Pin-Up War Games

By Bob Orleck and Fred Worthen


This may be hard to believe but on a dark night off the coast of Japan, as invaders came alongside the USS ORLECK, the crewman stood by and just watched as they boarded the ship. The ORLECK crew did absolutely nothing to repel these intruders. As the attackers climbed aboard, totally unhindered by the crew that had now gathered in larger numbers, they moved as a unit that had a known goal. It wasn’t until an officer noticed the strange events and cried out for help that this evil was confronted. Most of the officers had gone to an aircraft carrier in the area for a conference. The remaining officers engaged those intruders struggling with them, trying to keep them from a critical part of the ship where these men had hoped to accomplish their mission. It was a “furious battle” noted Lt. Jim Faddis. Even in the midst of this struggle the crewmen of the USS ORLECK stood by, sometimes even laughing at what they saw, as their officers struggled. They were able to throw two of them in the sea from the MT 44 gun tub but they were rescued by their waiting whale boat. Two more “were ushered off with fire hoses, down the accommodation ladder. The nefarious scheme of these marauders was thwarted and ORLECK kept the sought after precious cargo until she returned to States in June of 1950 when she gave her valuable possession to another ship staying in the area. Shocking as this sounds to you I know, its true and it happened back on 6 March 1950.

More in the way of explanation is needed and the following comes from CMDR Fred Worthen. The sought after possession was a photo of Esther Williams and the game involved wardroom officers of destroyers deployed to WESTPAC during the ORLECK’s first tour of duty in the Korean War.

“The time frame for these crazy events involving the ORLECK’s personnel began in early 1950 after we rejoined our destroyer division in the Seventh Fleet. During one of our in-port periods for R & R, ORLECK’s personnel were introduced to this diversion from the more serious happenings of the day.

The ships organization called for the deck and ordinance personnel to be assigned to the quarterdeck and sentry watches as a part of the ship’s overall in-port security assignments. It was because of these requirements that the deck watch personnel were made aware, and informed, about the need to be especially alert for any unusual activity on or near the ship. Without too much more information available, the ‘mess deck scuttlebutt’ had it that a security exercise of some sort had been instituted. As it turned out, the need for the extra alertness while on watch was only required if the ship had the so called ‘Fighting Copy’ posted on its quarterdeck.

The picture of Esther Williams appeared to be a standard promotional pin-up of the era. It had the standard salutation to a fan and admirer, and also was the source of the diversion activities that was born because of it.

The fan and admirer in this case happened to be a young junior officer, serving on a ship, at the time, similar to the ORLECK. He and another junior officer serving on the same ship, also were assigned to the same state room and apparently shared the same interests; especially the admiration for Esther Williams. As fate would have it, the enormous build-up of naval forces in the Far East required the reassignment of personnel to augment ships with shortages of certain personnel. In this case it resulted in the transferring of one of the young friends and mutual admirer of Esther. Though the transfer did not involve a great distance, it was the cause of the creation of this game of diversion between the several wardrooms of the destroyers when they were in port. From that, the diversion spread out so that any destroyer that was in port could join in the fun and activities.

It became known that when the young officers were separated, the departing one decided on taking the picture of Esther home as a keepsake from his friend. Well, naturally, this wasn’t a good idea and from what I understand, several efforts were made to retrieve it. Apparently these efforts resulted in failure, but a rivalry between the ships developed. This rivalry then developed into a group of rules and so forth. Everything appears to have progressed from there and became as much fun for the ships officers as it was for the enlisted men watching them.

Apparently, as things worked themselves out, two copies of this picture became available, as a part of the game; the ‘Fighting Copy’ and the ‘Trophy Copy’. Each copy had a distinct role according to the rules, and to violate the rules by a wardroom meant exclusion of that ship’s wardroom from any additional participation in the fun and activities.

The ‘Trophy Copy’ was a nicely framed edition of the one that was taken, as was the ‘Fighting Copy’. The differences being that the ‘Fighting Copy’ could withstand all forms of abuse; water, mauling, banging and other forms of roughhousing. The ‘Trophy Copy’ was to be treated at all times as a lady that she (Esther) was.

