by Willie Lagarde
During my time aboard Yorktown I was somehow spared duty on the mess deck, in the galley or in the scullery.
I never dreaded the prospect however, because having done a stint of messcooking in boot camp I learned any duty in the Navy was more or less what you made it. There were always advantages if you looked for them and attitude could make or break the experience. If you went in looking for and expecting shit that’s usually what you would find.
I was assigned to the breakout gang for a three month stretch which would satisfy the messcooking obligation most all unrated men faced during their time aboard ship.
This was the group that broke out all of the food for the next day and brought it to the galley and the bake shop.
My two main objections (not that objections made any difference whatsoever) were I would have to temporarily move out of my sleeping compartment and because of this change, re-assigned to a new battle station in a damage control party below decks. The reasoning being I would be one deck lower and further away from the guns.
The first didn’t matter very much because we hardly ever slept in our bunks. The second was resolved early on when one of the 40MM gun captains said he needed my experience on his gun mount. I had served with him on mt. 5 before he was promoted. The gun was on the port side gallery deck level and the only drawback was having the four 5" guns of mts 5 and 7 firing over us when they had to fire to port. It didn’t happen too often during my stay there but when it did it was brutal.
I guess you could say I wound up with what I considered the best of possibilities, a straight day job and a battle station on the guns.
We usually finished our day’s work before noon and nobody messed with us when we were through. We had no cleaning chores and in the absence of GQ (general quarters .ie battle stations), spent leisurely afternoons and evenings almost like passengers.
The work wasn’t easy, like carrying 100 lb boxes of potatoes and 50 lb sacks of flour up three or four decks to the galley and bake shop, but then again, work for deck division sailors was seldom easy.
We had a lot of time to plan our little schemes to pilfer whatever goodies were available and to gather the makings of raisin jack. We occasionally had a batch or two working in one of the dry store rooms in one gallon mustard or mayonnaise jars. All that was necessary was some raisins, sugar and sometimes cornmeal, a safe place for fermentation and a storekeeper with a taste for wine. It took ten days from mixing the ingredients to filtering and drinking
The result tasted like a sauterne wine and good enough that I have made some since leaving the Navy.
Our most memorable caper was stealing beer out of the chill box. This was where fresh fruit and vegetables were stored if and when we had them. It was a huge refrigerated compartment down at the lowest level in the after part of the ship and kept at about 38 degrees. In the center of the compartment were several hundred cases of beer neatly stacked in such a way they could be counted by eyeballing.
By switching padlocks on the door we were able to sneak in one night and removed two cases from the middle of the stack. The hardest part was moving the cases around in such a way as to cover up the empty space.
As expected, we were spotted as we made our way to the fantail and were joined by several others looking for a beer.Nobody ever said anything and to the best of my memory the missing beer was never discovered. Not like another beer stealing episode that was discovered but the culprits were never identified.
Did we have a craving for the taste of wine or beer? No, we could have easily done without it but we knew the officers up in officers country had access to booze so why not us. The real boozers aboard ship in those days were drinking stuff like aftershave lotion and vanilla extract. In fact, one concoction they made with Aqua Velva and orange juice wasn’t too bad except it had a soapy aftertaste. I only tasted a sip but some of the old timers drank it. Aqua Velva was a hot item back in those days
In spite of all the warnings, a few men on other ships and stations still drank torpedo alcohol with some suffering terrible consequences including death.
After three months I went back on the 5" guns where I remained until the end of the war. The other men I served with in the breakout gang have remained among my best friends to this day.