O'Bryan, the Yo

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Since 09-28-02

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Every boat had one. Some good, some lousy but we had one of the all-time great ones.

Before we got O'Bryan, we had a kid who wasn't a big league player… He was the kinda guy who spends twenty minutes matching his necktie with his exposed pocket-handkerchief and his socks. You could have boiled him for three days and he wouldn't have made a good bowl of soup for a sick man.

I don't know where the skipper found him, but O'Bryan was a kind of cross between Jesse James and Sgt. Bilko. He was wired with SUBLANT and the Squadron, could get anything done and lay his hands on anything. He covered the entire crew's ass like a concrete diaper. If they came any better, they musta' been working for the CNO.

Yeomen work in the wardroom and hear everything. The officers make them swear the oath that Catholic priests, honest stockbrokers and gynecologists have to take, not to talk about stuff they see or hear in the course of their professional duties. (You ever wonder what gynecologists talk about after work over beers? "Hey, Jack… You wouldn't believe what I got a close-up look at today.")

O'Bryan never talked, but the Rats in the Alley could learn a lot by just watching him.

For instance… Once we knew the Old Man had gone up to the Squadron and knew where we were going, if O'Bryan hauled his blues home and returned with starched and pressed whites and one of those tropical shirts with parrots and gardenias all over it, we were heading South. Conversely, if the smiling sonuvabitch came back lugging his Nanook of the North, triple grizzly hide foulweather jacket, we knew it wouldn't be long until the Quartermasters would be up in Squadron OPS, pulling charts for locations in the direction of Iceland.

On some boats, they called their Yeoman the 'Yeomanette' or 'Titless Wave'… Not on Requin. Something instinctively told you that the first time some stupid sonuvabitch called O'Bryan a 'Titless Wave', the next thing the poor dumb sonuvabitch would know, he'd be thirty feet up a rhinoceros' colon, standing port and starboard watches.

O'Bryan knew all the mystic goodies, secret signs and was some kind of fraternal blood brother with Chief Webber, the Grand High Wizard of Subron Six. O'Bryan had the kind of connections that could get boats moved around in the nest and get ships' plaques made in the tender foundry.

When the Yo told you to haul a ½ case of Peter Pan up to some jaybird in the optical shop on Orion, you knew exactly where the skipper's new 7x50 binoculars came from.

Once, Stuke and I had to take a 20 lb can of coffee up to Webber. Two day's later, an asshole Third Class cook who had just been aboard three months, suddenly got orders to a school boat in New London.

At chow one night, some ships' company jaybird said,

"Jeezus, I'm beginning to believe there is a God… What a miracle to get rid of that sonuvabitch."

O'Bryan laughed, wiped his mouth with his napkin and gave us his 'Cat that had just swallowed the canary look' smile and said,

"Not exactly a divine miracle, gentlemen… I was up in the Squadron Office the other day and Webber said, "What would a sonuvabitch have to do to get a 20 lb. can of Maxwell House sea stores off you bastards?"

"Remember that can of coffee the idiot twins hauled up to the Squdron Office? Well children, there was a direct relationship between 20 lbs of coffee and a recently packed seabag."

From that point on, I knew that if I pissed off O'Bryan I would probably spend the rest of my submarine career making free assents from the escape trunk in the bottom of the sewage plant in New Deli.

O'Bryan was a master basket leave magician.

For the uninitiated, 'Basket leave' is a slight of hand operation where a bluejacket fills out the appropriate paperwork for officially authorized leave. He then goes on leave… The Yeoman leaves these signed and authorized papers, lying dormant and 'Waiting to be processed' in his 'IN' box (hence the term 'basket leave'). If the bluejacket goes on leave and returns okay, the Yeo simply rips the leave authorization papers up and the lad doesn't lose any of his leave.

If the lad goes home and gets in a wreck and winds up in his hometown hospital, the Yeo processes the papers so the fellow will be covered.

A good Yeoman could not be influenced to do this. He did it to cover lads who went home to visit a sick parent, or his kid sister getting married or to bury his dear grandmother. O'Bryan made sure that damn near all of us got paid for the max leave you could carry on the books when we mustered out.

Prior to calling a kid up for any disciplinary action, the Old Man called up the COB (Chief of the Boat) and O'Bryan asked them if there was anything he should know. O'Bryan would say,

"Sir, he's a good lad. The kid is pulling a $50.00 a payday allotment for a kid sister's nursing school tuition and he volunteers for every blood drive on the Tender."

This info could get you off with only a paint-blistering lecture.

O'Bryan's ability to influence the outcome of damn near everything was well known and respected aboard ship. We had lads that believed he could do anything. O'Bryan once won an anchor pool and the COB announced the winner over the IMC… Some cook striker stuck his head out of the galley and yelled,

"Jeezus, O'Bryan's figgered out how to jigger the damn anchor pool… That sonuvabitch can do anything."

That might be the greatest compliment the rascal ever got… And a pretty damn accurate assessment of the extent of his 'now you see it, now you don't' abilities. My personal recollections of O'Bryan include a lot of good memories. He embodied all the qualities that set submarine sailors apart from your run of the mill bluejackets.

I was aboard one evening killing time, sitting in the messdeck listening to local Norfolk Radio on the RBO and having coffee and a smoke when O'Bryan passed by, heading to the After Battery.

'Whatcha' doin' Dex?"

"Gonna hang around topside tonight… Catch a little fresh air and listen to the radio."

"You want to go home with me and have a home cooked meal?"

