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A Hatteras ham sandwich

Another day in the Navy aboard a sub-chaser destroyer escort. We had already survived running into our pier with a new captain, and the crew subsequently hoped and prayed for the best.

Most every day was smooth sailing on a beautiful azure sea off Key West, southern Florida. We would sail out in the early morning, run around doing exercises and be back in port late afternoon. But all things must change, sometimes for the better and sometimes ...

I had just returned from leave in New York with my old ‘48 Pontiac so I could have it in Key West. I no sooner reported aboard than I got word that we were sailing for Norfolk, Virginia. I scrambled off to park my car somewhere and hurried back to the ship.

I came back just in time, and off we sailed for a long, what I believed to be an uneventful cruise. We were headed to a Norfolk dry dock for repairs and refitting. The first couple of days were calm, sunny and beautiful, plenty of sea life, dolphins leaping, flying-fish flying, crew caught a big shark with a chunk of meat (I did not participate). Captain and I chatted on the stern, he lit my cigarette.

After a few days of smooth sailing we approached the South Carolina border, near Cape Hatteras. This cape as you probably know is famous (infamous?) for violent storms.

No exception here, immediately the sea got nasty. In only hours we were pitching, rolling and wallowing in ginormous waves. With that, the sky blackened, night was falling, and I knew we were in for a rough ride, never dreaming just how bad it was to be.

We were slowed measurably, and now in the pitch blackness, many of the crew already sick, we lost power. Imagine, ship rolling from side to side, waves crashing over bow and stern, total darkness outside, ship dark and quiet except for shouted commands, for those who could hear them. I prayed the tin can would quickly regain power, but it was not to be.

I was one of the few not sick, and after several hours of rock-and-rolling, amazingly I became hungry. I went down to the galley for what I truly believed would be my last repast. Holding on every step, as we sloshed, bucked, slipped and floundered around, I made my way down the ladder to the galley. Brave cooks, one or two of ‘em, tried to give the walking some sustenance. For three days, when I expected the ship to go down any minute, they fed us. No hot food, no coffee, just apples and ham sandwiches — three days of apples and ham sandwiches until the hardy boilermakers got the engines running again.

I made a vow, which I could never keep, to shun apples and ham sandwiches forever. We survived, gratefully, on some technical expertise, and for those who could eat the Hatteras ham sandwich.

Harvey Rupp lives in Ashland.

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