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Bubbling Willie


Bubbling Willie

One of the advantages of Navy duty is that you sometimes get to visit those exotic ports which are definitely off the beaten track. I am thinking about the port of Chin Wang Tao in Manchuria. In 1947, the city was being threatened by the Communists; Chinese business people were truly grateful to see a U.S. man-of-war sail into the harbor. Although the British had a little colony there, it was the Americans who came with a warship that impressed them.

I discovered an interesting sidelight about British mentality. All the time the Englishmen had been in Chin Wang Tao manning their Kaolin coal-mining company, they never developed relations with the Chinese women. Can you imagine any other nationality who would be so proper in their relations with the foreigners?

My fateful visit ashore was in the company of Lt. Kinneberg, my engineering officer. The rank of Lieutenant in the Navy is comparable to the rank of Captain in the Army or Air Force. Kinneberg and I walked down the pier, past the officers club and up the little main street of the town.

We chose the nicest looking bar to go into and that is where I met the proprietor T.T. Wang. His name is easy to remember because he gave me a British swagger stick with T.T. Wang engraved in the silver metal covering the stick. Yes, it is real silver and an elegant souvenir, which I still have in my sea chest. I learned that the original purpose of a swagger stick is to carry it walking so you can fend off the dogs (see swagger stick photo on page 89). Anyway, it is an old British tradition.

His was kind of an elegant bar and T.T. Wang suggested a bottle of champagne for us. He himself brought it to our little round table which was pretty much in the middle of the room. We were the only clients, so we had the whole room at our command, and of course the full attention of T.T. Wang.

When we finished the champagne, Kinneberg asked to pay, but T.T. Wang would hear nothing of that; the first bottle must be on the house. Kinneberg said, “O.K., I will buy the next one.” Out came the beaming T.T. with another bottle of very tasty champagne.

There was some reason he would not permit us to pay for the second bottle; it was perhaps one for me and one for Kinneberg, so out came a third. By this time I couldn’t say who paid for that third bottle. Kinneberg was a much larger man than I and also more thirsty; he drank almost two-thirds of our three bottles of champagne—leaving more than one full bottle just for myself which I drank very fast.

With all kind of jovial leave-taking, we said farewell to T.T. Wang and headed down the hill toward our ship. On the way we went into the officers’ club just for a look-see, and there was our captain playing a game of pool. I didn’t recall all that happened there, but it was the talk of the officers wardroom afterwards. I had always been such a clean-cut ensign—no one had ever seen me tipsy before.

Apparently I sat in a big chair overlooking the pool table and I was commenting on our captain’s pool shots. I would say, “Great shot, Captain,” or “What a lousy shot.” Then I got the hiccups. I would say, “Good show—hiccup—Cap'n.” I hiccuped all the way back to the ship. When I got to my stateroom I threw up in the head and felt much better after a while. From then on I was known as “Bubbling Willie.”

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