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The artistic Irish sailor - War Stories Ain’t All Alike - # 4

Updated on June 30, 2012

Find him lists

Let’s call this worthy seaman by a very fictitious name, McMercer. That should reassure everyone, particularly McMercer, that someone is looking out for his safety and well being. McMercer is still on the "find-him" lists of several notables. He is a good guy and deserves protection.


The "Tower" of the National Naval Medical Center
The "Tower" of the National Naval Medical Center | Source

Assigned to NNMC for duty

McMercer was assigned for duty to the prestigious National Naval Medical Center, located close to Washington, D.C. That was one of the Navy’s errors of judgment perhaps, but, after all, McMercer was as intelligent as they come in the Navy, so what better place was there to stick such a bright guy other than right under the noses of all of the big brass?

The Captain into whose charge McMercer was placed must have been a leg or two up on those in headquarters who had given McMercer over into the Captain’s care. He interviewed the incoming sailor and promptly assigned him to duty cleaning cages in the laboratory’s research animal room.

While Seaman McMercer had a good and a long memory, the Captain did not. Out of the Captain’s sight, McMercer became lost from the Captain’s mind, a situation to be remedied soon enough.


Red, white, and (maybe) blue

McMercer’s animal room was amply populated with laboratory rats. There were white rats, brown rats, red rats, rats with speckles, and rats having long tails, and rats having short tails. McMercer loved his rats. He mothered them and fathered them. He tried to get the red ones to breed with the white ones, all the while keeping an eye peeled for a chance blue rat. McMercer was a seaman with plans and ideas. It was a red, white, and blue rat that he was after.

In addition to his desire to be involved in patriotic research, McMercer had a constant need to vocalize. That is a compulsion common to many Irishmen even though they usually cannot sing a note without fracturing something, either internal or external. McMercer, thus, sang to his rats, sang to himself, and warbled to the vast world outside of the animal room window. McMercer’s window was high up on the wall directly over the cage-cleaning bench, for the animal room was in the building’s basement.


When looking for a revelation
When looking for a revelation

A missing revelation

As McMercer was crooning away one cage-cleaning summer morning, the Captain’s legs walked by the window. The window was open. Bad rat smell and McMercer’s bad singing wafted out. The Captain’s legs backtracked. Then the Captain’s head, quite upside down, gilded hat held on by a firm hand, glared in through the open window. (Captains never squat.) McMercer lowered his singing volume and glared back at this upside down head.

"Who are you?" asked the upside down head.

"God, sir," replied McMercer in a soft and respectful tone of voice.

McMercer immediately sensed that he had some outside duties to perform the moment he saw that upside down head disappear and the Captain’s legs heading for the animal room door.

As McMercer explained later, "It would have been a shame for the Captain to rush on into the animal room expecting to experience a revelation and, there, find only McMercer."


Close, but not quite the ad used by McMercer
Close, but not quite the ad used by McMercer | Source

The art of whiskey

To get on with the artistry of Seaman McMercer, let all of us who saw them remember the style and content of those ubiquitous whiskey ads that populated the back pages of high-circulation newsmagazines. Invariably, those ads featured photographs of very stern-faced businessmen standing next to tables of superbly crafted and polished wood. On each table would be the featured whiskey bottle and a double-shot glass containing several ice cubes and some warmly brown whiskey. Books, oversized globes of the world, and other serious accessories completed the pictures.

One day, McMercer, a part-time reader as well as a full-time student of the world, spotted one of those razor-sharp, full-color, leap-off-the-paper, back-cover whiskey advertisements on a magazine that had been left kicking around the main laboratory waiting room. Instantly McMercer recognized the face of the model used to portray the stern-looking businessman. Right there, dressed out smartly in a navy blue, double-breasted jacket, was the image of the National Naval Medical Center’s commander – the Admiral himself.

Off of that magazine came its back cover. McMercer, now fully inspired, shucked off his guise as a sailor and instantly became the second coming of Leonardo da Vinci. He spent seven dollars on some paints and sharply pointed paint brushes. In his barracks room he labored with the concentration and divine guidance afforded all true artists. At last, his masterpiece was done.


Look at all of that gold braid
Look at all of that gold braid | Source

and a gold-bedecked uniform hat

McMercer, much as are so many great artists when they first step into art, was fearful that his first masterpiece might be rejected by the public should he call too much attention to it. Quietly, he wandered into the main lobby of the Medical Center at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning. While the desk-duty sailor dozed away, McMercer slipped his new version of the Admiral over the old version in the Admiral’s portrait frame. There, his new painting remained on display until some visiting big wheel questioned the propriety of admirals so blatantly showing off their drinking habits.

