A little background on the events leading
up to this picture.
|Standing at the left in the picture
is Ensign Chang. Seated is yours truly saying something obviously very
funny as all the flyboys are smiling.
Back in 1956 I was a lieutenant, newly
assigned to the USS SEA FOX, commanded by Lieutenant Commander
L. H. Neeb.
"Uncle Lew", as he was known throughout
the submarine force, was a charismatic leader, who was given to much honest
bragging about his boat. He was set on having a perfect 4.0 cruise. Among
other things, he was determined to keep his officers out of trouble on
the beach. He had several ideas, one of which included the pursuit of the
The prize consisted of nothing more
than a World War II publicity photo of Esther Williams, the swimming star
of many Hollywood films. Possession of the trophy was all the rage in the
western Pacific (WestPac). According to legend, the whole thing started
during World War II on board an Australian ship. A young officer who constantly
mooned over this photo was due to be transferred. One version has it that
his mates, not wanting to lose the picture, stole it, the other is that
it was purloined just to vex this star-struck youth.
After this, Esther passed through many
hands. By 1956, having endured the attentions of pursuers during both World
War II and the Korean War, the tradition had spread to all allied navies
cruising the Western Pacific. A few simple rules had been set down: first,
to possess Esther was to have her. And, whoever had her was required to
display her free and clear on a wardroom bulkhead. Those desiring Esther
could pursue her by use of stealth, guile, or brute force. Finally, suitors
were restricted to wardroom members only.
During the outbound passage, Uncle Lew
regaled the junior officers with Esther stories, making it plain that he
would be more than pleased to have Esther in our wardroom and her flag
flying from our periscope. Also, when entering port, the ship carrying
Esther was entitled to send a message addressed to all ships present, announcing
her presence on board, and inviting one and all to come, look, and admire,
but not touch. Such messages were usually written in doggerel verse.
In Auckland, the SEA FOX learned from
HMAS BLACK PRINCE that there were actually two photos of Esther Williams.
The original, having become worn over the years was encased in plastic
and mounted on a handsome mahogany board with a file of all Esther messages
attached. The fighting copy, also encased in plastic, was safeguarded with
an attached kapok life ring.
After arrival in Yokosuka, we learned
Esther was in residence aboard USS BOXER. That night our XO decided to
make a solo raid. He was caught.
The next morning, the XO was nowhere
to be found. During quarters, a caravan of vehicles from BOXER drew alongside
Berth One. The XO, in handcuffs and leg irons, was convoyed by a large
group of raucous aviators across the other boats in the nest and deposited
on board the SEA FOX with jeers about the submarine force.
Uncle Lew was beside himself. It didnít
take much to whip us into a frenzy of desire for Esther. However. We had
to change our plans when we learned that the USS LEXINGTON had made a successful
run on Esther. It seemed that Lex had on board an ensign named Ming E.
Chang (later VADM Chang).
Dressed in hardhat and work clothes,
Ensign Chang passed perfectly as a Japanese shipyard worker. He boarded
the Boxer during the noon meal and planted a smoke bomb in the hangar bay.
When fire quarters sounded, he simply walked into an empty wardroom and
lifted Ester. He tossed the picture over the side to a waiting boat, and
the Lex had her.
Estherís new residence was a heaven-sent
opportunity as my next-door neighbor in Coronado was a member of the shipís
company. I devised a plan to find this neighbor and invite him to the Submarine
Sanctuary; several of us would sandbag him at the bar, then carry the helpless
wretch back to his stateroom on board the Lex, thus circumventing Esther
security. My plan was only partially effective, as, like so many aviators,
my friend had a hollow leg.
By the end of the evening we werenít
sure who was carrying whom, but three of us from the SEA FOX with our protagonist
in company, set off for the Lex. My friend was under the impression that
he was showing Esther to some naïve and uninformed submariners. Once
onboard, we found Esther, according to the rules, hanging free and clear
from the wardroom bulkhead, but she also rested against a pressure switch
hooked into the shipís chemical alarm and to a release mechanism attached
to a large net suspended from the overhead. To add to our concern, several
beefy ensigns were standing watch over her.
What happened next is none too clear.
Our attempts at diversion were not completely successful. We grabbed Esther,
the alarm sounded, the net dropped, and the ensigns pounced. We spent the
rest of the night handcuffed to a wardroom stanchion, where an amateur
barber shaved a large L on each head.
Thus you have the story leading up to
SEA FOX eventually got Esther, as I
mentioned, but that is another story.
Illigimiti Non Carborundum
Posted by George Arnold on January 05,
I was aboard the SEA FOX when this all
took place, and even though Capt. Green certainly does not need any confirmation
on his story, it is all true! We were blessed with an outstanding wardroom
and skipper! We had a great boat and even greater people aboard, and that
includes personnel of all ranks/rates. What an outstanding time in my life.
