The chow lines on the overloaded USS Pondera were a full-time affair. You got in line for breakfast, and by the time you got through it and ate you immediately got in line for dinner. Ditto for supper. And although the official history states that the food was “nearly always good,” dad penciled in a note in the margins, “NOT SO.” So Dad and one of his buddies went exploring.
They found a hold full to the brim with thousands and thousands of “C” rations which the Navy had foolishly left unlocked and unguarded. Now there would be no more standing in line.
Until they got caught. They never knew if authorities had noticed that the “C” ration pile was getting subtly smaller or if it was just somebody who happened to be passing by at the wrong time, but the immediate result was a wild chase through the bowels of the ship.
A half century in the future and thousands of miles away we may question the wisdom of trying to run away from some sailors on a ship. It is, after all, a pretty limited area to run, and they almost certainly know their ship better than you. But Dad and his buddy probably reasoned, if they thought about it at all, that the 2,000 Army personnel on board all looked alike to the swabbies, and if they could just get some quick distance behind them they could lose themselves in the crowd.
There is, however, a trick to racing through the bowels of the ship. The hatches are not tall enough to walk through without ducking. And they have a steel rim (called a hatch coming) all the way around them, including the bottom. You are supposed to step over that rim, while ducking.
Dad was fortunate enough to learn this the easy way. His buddy was well in the lead and looking to make a clean escape – after all, he didn’t need to outrun the Navy, he just had to outrun Dad - when he made the mistake of stepping on the lower hatch coming while hurtling through a hatchway.
This can be a bad thing at any time, but at high speed it meant shooting the top of your head with great force up and into the steel rim of the hatch, causing a deep and bloody head wound needing stitches, immediate loss of consciousness – and loss of the valuable lead position in the race.
The American G.I. has always been prized for his ability take advantage of unexpected opportunities, and Dad was well trained. He leaped across his buddy’s bleeding body – the Navy could provide him with better medical attention than he could, after all – through the hatchway, and on to the anonymity of the crowded chow line.
It was an end to leisurely dining and free time. It turned out Dad's buddy's treatment wasn't all that good, the trip to sickbay turning out to be long and painful. But there weren't any hard feelings. After all, he'd have done the same for Dad - he told him so.