Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hank The Gator

If you've ever travel to Charleston, South Carolina and you find a beautiful river feeding into a small lake and you decide – wow that will be a great place for a swim – you need to keep in mind that Florida ain’t the only place with gators!

Born and raised in the Atlanta area I had very little interaction with alligators, however, there was this one time when I was about seven – a friend of mine's father for some reason brought one home from a business trip, and I got to hold it. It was about seven inches long and his name was Smiley,

I wonder why...

Anyway my friend Mike was playing with Smiley and for some reason he thought it would be a grand idea to hold Smiley real close to his face and stick his tongue in and out real fast and to touch Smiley's nose with each flick of his tongue.

Apparently Smiley didn't like this worth a damn.

After about four flicks of Mike’s tongue Smiley had just about enough and he caught Mike with an inbound flick. Now gators are born with a full set of tiny very sharp teeth – just ask Mike how many.
Mike started running in circles and trying to scream but that’s a hard thing to do when you have a gator hanging off your tongue, but you still can run. Mike ran upstairs to show his Mom and Dad his new trick but they didn't think it was nearly as funny as I did.

That happens a lot when your seven.  They managed to get the gator off Mike’s tongue, and he ended up getting a couple of stitches......Mike not the gator, but we never did know what happen to that gator. He just disappeared.

Getting back to Charleston – in an earlier post I told you a little about the security at the Charleston base. I'm not going into great detail because I love my country and I don't want to give anybody any ideas because you never know who's reading your stuff.

It was summer, it was hot and I was in a secure area way back in the woods locked in a cage for three days. This was a VERY secure area.  There was only one gate in and one gate out, and it was the same gate. We knew where everyone was. If the Officer of the Day wanted to come snooping around we knew he was there. We had different codes on our radios that only we could understand. If you said a certain thing on the radio on code every Marine working at that time would know the Officer of the Day was in the area so you better put your shirt back on or stop doing whatever he might not like.

This was a Saturday.  I know this because there were very few if any civilian employees in the area. I was on duty in the guard house, and that was okay with me because the guard house had the radio room and all of the alarm censors and the monitors – so it was air conditioned. This was your normal day at work until I heard the truck slide to a stop on front of the guard house and Wild Bill came busting in. 

Bill yelled "COME ON.....I GOT SOMETHING GOOD!" Having known Bill for about a year by then I knew this could be anything. Bill asked me to get him a rope – we need a rope. I said we don't have a rope.   He followed that with some sort of statement that said we need something for sure.....

I looked up.  Hanging on the wall was our rifle rack holding 12-15 M16 rifles.  In order to secure them we had a one-third inch or so braided steel cable with a two- inch loop at each end to lock it to the wall. Bill unlocked it and said, “This will work, come on!”

We ran out and jumped in his truck and headed out. When I asked what was going on Bill said, “You're gonna love this.  We’re gonna have so much fun!”

 Bill had been out checking locks and just driving around. When you check locks you check all of the locks. There was a good size creek that ran through the area we were in and most of it was underground because the area we were in was built over this creek. Where this creek came in and where this creek came out of our area was always of great interest to us. There were eight- inch reinforced concrete walls about four feet high on both sides of the creek and connected to the walls itself was a very heavy steel grate with a heavy steel gate that went into the water and was secured at the base underwater.

From the road you were looking down about a fifteen foot hill to the creek and the gate. The bars on the grate were about two and half inches apart so you could see in the water.  They were also wide enough to let water and small fish through but not much else. 

I know this is a very technical description, but I want you to get the picture.

We parked at the top of the hill and headed down.  We climbed over a wall and on to the grate.  As we approached the creek I could tell the water was pretty deep and very dark, but sure enough you could see the top of a gator snout sticking up about three feet from the grate.  We were standing on the grate right above him, but it was too dark to tell how big he was. 
Now – here’s where the stupid stuff starts.

We were both young, quick and strong and – we were MARINES.
Nothing could happen to us.

Bill unlocked the gate and put one end of that cable through the other to make a noose.Then he put the cable in the water at the end of the grate and told me to put my hand in the water and move it around and see if the gator would come after it.  

I said "Do what?!?”

Bill told me to put my hand in the water and wave it around again.

I said, “Why don’t YOU stick your hand down there.”

Wild Bill used simple logic telling me he was holding the cable.   So, like a dumb ass I put my hand in that black water to try to entice an alligator to come to my hand. That just sounds wrong even typing it, but that's what I did. After about 30 seconds he started moving closer to my hand. I could only reach out about two feet from the grate so there was not a lot of room for error. He swam straight for my hand and right through the cable. 

Bill yelled NOW!!!

I jerked my hand out at the same time Bill pulled the cable tight around the gators neck – his really big neck,  and he was not happy about it. Not at all, Bill is pulling and yelling, I'm trying NOT to fall in the creek. Bill and I got a good hold on the cable and started to pull the gator out of the water.

We pulled and he came….

and came....

and came. He just kept coming up out of that dark, deep water.

He was just under 8 foot long and we guessed 350 to 400 pounds and REALLY pissed off.

We got him up on the grate with us and that seemed to make him even madder – if that was possible.  About that time Bill jumps up on the wall leaving me and Hank on the grate....Yes I named it Hank.
Lucky for me Bill still had the other end of the cable. That was the point when I asked Bill, “Okay, now what do we do?”

Bill told me we were going to take him to the guard house, and for some reason at the time  that sounded like a good idea. Bill had the gators nose up against the wall so I thought I was on the safe end. I reached down and picked the gator up holding his tail.

I happened to weight about 200 pounds at the time, and that gator – Hank – whipped  me around like I was nothing. I managed to hang on long enough to toss Hank up on the grass with Bill. We were all three surprised that I had done that. Bill started pulling the big gator up the hill to the truck, but he didn't have to pull long because that big boy raised up and started up that hill on his own moving very fast.
 I yelled "RUN BILL!!!!”, but he already was running.

He made it to the truck just a few feet before the gator and dove in the back. Bill was still holding on to the  gator leash,  and that was a good thing since  I didn't want to have to catch him in the open field. Bill climbed out of the truck with the gator pulled tight against the tire. I made it to the top of the hill and grabbed his tail again.

Hank’s tail….not Bill’s

I was pushing and Bill was pulling and we got that gator in the back of that truck.

It was a slow ride back to the guard shack, and we planned the whole way just what we were going to do. 

Well when we got back there were only two other guys there. We pulled Hank out of the truck and brought him into the guard house. We shoved Hank into the bathroom and spent the rest of the day telling people not to go in the bathroom cause there was a gator in there and one by one they went in anyway and came out with a yell.

There was only one casualty that day.  One of the guys kept sticking his boot on Hank’s nose over and over until Hank grabbed the boot and bit holes through it. 

I’m just glad the owner’s foot wasn’t in it at the time.

We kept Hank until Sunday afternoon and decided to take him to a pond on the other side of the base and let him go, but you know – some things never change. 

I don't care if it's a seven inch long gator or a seven foot long gator you keep sticking something in its face it's gonna bite it – every time.


  1. Phil

    You are a very good writer.I enjoy your stories.

    Greg Yates

  2. LOL I think I've read this before but is is just as good reading it a second time.