The Chief Petty Officers club is the elite of the Navy enlisted men's gathering spots and known for good food, entertainment and conversation. An invite to the club is readily accepted and treasured in anticipation of the fine steak and lobster meal. Ship's business is conducted over a friendly beer, and one could always depend upon another Chief to help you out of a tight spot. The conversation among the Chiefs is sometimes known as "Sea Stories" and could end in a Can-You-Top-This contest.
One evening I entered the C.P.O. club in Long Beach, California and removed my hat at the door to avoid buying the traditional round for the house if a Chief forgot to uncover upon entering the domain of the Chief Petty Officer. It was a slow night and a Chief alone at the bar called to me and said, "Join me and I'll buy you a beer". My sponsor was a large man with the reddest hair and complexion I had ever seen. He introduced himself and added, "Everybody calls me "Red". We exchanged a little history about our chosen careers and told a tale or two about some amusing incidents while sailing U.S. Navy ships.
After a few beers had taken over our minds, Red looked at me and said, "Chief, I am going to tell you a story, but I must swear you to secrecy until after I retire". He had my attention. He looked about for any potential eavesdroppers, and his face became serious as began to relate his story.
He told me how he had been stationed on an island off the coast of Alaska in charge of fifty enlisted men. The base was used in modern times for communication but in World War Two it was a storage place for submarine nets. The nets were huge chain links hooked together to form a barrier against enemy subs. More advanced knowledge and defense made them obsolete, however the thirty-foot high piles of chain remained on the island.
Red explained how these mounds of chain links had become home for hundreds of artic fox, and the sailors didn't like sharing the island with these crafty critters. One day, out of foolish boredom, they decided to declare war on the fox and devised a plan to get rid of them. They gathered together an arsenal of rifles, pistols and rocks along with many five-gallon cans of gasoline and willing sailors to carry out the plot. They surrounded the war zone with their weapons at the ready. Several sailors climbed to the top of the pile with cans of gasoline and poured the contents down through the chain to the fox dens. Red gave the order to light the fire, and it ignited instantly.
"All hell broke loose!" Red exclaimed. As the foxes exited the fiery hole they had created, the sailors began shooting in all directions, and the foxes, covered in gasoline, were on fire! Several foxes, burning like Olympic torches, ran under the barracks causing the old wooden buildings to instantly burst into flame. Now the operation turned into a fire fighting effort, and the foxes forgotten as the sailors attempted to save the burning barracks.
Red said he could see his Navy career going up in smoke as they finally doused the flames. I was laughing too hard to understand every word he said as he was almost blubbering at that point. Red regained his composure and said that with available lumber and paint they were able to hide their folly, and only a few singed foxes remained as evidence.
I found out later that Red was a legend at the Chief's club for his sea stories. He certainly humbled me that night in our Can-You-Top-This contest.
©2004 Maurice Karst