked down the pier, I saw Ford, our second-class quartermaster, painting out the numerals on the side of the submarine's sail (the only superstructure on a submarine). He had already eliminated two of the numbers with his black paint, leaving only a white, blocked numeral "2" remaining.

This may not seem like a particularly momentous event to some, but to me, it immediately signified that someone had either blown the whistle on all-out war, or that a highly secretive mission was brewing. I didn't really consider the first possibility, but the second one did interest me. It was standard operating procedure for submarines operating on a SECRET or TOP SECRET mission to sail without identifying numbers. This was designed to prevent enemy intelligence from obtaining even this one small, but possibly important, bit of information in the event the submarine was sighted while still on the surface.

But while the possibility of a SECRET mission aroused my curiosity, it also disheartened me at the thought of the magnitude of work and the extensive preparations required for such an outing.

After just a moment of frowning heavily, I came home from dreamland and considered it more rationally. Knowing Ford as I did, I figured he just might be doing a little painting on his own. We were just out of upkeep, and someone may have decided that the shipyard had not done all that good a job before we left Pearl. I hadn't heard of any plans to repaint the numbers, but it was not beyond Ford, or any of his several bosses.


After I had reached the main deck, I went back aft toward the sail. "What the hell are you doing, Ford?"

"Morning, Mr. Marks. I'm painting out the numbers on the sail; getting ready for the super SECRET mission, I'm going to get rid of the name back aft as soon as I finish here.”

“Who told you there was a SECRET mission?" I started to ask why, but held off. I couldn't imagine anyone giving Ford any highly classified information without cutting out his tongue first.

"Nobody told me. But I know what's brewing when I get orders to paint out the numbers."

“Who told you to paint 'em out anyway?"

"Mr. Lawrence. I think the Captain told him to do it."

"Alright then. But how about keeping the implications of what you're doing just between us. We can't broadcast it to everyone, you know.”

"Ah, hell, most of the duty section already knows about it."

I was sure they did, but avoided saying so, and went below.


When I reached the Forward Battery Compartment (Officer's country), I shoved the curtains on the wardroom doorway open and found Hal Lawrence sitting at the wardroom table and surrounded by numerous papers, manuals, and charts. He was the Navigator as well as the Operations Officer, and the senior officer aboard with the exception of the Captain and the Executive Officer (or X.O. as I liked to call him).

Hal was a young man really, but one already burdened with a load of responsibility. His black hair receded on both sides, giving him an executive look. Added to this was a hard face and a lean body. I was taller than him, but you couldn't call him short.

He looked up from his paperwork scattered about him, frowned heavily, but said nothing.

"Good morning, Hal. Anything of interest going on?"

"Go to hell." Hal was always a cheerful sort.

"Still doing paperwork, I see. You must really love that stuff!" I don't normally tease people, but sometimes on a submarine it's necessary to keep your sanity. The Secret and Confidential material scattered about had already answered my question.

“On second thought, Sam, don't go to hell. Relieve me of duty, light a match to this junk, and then go to hell." Apparently my master was not incorrigible; he had almost smiled.

"I'd be more than happy to relieve you. However there is one thing I'm curious about. What's going on?"

"Now how the hell should I know? I'm only the Operations Officer. Why should anyone tell me about future operations? They can't just broadcast it around to anyone you know."

"All right then, give me a hint. Why did you have Ford paint out the numbers?"

"I don't know. Seemed like a nice thing to do. Of course the Captain did call and suggest the idea. But I really couldn't say what prompted him to do so."

"That's all, huh?"

"Not quite. He did add for me to carry it out with dispatch."

Hal never talked about the Captain in a really serious manner. I didn't really know why, unless he didn't trust himself. I would have been one of the first to admit that the skipper had a few faults. This was one of the main areas of agreement between Hal and I. Hal had an established criteria about what it takes to be a Commanding Officer and LCDR Charles Alfred Brawner, United States Navy, did not come close to meeting it. For Hal it was not the lack of good qualities in the Captain's makeup; rather it was the glaring faults.

