I had been aboard my first ship for almost three years when, after making Petty Officer Second-Class, I was assigned the additional responsibility of being in charge of one of three duty sections. All hands had collateral duties that included laundry and mess cooking for the non-rated, and the Petty Officers were required to learn overlapping skills outside their normal field. The Captain was a mustang Lieutenant with ten years as an enlisted man in the Quartermaster rate. He ran a tight ship with limited material and manpower. The only other commissioned officer on board the old LSM (Landing Ship Medium) was a Lt. JG or an Ensign who were transferred so often they never qualified for the job. I was very confident that I could have the ship ready to get underway when I had the duty, and that I could handle any situation that might confront me on my duty nights. I took pride in the added trust the skipper had placed in me.
One of the men in my duty section was a huge Indian man/boy from Oklahoma who had a permanent good-natured grin on his face. He was six-foot four inches tall, but the most impressive thing about his size was the width of his shoulders. The Navy's largest dungaree shirt was tight on him, and he popped the buttons off when he expanded his chest. The crew nicknamed him "Moose". He was a seaman in the deck rating and was assigned to mess cook duties. It was fascinating to see him lift two thirty-gallon trash cans over his head and set them on the wing wall over the well deck. Anyone else in the crew had to carry them one at a time to the trash dumpster on the pier, but Moose made it look easy.
One duty night, I hit the sack right after taps to catch up on some needed rest, and dozed off almost immediately. A short time later I was awakened by one of the men who told me, in a voice filled with panic, that Moose was in the galley with butcher knife and a bottle of vodka, and he was talking crazy.
I got dressed as quickly as I could and approached the galley with caution. I found Moose, and he was no longer grinning. He was wild-eyed and ranting about how he was going to get "them". In my most authoritative voice, I told him to put the knife down. Moose made a threatening motion in my direction and backed me up the ladder to the quarterdeck. I asked the man on watch for his forty-five-caliber pistol and clip, and loaded the weapon. I pleaded with Moose to put the knife down. He backed me down the gangway and onto the pier, where we started going around in circles. I shouted to the quarterdeck watch to call the base police. I didn't want to hurt him, but I told Moose I was going to shoot. A Petty Officer from another ship across the pier yelled, "Shoot him" and I hollered back, "I'll give you the gun, and you shoot him." Thankfully, the base police arrived, and the lights and siren frightened Moose into dropping the knife. They hauled him away, and after a discussion with the quarterdeck watch about what had happened, I put Moose on report for drunk and disorderly and put it in the deck log.
I crawled back in my bunk but my heart was pounding so much I knew it would be some time before I could sleep. After what seemed like hours I finally drifted off into dream filled slumber. Once again I was jolted into reality by the quarterdeck watch telling me, "They brought "Moose" back." I was praying I had misunderstood him, but on my arrival at the quarterdeck I found it was true. The base policeman said," We had your man examined, and he's just drunk." I asked them to keep him overnight but they refused. I made a decision to handcuff Moose to a stanchion in an unused compartment. I gave him a blanket and a pillow, and he grinned at me as I made a quick exit.
We took him to Captains mast the following morning, and the skipper restricted him for two weeks. I thought he got off too easy.
I was in my berthing compartment my next duty day when Moose entered the space and said, " I'm sorry about what happened, and I'll never cause you any trouble again."
I said, "Thanks, Moose. One duty night like that is all I can take."
© 2002Maurice D. Karst
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