by J P Hugh Sproule


When we arrived in Sasebo, Japan - home base for the UN Korean Task Force - because of ship replacement and rotation, we were dispatched immediately on a month-long patrol off the Korean west coast, very near the 38th parallel. The only R&R we had during that month was playing softball 3 or 4 times against the US Marines on the Island of Pang Yung Do's beach (at low tide). Occasionally we had to stop our ballgame to allow the USAF supply plane (DC 3) to land. We usually didn't mind because it brought our mail. Mail was a very pleasant interlude from the boredom we all experienced. Eventually we were relieved by our sister ship (another Canadian Tribal) and we hustled off to Hong Kong for much needed R&R, as well as some underwater work on our Asdic dome (now known as Sonar). The work on our Asdic was completed in a week.
Hong Kong was a much-needed blast; however, our revelry came to a grinding halt. If memory serves me correctly, 2 of our UN Task Force allies’ ships became unavailable for duty. One was in a collision requiring docking repair and the other was recalled home. Since we were the new kids on the block, we were again dispatched to patrol - another boring month off the east coast of Korea. With the delights of Hong Kong very fresh in our memory, we were upset to say the least. We did our duty, played our obligatory 3 or 4 ball games, read our letter from home, and the month finally passed. Anyone who has been in the military will tell you that as we were about to be relieved of our duty, the rumour mill was in full swing. Our sister ship had just returned from Manila - so we were going there - others said we were going to Singapore - and others said we were going back to Hong Kong. When we finally dropped anchor, we discovered we were back in Sasebo Japan. So much for the Far East flesh spots. - Damn!

We weren't in Sasebo a week before it became clear that this ship's company needed some serious R&R. It was evident by the crew’s behaviour ashore; fights, drunkenness -- the guys had destroyed 3 brothels (they thought the ladies were charging too much for what some considered therapeutic services). Soccer, basketball and softball games were proving that they were definitely not enough to quell their uneasy ‘young’ spirits.

- - The ships XO (executive officer) came to me and said, "Sproule, I want you to arrange a ship’s party. You'll need a large space for approximately 250 people, lots of streamers, music and loads of balloons." The XO, having dealt with me on more than a couple of occasions, said very clearly, "and, Sproule don't screw up." (Like my father before me, I was known to take on a little too much authority, more than my humble rank afforded - especially when charged with a truly creative task.) Loaded with sugar and butter from the chief cook’s larder, I met with the school principal and secured the gym for the party. I pledged my next week’s issue of beer to a so-so ship board musician to supply the music. The US Navy BX had loads of streamers. A buddy of mine had recruited some of the ladies from the brothel just up the road as hostesses (when the XO got wind of that he axed that quickly). As I was just about to start patting myself on the back, I realized - - NO BALLOONS! The US BX didn't have any - it seems there was a run-on balloons, and they didn't expect any from the States for at least a month. The Japanese didn't even know what balloons were! I was dead in the water. I would definitely-earn the XO's displeasure - my career would be shot. Damn!

Twenty-four hours before the bash, I was in the 2-sports locker getting out a new soccer ball, when I spotted them. The # 2 sports locker was shared with the medical people, so I went to the senior medical NCO on board to ask a favour. I explained my dilemma and said "I noticed a gross of condoms in the locker - could I have a few for the party?" He replied tersely, "Take the whole @#%$ box - nobody is using them anyway!" I thanked him and disappeared with them before he could change his mind. I needed at least 6 (all my mates) people to help decorate the gym and blow up the balloons (we soon discovered that condoms are not that easy to blow up). I went to the XO to release these guys into my charge. The night of the bash, the XO came up to me and said "Good job, Sproule, you and your team are to be congratulated." Without cracking a smile, I replied, "Thank you - Sir." - - "Oh, by the way Sproule, couldn't you get any coloured balloons and balloons of a different shape? All these balloons are rather long." Again without batting an eye, "No Sir, I obtained all there were to be had." (I should add here that we had several senior officers from Task Force Command in attendance. The Captain and XO wanted to put on a good show.) The evening was a huge success - I revelled in everyone’s praises. Midway through the evening, well past my 2nd beer, I saw the XO red faced hurry in my direction. As he approached, he beckoned me toward him. When I came up to him, he stuck his face about 2 inches from mine and said in a rather strained voice, "Sproule, tell me that those balloons aren't condoms." With the life of the party fully on my side, my reply was, "Sir, if you don't ask me, then I won’t tell you!"  As I found out much later in my career the XO always has the last word. His parting shot was, "You and I will have a serious chat tomorrow about this whole incident." – Oooops! There goes my career for sure this time - Damn!


