Rear Admiral A T Mahan

Charlie and The Influence of Sea Power upon History

by Joe

graflz825@gmail.com

Ah!  Bella Napoli!  My very first liberty in a foreign country.  Of course, Italy isn’t really a foreign country: spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, tiramisu, spumoni, Sal Mineo and all manner of other good things mean that Italy is almost home.  I’d had several honorary Nonnas growing up.  I knew what homemade ravioli was all about. 

But well, there were some odd things going on.  I was distressed to see an old man step up to a stone wall and casually take a leak in plain view of the very considerable pedestrian traffic all around.  Then too, there was a horde of kids clamoring to sell me all manner of things, except for those who wanted me to give them money or cigarettes.  The actual streets were crazy, all the people on bicycles and scooters were careering wildly about only barely avoiding wholesale carnage.  Miraculous, yet somehow just very Italian.

I took shelter from the children in the lee of two Carabinieri.  I didn’t know what they were doing, but they were in their handsome full-dress uniforms with long swords in gleaming scabbards.  They stood there, elegant officialdom if ever there was such a thing.  The kids didn’t like this situation and they went off in search of other sailors.  There were plenty of other sailors out and about and most of them weren’t hiding behind the Carabinieri.

I started walking uptown, away from the waterfront as soon as it was clear.  I don’t like waterfronts much.  They always make me think of those old Tenderloin stories: shanghaied sailors, opium dens, whorehouses and all manner of depravity.  All the things that civilized, clean living, gay American youth like me, are well advised to avoid.  They are too vulgar.  Make no mistake, every seaport has one.  On a waterfront, you have to look closely to even know what seaport you’re actually in.  Even Charleston, South Carolina, where we’re told the Ashley and Cooper rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean has one.  It’s also just as noxious as any of them - forming the Atlantic Ocean notwithstanding.

I really felt quite at home in Naples once I was clear of the waterfront.  Frequently, sailors on liberty tend to run in packs, sometimes pairs; I sometimes did too, but here, I felt quite at home all by myself.  I had to train myself to stop gawking at the store windows, but it’s hard not to stare when you see a pair of shoes with a price tag of 31000.  Then you remember where you are and recall that the price tag is in lira.  There were 600 and some lira to the dollar then.  Still, for all of that, I felt right at home.

At the next corner, I turned left as there were several sidewalk cafes or, as I reminded myself, caffès con dehors.  I’m fluent in Italian at the kindergarten level.  I found a nice table in the shade, with an excellent view of the sidewalk, ordered an ice, took off my hat and settled back to watch the boys.

It was splendid viewing and not just the boys.  I saw an older Neapolitan Boulevardier in all his glory: black Homburg at a rakish angle, light gray suit with boutonnière, a tranquil and understated vest, not wearing gloves but carrying them, and flourishing a walking stick with restrained élan – you knew it wasn’t a cane.

Next, I ordered an espresso and a mineral water back.  I couldn’t have told you what street I was on; but it was a serious street with young professionals bustling, strolling, and just generally looking pretty cool.  Nicely dressed, with a distinct Neapolitan flair.  I knew I was not at home, but I could have been; I was in a lovely spot.  I sipped my water as I had made short work of my espresso.  It was a glorious, balmy afternoon.  Time for a gelato.

“Hello.  You are American, I think,” a smoothly elegant voice with a gentle Italian lilt commented.  I looked up to see a handsome young man, about my age, casually but nicely dressed.

“Um…Er…yeah, yes,” I replied smoothly, “Guilty.  Yes.  I am.”

He smiled beautifully.  Brown eyes sparkled.  Dark brown hair with some sun streaking was casually parted in the middle, so it fell over the top of his ears and was just brushing his eyebrows.  He was lovely, not Hollywood handsome, just plain old All-American gorgeous.  All-Italian gorgeous I should say.

“My English.  I wonder on you may I to practice it?”

“Sure.  Yes.  I mean certainly.”  I would have said yes to just about anything he might have asked of me.  “Here, please sit.”

He did.  Our waiter appeared almost instantly and there was a brisk interchange in Italian.  Someday I wanted to learn Italian.  When I was in high school you could do Spanish or French.  Latin had been available, but the Latin teacher retired just before my freshman year and wasn’t replaced.  Not that Latin would have been any help in my current situation.

