SHOWDOWN AT WHITE BEACH

Or, What do you do with a 250 pound drunken sailor?

As senior shore patrol officer, I stood facing the First Class Torpedoman at a distance of about ten yards. We were nearly surrounded by members of his submarine’s crew in front of me, and members of the shore patrol behind me. The torpedoman was drunk, and most of the sub’s crew was intoxicated to one degree or another. The torpedoman was loudly berating me and threatening me. Suddenly he charged. How did I get myself into this mess I wondered? A look back in time will tell the whole story.

During my tour as Officer in Charge of the Nucleus Landing Force Staff aboard USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) from 1976-78, we made two deployments to the Western Pacific. Our deployments were not the usual six month trips, but were scheduled to coincide with major Seventh Fleet amphibious exercises. Blue Ridge was an amphibious command ship designed to house and support the staffs of the Navy Commander, Amphibious Task Force (CATF) and the Marine Commander Landing Force (CLF). Thus our deployments usually lasted between three and four months to cover transit to and from West Pac, workup for the exercise, and conduct of the amphibious operation. This included several liberty stops at ports of call such as Subic Bay in the Philippines, Pusan in South Korea, and Sydney, Australia.

But our West Pac “Home Port” was the small Navy base at White Beach on the Island of Okinawa. Located at the tip of the Katsuren peninsula on the eastern shore of the island, White Beach is a staging area for Marines and their equipment for subsequent loading onto amphibious shipping. Loading can be done from a long pier to which ships are moored, or can be transported to ships at anchorage via landing craft. During my time on Blue Ridge it was a sparsely populated, low rent Navy base with little immediate access to any Okinawan city or town. There were few special services facilities, but there was an enlisted club, a Chiefs club, and an Officers club.

USS Blue Ridge at White Beach Pier

During our second deployment we had arrived at White Beach after a liberty run to Pusan, returning just a few days before Christmas of 1977. The staffs boarded Blue Ridge after the holidays to begin the work up for an amphibious exercise in the Philippines during February 1978. Each day Blue Ridge provided a shore patrol to help keep in check the passions of the young Marines and Sailors who remained aboard the base and frequented the sparse recreational facilities or the enlisted club, which was about a half mile from the pier where we were berthed. There was usually very little trouble and shore patrol duty at White Beach wasn’t exacting.

One day sometime during January 1978 a U.S. Navy diesel submarine pulled into White Beach and tied up across the pier from Blue Ridge. I can’t remember which sub it was after all these years. It was unusual to see a submarine tied up at White Beach in any case.

 

Military Installations on Okinawa. White Beach is at lower left center.

I was assigned as the senior shore patrol officer on the first night the submarine was at White Beach. The patrol consisted of two officers and probably about ten to twelve Marine NCOs and Navy petty officers, who operated in three shifts throughout the night. We usually beefed up the patrol at the enlisted club’s closing time in case of trouble. There normally was none. We didn’t have an office ashore. We operated off the ship. The base gave us a gray Navy extended cab pickup truck for use as a shore patrol vehicle which was parked on the pier.

The evening started out quietly, but at around 2200 or so I received a call from the manager of the enlisted club. He told me I needed to get the shore patrol there fast as trouble was brewing. I loaded up the entire patrol that wasn’t already out and about into the pickup and off we went to the club. Upon arrival we could hear the ruckus from outside the club. The manager told us that members of the submarine crew were making most of the trouble, having drunk too much, and were causing damage inside the club. He told us that a first class petty officer seemed to be the leader of the mob. The patrol entered the club and broke up several fights and announced that the club was closed…everybody out. We finally got everyone outside, and the Blue Ridge personnel and other base personnel dispersed, but the members of the sub’s crew were not so docile. They continued to mill around outside the club under the leadership of a First Class Torpedoman. He was a huge individual who went by the nickname “Mountain”…very apt, I might add. He stood about 6’ 3” and weighed upwards of 250 pounds. He was very drunk and hurled abusive and threatening language at the shore patrol…more specifically, at me. I directed the crew to return to their boat. Mountain continued to rail at me and the rest of the patrol much to the amusement and encouragement of the crew.

Torpedoman First Class…”Mountain”

The shore patrol literally started to herd the group toward the pier, and the group reluctantly started to move. The pickup truck was centered behind the sub’s crew moving slowly forward, and the patrol was echeloned to the left and right of the vehicle. About half way between the club and the pier Mountain charged the truck and barehanded ripped off the driver’s side rear view mirror and ran back toward the crew, who continued to cheer and shout encouragement. It was starting to get ugly real fast. I stepped forward and confronted Mountain, giving him a direct order to return to the submarine. He and I were alone in the center of a rough circle consisting of the sub crew in front of me and the shore patrol to the rear. From about ten yards away Mountain let out a loud yell and, brandishing the rear view mirror, charged at me, expecting me to turn tail and run. But I stood my ground and braced for the collision. I was outweighed by about 70 to 80 pounds and would have been sent flying, but at the last minute Mountain pulled up short. Maybe he was sober enough to realize that assault on a commissioned officer could buy him brig time. We were face to face now, and I repeated in no uncertain terms the order for him to return to his ship.

The unruly group seemed to settle down slightly after our confrontation and moved back toward the pier with a bit more purpose. The patrol continued to herd them in the right direction and finally got them all onto the pier. We blocked the end of the pier and they started to roam toward the submarine’s brow. Mountain was leading the crowd, but when he got almost to the boat, he jumped off the pier into the water near the sub’s bow. He started to rant and rave again, and several of the sailors ran aboard to warn their watch standers of what was going on. Shortly a Chief Petty Officer appeared topside. He was as small as Mountain was huge, and his nickname was “Mouse”. At this point Chief Mouse started to berate Mountain with a loud and amazing display of profanity, and Mountain meekly came out of the water, walked aboard the sub, and dejectedly went below, followed by a ranting and raving Chief Mouse.

We finally got all the crew members aboard. I walked up the sub’s brow, requested permission to board, and briefed the Officer of the Deck on the whole incident and told him I would have a full report ready for the sub’s Captain first thing in the morning. I secured those shore patrolmen who weren’t on duty, reported the incident to the Blue Ridge Executive Officer, and repaired to the Marine Detachment office to write my report. After the shore patrol was secured around midnight, I hit the sack myself, but found it hard to sleep with some of the adrenalin still pumping in my system.

I awoke the next morning, ate breakfast, and went topside for morning quarters. I looked across the pier, and the submarine was gone. There was no sign of her anywhere within sight. Apparently her Captain had heard enough of the incident and decided it was best to just get out of Dodge rather than subject himself and his crew to a sure investigation of the incident and the resultant Captain’s Masts for destruction of property in the club, on the Navy pickup, threatening the shore patrol and a myriad of other things. Or maybe he just decided that his crew was too unruly to pull base liberty even in a low rent place like White Beach. So his watch section on duty the previous night was screwed out of even such a lowly liberty as that.

I have stood shore patrol in Naples, Italy, in Izmir, Turkey, in Athens, Greece, in Hong Kong, Yokosuka, and a number of other places, but nothing ever happened during any of them that ever came close to the Showdown at White Beach on that January night 35 years ago.

 

Semper Fi

Dirck Praeger sends