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The Odious Ensign

03/19/2013 12:00PM

By: Commander Ed Bookhardt, USN Retired

During the Cold War stalemate of the latter fifties, the Armed Services struggled with continuing congressional under-funding and personnel shortfalls. The shortages however, did not alter the Navy’s strategic two-ocean commitment. Assigned missions and operations increased. As a result military units faced major manning and equipment shortages…the solution: “make-do.”

The Naval Construction Forces battalions, to which I was assigned at the time, regularly deployed at sixty-percent enlisted strength. Officer staffing was somewhere around fifty-percent with some Ensigns and “jgs” filling Lieutenant billets. Six-month deployments became ten and eleven month tours.

With the shortage of junior officers, the Officer of the Day [OOD] watch of my battalion was augmented with three Chief Petty Officers. Though fairly junior in the Chief’s pecking order, I was one of the three appointed by the Captain to the officer’s watch bill. Of course, I had to endure the usual ribbing; accusations of brown-nosing, of being the Skipper’s fair-haired boy, plus the animosity and open malice of several cantankerous seniors who had gone inert with the passage of time resting solely on their laurels of seniority. Hell, I was the one that was hosed! “Chief of the Watch” was far better duty than that of OOD, with fewer watches and less responsibilities. The jealousy soon subsided…

One Sunday in mid-deployment, I had just left the OOD shack to sample the noon meal in the general mess. The Duty Chief, Frank Randall called out from the doorway, “Ed, hold up a moment! The airfield just phoned. An officer with orders to us came in on the MATS flight…he needs transportation.” Frank shading his eyes from the tropical sun, waited until I was in reach, and then threw the jeep keys I had left on the desk. He looked about admiring the warm balmy day, then scratching his belly with his finger tips, mumbled more to himself than to me, “Its probably another one of those pimply faced jerk-offs coming in from OCS…I get so friggin’ weary of babysitting those privileged rah-rah-rah, zip-boom-bah assholes!”

With a chuckle, I replied, “Damn Frank, you got the rag on today? Or is this your usual warm congenial personality shining through? Don’t say anything; I already know the answer. I’m sure you’re right…it’ll be another “butter-bar,” as none of the O-3 and above are due for rotation. Now, please try to get a happy face on before I get back. We want to give our new arrival a warm homey welcome. He can write his mama of what a nice fatherly Chief-iee you are; everyone knows you’re just a big cuddly pussycat!”

I jumped in the jeep threw it in gear and then laughingly spun a cloud of dust up in Frank’s direction…he cussed and shook his fist as I sped off for the airfield.

Sitting on a new footlocker and leaning back against a couple of pieces of expensive matched leather luggage was a strikingly handsome young man. When he saw the jeep, he got to his feet and squared his uniform. As I pulled up beside him he saluted. I returned his salute. Then as the road dust settled, he saw I was a Chief Petty Officer. Somewhat flustered, he quickly recovered his composure, exuding certain “blueblood” aloofness. In fact had it been raining he would have probably drowned, his nose was at that angle. Ah, good breeding, it’s such an essential part of the officer corps…

Looking at my OOD armband he paused and then in a New England accent with nasally British overtones commented, “I did not know that Chief Petty Officers were qualified for Officer of the Day…I was expecting a real officer to pick me up.” I took a deep breath, let the remark slide and introduced myself thinking…the ink in this bottom-feeder’s service record isn’t dry yet and already he’s a Navy Regs expert. Shit, I could have sent the duty driver to pick his ass up, that would have really frosted his nuts.

Through pursed lips he responded, “I am Ensign Carlyle Aston Dunsbury of the Boston Dunsburys” He did not extend his hand in greeting. Again, under my breath, “How in holy hell, did this piss-ant make it through OCS without becoming a fatality? Old Frank is really gonna go ape-shit when he meets this dude!”

