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  • Our first morning in Rota, Spain and we were standing at attention saluting their beautifully ornate flag while
    the Spanish national anthem played over the loudspeakers. The huge flag was flying from the fantail of their carrier flagship that was attached to the pier. When I say attached, I don’t mean tied up – Attached, like cemented to.

    Round John stood behind me quietly singing words he had made up to accompany it. “Espania, Espania, Espania rules the waves…” We were impatiently waiting for it to be over so we could raise our own flag and go through our own rituals.

    They had billeted us on the sub tender for the two days it would take the Gold crew to turn the boat over to us and fly home. That mornings lecture had put the fear of God into us about what to expect if we got into trouble off base. Briefly, If you got into trouble, get back to the boat. The U.S. government couldn’t help you if you winded up in a Spanish jail. Franco was in charge and foreign sailors were barely tolerated and never welcome. We were required to wear civilian clothes off base so we wouldn’t look like an occupying force. La Garda Sevilla, Franco’s personal army of machine gun carrying bullyboys were everywhere. So beware!

    That night Tommy and I were shooting pool in a bar on the strip when Lonnie Lee, a big lop-eared boy from Tennessee came running in looking for help. “Tommy, Jon, Dollar’s in trouble”. We followed him two doors down and walked into a situation. Dollar, one of our chiefs and next in line to be COB (Chief of the Boat) had his back to the bar and, slurring his words was spoiling for a fight.

    It’s funny how some guys, like me are happy drunks, everybody’s friend. Then there’s guys like Dollar. Mean and ugly after a few drinks.

    There were three members of La Garda Sevilla fingering their weapons as Tommy and I eased past them to try and get Dollar out the door. But it wasn’t going to be that simple…nothing ever is. Lonnie Lee, seeing his chief in danger, grabbed two of La Garda’s by the neck and slammed their heads together. Down and out!

    Time stood still. Visions of cold stone walls with my only light coming from a high mounted barred window flashed through my mind.
    The Count of Monte Cristo…
    The man in the Iron mask…

    Time started again and I threw my arms around the remaining Garda before he could raise his weapon. Tommy smashed a bottle over his head and he joined his companions on the barroom floor.
    Lonnie Lee grabbed Dollar onto his shoulder and we raced out of there. Down an alley and into a cab on the next street. "Arriba! Arriba! Andale! Andale!" we shouted. None of us knew Spanish but we had watched enough Speedy Gonzales cartoons to know that meant to get a move on.

    It must have worked ‘cause the driver drove like a mad man back to our pier. We paid him handsomely and dragged Dollar to the safety of the sub tender. We were there for another two weeks getting the boat ready for sea and neither Tommy or I ventured off the base again. We had pressed our luck too far and somebody might be looking for us.

    The next time we went to town was ten weeks later after returning from patrol. It was my first patrol and I needed a drink! I had twisted my ankle that morning and the rule is you don’t go ashore if you’re injured. So I put on my best stoic face and walked through the pain trying not to limp. I told you I needed a drink.

    After a couple I forgot about my ankle and just had a good time. A few hours later I’d had enough and started back. One of our radiomen, Robbie was all but passed out at our table. Dumb Jim, his boss asked me if I could get Robbie back to the boat by myself. “Yeah, yeah, no problemo”. So they dumped him in the cab next to me and even paid the driver in advance.

    When we got to the pier Robbie couldn’t even stand up. I hoisted him on my shoulder and staggered to the gangplank and up onto the tender. Saluting the topside watch and ensign took a bit of doing, but I finally got past them. Down two decks and over to another gangplank to the Calhoun tied outboard. I found out later the topside watches were making book on whether I would drop Robbie in the drink while crossing the gangplank.

    No way! I didn’t drop him until I got to the control room hatch. I dumped him down and jumped in on top of him. We made such a racket that sailors came running. Robbie looked the worst of it from my falling on top of him, but I came in a close second with my swollen ankle.

    The medic bandaged us up and packed my ankle in ice. He gave us both shots of adrenalin and assigned someone to shake us awake every two hours because he was worried that as drunk as we were we might stop breathing during the night.

    Luckily we had another two days before we had to fly back to Charleston.
    Plenty of time to lick our wounds and go back out again.
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