As I noted in my previous post, on this day in 1975 I left the U.S. Navy’s nuclear submarine base at Holy Loch, Scotland, ending two years of service aboard the U.S. Navy harbor tugboat USS Saugus (YTB-780).
I had a number of interesting adventures aboard the Navy tugboat, the workhorse of the floating submarine base, as we towed submarines, ships and barges in and around Holy Loch.
The Saugus was also ordered out into the Irish Sea, an awful and dangerous place to be in winter with gale force winds and 50-foot waves. We ventured out to the Irish Sea to rendezvous with submarines and perform operational exercises, medical evacuations and classified missions. I also traveled extensively on leave across the United Kingdom and Continental Europe.
I was assigned a seat on a Navy chartered commercial aircraft among a submarine crew and Navy wives and children and we flew from Prestwick Airport to Maguire Air Force Base in New Jersey.
In a black tie and my double-breasted dress blue jacket and slacks, looking like an officer or chief (this was before the Navy changed back to the old uniform), I settled in. Once in the air, I asked the airline stewardess (this was before they were called Flight Attendants) for a Vodka on the Rocks.
She smiled and replied that no alcohol was served on Navy chartered flights. Once again, I cursed the Submarine Squadron officer who assigned me to this flight. Had I known that no alcohol would be served, I would have carried on board my flask filled with Vodka (I drank a bit in those days).
It was a long and uneventful flight, and as I could not sleep, I read a book that I brought along. I also sat back and thought about my past adventures in Scotland.
We landed at Maguire Air Force Base in the early evening. As we deplaned, we were herded in a waiting room and held there for some time without an explanation. Finally, an official came in and announced that a child on our flight had turned blue. The child was now recovering, but until the cause of his illness was determined, we would be held in quarantine.
After the long flight, we were forced to sit in the waiting room for several more hours. Finally, we were released and allowed to leave the terminal.
The other sailors and their families were met by other family members and driven off the base. I didn’t call anyone in my family, as I wanted to surprise them. At this late hour, I discovered that the buses to Philadelphia had stopped running and there would not be another bus until early morning. Not wanting to spend the night in a deserted terminal with no bar or restaurant, I went outside and asked the sole cab driver how much it would cost to take me to South Philadelphia. He said $50.
“Your piece of shit cab isn’t worth $50,” I replied.
He shrugged and drove off, I went back into the terminal and thought about how I was going to get home.
I didn’t want to call my elderly father or my older brother and ask them to drive the more than 40 miles from South Philly to the airbase. I pulled out my address book and called my good friend Buster.
Buster’s wife answered and I asked her if Buster was home.
“He’s gone to pick you up,” she said.
I thanked her and said I would see her soon.
I was confused as I had not told Buster or anyone else when I was coming home. Then it dawned on me that Buster had used my homecoming as an excuse to get out of the house. Buster, my old drinking buddy, was a character and a wild man.
I called the Lamplighter, our old bar in South Philly and asked for Buster. He was there.
He thought it funny that he lied to his wife about me coming home, and it turned out to be actually true. He said he would come and get me.
I sat in a chair and read my book for about a half-hour and then went outside the terminal and smoked a cigar. Sometime later, a jeep with two Air Police sergeants pulled up.
“Are you Paul Davis?” one of them asked.
Yes, I replied, a bit confused.
“There are some guys at the gate who want to pick you up,” one of the sergeants explained. “But they are so drunk, we won’t let them in.”
They offered to drive me to the gate, and I tossed my sea bag in the jeep and sat in the back, and they raced to the gate. Outside of the gate stood Buster, along with my other South Philly friends, Stevie, Frenchie and Buddy, all quite drunk. I hesitated to get into the car, but what choice did I have?
Buster drove precariously through the New Jersey roads, and we quickly became lost. Buster saw a bar and announced he would go in and ask directions.
We all piled out of the car and went into the bar. I saw that the dingy and dark taproom was an outlaw biker bar, and we received some threatening looks. We were outnumbered five-to-one. But Buster and Stevie were two very tough South Philly hoodlums in their late 20s who feared no one. Frenchie and Buddy could take care of themselves, and as a former South Philly street kid and former boxer, I could also handle myself. I'd thought the odds were in our favor.
The bikers could see that we weren’t afraid of them, and they relaxed. Two of the bikers saw that I was in uniform and came over and shook my hand and offered us all a beer.
We drank with the bikers until 2 am when the bar closed. I passed out in the back seat, so I thankfully don’t any memory of how Buster made it home to South Philly.
Buster dropped the other guys off at their homes and we went to his house. He broke out the booze and we continued drinking. As the morning approached, Buster’s wife cooked us breakfast and I drank several cups of coffee.
At around 8 am, Buster drove me to my parent’s house.
I knocked on the door and my dog, the dog I had raised from a puppy, barked furiously.
My mother asked apprehensively who was there from behind the closed door.
“It’s your son!”
My dog continued barking at me as my mother opened the door and embraced me.
I would spend the next month at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, but once the chief there discovered I lived in South Philly, he gave me a lot of time off.
As I traveled much and drank much in bars and clubs, I didn’t save any money in Scotland, but I had 30 days leave saved and I counted on that money.
On the day of my discharge, I asked where my check was and I was told that my leave papers were not among my orders, so I would have to wait for them to recover my documents and then they would mail a check to me.
I was furious. I saw the chief and he said he was sorry, but there was nothing he could do. I shook his hand and walked out of the gate of the Navy Yard.
In a sense, my dual career in government and journalism began at the Philadelphia Naval Yard, as I sold Philadelphia newspapers there to the sailors and civilian yard workers as a teenager in the 1960s. So it seemed fitting that I ended my Navy service there.
I served two years on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War and another two years on the tugboat USS Saugus. I served on one of the largest warships in the world and then served another two years on a 100-foot tugboat.
Even after all these years, I retain fond memories of the things I've done, the places I’ve seen, and the good friends I made in the U.S. Navy.
You can read my previous post via the below link:
And you can read my other vignettes, short stories and humor pieces via the below link: