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By Jack Dillon V2 div. 1949 -52
Mess cooking under OP Ryan, mess deck M.A. as any Coral Sea sailor will tell, was a unique experience. He was a legend aboard the ship in those days. Ryan always had an ace up his sleeve to keep ahead of the men temporarily and begrudgingly assigned to his ....care. I was one, and during my 3 months of T.A.D. had the memorable experience of all possible duties that this detail can assign. From dumping chow on passing mess trays, to break out crew. But one particular night stands out in my mind.
During the 50's the Coral Sea was known for her sublime Spaghetti, her "Chefs" excelling in that cuisine. Their talent encouraged many chow hounds to endure the lines as many as three times to savor the fruit of our cooks’ endeavors. Anticipating a heavy turnout while states side, Pier 7 NOB Norfolk VA., our masters of that Italian delicacy over estimated the amount to be served. They had not anticipated the number of the crew that would prefer dining ashore in town taking in the "Gaiety" burlesque ( yes that was the name) , tatoo parlors or just plain beer joints as well as other attractions"Granby" street could provide. L.G. Proper of V3 division was to be my partner in the coming misadventure.
Ryan assigned us to clean up the mess deck and get rid of the overflow not consumed by Coral Sea’s on board crew. This consisted of 5 GI cans filled with spaghetti one inch from the brim. L.G. Proper attired in spotless whites and apron looked at me garbed the same. I looked at him knowing we had a job to do that would test our combined strength... and as it turned out , resourcefulness and honesty. Collectively we gazed at the spaghetti swimming in rich red tomato sauce remembering how good it tasted only an hour ago. Now it was to be unceremoniously chucked into the "Dempster Dumpster" ashore. Carefully we slid the cans aft on the steel mess deck starboard side to the accommodation ladder going up to the hanger bay 4. All sailors know the steepness of those ladders. Proper and I in our spotless whites had the task of getting 5 cans of spaghetti, filled 1" from the brim up the ladder. This was the hard part. The rest only required brute strength. Being a bit tall it was decided I would be on the bottom, to push up, while Proper above, bent to his knees to pull up. Once on the hanger deck with lots of elbow room, both handles could be grabbed and the cans muscled off the ship and in the dumpster. As we came back aboard to face the other 4 cans, we noticed there high above the ladder nestled below the 02 level, a winch with a hook, placed conveniently right above the hatch opening. How ingenious. Some one, some where, thought of our plight. But to our dismay below it near the hatch on the bulkhead hovering over the winch controls was a sign emblazoned red on white coldly stating
"USE BY AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY". The controls read "ON", "OFF", "STOP", "UP", "DOWN", Once again we looked at each other. " Child’s play". Positioning the second can below the hatch we removed the pins securing the ladder in position, to clear the way for the cans to be hoisted through the open hatch via. the winch. Proper being the more daring stood by the controls and I handy with knots and lines secured a rope through the handles to form a sling around the brimming spaghetti can.
"OK L.G. take it away" Proper hit the up button.
Gloriously the can came off the deck effortlessly guided by our skilled hands to the hanger deck.
Wonderful ! The next three came up the same way. What geniuses we were. Smug and over confident I secured the line through the handles on the last can and shouted to my mess mate.
"Take it away L.G."
Proper hit the up button. but the hook was not quite in the sling eye.
" Lower it !" I exclaimed
The hook kept going up now beyond reach.
!" I shouted
Up it continued to catch on the hatch underside. Now the labored sound of machinery grinding to a faltering halt became overpowering. SNAP! Down came the winch block and hook followed by spiraling coils of 1/4" steel cable, and all to fall into our full can of red spaghetti sauce. Can you imagine what a tidal wave 50 or 60 lbs. of steel falling 8 feet into a GI can full spaghetti can do ?
The end of our blossoming naval careers flashed in our minds. A general court marshal loomed in our future. Miraculously we were all right. Then a glee full Proper roared at the sight of me bathed in red spaghetti sauce from head to toe with strands falling off my red face. Rivulets were still oozing down the side of the can flowing freely on the gleaming steel deck while some strands dripped off the adjoining bulkhead and my white hat.
What to do ? We knew our misfortune would be traced to us so we decided to throw ourselves on the mercy of naval justice. Apparently the Junior officer of the deck didn’t think much of the incident. Only seeing the humor and reprieve from boredom. He probably assumed we were authorized and the machinery just broke down. I would love to know just how he wrote it up. We never heard a thing about it again.
More sea stories here : many on the Coral Sea http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthread.php?61697-J-Dillon-11-years-...!!!
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