Nobody Had to Come and Get the Idiot

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

In the war movies… You know, the World War II submarine movies. The ones where officers wear their hats in the conning tower and the cooks are all good natured Irishmen who say, "Gee whiz, fellas…" a lot and never seem to be cooking anything. In those films, there's always some teenage corpsman who can do kidney transplants and heart valve surgery from the instructions found in some paperback book he picked up at a yard sale.

How come you can hear them yell,

"Blow negative to the mark!"

Then, nothing. No one pumps anything anywhere and no one cycles the vents. Why? Were they so good they trimmed 'em on the surface? There's never any air trapped in a ballast tank that picks an awkward time to gurgle up like a rhino fart at midnight.

You know that the 'to' and 'from' trips to the secret Jap convoy staging base in Foosomarango Bay, in the Tappamafooso Straits has got to take a couple of weeks. No trash… No one-way… No stinking laundry… Compartments neat and clean and the crew talking to each other like the Walton's family. How did they do it?

Nobody making nasty comments about the coffee… No coffee cups all over the control room. When the boats surface, the surface conditions are right off a tourist poster… The moon illuminates all night targets. No ratty dungarees. Strongest words used by a Chief is something like, "Dag-nabbit…" or "Gee Willickers." Someone in the crew always gets a letter from home with a photo of a new baby in it. No one in the crew said,

"What an ugly kid. It looks a lot like his old man was that second class motor mac on the Cubera."

I watched all of the submarine movies as a kid… Saw 'em all. You name the movie and my butt was spot-welded to a third row seat.

"Hey kid, you sit that close you'll ruin your eyes."

I was a stupid kid… I figured if you sat in the middle of the theatre, there must be stuff you missed. Sometimes, they had a 'live show' before the movie like Tim McCoy doin' ropin' tricks or watchin' Gene Autry draw his trusty 44. If that happened, they usually picked kids in the first through third rows for some interactive entertainment. I got roped by some unknown guy who turned out to be Monty Montana. Back in the '40s the movie distributors spirited their B-western kid's icons all over hell and half Georgia, promoting their cowboy image. I wondered when they did all their cowboying stuff… Not that I was an expert on cowboy's agendas.

Somewhere between wanting to be a G-man, fire house captain, locomotive engineer, sheriff of Dodge City, and a circus acrobat, I found out that I wanted to be a submarine sailor because blowing up ships when nobody was looking, seemed like a good thing to do at the time. For a kid with a closet full of quarter sticks, M-80s, bulldog salutes, and cherry bombs, blowin' stuff up for a living seemed like a great idea.

In the forties, the folks at the A&P store in St. Elmo, Tennessee, would fork over a penny for every cleaned and washed soda bottle you turned in. All you needed was a red wagon, a garden hose and a couple miles of highway full of 'pop bottle weeds'. In the pre-ecology days in the rural south, boys would hold pop bottles out the window in a moving car, where wind passing over the hole would make a sound that drove adults nuts. After less than a minute, your dad would yell,

"Give me that gahdam sonuvabitch!"

And toss your musical instrument out the window, into the 'pop bottle weeds'… Or when you finished a bottle of pop, you could roll down a window and see if you could bounce the empty bottle off something along the side of the highway… Signs… Mailboxes… Or little kids who looked like they might grow up and become cooks or Chief Petty Officers.

Operation Pacific Torpedo RunTorpedo AlleyWe Dive at DawnHellcats of the NavyMen Beneath the Sea… I saw 'em all and thanks to Coke, Pepsi, Nehi, and Doctor 'Peep-eye'… And fathers and kids who tossed bottles in the days before littering was a criminal activity and recycling was popular, I became a bluejacket.

I was already stuck in the cobweb of naval recruiting propaganda at eight. When I reached fifteen and silver-tongued rear admiral Thomas M. Dykers, USN retired started laying his flypaper, I was a dead rascal. I had 'Take me to New London' indelibly written all over my ass.

Hell, if they had issued movie qual Dolphins, I would have had two sets before entering high school. I got so salty sitting in the dark at the Rialto Theater, I looked like Capt. Hornblower with dilated pupils.

I was a fish that the United States Navy took with extremely light tackle… Hell, I jumped into the boat and into the frying pan faster than any other dumb sonuvabitch that ever turned back a mattress or laid out his crap in a side locker, in barracks 142 at sub school.