the assorted works of G. H. Spaulding

 

Waddlethromp

 

From C-C-Cold War Syndrome

 

The Air Force major was regaling my P-3 crew with tales of daring do in his F-4 Phantom fighter jet. I ordered a cold Singha beer and joined them on the verandah overlooking the Gulf of Siam.

   My flight engineer, Gary Davidson, introduced me simply as “another member of our crew.” I shook the major’s hand and pulled up a chair. 

   It had been a peculiar introduction. Gary deliberately had omitted the fact that I was the crew’s patrol plane commander—the leader of this ragtag bunch—and that I was an officer. He flashed a conspiratorial wink in my direction and I knew that once again he was up to some kind of mischief.  There was an old saying in the Navy that enlisted men were sly and cunning and bore watching at all times. Davidson was out to prove it. 

   The major went on with his stories. He boasted at length about having saved his aircraft on several occasions, twice landing badly damaged F-4s aboard Navy carriers.

   Clearly, he was prone to exaggeration. Then he related how thrilling it was simply to peer down at the earth from an aircraft cruising miles high in the air, figuring to impress a bunch of earthbound yokels like us.

   “It must be great,” Gary said, feigning envy. “Us sailors, we wouldn’t know anything about that,” he added. “Aboard ship, all we got’s ocean—far as you can see.”

   I got the gist of Davidson’s charade. Obviously, he’d led the major to believe that we were enlisted crewmen ashore on liberty from some Navy rustbucket. I wasn’t sure why.

   In truth, we were in the middle of a ten-day detachment to U-tapao Air Base, Thailand, flying daily surveillance missions and conducting coordinated operations with British Navy units in the Indian Ocean. We were on liberty, all right, but not from any ship.

   For our squadron’s flight crews, these excursions to Thailand were welcome respites from the grind of a six-month deployment in the Philippines. For Crew One, they were cherished opportunities to party.

   Seldom did we remain on the base overnight. Instead, we opted for rented bungalows in Pataya Beach, a coastal resort forty-five kilometers from U-tapao and three hours south of the capital city of Bangkok. A popular destination for Australian tourists, Pataya Beach was Thailand’s own little Riviera.

   Pataya featured a number of beachfront clubs like this one. In all of them, bands played American rock, nubile Thai women got naked on stage and customers guzzling Singhas sat around tables on open-air terraces overhanging the gently lapping surf.                              

   “Major,” Davidson said, “just how fast can that F-4 go, anyway?”

   “Well, I’m afraid that’s classified,” he said condescendingly. “But I can tell you...it’s more than 600 knots.”

   “Wow!” the wide-eyed Davidson responded. “I understand what you mean about information like that being classified.” He looked around as if ensuring no spies could overhear him, leaned closer to the major and spoke in a low voice. “Like the top speed of our ship. Don’t let this get out, but it’s way over six knots.”

   “Hmmm,” the major said, assuming he ought to be impressed by this revelation. “What’s the name of your ship?”

   I decided to play along with Davidson. “The USS Waddlethromp,” I put in. “Fightingest refrigerator ship in the entire Pacific Fleet.”

   “Really?”

   “Yes, sir,” I said. “You know, the Waddlethromp was right alongside the Pueblo when she was captured by the North Koreans. Man, did we get outta there fast.”

   The major nodded. “Good move.”

   Davidson kept the deception going. “But that was nothing, major. What’s really exciting is trying to keep the lettuce cold out here in the South Pacific. Believe me, in this heat it’s a ball buster.”

   “Imagine so,” the major said, trying to picture that.

   “Another beer, major?” Gary asked.

   “Sure.  Thanks.”

   “Comin’ right up.” Gary motioned a waitress over and ordered another round. “Always happy to buy a drink for a good man.”

   “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” the rest of the guys murmured.

   Then Davidson got serious. “You know, it’s too bad our officers won’t come drinking with us lowly enlisted men like this. Just doesn’t happen in the Navy—at least not on the Waddlethromp.”

   The major welcomed the compliment. He raised his beer bottle and clinked it against Gary’s, smugly eating up the adulation.

