The Loser
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The Loser

We were quite shorthanded for a few months, and we finally found out that our understaffing had occurred because part of the bureaucracy thought that our boat was going to be decommissioned a year before it was actually scheduled to happen. During this period, we got a sailor on board who was a living, breathing mistake on the part of the Navy. It was one of those situations that won't go away, drives everyone nuts, and is too sad to be funny.

He came from a very small farm outside a small town on one of the lesser rivers around the middle of Alabama. He was small, with a good bit of baby fat left in his cheeks and around his middle. He was shy and quiet, not very bright, and not very skilled. His physiognomy was unfortunate.

As with all new Apprentices, he was assigned to be mess cook for his first few months aboard. (Mess cooking is like permanent KP.) He did not have any real friends in the crew, though no one seemed to actively dislike him. You all knew someone like him in high school.

It was sad to see, when the sailors went ashore, that he was never allowed to go along. He went alone, and it was hard to imagine where he went. If he went into a bar, I'm sure his face would have been a magnet for any fist in the place. He surely was not one of the ones who went to see the museums or who attended any form of cultural event, since he would not have understood what the attraction was. He did not have enough curiosity for sightseeing.

A few weeks after this Seaman Apprentice arrived on board, we visited a small foreign port. Some of the sailors visited the most famous of the local brothels. They all said that the walls were thin. One of them claimed to have heard the following conversation.

Loser: "I bet you never seen one that small."

Woman: "No, I seen a few."

The conversation is not plausible, but our loser did have a distinctive voice. Many of the sailors chose to act as if they believed the story. It was a staple of conversation for a week or so. The loser just smiled and didn't say anything.

When we got back to the U. S. of A., most of the crew went ashore. The duty section stayed on board that first night, and our loser had to wash dishes. After that, he took the kitchen garbage to the dumpster adjacent to the pier. None of us ever saw him again.

We all knew good and well that he was deserting, but we were required to wait ninety days before he would be declared to be a deserter. Only then could we take him off our roster and request a replacement for him.

After a period of almost the full three months, the sheriff in his home county found our loser, and knowing that his absence from the Navy was unauthorized, the sheriff took him into custody and delivered him to the Navy recruiter in Montgomery. The recruiter put him on an airplane, with a ticket to Key West, where we were based. When our loser changed planes in Atlanta, he simply cashed in the remainder of his ticket on a return ticket to Montgomery. We were required to keep him on our roster for another ninety day waiting period, creating the illusion that our staffing shortage was not as severe as it really was.

After an additional period of almost the full three months, the sheriff again found our loser, and again turned him over the the Navy recruiter in Montgomery. This time, the recruiter sent someone to escort him to Atlanta, and to put him on his connecting flight. When that flight arrived in Miami, our loser again cashed in the remainder of his ticket, and disappeared. Again, we had to wait another ninety days before we could request a replacement for him.

The third time, it took the sheriff slightly more than three months to find him. By then he was no longer on our roster, and the Navy recruiter in Montgomery took him in handcuffs all the way to the brig in Charleston, South Carolina. We finally got a replacement for him in our crew, and our staffing shortage was slightly reduced.

There is no good ending for this story. With the dynamic pace of change in the military, none of us were able to follow his trial. My hunch is that he was quietly discharged, and that a short note was sent to his draft board, saying that here was some cannon fodder that almost escaped a trip to Vietnam by enlisting in the Navy, but that he was once again to be classified 1A.

It was difficult to imagine any girl or woman who would be interested in him. And he couldn't even get away with going to a foreign brothel.

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