Liberty Launches We All Knew by Bob 'Dex'
Remember anchoring out? 'Swinging the
hook'? I have no idea how they decided
who laid alongside the pier and who anchored
out. I know that when ships
came into port, the order of entering had
something to do with your
skipper's rank, date of promotion or shoe
size. Something like that. Hell,
the old man never explained it to the After
Well, however it was determined, we ended
up dropping our hook off our
liberty ports a lot. Personally, I preferred
it. When you nested alongside
the pier you had pier responsibilities.
Passing drunks. Curious visiting
surface craft and shore duty clowns.
Swinging the hook gave you a unique
location all your own. You got visited by
bumboats. Girls. Skimpy-clad girls
and regular visits by touring liberty
There were two ways you could get to and
from the beach... Water taxi and
liberty launch. Water taxi transport was
damned expensive... I only rode
them twice. Both times, the only choices I
had was one helluva swim, missing
movement or forking over an obscene amount
of wampum to the Jesse James
Raghead-hauling Water Taxi. Crooks.
Missing movement in the old days was a
damn serious thing. When you finally
caught up with your boat, I think they just
soaked you with gasoline and lit
you off. I don't know because we always made
it back to turn up for the
morning quarters drunk parade.
If you don't remember good times in
liberty launches you're brain dead. The
rides in motor launches with great shipmates
were some of the most wonderful
times in my life. Jumping into a motor
launch heading into an exotic port
was catnip to a red-blooded American 19-year
old lad. At 19, any place
beyond 25 miles of your hometown is foreign
Returning in a load of happy, rollicking
'three sheets to the wind'
bluejackets. Singing songs your mother would
have slapped you for singing,
telling about female companionship you
rustled up. And laughing like
deranged lunatics. Damn, it was fun.
For anyone reading this who may have no idea
what in the hell a 'Liberty
Launch' was or still is. I will attempt to
describe it as we knew it. You
must remember that today's Navy has, for
reasons known only to itself, taken
a helluva lot that meant a great deal to her
sailors and done away with it
in the interest of proper decorum. I have
difficulty understanding what
laughing, singing and acting like a fool
while plowing saltwater back and
forth between ships and the shore has to do
with anything but forming men
into crews. Teams of hardworking, fun-loving
Liberty launches were large motor driven
launches (boats) that were carried
on the upper 'boat deck' of large surface
ships or utilized by Naval shore
installations to haul supplies and
personnel. They came with a crew of two.
A coxswain (pronounced 'cox'un') and a clown
called a 'boathook'. When the
Navy found that an idiot with the brain of
Dorothy's scarecrow had made it
through Great Lakes, they made the bastard a
The cox'un operated the boat, while the
'boathook' acted like a safety
patrol on a rowdy school bus. The Navy
provided the knuckleheads with an
eight foot pole with a brass skull buster on
one end. One tap with that
little fairy wand and it was lights our for
the rest of the ride. I never
saw that happen, but there were many nights
I deserved it. Giving the
boathook a hard time about the professional
knowledge required by his naval
career choice was great late night
Officers had their own peanut gallery aft in
what was known as the 'stern
sheets'. It kept them separated from the
livestock load of unruly blue
jackets in the midships well. It was like
having a fifty-yard line seat at
the world lunatic championships.
Saw some great shows in liberty launches.
One night the boathook yelled at some
jaybird, "Hey kid. Yeah, YOU with the
inside-out raghat. Deep-six the bottle.
Don't give me any crap. Just toss it
over the side." The kid stood up. Took off
his neckerchief and did a neat
magic trick where he made the jug disappear.
Everyone aft of the kid saw him
shove it up the back of the jumper of some
lad sitting next to him. I was
When we dropped the kid off at his boat, we
saw him pass it to a couple of
guys topside who drained the remaining
contents and spiral-passed it into
Saw a kid stand up and say, "I forgot to buy
something for my mother!"
And promptly hop over the side. And then he
started dog paddling in the
direction of the lights of Hamilton Bermuda.
It took thirty minutes to fish
Catfish Man out of the bay and haul his
dripping, sopping wet ass back
The Navy in its infinite wisdom, created a
little blue crescent-shaped patch
with your ship's name embroidered on it. It
served as the zip code for inert
drunks. The shore patrol would haul the
terminal revelers down to the fleet
landing and sort them by ship and stack them
for the last 'boat round'. No
officers ever took the last launch. The 'zoo
barge'. Boy, was that one
Somewhere in the vicinity of midnight, the
sober guys loaded the 'stove wood
drunks' and the officer at the landing
yelled, "Cox'un, shove off and make
your rounds." .And the cox'un yelled, "Aye
sir!" Fired up his engine and
headed out to the boats.
And we sang. The Navy sang long ago. We sang
old bluejacket songs into the
darkness of empty night watching a
phosphorescent wake trail off into vacant
blackness. In the glow of a stern light.
"In Guantanamo Bay, Call her Gitmo for short
Not much of a base, Much less
of a port One look at this hole And you know
that you're seein' The
gahdamdest place In the whole Carribean."
"So hoorah for old Gitmo On Cuba's fair
shore The land of the cockroach, The
flea and the whore We'll sing of her praises
And pray for the day We get the
hell out of Guantanamo Bay."
It went on and on. Some of you will remember
it. We called it, The Gitmo
And there was:
"Charlotte the Harlot, The girl I adore The
pride of the prairie, The
"I can help you pretty wavey If you'd like
to leave the Navy, Have a baby on
"My first trip up the Chippewa River My
first trip to Canadian shore There I
met a Mrs. O'Flannagan Commonly known as the
And there were many others; 'She wore red
feathers and a hooley-hooley
skirt' was a Brit favorite.
There must be millions of the damn things.
Liberty launches were where we came
together. Tossed alcohol-saturated,
regurgitated foreign food cookies over
gunnels... Hooted. Hollered, pounded
each other on the back. Sang stupid songs.
Yelled, "Sit down, you dumb
..And formed the lifetime bonds that
connect old smokeboat crews.
It all started in those small boats.