Gritting my teeth, I briefly explained due to shortage, why I was OOD and that we had a three-mile ride to camp. If we hurried he could join me for the noon meal in the general mess. He snapped back; “I would not care to dine among the enlisted men. Perhaps the wardroom will accommodate me with a bite.”  He started to get in the jeep, hesitated, then looked at me, looked down at his luggage, then back at me…

Now, hear this! Chiefs do damn near everything but one thing they do not do, is carry Ensigns’ luggage! It is the most honored of maritime laws enacted by King Neptune himself! Violating this sacred tradition and it would be the royal triton up your chocolate speedway!  Ignoring the Ensign’s gesture, I climbed into the jeep and started the engine. Enlisted personnel are not subservient valets however; I had full intentions of assisting had he not been so damn repugnant. He quickly loaded his gear and slid in beside me.


Driving back to camp, my passenger taking in the new surroundings remained silent. As I maneuvered the familiar dirt roads I theorized…now here is a spoiled, silver-spooned young Ivy Leaguer whose wealthy father took a moment away from the family dynasty to take a hard realistic look at his son. To his horror he found a snobbish frivolous piece of crap. In other words, a rotten overbearing pain-in-the-ass! The father panics…what to do?

He turns as many do, to the military to hopefully undo what his pampering lifestyle of the privileged had achieved. With the thought of disinheritance, young Dunsbury was probably on a journey not of his choosing. Hey, this is just a passing layman’s observation, what the hell do I know about psychology?

Pulling up in front of the duty office, I got out opened the screen-door and asked the new officer inside. “Ensign Dunsbury, this is Chief Frank James Randall of the Chattanooga Randalls’ [had to throw that zinger in]…he is Chief of the Watch and will take your orders and log you in. Chief Randall, Ensign Dunsbury is reporting to this command for duty from the prestigious Naval Officers’ Candidate School in Newport.” Frank taken back by my strange formal mannerisms curiously eyeballed the Ensign and then eyeballed me with a “What’s this Randalls’ of Chattanooga stuff?” I winked and gave him a big toothy smile…

Following check in I queried, “Mister Dunsbury if you are ready I will escort you to quarters and you can pay your respects to the Executive Officer.” He turned to me with that obnoxious accent, “Chief since this is my formal introduction, I would be more comfortable and find it more appropriate if an officer escorted me to quarters.” Frank dropped his coffee cup! I turned, grabbed the phone and briefed the XO in straight unabridged language. The XO uttered a few nautical expletives and asked me to put the Ensign on the phone! Dunsbury turned ashen and after returning the phone to the cradle, meekly followed me to the “Q” without uttering a word.

Being hard pressed for officers, Dunsbury would normally have been assigned as an Assistant, and then Company Commander after making Junior-grade. However, following his meeting with the Skipper and XO they saw him as I did…an alienator and potential liability. It was decided to isolate him from any direct contact with or supervision of the troops by creating a new billet just for him.

Monday morning I was relieved by the oncoming OOD. Except for the Dunsbury affair it had been a quiet routine watch. In good spirits I walked across to the Operations hut, poured a mug of coffee and sat down in the drafting-engineering spaces with the Draftsmen and Surveyors to lay out their assignments before tackling the weekly construction reports with the Ops Officer.

Footsteps behind me bring the men to attention…it’s the Operations Officer, Lieutenant Commander Colton. Before I can get to my feet… “Morning men…Chief, I would like you to meet a new arrival he’s going to be our Planning Officer. This is Ensign Dunsbury; he will be working closely with you during the remainder of the deployment. I am sure you will show him the ropes and bring him up to speed…”

With a smug aloofness, Ensign Dunsbury gives me a nauseous ball-busting grin! I suddenly grew ill…tipping over my chair; the last swig of mud went down the wrong way and spewed across the blueprint table! Gagging, I ran for the back door! “Dear God in Heaven, what sins did I commit for you to hate me so?”

ODIOUS:  [o-di-ous] adj. repugnant, offensive, disgusting, detestable, despicable, nauseous, abhorrent, bottom-feeder. Humm, sound familiar…  


Commander Ed Bookhardt, USN Retired