Semper Fi (I Think)!

Published August 9, 2016


By the time Constellation had been relieved on Yankee Station and departed for Subic Bay her Air Wing had lost sixteen aircraft and twenty aircrew either killed in action or captured. The ship had finished her third eight month combat tour in as many years and both the Air Wing men and ship’s company crew were looking forward to the Christmas holiday at home with family and loved ones. Being someone who was always looking to see what is on the other side of the mountain, I was itching to carry out my orders and pick up the patrol gunboat Gallup in Vietnam in early 1968. I was a short-timer aboard Connie and when we arrived at Subic I was detached to temporary duty with the Shore Patrol in Olongapo City for the entire in port period. Reporting in to Shore Patrol Headquarters in town I quickly learned that the sailors attached for temporary duty always were assigned to the crappiest beats which often meant riding herd on a semi-trailer –more commonly known as ‘Cattle Cars’- full of drunken sailors heading back from liberty to their ships. Armed with only a Billy Club, two Shore Patrol would ride in the Cattle Car, one all the way forward and one riding on the step up platform at the back of the trailer used for ingress and egress by the riders. Usually about halfway through the route some drunk would begin chanting “kill the Shore Patrol,” a mantra readily embraced by the other mass of drunks in the vehicle. While I never personally witnessed anyone get thrown from the truck, there was an episode of a shore patrolman being thrown over the side and into Subic Bay by a bunch of drunken sailors in a Mike boat returning from the Grande Island recreation beach late one night. That episode remained central in my thoughts throughout my temporary shore patrol assignment.

After a few nights of cattle car duty, the chief at headquarters decided to give me a break from herding truckloads of drunks. He said that seeing as I was a first class petty officer I’d be given a less hectic assignment. My new assignment was to return drunken Marines who had run afoul of the law back to their staging camp in the mountains of Cubi Point.

These Marines weren’t just station Marines, they were part of a replacement battalion heading for Vietnam and front line combat and while most of them managed to stay out of trouble every so often one or two would be hauled in and after being booked and written up would be placed in a mini bus to be taken back to battalion headquarters in the mountains and turned over to the duty Staff NCO who always took a dim view of the offender’s activity.

Hoo boy! Did he ever!

One such evening I was tasked to ride back with two young Marines who had had too much to drink and was to turn them over to the Duty NCO along with the arrest reports. Arriving at the HQ tent I exited the bus and turned over the paperwork to the gunny sergeant who was the Duty NCO. We both left the tent to get the two Marines who were being sent back. They exited the bus with a sort of hang dog look about them. The gunny handed the reports back to me.

“You sorry @%$&*#!!”

The Gunny went ballistic.

“You two clowns let a SAILOR bring you back?”

With that he hauled off and smacked the Marine closest to him, then turned and cold cocked the second one. They both hit the deck and stayed there. The Gunny looked at me, smiled and said, “No offense sailor,” and took back the arrest reports.

None taken. Believe me.

Excerpted from “Listening to Ghosts, Second Edition. © 2010, 2016 Bob Stockton. All rights reserved.