Thursday, April 11, 2013

Some folks just have a knack

For languages.

Tom Westphall sent me a picture and said it reminded him of a story I tell about an acquaintance from several years ago.

Ed Lutkevitch (real name, although I think it might have been the second or third one in his lifetime, and it is pronounced loot kay' vich) recounted an experience from his younger days, when he was in the Coast Guard stationed in Hawaii. It was sort of in the early years of the Viet Nam war, but not yet to the peak, so the Coast Guard in Hawaii had a pretty good duty station.

In fact, when they were on "standby," they were even allowed to leave the ship, according to Ed. Ed and his buddies were on shore, in a bar, when they were notified that they had to report back to the ship because there was a South American pleasure vessel in distress. They staggered back to their posts and intercepted the South America boat.

Only a few times in my life have I found something so amusing that I either snorted liquid through my nose or laughed so hard that I couldn't breathe. One of those times was when I first heard Ron "Tater Salad" White tell about when he had been arrested for public intoxication and said, "I wasn't drunk in public. I was drunk in a bar! They THREW me in public. The New York police told me that I had the right to remain silent. I just didn't have the ability."

That "...I just didn't have the ability" part comes so close to home that it makes it even more hilarious to me.

Well, Ed was not drunk in a bar or in public any more, he was drunk on a Coast Guard ship.

The skipper was having difficulty communicating with the people on the boat, so he asked over his loudspeaker/intercom whether anyone knew Spanish.

I can remember the circumstances clearly. We were in a Chili's restaurant in eastern North Carolina waiting out a hurricane. It wasn't dangerous or anything, but raining like crazy, windy, stormy-looking, so we couldn't be outside looking at properties. All we could do was eat burgers, fries and drink beer.

The skipper needed to let the boat know that they had to somehow reorient themselves versus the Coast Guard ship in order to accomplish the rescue. So the young Ed, after taking a class in high-school Spanish, decided he could help the skipper out. He took the bull horn, (here, Ed put his hands to his mouth as if to form a megaphone) aimed it in the general direction of the troubled boat and broadcast,

“El Capitán. El Capitán. Pull el boat-o along el side-o.”

When I recovered from the beer flowing through my nose and could breathe again, he continued the story. We didn't have anything else to do.

The skipper was not amused. The choice was, be assigned to a River Boat on the Mekong (although I have no idea how a Coast Guardsman could be given that assignment) or guard an island 750 miles west of Hawaii, the Johnston Atoll. It was one square mile and the assignment was for a year. He took the duty on the little island; decided to let someone else patrol the Mekong. He said he saw the flash of one of the H-Bomb tests from there.

Ya know, I don't know how much of that story is factually accurate, but in the last analysis, that doesn't make much difference.

Thanks, Tommy. Hadn't thought of that story for a while.


  1. When you get to be a certain age, everything reminds you of something else.

    Your post reminds me of an old joke:

    Do you know what you call someone who speaks 3 languages? Trilingual.

    Right, and someone who speaks 2 languages? Bilingual.

    Right again. And someone who only speaks 1 language? I don't know...American?