“I order the Sanbitter aperitif.  Will you have the time to talk?”

“Sure.  I don’t hafta be back to the ship ‘til midnight.”

“Splendido,” he enthused, “can we have dinner while we talk?”

“Yes.  Great.  My name’s Charlie, what’s yours?”  I extended my hand to shake.

We shook hands for a rather long time.

“Mario is my name.  May I call you Carlo?”

“Sure.”  I felt perfectly comfortable with Mario.

Mario had a beautiful butt.  I couldn’t help but notice as we left our café.  He filled the seat of his trousers nicely.  I tried not to stare, but my eyes kept being drawn back to his butt as we made our way through the chairs, tables, and umbrellas of our café.

I didn’t put my hat back on.  We were not in an area where I was likely to encounter the Shore Patrol.  The waterfront would assuredly keep them busy enough.  About the only good thing you can say for that ridiculous dixie cup of a hat the U S Navy wears is that you can easily fold it into a very small package.  My hair was way shorter than Mario’s, but it’s not in a crew cut and I’d look a little less military without the hat.  I was wearing the tropical white shirt, not the jumper and neckerchief, so you’d have to look twice to see I was in uniform.

“We will walk to the palazzo.  It is no so far.  Do you know we had the palace - it is palace, I think, - in Napoli?”

I grinned.  “Si signore, I did.  Admiral Nelson visited Naples and there was a king here then, I don’t remember the king’s name.  This is a great city.”

“Yes.  Also very old city.”

We smiled at each other with great enjoyment.

“Come,” Mario looked excited.  “Can you come home with me?  We will practice English and I will make you dinner.”

“Bella,” I nodded happily.

Mario turned us around and we waited at a tram stop until the correct one came by.  There were quite a few people on our tram.  While it wasn’t standing room only, we did end up facing each other across the center aisle.

Mario was wearing a lovely smile and he had spread his legs a little further apart than might be strictly necessary.  This displayed a lovely package.  I attempted to do the same, but I don’t think that the white cotton trousers of the navy uniform displayed me quite as well.  I was enjoying this very much but I’ve no idea what my smile might have looked like.

The tram ride was only ten blocks or so.  It was only a short two block walk to Mario’s building then, up two flights of stairs and there we were.  I would have called Mario’s place a studio if I’d been asked.  I wasn’t asked.  Mario grabbed my hand as we entered, kissed me on the cheek, and whispered.  “You are very welcome here, Carlo.”

We had been very coy up to this.  So far, we had exchanged glances, smiles, occasional touches, blushes and longer looks.  Had we been wrong about each other we could have stopped everything right there on the grounds of a misunderstanding and gone on about our business.  We weren’t.  I drew Mario into an embrace and kissed him firmly on the lips.  Our tongues were quickly dueling.

Our clothes came off.  Not too quickly, we were enjoying this, taking turns undressing each other one piece at a time.  Sometimes two things had to come off to keep it roughly equal.  Mario hadn’t worn an undershirt, he was bare chested: slender, nicely defined, elegant.  I of course, was wearing an undershirt as it was a required item of uniform.  Mario seemed to like my naked chest as his lips and hands swept over me enthusiastically.

We made quite a production of removing shoes and socks with lots of massaging and fondling, but it was finally time for pants.  By this time we were moving with far more heat and speed.

We were wonderfully nude and fully erect and primed.  Mario took charge and maneuvered me onto his sofa.  He positioned himself between my legs, fondled me luxuriantly, and took me.  I lasted perhaps a nanosecond, but that was okay with Mario, who stood up and presented himself to me.  I knelt before him and he didn’t last much longer than I had.

“Bella!  Bella!  I cook now,” Mario announced.  There was a small kitchen area just off the living room. Mario did not get dressed.  Instead, he put on an apron with a barnyard scene that was quite spectacular draped over half a hard on.  I did not get dressed either.

Mario’s studio was comfortable and pleasantly furnished.  There was a tiny balcony, a tiny kitchen and dining area, with a small bedroom and bathroom.

“Mario, what do you do?  I mean, what is your job?  What is your work?”

“For Mamma I work.  We do old furniture.  Antiques you say, yes?  Decorate casa.  Inside.  You like my place?”

