HANDS ACROSS THE SEA
…or "What will we do with the drunken sailor, early in the morning?"
My twilight tour in the Corps was served at Landing Force Training Command, Pacific at the Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, across the bay from San Diego. Coronado is one of the best kept secrets in the Department of the Navy. What a great place! LFTC Pac is a training command. It provides everything from unit amphibious assault training to staff planning courses for MAGTF staffs. If necessary it sends mobile training teams to where ever units that need this training are. In my day that meant 2-3 week trips to Hawaii, Okinawa, and the Philippines, plus courses taught at Camp Pendleton, MCAS El Toro and 29 Stumps [Marine Corps Base 29 Palms].
Another feature of LFTC Pac was periodic foreign officer courses. They occurred about every other year and ran anywhere from 3 to 5 months. Usually the student body was about 10-15 strong and had students from allied nations such as Taiwan, the Philippines, India, Thailand, Spain, Peru, Germany, etc. One course had two officers from India; a fat, turbaned Sikh and a fierce Ghurka…what a contrast there! Officers assigned to LFTC volunteered to sponsor individual foreign officers.
The foreign officer’s course pertinent to this story occurred in the early 1980s and had two officers from Thailand enrolled as students; a Naval officer and Marine. Both held the rank of Commander, and they both wore the Navy uniform, but the Marine had distinctive insignia to show his branch. They were gentlemen, good officers and excellent representatives of their country. They conducted themselves with decorum and dignity. But there was one exception, and thus we have the genesis of a T.I.N.S. tale.
I sponsored Cdr Rawi, the Naval officer, and my good buddy Dick Schwartz sponsored Cdr Samat, the Marine. We decided that our sponsorship would be a joint venture from the start, and everything we did with the Thai officers, we did together.
Dick Schwartz-1965 (3rd Bn, 3rd Marines)
I need to digress here and introduce Dick Schwartz to those of you who don’t know him. He is a Penn State graduate from Pittsburgh and was an 0302 infantry officer just like me. To say that Dick is a unique Marine is an understatement. A confirmed bachelor and a work out nut, he shaved his head long before it became the fashion that it is today. I first met Dick at the gym at Quantico, and we spent much of our time together in gyms after we became fast friends. He is a guy that you never forget after you’ve met him…one of the characters of the Corps.
Me and Cdr Samat, Royal Thai Marine Corps-taken on a calmer night
Back to the story. We took the Thai officers to various places and events in San Diego and had them to dinner at my house on one occasion. Everything went well in every case. Then one Friday evening we invited them to dinner at Dick’s house. He lived in the Claremont area of San Diego and the Thais lived in the BOQ aboard the base. We picked them up after work and my Marcia drove in from Poway, where we lived, and met us at Dick’s house. We had planned to have a cocktail, and then throw some steaks on the grill. Dick rolled out the booze wagon and served everyone a drink. A picture from that night survives and it shows me with an Olympia beer, Dick with a glass of something, Samat with no drink in sight, and Rawi with a glass of some kind of hard liquor. How do I know it was hard liquor? Read on and you’ll find out.
Dirck, Cdr Rawi, Dick, Cdr Samat-3 Marines and a Sailor
For some inexplicable reason Rawi continued to hit the hard stuff with vigor. I had never seen him drink like this on any of the other occasions. I can’t remember whether Samat was even drinking. He has no drink visible in the picture. The rest of us just continued to nurse whatever we were drinking, but Rawi was on a bender. After a while he excused himself to make a head call. When he didn’t return after about 5 or 6 minutes I went to investigate.
I knocked on the head door and got no answer, so I opened the door. Rawi was passed out sitting on the pot. He had puked in the sink and turned the water on to wash it down, but. the drain plug was in so the sink was filling up with watered down vomit. I hollered for help and attempted to turn the water off in the sink as it was about to overflow. I was only partially successful. When you turn off water in a bathroom sink you usually grab both handles and turn one clockwise and the other counterclockwise. I tried this but only the cold water turned off. The hot faucet wouldn’t budge. Only Schwartz would have a hot faucet that turned off the wrong way. Since the sink was on the verge of overflowing I didn’t think to try and turn the faucet the other way. I decided to go under the sink and turn the shutoff valve down there to stop the flow. Just as I dove under the sink, it started to overflow. As I was turning the shutoff valve, warm watered down puke was running down my back. I finally secured the water and was fortunate to be splattered by only a small amount of the vile liquid. Remember, we hadn’t eaten anything, so the puke was pure rotgut whisky and whatever was left over from lunch. YUCK!
We got Rawi to a standing position and pulled up his pants and cleaned him up the best we could. He was awake by this time, but wasn’t much help. Samat apologized for his comrade’s conduct and asked that we return the two of them to the BOQ. We all got in my car and headed back to Coronado, a trip of probably about 6 or 7 miles. I was driving and Marcia was in the front seat. Dick and the two Thais were in the back seat. Suddenly Rawi tried to open the door while we were traveling at about 50 MPH on highway 395 as we went by Balboa Park. Samat grabbed him and started loudly berating him in Thai. He had reached the end of his rope with his Navy counterpart. It’s a good thing he was yelling at him in his native language because I don’t think we wanted to hear what he was saying.
We finally arrived in front of the BOQ and the last thing we saw was Samat literally kicking Rawi’s ass across the parking lot and into the BOQ, ranting and raving at him the whole time. We returned to Dick’s house to clean up the head and eat the steaks.
The following Monday Rawi apologized for his conduct and nothing more was said. Both officers conducted themselves with decorum during their remaining time at Coronado. I have no idea why Rawi went on that bender. I don’t know what ever became of Rawi and Samat, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they became Thailand’s Chief of Naval Operations and Commandant of the Marine Corps.
But it was just another day in life of our beloved Corps, where every day’s a holiday, every meal a banquet, and every deal’s a good deal.
Dirck Praeger sends