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  • Mad Jack was his name. Well at least Jack, we added the Mad – it had a nice ring to it. And everyone needs a nick-name. Mad Jack came to us from the sub base in Holy Loch, Scotland as a replacement for the Torpedoman that just had gotten out. He had red hair with a long goatee that he used to braid in two separate strands - a “weird beard”. He and I became fast friends as I was an ASROC gunners mate and we were in the same division. We also shared a love of motorcycles.

    Our ship went into dry dock in Portsmouth, Virginia in early 1972. While not at sea we had a lot more time on our hands. We had our morning muster at 7, went to work at 8 and got off at 4. When you got off work, if you didn’t have the duty, you were free to do whatever you wanted. I had purchased an old 1961 VW bug that was sitting in the back yard of Chief Cook’s house so I had a car for running around in. Chief Cook was not a cook: he was a boiler technician. He was the only chief we hung around with because like us, he too had a love of motorcycles. And behind the house where he and his wife lived, there was a garage.

    Mad Jack had purchased a motorcycle, a 500cc Triumph from a friend of Chief Cook. I guess purchase is not the correct term –he traded his old International Travel-All for it. The Travel-All is another story in itself.

    His motorcycle, however, was in pieces in the chiefs’ garage. Some parts were hanging from the ceiling, others were in boxes, and others were in old coffee cans & canning jars. The only part missing from the garage was the engine – it was across the bay in Hampton Roads in a storage room of a motel. At the time we were not worried about the engine. We were trying focus on getting all the other parts cleaned and put together. Mad Jack, the chief and I spent most our off time that spring in that garage putting Mad Jack’s motorcycle together. The chief would BBQ and his wife would prepare excellent home cooked meals. Almost like being home.

    When the motorcycle (or motor scooter, or scoot as we referred to them in Virginia), was ready for the engine we drove my bug across the bay into Hampton Roads to that little motel. We wrangled it into the back seat of my bug and got it back to the garage and onto the work bench. The engine had seen better days.

    What’s great about being in the service is having a lot of shipmates that were very knowledgeable and skilled at engine repair. Hell, we were on a destroyer. Those engines require a hell of lot more care and feeding than some little 500cc motorcycle engine. It didn’t take long to get that little engine torn apart, cleaned up, re-bored, and put back together better than new. It ran like a top. Jacks motorcycle had a magneto system meaning that when it was idling with the lights on, they would get dimmer. When he revved the engine the lights would get brighter (That’s not important to the story but Mad Jack was proud of that and would want mention of it).

    He finally had it running.

    And now that he had a “scoot”, and a couple of other guys in our division had “scoots”, I naturally “had” to buy one also. So, I junked my VW, bought a motorcycle and four of us traveled on weekends to the swamps of North Carolina going to motocross events, and flat track races. When our ship came out of dry dock and we had to put to sea again, the chief would let us store our scoots in his garage only to be taken out when we would return for more adventures.

    Mad Jack left our ship in 1972. I recall him driving away from our ship, down the pier on his 500 Triumph with a real battle-ax strapped to the backrest and two swords crisscrossed on the front of his handle bars with his red “weird beard” hanging out from under his fighter pilots helmet. He was a sight to behold.

    I have not seen Mad Jack since that day.

    I got out of the Navy in 1973 while in the Mediterranean and over the years have retold the story of Mad Jack’s motorcycle. I have also gone on line to a couple of ships registry sights where you can put your name and email address in and search for old shipmates –brothers. I have made contact with a few of the guys I was aboard with and we are always sending emails back and forth – mostly jokes. It wasn’t until yesterday when I went to hullnumber.com looking for some information when I stumbled on Mad Jacks name in the registry. It didn’t say “Mad Jack” just Jack and his last name. I emailed him and he responded. What a great feeling to be able to make contact with a brother after forty years.

    Hey Mad Jack! It’s me, Gary…I’m back!
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