Midnight Surfer Final Part

Most of the Battalion went on terminal leave over the Christmas Holidays. Those of us that were single were asked to go in January and let the enlisted soldiers and married officers stay with their families over Christmas. I got to spend my Christmas with my Fiancé, Barb, and her family so it made little difference to me.
When I came back off leave, the battalion had made good strides in finishing their preparations for deployment. During that time I did get to say Hi to Stubbs on occasion but we didn’t have much contact. We got the final touches done and the equipment to Long Beach and loaded. I don’t remember the name of the cargo ship but I do remember that the people were on the USNS Geiger. For the record I will hereafter call it a boat. Yes, many of you will call it a ship but it lacked sufficient keel to keep it straight in the water and it wallowed left and right as it went up and then settled down. It may have been a sea cruise for some but it was a seasick nightmare for many of us. After 20 straight days of watching people talk to “RALPH” and order “BUICKS” into sea sick bags I never wanted to go out in any boat again. You can bet your sweet butt that I won’t go on a cruise.
The Officers were quartered on the top decks and the enlisted swine lived in the holds below. The soldiers were stacked into beds that literally gave you about two feet above you to the bottom of the bed above. They went from floor to ceiling and reminded me of sardines. The smell kind of reminded me of that also. Actually it was more like a locker room at a fish processing plant but it is my story and I’m sticking to it.
Stubbs was his usual self and in the confines of the boat he slept little and wandered the boat from stem to stern. Like a nocturnal mouse he managed to visit every square inch of the Geiger. Many of the guys found a good book and settled in but not Stubbs. I am not sure his grand plan developed after he found the ¾ inch rope of if the idea spared the search for a rope. Somehow a rope got smuggled below deck and the midnight Body Surfing caper began to unfold.
Late on night or very early one morning, the Geiger made a quick turn and we were all told to go to our lifeboat stations. Nothing was explained and after 17 days of straight-ahead, and up and down, it was very unusual. At our lifeboat stations, we were counted and re-counted until everyone was accounted for. During that time we noticed a lifeboat lowered into the water and someone put in the boat. Finally we were released and went back to our beds. The next morning the rumor mill was working fast and early. I was told an incredible story about how a soldier from my battery had stole a rope and lowered him self out a port hole to try to body surf. For a kid from Kansas, this was just incredible. There was no way that I could visualize body surfing or “trolling for sharks” from a moving passenger ship, oops, boat. The story was that the rope was tied off or secured to a pipe in the head or bathroom and the idiot actually lowered himself to the water. I’m sure that there were many different versions of the story and it wasn’t until later on I got the story from the surfee’s mouth
The Geiger had a hospital unit on board and there were Doctors everywhere. An ingrown toenail had bothered me so I had been having it treated by the Doctors. That was the only way I could have gotten in to the sick bay to really see who it was who was the “Midnight Surfer”. When I saw him, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Stubbs was the culprit and in spite of his inability to get out of bed a Guard was posted by the door to the room he was in. I stopped in to see how he was and to ask what the hell had possessed him to attempt such a thing.
He said he had found the rope and thought that during one of the long nights he would try to body surf. He had lowered the rope down to make sure that it reached the water. He tied the rope to a pipe in the head and tied the other end to his wrist. He then threw everything in between out the porthole. I guess the spray from the ship made the rope slick and about half way down the rope he hit a slick spot and fell about 25 feet with the rope under his arm. He had a major rope burn and when he hit the water, the force of the moving ship had dislocated his shoulder. He was very aware that with the drag of the ship and the dislocated shoulder there was just no way he was going to ever get back up that rope. He began to shout and a fireguard on deck alerted the bridge that there was a man overboard.
Normally when a man goes overboard the ship the ship has to make a circle to go back and pick up the guy. Normally that person isn’t tied to a rope and in this case the sharp turn banged Stubbs on the side of the ship. I guess the barnacles on the side of a ship are like really rough sandpaper and they did another number on his poor body. He looked like he had gone ten rounds with a prize fighter and he didn’t win a prize. All they had to do was lower a boat and put him in it.
We had a good laugh about the entire situation and he admitted that had he not been hurt by the fall he probably could have made a good ride out of that 18-knot body surf. I’ll bet the salt water was a real treat in that raw armpit.
The last time I saw Stubbs he was being carried off the Geiger in Subic Bay naval base in the Philippines. I didn’t stay in our unit long after arrival in Vietnam, so I don’t know if Stubbs was given a Courts Martial or just patched up and sent to Vietnam to marry up with our unit. What I do know is that this incredible story is mostly true and the only errors are one’s caused by omission or poor memory of the events 30 years ago.
I dedicate this little ditty to Stubbs. I have been told that Stubbs made an early departure in this world and is waiting at Fiddler’s Green where all old Artillerymen go. He is waiting there with a canteen full of “Muzzle Blast” for his friends to drop in and share his story. I am sure that he has a smile on his face and joy in his heart as old soldiers swap stories. I doubt there is many that match the Midnight Surfer story.


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