USS Kittiwake, the old 'Kittycat'

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
 
 

There's no lad who was a non-rated idiot in Subron Six who, when he thumbs through his Pier 22 memories, doesn't smile when he remembers the Kittiwake. Any man who rode the Kittiwake pulled his time on a good ship.

She was our auxiliary submarine rescue vessel, or ASR. An ASR is the equivalent of a neighborhood fire house for submariners… These were the guys who came to get you if you bottomed out somewhere between the surface and crush depth. Any man who says anything disparaging about a Navy Diver, should have his gahdam tongue cut out and nailed over the urinal in the nearest submarine bar. I never met anyone off an ASR I didn't totally respect. I'm sure they must have had one or two who didn't rate it, but I never met them… They must have kept the bastards locked up in the jerk locker.

When you didn't have the duty and you were Mexican peon-broke… Just shuffling wallet lint with nothing to do... You went grasshoppering to other boats in the squadron.

If it was Sunday morning, you could roam down the pier and request permission to board Kittiwake. If someone gave me a choice between breakfast in the main dining room at the Waldorf Astoria and Sunday morning chow aboard Kittiwake, I'd say,

"Screw the Waldorf Astoria."

First place, I doubt they would allow you to enter the dining room in a fancy hotel wearing paint splattered dungarees, for starters… And they wouldn't have a cook wearing a sweat-soaked T-shirt with a tattoo of a nekkit lady wearing a raghat and neckerchief with 'Subic 38' over her, chewing on a cigar and saying,

"C'mon kid... Hell, you gotta be hungrier 'n that..."

And tossing 3 more link sausages on your plate.

"Jeez cookie, I'm no damn hog… Go a little lighter on that."

"All you pigboat sailors is hogs... Who you tryin' to shit? I wouldn't live on one of them floatin' hog wallows if they paid me CNO pay."

"Get outta here… We get free North Atlantic trips in the winter and coffee that'll float a brick. What else could you want?"

"Regular showers and no roaches."

"Can't have everything. Hell, we've got roaches that can sing and dance, play the violin and pass the Chief's exam."

"Are you gonna stand there and shoot the shit all day, or move on and let some working men get fed? Here son... Have a banana… The sonuvabitch'll put hair on your chest."

Best breakfast you can find anywhere on earth.

The coffee tasted like fresh-ground coffee smells… Pitchers of ice cold milk… Best damn scrambled eggs this side of the Pearly Gate guard shack and link sausage that had to be made out of ground up bubble dancer butts. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

You give an ASR cook a carton of sea stores smokes every now and then and you have a friend for life.

"Hey cookie… Anyone ever tell you you're a great stew burner?"

"I ain't your gahdam mother… Stow the horseshit. You ain't been in the Navy long enough to begin sweet-talking your elders. Now shove that chow in your face and clear the deck, kid."

It was like a trip to Grandma's house. Made you feel loved… Wanted… And all warm inside.

"Hey cookie…wanna git married? I'll buy you an engagement ring."

"You want me to crawl over this gahdam steam table an rearrange your gahdam dental work? I haven't got time to put up with wiseass crap."

"Anyone ever tell you how pretty your eyes are when you're angry?"

At some point you recognized it was either knock it off or die.

I think his name was Rogers. I asked him why he never made Chief. He left home and lied his way into the Navy at fifteen…There was the Great Depression going on. His old man was having a helluva time feeding six or seven kids, so he never finished school. He had no technical ability, so they sent him to cooks and bakers school. He got sent to the Far East and wound up on some rust bucket in China. He spent the war tossing chow down bluejackets in the Pacific, maxed out the campaign stars in his Pacific Theater ribbon and got the Purple Heart when a Jap pilot flew his flying bomb into his messdeck off Okinawa. He finished the war in a Navy hospital in California. When they started kicking guys out after the war, they kept the regulars from the '30s. He made third class in '47. He said they gave it to him as a booby prize after he failed the exam six times. He married some bar fly… No kids… Got divorced. Made second class in the early fifties while cooking on NATO staff and first class on a minesweeper. He had no ties anywhere and he could pack all his earthly belongings in a seabag. His life ambition was to have enough money to bankroll a greasy spoon somewhere near Boston. I sure hope the sonuvabitch realized his dream. He always lit up when he told me about it.

That old smiling cook was a dues payer. He owned a part of the flag he served. He was a major participant of the best part of the Navy I loved and remember. If Arliegh Burke ever met him, he would have made the old bastard a Chief, simply for duty faithfully performed. A lifer… One of those guys that had U.S.N. written all over him, and a dinged up spatula with the edge peened over from whacking out scrambled eggs for hundreds of thousands of servings.

After chow, me and Stuke would go back with the messcooks and lend a hand until all the pots were hung up and the dishes were racked. Then, the old cook would grab a butt kit… Go park himself at a mess table and read the leftover Sunday paper a steward brought him from the O.D... One that had wardroom jam prints on it.

"Cookie, tell us about this café… If me and Stuke show up whatcha gonna have?"

"First, you gotta have a perky-titted waitress. You can serve guys warmed over dog crap if a good looking honey hauls it to 'em. You don't want to get some starry-eyed dolly who's savin' up for beauty parlor school. You want to get some gal who'll be with you twenty years and still be good looking wearin' one of them old lady load bras and support stockings... And you've gotta have a Mexican dishwasher.

"The place is gonna be in a friendly part of town. Place with a lot of Irish folks and old people. Irishmen tip big and old people show up regular like… Secret to feedin' old folks is chewable food and checker boards."

"I'm gonna find one of them neighborhoods where little kids come by askin' for pennies to shoot the gumball machine and in hard times, the guy who reads your electric meter don't read so good on purpose. Serve mostly burgers… Fries… And three kinds of pies. You serve more and folks can't make up their mind… Chili and chowder in winter."

"Not gonna cheat on the burgers... No sir, none of that additive crap. Pure beef, heavy as a link of anchor chain… Say, what are you kids doin' hanging around here for? Why don't you haul your damn dumb butts back to your boat? Can't you see that a senior petty officer is trying like hell to read his gahdam paper in peace? Get the hell out of here and stop asking so many stupid questions."

So we left the old ragged bastard with a head full of perky-titted waitresses, Mexican dishwasher, cheating meter readers, coots playing checkers, and his anchor chain burgers.

I hope someday there's a headstone in a National Cemetery somewhere for him that shows he made Chief and has 'World War II' on it… And kids who got gumball pennies pass by and remember him.

Like I do when I think about the old Kittiwake.

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