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Reflections: Swimming with a Mermaid

Enjoy our “Reflections” post — one of many vignettes and stories featuring memories of days gone by. This installment is from Dave Hovey of Coffeeville, Mississippi, as seen in “The Oxford So & So.”
If you would like to contribute your own Reflections story, send it, along with photos, to hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

It was summer 1954. Our aircraft carrier “Intrepid” (now in a museum in the Hudson River at New York City) anchored in the bay at Naples, Italy.

My favorite hangout was the “Ready Room.” We received our flight instructions seated at rows of school desks. The pilots would write notes on their knee pads and listen as the squadron commander talked and drew on the chalk board. Combat Air Crewmen, like myself, flew in the right hand seat or sat behind, depending on the aircraft and were given a signal by the instructor to leave. We would already have on our flight gear, oxygen mask, helmet and goggles were grabbed out of our Ready Room lockers in passing.
Our job was to pre-flight the plane according to a checklist, crank up the engine, check the instrumental panel, set the altimeter, armament, fuel, etc., feather the prop control to make it easier for the pilot to climb in.
The Ready Room was a great place to stay when there no scheduled flight operations. It had a small refrigerator with soft drinks and some snacks. They encouraged us to eat carrot sticks for night vision. We could play cards or sit at our desk and read or just “shoot the breeze.” It was where we mustered each morning for roll call, regardless of schedule.
The door opened and a young lieutenant in whites with white shoes said, “Attention!” We all jumped to our feet immediately. The squadron was comprised of about 30 actual fliers, pilots and crew. Of course, there was a large backup compliment of mechanics, sheet metal men, parachute riggers and painters, etc. but they were not part of the flight team.
A beautiful lady stepped through the hatch, waved and said, “Hi, fellows.” More people stepped in and they were civilians. A cameraman started filming us and the Ready Room. The lady turned out to be Esther Williams, the current swimming movie star. We were all grinning like a possum with a mouth full of bumblebees.
Esther strolled to the podium desk, leaned over and said, “I have a place across the bay on the Isle of Capri. You are all invited to a pool party tomorrow at 2 p.m. There will be separate cabanas where you may find swimming trunks to fit and a place to store your uniforms. Refreshments will be provided. My Hydrofoil will be moored at the pier to transport you across the bay. It’s my way to say thank you for serving the way you do.”
She answered a few questions, waggled her fingers “bye-bye” and went back to the flight deck to visit with our skipper and have lunch.
Yours truly had never ridden on a hydrofoil (My friend Hilly Griffin, and his wife Libby, went out on Capri on one a while back). The boat held 30 or so passengers. It looked like a regular motor yacht. As the speed picked up across the water the whole boat raised up on giant water skies. The shaft for the propeller was telescoped. It stayed down as the boat raised up. Soon we were skiing along like a low flying plane. We dropped back down and pulled up to a dock next to a steep mountain road. Little Fiat open cars waited to wind and twist up to Esther’s home and big Olympic sized pool.
I don’t remember much about getting back to the Intrepid. I was 17 years old and should have stayed with Coca-Cola. I do remember all the pretty and having a wonderful time.
It’s not every day you get to swim in a movie star’s private pool.
Later I got chased up the beach at Monaco, France by Doris Day’s bodyguards for snapping her photo with my $5 camera. It was on the same cruise but that’s another story…

For questions or comments, email hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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