October, 1972. The Mighty FID (First In Defense), USS Forrestal (CVA 59) was on a diplomatic visit to Turkey. America had been deep into the Cold War for about 27 years. Of course, over in The ‘Nam, my brothers & sisters were dealing with hot lead; with a few years to go before Emperor Richard I called it quits and brought the survivors home.
We’d been at sea for about 30 days, just long enough to run out of all the alcohol & other stuff that we’d smuggled aboard before deployment. Our port of call was Istanbul, formerly Constantinople. Since our aircraft carrier was far too large to dock in most ports, we used liberty launches to ferry people ashore for visits. These could carry up to 100 men (no ladies back then) ashore for port visits.
At the time, I was a lowly E-3, ashore for a little cultural exchange and a lot of drinking. My first taste of ouzo was from an old Turkish vendor at the ancient indoor mall, Misir Carsisi, that attracted many tourists; then and now. It was in easy walking distance from the place where our launches came and went during “Liberty Call”. They were usually running about every hour to and from the ship.
Here, I should mention that Turkey was under martial law (for some reason) during our visit. One could see Turkish Army soldiers scattered about the city, keeping the peace. One of their stations was at the launch docks to protect their American visitors. So, one mild October night, I’m walking back alone from one of the many watering holes, with a full head of steam on.
As I reached the landing, I saw a soldier nearby who was holding a WW2 model of a Thompson sub machine gun. Being a curious drunk who grew up around firearms, I walked closer for a better look at his weapon. He smiled when he saw me and said in fair English, “Cigarette? American cigarette?” Well, fiends & naggers, I saw a great opportunity here for a little olde timey horse trading.
I pointed to his weapon and said, “Machine gun for cigarette?” Now, I should point out that both he and I KNEW that the gun was unloaded, with the bolt locked back and NO magazine attached. He had those on his utility belt. Seeing the humor in the situation too, the soldier handed me his weapon as I lit the cigarette that I had just given him.
Since drunks find the oddest things funny, I pointed the machine gun at about a dozen of my shipmates (including some officers) who were waiting for the liberty launch. I hollered, “Hit the DECK, motherfuckers!” Well, they all started kissing concrete as the Turk was about to piss himself laughing! Realizing that I was now in a bit of a small pickle, I immediately handed the weapon back to the soldier and hauled ASS back up the street away from the docks.
After waiting about 2 hours, I returned to the fleet landing and quietly caught the next launch back to the ship. Most of my buddies refused to believe my story, but the ones who knew me well also knew that I was telling the truth. As we old Southern rednecks like to say, “That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ with it!!”