A team of us from the embassy traveled to the coastal city of Douala later that year to coordinate logistics during a port visit by the USS Portland (LSD-37), a “dock landing ship.” The mission of an LSD is “to transport and launch amphibious craft, vehicles, crews, and embarked personnel in an amphibious assault.” That is, an LSD gives Marines a ride to the fight.
I recently looked up the USS Portland to remind myself of her appearance, her lines. I found that “The Portland was decommissioned in 2003 and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in 2004. It was sunk as a target during an exercise off the Virginia coast later that year.” I had no idea. I admit a twinge of sadness, like hearing that an old girlfriend you hadn’t seen in years, hearing that she’d met an early and untimely death. She wasn’t much over 30.
Running logistics for the Portland’s visit was like a dance. Constant movement. Flowing motion. Working out of the US Consulate, we coordinated the ship’s resupply with fresh produce, meat and eggs. Fuel. Water. We dispatched and tracked the locations of vehicles that moved the ship’s officers to diplomatic meetings and social functions. The phones even worked out here.
Back in Yaoundé, the radio call signs were all “types of trees.” The Marine House was Dogwood. The gunny was Honeysuckle (I wouldn’t have stood for that, but he didn’t seem to mind). Jim Taylor the supply guy was Tamarind. Ambassador Hume Horan was Oak. And the Marine Guard at Post One was Sawmill.
At the consulate in Douala, however, everyone’s call sign had something to do with their favorite adult beverage. They were Bailey. Budweiser. Jameson. So, when in Rome...
Needing to pick a Douala call sign for myself, I landed on my favorite special-occasion drink: the Rusty Nail. Equal parts Scotch and Drambuie. It’s been 13 years since I’ve had a drink and my mouth still waters when I say it. I moved to stake my claim.
When Ken heard the words, a devious grin spread on his face. “Listen shitheel... you’re gonna have to find another call sign. You can be ‘Mai Tai’ or ‘Buttery Nipple’ or even ‘Harvey Wallbanger’ for all I care. ‘Rusty Nail’ – we’re taking that one for the boat.”
Ken was pleased with himself. When the Portland found out their call sign would refer to them as a “rusty” anything, however, they were not amused. Squids get testy if you call their ships "boats." And they get testy if you imply their boats are rusty. But I wasn’t reporting to them.
(To be continued...)