Our home was tied to the dock in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. 414 feet long, 44 feet wide at its widest point and weighing 3,426 tons fully loaded, our destroyer escort was among the Navy’s smallest ships-of-the-line.
Fitted with experimental boilers operating at 1,200 psi that were supposed to increase operating efficiency and ship’s speed, the recalcitrant contraptions had a tendency to break down at best and break out in a raging fire at worst.
Thus the reason for being moored at the repair facility vice the resupply area to take on food and ammunition for the trek to southeast Asian waters. The ship’s engineers were scurrying around, wrenches in hand, attempting to, again, coax the boilers into boiling as a boiler should. Shipyard workers, civilians employed by the Navy, were assisting as needed. Welding hoses snaked throughout and the roar and whir of tools played an industrial tune.
Those not involved with repairs and not having “duty” that day** were allowed on-base liberty until midnight since the possibility the work would be finished later that night existed, resulting in another all-nighter of bringing the ship “up to steam,” bringing aboard stores, and heading west across the wide Pacific Ocean.
Limited to on-base liberty the recreational options were limited. My cohorts and I selected the most popular option, walk the 4 miles to the enlisted men’s club and guzzle alcoholic concoctions while listening to the worst live band in the history of live bands. Thankfully, the roar of a couple hundred voices engaged in salty sailor speak drowned out most of the incoherent warbling and off-tune instrument playing of the civilian band that was assuredly overpaid for the product they proffered.
The 3.2% alcohol content beer the Navy sold required the consumption of mass quantities to achieve an acceptable state of euphoria. The massive consumption requirement was offset by the taxpayer-subsidized price of 25-cents per can. Thanking the public for their generosity the liquid nutrient flowed down our throats, over and over. Yum. Burp.
After a couple hours of swilling and aware of the long trek home, our group departed, semi-staggering the 4-miles and arriving sober and semi-sane, as sane as 18-year-old sailors can be.
Boarding the ship we noted the sounds and scurrying workers and knew that below decks the din would hurtful to the ears and not conducive to restful slumber…. so, we sat on the fantail (the rear of the ship topside, that is, where the sun and stars could be viewed) and shot the proverbial breeze as we watched the hustle and bustle.
Abruptly, our quasi-peaceful verbal sparring was interrupted by the squeel of tires as the shore patrol van screeched to a stop. Two huge Marines wearing their shore patrol insignia tossed open the van’s rear door and two timid-appearing sailors crawled out. Each Marine grabbed a sailor and drug them onto the ship where they confronted the officer-of-the-deck (OOD)***. The meek sailors hung their heads as the Marines relayed the message. The admiral of the 6th Fleet was pressing charges against the two and our ship’s captain was to prosecute them to the maximum extent allowed by military law. Official reports would be radioed to the ship later. Then, the Marines asked if we had a brig. “No,” the OOD replied. But he did promise to ensure they did not leave the ship until we were underway again. That seemed to please the two hulking Marines as they turned and stomped off, surely to seek out more sailors to vent their primordial wrath upon.
After the “Gestapo” departed the OOD turned to the two and asked what they had done to receive the wrath of the highest-ranking officer within 2,000 miles. In a hushed voice one of the two replied, “Uhhhh…. we tried to steal the Admiral’s coconuts, sir.” With that, every sailor within earshot busted out laughing, even the OOD. “Coconuts????!!!!!,” the OOD managed to ask between spasms of laughter, “What coconuts.”
The sailor proceeded to explain how the dynamic duo were walking back to the ship after leaving the enlisted men’s club when they noticed a line of palm trees, trees that soared high into the sky and, waaaay up there, held coconuts. “We saw the coconuts and decided we had to have a couple,” the sailor said, “so, I climbed the tree to toss a couple down.” The laughter again filled the air, along with admiration for one who would take the risk of shimmying up one of those very tall trees for a friggin’ coconut.
Our newly-created “heroes” went on to explain how an older guy erupted from the nearby palatial home and yelled at them to cease and desist. The lofty sailor shimmied down as the irate guy ordered them to attention. Asking if they knew who he was the old guy explained the intricacies of the military hierarchy, that he was the top dog of the chain-of-command. Seeing their bafflement, the Admiral told them exactly that, that he was Admiral 6th Fleet and that he had already called shore patrol to arrest them…. for stealing his coconuts.
The sailor reciting the tale told the still-laughing assemblage he informed the Admiral that they hadn’t stolen any coconuts, that he hadn’t pulled any off the tree since the Admiral had interrupted their efforts. That utterance only made the Admiral madder as the Marines arrived to haul the duo away, back to our ship.
A few days later we were back at sea… steaming southwest for Guam, our next refueling stop before heading for Vietnam. The story of the coconut-nabbing pair had circulated through the ship, bringing howls of laughter from all. But, the wheels of military justice inexorably make their rotations….. our coconut kidnappers were called before the captain who was to determine their fate. The affair did not last long and just as quick, the outcome sped through the grapevine. Asking the two to describe that night’s events both truthfully conveyed the facts. Nodding his head, the captain then read the transmission from Pearl harbor’s shore patrol headquarters that explained the “official” version and included a statement from the 6th Fleet Admiral ordering that the two were to receive the maximum punishment for the charges. The captain then read a long list of charges, attempted theft of government property, trespassing, disrespect to a superior officer, and others I can not recall. The two slumped down as the list was read, the fear in their eyes growing.
After reading the charges the captain stated he was ready to pass judgment; guilty as charged on all counts. The two were stunned, “Every charge, Sir,?” the bolder one stuttered. Yes. The assembled onlookers shared the pair’s worry. What horrible punishment awaited the two.
“Considering the seriousness of these charges,” the captain began… right before the captain began laughing. The onlookers were stunned, as well as the two facing the charges. Between guffaws the captain declared he had never heard of such a frivolous event causing such outrage in a high-ranking officer. The captain continued…. “I hereby order you two reduced in rank one paygrade, suspended for 3 months, 60-days extra duty, suspended for 3 months, and 60-days restriction to the ship, suspended for 3 months, and, for God’s sake, if anyone not a part of this crew ever asks tell them you are still performing the extra duty and that it will likely continue until the day you leave the Navy. Dismissed.”
Thanking the captain the two scurried away, relieved as only one facing military justice could be relieved. The captain’s sentence was actually a non-sentence. All they had to do was, basically, refrain from stealing any Admiral’s coconuts for 3 months and all the “punishments” would not be enforced. In other words, the two got off scot-free. Not only were the two delighted but the entire crew shouted out with glee!!!!
No word was ever heard as to the Admiral’s reaction but, many thought it was quite possible the Admiral received an altered version of the “punishment”. It would be so simple to omit the “suspended for 3 months part.”
When we passed through Pearl Harbor 8 months later we noted that the Admiral’s coconuts were still attached to their trees. Despite plans to “borrow” a few prudence ruled and the plans remained that… just plans. The two lucky scofflaws wanted nothing to do with our plans and cooler heads prevailed. As far as I know, those coconuts are still there, a bastion of democracy in a dangerous world.
**(every day 1/4th of the crew had to stay aboard ship for a 24-hour period while those off-duty were usually allowed to leave the ship after regular working hours and typically not have to report back until 8 am the next day. This resulted in a 4-section duty roster, 3 day’s liberty, 1 day of duty. Of course, regular working hours Mon-Fri, 8 am to 5 pm. with weekends off except for those with a “duty day.” At-sea was a different schedule, much more rigorous)
*** (when in-port every Navy ship has on-duty personnel manning the area(s) where “gangplanks”.. officially termed ‘brows’ allow access to and from the ship and the pier.)