I sometimes thought that one of the supreme goals in Charlie's life was to be loved. Unfortunately, someone had once told him that a sign of immaturity was the desire to be liked and the subsequent, constant striving for that goal. So, logically enough, Charlie had rationalized that if he couldn't be liked, he'd be respected; and if he couldn't be respected, he'd sure as hell impress them. Believe me: most were impressed.

The problem is that he achieved neither of his first two goals. It's a fact of life in the Navy that any commander who makes mistakes invariably loses some prestige with each mistake. To avoid this loss, one avoids mistakes. This may imply the need to attempt less, or only what you're sure of, but it avoids loss of prestige and respect.

Charlie also wanted everything to be perfect and rather than lead his men to this illustrious goal, he used The Premise, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” So, he attempted everything and inevitably failed in some. Every failure make him look more the fool, and Charlie was just too narrow-minded to see it.

For example, when Charlie had first come aboard, he had decided that it would be an excellent idea if the cook would prepare a batch of fudge for the officers' wardroom. Charlie really liked fudge! The cook, a singularly independent first class cook, was noticeably cool to the idea.

But after considerable prompting (stopping just short of a formal, written directive), the Captain got his fudge.

It had the consistency of decayed taffy, and the taste of pasty dishwater. It was thus intuitively obvious that the cook had no desire to establish a precedence of supplying fudge to the wardroom.

Charlie, thereupon, applied The Premise. He would make the fudge himself, and therefore by a direct extension of an irrefutable logic, do it right! In the process, the cook would be enlightened as to the correct way one makes fudge!

It was on that evening, with Charlie scurrying back and forth between the after battery (the galley) and the Forward Battery Compartment (officers' wardroom) that the crew realized the caliber of their new Commanding Officer. By the time he had presented the finished product to the wardroom, he had lost the respect of his officers as well. Hal Lawrence, in particular, had seemed short of stunned.

Now, sitting in the wardroom, the boat resting comfortably in Yokosuka Bay, Hal again had a glimmer of that same stunned look. When he continued to say nothing, I eased myself down to the light brown Naugahyde cushions that encompassed the wardroom table. Supporting myself with one hand, I leaned sideways and propped a foot against the corner of the seat at the end of the table.

Hal slumped, his shoulders stretched out across the table, his eyes glancing about the small space. The hidden lights behind him lighted the dark Formica and gave his face a dreary, dog-tired look. I was certain that he was weary since I knew that he would have charged the batteries last night, and consequently missed a lot of sleep. Since we'd just arrived from a long sea voyage where we had given a number of partial charges, he probably had had to put in a couple of hours of overcharge for the sake of the battery's health.

“When did you finish the charge last night?"

"Two thirty. We lost number three engine about half way through, but it didn't slow us down much.”

"What happened?"

"Don't know yet. Phillas is working on the engine now. Has been since midnight."

I felt slightly more comfortable knowing the leading engineman was on the problem, and especially since it was Phillas. He was only a first class engineman, but he had a way with engines which could only be considered mystical. I'd seen him wrap his arms around an engine and then tell the Engineer what was wrong with it. Phillas had complained on voyage that number three was not working right, but no one had really believed him. It was a standard joke that, whenever Phillas announced that one of his engines was sick, the Corpsman would tell him that it was just pregnant. Phillas never fully appreciated the joke.

The thought of the Corpsman prompted me to ask, "Is Doc aboard?" Submarines always conferred the title of Doctor on its single Corpsman since there was no Medical Doctor assigned to a conventional submarine. I suppose the tradition was designed for morale purposes, but always seemed questionable to me since our Corpsman's prescription for a chest cold was typically no more than "Put on a foul weather jacket.”

"I don't think so. I think he's out trying to entice selected members of the local populace from attempting to be celibate."

"What about a recall of the troops?”

Another voice said, "No need for that. We'll wait until quarters."

I must have jumped slightly at the sound of the Executive Officer's voice, for he noticed my reaction.

"Morning, Sam."

"Morning, X.O."