“Oh, si.  Bella.  You have some nice paintings.”  In addition to the real art, there was a fun poster of the Mona Lisa smoking a joint.  I had never tried marijuana, but I thought it might be safe to do with Mario if he wanted.  At home, marijuana was done by Mexican gandy dancers, jazz musicians, and such like.  I’d never even seen it.

“Come, Carlo, to eat.”  Mario had a tiny table, but a good sense of dining as an event.  There was a candle in a crystal holder, no cheap chianti bottle in a basket; there was a nice decanter; there was a lovely salad with olives, tomatoes, and at least two kinds of lettuce; there was the pasta – it wasn’t spaghetti.  I had to look the question at my naked chef.

“Cavatappi.  In sauce broccoli.  You can to use the spoon.”

It was great.  Creamy with cheese and the understated broccoli.  But there was a faint tang, too.

Mario must have read my mind, or at least the quizzical expression I must have been wearing.

“Con acciughe.  You say ‘anchovy’ I think.”

I would have never guessed.  It was delicious.

For dessert we had some shortbread cookies, at least that’s what they looked like to me, and Mario did not feel the need for any explanation.  Also, a small glass of a
white wine that accented the flavor of the cookies.

We washed the dishes and tidied the kitchen/dining room with as much skin to skin contact as possible.  We returned to the couch for an hour of leisurely love making and we both enjoyed formidable climaxes.  We then fell deeply asleep, entwined with one another, comfortable, cozy, spent.

“Goddamn-it-to-sweet-Jesus-fuck!”  I exclaimed bolting upright on the sofa and nearly throwing Mario to the floor.  It was late, I scrambled for lights and for my watch and then saw Mario’s clock telling me it was almost 0400 hours.  Well after the expiration of my liberty at 2400 hours.  “Merda!”

“Shit-damn-fuck-hell-piss-poop,” I continued in a sort of mantra that I had used on the school yard when first I had discovered ‘dirty’ words.  It had stayed with me all these years and was a useful frustration vent.  I started scrambling for my clothes.  “I’ve got to get back to the ship.  I’m late,” I explained to the barely awake Mario, who was watching perplexed from the sofa.

There was an important consideration of uniform at stake here.  If I decided to stay in the Navy, if I had twelve years of uninterrupted ‘good service’, I could wear my rank insignia and hash marks in gold on the blue uniform; if not, I’d have to wear them in red.  Which would be a drabness.  This situation meant that I’d have to start the clock all over and I wouldn’t get credit for my first years of service.

Mario was now dressing too, although I don’t think he fully understood the magnitude of the disaster.  “I take you.  No tram now.”

Mario, it seemed, had a Vespa.  There was a little gated vestibule off a side alley of Mario’s building just for Vespas and bicycles.  It had a formidable steel grating and a serious lock. Soon we were motoring through the almost deserted streets on the way back to the ship and judgment.

At least the Captain likes me, I consoled myself.  He had liked me since his first inspection after he had taken command.  It wouldn’t be too bad.  Loss of liberty for two weeks, or some such; but he might postpone the loss of liberty until we were at sea when it would be meaningless as there was no liberty anyway.  Such things had been known to happen.

My Division Officer, Lieutenant (jg) Van Doern was a good guy and he also liked me.  Mister Van Doern came from a different world.  Even for an officer.  A large Cadillac limousine frequently called for him when we were in home port.  He spoke in complete sentences and was very smart; you could almost hear the semi-colons when he talked.  But he wasn’t pompous about it; if he didn’t know the answer to a question he never bluffed, he’d say something along the lines of: “I’m sure that I don’t know; I’ll have to check on that.”  He was an academy man, but he really liked sailors and the Navy.

Once, shortly after he had become Fox Division Officer, he was down in my radar room asking all manner of questions.  I was fiddling with the calibration of some servos in our analog gunfire control computer and he asked to borrow my knife.  I gave it to him without really thinking about it and continued fiddling, I was almost done.  “Jesus Christ,” he swore almost conversationally.  I looked around to see he had cut his hand deeply while doing whatever it was with my knife.

I grabbed our first aid kit off the bulkhead, and made him give me his hand.  It was a deep, long cut, into his palm and there was lots of blood.  I sloshed sulfa powder on it and wrapped it in multiple layers of gauze.  I then made him let me walk him up to sick bay.  He was having none of it, pride and all that, but I told him I wasn’t allowed to let him pass out from shock or loss of blood. 

