In 1974 I returned to the U.S. Navy after two years of broken service. I received orders to report to the USS Saugus (YTB-780), a Navy harbor tugboat assigned to the U.S. nuclear submarine base at Holy Loch, Scotland.
I had hoped to receive orders to a 7th Fleet aircraft carrier that would take me back to Southeast Asia, having previously served on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War.
My second choice was an aircraft carrier that was cruising the Mediterranean Sea, but the Navy issued me orders to report to a tugboat in Scotland.
I found it curious that when I originally enlisted in the Navy in 1970, I had requested duty on a 50-foot Swift Boat in South Vietnam, but received orders to an aircraft carrier. Then in 1974, I requested an aircraft carrier, but I received orders to a 100-foot tugboat.
I was not looking forward to the cold Scottish winters, but as I was Scot-Welch on my father's side, and I was interested in British culture, history and literature, I was resigned to spending the next two years in Bonnie Scotland.
When I first arrived in Scotland, I met a man on a ferry who asked me if I was a "Yank" (a name the Scots called Americans) and had I just arrived.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Tis a shame you didn’t come yesterday. The sun was shining.”
Is that a rare occurrence?” I asked with a sarcastic tone.
“In Scotland, aye.”
I discovered that he was right. I also discovered that for a newly arrived American, the Scottish accent can be difficult.
Later that week, I recall sitting at a table in a pub with another sailor and a couple of girls.
One of the girls was talking about a birthday present her father had given her.
I took this as a cue for one of my old jokes, “For my 17th birthday my father gave me a set of luggage – packed.”
The joke got a laugh, and I ordered another round for our table.
One of the pretty Scottish girls leaned in towards me and asked, “Can I have one of your kisses?”
As I was about to kiss her, it thankfully dawned on me that she was referring to my luggage joke and had actually asked me for one of my "cases."
Nearly two years later, I was on a train heading to Inverness in the North of Scotland when a woman sitting across from me looked out the field of flowers we were passing and asked me if the flowers were the famous Scottish Heather.
“Yes,” I replied.
“I’m from Chicago,” the woman said. “Have you ever been to America?”
“I am an American,” I said, a bit taken aback.
A few months later, as I was nearing the end of my two-year tour in Scotland, the tugboat crew was watching a comical TV commercial for a bag of crisps (what Americans call potato chips – chips in Scotland are French Fries).
In the commercial a befuddled Englishman goes into a Scottish pub and asks for directions to a hotel.
The burly Scot bartender gave the Englishman the directions and the Englishman looked perplexed.
“Ah,” the bartender said, realizing the Englishman did not understand his Scottish accent, “Allow me to translate…”
“Shit!” I said to my fellow tug crew members. “I understood him the first time."
It was time to return to America.
Note: You can read an earlier post on Holy Loch, Scotland via the below link: