Reveries of the Balboa Navee
by George Chevalier

As I recall: When we joined the crew of the USAT Johnson there were two shipboard pets. A surly unfriendly small brown dog and a tropical red squirrel and I shall deal with the dog first. He had the reputation of always being first off the ship to seek sexual gratification. As we slowly eased up to the pier in Corinto,Nicaragua and as the gangway was being rolled up from the dock the obnoxious little beggar spotted a female mutt on the pier below and was off in a flash. He proceeded to have his way with her in full view of half of Corinto and was cheered on by the cruder members of our crew. He then proceeded to jump ship and was never seen by us again.

The squirrel was very tame and friendly and when I was in the crows nest on watch he would scamper up the rigging and enter the nest and want to go into my coat and under my shirt for warmth. But then he discovered there was salt on my skin and he would begin to lick and several hours of this would leave me raw from those teeth they have. He had a dangerous habit of running along the deck railing and having to twist jump around the stanchions that were spaced every so many feet. Several times at Pier 7 in Balboa he miscued and went over the side and we would drop him a line and he would zip back aboard. But alas this happened one day at sea and I lost my little crows nest buddy.

A caste system existed for eating and we had a little room for seamen and I remember the shock of eating soup or stew that had vegetables and also assorted insect types floating around too numerous to get them all out. Then walking out on deck and passing the officers salon were juicy steaks were being wolfed down. We duly noted the injustice in a quiet profane way.

My two Zone buddies and I had that small below deck cabin with a single porthole which we could open at night after the light was out and we inserted a cylindrical metal air scoop which really cooled off our cabin. Going to bed one night in calm weather we were rudely awakened by about two foot of water in our cabin and a lot more pouring in every time the ship rolled to that side. In our fuddled minds we thought we were on our way to the bottom and finally were able to get the scoop out and the port closed. It was a miserable disaster and we worked for some time bailing the place out.

Our toilet down there was over the engine room and we found you had to wear your shoes if you got up to go to the bathroom in the night. The deck was so hot it burned the bottoms of your feet. That heat also radiated up the bowl and the seat would leave you with a red horseshoe print on your buns. For a bowel movement the price was high.

In the crows nest we had a master telephone that I could select and ring up any of the many deck stations. Gazing aft from there one day I recognized the gun crew sailor on lookout at the stern and watched him duck under the barrel of our stern gun and then spotted a wisp of smoke for he was having a smoke which was a no no. This kid was not too bright and the devil made me do it. I picked up that phone and called his station and pretending to be his gunnery officer I chewed him out in salty fashion. He later asked some of his people how come their officer was only catching him and we never told him.

During the war taxis that operated in Panama and the Zone were regulated in pricing by the number of zones they took you through. From Kelly's Ritz on Central Ave. to Pier 7 was three zones at 25c each and fare would be 75c but the cabbies would try to double the fare on you after midnight. They would tell you at the start it would be $1.50 and we learned to just agree and climb in. When they got down on Roosevelt Ave. they would stop always away from the pier entrance with it's soldier sentry to insure you would not call the guard to contest the fare. So we would get out of the cab toss him the correct fare of 75c and run for the gate. I am not a fast runner but did manage to pull it off with help a couple of times from the sentry who charged to my aid. However a fleet footed cabby did manage once to kick my butt while we were on the dead run.

The Galapagos were an interesting place that summer of 1943 for us kids from the Zone. We could go ashore and use all the Army facilities and the movies were a shocker. The troops then had to carry their helmets, gas masks and rifles with them at all times and in the rough hewn movie house those rifles would go off. Sometimes by accident when they were dropped in the dark and other times when the bad guy got shot on the screen. Beer and ice-cream were rationed in that you could only buy one at a time and there were two long lines. We got a beer in one then drank it while we waited in the ice-cream line. Then ate the ice-cream while we waited back in the beer line. Not everyone is able to carry this drill off without a problem developing .

George C.