"Hal, the Captain didn't mention recall, did he?"

"No Sir. Of course, he might not have thought of it."

"Well. We're not going to initiate any drastic action on what information we've got now. We'll just let the Commanding Officer do the signal calling."

With this he moved back to his stateroom, with apparently no further concern. I watched him go, trying to decide if I liked him or not. He never really jumped on me for anything, but his whole attitude seemed rather apathetic. I usually figured him for the Naval Officer, who goes up through the ranks, never taking the risks, and accordingly, never making the mistakes.

"I suppose I should take heart in the fact that the Captain never tells him anything either.”

I turned back to Hal. “Yeah, I suppose. Any other officers on board?'

“Nobody but the Ass Eng. ”

I smiled at the degradation of the Assistant Engineer's title. He was the only Ensign aboard and consequently received the vast majority of traditional degrading comments. Unfortunately, he was just naive enough to suspect that when you called him an idiot, you really meant it. Not in general of course, but in specific instances. The Navy is such a unique experience that the uninitiated are often overwhelmed by the apparent omnipotence of those with a year or more of experience.

"Maybe we ought to ease up on our Ensign Balence. He's only been aboard for three months and I personally think he's been a pretty good Assistant Engineer."

“Possibly, but I have a childhood aversion to Ensigns. Now, are you going to take the duty or not?”

"Are we sinking, adrift, on fire, or anything?”

"Not that I've heard of.”

“Very well. I relieve you.”

“I stand relieved! Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll just drop off to sleep right here." With that he dropped his head down, threw his feet up and stretched out on the longer cushion opposite from me.

I liked to collapse there myself but the Naugahyde made my ears sweat if I laid on my side; and I generally preferred to lay on my side. Before Submarines (B.S.) I had generally slept on my stomach with my arms dangling from the bed. But in my lower bunk of the three man stateroom, I had a pressure hull on one side and a short six inches to the deck on the other. I could lay an arm out on the deck, but it would invariably be stepped on by Light footed Lieutenant Lawrence or by Ensign Balence as he dropped out of the top bunk. Since I could never get to sleep again once the Ensign finished apologizing, I slept on my side.

I was about to lay down on the short cushion on my side of the table when I heard someone hit the loose deck plates under the Forward Torpedo Room hatch. I suspected it was the Captain immediately; then confirmed it as I stuck my head out into the passageway. Aside to Hal, I said quietly, "Captain." Then louder as he came through the watertight door separating the compartments, "Morning, Captain." I was on my feet, at a relaxed attention.

"You got the duty?" His voice had an accusing tone which irritated me, but I kept my tongue.

"Yes sir."

"Well then, Lieutenant Marks, you should be aware that I customarily like to be greeted upon my first arrival in the morning and on my final departure in the evening. I trust you will bear in mind this fact.” He had drawn himself into his Pillar of Strength pose awaiting my reply.

I could have said a simple yes sir and hoped he'd leave it at that. But oh no, I had to take a swing at his cocky dogmatism. "Yes, sir, I know. But I didn't hear your arrival announced over the 1 MC."

"That's because the topside watch was back aft."

"Yes sir.” I didn't know how to answer that, since the topside watch was responsible for checking the after deck as well as that forward of the sail. Since it was quite possible he could have been aft on his rounds and not have seen the Captain coming (especially with the tide out and thus preventing him from seeing over the pier), I couldn't understand how this answered my statement. But apparently it satisfied the skipper and he rambled on down the passageway to his stateroom.

Ramble might be too harsh a description of the Captain's walk. He had always prided himself that he stayed within the limits stamped on those weighing machines, but his less than muscular build tended to add to an impression of overweight. Then, of course, he was a bit short. Not to the point where he might have spent a lifetime proving himself and thus be tough and aggressive, but just enough to make looking up to him difficult. In the end, however, it was his light brown, unruly hair, nondescript, hazel eyes, and rounded face hinting at a double chin that had long ago eliminated that possibility.

