Remembering Ralph

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
 
 

In a recent phone conversation with Bob Garlock, the Father of the USS Requin Reunion Program, I was asked to recount a tale. Bob Garlock lost his brother, Mark 'Tink' Garlock, a fine Requin shipmate, to a shipboard accident in 1962. In Tink's memory, Bob began a labor of love that has lasted many years. His mission has been to locate every officer and crewmember that ever served aboard Requin. He means any man who rode her from 1945 to 1970… The expense in computer time, phone bills and personal time must have reached astronomical proportions. It has become a priceless gift and one that we are all indebted for.

Bob heard a story at the last reunion and has asked that I relate this one…

No one likes to chronicle his own stupidity. Anyone who reads this one will say, "What a bunch of idiots." Well, can't take issue with that. Next thing they would ask is, "Why the hell would they do it?"

The only answer I can give is "To prove we could." At nineteen, you do stuff simply to say you did it. No one tells you that you will have to own up to dumb stunts 40 years later. I guess it's the price you pay for youthful stupidity. In mitigation, I would like to say we pulled it off… Got away with it. Not that it makes the stunt any less idiotic or diminishes the potential embarrassment we could have caused the old man, the crew and the boat. This one isn't easy… If anyone but Bob Garlock had asked me to own up to this one, I would have told them to go pack sand.

It was '61 or '62… We pulled into Bermuda. If you've never been to 'Bermadoo', you didn't miss a whole helluva lot. The place is an island about the size of a Monopoly board. Everything in the place is priced for the tourist trade… The entire gross national product is tied to fleecing tourists. It's a place where rich people and honeymooners go to bask in the sun, drink rum and cokes and chase their womenfolk around $200 a night hotel rooms. The last thing these clowns wanted was to be up to their armpits in bluejackets.

The population had a very short memory. They traded survival and protection in World War II for a 99 year U.S. base lease under the lend-lease program. Twenty seconds after Hitler's boys tossed in the towel, they had second thoughts and started whining. Whining is a major industry in Bermuda. If it hadn't been for U.S. forces afloat from 1941 to 1945, the fine folks of the little island would have to have eaten a helluva lot of fish or each other to survive. Everything they got came in by U.S. protected ships. They lived right smack in the middle of the U-boat feeding ground.

By the early '60s, the memory along with any lingering appreciation had faded to the point that the U.S. Navy was simply a blight that came by sea to soil the atmosphere of their cute little Lionel train set island.

The big honchos of the island worked out a deal with the permanent resident big cheese Naval officers to keep the number of migratory raghats off the streets of their fair sanctuary. If you came in late and the number of sailors allowed on the beach had hit the allotted quota, you couldn't get out the gate.

So they organized beer ballgames to occupy the attention of the men who wanted to clear snorkel air out of their lungs. You remember beer ballgames… An afternoon of drunks trying to hit a baseball and pee in the outdoors. Not a lot of fun but it killed time.

We had a kid named Johnny Robert Thorn. Young kid… His brother had been a well known UDT guy in World War II. Johnny's dream was to make the UDT… The kid had a damn near obsessive fascination with explosives and big-bang ordinance… Might have been a genetic defect peculiar to his family.

We were in the vicinity of the 30th. Inning… Those still on their feet were three sheets to the wind and the majority of the mob in the outfield were taking drunken siestas in the grass.

Somewhere around this time, fireman first Thorn shows up with a blue bomb. Not a real bomb, but an empty 500 lb. practice bomb casing. A thin-skinned, light sheetmetal canister in the shape of a bomb that had two pad eyes to fasten it to the bomb release mechanism on the wings of Navy aircraft. As it was explained to me, the Naval air guys filled these empty bomb casings with sand that gave them the approximate weight of a real bomb and allowed them to be dropped in practice. The sand would mark the targets since the thin skin would split open on impact and sand would spread out in the direction of travel.

Well, Johnny Robert turned up with this stupid practice bomb casing he found in an ordinance yard at the air base.

