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U s s seawolf submarine.., p.17

U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific, page 17

 

U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific
 


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  I was finally admitted to the hospital. It was a magnificent modern institution, the acme of medical efficiency. After I'd been divested of my clothes, had taken a shower, and put on a pair of roomy pajamas, I was given a bed. I was ready to drop off to sleep when a nurse came in with tray and a hypodermic.

  "What's that for?" I asked, a little alarmed.

  "You're due at the operating theater in about an hour and a half. We're just getting you ready," she said.

  "Fine," I said. "Let's get it over with."

  She bent over me, swabbed my left arm, and stuck the hypo in.

  "Now you just take it easy," she said.

  I looked at her. "What was that shot you gave me?" I asked.

  "Why, that's morphine, to relax you," she said.

  Uh, oh, I thought. I'd had previous experience with morphine. I knew how I reacted to it. It might relax other people. It knocked me out for hours.

  "Did you say they wanted me up there in about an hour and a half?" I asked.

  "Yes," she said. "Why?"

  "Well, miss," I said, "I hope that was a weak shot of morphine you gave me. Just wait and see," I said. I lay there, and it was just as I expected. My feet fell asleep. Then my hands and arms became numb. Just about this time two of the largest men I've ever seen in my life came to my bunk and without as much as a "How do you do?" picked me up as though I were a child, set me into a wheel chair, and started wheeling me away. I felt as though I were floating. I don't remember arriving at the "theater." It seems the operating room was in use when the two Aussies brought me there, so they left me outside the door. That's the last I remember.

  I was told later that the doctor who was going to assist the surgeon came out, looked at me, shook me, got no result, called for the surgeon. He took a good look at me and sent for the two giant orderlies to come and get me. They wheeled me back to my bunk and dumped me there. I woke up twelve hours later. I didn't know what time it was, but it was dark. I thought, Well, that wasn't bad. I didn't even feel them take out my tonsils. These Aussie medics are O.K. I knew that after a tonsillectomy your throat feels sore, so I took a chance and swallowed. My throat felt swell. I attributed this to the fact that I was so rugged. I even smoked a cigarette, and it tasted fine.

  I was lying there comfortably, congratulating myself, when a night nurse came by.

  "How do you feel?" she asked.

  "Fine," I said, grinning at her. "There was nothing to it."

  "No," she said, "that's right. There wasn't anything to it." I thought I detected a sarcastic note in her voice, but I overlooked it because I felt so good.

  "When can I leave here?" I asked. "I feel swell. No use staying any longer than I have to."

  "Well, I don't know," she said. "That all depends on when they take your tonsils out."

  "When they— What!" I must have shouted it, because heads started popping up all around the ward.

  "I said," she repeated quietly, "when they take your tonsils out. You blacked out yesterday morning. Why didn't you let us know you were allergic to morphine?"

  I was angry. "Why didn't you let me know you were going to use morphine?" I demanded. "How do I know what you're going to use in a place like this? For all I know it might be anything from dog blood to brain juice you're sticking into me!"

  "Well," she said coldly, "there's no doubt that you've had both those injections. Now, will you please be quiet?" And she walked away.

  I was burning mad. I got up and sneaked into the kitchen and robbed the refrigerator of two pounds of assorted foods. I gulped them down. Then, smug and self-satisfied, I got back into bed.

  The next morning about 10 o'clock a Dr. Smith came around. He was young and pleasant.

  "Well, chief," he said, "how do you feel?"

  "Fine," I said. "When are we going to get this over with?"

  "Oh, let's see," he said. "Today's Tuesday. Let's make it tomorrow morning, shall we?"

  "The sooner the better, as far as I'm concerned," I said. "I've already had them out once—or so I thought."

  "Yes," he said, smiling. "I heard about it from the head nurse. What did you do? She's all up in the air about the way you talked to one of her nurses."

  "Listen, doctor," I said. "I came out number two in that conversation and there were only two of us here. You don't have to worry about any repetition."

  "All right, chief," he said. "I didn't pay too much attention to it. Not many of the people here realize that you submarine men hate hospitals."

