Norfolk Yard

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Anyone pull an overhaul at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth? (If it was in Portsmouth Virginia, how come it wasn't the Portsmouth yard??) Anyway, going to the yard was a dope-off after battery rat's dream...

They billeted the single guys on a contraption called an APL - Auxillary Personnel Lighter... A floating barracks. It had multiple compartments with lockers and racks to accomodate around 1,200 sailors. We had about 30 unmarried, non shacked-up folks. It wasn't a tight fit. Some guys homesteaded a complete compartment. We were like 30 mice in the Waldorf-Astoria... And like mice, we collected stuff... Brought it back and stuffed it in our new home.

John Class got us two lounge chairs from the patio of the Chief's Club and one of those ashtray stands... Someone came back with a couple of broken metal chairs that we had a loafing welder fix. They weren't pretty, but they fit the average butt a helluva lot better than an orange crate. Max bought this little kids wading pool to fill with water and stretch out in. We even bought a pirate flag at some North Carolina tourist trap. Well, no one considered the cumulative effect... Visually, we created what must have ranked with the top ten eyesores of North America. We had zero taste. Our idea of first rate interior decorating ran along the lines of Sanford and Son.

Some guy, possibly the Deputy Prime Minister of the Navy Yard arrived in a shiny black car and called us everything but civilized human beings.

"Do you have ANY idea what kind of image this presents to civilians passing this facility in their boats?"

Actually, we had no idea, and knew at the rate we were progressing along the road of life, we most likely would NEVER have any idea. We DID have a rough idea about the asking price of a 200 foot yacht and figured on E-3 pay, sub pay, sea & foreign duty pay, winning a couple of anchor pools and being damn lucky at cards, we could probably buy one outright if we lived to be 406 years old... Make that 380 if we made Chief.

We had to remove all the superfluous crap. Well, we did... We moved it all inside and created the 'Grand Salon'.

We watched movies in this rat trap. We had an ANQB Navy 16mm projector for films we would draw from the Navy Motion Picture Exchange. Hey, anyone remember that fat ankle second class Amazon lesbian who worked in the Motion Picture Exchange? From whose dainty feminine lips would come...

"Alright you _______ suckers... No form, no film. Got that, you idiot bastards? NO FORM, NO FILM!"

It was sad. We always referred to her in the politest of terms...

One night, I got on the watch bill as the duty MPO... Motion Picture Operator. MPO was the biggest racketeer slot in the entire Navy. It ranked right up there with being a Hollywood gynecologist.

They sent you to two days of Motion Picture Operator's School to learn what you could teach a trained gerbil in about 5 minutes. In two days you graduated and they gave you the coveted "Qualified Motion Picture Operator" card.

This was like having your sentence commuted if you were a winter topside watch. While the poor sonuvabitch standing topside watch was doing his damnest to keep ice cubes from forming in his arteries, the duty MPO was parked on his worthless butt in the warm corner of the messdeck... Watching kissy-face movies, eating popcorn and yelling at the below decks watch every time he passed in front of the screen. It never got any better than that... In the pecking order of God's creatures, duty MPO ranked right up there with fleas who found a warm place on a collie he couldn't reach with his hind leg.

One night on the APL, some genious turned up with what had to have won the Skin Flick Oscar of 1961. An hour and 15 minutes of ugly people doing things only acrobats and the criminally depraved could appreciate...

As for me, I have absolutely no good taste. I can handle just about anything that doesn't involve kids or exploit girls below the age of consent. But this thing was so tasteless, I watched 5 to 10 minutes, then hit the rack. The dialog was Italian... That figures... It was picked up in the Med. After I hit the rack, there was a second showing and guys from two New London boats being overhauled showed up.

About ten the next day, two gentlemen from the Office of Naval Intelligence showed up. They were looking for the duty MPO.

"Was a pornographic film shown on board this ship last night?"

"Yes sir... Sort of an instructional film."

"A film involving nudity and blatant sexual activity?"

"Aye sir..."

"And you showed the film?"

"No sir."

"If you didn't show the film and you were the assigned MPO, who did?"

"Sir, I'm boat service... We live by taking care of each other. I'm not going to lie... You'll have to be satisfied with my word that it wasn't me."

Well, the two Dick Tracy ONI guys grilled the entire duty section, the cooks and the duty officer. These INTELLIGENCE officers never figured out that

(A.) The Navy projector was a 16mm projector...

(B.) The Italian basement production was an 8mm home movie...

(C.) It had to be shown on a 'brought from home' projector.

At morning quarters the following day, the exec announced that we would not like the strange and exotic things he was prepared to do to the entire crew if ever another porno film was brought on board.

"Gentlemen, am I fully understood?"

"Yes sir..." (Old guys said "Aye sir..." When you started saying "Aye" to everything, you were well on your way to becoming a lifer. Lifers were people who said "...In the OLD Navy..." a lot).

When officers ended a ten minute tirade on stuff that they wanted to come to "All stop", they always said, "Gentlemen, am I fully understood?" What this translated to in deck force language was... "I hope you stupid sonuvabitches... You thick skull, out-of-control, worthless idiots... Paid attention to my well choreographed song and dance, because if you repeat that conduct I will nail your dog tags to a line locker lid and dive the boat." I became a real master linguist when it came to translating officer talk.

Things like "Mind your helm" meant "Holy jumpin' jeezus, snake wake!!", and "Sailor, where did you stow those blues?" translated to "Did you jam those gahdam things in a side locker and forget that man had developed the electric steam iron?"

Everything in the yard cost a 20 lb. can of coffee. That was the basic exchange rate. Hell, you could get a destroyer chrome plated if you had enough cans of coffee and crab meat... Strange places, Navy yards...

They also frown on the game where members of the undersea forces see how many Shop 72 yellow helmets they can toss into a tin can stack sitting upright in the drydock... And shooting welding rods out of CO2 extinguishers. We invented the 'Helmet Down the Stack' game... It had very promising prospects for the '64 Olympics in Tokyo.

When you leave the yard, the CO usually panics... You see, when you arrive, he signs for three prong knuckle busters, pneumatic rotary scalers, helmets, gloves, fire extinguishers, 20 miles of 40 ft. section non-collapsible air hose, and a whole bunch of other highly portable expensive junk... The Old Man was accountable...

When we collected all the crap before leaving, we were a couple short of damn near everything. The skipper explained that he had no desire to spend the next hundred and fifty years of his life at Portsmouth Naval Prison and would appreciate it if enterprising young lads would go forth and locate our stray inventory.

In an hour, we were flush. We outdid Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves... While I occupied the attention of some yardbird with a giant air operated piece of equipment, Adrian Stuke disconnected 3 sections of non collapsible hose, rolled it up, tied it to a line, and watched it disappear up the side of the dry dock. My last memory of this incident was that of watching a disbelieving yardbird clicking the trigger on this thing he was working with and saying to himself, "The sonuvabitch was okay a minute ago..."

When we left, we had to clean up the APL... It looked like a handgrenade test range. If you were never a diesel boat sailor in the yard, you missed one of the all-time great experiences in life.

The bullshit you put up with, the crap you went through for 4" of pin back sterling silver was all worth it for one Tarzan two months trip to the yard.