There was never any dispute about the infestation of rats aboard the Hamilton County. My primary concern was that the critters leave their droppings away from the fresh fruit and vegetables, and far removed from the food storage areas. Garbage was a serious problem, as a little bit can attract rats for miles around. The cooks never acknowledged any problems. As nocturnal animals, most of the sightings were at night, when they were hungry, thirsty, or looking for a willing female. Like all good sailors, they did their best work after dark.
As becomes the custom aboard ship, when you can’t sleep or otherwise have nothing to do, what you do is drink coffee until something happens. Particularly at 0300 in the morning, when you are awake and underway at sea, there is absolutely nothing worthwhile to do. The coffee mess is never far away. Such was the case on the Hamilton County. Even bad coffee can become a serious habit, when steaming in a straight line for several days in a row. “Turn to: Continue ship’s work” is the traditional announcement piped over the ship’s public address system right after lunch. It breaks the monotony, and awakens the sailors from short luncheon naps. After working hours, the monotony is rarely broken.
Aboard ship there are noises everywhere. The bow-wake is the most pleasant, if it can be heard over the muffled engine noise from the ship’s stack. In a reasonable sea, a metal ship twists and turns, creaks and cracks, and scrapes and pounds. On rare occasions the sea is so calm a seasoned sailor is unable to sleep at all. There are few noises to lull him to sleep. This was one of those occasions. The Pacific was so calm as we steamed toward the Orient, that there was not a single ripple on the surface of the ocean, a sea of glass. It was this way for several days. A wave here or there helps break the monotony.
Given this void of stimuli, I found myself drinking coffee in the wardroom early in the morning. Reading a magazine required turning a page every now and then. That was the only sound that broke the silence of the wardroom. Then it seemed like I was no longer alone. I thought I heard a faint rustle from the food preparation area in the next compartment. I looked toward the opening in the bulkhead through which food was delivered to the wardroom. I saw nothing. I scanned the buffet used for storing silver and serving utensils just this side of the opening. I saw nothing. The rustling continued on and off. I would hear the rustling, but when I looked I saw nothing. This went on for several minutes. Then finally I saw a small gray-brown head with two little ears sticking up over the back of the buffet.
“Avast, ye landlubber” I hollered, and the furry varmint ducked back behind the buffet. At about that moment, Ensign John Pursley, from the great state of Indiana arrived. Clearly I needed reinforcements to rid the wardroom of this scavenger. There was only one exit from the wardroom, so I asked John to block the door, and we would get some weapons of mass destruction for the job. The only weapons available were a broom and a mop handle hanging on the bulkhead down the passageway. We got both, mindful to keep the intruder trapped in the wardroom.
Then through deft and cunning, we coaxed the intruder from behind the buffet and into the open. Initially we only grazed him with glancing blows, scaring the by-golly out of him. Then we adjusted our sights and managed a few direct hits. Fortunately we were reinforced once again by the chief master at arms, who arrived with a fire axe. Among the three of us, we were able to administer repeated blows until the rat staggered and fell without ever leaving the wardroom. The next morning there appeared on the wardroom bulletin board a proclamation in the Navy’s finest official jargon. It was unsigned, because the SPCA can appear at any moment, even in the Navy. It read as follows:
U.S.S. Hamilton County (LST-802)
c/0 Fleet Post Office
San Francisco, California
BE IT PROMULGATED THAT ON THE EVENING OF 16 OCTOBER 1956 WHILE SHOOTING CRAPS IN THE WARDROOM, THE ACE RAT SPOTTER FROM COMRATPAC, TAD ABOARD THE HAMILTON COUNTY, DID SPOT AND UPON CONFERRING WITH THE CRACK RAT KILLER FROM THE HOOSIER STATE (ALSO TAD FROM COMRATPAC) DID CONSPIRE AGAINST SAID SPOTTED RAT.
ARMED WITH THE LATEST COMRATPAC ANTI-RAT EXTERMINATORS (I.E. ONE BROOM AND ONE MOP HANDLE) THE COURAGEOUS TEAM DID CAPTURE SAID SPOTTED RAT (NOW THE CAPTURED RAT) AND MAINTAINED SAID RAT THUS UNTIL THE ARRIVAL OF THE CHIEF MASTER AT ARMS WHO, WITH A FIRE AX, DID CONFER BLOWS TO SAID CAPTURED RATS HEAD AND EARS CAUSING DEATH.
THE HAMILTON COUNTY EXTENDS ITS APPRECIATION TO THE COURAGEOUS TEAM FROM COMRATPAC FOR EXTERMINATING THE WARDROOM RAT AND DISCOURAGING FURTHER ENTRANCE OF OTHER UNAUTHORIZED RATS INTO THE WARDROOM.
BE IT SO PROMULGATED!