Money: The Ultimate Power Broker

During my four year stint in the U.S. Navy, I was stationed in Naples, Italy. Just because I had shore duty didn’t mean I didn’t get my share of ship assignments. In the early 70s, the Vietnam War was still going on, though it was definitely winding down. I served 179 days there on three different ships. I was not allowed to get that 180th day because the U.S. Navy didn’t want to give me combat pay, which was all of $50.00. If there had been any doubt I was getting out and not making the Navy a career, that little detail cinched it for me.

Most of my ship assignments were in the Mediterranean Sea. However, on one cruise aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, we were just off the coast of South Africa. We had been at sea for 10 days straight and needed supplies. So, we headed to Port Elizabeth where we would meet a US supply ship and get some R&R in the city of Port Elizabeth. As we were being put into dock by tugboats, we got an alert to report to our duty stations. This was a common practice when the Captain wanted to speak to the entire crew. The Watch Officer at each station would take a roll call to make sure everyone was there (God help you if you didn’t make it for roll call). The Captain informed us he had a message from the US Embassy that had been relayed to them from the apartheid government of South Africa. We were informed that the South African government was extremely happy and proud to have the US Navy visit their country and for us all to have a good time. However, they were going to make one restriction that they would not waiver from for any reason. All black American sailors were to leave the city of Port Elizabeth by 5PM which was in accordance with their apartheid laws.

Our Captain announced to the US Embassy to relay to the South African government that he did not have any black American sailors aboard his ship.  He did not have any white American sailors about the ship. Nor did he have any other distinctive color Americans. We were all tri-colored; red, white and blue. Furthermore, there would be no shore leave to the hundreds of merchants, bars, clubs of Port Elizabeth by the 5000 men on ship. We were stunned. But, not surprised by our Captain’s outrage. We were resigned to our fate which we understood, but were not happy about.

Meanwhile, the merchants, club owners, bar owners and yes, cat house owners went into warp drive with their own outrage. Hell hath no fury like a merchant when he or she can see thousands of dollars sitting offshore within a stone’s throw of his or her store. We would be tied up for five days and the merchants were going berserk.

Long story short here; after one day of demonstrations and fury; the South African government backed down. They were making an “exception” purely out of humane interests of a powerful ally, the United States Navy. If you believe that, I have some prime real estate to sell you 30 miles south of Mobile, AL.

In the end, it was all about money. Even with the stranglehold of apartheid in place, the South African government buckled under the most powerful of all power brokers; money.


What a fascinating life you have lived. I can't imagine that kind of life and spoken with such experience!

Hail hail to your captain. I love to hear stories where one stands up for his beliefs no matter the consequences. These 5,000 consequences could have been rough too!
I enjoy your blog, keep the memories coming!


Kharma, I wouldn't be so bold as to say I agree with you re: fascinating life. But, I've led an eventful life, I believe. Thanks for the comment.

jewels, the sad thing about it...I can't even think of that Captain's name now. That's why I didn't include it in my entry. But, he was a very stern fellow and ran the proverbial tight ship. Thanks for you comment.

Wow, that's a great story. It's interesting to see that even major social barriers can be broken with money. People often think that people's prejudices always prevail - and they often do - but I guess everything can be bought.


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