"What'n the hell do you expect to do with that, horsefly?"

"Dunno… It was jus' layin' around over there where airdales salvage stuff…"

"Just what we need… A gahdam bomb…"

"It's pretty neat… Think we could get it back to the boat?"

"The BOAT? Jeezus, how in the hell could we get that big monster back to the boat? Not to say what we'd do with the damn thing if by some miracle we made it back to the boat with the stupid thing… First, we'd have to get it past the guys at the fleet landing… Get it past the boat coxswain and the bow hook… Get it up the side of the tender… Cross the Orion quarterdeck… Haul it down to the lower brow… Cross over four boats and THEN, when we finally made it, figure out the purpose of all the effort and what to do with the sonuvabitch!!"

"Yeh, but wouldn't it be a hoot to pull it off?"

At this point, we began to consider actually hauling the thing back… The challenge and opportunity to pull one over on the quarterdeck bozos that were the guardians of 'mother Onion.' Remember, we were young, half in the bag from too much beer in the sun and we were prone to get into things on a lark that we wouldn't have touched with a pole extending well beyond ten feet had we thought about it for a sufficient period of time.

At some point, boat sailors like Stuke, Armstrong, Badertcher, and a Rontini regular, Mike Hemming (If I have named anyone undeserving of the dubious honor, accept my apologies… Chalk it up to the failing memory of a self-admitted fool and bullshit artist.) engage in like-minded activities using the same logical reasoning.

So, there we were… In a foreign land, in rapidly failing sunlight, half in the weeds, plotting an adventure in unacceptable behavior. Not that plotting unacceptable behavior was anything new to the inhabitants of Requin's after battery. You see, we instinctively knew that at some point we would grow up, become third class petty officers, and have our stupidity authorization permits revoked. Then would come responsible behavior… The price of leadership.

It was collectively decided… I use the word 'collectively' because I'll be damned if I am going to go down in history as being an instigator of any foolishness that followed… I would like to say I got caught up in the moment… Your honor…

We put a white hat and a sea jacket on the thing, and took it with us. The idea was to crowd around the damn thing, act drunker than we actually were and move along a predetermined route. We all agreed that at the point of discovery, we would fess up and take the heat as a team.

We made it to the small boat… We reached Orion and arrived at her quarterdeck. By the time we arrived at Orion, all of the returning Requin mob was in on the prank. We crossed the Orion quarterdeck in the fashion of a stampeding buffalo herd and a quarterback sneak... Thirty overactive major league drunks and Ralph the bomb. All the J.G. wanted to do was get us the hell off his quarterdeck... We did. Thirty drunks and Ralph made it.

Getting across the boats in the nest was easy. It takes a lot to amaze and attract the attention of a submarine topside watch. Short of a bluejacket bringing a naked lady riding a zebra aboard, not much appeared out of place.

There we were, standing in the after battery mess deck… Sitting on the table - Ralph the practice bomb.

The exec came aft… Gave us an academy award contending lecture on risking the reputation of the boat with our constant propensity to nibble around the edges of court martial activity… He wanted to know why we did it… No one had an answer. Looking back though, there WAS an answer.

We were the tightest group of human beings in the world. We totally believed we could pull off anything… Together, we could do anything. We also had to manufacture our adventure. The movies, the TV shows, the books, and the recruiting hype made submarine duty appear exciting and adventurous. Peacetime boat service was as boring as watching goldfish mate. We did stuff… Sometimes, stupid stuff to prove we were alive. Nothing complex, however… Nineteen is too young for brain atrophy.

We took Ralph topside and threw him over the side next to the screw guards.

It was long ago… Too long to attempt to make sense out of it at this late date.

The same reason they selected us for the boats was the reason we did it. Normal human beings don't get dolphins.

I just hope when Ray Stone collects enough evidence to have us all locked up in the local nut house, I get to share a padded cell with Adrian Stuke.


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