Yes. The businessman’s suit had become the Admiral’s uniform, complete with all of the stripes and gold gilding, plus all of the many campaign ribbons worn by the admiral. A marvelously gold-bedecked hat sat on the table between the whiskey items and the world globe.

Classroom at McGill University
Classroom at McGill University | Source

It is time to pursue an education

When McMercer said "so long" to the Navy, he headed on up to Canada – to pursue some education and learn life's lessons, as he described it.


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    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 7 years ago from USA

      Keith - Happiness is finding out that you have brought some happiness to others. It is fun to remember these guys. They were "something else."

      Gus :-)))

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 7 years ago from Australia

      Hi Gus those stories are priceless, i'm sure you have a few more stored away for our entertainment. Cheers

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 7 years ago from USA

      Good Doctor bj - It certainly does seem unfair, but I like to cheat that way.

      Gus :-)))

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 7 years ago from south Florida

      Gee, Gus, you had all this fun going on with these wacky characters and got paid for it as well? What a bonanza! Your stories are side-splitting. You have to put them in a book. Just use an alias. In case.

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 7 years ago from USA

      Good Doctor bj - This one was actually based pretty much on reality. Seaman McMercer was "almost" one of the guy's names, but the rat deal was based on another seaman. Without naming him here, he took great pride in his rat work and in breeding what he called his "Roche reds." That NNMC was about the wackiest place in all of the military. For example, one of the guys had a pet cat that somehow crawled into the shell of the big nuclear reactor. It howled and yowled to get out. They asked for a volunteer to go in after the critter. In truth, I could likely fill a book about the stuff that proceeded at Bethesda. "McMercer" hated the military, a strange thing for a guy who had volunteered to enlist in it. As he told it, his Dad hated the military, too. He had a little office space in which to work, and on the wall he pinned an IRA flag. Had the Navy brass understood what that flag represented, they would have taken it down and disciplined "McMercer," but as usual, the brass was way too far behind to understand what was going on right under their noses. I suppose that they destroyed his fine painting, the complete renovation of that whiskey advertisement, but I doubt that they sensed the humor and the skill that went into constructing and placing it.

      I am very happy that you had an enjoyable read.

      Gus :-)))

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 7 years ago from south Florida

      This was marvelously funny, Gus. If I ever come across a patriotic rat (red, white & blue), I'll know who to thank. McMercer could make a fortune promoting products on HSN or QVC. Then again, maybe he already has!

    • tnderhrt23 profile image

      tnderhrt23 7 years ago

      Your tales are fun reads as well! Keep em coming!

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 7 years ago from USA

      Howdy tnderhrt23 - "McMercer," if he should read this, will not recognize himself until he gets into the second part of the story. He is a stand-in for another guy in the first part of the tale.

      However, I really did not have to make too much up, for the two of them did what the story describes. The multi-color rats were a real deal, as was the Captain meeting "God' through the animal room window. That one cracks me up entirely to this day. The Admiral's portrait was almost too much for even a rascal like me. McMercer did it, quietly (sneakily) and with extreme effectiveness. There was a bit of hell to pay when the brass tried to figure out how that happened.

      I doubt that they will understand how they were "had" unless they happen to read this story. Fact is, though, that they were all older than was I, and that implies that few if any of them are still breathing.

      I was with the Navy on temporary assignment for a year, and I have never before or since met so many zany people - nor people so smart as were the lot of them.

      The Captain with the upside-down head we gave a nickname to - "Shaky Jake." Why? He had been on board 4 warships when each was torpedoed. I never did meet the Admiral in person, but he turned out to be my friend by intervening for me with Shaky Jake about a difference between me, a "grunt," and the Captain.

      Outside of the fact that the Navy doggoned nearly killed me, they rescued me and gave me probably the most rewarding year I ever had in the military.

      This is such fine fun writing these tales. It is hard to believe how much fun it is.

      Gus :-)))

    • tnderhrt23 profile image

      tnderhrt23 7 years ago

      I just love how you develop McMercer's character..."McMercer loved his rats. He mothered them and fathered them. He tried to get the red ones to breed with the white ones, all the while keeping an eye peeled for a chance blue rat. McMercer was a seaman with plans and ideas. It was a red, white, and blue rat that he was after." Great read!


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