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Excerpts from "Woody, Cisco and Me:
Seamen Three in the Merchant Marine"

Jim Longhi

From Page 182

Cisco, Woody and Jim are looking for a room to bunk, but before they even get started, Woody, with long hair, dirty clothes, and no shoes, has a discussion with the captain. They arrange a "meeting" later in the afternoon.

Cisco and I scouted the big ship for good quarters. If we were lucky, we might get a big cabin just for the three of us. The best bet was the Glory Hole. It was a spacious cabin with two portholes about 6 feet above the waterline and four sets of double bunks. Four crew men were already in possession of the best bunks and putting sheets on them.

"Hi guys. Is there room in here?" I asked.

"Sure." One of them pointed to the empty bunks.

Cisco lay down on one of the lower bunks, gave me a surreptitious wink, and began to moan.

"What's the matter with him?" another seaman asked.

"Nothing." I looked at Cisco pityingly.

"Whattaya mean, nuthin'? Is he sick or somethin'?"

"No," I whispered, my back to Cisco, "just seasick." I mimicked a man vomiting violently.

Cisco jumped out of the bunk and lurched toward the sink. I blocked his way.

"Quick, where's the head?" I asked the man.

"Two doors aft on the right!"

Cisco turned and dashed out.

"He's not so bad in the daytime. You see he didn't do it in the sink."

"The goddamn ship ain't even movin'." One of the men slammed the door in anger.

"Yeah, I know."

"What the hell is he doing in the Merchant Marine?" the second man growled.

"He's scared shitless of the army."

"Boy, it must be some fun bunkin' with him." The third man shook his head.

"Whatta you gonna do? The guy's my buddy." I shrugged sadly.

"Well, I'm sorry for him, but we don't have to put up with it. There's plenty of room on the ship. I'm leaving."

Two of the others left with him.

The fourth man, older than the other three, kept right on making his bed until Cisco returned.

"Oh, boy," Cisco moaned.

The man looked at Cisco and said, "Okay, you can stop acting now. Courtroom Kelly pulled that one on me a long time ago." He stuck out his hand. "My name's George."

"Hi, George." Cisco shook with him. "This is Jim."

"Sorry about the act." I shook George's hand.

"Don't be sorry," said George. "We got the whole Glory Hole for the three of us."

"Four of us," I said.

"Four? Who's the other guy?"

"He's in the mess room, watching our guitars," said Cisco.

"You mean the little guy with all them instruments?"


"Hell, I like music, but I gotta have my peace and quiet. I sleep in the afternoon."

"No hard feelings," said Cisco, "but we practice a lot."

"That's okay," said George. "Music on a ship is good. I'll find another bunk."

"George," I said, "we weren't being bastards when we put this act on. It would be worse if you guys get stuck in here with all the noise we make and then found out you couldn't move to another bunk."

"I said it's all right -- but you guys better play good." He closed the door behind him.

"We better level with the other three guys before we vote for ship's chairman," I said as I tested one of the bunks. "We can't afford to lose three votes."

"We'll do it later. Right now, keep an eye on this cabin -- I'll go get Woody."

"You'd better. It's almost 4 o'clock, and if he keeps that captain waiting one second, we're all dead."

Before Cisco reached the door, the sound of hundreds of men singing at top voice came to us through the portal. "And when the Yanks -- go marching in -- when the Yanks go marching in -- Boys I want to be in that number -- when the Yanks march through Berlin!"

Cisco and I rushed up to the mess room. Woody was gone. We went out on deck. The singing was louder now. Several seamen were at the rail, looking down at the dock.

"Roberto!" I called. "Did you see Woody?"

"Cugat? He's dere on the dock!"

I looked over the rail. Several hundred soldiers massed alongside our ship singing Woody's song, while more hundreds poured through the dock gate. Woody, perched on a ten-foot-high crate, was wanging away at his guitar and shouting, "When our tanks roll through Berlin..." The soldiers entering the dock picked up his words, "When our tanks roll through Berlin...," and soon a couple of thousand voices were singing, "Boys I want to be in that number, when the Yanks go marching in!"

"What the hell is going on?" Cisco shouted above the noise.

"We taking on three thousan' soldiers," Roberto shouted, "and Cugat is piping them on board!"

"He's got no pass to be on that dock!" Cisco turned to me. "The sonofabitch is AWOL, and the trip hasn't even started!"

"And he's late for the captain!"

"Woody! Woody!" We tried to yell above the singing but it was no use; three thousand soldiers were now singing, and the boarding had started. As each man passed the crate, he looked up at Woody and saluted him sharply. When the last soldier climbed the gangway ladder, Woody followed him.

"Which way to the captain's office?" He asked Cisco and me.

The three thousand tough-looking, hard-trained southern GIs hit the Sea Pussy like a tidal wave. They were supposed to stay confined to their quarters in the ship's five holds, six hundred men to a hold in bunks stacked five high and only twenty-four inches apart. But the GIs struggle to escape topside started almost immediately. By bribing, cajoling, and threatening the MPs, a couple of hundred soldiers gained their way to the main deck -- their objective, the messrooms.

Three soldiers tried to talk Cisco into giving them a loaf of bread.

"I can't. There wouldn't be enough for the crew."

"We'll give you a dollar for that loaf of bread."

"Come on, your chow can't be that bad," I added.

"Well, let's put it this way: we'll give you two dollars for that loaf of bread."

"We don't sell food, brother." Cisco cut off half the loaf. "Here, split this between you, and leave us alone now. We've got work to do and we're late."

We were late because we had been searching for Woody. We hadn't seen him since he went to report to the captain. We had searched the ship from top to bottom, but there was no sign of him.

"You start setting up the here," Cisco said. "I'll go set up for Woody."

A few seconds later Cisco was back. "They've got a new messman in place of Woody."

"That fucking captain." I stormed into the gunners' messroom. There was a clean-cut young man writing on the blackboard. Soldiers and gun-crew kids were quietly watching him. "Excuse me, mate." I tapped him on the shoulder. "Do you know what happened to --"

The young man turned to me. "Can't you see I'm busy?" It was Woody, decorating the menu. Cisco, with his bad eyesight, hadn't recognized him, and no wonder. Woody was clean-shaven; his hair was cut short; he was freshly showered; and he wore a new ship's stores shirt, new trousers, new shoes, and socks.

"What happened?" I said when I recovered from my shock.

"What happened what?"

"What happened to your beard, your hair, your shirt, your bare feet?"

"Oh, the captain and I exchanged a few ideas." Woody turned to the blackboard and continued with his decoration.

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