One of the things life has taught me over and over is that it is important not to trust brilliant minds. People I have known that had such minds (usually identified as brilliant by tests and other academic standards) often have little or no concept of “common sense”. To me “common sense’ is the grease that makes the whole world work if not smoothly at least without grinding to a halt.
The Navy was an organization that provided endless lessons regarding the lack of utility of a very bright intellect in the daily life of a common sailor. In fact, this exceptional mind could be life threatening to all near it. Such a mind belonged to a shipmate of mine nicknamed Wild Thing.
In my division everyone had a nickname. The Navy had taken most of our individuality away in boot camp and all of us were referred to by our last names. The nickname became our new symbol of uniqueness. When a new man came aboard we watched him until he named himself by something he said or did or well, we just knew when it was “right”.
Granger had scored perfect grades on all the tests given at boot camp and in all the military schools he had attended but I swear he could not get from one side of a space to the other with out being led by the hand. I don’t know if it was because he was thinking great thoughts or because there was no room in that great brain for thoughts because it was filled with information. The result what ever the cause was clear, however.
Once every ten days all of us had the night watch. You had to be awake all night and insure that the First Class PO (A bear of a man named Maytower) and the rest of us were awakened at the right time, the coffee was made and what ever else needed to be done through the night was done.
The first time Granger had the watch he played “Wild Thing” by the Trogs full blast on the division record player to wake us up. For those of you who are not familiar Wild Thing is a loud grinding rock and roll song that will go straight through an unsuspecting mind. Needless to say, PO1 Maytower, who had arms bigger than Granger’s legs, awoke in a fearful mood and shared it with Granger at the top of his lungs. Granger seemed to shrink into a puddle of mushy jello on the deck at Maytower’s feet. We were all pleased after things calmed down that Granger was still alive and we that we would not have to testify at a murder trial.
In the ten days that followed, things seemed to fall back into the routine and then it came to Granger’s time to stand night watch. Oh yes, he did the same thing again. “Wild Thing” sounded on the record player, Maytower came out of the berthing compartment like a wild boar and things got a little crazy. When I came out of the berthing compartment I saw, Granger sitting on the deck, the record broken in half (a piece on either side of him) and Maytower still purple with rage standing over him.
Apparently, it had never occurred to Granger that it might not be a good idea to use that song to wake up Maytower. I do believe that having talked with Granger afterward (once he could form words again) he did not understand he should not do that again. Luckily for him the record was gone (it probably saved his life) and all of us took turns on his watch day waking up early to remind him that no record was good for waking Maytower.
But one thing was clear after that second time - he was no longer Granger, he was now Wild Thing (Thing for short).
We all took turns keeping an eye on him but I found out that it only took one unguarded moment to make a nasty turn of events to happen. Wild Thing and I were sent to the forward magazine to carry torpedo warheads back to the shop so that the heads could be put on the torpedoes readying them for use. Each head was 100 lbs of high explosives and while they were mostly safe to handle they were to be handled with great care. This was not my favorite job and because our ship was an old one the warheads had to be carried by hand up a steep stairway and a good distance to the shop.
Each warhead had a sling that you put over your head and then you held it in front of you using your arms to protect it from any bumps. No matter how you slice it this was hard work. The “Head” was heavy and you had to be careful on top of it.
Wild Thing said, “I’ll go first.” and swung the Head over his shoulder, bent over under its weight and started for the ladder. I stood frozen. I started to call out to him to stop and do it right way. But he was at the stairs and was climbing them with the Head bouncing off first one side of the stair rails than the other. At that point I found my voice and yelled, “For God’s sake be careful! He stopped, turned at the top of the stair and as he said, “What?” he dropped the Head.
A lot of things happened at once. I watched in disbelief as the Head bounced and clanged down those stairs. There was no place to run (only into the magazine - full of more warheads). I knew I was going to be blown apart any second. Time stood still and I did not feel afraid - there was no time and no point. Then the head hit the deck and lay on its side like a dead beast.
I do not remember anything for what seemed like an eternity. Then my heart started pounding so hard I could barely stand up. Thing started down the stairs and I said in my strongest but quietest voice, “Stay there!” I was alive! But I had been told that High Explosives was funny stuff - hard to predict and when it had been dropped and did not “go off” then it was even more dangerous.
I carefully crept passed the warhead and very slowly made my way up the stairs. I told Wild Thing to go tell the Chief what happened and that I would wait here to keep anyone from going near the Head. As he left I slid down to the deck and just sat there. I could not believe I was still alive and realized how close to death I had been. Looking back now I wonder how I could sit there over that warhead counting my blessings. I have heard since that people do strange things under those circumstances.
In a few moments EOD (Explosive Ordinance Demolition) people showed up it is their job to deal with this kind of situation. I was happy to handover the situation to them and make my shaky way back to the shop.
I reported to the Chief what happened - that Wild Thing had dropped a Head down the ladder. I did not go into detail. The Chief was funny (I thought) he spoke to me in a very quiet voice and told me to go lay down. I did not feel tired but when I lay down I was out in seconds - I guess almost getting killed is tiring work.
The Head was removed and blown up (all that could be done after being dropped). In the remaining time I served in the torpedo shop I was not told to get a warhead with Wild Thing again. In fact, Wild Thing was never sent on that mission again. Common Sense won again.