“Look at the bloody mess all that gauze is already in!  Look at your uniform!  Come on, sir, it’s not a paper cut you know.”  It would definitely require stitches and there might be some muscle damage for all I knew.

About a week later, still bandaged and slightly subdued, Mister Van Doern returned to the radar room.  “I was wondering if I might prevail on you to sharpen my new knife,” he inquired with his impeccable courtesy.

“Certainly, sir.  Why don’t you leave the case, too, I’ll soften it up for you.  Weather it.”

“Thank you, Webb, that would be capital.”

After that, Mister Van Doern wore his knife whenever he was in the working uniform on the ship.  I had worked over his case carefully and it now looked well used and even had a hint of salt verdigris on the brass snap.  That had taken some doing.  The object was to look “salty” while still being useful.  His knife was now razor sharp, also.

“Our new Captain will be inspecting us in a few days.”

“Yessir.”

“I think, perhaps, if we left something minor for him to discover; well, he might feel that he has done the hard part and will then let you answer any questions about the system that he may have.  It is just a feeling I have about him.”

“Sir.  I’ll just dust the front edge of the bookshelf.  Right there where all the books and manuals are.  He’ll see a little dust by the actual books and that should do it.  Or, I can put a Playboy behind the books, just peeping out so he could see it.”

Playboy!  That’s a capital idea, Webb, very Navy; but it has to be subtle, right?”

“Yessir.”

On the appointed day, at precisely the appointed hour, there was a clatter on the ladder and some muttering as they inspected our berthing space which was in the compartment immediately aft of my radar room.  They didn’t spend much time there.  One crews berthing space is pretty much the same as any of the rest of them on a destroyer.  Plus, it was a small space as there were only nine of us and there were just twelve bunks total.

Then they came into the radar room.  Commander de Winter, the Captain; Lieutenant Butterfield, the Gunnery Officer; Lieutenant (jg) Van Doern, Fox Division’s own; and Chief Bowman, the Fire Control Chief.  I snapped to attention and identified myself as Petty Officer Webb in charge of the Mark 55 fire control system.  The Captain asked me where I was from.  As I explained White Pine County, Nevada, to him, he was already heading toward the bookshelf from which Playboy peeked.  Subtlety is a gentle art, after all.  I helpfully removed the restraining bar that kept the books and manuals in place at sea, but he did not touch the Playboy.  Instead, he plucked a little nondescript book in blue cloth covers from the shelf, looked at, and wondered, “Who down here reads Mahan on the influence of sea power?”

“Me, sir.  It’s my book,” I replied.

“What did you think of it?”

“Well, if you like navies and sea stories, it’s a great read.  It’s also great history.  But it was way more than that when it first came out.  It was an international bestseller.  The Kaiser put copies of it on all of his ships, sir.”

“Yes.  He did indeed.”  He plucked another book from the shelf.  This one was also nondescript but with orange cloth covers.  “Semenoff’s The Battle of Tsushima.  Who knew?”  The Captain looked at me for a long moment.  “What do you think Mahan would have thought about the cruise of the Russian fleet from the Baltic to the Pacific?”

“Admiral Mahan was a strategist, sir.  I think he would have approved the concept, but not the execution of it.”

“Well said.  Excellent.”  The Captain handed me my books.  “You’ve been doing some excellent shooting recently.  We’ve some serious shoots coming up.  How are we going to do?”

“We’ll do well sir.  Chief Bowman knows what we’re about.”

“Good.  And I am looking forward to some good shooting.  What’s next gentlemen?”  They all trooped out and up the ladder from the berthing space.  Lieutenant Van Doern gave me a wink.  The Playboy had been obvious, but unremarked.

That’s how the Captain knew me.

Later, after the other cruisers and destroyers had fired their guns at the same series of targets.  We were number one in CruDesLant and had a great white ‘E’ to prove it.  That’s why the Captain liked me.

These hopes sustained me as I saluted the quarterdeck of the tender we were berthed beside.  They carefully entered my name, rank, service number and the time of my arrival into their log.  The Messenger of the Watch was sent along with me to the brow of my ship.  I wondered if the tender’s OD thought I was an escape risk.  My escort certainly didn’t.  “Hope yah hadda great time,” he muttered.  I grinned at him, it was impossible not to.

