Aboard Ship to Korea
We have the pleasure to board the USS General J. C. Breckinridge which was built in 1945 with a speed of 19 knots and a capacity to hold over 5,000 troops. It was sold for salvage in 1987. From the looks of the old tub it was not going to be a fun trip. When I saw the accommodations I nearly croaked. You went to the latrine (toilet) with 50 other guys and you showered 12 or more abreast. The sleeping quarters, ah yes the sleeping quarters. They were four bunks high and the bunk was a thick smelly piece of cloth with four chains on either side holding them up. Luckily my first night I got the upper bunk. This meant that I didn’t have to worry about anyone vomiting on me in the middle of the night. The guy on the third bunk kept climbing up and down the ladder to go to the latrine in the middle of the night. Our breakfast shifts started at 6:00 AM and I don’t even want to talk about the mush that they served. They called it chow but I called it “dog” chow. I had to figure out some way to escape this utter torture and nonsense. It seems that fortune was smiling upon me as the next morning there was a notice on a large board in the gangway that Special Services was looking for anyone that could play a musical instrument or who were entertainers or artists and that those that qualified should report to the NCO (non commissioned officer) in charge of “Morale”. It turns out there were dependants on board who had better quarters than we had and surely didn’t have to sleep four high and the Captain was planning to have entertainment for them. So right after the morning dog chow consisting of imitation eggs with slop over stale bread and coffee which wouldn’t surprise me was mud from the Hudson River I rush down to the area where the interviews are being held. What is buzzing through my head is what the hell am I going to sign up for without any musical talent? Of course I know how to use the phonograph but no musical instrument of any kind. I spot this guy with a clipboard in his hand. He’s obviously in charge of this circus. Smiling I approach him and we hit it off immediately. Jim Anglisano and I will become lifelong friends. In fact after my best friend Lou Dinolfo Jim is second in line. When he asked me what instrument I played I completely broke him up with a story that my Music teacher told in high school. I tell Jim that I used to play the piccolo but I gave it up. Jim asks why did I give up the piccolo. With a straight face I explain that our band (I really wasn’t part of the band) played so badly that our bandmaster; Mr. Stoffregen (stuff made out of rain), that he told us to take our instruments and shove them up our asses! The problem being that only mine fit since I had the piccolo. After all but rolling on the deck Jim asked what else I had a talent for. Thinking to myself I realized that the easiest thing to fake would be working as an artist. Jim is now all exciting because he explains that the Captain of the ship has a big project. He wants a large picture painted which will be hung in the Recreation room in the dependent’s section of the ship. Can I do it? “Of course Jim, why not?” I got the job and he starts to explain the “perks”. I will have my own cabin either next to the Bridge (where the Captain and his officers run the ship) or just one level below the bridge. It gets better: I won’t have to wait in that interminable line to get snacks at the canteen and also I will have access to Navy personnel who will get me whatever I want or need. Whew. I’m ecstatic as I now have my own private latrine, showers, a table, comfortable chairs and my own bed, escaping the smelly crap house, crowded quarter and bunks. Jim leaves me at the cabin and I start to ponder. Yes, quite a life but now I have to figure out how the hell I am going to paint a full size picture? Well, that should be easy as I will get some real artists that CAN paint and I’ll just supervise the project. I run back to Jim’s area and explain that I need help because a painting this size can’t be done in the approximately two weeks that we will be at sea (if the bucket doesn’t leak). He had me put a notice on the bulletin board asking for “accomplished artists”. I figure that I need at least three of them so that in our spare time we can play Pinochle, since I had brought a couple of decks of Pinochle cards from the commissary with me. These cards constitute a 40 cards deck. Only the 10 to the Ace are used and usually you play double deck which means 80 cards are used. Now I’m ready to interview my artists. Art Blackmon, Box Saxman and Carl Tronolone all claimed that they were experienced artists. What a crew I selected! The nicest guys that you will ever meet; except: that they were a bunch of lying bastards. There was not one of them that could draw a lick. Like me they would pull any trick to get away from the dirt, seasickness, boredom and all of the rest of the nonsense. The “conner “ got conned. So what do we do? We play Pinochle for a couple of days until we can figure out a useful strategy. There’s a knock on the door and it’s Jim with his damned clipboard. “What’s going on guys?” He smilingly intones. We explain that we have problems in that we don’t have a canvas, an easel or even paint or paint brushes for that matter. Well that’s what the “swabies” are for as he gives out with a combination laugh and grunt. The navy rounds up the so called supplies, all of which are OK except the paint is mostly grey which they use to paint the old tub. (ship). Back to the cards and Jim comes back with the news that we are going to handle the special stage effects for the Breckinridge Big Top Dance. (Who the hell are we going to dance with?) Jim will be playing the accordion, which he did very well and there will be more on that in a later chapter. Right after that there would be a ceremony as we are passing the International Date Line. During this ceremony we all receive the “Domain of the Golden Dragon” certificates. We are about to start our card game when all of a sudden there is a loud knocking on the metal door. It is not Jim’s carefree knock. The only thing that w had on the canvas so far was some green paint to representing the sea. When I ask for identification the answer is Captain Donald W. Todd who is the freaking Captain of the ship. Cards are flying in the air and everyone is in a complete state of panic, so I motion for them to stand in front of the canvas. I open the door just a crack. “May I come in”.” NO SIR. Please remember that we are artists and we can’t show anyone our painting until the finished work of art is ready.” To our relief he agrees as long as he is the first to see it when it’s finished. So now the panic really sets in as we only have less than 5 days to go before we reach Inchon Korea., or we might just be thrown overboard. What the hell are we going to paint? Since most of our paint is either green or grey I suggest a fish scene. All agreed. We certainly did our best but for some reason the fishes came out like Seahorses. We then added lots of seaweed, rocks and green plants. Finally the work of art is finished and we all have visions of being put into the brig if not thrown overboard. We ask Jim to get word to Captain Todd and explaining that we promised the captain that he would be the first to see the finished product. By the way, each of us signed the canvas on the lower right hand of the painting in large, probably 18 inch letters. Our signatures were more prominent than the fish.. Here comes the captain in his white dress uniform, gold braid, and the works. He enters, stares what seems an hour turns around, smiles and shakes each of our hands. Hopefully he wasn’t a pilot as he must have been half blind. He actually liked the painting! We then carry the masterpiece down to the lounge and proudly hung it prominently right in the center. I had heard that it held that place of honor for many years and I wondered if before they salvaged the old bucket in 1987 what happened to our work of art. If I could find it I would buy it and hang it in Jimmy Anglisano’s basement.