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Chip Morton's Journal

Dress Whites and Other Plauges of Mankind

There I was, happily signing off on my last report in my NIMR office when Chief Jones, fresh from the golf course, at least it looked that way with the stray turf clinging to his golf shoes,  knocked on my door, apparently distressed.

“Curley? What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be on shore leave.”

“Yeah, well, I am, sir, but I got a registered letter just as I got home. Had to sign for it. Here, you look at it,” he thrust the document into my hand.

“Hmm,” I scanned  it, “looks pretty official, doesn’t it…”

“I don’t mind reporting to the brass at Point Loma, sir, really I don’t. But…look there, in the fine print…dress whites required ?  For what? I ain’t in the Navy anymore,’ exceptin’ when they need us on the boat, of course. But this don’t say nothing about why! Can you find out for me before I go…what I’ve done, anyway?” he gulped nervously.

“I hardly think it can be bad Chief, or the Admiral would have been informed.”

“But he’s gone for the next few weeks. Whatever they sent him is probably just sitting in his in-box.”

“I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Thank you sir,” he almost wilted with relief.


It wasn’t the first time one of the men came to me with a personal problem, but for the life of me, I had no idea what this was about. I was about to call this Captain Hillary Clayburn  who’s signature appeared along with a plethora of  ‘letters’ behind  her name, when I noticed the carbon copy notation. ‘CC: Lee Glenn’ it said.


Lee Glenn? Wasn’t that the code name Lee had used for Nelson when he’d been doing a little cloak and dagger about that city under the sea? No wonder Curley hadn’t recognized it.  I only learned about it from Nelson long after the fact and it was still a handle only the three of us knew. Was the Chief being drafted for some kind of covert operation? Not over my dead body!


Lee was on shore leave too, happily sailing around the Catalina  islands and hadn’t expected  to be back until next week. Did he know about this? Was his carbon copy waiting in his mailbox?


I’m no spy, but I had no hesitation breaking and entering his office. After all I have a spare key, that as XO I’m allowed to use in the event of an emergency. But he must’ve taken care of anything pending or his secretary had already  weaned anything demanding his attention away until his return.


There was only one other choice, but  I dare interrupt his voyage, especially since Lola was on the damn ketch with him? But when I recalled the pleading look in Curley’s eyes,  I  really didn’t have much of  a choice and hoped I wasn’t interrupting anything.  It was the middle of the day, but still, not everyone’s from Boston, as  Ben Franklin would say.*


After my ears stopped ringing from Lee’s less than pleased ‘What on earth was so urgent that you needed to call me right now?” I realized that   I’d interrupted something all right.


 “Yes, sir…er…Chief Jones got a letter from Captain Clayburn .”


“That’s what it says. Now why would the Point Loma Base Commander request his presence? And in dress whites?  Lee? Lee? You still there?” I began to babble into thin air or so I thought.

“He  got the letter already? I mean…”

“I see you’re aware of it, now, what’s this all about? And why’s he supposed to wear dress whites?”

“When are you coming to back to bed, sweetie?” Lola’s voice was faint but audible.

Anyway, Lee,” I retook control, “ it has a carbon copy notation to Lee Glenn…what am I supposed to think? Covert ops? ONI?”

“I’m sorry, Chip, you’re breaking up…”

“I said, what the…”

“Look, why don’t you go along with him. Wear your dress white’s too..”

Me? Now I know you know something!”

“Look, I’d go along with him myself but I can’t get back in time.”


“I really am breaking up, Chip…” the call ended and no amount of raising him again was going to work, even if his radio was probably in perfect working order as I suspected.



In the end, no matter how much I wanted to call Captain Clayburn, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. After all, I had to work with Lee. If push came to shove, he could always say he’d ordered me not to call.

And so it was that four days later I found myself helping Curley with his collar. Dress Whites may look good, but those mandarin style (and heavily starched) collars are  uncomfortable  and we had a long drive to the base. At least I’d been able to secure an Institure car. I had every intention of making Lee pay for the gas.


I wasn’t surprised the Chief and I both looked a bit  woebegone and totally out of place when we reached our destination where everyone was in khakis or Navy working whites.


We were met by one of Captain Claybun’s own aides who hurriedly ushered us into the officers head  of all places.

“Why didn’t you just bring the white’s along in garment bags? You’re both  all wrinkled!” he complained.

“Look, Lt.,” I began, utilizing all the superior rank I could muster; (my additional half stripe wasn’t all that impressive.)

“Wait here. Let me get these ironed,” he almost began to remove my shirt himself.

“Hey!” Jones leapt forward to protect my virtue.

“Do you really want to see Captain Clayburn like this?”

“Better’n standing around here in our skivvies!” Curley said.

“Aw c’mon, it’ll only take a minute. Scouts honor.”

“I’ve heard that before, “I began, “and …”

“Sir, please,” the man almost pleaded.

“Okay, on one condition. What’s going on?”


“Our orders didn’t say anything but to be here.”

“Oh…er…I don’t know sir.”

The man was lying, I just knew it.

“Hurry please,” he continued, “Clayburn doesn’t like it when his guests are late.”

"His? He's a guy?" Curley asked.

"Well, he was the last time I looked, cheech, where you guys been living, on the bottom of the sea?"

"I guess you could say that, but," I huffed, "I've never felt less like a guest. "

It didn’t really take long before our freshly pressed whites were returned to us by another aide who looked us over with a raised eyebrow at the Chief.

“Ain’t my fault,” Curley said, as the man frowned at his all too snug  buttonholes. “Haven’t had to wear these in a long long time.”