He did dress fairly well; always making it a point to set the example for pressed uniforms, clean fingernails, and polished shoes. Unfortunately, he had an awful time with his shoes. He believed fervently in the Naval (as opposed to anal) Tradition of spit shined shoes; the beautiful ones that looked like glass and could act as mirrors in a clinch. His criteria was that, “If you couldn't shave with a straight razor using the shoes as a mirror, then they didn't make the grade."

Alas, Charlie had the supreme misfortune to be born with short feet and toes, and a step that bent from the toes. This caused the crease or wrinkle on the shoe to be quite near the toe; thus allowing very little unbroken surface area in which to establish a mirror. Charlie always used his medicine cabinet mirror and a safety razor.

But his uniforms were neat. He always shined his belt buckle, and bought a new one when the first one got scarred. Of course on a submarine there are several thousand ways to rip shirts, scar shoes, scar brass, or bump heads. Inevitably Charlie bought a lot of belt buckles. He also spent a lot of money on his cleaning and pressing bills.

You must realize, of course, that when I say Charlie kept his uniform flawless, I did not necessarily want to imply that he looked good in his uniform. Rather he always managed to add something of his own which completely altered the designed impression of the Naval Uniform. One picture I will never forget shows him in dress whites. This uniform has a high, vertical, stiff collar. In posing for the camera Charlie had naturally drew in his chin, ala Marine, and looked terribly serious in the picture. The effect was that of a pretentious, over-stuffed, ten year old bully at a military academy.

Then there was his manner, the way he carried himself. Slouched. But confident. That was one thing Charlie had, CONFIDENCE. Complete assurance of himself, his ability, and his place in the hierarchy of the world. The use of modifiers in conversation was unknown to Charlie. All pronouncements by the Commanding Officer were complete in every detail and awaited only the stone cutter to be emblazoned in the stone. I thought when he entered his stateroom on that morning he'd finally returned with his stone tablets.

But before he could take them back and secret them away in his stateroom, the Executive Officer, standing in the doorway of his stateroom, directly across the narrow passageway, caught him. "What's up, Captain?"

The Commanding Officer looked at his X.O. like someone who would study a man to see if he could be trusted. Then, grudgingly, "There's a conference at Flotilla headquarters in thirty minutes for the C.O., X.O., Ops Officer, and Communicator.” Turning back to me, he added, “So get rid of the duty, Sam, and get packing."

I'm all for getting out of the duty whenever I can, but before I had decided on who, I heard Hal grumble quietly, "Who would you recommend to relieve him, Captain? Ford?"

Forgetting myself, I blurted out the truth, "Captain, there aren't any other officers on board yet, other than Ensign Balance, and he isn't qualified in port yet."

"What?" The Captain's face had a look of utter disbelief on it. Then disgust. He looked back and forth at each of us, including Hal who had made it to the wardroom door. "Where the hell is everybody? They fall off the pier or something?"

I ducked the question, but with a subtle nonchalance, the Executive Officer fielded it, "Quarters are not until ten, sir. I believe you agreed on that.”

The Captain glared at the X.O., "Mr. Gazaro, I don't expect my officers to use that fact in ignoring their duties. It's not unheard of for an officer to work beyond an eight to five day." He paused for a second, but then, "I suspect that you need to hold a little schooling on your children, Bert. It makes the boat look pretty ridiculous when we can't muster enough officers to make a meeting. If you have to chain some of them to the boat, do so; but don't let this crap happen again."

“Aye, aye sir.” The X.O.'s poker face had not cracked under the barrage and as the Captain shut his curtain behind him, Bert turned and pointed his finger directly at Hal. As Senior Watch Officer, Hal had just been given another job. With that the Executive Officer stepped back into his stateroom. Life was more peaceful there.

I could hear Hal groan as he plopped down on the cushions. One thing Hal had was a short fuse. Fortunately his explosions were never very great.

I stepped into the wardroom and when he turned toward me said, "Shall I break out the leg irons?"

He didn't answer, frowned heavily, and then turned his head to look up. I suspect he was asking heaven, “Why?” In any case I'm pretty sure Heaven didn't answer him before the Captain was already charging out of his room, "Okay, let's go.”

