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Fist Fights

by Willie Lagarde

Another story originally posted a few years ago on the old site. It’s not required reading boys and girls so don’t feel obligated and you can pass on it. You wouldn’t suspect we had fist fights on our ship during the war but sad to say we did. Even though our watch gun crews were close as brothers we did have an occasional fight between us but more often than not they were between men from different divisions.

I managed to have two during my time aboard, one was over and forgotten in a few minutes but the final outcome and resolution of the other dragged on for nearly a year. Even though any assignment associated with messcooking was considered the lowest of the low in prestige, the ten men in the breakout gang almost immediately bonded together and adopted an “us against them” mind set. Also, we soon discovered the breakout gang wasn’t a bad deal, not bad at all. A straight day job, work done by noon, no cleaning stations, and for me at least, a top side battle station on the guns. Nobody in the gunnery department had it any better in my opinion.

Our boss was a Storekeeper 1/c who we called “Keys” because of the many keys he carried. He had access to every store room and to all the goodies to be had at that time. He treated us very well and we all liked him.

Three of us were carrying 50 lb sacks of flour from one of the dry storerooms to the bake shop when Charles Griego, from a small town in Colorado, noticed a book hidden among the sacks in the storeroom. In the book was an envelope with pictures of bare breasted native women. After hiding the envelope in his locker he put the book back where we found it.

Most of us never saw any of these island women but those who did have contact with them were warned; taking pictures of their naked boobs was strictly forbidden and anyone found guilty of this crime would be punished by a hundred lashes, keel hauling, walking the plank or hanging. Well maybe not that bad but the word was out, take no pictures!!!

When we were stacking the last three sacks in the fourth deck compartment under the bake shop two men came down, one had the book in his hand. Trouble ahead! The man with the book was a powerfully built BM 1/c who was also a big shot in the “third deck clique.” Men in this group were usually senior petty officers who had access to any of the privileges available during those days and could provide them to each other. They lived better than the rest of us and could be identified by their pressed dungarees. Actually, we didn’t begrudge nor were we envious of their status or any of their privileges. We felt for men with their rating and seniority in the Navy, this is how it should be.

Keys who was a member of the clique must have tipped off the BM his stash was probably discovered. I was one step up on the ladder when the BM confronted Griego asking if he took the envelope. When Griego denied having seen it, he began threatening him with disciplinary action. I told Griego not to worry he wouldn’t dare make a complaint to anybody.

Without even looking at me he said; “you keep out of this you loud mouthed bastard.” I don’t know what got into me but I said; “who are you calling a bastard”. Had I the option, I would have taken back those words and did just what he said. Too late now, the die has been cast, the Rubicon crossed and I’m in serious trouble.

This will be classic boy against man and not just an ordinary man but a neanderthal. He looked at me seemingly in disbelief that a lowly seaman would have the gall to say anything to a big shot like him. He put the book down on a table, faced me and said; “you heard it.” Forced to shit or get off the pot and knowing I’m probably in for ass kicking I hit him in the mouth. He grabbed me around the neck and was hitting me on top of the head when a lieutenant who had been in the bake shop above and who was probably a clique member also, came down the ladder and broke up the fight. When I stepped back the BM was bleeding from a cut on his lip. Wiping the blood with a bakers apron he told me, “this ain’t over, you’ll get yours”.

The officer must have been aware of the situation because ordinarily if a lowly seaman hit a BM 1/c that would be brig time at least. Nothing was done and the next day I must admit I was proud to note his fat swollen lip especially since Keys spread the word throughout the clique and I didn’t have a mark on me. I sensed I had Keys support. Whenever the BM saw me he had a little comment to make about my impending doom but I gave no thought to his promised retaliation until a payday shortly before pulling into San Francisco nearly a year later.

He was at the pay table and the last to count the money. When he handed it to me he said; “I’ll be seeing you soon superman.”Exact words I’ll never forget them. I was at a bar with a friend a couple of days later when I saw him walk in with a BM2/c and hoped he wouldn’t see us. No such luck, he saw me and pointed us out to his friend before walking over. I told my friend Russell I had big trouble coming and if he didn’t want to get involved he best leave now. “I’m with you Willie;”good old Russ, he felt honor bound to stand with me right or wrong.

As always, my tailor made uniform I had only worn a few times was a major concern of mine, especially in the first hour or two of a liberty. I turned on the stool to face him and had my back against the bar to get good leverage because I figured when he swung or reached for me my only chance would be to shove him back with my foot (or feet) hopefully knocking him down and taking it from there. Russ should be able to handle his friend. So what happens, he tells the bartender to give us a drink, shakes hands and leaves. Hallelujah! The Lord takes care of his children.

I saw him at a reunion about twenty years ago still powerful looking but somewhat stooped and moving slowly with apparent difficulty. I decided I wouldn’t say anything to him unless he recognized me; I had a beard which I didn’t have in those days. He looked at me once and even sat next to me in the hospitality room but didn’t say a word; drank one drink and left. I never saw him again at that reunion or any since. Did he recognize me, I doubt it but probably will never know unless he is still alive and reads this. If you do Boats, I knew I had no chance against you and I was saved twice, once by the lieutenant and once by the goodness of your heart. BTW, yesterday I was looking at the jumper I had on that day in Frisco, the stripes are yellow, and the thread has faded otherwise there isn’t a rip or tear in it.