While in A-school at NWTGP (Nuclear Weapons Training Group Pacific) in January of 1978, to April of the following year (this happened in the end of February) I had the chance to make a trip down to Tijuana (and yes, we made it back alive…But just by the skin of our teeth…But that’s another story)
While down there, I had bought one of those leather hats, you know, the kind with the flat brim and with a braided tassel hanging off the back of the hat. One of the guys really liked my hat and even offered to buy it from me. I didn’t think I would be going back to TJ any time soon to buy another one, so I would not sell it to him. The guy kept at me to sell him the hat, but I kept refusing to. He was a couple classes ahead of me.
At this time there was a class on their way to the fleet every other week, so every other Friday night was a party for the class that had just graduated and was headed out. This guy who kept bugging me for my hat was in the class that had just graduated and we were having a grand party with a couple of cases of good old Boones Farm wine and of course lots of beer.
We decided to take the party down to the beach, which you were not allowed on after dark. We got there just before it got dark. So here we are, down on the beach, drinking and having a grand old time, and it got dark. The guy was still bugging me for my leather hat, and by this time it has gotten real old. I figured the hat was only about $12 dollars, so I said “here! You can have the hat. Enjoy it .
He was just tickled pink about getting the hat, and we were all having a blast when all of a sudden some headlights appeared. We knew right away who it was: Shore Patrol. They had gotten a report of a bunch of guys on the beach after dark. We all were kind of “under the influence” of a bunch of beer and wine, and really were not in any mood to spend our night in the custody of Shore Patrol.
We could not go up the beach towards the barracks, without walking right into custody. There was a chain link fence running out into the water blocking our other get-away route. We were left with two choices. Spend the night with Shore Patrol or swim for it. We quickly decided it best to swim for it.
We all jumped in and headed out to swim around the fence. On the other side of the fence was one of those real nice beach front hotels. That is where we were trying to get so Shore Patrol would not catch us. We managed to make it to the hotel’s beach, and had left Shore Patrol on the Navy side of the fence.
We would have all been home free, but the guy who I had gave my hat to had lost it in the water. We realized it, and right away looked out at the water to see him trying to get the hat still floating out about 30 yards out. We also noticed that he was having a lot of trouble. As I pointed out, we were all under the influence, just a little, and he a little more than the rest of us.
So we could all see him floundering around trying to get to the hat and not doing real well. He was going under more than swimming with his head above water. So with another buddy right behind me, I jumped back in and we swam out to him.
When we got to him, all he could say was “my hat, my hat!”
I started dragging him toward shore, making sure to go toward the hotel side and not the Navy side because Shore Patrol was still there. My buddy was able to grab the hat and then help me get him back to shore. We got out of the water on the right side of the fence, yet we were still in sight of Shore Patrol, and they were not leaving.
We still had to get back on base. That meant walking back, through part of town, and then trying to slip through the gate, nonchalantly. It just so happened that Shore Patrol was waiting for us right there!
We were lucky. Maybe Shore Patrol didn’t feel like doing all the paperwork, but no one could say for sure that it was us that they saw, splashing around, after dark, on the beach. Even though we all stood before them, wobbly and soaking wet. So, they decided to just escort us back to our barracks. We were told to stay there for the night, which we did, as we continued the party and downed some more beers.
The next morning as the graduating class was packing to head out, the guy who had my hat came into my room and handed it back to me, as he said “You came after me, while I almost drowned myself going after this hat. You deserve this hat. You keep it.”