USS Oriskany, March 3, 1976
John Franklin Massey, was probably the most well known aviation maintenance Chief who ever went to sea, a leader of men, respected and admired by all.
We were pulling into Alameda. It was the last USS Oriskany cruise.
A few days earlier John was up in my shop, [VF-194 Power Plants] doing what John did best –scrounging up F8 parts.
The old F8 fighter was getting decommisioned, so John was in VFP-63 scrounging parts for the RF8 photo bird that was still going to be in service.
Well I gave him all I had, and as he was gathering up the goods he asked me, “Okie you got any springs?”
“What kind?” I asked in reply.
“Well I need one to make me a mongoose box.”
“What happened to your old one?”
“I got drunk and left it on the beach in the PI. I think one of them hookers got it.”
Well we looked around and found a really strong spring used for the hold-back panel. John left and said he would be back. He returned shortly with some wood and started building a twelve inch by ten inch box, about two feet long. He put a divider in the middle with a little opening in it, separating a little sleeping compartment from the “run” are of the mongoose coop.
Finally, he made a lid. Now this is the whole “operating” part of the trick. The lid on top has a wire mesh screen on one end and the other end is just a spring loaded hinged lid that will pop up when released from its latch.
After John got it built we spent quite a while adjusting the hook under the lid used to hold the stuffed sock that would jump out of the box, attacking the person standing in front of it. When everything was adjusted just right the lid would whack open with a loud bang and the stuffed sock would be catapulted onto the unknowing victim.
John had probably built a dozen of these in his naval career, but his intent today was to make this one his finest. As can be seen from the photo below, John achieved his goal:
He had gotten some white paint and painted the entire box white. Bordered the wire mesh with a red stripe like an intake warning with “DANGER” written on it. On the sides he put “WARNING MONGOOSE” and “KEEP HANDS AND FINGERS AWAY”. Hell, he even perfected the Mongoose. He made a little head, cut up some hair off a fox tail broom and added a little tail, then topped it off with little strips of Velcro to make it stick to the clothes of the victim. As it flew in the air that stuffed sock looked like a bad-ass, angry mongoose.
After adding some shredded up paper on the floor and a little water and feeding tray [with oat meal] it appeared looking into the wire mesh that something did in fact live inside that box.
We even positioned the fox-tail, mongoose tail next to the center divider opening just enough so that a person would bend down to try and look into the opening for a better look at the mongoose.
It was time to spring the trap.
After the fly-off, all the squadrons were staging their gear down on the hangar bay. This was a perfect place for the home of Mister Mongoose.
We had our own gear next to elevator three, right by the hatch going down to the galley. John and his crew were downstream and somewhat off the beaten path. John came over and sat up on the box where we were. It wasn’t long after; he was in business.
Along came a deckhand in a well-accessorized, Navy working uniform. He had that marlin spike holster with an embroidery-tasseled, sheathed buck knife on his belt girding up some clean, pressed, bell-bottom dungarees. He was just all-ready to throw over the lines! He was strutting along with a black silver top walking cane in his hand, the kind that hid sword inside, and a pair of John Lennon wire sunglasses on his face. This cat was cool.
A few feet behind the box, John was sitting on his haunches perched on a cruise box. He always sat with one knee up the other down, his arms resting on the up knee. He always had to have something in his hand too. This time, it was a rolled up piece of paper.
As the young deckhand was walking by, he spies the box, stops in mid-stride, backs up a step with his face and body still pointing forward, turns his head, drops his Lennon-hippie glasses down his nose, takes a closer look, shoves them back up, and starts to proceed on, heeding the warnings on the box.
John, not about to lose his first customer, yelled out. “Hey Buddy! You ever seen a Mongoose?”
“No, man.” The cool cat replied.
“Well I got one here, wanna see it?”
The sailor got up close, still standing up straight, yet leaning side to side trying to get a look-see while still maintaining his cool swagger. John came down off the cruise box, walked over to the mongoose box, and said to the cool Sailor, “He’s in the berthing compartment.” Then while reaching for the release latch, he added, “here, I’ll tap the side and see if I can get him to come out.”
“Okay, man.” Said the Sailor.
“You see him?” Asked John.
“There he is! See his tail?”
“Right through that little passage!” John said as he pointed to the back of the contraption.
“Oh yeah, I see it now!”
And just as the cool-cat Sailor bends over, WHAP! goes the door OUT springs the mongoose onto his chest, sticking perfectly, as per design.
The young lad jumped straight up in the air, like a frightened cat. His glasses went flying off his face, and a loud “eeeeeeeeeeek” –sounding like it came from a little nine-year-old girl came out of him, all the while he was swatting at his chest with his free hand and swinging his sword-cane with the other, in fierce battle, trying to get Mr. Mongoose off of himself.
Of course everyone was laughing their asses off.
He got a hold of himself pretty quickly and regained his composure. Without cracking a smile or uttering a word, he just picked up his glasses, and with his classic swagger, strutted off on down the hangar bay.
John, beaming widely, said to me. “That was a good one, Shipmate!”
“I don’t know, John. He might be pissed.” I replied, a little worried that John might have pushed his luck with that kid.
“Hell, he’ll get over it.” John assured me, confident that the deckhand had a sense of humor somewhere underneath all that coolness.
John reloaded the trap. In just a few minutes the same sailor came back…Flanked left and right with a couple of big buddies.
At this time, John wasn’t wearing anything to denote his rank as Chief. All he had on was a pair of green pants and a green jersey with “VFP-63” on it. As they approached, John turns to me says “Hey Okie, you going to back me up? I don’t know if I can take all three of them.”
“I guess.” I answered, unenthusiastically.
“Well, I need to know.” John persisted. “All I got is this here rolled up piece of paper!”
“Okay.” I answered, “I got your back.”
The strutting sailor and his entourage stopped directly in front of John. The situation was getting more tense by the second, attributed mostly to the fact that the young, embarrassed Sailor still hadn’t uttered a single word since his encounter with the mongoose. Finally, he speaks. “Hey!” He hollered out at John. Then he asked, “can you show that mongoose to my buddies?” You could almost hear an audible sigh of relief come out of John.
“Sure!” John happily replied as he jumped down off his cruise-box perch and gladly demonstrated, as requested, with that showmanship he was known for. After John sprang the trap on his friends the “Sailor with Swagger” laughed so hard his sides hurt to the point he wrapped his arms around himself, bent over, and he was crying actual tears.
They all three departed, and brought back more victims. That led to even more and more…
As the flow of victims grew exponentially, we had to set up shifts just to give each other breaks. We kept that gag going clear on up to off load, and after the tie up we even pulled it on some of the dependents that came aboard.
I was on the same plane back to Miramar with John. Our buddy, Red Jordan picked us up and out to the Jet Center Bar we went. John, Red, me…And Mr. Mongoose.