Posted by SOB (aka Bill Parker) January
I presume that "Uncle Lew" Neeb was
the one and same Chief of Staff to COMSUBFLOT ONE in what, 63-64? Talk
about an operator, he took it upon himself to refurbish some of the abandoned
Army buildings there at Ballast Point - outside of official channels. Everyone
benefitted. CPO Club. Ballast Tank ("COM CLOSED" hah!) Housing.
Maybe you have the full story, in which
case, I'd sure appreciate its repetition here. All I can remember is that,
among other things, boat sailors who got crosswise with management (you
fill in that blank) wound up swinging hammers, sloshing paint, or otherwise
contributing to the early days of SUBBASE SAN DIEGO!
When Navy IG showed up, according to
the legend, Uncle Lew foreclosed upon all objections to the existence of
this unauthorized and unlisted but none-the-less fully functional Submarine
Base by pointing out that it did not cost a cent of Military Construction
funds. However, nothing was ever said about the raids upon the boats' OPTARS.
Surely, the statute of limitations has
expired by now ... Story, please?
Posted by Bob Thomas (aka Cap'n. Bob)
on January 05, 2001
The stories about "Uncle Lew" Neeb are
correct. He was Chief of Staff for ComSubFlot One from summer of 1965 until
1966. He was relived by Capt Bob Gautier in 1966 and I relieved Gautier
in 1967. Uncle Lew went to VietNam in 1966 as skipper of the amphibious
ship USS Paul Revere and then returned to San Diego as a Squadron Commander
in 1967. During that period 1967-68, I worked with him every day. I still
see him here in San Diego very often. He will be 80 years old sometime
this year and is still reasonably healthy. He is just as mischievious as
ever. When ever I am around him, I always place my wallet in my front pocket,
otherwise he will steal it. He did a lot for the sailors back in those
good old days
|5 January 2001
Search engine follow-up results
by Sid Harrison
A half hour with a search engine and
the letter shown below is the only ref I found. it is a letter posted on
an Esther Williams fan-club board.
Sorry. He didn't have a copy of the
WestPac ESTHER picture.
Hello Ms Williams,
My name is John Potter and I'm emailing
from Melbourne, Australia. I'm contacting you to relate a story which grew
out of your legend during the Korean War and thereafter. I was told this
story when I (and other officers from my ship at the time - HMAS Brisbane)
visited the Royal Australian Navy repository at Spectacle Island in Sydney
and I viewed the original photograph of you which started the whole story.
It seems that during the Korean War
a young Australian Naval Officer received a public relations package for
the ship in his role as Public Relations Officer. Amongst the items received
was a photograph of you in a swimsuit. The young officer decided that he
wanted to keep this photo for himself and signed it 'To George, with all
my love, Esther.'
He then mailed it to himself so he could
become the envy of his fellow officers. To stop it from being stolen, he
had it framed and hung on the wall in the Wardroom (officer's mess). Unfortunately,
this didn't stop other ships' officers from stealing it and the photo quickly
became a hot trophy amongst the Australian, British, American, Canadian
and New Zealand ships on station.
Each time a ship lost or gained the
trophy, a signal would be raised to all ships to advise of the transfer
- many of these were quite lengthy and poetical and great wads of them
still exist at Spectacle Island.
It all came to a head one day when a
Canadian officer on the US ship holding the trophy at the time, snatched
it off the wall and bolted for the gangway just as the ship was leaving
the wharf. He was tackled on the rear of the ship by an American Officer
and the Canadian and the trophy went into the sea near the turning propellors!
He was lucky not to be minced up!
The Admirals of the five fleets met
and agreed that the business had gone far enough. A 'fighting trophy' was
made with a floating ring around it and the following rules were agreed.
The trophy could only be taken by a commissioned officer; no weapons were
to be used; and once taken the trophy was not to be permanently fixed or
The original trophy was to be kept by
the senior Australian ship on station. After the war the trophy disappeared
for many years. A few years ago, an Australian shore depot was being decommissioned
and cleaned out and ammongst the items turned up was the original of your
photo! How it got there no one knows but it was given to the curator at
He then wrote to the many now senior
officers around the world who had contacted him over the years asking of
it's whereabouts. Many of them then wrote back demanding that it be sent
to them after the injuries they had received acquiring 'you' for their
ships! Fortunately he resisted this pressure and it is still safely held
in the museum to this day.
When the officers of Brisbane visited,
we were highly amused by the story and our navigator (an expat Canadian)
decided we should restart the tradition in the modern Australian fleet!
The curator made us a replica of the original trophy complete with medal
ribbons of the campaigns 'you' served in and a summary of the story on
the back. The trophy has already travelled around South East Asia on our
last deployment and was also the temporary guest of a number of other Australian
ships along the way! I may have got some minor details of this story wrong
but it is largely as I relate it.
I'd also be interested to know if you
already knew of this story and the effect you had on the Naval Officers
of five fleets, many of whom battled valiantly in your name!! The recent
escapades have also seen some late night episodes and deception! Hope to
hear from you soon.
Best wishes, John Potter - 2/99