From Capt. Bill Green (Sea Fox 56-59)
A little background on the events leading up to this picture. (Above, center)
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. Amount 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 Esther Trophy.
The prize consisted of nothing more that 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 things started during World War II on board an Australian ship. A young officer who constantly mooned over this o=photo was due to be transferred. One version has it that he 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 Back Prince that there were actually two photos of Esther Williams. The original, having become worn over the years was incased 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 didn't take much time 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 mad a successful run on Esther. It seemed that the 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 Esther. He tossed the picture over the side to a waiting boat, and the Lex had her.
Esther's new address was a heaven-sent opportunity as my next-door neighbor in Coronado was a member of the ship's 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 weren't 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 naive and uninformed submariners. Once on board, 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 ship's 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 to 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 the picture. (Above) 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.
Sea Fox eventually got Esther, as I mentioned in the BBS post, but that is another story.
Illigimitgi Non Carborundum, Bill.