The Hermitized Gator

By Joseph Smith

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This happened when Captain McDonald was our CO, I'm sorry but I just don't remember the date it occurred.

I was called up to the Gunnery Officer's stateroom one afternoon just before we where due to disembark the Marines and go home ourselves. Our Gunnery Officer was playing cards with a few of the other officers. I was then told that Captain McDonald had ordered me to cut out a Wally gator and paint it on all of the Marine vehicles before they were offloaded to go home. Not to mention, I was instructed not to get caught doing it. Apparently the Marines had annoyed the Captain. I protested a bit that I was going to get my butt kicked but to no avail.

As I was cutting the stencil in Third Division compartment, I was worried about the Marines kicking my butt if I got caught. About that time along comes FT3 Ferrara. He asks what I was doing? I explained and he asked if he could help. It ought to be fun, he said. Ferrara started cutting  a stencil with lettering saying Hermitized Gator.

At 0100 we climbed down into the well deck and onto the LCI's without being seen.  We used model car spray paint, luminescence's orange and yellow. We spray painted until we ran out of paint. I guess we did about eight Wally Gators with lettering all together. Then we got out of there without being seen.

I think we had the paint on us for a couple of days. The darn stuff just wouldn't come off us.

The next morning as we went to disembark the Marines they discovered our handy work in the daylight. They where not very happy. Nobody would give them paint or turps to clean off the gators.

Somehow they found out that the Gunnery Division did the dirty deed and they decided to get even. They decided to throw a smoke bomb in the Gunnery compartment.  But they threw the smoke bomb into the wrong compartment. They bombed the cooks compartment, who had been up all night baking.

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So to GQ goes the whole ship. After all it is a fire, right? I'm standing by my gun mount, Mount 36 and Pry Fly and Capt. Mac come along and we both look down in the well deck at mine and Bill's handiwork with all of the smoke coming out of the well deck from the smoke bomb. Captain Mac was quite happy with our results. but not about the smoke bomb.

At that point we hear screaming and cursing coming from the overhang in the well deck. Out charge the cooks and mess cooks along the wing wall carrying crates of eggs. They proceed to scream and holler at the Marines and then pelt the hell out of the Marines and their vehicles with all of the eggs. Made for an interesting debark!

The Marines had to drive into Camp Lujune like that with Capt. Mac leading the way waving to all to see the Marine vehicles! (If I remember that part correctly.)

The finale of the Hermitized Gator was when Captain Mac left the Herm. The carpenters built him a beautiful wooden sea chest for his change of command. I was hunted down by the Chief Master at Arms and told to paint the Gator inside the sea chest. The carpenters were going to kill me even after I explained what was happening.   The Chief calmed them down but I thought they were still going to kick my butt for messing up their work.

A bit later Capt. Mac came in on some sort of faked pretext trumpeted up by the Chief Master at Arms and was presented the sea chest by the carpenters. He had tears in his eyes, until he opened the chest to look inside and saw the Hermitized Gator painted on the inside chest lid.  Then he couldn't stop laughing!

That was some of my best memories of the Herm.

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I had all but forgotten about the whole thing until Bill Ferrara e-mailed me out of the blue asking me if I was the same Smitty who painted the Marine tanks. Only a few people would know that. I had kept the two stencils in my art portfolio since that time and hadn't taken it out in decades. It is one of my most prized possessions from my time on the Hermitage.

Hope I didn't bore you with this trip down memory lane.

Joe Smith was a gunner's mate on the HERMITAGE around 1970. He was the artist for our Mediterranean cruise book.

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