Hal hopped up and grabbed his hat as the Executive Officer came out of his room and fell in behind. The Captain stopped at the forward end of the passageway, turned, and with a thoughtful consideration said, “If anybody asks, Hal; you're the Operations Officer and the Communicator." Then he ducked out the door.

Hal took one glance at me with a sick frown and then followed his fearless leader.

I managed to contain myself for a few moments but when I was sure they were out of earshot, let out a guffaw. I've always tried to laugh at these things. In the Navy, you can either laugh, cry, or blow your stack. I figure laughing is the best way to deal with it. Unfortunately, I don't always follow my own advice.

After a bit I decided that I might as well put Hal's publications and charts back in the safe, since some were classified SECRET. It was unlike Hal to leave classified material laying around. When I had first come aboard, he had been one of the strictest on security of any of the officers. But lately it seemed that he had developed a don't-give-a-damn attitude. However, inasmuch as I was the Classified Material Control Officer (don't you just love these terribly important sounding titles?), I was ultimately responsible for the stuff (after the Captain), and consequently, was less than happy about his attitude. I could catch hell from Hal's failures.

As I picked up some of the material, I noticed some of the titles of the books, all classified but all seeming to drop hints as to the contents of the mission. Hal might know more about what was going on than I had suspected. I tried to group the clues to form a composite picture but didn't have much luck. I wasn't yet convinced that Hal really knew what was going on, and couldn't therefore completely trust his ideas and/or guesses.

Clearing the table, I dumped all of them into the classified material safe. When I got back to the wardroom, I noted someone in a khaki uniform coming from the forward hatch. Ducking down to see through the watertight door, I saw Larry McGee, the Engineering Officer coming toward me. As soon as he stepped part way through the watertight door, I said, "Morning, Larry. Didn't you see the Captain?"

Larry looked up for a second, then dragging his other foot through, chuckled in a heavy Southern drawl, "Well now, I'll admit to seeing him, but fortunately he did not see me.”

"You avoided him?"

"Oh no; I did not avoid him. The proper word would be… hid. He was hard­charging off the pier with the X.O. and Hal in tow -- Bert with his usual bored expression and Hal looking furious at the world. I just didn't figure I could take him on that early in the morning.”

“May I say that you showed unusual foresight?"

He laughed, "No doubt. Now where's my Assistant Engineer?"

"He's back aft, working."

"He'd better be working.”

"Now don't go treading too heavily on him. I understand he's been working very diligently since early this morning.”

"Oh I'm sure of that. But tradition must be upheld. Ensigns are designed to be dumped on. We cannot violate such sacred customs!”

I frowned at his remark, but he only smiled and started back aft in search of his ward.

No sooner had he gotten out of sight than I heard someone else hit the deck plates in the Forward Torpedo Room. It was Ensign Balence checking the boat's topside on the way to the Forward Battery. Apparently he was acting as the Assistant Duty Officer. I sat down and laid back against the cushions, trying to visualize Larry's reaction when he discovered where his assistant was. Life could sometimes be very amusing.

"Morning Sam. Conditions normal below decks, sir."

"Oh, good morning Bill. You're sure everything's okay?"

"Uh, yes sir. I didn't see anything wrong. I did notice that Ford had finished painting out the name on the stern.”

“Glad to hear it. Oh say, the Engineer is hunting for you.” I watched panic dart across his sunburned face.

"He is? Well, where did he go?"

"Aft." I watched Ensign Balence take off. Secretly, I was hoping that Larry would go topside when he came back forward looking for Bill. With luck, I could start a sort of merry go round between the two of them.

"Mr. Marks, the sail numbers are no more." I looked up to see Ford making his report. "We're just an old black submarine without a name or a number. Nobody's going to be identifying us, no sirree.”

"Fine, Ford. Thanks for telling me."

"Yes sir. And we'll keep a lid on everything until it's time for the others to know."