If there is anyone out there that was an E-3, you can remember what the words 'home cooking' meant to you. Being an E-3 was like being a destitute orphan.

O'Bryan married a lady that really knew how to cook.

Yes, I remember the Yeoman. He was a one-man band. He handled your personnel records, pay record, medical record and was a fellow who could really grease the skids for damn near anything.

After the Navy jerked my appendix, I returned to the Squadron… I reported in. Chief Webber looked at me…

"You're Armstrong aren't you?"

"Yo, Chief!"

"Yeah, O'Bryan said you'd be turning up. He said for me to send your worthless ass back to Requin… He wouldn't want to ruin his reputation by sending you to another boat."

If you had a good Yeoman, he was a great source of intelligence for gags and bigtime pranks. The Yeoman and Radio Operators knew damn near everything that went on concerning the boat. We knew who got promoted and had babies many times before the person involved did.

O'Bryan was involved in one of the most memorable gags we ever pulled off on Requin.

We had this kid report aboard. He was a great kid. He wore himself out trying to please everybody. There wasn't any lousy rotten job on the boat this kid wouldn't volunteer for… Bust his butt getting it done… And then pop up smiling asking if there was anything else that needed doing. The kid was too damn good to be real, but he was.

We were short of cooks… We usually carried three. We were down to two. The kid volunteered to become a cook striker.

The cooks took him on and in time the little redheaded freckle-faced kid got to where he could run out a damn good meal… And his built-in sunshine personality made you forgive his goof-ups on his way to lrearning the cooks' trade. He was an always smiling clean-cut American kid… The best kind of lad this nation turns out.

There was a stainless steel splash panel behind the grill. The lad tucked a picture of his hometown sweetheart, in the slot above it.

All of us entered the Navy with an 'I will love you forever, darling' hometown sweetheart… 'Forever' rarely lasted a year.

Anyway, the lad had a photo of a little blonde in a Peter-Pan blouse… One of those high school wallet size photos that came in sheets of nine in your yearbook photo package. You cut them apart and gave them to everyone in your immediate family, relatives and all your forever friends. They were the photos that turned up in the bottom of a cigar box with your first drivers license, your draft card, Lettermans' Club card and the panties your senior prom date left in the glove compartment of your dad's car. When you found the photos, a voice in your head said,

"I remember the face… And those fantastic tits… But damn if I remember her name."

So much for forever friends.

One thing was certain… I married a girl who beat 'em all by a mile. My running mate Adrian Stuke is convinced she was blind at the time.

Where in the hell was I? Oh yes… The kid had this photo of a sweet little, bright-eyed girl wedged in the slot at the top of the splash panel.

Submarine sailors will go to great lengths to be a bunch of rotten bastards. There is a term in the boats called 'red-ass', sometimes known as a case of the 'pink pooper'. It meant 'getting to' a shipmate… 'Pissing him off'… Make him lose it. Only boatsailors can appreciate how entertaining that could be. You had to guard your reactions because your shipmates would set some of the most amazing 'red-ass' traps. Once you took the bait, the word 'red-ass' would get passed through the boat and every sonuvabitch and his running mate would turn up.

Well, one night when we were sitting around listening to our toenails grow and we came up with a great plan.

We recruited O'Bryan and we found out that the kid got a lot of letters from a Cindy Lou Peterson in Hialeah, Florida… She lived at such and such a number on Doo-Dah Avenue.

We had an Engineman known as Bobby Ray Knight. Bobby Ray was one tough rascal. A Texan…the kind of a guy who would hunt grizzly bears with a claw hammer…but he had a great sense of humor. So we briefed Bobby Ray on all the details we had gotten from O'Bryan.

Then one night when the kid was working the evening meal, Bobby Ray looked in the Galley and pointed at the photo and said in loud voice,

"Is that Cindy Lou Peterson?"

And the kids face lit up…

"It sure is… You know her?"

"Does she live on Doo-Dah Avenue in Hialeah, Florida?"

"That's her!"

"Hell yes, I know her… Her and her mother used to work the Phillips 66 Truck Stop out on Route #1… They were a mother-daughter hooking team… I've had 'em both."

Before Bobby Ray had finished, the kid was halfway through that little window where they passed out the food…swinging the GDU wrench…it had to be the funniest moment in our red-ass goat roping.

After that, the kid was a solid part of ships' company. A year later, his forever love's photo was just a memory and the kid was running with a barmaid who was working out at Ocean View.

O'Bryan was a great guy. He got us paid… Was the Chairman of the Slush Fund Board. He was the guy who got you a slot at Motion Picture Operators School so you could show movies on cold winter duty nights after three years of freezing your nuts off, standing topside watch on frigid nights. I remember when he said,

"Dex, you idiot sonuvabitch, since you're too dumb… Too lazy or too ugly to make a rate, we've gotta figure how to get your butt out of the freezing weather… Three years is enough of that crap."

O'Bryan was the guy who could get the Old Man to do stuff for the animals when he was in a good mood.

"Captain…we've got some year's end money left… Man, those damn foul weather parkas we've got for the lookouts look like hell… They look like stuff you would wear to a gahdam rag pickers ball."

And on the next run, we would have brand new, no salt stains in the armpits parkas…the ones that still smelled like the inside of a Naval supply warehouse.

I'm damn proud to say that I rode with Boyce O'Bryan, even if he did tell me and Stuke to… "Shut the f_ _k up, so a working man can get some damn sleep!" damn near every night.

Yeah, I remember O'Bryan… I was his organ grinders monkey