Vic Casciola, Radioman, Shipmate.
Late one evening, before our last reunion, I got a phone call. When I heard the voice, years melted away.
"Dex... Vic Casciola... You remember me?"
Did I remember Vic? Does a hobby horse have a hickory dick? You bet I remember Vic!!
Vic had a medical condition that erased a lot of his memory and was phoning to see if I thought the lads would recall who he was. He didn't want to show up at the reunion if nobody would remember him. He also wanted his son to know that long ago, his dad rode the boats.
So, this is for his son. It's not much... Others could do better. I'm not articulate enough to capture on paper the unique, one-of-a-kind shipmate that was Vic. All I want to do is validate Vic's credentials.
Vic arrived on Requin wearing paratrooper wings over his ribbons. Paratrooper wings and Silver Dolphins... Talk about double-dipping lunatics.
Vic was a radioman... Make that triple-dipping lunacy. He was the absolute master of the "speed key." A contraption radio guys used to tap out flips and blips that to fellow practitioners of flip and blip transmission, could be translated into communication understood by normal members of the human race. Vic could pound out stuff at a rate that constantly frustrated his recipients. Many nights, radiomen receiving Vic's "heat" would have to tell him to hold up until they could hunt up some poor devil who could read at his rate... Like going to find a catcher for Nolan Ryan's fast ball. Vic could bang out code faster than Gypsy Rose could pop a garter snap.
He was amazing. He was also a master at sneaking stuff into official traffic. In the old days, boat sailors didn't get fifty word 'poopy-grams'... We got 'Little Orphan Annie drops' and anything you could con a radioman to sneak into a message after he caught up on ALLNAV transmissions.
A 'Little Orphan Annie drop' came from naval aviators. The good ones, God bless 'em, would go to the tender, collect your mail, put it into a cleaned up paint can along with a couple of recent newspapers, a dog-eared Playboy, and two or three sports magazines. They would tape the contraption up and drop it to you when you were surfaced.
They would fly over and yell stuff over the radio,
"Mark center... Mark ringer..."
And out of the bottom of a P2V would come a tumbling can. Lookouts would cheer and the can would slam into the swells.
If you were lucky, someone on deck would fish out the can with a boathook, mail would be distributed in the control room and we would spike the morale-meter.
If you were unlucky, the sunovabitch would sink... And set up housekeeping with crabs and a lot of German U-Boat crews. One Christmas, we lost a can on a three contraption drop. I later learned that a port wine soaked, pecan loaded fruitcake my aunt sent me, had been misdirected to the deck force of the Titanic.
That brings us back to method two of clandestine shore communication... Vic Casciola and his magical speed key. The poor bastards in the Orion radio shack would get stuff like this...
"REQUIN ETA 1600Z... REQUIRE WELDER FOR DECK DAMAGE ON STAND BY... PHONE 319-6247 FOR RESULTS OF LITTLE LEAGUE SERIES... REQUIN TO DEPART NORFOLK 0800Z 031561... WILL REQUIRE STORES, TWO WEEKS... FUEL... CHARTS ACCORDING TO OP ORDERS... PHONE 319-4670 TELL MARY DAD WILL FUND PROM DRESS... WILL LOAD 2 MK37 TORPEDOES... HAVE INJURED MAN TO TRANSFER NORFOLK NAVAL HOSPITAL REQUIRE TRANSPORT... PATIENT AMBULATORY... PHONE 319-4026 OBTAIN RESULTS PREGNANCY TEST... WILL NEED NEST ASSIGNMENT AND LINE HANDLERS... (pause)... WILL EXPECT ANSWERS NEXT TRANSMISSION"
Magic Man could get everything from clothing measurements to racing results and the wardroom never knew.
Vic could fall asleep in the middle of a bar brawl. We didn't know that it was probably an early indication of his later medical problem.
Once, the diving officer was told that Vic was asleep on watch in the radio shack. Major no-no. When the diving officer went to the shack, there was Cassiola wearing headphones with his eyes closed.
"Casciola... You asleep?"
Never opened his eyes.
"Well, what in the hell are you doing with your eyes closed?"
"Checking my eyelids for holes."
The worst duty on Requin was having the below deck watch and having to wake Vic up. The sonuvabitch could sleep through the last five minutes of a hocky game, a five hundred pound bomb drop and the second coming of Christ. The COB once said if Vic had been at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, he would have slept through it. I would rather have taken raw meat from a half-starved Bengal tiger than have been sent to separate Vic from his rack. It ranked up there with the most delicate surgical procedures... You had to remove the flashcover from Vic's back without getting your lights punched out. We toyed with the idea of doing it electrically, but how could you wire up a guy who could have the tender phone your mom to wish her a happy birthday?
Vic Casciola... Did we remember you?
Everyone wore Dolphins, paratrooper wings, sent code at the speed of light and slept like a bank vault.