The Skippers Meet Princess Grace, Almost
…or "The Ugly Americans Avoid an International Incident"
While India Company 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines was in Villefranche on the French Riveria in April of 1971, as described in my previous T.I.N.S. tale about our disastrous bloodbath of a football game there, I came within a few minutes of meeting Princess Grace and Prince Ranier of Monaco. Those of us who are old enough remember the beautiful blonde actress from Philadelphia named Grace Kelly who married Ranier and became the Princess of Monaco. As I was medevac’d to Naples after the football game, this incident occurred prior to that.
Rear Admiral Issac C. Kidd, Jr, Commander U.S. Sixth Fleet, had invited Prince Ranier and Princess Grace to dinner aboard the flagship, and had invited the Amphibious Squadron Commander, Capt Don Whitmire, USN, and the Landing Force Commander, LtCol "Duff" Rice, USMC, my battalion commander, as well.
Prince Ranier and Princess Grace of Monaco
The word was out throughout 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines that LtCol Rice was going to have dinner with Princess Grace. India Company and its ship, the USS Terrebonne Parish (LST-1156), were in Villefranche, but the rest of the battalion and the remaining ships of the squadron were 10 miles down the road in Nice. However the USS Little Rock (CLG-4), flagship of the U.S. Sixth Fleet, was anchored in Villefranche harbor. A scheme started to develop in my head. Maybe I could work a deal where I could meet Princess Grace on her way to the Little Rock. I didn’t care about Prince Ranier, but I’d always had the hots for Grace Kelly.
USS Little Rock (CLG-4)-Flagship of US Sixth Fleet
I saw my buddy Capt Dan Phipps, the commander of Mike Company 3/8 (see T.I.N.S. tale "Adventures in Mediterranean Cuisine" on this site) at a battalion staff meeting in Nice and told him of my plan. He said he was coming to Villefranche to join me, as he also had the hots for Grace. Our plan was to "accidentally show up" at the fleet landing just as Ranier, Princess Grace, Duff Rice and Don Whitmire were getting ready to board the Admiral’s barge for the ride to Little Rock’s anchorage. We figured that Duff would introduce us to the royalty since we were his Rifle Company commanders and we were "there".
The fateful evening approached and Dan showed up aboard Terrebonne Parish late in the afternoon. We checked out on liberty upon his arrival and sailed for the local waterfront tavern for a cool one. We figured that we needed a few hooks to brace up our courage for that magic moment that we were introduced to the beautiful Princess Grace. Well, we had a few hooks alright. When it was time to depart for the fleet landing we were feeling no pain and had stored up enough courage to charge machine guns across open rice paddies. "Banzai!" In a word…shit faced. OK, two words.
We made our way to the vicinity of the fleet landing. There were some brick columns holding up the roof covering the fleet landing. Dan and I hid behind the column closest to the landing (see the picture below), figuring that we’d "appear" just as the Admiral’s party was getting ready to board the barge. You know the drill…"Oh, Col Rice, Commodore! What a surprise to see you here."
We saw a Navy sedan pull up across the harbor from where we were and Duff Rice and Don Whitmire disembarked. We figured they would then walk to the fleet landing, but they just stood there. (See the below picture for our relative positions.) At about this time, the Admiral’s barge pulled into the harbor and tied up near where Rice and Whitmire were standing. It started to dawn on us, to our horror, that they were going to leave from that location. Just as this lightbulb came on in our heads a small convoy of black Citroens pulled up and stopped across the harbor and out stepped Princess Grace and Prince Ranier. At this point the only thing we could do to get there in time was to swim across the harbor, and this thought actually crossed our sodden minds. The party boarded the Admiral’s barge and shoved off and we watched from behind our brick column as Princess Grace disappeared into the night.
The next day Duff Rice regaled us with stories of his dinner with Princess Grace and Prince Ranier. To this day he repeats the stories when prompted. It was just this year, 35 years after the fact, that I told him that Dan and I were hiding behind a brick column across the harbor in an inebriated state watching Princess Grace sail by. When I told him of our scheme to pop out from behind the column and expect to be introduced he remarked, "It was only by the Grace of God that the pickup point was changed from the fleet landing at the last minute. If you two bozos had shown up, I would have had an international incident on my hands."
And so the adventures of Dirty Dirck and Daring Dan continue.
Dirck Praeger sends