Ben Oostdam story # 216


his service in the Navy:

Three guests were sharing dinner at a seaside hotel in the Caribbean: a free-lance journalist, a retired professor and an entrepreneur. The latter, Captain Anon (not his real name) graduated from the merchant marine academy in Porto Rose, Yugoslavia (now Slovenia) several decades ago. He had achieved the honor to be the youngest captain in the merchant fleet, after which he had been drafted into the Yugoslavian navy and served as radio-operator on their training vessel, the former yacht of Marshall Tito:

(please click to enlarge)

more about the yacht "GALEB"
"I met Marshall Tito twice. After he had been on board for three days, the discipline slackened a bit and the officer on duty had left the bridge to fetch something. All of a sudden the large figure of the Marshall doomed in the doorway. I saw him first and, in the absence of the officer, was to report to the Marshall. I stood up, saluted and frantically searched my mind going from the lowest Navy rank all the way up to Admiral, but could not find the correct title, so I was just about to call him just "Comrade Tito", when an Albanian saylor next to me whispered: "Marshall", and I could address and report to him."

"I was not very happy that year and caused quite a mess aboard. My division officer had it in for me. On one of the first days in port, I asked him if he would allow me to go ashore that afternoon. He told me to come back at noon, but when I did, he said he was not on duty any longer and could not allow me to go. When I protested he said that as long as he was not on duty he could not care a damn what happened to me, the crew or the ship - even when it was on fire."

"Another time this officer had strictly forbidden me to go ashore when a large car with official flag parked near the gangplank and out came the ambassador of YY. I had messed around with his daughter when he was the ambassador in Africa, and his wife was in love with me, so when they came aboard and asked for me, I was called to the stateroom. After some talk, he invited me to come ashore with them for dinner. I thanked him but I told him respectfully that I was not allowed to leave the ship. The duty officer assured me I could, but I objected that my division officer had expressly told me I was not to go ashore. The duty officer called the division officer and asked him why not, to which there was no answer, so that decision was overruled and I was allowed to go with the ambassador and his wife and daughter."

"Once when I was in the middle of a dispute with that same officer, the ship-bell rang to announce something like end of duty, or start of rest. I walked away in the middle of the sentence and he got mad and called me to come back, which I did not do. He followed me and told me that he gave me a command, when I answered that the ship's bell was the captain's command and that the captain outranked him."

"Two days before my service time was over, I got into another argument with him and this time I struck him. That was a serious mistake, and we both had to go to the Captain to see if I had to have a what do you call it, a court martial. The Captain cursed me up and dowm and who did I think I was I to think I could hit an officer and get away with it? When he asked me if I had to say anything in my defence, I quietly said :'Captain, I cannot repect this man as a person, a saylor, an officer, or a party member.' "Why not", he asked. "Because he said in public that he could not care a damn what happened to his ship or crew when he was off duty." The Captain had ordered him to jail for one day, but the officer had to take off his insignia of rank and had been taken into custody.
When Anon got out of jail and had been discharged, he walked back to the ship dressed in his merchant marine captain's uniform. On his sleeve, he had 4 stripes, the only difference with a Navy's officer stripes being that these did not go all the way around. All saylors and NCO's on the quay respectfully saluted him, thinking he was a high ranking Navy officer.
He then stood up and demonstrated how he exaggeratedly lifted his arm to salute them back so they could clearly see that they had been had. He had been admitted into the office of the ship's Captain an stood waiting in front of his desk, when that captain had asked him: "What are you standing around for, Captain, why don't you take a seat?" and had ordered two double cognacs for both of them before launching into a series of complaints about Navy rules and procedures and expressing his happiness that he, too, would shortly leave the Navy.

"More than a decade later," Captain Anon continued when he came back from absenting himself to answer his cell-phone, "I was port captain for a large oil company in the Congo. One night driving home, I heard a call on my radio like "this is the captain of the Singaporean vessel XXX calling for assistance to enter the port" I heard this message several time but knew that the harbormaster did not answer calls at night. I could hear that this captain was a Yugoslavian from his accent, so I called him and asked him to switch to another frequecy. I then told him I could get him into the port if he had an emergency, and that there was a wreck obstructing part of the channel. When he made it into port by two in the morning, he called me and invited me over, but I told him I could visit the next day. That next afternoon when I came aboard I told him that I knew he was Yugoslavian, that his name was ZZZ and that he had been a captain in the Yugoslavian Navy... when he asked me surprised how I knew, I told him that was easy: he had been in charge of 180 crew it would not be likely he remembered them all by name but all of them were certain to remember him and his name. The captain looked at me and said that he recalled the incident of hitting the officer and their talk after my dismissal. He had applied for a job as mate on a Singaporean vessel after his retirement and was now its captain."
"Can you imagine what a coincidence meeting again, and this is like you (pointing at the professor) knowing the same man, Bill Schilling, for whom I worked and who later served under me when I was in charge of the Brazil Oil port operations, or like you (pointing at the journalist) knowing the same Congressional Aid I met in the Adriatic."

The professor recalled several other examples of serendipity and coincidence they had talked or written about, but that's another story. By that time it was getting close to midnight so they said goodnight and nice talking with you and each went to his own room.

BLOfecit 20061218 - stories