Naples, Italy was one of the ports that produced more sea stories than any other. They have become fond memories for me as I look backwards at my sailor adventures. While in port I always wanted to buy a 22 Beretta, the model with interchangeable barrel lengths. But the Italian government controlled this particular industry very closely. You simply could not buy any product with the Beretta name on it. Machine guns, gernades, firearms of any kind could be had, but not the Beretta.

Down on the pier we had a con man who used to whisper, 'hey sailor wanna buy a Beretta'? Of course he was just conning you. A bunch of us who were heading back to the ship knew about this man. We talked him into doing his trick exchange for five bucks. Sure enough he produced what looked like a gun and placed it into a box which he gave to us. Upon opening the box we found a rock, how he did this I do not know to this day. I guess the hand is truly faster than the eye.

Sick bay following any stay in port usually produced a handful of sailors with various infections. In those days you could be cured by the usual injection of penicillin. Apparently the usual rule was that no punishment would be handed out for catching VD. They would bend the rule for a second infraction of bringing back a disease. One sailor who had caught VD twice before was forced to admit he thought he had got infected again. But he also had another problem, a big abscess on his butt, after they opened it up they found some odd substance they could not identify. Further inspection revealed it was Wild Root Cream Oil, a hair tonic that was common at the time. So now the whole story came out, knowing he had caught VD a third time and would be punished he elected to seek out a local doctor. The 'doc' gave him an injection of penicillin or so he thought. He paid twenty five bucks for the honor of getting his butt punched with hair oil. The guys in sick bay laughed so hard that the doc elected to let this guy go for his third offense. An, oh yeah, he also had to get another 'real' shot of penicillin.

REPLY FROM OLD SENIOR CHIEF 1946 2/17/2013: A guy like the one you mention used to hang out near the AFSOUTH/NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVTY compound several miles from the waterfront. His main base of operations was a pub-restaurant-motel complex which was situated right across the street from the NSA gate. I have long since forgotten the name of it but it may have been LIDO. Anyway it was a popular hang-out for all of the NATO military guys and their families, when they went shopping at the compound.  This Italian guy was quite an operator - he always wore a long Columbo style overcoat. When he opened it up he had everything under there - from wrist matches to Cameo pins to electric toasters, most of it fake junk. He was a likeable little guy and a fast talker. He made a pretty good living selling those trinkets around there.

REPLY FROM OLD SENIOR CHIEF 1946 2/18/2013: Your story about the VD brings to mind Petty Officer/FN/FA Bratton. Bratton reported to the USS MOUNT BAKER (AE-34) Nucleus Commissioning Crew in 1972. We were being assembled in Pascagoula, Mississippi and would take custody of the the ship from the builder there, when it was ready. We would then steam it over to Charleston, South Carolina, where it was to be home-ported, after commissioning. Bratton was one of those guys who couldn't seem to stay out of trouble. Within a week after he reported, he got in trouble for shooting at pet ducks with a BB rifle around a pond where our lodging facility was located in Pascagoula. After the ship arrived in Charleston, it was moored at a pier inside the shipyard fror outfitting. You could see it through the fence on the street (Spaulding, I believe)  that ran adjacent to the shipyard, where many of the pubs, gin mills and houses of ill repute were located,  but it was a long walk -  if you came through the Main Gate and walked around. Bratton got drunk and decided to take a short cut back to the ship one night by jumping that fence. Not a good idea --- BUSTED! The security surveillance cameras picked him up and it set off alarms - the Base Police had him in custody before he made it ten feet inside the base. It was just one thing after another with Bratton. He came on board as a Third Class HT, a "pushbutton" right out of training. Within a few months he was busted to FN and eventually all the way back to FA. When we went to the Med, he got VD in every port we visited. After about the 5th incident of the VD, our CO declared him to be a "special liberty risk" and secured all liberty for him for the rest of the cruise. We pulled into Palma late in the cruise and Bratton somehow sweet talked the CO into letting him have "sundowner's liberty", so he could "do some shopping".  Within a hour after departing the ship that Saturday afternoon, Bratton arrived at the red light district in the town's gut in a taxi cab - when he opened the back door to get out another car hit the door and knocked it off. Bratton tried to run away but was promptly arrested by the Spanish Police. He was brought back to the ship in shackles and needless to say - the CO was not happy with him.  POOR BRATTON!

REPLY FROM OLD SENIOR CHIEF PETTY 1946 2/19/2013: The Navy was going through some crazy times in the early 1970's. CNO came out with a message stating that people who were "administrative burdens" to the command could be discharged for the convenience of the Navy. The wording of it was pretty vague and it was not easy to understand. It was not intended for widespread distribution but one of our officers on the Mount Baker left it laying out and a seaman read it. It wasn't long before it was spread all over the ship - via the "rumor mill". Bratton heard about it and decided that he was a good candidate for becoming an "administrative burden". He was FN (E3) at the time, with a six month suspended bust down from E4. He came up with a plan to make himself an "administrative burden" quickly. He refused to get up and go to work for three days in a row - just stayed in his bunk and slept or read books all day.  As the First Class in charge of the Work Group, I directed the Third Class he worked under to place him on report. The Captain liked Bratton and had high hopes for him.  He went ballistic when Bratton showed up in front of him at Captain's Mast. He revoked the suspended bust from E4 and then busted him on down to FA (E2). He gave him the maximum in fines with restriction and extra duty. He told Bratton that he would decide who was an "administrative burden" on his ship and also made it clear that he (Captain) would be released from the Navy for the convenience of the government before Bratton was, if it was left up to him.  I think Bratton got the point that it was not going to be an "easy out" for him.  He was stuck with six years of obligated active service in the regular Navy, whether he liked it or not. Not long after that, in 1974, I got out of the Navy and stayed out until 1977. During the Christmas season of 1975, I received a nice card and letter from Bratton. He wrote that he had made Third Class Petty Officer, this time  "the right way" and he realized what being a Petty Officer was all about. He thanked me for being as patient with him as I was during those hard times he went through. I don't know what happened to him after that. He probably stayed in to make Chief later. He was a very nice guy - just all mixed up.

daltonphillips@namvetsonline.com

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