"Right. Thanks Ford." I didn't like to shirk a conversation with the quartermaster for fear of getting a reputation as a snotty officer. But Ford bored me to tears. Finally by virtually ignoring his presence, he took the hint and left. I didn't particularly like my tactics but figured it had been used on Ford enough times before that it wouldn't penetrate his skin.

I had begun to consider which project I would start on today when I heard Larry approaching, apparently with his Ensign in tow.

"It still leaks, Bill. There's not much else you can say. The hydraulic accumulator simply has oil gushing out its sides. The fact that two men have been working on it since we've been in port does not alter this primary fact. " He stopped and looked in at me with mock exasperation.

"Yes sir. I'll keep them working on it."

"Just fix it, Bill. Or else plan on using your bunk to store hydraulic oil." Larry was basically a deadpan comic. He made every crisis seem like the end of the world, all the while interspersing sometimes humorous, sometimes not, remarks into his wailing.

But I had noticed that Bill was not aware of his satire. Bill had a faith in people that said they would never lie or kid or anything. I often wondered if he'd hold up under the Engineer's barrage until he could see the subtle differences between sincere and comic complaints. I hoped he would. He had a lot going for him, but all his trying for acceptance actually put it beyond his grasp. It seemed that he'd have to change to survive, but I think I would have liked for him to keep his honesty and sincerity if possible.

I decided to work on my Registered Publications and had started for my safe as Larry began drilling Bill with questions on the hydraulic mechanisms for the periscopes. The hurt expression on the Ensign's face almost broke me up, but I held it back.


My safe, the big one where I kept the Top Secret and Registered Publications, was located in the Chief Petty Officer's Quarters. It was sometimes less than handy but there was just no other place to put it. Once inside the room, I squatted with my back braced against the end of a bunk and began working the combination.

From the dark recesses of a bunk across from me, I heard a quiet voice, “Forty one, seventy two, thirteen, sixty five, a hundred and twelve.”

None of the numbers applied to the combination, but it was Standard Operating Procedure for the Chiefs to pretend to know the combination. Their biggest hope was that they'd hit a right number once and l would come unglued.

I recognized the voice and said, "Morning Chief."

“I'm not at all certain of that as yet. Like what's with the painting out the numbers?"

“'Fraid I can't help you there, Chief."

“Holding back, huh? Just remember, you'll have to tell me someday, so I can navigate you there.” Chief Brown was the leading Quartermaster and as such was the Assistant Navigator. In reality, he did more than back up Hal. Without Chief Brown, I'd hate to get out of sight of land.

I went ahead and pulled what I needed from the safe and was shutting it when I asked, “You got the duty, Chief?”

“As a matter of fact, yes. But I should have been relieved hours ago by that drunken bum, Henry." I knew the Chief he talked about. He was a Chief Torpedoman, but not terribly reliable. "If I know our friend as I think I do, he's out with some whore, one with the biggest boobs he could find."

"Well Chief, we all have our fantasies. Just don't bank on getting relieved any time soon. It's been a bit of a dry spell for all of us."

"Yeah, I know. Anyway I've seen Japan. So I don't need to go ashore. I just heed to get off this damn boat."

"She's got her points.”

"Begging your pardon, sir, this is the worst goddamn boat afloat. Never in my life have I had worse duty."

"Ask for a transfer."

"Wouldn't do much good. None of the others are that much better. All I really want is to the hell out of the Navy."

"It took you 19 years to figure that out?"

"I guess so. I know that I used to love the Navy. It was really great. But then it went to hell in a bucket. And more importantly I suddenly realized one day that as an enlisted man I was less than dirt. It dawned on me that I had been dumped on and treated like an ill-mannered child for 19 years. Frankly, Mr. Marks, it turns my stomach. Now all I want is to finish my 19 years and six months and retire.”

I had heard much of this gripe before. So with a smile I bid farewell. As left, I heard him, "One hundred fifteen days and eight fucking hours to go. Then Wheeeee!!"


Paint Out the Numbers

Forward to:

Chapter Two -- The Secret Mission


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