The Scene: - We had just arrived back at an island off the western shore of Korea approximately one nautical mile south of the 38th parallel. This was our second month long peace-keeping tour of duty, - boring. As the ship’s PTI Physical Training Instructor), my task was to break the monotony by the organizing (if the tide was right) games of soft-ball against the US Marines, on the Island’s sandy beach. There was also a small South Korean Naval Contingent with a diesel-powered junk, which they mainly used for fishing. We were anchored approximately a mile off the beach. Oh, one vital thing to break the boredom, and if the weather and the tide cooperated, a US Airforce plane (DC3) would once a week land on the beach to deliver the mail. This was a really BIG deal!

Our Task Force orders were to be ready to slip and be prepared for action at the blink of an eye. To aid the leaving our anchorage quickly, we had strapped two empty 45-gallon drums together and attached them to our anchor cable. This would allow us to break our anchor cable and slip away in under five minutes in order to carryout the emergency. These drums would hold the anchor cable and make it easy to recover upon our return when things cooled down.

Going to War: - I had been on deck for the first watch (2000 – 2400) and had been sleeping peacefully in my hammock, when all hell broke loose. The ‘action station’ klaxon rang followed by ‘hands to action station - - focs’l party close-up - - - This is not a drill - - - I repeat; this is not a drill.’.  - - - A LOUD – ‘Holy crap!’ was heard throughout the mess deck. You never saw a group of approximately 40 plus young sailors move so fast. – This is it; someone has violated the 38th parallel agreement. I was both a member of the focs’l party as well a communication number on A gun mounting. We did our job of slipping away from the anchorage, and tore off into the night at a great rate of knots in complete black-out. This was ‘war’!

With adrenaline pumping we were ready. After an hour the adrenaline had started to wane, and we noticed just how cold it was. One hour turned in two, two to three, three to four. Then the announcement ‘Secure action stations, we are returning to our anchorage’. We secured the gun, scrambled below deck to get warm. We were just beginning to warm up when they ‘announced focs’l party close up, recover the anchor cable’. What took 5 minutes to slip took an hour and a bit to recover and secure. When that was completed, we scurried below to get warm and some sleep. I had just got back into my hammock when they announced - - ‘Wakey, wakey, rise and shine - - - hands to breakfast’. This going to war wasn’t what we imagined it would be. So far we were not impressed!

Over the next two days’ things started to return to normal. The ‘rumour mill’ informed us that a North Korean aircraft had strayed over the 38th parallel. We were not too appreciative of the North Korean pilot who interrupted our sleep and was the cause of freezing our ‘buts off’. If we could get our hands on this pilot, we would have gladly strangled him. Oh, well so much for going to war. - - Although things appeared to be returning to normal; however, when a plane appeared in the sky, or there was a non-routine announcement on the ships PA system, we all tensed up just a wee bit.

Normal was the 24-hour watch system – an officer on the bridge, steam up in the boilers, ops room manned, armed sentry on the focs’l and quarterdeck. Let me explain about the armed sentries. They both had semi automatic weapons, with the ammunition clip separate and housed in a container on the belt (next to impossible to get the clip out to use). - - - I had just finished the first focs’l watch mid-night to 0100 – it was very calm - foggy, not a ripple on the surface of the water, it was so quiet and still, to use a well-worn Brit expression, ‘so quiet you could hear a sparrow’s fart’. The only real sound was the south Korean diesel-powered junk, stopping and staring, moving around out there is the fog. Now the person who relieved me on the focs’l was a ‘Spud Islander named Charlie’. Although an excitable individual, he was a really nice guy. I have to admit here that like many in the ship’s company, from time to time, I took great delight scaring him and watch him go ballistic. - - Always a great laugh.

Those of us off watch, tried to get some rest until it was our turn again a 0200, when the watch shift changed. The only change was that we noticed the Korean junk was getting much closer to us, - no big deal. The junk appeared to be real close and kept stopping and starting it’s engine. Out to the fog we heard Charlie the focs’l sentry exclaim; ‘Unknown vessel, you are close to the Canadian Destroyer Huron – identify yourself.’ - - - Oh, what a hoot – old goosie Charlie was getting nervous and doing his thing. One of the off-watch lad shouted, ‘you tell’m Spud, don’t take no crap from them.” - - - The junk started his engine again and appeared to be getting even closer. - -  Again, Charlie repeated his original challenge, - more laughter and taunts from the off-watch crew.

