May 14, 1944 – Noumea, New Caledonia
I couldn’t believe we were dropping anchor in this bay at the southern tip of New Caledonia. The word was passed that only ten percent of the crew would get ashore on liberty. We all knew that the senior officers and higher rated crew members would be given first preference. I definitely was not among this elite level. I really didn’t mind that much because I had so much to do for my own pleasure aboard ship.
I do admit that Noumea is considered a great little liberty town. It would have been a welcome relief to see some pretty young French girls whose reputations had already given us good reason for winning the war, just to accept their feminine tokens of appreciation.
Well, that night the boys had one heck of a good time, after a fashion. Some roamed about, staring at the peculiarly clad natives of the town. Others stopped off to quench their thirst. The few that were left went a little bit further than “quench” and became “saturated”. What a night! What a place! To think, we were here a year ago and it still looked the same except for the “brig,” the boys kept telling me.
“Well, what about this local ‘brig’?” I asked. “What was so different? Don’t they let you read at night any more‘?” I was trying to be funny.
“Well,” said Jack Knight, twirling the end of his moustache, “for one thing, they’ve painted the bulkheads powder blue.”
“And another thing,” Peawee Elms interrupted. “it was full of the sailors from our squadron. And that’s not all – we had a fight that’ll go down in history… medical history,” he added, rubbing a patch over his jaw. Then Sweetpea, the colored mess attendant framed his massive physique in the doorway.
“Jesus, what a brawl,” he said. “There were five o’ them soldiers!”
“Well, what happened?”
“Well, we were all kinda high from that rot gut dat we drank. Jus’ because Knight kept askin’ a girl out for a date, staggerin’ as he chased her around, they put him in the brig!”
“The injustice of it all,” I sympathized.
“We were staggering around, too,” exclaimed Sweetpea, “so all of us ended up in the brig to sober up. When we got there, they threw us in the same cell with five or six other soldiers – big guys too. One started an argument about the Navy with Peawee and soon this big soldier takes one swing and sends Peawee flyin’ under the bench. Krimm, another of our buddies, was out cold – dead drunk – and this soldier, mad as hell, kicks him in the head. Boy was Ah mad! Ah grabbed that sucker and hit him clear across the cell! At the same time, Knight was so drunk, they knocked him out without no trouble.” He paused to take a breath.
“The las’ guy left standing,” he continued, “was a great big ol’ colored native soldier. He
had arms like thighs. Ah remember him hittin’ me twice and then he raised his fist over his head like a hammer and wham!!… everything went black. When Ah came to, there were all these bodies layin’ around. The MPs were afraid to come in. One big drunk soldier was standin’ there over Knight and peed all over him. Holy Jesus! Finally they let me and the others go. Ah brought them all back to the ship. Ol’ Knight and Elms their uniforms were a mess. Jack stunk like hell – you couldn’t get near him. The MPs didn’t want to even touch us ‘cause we was so full of grime.”
The information continued to unravel. Recently a former police chief, now a Lt. Commander, instituted a new policy for both the shore patrol and the military police. They were required to bring in a minimum number of violators a day to fill a quota. As a result, if you so much as sneezed in the wrong direction you were hauled in. The SPs are OK. The MPs were giving the boys a bad time. In fact, when they arrested one of the officers, just before they took him away, many from our squadron – including a Lt. Commander, the Captain and his executive officer from another destroyer, who were standing close by – tried to intervene. All ended up in the brig enjoying the aesthetic powder blue bulkheads for the night.
It all seems a bit crude for grown men to go out, get high and sometimes into fights. Being out here, away from “civilization,” is enough for most men to go stir crazy. Their only link with home is stateside beer and women, however not necessarily in that order. Since there’s really no women realistically available in just a few hours, what else?
You can bet that when I get ashore I’1l have a different perspective on the pleasures of such travel. Give me a quart of milk and a chocolate cake any day! However… not necessarily in that order.