I was twenty-three years old and an Ensign aboard the U.S.S. Howard D. Crow and the Communications Officer on that Destroyer Escort. I also had various collateral duties, including that of RPS Custodian --- that was "Registered Publications System Custodian" for you civilians. In short, I was in charge of all "Confidential", "Secret", "Top Secret" and "NATO" publications. They also included secret cryptography codes that changed every day. If one of these classified documents ever got lost --- all the Navy bases in the world and all the ships in all the fleets would be alerted immediately and we would all have to destroy that publication and use a back-up publication or a back-up code.
There were only eight officers and about one hundred and fifty men on the Crow, which was home ported in Galveston, Texas. My immediate superior was the Executive Officer who we all simply referred to as "the X.O.". The X.O. on the Crow was a strange guy. He had attended college at a small non-Ivy elite all-male college in New England. He didn't have much of a sense of humor and he went strictly "by the book". He wasn't married and none of us ever heard of him having a date. Evidently his idea of a good time when he "went ashore" was taking a cab into town --- going to a bar where he drank alone --- and then taking a cab back to the ship. I had a much different opinion as to what constituted a "good time" --- but that's a story for another day.
I kept all of these important publications in a safe. Amendments would be sent and I would put them into the appropriate publications. When publications expired or were replaced, I would burn them with the help of some of my men. Once a month I would drive to Houston with a pistol strapped to my waist --- meet another officer at Houston International Airport, who would give me a canvas bag with the new publications in it --- I would check all the documents in the bag --- sign a receipt for them --- and then drive back to Galveston.
On the way back from one of these "RPS runs" I stopped at a 7-11 and picked up a six-pack of Pepsis. I then began the several mile drive out to the ship, which was docked at a pier on Pelican Island. There was nothing on Pelican Island except our dock, a parking lot with a few streetlights on it, a phone booth, a shed and the road that went from the dock into Galveston proper. The rest of the island was simply covered with weeds and dune grass. As I drove down that road to get to the ship my thoughts turned to the gun strapped to my waist. I had never even fired the damn thing. What if some Russian Spy accosted me in the airport parking lot and tied to steal my canvas bag? I would have to shoot him, of course, but I had never even fired one bullet out of that gun. I didn't even know what the gun sounded like when you fired it! "Okay", I decided, "I'm going to pull this old car over to the side of the road right now and see what it's like to utilize this weapon!" And so I did. I was about a quarter mile away from the ship at this point. I got out of the car --- walked about five yards off the road --- took out my pistol from it's holster --- pointed it towards the ground at a spot about ten yards away took the safety off --- and pulled the trigger! "BAM!!!!" Son of a bitch! That fucker is loud! Shit! My fuckin' ears are ringin'! Enough of this shit! So I turn around and start walking back to the car with my sidearm still in my right hand and pointed at the ground. Suddenly --- "Bam!!!" --- the gun goes off again! I must've accidentally touched the trigger! Jesus Christ! I almost shot myself in the fucking foot! Goddamn! I figured I'd better get rid of the remaining bullets or I'm going to end up seriously wounding some part of my goddamn body! So I turned around and fired the remaining bullets into the ground at a spot about ten yards away. God --- was that thing LOUD!
Okay. Now I have an empty gun and I can safely return to the car and complete my mission without maiming my goddamn self. I arrived in the ship's parking lot and got out of the car carrying my canvas bag and my six-pack of Pepsis. As I waked up the gangplank I noted that one of my men, Sorenson, had the deck duty. I shifted my six-pack of Pepsis into my left arm as my left hand was holding the canvas bag --- and with my right hand I snapped off a salute to Sorenson. Sorenson returned the salute with a large grin on his face and asked, "What was the trouble out there, Sir --- did someone try to steal your Pepsis?"
Then there was the day that the X.O. asked me for a particular classified publication and I went to the RPS safe to get it for him. But I searched thru the entire safe and that particular "pub" wasn't there! I told the X.O. that it was probably mixed up with some other pubs and I would have it for him shortly. The X.O. then told me that he was going ashore for a couple hours but I better have that pub for him by the time he got back. He then departed from the ship. Shit! I was in deep shit! That particular pub was only "confidential" --- the lowest classification of classified material --- but it was still classified material! When I was working on various RPS pubs, I must've left that one laying out on the table when I put all the others back in the safe. Then the X.O. must've found the son-of-a-bitch --- and hidden it in his own personal safe in his stateroom --- a place to which I had absolutely no access! What a mean bastard he was!! But he had me by the balls, I thought.
Then another thought came to me. There was only one other person on the ship who knew the combination to the X.O.'s safe. It was the Engineering Officer --- a lanky Texan named Pritchard. I quickly located Pritchard down in the engine room. Taking him aside I told him of my predicament and what I thought must have transpired. I was counting on one main fact of life aboard that ship: Nobody liked the X.O.! And, of course, that included Pritchard!
The two of us climbed the ladder to the main deck, walked thru the wardroom and then entered the passageway to the officer's rooms. The X.O.'s room was the first one on the starboard side. Pritchard pulled the green current to one side and entered the X.O.'s room with me right behind him. He opened the safe in twenty seconds and the missing pub was right on top of the other contents in the safe. "Son-of-a-bitch --- there it is!" Pritchard grabbed the wayward pub and handed it to me. I then placed something else inside the X.O.'s safe and Pritchard smiled as he re-locked the safe. I returned the pub to the RPS safe.
About one and a half hours later, the X.O. returned to the ship. I was sitting in the wardroom having a Pepsi and reading a magazine. "Mr. Doughty --- you can get me that pub now!" said the X.O. "Yes, Sir --- I'll get it right now!" I went to the RPS room --- opened the safe --- grabbed the pub in question --- returned to the wardroom --- and handed it to the X.O. His eyes widened! There was no "thank you" --- instead the X.O. spun on his heels left the wardroom --- went into his stateroom --- and closed the green curtain behind him.
I obviously didn't see what happened next. But I knew! I knew exactly what happened next! Oh, sweet Jesus, did I know! After he closed the green curtain, that humorless, colorless, non-dating son-of-a-bitch quickly opened his goddamn safe and found --- not the pub he "knew" was there --- but a goddamn small box of Corn Flakes! He must've shit! But he couldn't say anything to me because he could never prove what had taken place that afternoon. No, he couldn't say a goddamn thing! And he never did.