Chief Wilcox, our Chief Torpedoman, had the watch on my ship.  He looked at me surprised, and then dutifully entered all the necessary information into the log.  “Hells bells, kid, and yer not even drunk.  What’s this navy coming to, I ask you?”  But he smiled hugely as he inquired of that great invisible ‘you’.

Captain’s Mast on a small ship, while serious enough, is not too formal.  On the appointed day I appeared in my working uniform.  Blue dungaree pants and light blue chambray shirt were the uniform, but they were seldom pressed and starched to such crispness that they could have stood alone.  My belt buckle gleamed.  You could see your fingers in the shine of my shoes.  I wasn’t wearing the brass signal flag clip with my ring of keys, or my belt knife.

Chief Bowman started by advising the Captain that I was hard working, knew what I was doing, and had never been any sort of problem before.  He added that, being a little bit late, but entirely sober, wasn’t the gravest of sins imaginable.

Mister Van Doern was next.  He seconded Chief Bowman in all respects adding that I could keep my head in emergencies.  He mentioned the outstanding performance of our three-inch battery when directed by my fire control system.  He smoothly reminded the Captain that we had dropped all the target sleeves the towing airplane carried.  “Sent him home empty, we did,”Mister Van Doern concluded.

The Captain looked at me for a long moment.  I thought, hopefully, that there was a smile waiting to emerge.  A smile being carefully held in check.

“So, Webb, what are you reading now?  And, while I’m at it, what the hell are you doing here?”  The Captain inquired.

“Er, about Admiral Farragut’s cruise, sir.  The Cruise of the Franklin, sir.  After the war, 1869 or 70, sir.

“And I have no excuse, sir.  I overslept, sir.”

“You overslept?  You know, Webb, hotel desks have clerks and you can ask for a wake-up call.”

“Yessir, sorry sir, but I wasn’t at a hotel.”

The Captain regarded me calmly, looking the question.

“I was at an apartment, sir.  We’d had a long day.  And dinner was lovely.  But only two glasses of wine, sir.  Both different, sir.  The kinds of wine I mean, sir, were different.”

The captain looked interested.  He was just slightly smiling.  “What did you have for dinner?”

“Well, it was pasta, sir, but not like spaghetti.  It was like elbow macaroni all attached together.  Cava-something or other, sir.  Then it had this creamy kinda sauce, lots of broccoli, and with anchovies.  But it really tasted good.”

“So, she’s a pretty good cook, is she?”

“Oh yessir.”  This was not the time to worry about pronoun gender.

There was a long pause while the Captain was thinking.  “You know, Webb, it is sometimes possible when we are not under immediate orders, such as now when we’re having a tender period, to obtain a few days leave.  You need an address and a telephone number where you can be reached.  And permission of course.”

There was another long pause and the Captain was smiling.  “I don’t expect to see you here, again, Webb.  The charge is dismissed in the interest of the service.”

I about-faced and was free.

Two days later Mario wheeled up on his Vespa to pick me up for a three-day pass.  Mister Van Doern had turned it into a liberty, rather than leave, so it would not count against my accrued leave time.

Mario was wearing a very Italian cap.  His hair, in addition to being beautiful, was very full.  He would seem a her to the casual observer.

We had a great time: we went to Capri; we went to Pompeii; we went to this special beach where almost everyone was naked.  At home, Mario cooked for me wearing only his apron.  I was naked while I watched him cook; I licked my lips in anticipation.

 

cavatappi e broccoli con acciughe

All the usual disclaimers apply.  Any resemblance to a real person, other than Admiral Mahan, is purely accidental and coincidental.  I have simplified some naval customs and nomenclature.  Nothing too dramatic; but Charlie would never have said ‘Cruiser Destroyer Force Atlantic Fleet’ hence – CruDesLant.

I believe the portrait of Admiral Mahan to be within the public domain.  The medals he is wearing are for his service in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.

The cavatappi e broccoli con acciughe is from the author’s kitchen.

My thanks to Mike and John who do, and who have done so much, to make Awesome Dude the great site that it is.  And, as ever, to the long-suffering Douglas and Jerry who escort me through these adventures.