  "Well, I'm afraid I blew up, but I thought you'd taken my tonsils and I had just finished complimenting myself on how tough a guy I was."

  Dr. Smith burst out laughing. "Well, chief," he said, still laughing, "you might have to be pretty tough at that, seeing as how we can't dope you."

  With that, he walked off. I didn't feel too good the rest of the day, and all the nurses and fellow patients had satisfied smirks on their faces. I read a bit—there were magazines about—and waited. There wasn't anything else I could do. The next morning I woke up, took another shower, and was sitting on my bunk when word was passed for me to "proceed to the theater."

  "What?" I exclaimed. "No escorts? No wheelchair?" They didn't think I needed it, they said. That was all right with me. I got up and walked out of the ward, sweating a little, and made my way up to the theater. As luck had it, I met a wheelchair coming back. There was a patient in it. He looked pretty bloody.

  "What happened to him?" I asked the orderly wheeling him.

  "Oh, nothing," he said. "Just had 'is bloomin' tonsils out."

  A little shaky, I walked into the theater, and there was Doctor Smith.

  "Good morning, chief," he said cheerily. "Are you all set? Here, sit down."

  I sat down.

  "Now, Eckberg," he said, "let me talk to you. You see this big needle? Well, I'm going to put cocaine in and around your tonsils. Then we're going to wait until you hit the drooling stage before we go to work. Now, these needles are going to hurt more than the actual cutting. I want to tell you that."

  I nodded.

  "Now, if you're ready, here's what I want you to do. I'm going to sit on this chair directly in front of you. You put your knees inside of mine. Now, when these needles go in, if you feel like fighting them, grab my legs here." He indicated a point just above his knees. "Grab them and hang on. Are you ready?"

  "Let 'er fly, doc," I quavered.

  I opened my mouth and grabbed his legs. He was right. The needles did hurt. I did hang on. It was over in a couple of minutes, though.

  "O.K., chief," he said. "You did fine on that. You really are tough. Now, just try and relax until that cocaine starts working."

  I sat back. I was thinking, Hell, here I've faced death so many times that just thinking about it becomes monotonous, and here I am quaking at a minor operation. What's the matter with me? The crew would be ashamed of me if they could see me this way now. Dr. Smith broke into my thoughts by putting something in my mouth that looked like a cross between a check bit for a horse and a muzzle for a mad dog.

  "All right," he was saying. "You're drooling. Let's have at them now."

  All I could do was nod. My tongue was numb. We went into our act again. It couldn't have taken more than ninety seconds this time. But it was a long minute and a half. It didn't hurt so much, but what scared me was a long suction hose they had leading from my mouth into a glass jar. I started bleeding. My blood rushed into the jar. As it rose, I became panicky. I didn't know they had water going in too, to create suction. God, I thought, I’m bleeding to death. I'd heard of grown men bleeding to death in tonsillectomies. I was ready to faint when Dr. Smith pulled off this oral hobble and he was finished, looking at his excavation with a bit of pride. He called another surgeon in, and he complimented him on a neat job. Dr. Smith seemed to remember me then and said:

  "Okay, chief. All finished. You can go now. You can expect a very sore throat for a couple of days or so. If you want anything, just yell."

&
nbsp; Yell? I couldn't even talk. Then I noticed he was grinning. I grinned back. I gave him a wave and shoved off. My "escorts" of battleship size were waiting outside, and they picked me up and dropped me into a wheelchair, and we headed back for the ward, sweeping people and obstacles out of our way as if they didn't exist, one ahead clearing the path, the other pushing the chair. Then I was in bed.

  I lolled on one side and drooled all over a rubber mat provided for that purpose and reflected on my sins. I fell asleep after a little while and must have slept quite some time. When I woke up, I was hungry and my throat was so sore I could have yelled—if it hadn't been for my throat. It was night. A nurse brought a big glass of cold milk to me.

  I got a good part of it down. I was still hungry, but she refused to give me anything else. I went to sleep again and slept like a log until I was rudely awakened about five in the morning by two nurses.

  I looked inquiringly up at them.

