"The Great STRATCOM Red Sea Fishing Adventure" by Joe Wilder

This story is, mostly, an as-remembered account of an adventure that took place in and around the Horn of Africa. Parts of the story are "as-told", however, since much of the planning and after-action reporting took place in the Stag Bar of the Top Five Club. This reporter, of course, never had a high enough clearance to get past the security checks and enter that cave! Plus I had heard reports that the Demon Rum was being consumed inside and all you know that I never, NEVER would be involved with that! At any rate, the story begins below.

Once upon a time in the distant past, when dinosaurs roamed the Kagnew antenna fields (summer 1969), a meeting is reported to have taken place at a secret location, revealed by this reporter for the first time. This classified location can now be revealed to be the Stag Bar at the Top Five club. It was at this location, where many difficult problems were discussed and solved, that the idea of a deep-sea fishing trip into the Red Sea first surfaced. After receiving guidance and advice from two of the more-or-less permanent, and most frequently consulted, occupants of the Stag Bar - Jack Daniels and Jim Beam - SGM Bill Otzenberger and a group of his intrepid and (partly) sober STRATCOM warriors decided to sally forth into uncharted (for them) waters. They would do battle with the dreaded denizens of the deep and uphold the fishing and beer-drinking honor of the legendary Higgs' Hoodlums.

In the next weeks, problems were staffed out and solved. With their plans finalized, logistical buildup began. On D-Day the intrepid SGM and his group of volunteers gathered at the Top Five Club and began to load the Club ¾ ton truck, borrowed for the occasion. Among the volunteers were this reporter, SFC Bill Wilson, SFC Bill Hardin, MSG Peckerhead Perry (so named by MSG Lee Ruebush because Perry had his hair shaved off and his completely hairless head bore, according to Lee, a remarkable resemblance to the head of a….well, you figure it out). Several other trained STRATCOM Pisces killers, whose names are lost in the dim mists of time, completed the party.

First on the truck was the club's ice chest, homemade of 2 x 4's , taking up half the truck bed. When loaded (as it was) to capacity with 300-pound blocks of ice, its weight far exceeded that of a ¾ ton truck. Undaunted, they continued to work. Next came several cases of c-rations; more-than-several cases of beer; some jerry cans of potable water; smaller personal ice chests to hold beer, and fish when caught; assorted fishing gear; and about 900 pounds of human bodies. The overflow was crammed into Bill Wilson's blue and white '55 Chevy Wagon. With loading completed, the vehicles were started and off to face the unknown went these brave warriors with a shout, armed with only a cold beer.

The trip down the hill was uneventful until we reached one of the steepest parts (where you could actually see three switchbacks above you). Wilson's Chevy was noticed to be missing at that point. Pulling off onto the verge of the road and stopping, the Wagon was spotted two switchbacks above. It turned out that the brakes had overheated and locked down. A tool kit had to be dug out and the brakes re-adjusted. When we tried to resume the trip it was discovered that the battery on the truck was dead ie would not start. After much discussion it was decided to push-start it down the hill and jump on when it was started. The only flaw in the plan was the fact that a concrete Km marker was in the path. No obstacle too big for this crew, however. Peckerhead Perry, the lightweight of the crew, was loaded into the truck with many instructions and admonitions, the most frequently repeated being the instruction to steer around the Km post. The rest of us began to push. Things were going great when, naturally, Peckerhead steered the left front tire squarely onto the post. If the shouted remarks this reporter heard were only partly true, tracing Peckerhead's family tree would have been both a delight and a challenge to any anthropologist.

After exertion that caused near heat exhaustion in 105 degree heat, the heavily overloaded truck was pushed far enough back up the hill to try again. This try was successful and the remainder of the trip into Massawah was as uneventful as the rehydration (not a word, but looks and sounds like one) at the R&R Center was delightful.

Our boat for this sport fishing outing was the most unlikely any of us had ever seen - an Arab cargo dhow with a crew who spoke no English and undoubtedly thought this group of Americans more crazy than most. This was a last minute replacement for the regular boat, and a boat most certainly not designed for sport fishing. It was late in the afternoon when loading was completed and we set out and very little was accomplished that day. As darkness was falling, Otzenberger got into a heated argument with the dhow captain. Bill wanted to bottom fish all night and the captain, afraid of rising wind, wanting to tie off on shore (as near as we could figure out from the gestures). Compromise arrived at; the captain took us to an area behind the protection of a point of land and anchored. By this point it was nearly 2000 hours and totally dark. Those wanting to fish rigged up and cast out. At about 0200 those sleeping were awaked by a terrible uproar. "Otz" had the captain by the throat threatening his life. Turns out the captain had anchored us in about 10 feet of water, much too shallow for fishing, and it had just been discovered. This problem was resolved and sleep returned. We awoke at dawn to the sound of the captain's prayer chants as he knelt the bow facing Mecca and throwing frightened glances in "Otz's" direction. The remainder of the trip was uneventful, except to report that at about 1000 that morning we made about 3 back-and-forth passes across a point of land with eight lines out. In those three passes we caught enough fish to fill all the chests. Large Spanish Mackerel, Bonito, Barracuda, Dolphin (not Porpoise), a Grouper and others we couldn't identify. The captain's prayers had apparently been answered.

The only thing better than the return trip to Kagnew was the lies that were told…and retold….and retold….and…...well, you get the picture. A fishing trip that will go down in history. Certainly one that will, in all probability, never be duplicated.

Joe Wilder 68 - 70


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