Except for the junk, which appeared to be getting closer still – off engine – on engine. No additional challenges from Charlie. We thought the fun was over, and we all started to doze off. - - - Then, ‘unidentified vessel close to the Canadian Destroyer Huron – identify yourself - - this is your last warning - - if not I will be forced to shoot. - - We were all now awake, most of us chuckling to ourselves. However, Charlie had captured the attention of the on deck watch petty officer, who exclaimed sleepily – ‘I’d better check his out.’ - - - - Ooooops, to late!
The Shooting War: - Before the petty officer could get to the ladder at the break of the focs’l, the semi-automatic weapon was discharged, - -brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! - - - Even our best timed ‘hands to action stations’ drill never worked as well as this - - 238 members of the ship’s company, from the Captain on down, were dressed and on deck – most with steel helmets on, in what appeared to be a couple of minutes. Charlie, clearly shaken, was debriefed immediately by the Jimmy (Executive Officer).

The ship’s motor cutter and whaler, with armed personnel, were launched and dispatched to survey the area, again the only sound was the Korean junk this time moving away in the distance. - - (I’m sure they wanted to get away from those crazy, trigger happy Canadians.) After the two boats toodled around in the bay for an hour without finding anything, were recalled. The ship’s company was dismissed and we were allowed to return to normal routine. - - One exception, the senior gunnery Chief Petty Officer went and collected ALL of the semi-automatic weapon ammunition magazines and securely locked them away. So much for this adventure.

The After Effects: - Breakfast was over, sitting having our last coffee and cigarette before the PA announced, ‘Hands Fall-in.’  - - - Our ‘Buffer’ – Chief Bosun’s Mate, never appeared to be happy man most of the time, to say that he appeared before us in the mess deck, absolutely furious would understate how he looked.  - - The next face change was that of Charlies, who was in the middle of regaling his buddies on what it was like to empty a full magazine of ammo, when the Buffer said to him, - -‘YOU, come with me – now!’  Charlie crestfallen immediately followed him out. We all guessed that he was in for a hard time, - - but for what. – Next the PA sounded – 5 minutes early – ‘Hands Fall-in – Focs’l party to muster on the focs’l – Bosun’s party and the Motor Cutter crew to muster amidships – that is all.’ - - Oh, oh – something’s up.
When we arrived on the focs’l there was Charlie and the Buffer up in the eyes of the ship peering over the side. When we tried to see what they were looking at, the focs’l Petty Officer made us fall in well away from the two main players in this mystery. - - It wasn’t long before the Bridge/Buffer gave the word to engage the anchor winch and heave in approximately 20 feet of anchor cable and then secure the cable. - - The long-awaited look over the side to see what all the fuss was about. - - - - There to everyone’s surprise were the anchor buoys (2 – 45-gallon drums) about 5 feet out of the water leaking gallons of salt water through the dozens of bullet holes. We started to laugh, and we gave Charlie a BIG thumb’s up. Unfortunately, this was short lived, when the Buffer exclaimed that this was not a laughing matter. - - For the remainder of the day many of us laboured on untangling this mess and securing two new 45-gallon drums (anchor buoys) to the cable. As with most incidents of the nature, every time we told the story it got better and better – this was the shot in the arm we needed to break the boredom of the deployment. - - Charlie became our hero, as it were, over-night.

Reward and Punishment: - No deed of this magnitude could avoid the inevitable, - the punishment. Charlie was immediately appointed to the Buffers ‘Shitty little jobs crew,’ where he laboured for about a month. To start, Charlie wasn’t very happy about his appointment; however, that soon changed, whenever he passed one of his shipmates, he got a smile, a thumbs-up and/or ‘way to go Charlie.’ – In the end he became the happiest man that every worked with the Buffer’s infamous crew, you couldn’t wipe the smile of his face.
Two to three weeks after the incident we (most of the crew) held an unofficial ceremony in the after upper mess deck. Charlie was the guest of honour. - - With the help of the engineers, we presented Charlie with his own engraved ash tray, made from the base of a 4” brass shell. In addition, with the help of the cooks, he received a big decorated cake. On the cake was an outline of the ship, but instead of two – 45-gallon drums attached to the anchor cable, the cooks had created two ‘communist’ submarine likenesses. - - Charlie was definitely the ‘Cock-o-the Walk.’
Like all great events, this one slid quietly into history, only to be told (each time better than the last) again and again mostly over a beer or two.

Take care Charlie.