The ‘Trophy Copy’ was always displayed in the host ships wardroom, while the ‘Fighting Copy’s’ station was on that ship’s quarterdeck in plain view. The ‘Trophy Copy’ was only relinquished to another ship if the ‘Fighting Copy’ had been properly captured according to the rules-of-the-game. The rules-of-the-game, though not clear, could involve many forms of rough-housing, abuse, skullduggery, or mayhem against a possessing host ship. This meant anything that was legally or illegally recognized in the rules could be used to capture the ‘Fighting Copy’ and thereby gain the ‘HONOR’ of having Esther to dinner in their wardroom.

One specific rule that had nothing to do with misconduct or anything else, was that when a ‘Host Ship’ hosting Esther was relieved and returned to stateside, its relief became the new host to Esther’s picture. I am not aware that the ORLECK was that fortunate during my time aboard her, but I had heard of other ships receiving the honor, and were they ever surprised with assailants.

Enlisted personnel could not be participants to the activities of assault and/or capture of the ‘Fighting Copy’ except as noted regarding deck watches. If there was some unusual activity involving the ship’s routine at the time: refueling, storm or ammunition handling, etc, then attempts to capture the ‘Fighting Copy’ were illegal. Not that attempts were not made, but they were looked upon as unsuitable behavior. Additionally, there could not be any sort of activity that would cause personal injuries or distract the ship from carrying out its assigned orders or mission.

There may have been other times that the ORLECK had the honor of hosting Esther, but the only one that I can vividly recall was in Sasebo, Japan. We were alongside the quay walk at the fuel docks, taking on fuel or had just finished fueling when the swarm of young officers approached the ship. They were in boots, they were walking along the quay wall, you name it and they were arriving by that means. As it developed, the alarm was sounded and out of the wardroom officer personnel appeared ready to ward off the invaders. There were numerous guises used and all sorts of fun engagements resulted. I believe our wardroom was successful in driving off the thieves and defending Esther’s picture, but I am not 100% positive about it.

In an article “We’ve Come for Esther” by Captain Daniel M. Karcher, U.S,. Navy (retired) (U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, July 1986) we get a little more information about the history. Apparently the tradition started back in the mid 1940′s and the young officer “…claimed to be her (Esther’s) fiancée. He raised such a ruckus getting the picture back that others joined in the fun of stealing her picture, until a game developed among the officers of the occupation ships-stealing the picture from whichever ship happened to have it.”

The article relates incidents of capture and loss of the photo, but one in particular is of interest. After a ceremony where the trophy copy was presented to the victorious FLOYD B. PARKS officers, it tells of her loss in the next couple days in a daylight sneak attack from “a ship in our second division” whereby two officers came aboard to pick up operational orders and while one distracted the officers of the FLOYD B. PARKS with questions about operations, the other slipped the photo into a briefcase and they departed. A month later they tried to get her back and the event is described as follows: “A mid-morning raid was planned against Esther’s present custodian, using a Guard Mail trip as a stratagem…Unfortunately, our raiding party was quickly detected and soundly defeated before it could even reach the wardroom. I can still recall the spectacle of our raiders being thrown one by one off the quarterdeck of the other ship into Sasebo’s frigid waters. If our whaleboat hadn’t been available, they would have had a long, cold swim back to our ship.” This incident seems to be similar to the one described above by Fred Worthen and I wonder if these are not one and the same incident?

In another article “The Esther Williams Saga” by W.B. Hayler, CDR, USN (Our Navy, Vol 15, No. 10, Oct. 1960) it closes with this bit of history. “One point I would like to make. Battle was first done over the original in 1943, when it came into possession of H.M.A.S. NIZAM. Several changes of ownership occurred, but ‘ESTHER’ returned to NIZAM, and in that ship had the good fortune to be in first Australian ship to enter Tokyo Bay for the surrender in 1945. Present writer was there and can guarantee it.” The tradition carried on for quite a few years. It was noted by Captain Karcher that after the raid described above that when they returned to Sasebo several months after that the “…battle over Esther had been dropped in favor of the battle against the North Koreans. I never heard what happened to the ‘trophy’ copy of Esther, but my reproductions of the “fighting copy” will always be greatly treasured.”

Does anyone know what happened to the copies and does anyone have the stories of the captures that were required to be kept?

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