Raghats and Running Mates

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

If you never were an enlisted man on a diesel boat, you missed good times God never intended for mere mortals to enjoy.

I've somehow managed to reach ripe middle age, not having been lynched, tarred and feathered, drawn and quartered, or burned at the stake… And, considering the boat sailors I ran with, that has to be a major miracle.

I ran with idiots who would flirt with the bull knowing full well we were about to receive the horn… We absorbed a lot of horns… (You have to use a lot of western imagery for remedial readers in Reno… I apologize, but Ray said we had to do that so we won't lose our Sesame Street grant.)

The Sea Lion was in our squadron. The Navy had done some major mod work on her so she could haul SEALs and marine RECON… We just called them 'frogmen'. Meeting SEALs and marine recon folks gave a sub sailor a good feeling… Instantly, you knew that there were things on the planet stupider than volunteering for the boats… You thought that, but never said it out loud unless you were 2 miles underground inside a lead-lined box in a Bulgarian coal mine.

That is to say, you were very discreet unless you were Adrian Stuke…

God gave me a running mate that loved flirting with personal annihilation. The problem was, I was his idiot sidekick. I knew when the Lone Ranger, Cisco and Red Ryder took the grenade that Tonto, Poncho and Lil' Beaver were gonna take 'a lotta heavy shrap'. I did a lot of research and know beyond question, anyone who gets within twenty feet of the 'Pride of Quincy, Illinois' risks death, personal injury and being maimed for life.

One morning, the Sea Lion was loading recon marines… For those of you who have never seen a SEAL or recon marine in their natural environment, let me fill you in… During the mid '50s, the Navy found that if you concentrated nuclear radiation at a focal point one and three quarters of an inch beyond the eardrum, the human brain could be reduced to the size of a lima bean with complete loss of decent behavior, comprehension, rational thought processes, and severe vocabulary reduction. The process was extremely successful when the subjects bore a striking resemblance to hairy gorillas. They dressed 'em up… Swore them into the Marine Corps and sent them to Norfolk to ride the USS Sea Lion.

A truck arrived and from under the canvas top covering the rear bed, came the damnedest collection of knuckle-dragging sonivabitches the Divine Father ever put together on a bad day. They weren't happy... Have no idea why... Maybe nobody fed them raw meat on the end of a long stick for two days... Don't know...

It didn't take long to figure out that in recon training, marines are taught to travel light so they toss out all the adjectives in their lexicon and just use 'f*cking' for all occasions... And any recon that allows anything to grow on any skin surface above his ear line that can cast any kind of a shadow, is shot and shipped directly to the Spam factory.

On a good day, these poor abused bastards are unpleasant to be around... On a day when they are less than happy, they get damn near insufferable... And any sonuvabitch, who gets in the same zip code with them when they have been drinking, ranks two levels below a village idiot.

So, there they were... The devil's playmates... Hopping out of this truck... Looking like a tag team of professional wrestlers... Snorting... Mumbling... Each with a big black bag with big ol' gum rubber swimming flippers tied to it... Big triple-tank racks and wristwatches the size of a pickup's speedometer.

They grabbed their gear and started to cross over the boats in the nest to get to the Sea Lion, moored outboard.

I often wondered what the inside of the Sea Lion looked like... Had this mental picture of a giant compartment that passed the horny rodeo bull test, where they chained all the recon animals up. If I had been the COB, damned if I wouldn't have issued bullwhips.

Now, back to the moment.

I wish I could paint you an accurate picture, but someone highjacked my Ernest Hemmingway gene on my trip down the Fallopian tube... All I got left with was a Mike Hemming gene... Meaning, I should be actually painting all this on the wall of a cave somewhere.

Adrian Stuke actually joined the Navy to give his dear mother all the time necessary to negotiate a deal with the governor of Illinois, whereby Stuke could return to Illinois and not be shot on sight. The COB kept asking Adrian why he picked the submarine force... Then the COB would say,

"Why did God give us the two idiots Noah didn't have room for?"

When Dutch said stuff like that, you knew he loved you.

When 'Sneezy, Grumpy, Dopey, Doc' and all the other recons cleared our deck, Stuke dropped down in a line locker forward of the sail and yelled at the top of his voice,


A sure-fire, two-line death wish.

Every sonuvabitch topside on every boat in the nest instantly got that 'It wasn't me' look. I knew there was no way we could convince those raw meat-eaters that God said it, so rather than point at the sky... I put on my straight dope face and pointed at the Orion. They weren't buying... So I quit selling... And immediately worked out a strategy to relocate to the wardroom. The exec would like to see me ripped in half, but would not feed any living human to the marines. There ain't anybody that gahdam evil.

While I am attempting to slowly make my way to the sail door... Whistling and doing my damnedest to look serious and professional... And wondering if you could report into the receiving station in Hell with pants freshly peed in while being rapidly dismembered by irate recon marines... While all this was going on, I wondered if they would find my will in my side locker... I look down and grinning back at me through the slats in a line locker lid is Requin's Leading Seaman and Master of Unorthodox Behavior... The only man in the world that said for no reason at all,

"I wonder if anyone ever French-kissed a Great White Shark and got away with it..."

I on the other hand, was an absolute Four-Oh submarine sailor who suffered from a massive dose of guilt by association... Kinda like being Charles Manson's hand puppet.

Does God count it if you lie to bigger liars than you are?

In truth, it was a lot of fun being the sidekick of 'The Legend'. But if I'd had only one ounce of gahdam sense, I would have grabbed a T-wrench, tightened down that locker lid and fed the friggin 'Legend' stale doughnuts through the lid slots for a week. Only my Christian upbringing kept me from waving at the nasty-faced guys on the Sea Lion who were engaged in yelling a lot of stuff I doubt their mother would have approved of, and pointing down to the grinning face inside the line locker and saying,

"Here he is... Have no idea who he is, except he hangs around the men's room at the Trailways bus station and follows sailors back to the Orion..."

If I had, at least six of us would have gotten a Navy-paid trip to Arlington.