  "We're here to bathe you," one said. They were pretty rugged looking nurses. Both must have weighed 180 or better, and both were definitely not the romantic type.

  "Give me a what?" I squeaked.

  "A bath," one said. "You must have a bath, you know. Now, lay down there like a good one, and this'll be over in a moment."

  "Now, just a minute," I said. "It may be true that I need a bath, but if so, I'll do the bathing myself. I don't want any women bathing me."

  The biggest one turned to her fellow conspirator and with a nod said, "I don't know why, Violet, all these Americans are alike. They don't want us to bathe them." She turned back to me.

  "Why not, young man? I was bathing patients when you were born."

  "That may be, madam," I said. "And you might be bathing them after I've gone. But you're not bathing me."

  "Oh, come now. Don't be difficult. There's nothing to it, and you'll feel ever so much more comfortable," she said.

  I shook my head and prepared to repel boarders.

  Without another word the bigger one said: "Stay 'ere with 'im, Violet. I'll fetch 'arold."

  Violet and I eyed each other for about five minutes when the other nurse came back with 'arold. And 'arold was one of the two giants who pushed me around in the wheelchair.

  "Now, matey," he said, "wot's the trouble 'ere, hey? Look, now lay down there, young man, and let these two ladies bathe you, or I'll have to."

  I went to sleep after being thoroughly bathed.

  I recuperated in the normal period of time and in the normal way. When I was released, I was homesick. I missed my own home, I missed the Wolf. They told me I could have some recuperation leave. I decided I would go to a small town not far away. This was a perfect little town. The food was good, the people friendly, the air marvelous. At the end of the leave I reported back to the submarine tender stationed at the port and was given temporary duty on one of the relief crews—crews that take over a submarine when she comes in from battle and get her ready to go to sea again, when the regular crew rests up.

  I was kept busy. One day a rumor spread that the Wolf was reported missing. That was one of the worst days of my life. I dropped everything I was doing and rushed up to the Flag Office, in port, headquarters of the operating staff. I was panicky. I could learn nothing. No news was given out, particularly no news about submarines, and though I was a submarine man and identified, I could get nowhere. When liberty started, I went to the nearest pub and tried to forget all about it.

  About 4 a.m. the next morning another submarine man put me in a cab, took me back to the tender, and rolled me in my bunk.

  When I woke, I still had no news.

  Then, one morning, news did come. The Seawolf was coming in. She was O.K. I remember I had a handful of tools when I got the word. I turned and ran for the dock, tools in hand, and then I saw the black shape of the Wolf coming in. I'd recognize her in a thousand, and, seeing her, I knew that never again in my life would I be as happy as I was in those few dragging minutes as the Wolf decreased distance, and slowly came into full, clear focus from the beach. I looked at her, and then I dashed madly up to the Flag Office and asked a yeoman for my transfer papers.

  "What transfer papers?" the yeoman wanted to know.

  "My orders to go back to the Wolf," I said.

  He shook his head. "I don't know about that, Eckberg," he said. "I heard some talk a while ago that you were headed for the Skipjack."

  I stared at him. Go to another ship? I had been waiting all this time for the Wolf, I didn't want any part of the Skipjack or any other boat. I wanted the Wolf. I wanted home. I tore out of the Flag Office and headed for the gangway. I was going to find my captain and tell him my story.

  One of the first persons I saw was Captain Warder walking with several other officers up the dock. I disregarded naval etiquette, traditions, and everything else and rushed up to him.

  "What's the matter, Eckberg?" he greeted me. "You look upset."

  "I am upset, Captain," I said. "They're going to transfer me to the Skipjack."

  "Well." He looked at me. "Well?"

  "Well, hell, Captain," I said. "I've been waiting for the Wolf, and it seems unfair that I go on another boat now."

  "So you really want to come home, eh, Eckberg?" he said with a smile. "Well, move your clothes aboard and forget about it." With that he nodded pleasantly to me and walked on.

  Did I want to come home? I could have thrown my arms around him.

  "Yes, sir, Captain. Thank you, sir," I said. And I was off for the Wolf like an Indian runner.

