By Craig Johnson
Operation Springboard is an annual naval training exercise held in the Caribbean that can involve multiple countries. The year that this took place -1969 – the international Navies involved were:
E. United States of America
The admirals representing each Navy had held an early morning meeting after breakfast on the Canadian flagship tied up at the San Juan, Puerto Rico, Navy base pier. It was approximately 08:30 and they had finished breakfast as well as their initial meeting. They had to stop the meeting short in order to get to a ceremony previously scheduled with local political officials at 10:00.
They also had to leave early since it is not a simple process for an admiral to leave a ship… let alone five admirals. As they left the meeting, they collected their chiefs of staff and their aides, and headed to the quarterdeck. When they arrived, each admiral was piped over the side as they walked down the brow to the pier. After the last one was on the pier, the staff officers were allowed to follow.
On the pier they milled around waiting for everyone to get off the ship, which took about 15 minutes all together. Then the admirals started walking abreast toward the head of the pier and their waiting staff cars. Behind them by a few paces were the chiefs of staff, and behind them the aides and miscellaneous other sailors. The admirals actually looked like they were in military formation.
Now from the other side, we had a young sailor who spent the night before in Old San Juan going from bar to bar. Not only was a hangover evident by the look on his face but in addition, there was evidence of a physical altercation.
The sailor was wearing a classic white hat as most of you have seen in pictures or the movies. Some of us have a more familiar relationship with this uniform item. This hat had undergone a field modification that removed the inside of the hat and only left the outer circular rim.
His eyes, both of which were swollen, looked like a raccoon mask. His nose was at a strange left angle with dried blood running down his face. There were also minor cuts and bruises on his face and neck.
His shirt started out as a standard U.S. Navy tropical white shirt. This is a short sleeve shirt with a collar, two chest pockets and buttons down the front. The Navy usually does not like the shirts to be covered in dried blood and dirt. Additionally of course, the Navy issued shirt has a back. The shirt this sailor was wearing had the shoulder seams still running around his shoulders holding the front of the shirt up. The modifications had removed both sleeves and the back panel as well!
As we now can discuss his pants, you should know that all his shirt buttons, belt buckle and zipper were properly aligned. I would like to say that his pants were fine but that would be a falsehood. He was missing the left leg of his pants along with his sock and shoe on that associated foot!
As any fleet sailor can tell you, the big surprise here was that the Shore Patrol had not apprehended this sailor long before this. If they had, what was about to transpire could have been avoided.
So let’s review: the admirals and their staffs headed off of the pier and this young sailor was headed in the opposite direction. As they slowly came together, the admirals came to a stop with the U.S. Navy Admiral being on the right end of the line and the young sailor stood looking at them.
The admirals and their staff stood in stunned silence as the young sailor inspected the first admiral in line, as if he was conducting a personnel inspection. He finished looking the first admiral up and down, and then side stepped to the second admiral repeating his actions. He continued this process until he was standing in front of the U.S. Navy Admiral.
The young sailor had just finished inspecting him when he blurted out, “Those are the worst mother f**king uniforms that I have ever seen! When are you mother f**kers going to get f**king squared away?
At this point, the chiefs of staff and aides plus other captains woke up and dragged the young sailor off to be handed over to the Shore Patrol. The patrol wrote the young sailor up for disrespect to five admirals and creating an international incident, as well as a myriad of other charges having to do with drinking and uniform violations.
They then took him to what they thought was a ship. When two Second Class Petty Officers from Shore Patrol arrived at the pier, the vessel they were looking for was tied up where they had been told it would be. However, it was just smaller than they expected. It was the Diamond TWR1. They called to the vessel and someone wearing a swimming suit came out on deck to ask what they needed. They announced that they were returning a sailor who was on report and needed someone to sign for him. The sailor on the Diamond announced that he was the duty officer and would sign for him.
Shore Patrol took the young sailor out of their van and aboard the Diamond where the duty officer signed for him and the Shore Patrol left.
The next morning, the Diamond was underway from San Juan en route to St. Thomas when the skipper, Chief Daniels, sent for the young sailor. The sailor went up to the deck behind the pilot house to meet with the chief who announced, “This is captain’s mast for your report chits. Do you have anything to say for yourself?
The young sailor replied that he had nothing to say. The chief then pronounced his sentence: “You are restricted to the boat for the next two weeks during working hours.” The chief then tore up the report chits and threw them into the wind. He then announced to the crew that this was a perfect example of why they were told not to wear uniforms and sign all report chits as the duty officer.
The Naval District assumed this would be handled by the Ship’s Captain and it just was. The chief also arranged for the trip to St. Thomas to include a brief stay in order to get out from under the nose of the admiral and his staff, which was just across the road from where they were tied up in San Juan.
Now don’t you believe that this young sailor demonstrated unusual bravery by upholding the greatest traditions associated with United States Navy sailor’s bravery?
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