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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A true Shipmate!

I have written before, briefly, about Master Chief Gunner's Mate James Smith. Jim was ten years my senior, yet we became fast friends when I was an instructor at Great Lakes. Jim was the real thing. Not a phony or a wannabee. He did two in country tours in Viet Nam as a small boat commander. One in PBR craft and one on Zippo boats. The latter were flat bottom landing craft type boats, modified to carry a large flame thrower and a large amount of napalm gas for the flame thrower. A very effective weapon in the jungles of Viet Nam. Both tours in country, he was wounded. In addition to those tours, he did at least four "Gun Line" tours on destroyer type ships providing naval gun fire support for the troops on the beach. Jim was a real combat sailor. And truthfully, he was my hero.

Now James Smith was a stout man. Strong, with a quick temper and a great sense of right and wrong. He also had an astonishing ability to drink more beer or bourbon than anyone I every knew. That was the Navy of the past. We worked hard, played hard and fought hard. Jim fit that mantra to a tee.

He had great sea stories, some I doubted. although I never told him, but many I believed. At the end of Jim's tour at Great Lakes, he got orders to teach at the new Iranian Gunner's Mate school In Bandar Palaviv, Iran, which was on the Caspian sea. Yes, at that time, with the Shah in power, Iran was our allay. Remember DDG 993-996. Well, those ships were build for Iran. But the Shah fell, and we kept them. In any case, Jim came home a little early from his scheduled year in Iran. I asked him why he came hoe so abruptly and he explained that a certain, Iranina Commander had called him a liar in public, and he decked him! That did not surprise me. Again, Jim had a keen sense of right and wrong, and calling him a liar was on the wrong side of Jim. So, as the story goes, since Officers in the Iranian Military were considered part of the Royal family in some way, to save face, the Shah signed an execution order for Jim!! But, he called the U.S. Navy liaison in Bandar Abass and told him to have Jim out of the country in 48 hours. Thus, his quick exit from Iran.

Now I must admit, this story seemed a bit difficult to believe, but there he was, about 2 month early. So, I believed him. Some months later, I reported to the Pre-Commissioning unit for the USS Leftwich (DD-984). The Chief Electronics's Technician, ETC Ripley and I were getting to know each other and he asked me, "Do you know a Chief Gunner's Mate named Jim Smith?" Right then and there he told me the story of how Jim decked this Iranian Commander for calling him a liar! I thought, this story must be true.

Then, I got transferred to Washington D.C, to be the Gunner's Mate detailer. One day I ran into an LDO friend of mine, the previous Officer in Charge of Gun School. His name is Loren Dixon. He said, "You will never guess what your friend Jim Smith did in Iran!" Loren went on to explain that HE was the Navy Liaison in Bandar Abass and had to get Jim out of the country in 48 hours. Wow!

Another great "Smith" story comes from one of his in country tours in Viet Nam. It seem, after getting wounded, he ended up in a hospital, More of a MASH unit. Jim was mobile, since his wound was in his arm. The fellow in the bed next to him was not. Jim said, this poor fellow was in a body cast from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. There were tubes going in and out, and a square hole that should line up with where his mouth should be. Jim said, one day he heard this fellow whisper, "Is anyone out there?" Jim said, sure I'm here. The fellow in the cast said, "Can you get around?' Jim said sure, what can I get you? The fellow in the cast said, "A pint of bourbon!" Jim said, he went to the small store in the compound and bought two pints of bourbon. One for him and one for his new drinking partner. One rule for those of us who used to or still do drink a little. You should always drink with a friend. In any case, Jim said, he poured bourbon in the hole where this fellow mouth should be, in amounts that roughly equaled a mouth full. Jim said, the fellow, and he, drank both pints!! Now that's a Shipmate!!

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