Douglas Roberts, first lieutenant on the Reluctant, a U.S. Navy supply ship in the Pacific, is the guiding spirit of the crew’s undeclared war against the skipper, Captain Morton, an officious, childish, and unreasonable officer. The Reluctant is noncombatant, plying among islands left in the backwash of the war. None of its complement has seen action, and none wants action except Roberts, who has applied without success for transfer to a ship on the line.
In the continuously smoldering warfare between the captain and the other officers and the men of the ship, Roberts scores a direct hit on the captain’s fundament with a wad of lead-foil shot from a rubber band while Captain Morton is watching motion pictures on board. Ensign Pulver, who spends most of his time devising ways of making the skipper’s life unbearable, manufactures a giant firecracker to be thrown into the captain’s cabin at night. The premature and violent explosion of the firecracker puts the entire Reluctant on a momentary battle footing. Ensign Pulver is burned badly.
Ensign Keith comes to the Reluctant by way of middle-class Boston, Bowdoin College, and accelerated wartime naval officer training. He is piped aboard in the blazing sunshine of Tedium Bay, hot in his blue serge uniform but self-assured because Navy regulations prescribe blues when reporting for duty. Despite the discomfort of a perspiration-soaked shirt and a wilted collar, Ensign Keith immediately shows the crew that they will have to follow naval regulations if he has his way aboard ship. One night, however, while he is on watch, he comes upon a drinking and gambling party presided over by Chief Dowdy. Keith is hoodwinked by the men into trying some of their drink. Not much later, under the influence of Chief Dowdy’s “pineapple juice,” Keith becomes roaring drunk, all regulations and service barriers forgotten. His initiation completed, Ensign Keith never again refers to rules and regulations.
At a forward area island base, where the Reluctant has docked to unload cargo, the crew quickly learns that the military hospital is staffed by real nurses. Every available binocular, telescope, and rangefinder on board is soon trained on the nurses’ quarters. Interest rises to a fever pitch when it is discovered that a bathroom window shade in the quarters is never lowered. Officers and crew soon come to know the nurses by their physical...
(The entire section is 1009 words.)