   Actually, my navigator, “Foggy Bob,” had been introduced earlier to the major as an ensign, the only officer present. But Foggy had remained somewhat aloof and was sitting apart from the rest of us quietly looking on.

   “Major,” Gary said, struggling to keep a straight face, “we have a custom in the Navy. Maybe you know about it. It’s called ‘wetting down.’ When we have an officer we really connect with, we wet him down.”

   The major glanced anxiously over his shoulder toward the waist-high guardrail that enclosed the terrace. There was no question in his mind what Gary was suggesting—that he was going to be tossed over it into the drink.

   “I know all about that custom,” he said, holding both his hands up as if to say stop. “Thanks just the same, but I really wouldn’t want you to do that.”

   “Major,” Gary said, “you’d better put your watch and wallet on the table.”

   “No, no, no, no. You don’t want to be doing this.”

   “Major, put your watch and wallet on the table.”

   “I’m serious, fellas. You’re going to get into real bad trouble, I’m warning you.”

   Undeterred, Gary tapped the table top with his index finger and spoke even more sternly. “Major, put your watch and your wallet on the table. Right here.”

   The major turned beseechingly to Foggy Bob. “Listen, you’re an officer. These men work for you. Tell ‘em to knock it off or they’ll wind up in the brig.”

   Now Foggy Bob was a meek, fragile little guy, clearly out of place in the Navy. He was a redhead who wore a tidy mustache and goatee along with a necklace of love beads left over from the time when he’d lived in a commune before joining the military. His voice was squeaky and high-pitched as if he were only now entering adolescence.

   But this may have been Foggy’s finest moment. He played the role of himself perfectly. With a deadpan expression on his thin face, he shrugged his shoulders and turned his palms up in a gesture of helplessness. “You know,” he squeaked, “whenever they get like this, there’s not a darned thing I can do with them.” Then he rolled his eyes, flipped his hands over limp-wristedly and said, “Go ahead, guys.”

   Way to go, Foggy!

   The major gave up. He stood, took off his watch and removed his wallet from the rear pocket of his trousers, but left his shoes on. “Okay, okay,” he said. “But I don’t want you to touch me. I’ll do it myself.”

   With that, he turned, climbed over the guardrail and jumped fully clothed into the shallow surf.

   We were dumbfounded. It had all been a bluff. Since we had no way of knowing whether there were rocks or other hard objects immediately under the surface of the water, we never had intended to actually throw him off the terrace. But, unpredictably, he had jumped in without our help.

   My entire crew, even Foggy, rushed to the handrail and peered down. At first, we couldn’t see the major in the darkness. He was completely submerged and we feared he’d knocked himself unconscious. Finally, though, he gained his footing and struggled to a standing position in the waist-high surf, spitting and fingering salt water from his eyes.

   When he sloshed dripping wet back onto the terrace, Gary returned his valuables to him and bought him another beer.

   “Major, that was the most amazing thing I ever saw.”

   “Thanks.”

   “I don’t think any of our officers would ever do that.” Then Gary turned to me. “Would you, sir?”

   The major picked up on that. “Wait a minute. Why did you call that man sir?”

   “Oh,” Gary said. “Because he’s a lieutenant—a captain in your language. He’s also a P-3 aircraft commander and we’re his flight crew.”

   “But...but...what about that ship...the Waddlethromp?

   “Fightingest refrigerator ship in the Pacific Fleet.”

GHS

 

This story dedicated to the memory of the late "Foggy Bob" Brooks, who, the story goes, fell victim to a fatal insect bite while living in Africa after leaving the Navy.

Here's another "Foggy Bob"-ism.

On an aircraft whose crew includes a navigator, it seems that whenever one of the pilots calls the navigator on the intercom to ask something pertinent such as "Where the hell are we?" the navigator is busy. The exchange typically goes something like this:

"Nav, flight."

"Flight, nav. Wait one."

But things were always a little different with "Foggy Bob" manning the nav table. On one memorable occasion, he initiated a call to the flight station and the exchange went like this:

"Flight, nav."

"Go ahead, nav."

"Just a minute."

 

 

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