The Powder-Blue Brig

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.

One of many cartoons making fun of fellow USS LaVallette shipmates aspiring for female affection on liberty during WWII in the Pacific Theater.

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

February 2, 1944 portrait of Jack Knight, 9 months after liberty in New Caledonia, yet still serving on the USS LaVallette.

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.

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4 Responses to The Powder-Blue Brig

  1. Linda Dodd says:

    Happy 90th Birthday George!!

    Thank you so much for your fine service to our country and for sharing your incredible
    stories and artwork.

    Linda Dodd

  2. Jo Whalley says:

    Happy Birthday George ……. from a lady in the UK enjoying looking at your drawings and paintings ………. FABULOUS! Thank you!

  3. Steve says:

    Happy birthday, George. Much respect and gratitude to you and your shipmates for helping give us the incredible country, prosperity, freedom and relative peace we enjoy today thanks to your sacrifice of your friends, your time, your health, and your youth. We feel inspired and motivated by your art too. Nice work. Thank you from all of us younger Marines and SEALs. Semper Fi, George & friends. –Steve & friends

  4. Elissa R says:

    I’ve really enjoyed reading these journal entries. I love the depiction of your mindset while in battle– gave me a new understanding of how soldiers cope under fire. And I love the sense of humor that comes through in most entries–like how this entry ends with milk and cake! Amazing! Thanks for sharing!

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