Birds, Kites and Movies

We were part of a Marine Expeditionary Force on exercises in the Caribbean. Boredom comes easily aboard ship. There are only so many rifle inspections you can do. My guys spent a lot of time on the taffrail of our LST just looking out over the ocean. One day one of them got the bright idea to fly a kite. This seemed like a great thing to do so they got some wooden slats from vegetable boxes in the galley and cut side panels from some old sheets. The result was a magnificent box kite standing about 4 feet tall. With great cheers and excitement they launched it but immediately the structure became unstable, wobbling through the air, whirling in circles, unable to gain altitude. They thought if they could just add some weigh it would balance and become stable. They made another trip to the galley and got some tin foil from the cooks which they put on the bottom of the kite. The tin foil lent just enough weight to stabilize it and keep it upright. It flew beautifully, soaring high over the aft end of the ship up into the wind with the birds. The aeronautical engineering prowess of these young Marines truly impressed me. That evening I attended the 1900 reports with the ship’s department heads to give the Marines report. My boss, Capt. Sirotniak, was supposed to do this but he and the Captain did not get a long so he always sent me in his place. When it came my turn, I said, “Capt. Sirotniak reports there are 6 officers and 187 enlisted embarked Marines aboard.” I further said, to mollify the Captain, “Capt. Sirotniak sends his compliments to the Captain, Sir!” The officers thought this was funny but the Captain didn’t. He replied, ‘You tell Sirotniak to get his ass up here next time. You also tell him that as of 1900 tonight the Marines will no longer fly their goddamned kites aboard my ship. The tin foil screwed up the radars.” At that all the officers started laughing, even louder than before. I tried hard to suppress my own laughter. The Captain visibly annoyed, retreated to his cabin. When I returned below I explained all of this to Sirotniak and he suspended the kite flying, which really upset the Marines.
While all this was going on, the men observed birds dipping and soaring over the aft end of the ship. Soon one of the Marines had the bright idea to feed them. He went below and got some bread which they broke up into small pieces and threw into the water. The birds went crazy attacking the bread, fighting with each other to get the best piece. Soon a lot of the Marines joined in, followed by a lot of the crew up on the quarter deck cheering. After a couple of days the men got bored with feeding the birds . Then one of the more creative Marines had the bright idea to put hot sauce on the bread. Every Marine carries a bottle of McIlhenny’s Louisiana Hot Sauce in his pack. They got a bottle of this potent potion and began sprinkling it on the bread. The effect was immediate and dramatic. The birds would swoop down, grab a piece of bread and soar back into the air only to taste the hot sauce, flap their wings wildly, spiral down and crash into the ocean. It didn’t look like any of the birds were harmed; they just swallowed some water and took off for safer surroundings. The Marines loved this. Loud cheers went up anytime a bird crashed. Hearing all the noise a lot of the sailors came aft and participated in the fun. This became an activity that both the Marines and the sailors could enjoy together. Feeding and crashing the birds with hot sauce ladened bread continued until some animal lover complained. They thought it emanated from one of the Yeomen, a fat kid with thick glasses but no one never really found out. All of this got back to the Captain. That night at the 1900 reports I gave the usual report. Seeing that we didn’t lose any man overboard, the numbers stayed the same. The Captain looked at me sternly and said. “As of 1900 tonight the Marines will no longer feed the goddamned birds aboard my ship. And you tell Sirotniak that if these shenanigans continue I will take disciplinary action. In other words his ass will be grassed.” So in the space of a week the Marines lost their kite flying and bird feeding. Needless to say morale was pretty down. A few days later a round jammed in one of the 5” guns during gunnery practice. The gunnery officer asked me if I could get a couple of Marines to volunteer to help extract the round. Of course no one volunteered.
But watching movies was one activity for which the Marines could not get into trouble. Every so often in the evening we would all gather on the mess deck where they would hang a white sheet and watch a 16 mm film complete with noisy projector, scratchy sound and blurry picture. We had two John Wayne movies, “Rio Bravo” and “Stage Coach,” which we watched over and over again. One day the ship’s gyro compass broke and a technician from the task force command ship had to be high lined over to our ship. He brought with him two new movies.  I had taken the opportunity to arrange a trade. We were desperate so we would trade for anything. I had a radio link up with the command ship and arranged to get a couple of Vincent Price films, “Tales of Terror” and “The Tomb of Ligeia.” Every one was excited and soon “Ligeia” became the favorite, mainly because it starred Elizabeth Shepperd, a blonde who walked around in flimsy night gown (not that there was anything to see; after al this was 1967). It got so that the men learned a lot of the dialog and yelled out the words in falsetto voices whenever Shepperd appeared. One night we noticed a Marine sitting on the other side of the sheet We asked him what he was doing there and he said that he was watching it “backwards.” What he meant was that he was watching the reverse image as it projected on the back of the sheet. He said he liked it because it was different from what he had been watching for a couple of weeks. Immediately all the Marines ran around to the other slide. Very soon at all the movie showings half the Marines sat on the front side, the other half on the back. The cooks liked this too and whipped up large buckets of popcorn. Everyone looked forward to movie nights,
Years later I had the pleasure of meeting Roger Corman, the director of the Vincent Price films. I told him this story and how much the we all liked liked “Ligeia.” I told him about how we watched the reverse image and how much enjoyment that gave us. He asked me which side I liked best. I had to admit that I liked the reverse image better. He smiled and said, “So do I.”