In 1952 I was a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy, serving as the gunnery officer aboard a destroyer. Our ship was attached for half the year to the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, and for the other half we operated as a lone vessel away from the task force in the eastern Mediterranean. This soon got to be boring duty, particularly around Christmas. While the rest of the fleet was living it up in lush ports like Monaco, Barcelona and Venice, we were tied up to a decrepit pier in Izmir, an impoverished Turkish seaport with no decent nightclubs or restaurants. The weather was cold, damp and windy.
One morning a few days before Christmas I was standing watch on the quarterdeck when a civilian, about 35 and obviously a Turk, climbed up our gangway. In this part of the world anyone who boarded a U.S. Navy vessel to sell something—repairs, dry cleaning, local jewelry—always behaved as this man did. He saluted the flag flying at the stern of the ship and the Officer of the Deck, threw in a little extra bow and, for good measure, also saluted the petty officer of the watch and the seaman messenger.
It developed that he spoke no English—only Turkish and French. I'd had a couple of years of French in college so we took a whirl at that. His name was Aftal and he said he was a professional hunter and guide. He was selling boar hunts. For a ridiculously small sum—about $2 per person, as I recall—he would take a party of officers on a full day's hunt for wild boar. He said that he would provide beaters, dogs and "un deluxe autobus" that would get us to the happy hunting ground some place behind Izmir. I told him that I'd ask around and see if anyone was interested and he could come back after lunch. After farewell salutes to everyone and everything in the vicinity of the quarterdeck, he went ashore.
At lunch in the wardroom I mentioned Aftal's proposition and was surprised when about 10 officers, including our fat, nearsighted and distinctly un-athletic supply officer, said they were in. When Aftal came back that afternoon we closed the deal, and he said he'd pick us up in his autobus at 0600 on the only day we could all afford to be ashore, December 25th.
By Christmas Eve it was clear that nobody in the wardroom knew much about hunting, let alone boar hunting. Whatever qualifications the Navy set up for its officer-recruitment program, fieldcraft is obviously not among them. Not one of us had ever actually been hunting, and all we knew about wild boar was that they were domestic pigs that had escaped into the forests and gone wild. They were supposed to be incredibly dangerous and would, on the slightest provocation, gore a hunter to death with their razor-sharp tusks. Wild boar were fiendishly clever, immensely durable and implacably ferocious.
We mulled this over and decided one had to be heavily armed for a boar hunt. Since I was the gunnery officer, everyone looked to me for advice. I decided that the best thing to do was let each hunter choose his own weapon, so I got the keys to the ship's landing-force locker and led the way to the compartment where we stored our small arms.
The equipment list for a destroyer's landing force must have been put together about the time the Navy was running the Yangtze River patrol. There were enough small arms and equipment for a landing force of nearly 50 men, plus a lot of miscellaneous weapons to outfit sentries, put down mutinies and make up automatic rifle fire teams. There it all was—clean, greased and lined up in neat racks. We began to feel like kids in a candy store.
The communications officer took an M1 Rifle and a bandolier with 50 rounds. A couple of ensigns took M1s with bayonets. Another ensign took a riot gun and when somebody told him that its shotgun charge wouldn't stop a wounded boar, he added a .45 caliber pistol for the close-in work. Our engineering officer selected a submachine gun with four 50-round magazines. (The general view was that this really wasn't sporting, but the engineering officer insisted.) I took a carbine and a pistol.
At this point our fat supply officer announced that several of his enlisted men had told him that steel-jacketed military ammunition was completely unsuited for hunting. To kill a boar with our kind of bullets, you'd have to hit him repeatedly. So he selected a Browning Automatic Rifle with tripod. A BAR, when set for full automatic fire, was like a small machine gun, capable of firing 350 rounds per minute. It was the most awesome weapon in our hunting arsenal.
Christmas dawn broke under a cold drizzle at 0600 when Aftal showed up with his deluxe autobus, an old German diesel-engine job with a body that was a mass of welds. Obviously, it had been in a bad wreck—or, more likely, a series of bad wrecks—and the frame was bent all out of line. It might have been deluxe by Turkish standards, but not even a marginally conscientious state highway patrolman in the United States would have allowed it on the road. Inside the bus there were about five Turks, each with a dog. They were introduced as the beaters (rabatteurs) for the hunt and they were positively the toughest-looking gang of old men I think I'd ever seen. Their dogs were mangy, dirty, and clearly underfed. Each of the men carried an old shotgun. Aftal shouted something to the driver and we started on our way.