Extended Liberty in Antwerp, Belgium, July 1954

Ray Medeiros

Ray Medeiros reports the following adventure involving himself, Marsh Slayton and William "Dusty" Rhodes during Extended Liberty in Antwerp, Belgium, July 1954

On our last afternoon, visiting Antwerp aboard USS Goodrich (DD after revisiting the Antwerp zoo, we were strolling down the boulevard and came across a nice, friendly looking bar. The name of the bar was the Clube Quarante: in English the name would be Club 40, (this is because it was the street number of the building, a street name that I cannot now recall). At about 2 PM, we walked into the bar and it was empty except for two quite attractive females and one elderly gal; the elderly one was the owner and the bartender. The other two gals were waitress’s, they helped out behind the bar and provided social company to the clients. Being Mids and having spent most of our money at this stage in the cruise, we were quite happy to order and enjoy a beer each. Shortly after we arrived and made acquaintances with the young ladies in the bar, a distinguished gentleman walked into the bar and ordered a drink and champagne for the gals. The owner, knowing the newcomer, who was a frequent customer, interpreted this as "drinks for the house" and uncorked two bottles of champagne and produced three glasses for her new American friends. I don't remember much about the individual except that he was a lumber tycoon and imported lumber from Greenland. His drink was shortly consumed and the champagne had disappeared as well: which seemed to be no problem to the gentleman because he ordered another round, and this time he gave his new friends the choice of beer or champagne. We all selected beer.

At about 5 PM a few more people arrived and a second very distinguished man came in; and he just happened to be the Mayor of Antwerp. This appeared to be a daily stop for him on his way home from the office. He also ordered a drink, and champagne for the ladies and us and a few of the other people who were at the bar; it was quite apparent that this was a usual gathering at the end of the day, except for the presence of the three Americans. Keep in mind this is 1954, Antwerp and Belgium were still very appreciative and seemed to be looking for any excuse to celebrate their freedom from Hitler. Heavy hors d'oeuvres arrived and more drinks flowed; we had a good time. A few more hostesses arrived along with additional appreciative customers and a piano player. Needless to say a party environment ensued. One customer, after buying us a round of drinks, asked us to pass on his thanks to Eisenhower when we returned to the states.

Alas, all good things had to come to an end as this was our last night in Antwerp, and we had a 10 o'clock curfew to be back on the ship for a 6 AM departure the next day. We had been pretty well matched up at this time and Dusty; in a temporary lapse of sanity, promised the whole group that we would return after going back to the ship and signing in off liberty. All three gals said they would be waiting for us.

Upon walking up the gangplank we noted that the Petty Officer of The Watch and the OD of one of the other ships in the nest were at the sign-in desk: NO friendly midshipman that might look the other way as we left the ship to return to the club after signing in. We proceeded below deck and agreed that the best way to get back to the club was to drop over the seaward side of the destroyer with dry work blues strapped to the top of our heads, swim down the river in our skivvies with shoes around our necks, and grab one of the rungs of the numerous metal ladders going up to the dock. Prepared accordingly we proceeded to the deck. We agreed that I was probably the best swimmer (I believe that Dusty and Marsh were both members of the Sub Squad) so I had all three sets of work blues strapped to the top of my head. We found a line and I proceeded over the side of the ship. Unfortunately we were between tides, and the river was flowing south at close to its maximum. I entered the water holding onto the line; the current was so strong that my feet were in the air as I was dangling in the water, insuring if I released hold of the line I would be in France long before reaching any Belgian dock or shore in the dark of night. This was NOT the way we would get to the dock, so Dusty and Marsh hauled me back onto the ship, but all three sets of blues were now soaking wet. As I was getting back on deck, Dusty saw a fishing boat coming up stream on our side of the river. He hailed the ship to come alongside and as the boat proceeded past the GOODRICH we dropped down onto its deck. He proceeded upriver with his new passengers and dropped us off at a landing a couple of hundred yards up from the GOODRICH. The three of us were now on the dock with only three sets of wet work blues. We put them on, hailed a cab and proceeded out to the Club 40 where our friends were still there to give us a hearty welcome and more beer and champagne. Our hosts were quite concerned about our wet clothes and offered to provide dry threads for us. Unfortunately, the only clothes they had in their kitchen were for their female employees; two waitress outfits, and a rather nice silky dress with an abundant amount of colorful flowers. After assurances from our hosts that no one would find any objections, we returned to the party; Marsh and I, in waitress attire, and Dusty in the fine flowered print dress which reached down considerably above his knees. The gals and guests were true to their word, and the party continued; the drinks continued and the piano player outdid himself selecting songs that everyone seemed to know. Around 2 AM the club had to close but all three of us wanted to spend a little bit more time with our new found friends so we agreed to part company and return to the club at four o'clock so we could return to the ship together.

After reconvening, we all proceeded to the dock. At this point Marsh decided to proceed directly and take his chances at the top of the gangplank (a decision Dusty and I should have taken, because as it turned out, Marsh smooth-talked his way onto the ship, claiming he was part of a work party returning to the ship). Dusty and I and the gals proceeded to a small fishing cove a few hundred yards north of where the Goodrich was tied up. One of the gals knew a young fisherman who had a skiff and he usually started work about 4 AM and she brought us to him. He was very skeptical about taking us up alongside the destroyer even after we proffered all the cash we had and the remains of a package of cigarettes. He was uncooperative enough that Dusty grabbed him by his shirt in both his hands, drew him up from his sitting position, looked him straight in the eye, and told him he would kick his butt and throw him off his skiff and we would take his boat up along the Goodrich. The fisherman, realizing Dusty was quite annoyed, agreed to his newly assigned mission. We proceeded upriver past the bow of the Goodrich, saw the line that was still dangling over the side of the ship from earlier in the night, and seeing that the current was much reduced I dived off the skiff to swim to the line. Unfortunately, as I broke the surface swimming towards the ship I looked up and saw the enlisted sentry on duty with his carbine pointed right at me. Fortunately there were a few Mids on deck and they convinced him that I wasn't a nasty Frenchman trying to board. Dusty followed shortly; we got up over the side and proceeded below deck where Marshall was waiting. Twenty minutes later we were under way headed for Gitmo Bay; with all three of us at the bow, waving a fond farewell to Antwerp.