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I met a lot of characters in my Navy career but few could compare with my old shipmate, "Beer-truck" Boutwell. Beer-truck was one of many sailors who knew their jobs but just could not pass the test for the next higher rank. If he could have taken the tests orally, I would have been working for him, but he just could not get it down on paper. The fact that he loved his beer almost as much as he loved the Navy may have added to the sad situation which kept him stalled in the lower ranks.
Beer-truck worked hard and he played hard and sometimes he would forget when it was time to come back to the ship. It became one of my duties to track him down when he was A.W.O.L. Because of his shipboard performance, the Captain would usually forgive him and just keep him aboard for a week or two.
One afternoon I received a phone call from Boutwell informing me that he was in Balboa Naval Hospital. When I inquired what happened he said, "I got run over by a beer truck." I said, "Don't give me that crap!" He insisted it was true, and as it turned out, it was----sort of. As he was leaving one of his favorite haunts by the back door, a beer delivery truck ran over his foot. No matter how hard he tried to live it down, from then on he was known as "Beer-truck Boutwell".
The Navy issued Beer-truck a set of false teeth shortly after he joined, and he loved to use them in crude ways. One of his favorite tricks, when we were out drinking beer with our shipmates, was to drop his teeth in the pitcher of beer, thereby claiming it for his own. Nobody argued as they didn't want to pour themselves a beer with Boutwell's teeth smiling back at them through the brew. Beer-truck was not the barmaid's favorite customer.
One afternoon we were off the coast working with Marines bringing small boats into the well deck of the ship. Boutwell and I were in the ballast shack flooding tanks to raise the ship up and down to allow the boats in and out. We discovered there was smoke coming from behind the electrical switchboard, and I told Beer-truck, "Go get me an electrician and a CO2!" (fire extinguisher). The next thing I realized was the Commanding Officer (CO) standing in the ballast shack telling me, "Boutwell said you wanted to see me." We laughed until tears came to our eyes when we figured out "Beer-truck" did just what he'd heard me say.
Boutwell made my time in the Navy seem a little shorter. Wherever you are Beer-truck, thanks for just being you.
© 2002 Maurice D. Karst
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