Wednesday, August 24, 2005

It's the Thought That Counts

A while back I set out with the goal of devoting at least one post a week to
my father’s stories from his Navy days. Unfortunately, I have not been
that consistent with those posts, but I plan on doing my best to share at
least one a month.

This is installment #4 in a series.

Among the many ports of call my father had occasion to visit during his time in the Navy, one of the most amusing stories comes from the time his ship made a call on Darwin, Australia. Darwin is a port city on Australia’s northern coast. The town was in a festive mood due to some visit by royalty or some commemorative celebration (my father wasn’t clear on what). I’ve been told by friends who’ve been to Australia on their Navy tours that Australians are skilled masters in the art of hospitality.

Just prior to the arrival of the USS Bausell, a Royal New Zealand Navy ship pulled in to port and had been there several days, and the townsfolk had been showing the Kiwi tars quite a grand time. This high level of attention given to them by their antipodean neighbors quickly waned, however, when the Yanks sailed in to port. From that point on, it was the American sailors who got the attention of the local lasses and the free rounds, and the Kiwis who were left, for the most part, to their own devices. Fortune is a fickle mistress.

This, as may be expected, did not sit well with the New Zealanders. Very soon, my dad and his mates learned that when walking down a Darwin street, it was wise to walk as far from the doorways as possible, because if the door led to a pub, you were likely to receive a cold-cocking from a Kiwi fist.

This went on for several days until one event “turned the tide of history,” so to speak. My father and a buddy were walking back to the ship after spending the day in town, when they came upon an individual wearing the uniform of an officer of the Royal New Zealand Navy, lying in the street, drunk as a… well, as a sailor, appropriately enough. Now, my father was a teetotaler – his father had died an alcoholic, and my father had a lifelong aversion to liquor. So he and his buddy were stone cold sober when they hoisted the Kiwi officer to their shoulders, carried him the few blocks to the HMNZS Whatsitsname, walked him up the gangplank, left him in the gentle care of his shipmates, belatedly saluted the quarterdeck, and marched back down the gangplank and into the darkness. But the New Zealanders didn’t know this. So while my father thought the crew was cheering him for an act of kindness, he learned later that the New Zealanders thought they were cheering the two Yanks who had drunk their XO under the table.

After that and for the remaining time the two ships were in port, there was no further trouble between the crews.