“Well, I guess it’ll have to do…damn Lee Glenn not giving us enough notice…”

Lee Glenn?” my ears were on fire.

“Yeah. Organized the whole thing…too bad he’s hit a squall and running late…”

“Oh he is, is he,” I replied, seething. “C’mon Curley, we’re going.”


“This is some kind of practical joke. Courtesy Captain Crane, aka Lee Glenn. I swear, when we get back, I’m going to strangle him with my own hands.”

“Wait, sir!” the aide tried to bar the door. “What about Captain Clayburn!”

“What about her? Probably  conned into it by Lee too.”

“Sir, you can’t just walk away…"

“Watch me. Come along Chief.”

“Yes sir, but, er…”he pointed.

A very guilty looking Kowalski was trying to hide behind the bend in the corridor.


“Yes sir, Mr. Morton sir?” he emerged, embarrassed to have been caught. He too, was ‘in full Naval uniform’, down to his old fashioned bell bottoms, no longer used but close enough for government work I surmised.

“What the hell are you doing here.  Never mind, I don’t want to know, but  you can tell Captain Crane that his little joke has backfired and you can also tell him…”

“Tell him what?” Admiral Nelson, suddenly emerging from the bend sighed, resplendent in his own dazzling dress uniform.

“Sir? What is going on!”

“Chip, Chief,  follow me. All will be revealed, I promise. I just wish Lee could have been here. He was really looking forward to it. Bad squall.”

“Like I really believe that for one minute.”

“Scouts honor, Chip.”

“Lee Crane was never a scout! And he…”

Mr. Morton” Nelson interrupted, “ I suggest you calm down. Everyone’s  gone to a lot of trouble and we weren't even sure we could swing it. Now,  Chief, remind me to have stores issue you a new uniform that fi…er, is  a bit more comfortable.”

“Yes sir…thank you sir.”

“I still want an explanation, “ I demanded. “What kind of trouble and for what?”

“Sorry, lad. That will just have to wait.” He was almost smiling. He tried to hide it, but I could tell he was amused.


Suddenly we were nearing a door stating it was a ‘Stage Entrance’. I’ve been confused by many things in my naval career, especially aboard Seaview, but Nelson part of a practical joke? I had no clue as to what it might be, but if Lee had anything to do with it, things didn’t bode well.


Just then an aide (this Captain Clayburn sure used a lot or aides)  rushed to Nelson and handed him a print out.

“Well, we can’t do anything about that, let’s get things moving, “ Nelson said.

“Aye sir.”

“Gentlemen,” Nelson ushered us into the wings backstage. “Wait here.”

The stage wasn’t  decorated save a lone podium which he headed to and tested the microphone

In seconds a four striper nodded to the contingent of Marines walking on stage with the colors as the audience rose to wait for them to park behind the podium. It was then I noticed that the auditorium was full of my shipmates. They too, were decked out to the gills in full Naval splendor.

“At ease,” the Captain said, “to those of you here at Point Loma, may I introduce Admiral Harriman Nelson.”

“Thank you Captain Clayburn. As you know,” Nelson was beginning his oration,  “many of us wouldn’t be here today had it not been for the exemplary gallantry of two of our colleagues. When Seaview was sunk, and we all faced certain death, Commander Morton and Chief Jones belied equal danger to themselves and piloted the diving bell through the same mine field, a mere touch of which  would have blown them to smithereens, in order to rescue us. Returning us all  to safety was equally perilous.”

The crowd rose and cheered  until Nelson motioned them to sit back down.

“Despite continued requests from NIMR and in particular Captain Crane, the Navy will not issue any medal for valor in this case, citing our civilian status at the time. We can, however, bestow upon them, here in the Navy’s own facility,  our own accolades for exemplary heroism.  It’s with great pleasure that I present  them with Presidential citations in order  to honor them with our praise and ever-lasting gratitude.”

Oh swell,” I tried not to show my utter shame when he handed us the portfolios and he and Captain Clayburn shook our hands, that I’d been thinking Lee was up to no good. But there was still so much I was confused about…

Then I saw Lee. On the other side of the stage, in the wings, pulling on his whites, over a garish T-Shirt and spandex swim trunks.  

“It’s okay Lee, I don’t think they’ll mind if you’re not quite in uniform.  Ladies  and gentlemen, Captain Lee Crane.”

With a quick tug to make sure the hated collar was buttoned, Captain Crane joined us.  Of course all the audience saw was the left side of his tangled damp and windswept hair and the fact that he was barefoot.

 “We wanted this to be more,” Lee said, directly toward us, “ something concrete like a medal, to really show the world your valor. But there’s still something  tangible even without these documents signed by the President . Something  that will be seen by all on a daily basis.  Our lives,   gentlemen, in fact the lives of many of us  right here in this auditorium. Visible proof of what you did for us that terrible day. And we’ll never forget it.”

The audience rose and cheered us and I think for  a moment both the Chief and I were dumbstruck by the words. Lee shook our hands then gave us each a very unmilitary hug. I’ve never seen Curley so embarrassed, but Lee didn’t care, his smile and shining eyes said it all.

“You could have told us,” I whispered as I tugged on my awful collar,  “What if Curley hadn’t complained about that letter? I probably wouldn’t have tagged along…and what was that Lee Glenn business about?”

“Couldn’t risk Curley catching on it was a trap. And no doubt you’d come along with him regardless.”

As Lee turned to face the men and women climbing up the stairs to meet us on stage at Nelson’s invite, I was in a quandary.  Should I tell him he still had a bright red lipstick kiss on his cheek?