  It was good climbing down the conning-tower ladder, into the control room, smelling the familiar odor of warm oil, digging through the boat and seeing all the boys again. It was Sully who finally corralled me and told me about the mission of the Wolf.

  Evidently it was an easy one.

  "You sure missed out on a good one," he said. "We went through a couple of practice runs when we left port, and the old man took her up the coast heading north. We had a rendezvous there, topped off the fuel tanks, and headed for sea.

  "We stayed around a patrol area for two days, and just as we were about to leave the second day the old man spotted a ship. Everything was in our favor," said Sully. "We let loose at her. Damned if we didn't miss.

  "Well, the Skipper was gloomy as hell all that day. We headed for our next spot on the other side. We were halfway over, and the periscope officer spotted another ship. We went to battle stations. The old man let go another fish. There wasn't any doubt about what we did to that dude—we blew him sky high. I didn't hear any classification on him, but from the way the fellows were talking it must have been a tanker carrying high octane or an ammunition ship loaded down with powder. There wasn't a trace left. The old man looked all over the place. Couldn't find anything. No survivors, no debris, nothing at all.

  "That was a real tonic for us. The old man was as chipper as anything after that hisser went up. Nothing much happened the next two days. We were hanging around when all of a sudden, there she is—another target. The old man went in on one of the best approaches he ever made. He maneuvered in to where a miss would have been impossible. The target didn't know we were anywhere around. The Skipper let go and hit her. We didn't sink her, though." Sully paused. "Eck," he said, "this is where you really missed out. This was the first chance since the war began that we really could look over something we'd put a fish into. I don't remember the name of the ship, but I know she belonged to the English before the war. I think she was listed as a passenger freighter. Not very big, but clean and pretty.

  "Well, d'you know what the Skipper did after he sent that fish into her? We drew up to within 300 feet of her, still at periscope depth. The Captain wanted to find out how deep that Nip was in the water. He was going to shoot another fish into her. But, when we get that close, he sees they were abandoning ship.

  "So"—Sully grinned—"what do we do but surface!"

  "Surface?" I demanded.

  "Right. That Nip had no escorts. We surfaced, and I ran up on t
he bridge and saw Japs hanging onto rafts, boats, and life-belts. We got next to them, all of us trying to find the name of the ship. We finally got it, but not from them. Hell, Eck, you should have seen Sousa. The Captain wanted a life-ring that was floating around, and old Sousa leaped madly over the side, right into the water, and got it. He lost out because there wasn't any name on it.

  "Then one of the Nips grabbed our propeller guard and tried to get aboard. He was halfway up, yelling in Japanese. I guess he was trying to pull the I'm-dying-but-you're-going-with-me act. Deragon ran down aft and pushed him back. The Jap made several lunges trying to drag Willie in, but Willie was too quick.

  "Sousa kept yelling, 'Speak English?' but the Japs wouldn't answer. We must have circled that ship for hours, watching her go down.

  "Then we moved up to the Philippines. We patrolled there for about a while, but didn't see a single ship. Then we headed back here."

  Sully stopped. He sat back and ran his hands through his hair.

  "Now tell me what happened to you," he said. "Get those tonsils out?"

  I told him.

  CHAPTER X

  Tons of Jap Shipping

  WE LEFT port soon afterward at 6 p.m. It felt good to shed that shoreside feeling. I'd had enough of land, streets, and people. My throat felt perfect. I wanted to get back into action. We all wanted action. And on this mission we were prepared to prove anything we claimed, too. Lieutenant Mercer had been experimenting taking photographs through the periscope with a 35-mm. camera and fixed it so that he could clip it to the eyepiece and in the conning tower snap a shot of anything we hit.

  The first day out we found a notice posted on the bulletin board:

  NOTICE TO ALL HANDS:

  In case of capture by the enemy, under international law you are required to give the following information: (1) your name, (2) your service number, (3) your rating, (4) your home address. That is all. In case the Seawolf, through enemy action, is damaged to such an extent that you are captured, remember this—we are operating from an advance base, whose name is unknown to any member of the crew, and we are en route to Japan. Under no conditions are you to let any information out.

 
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