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Captain Louis Colbus, USN (Ret.) (1931-2012)

Based on three interviews conducted by Paul Stillwell from August through December 1984, the volume contains 388 pages of interview transcript plus an index. The transcript is copyright 2001 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee has placed no restrictions on its use.

Commissioned in 1954 after training as an NROTC midshipman at the University of South Carolina and Penn State University, Colbus initially served in the destroyer escort USS Albert T. Harris (DE-447) and on the staff of Commander Escort Squadron 12. He had temporary duty in late 1958 on the staff of Commander Task Force 88 for nuclear weapons testing, and then was flag secretary, 1958-60, to Rear Admiral Edward C. Stephan, Commander South Atlantic Force. After he took the general line course at the Naval Postgraduate School, Colbus was executive officer of the destroyer escort USS John R. Perry (DE-1034). He had shore tours in the mid-1960s in the Bureau of Naval Personnel and as a student at the Naval War College. Back at sea, he was executive officer of the destroyer USS Basilone (DD-824) during her first Vietnam deployment, then commanded the destroyer escort USS McCloy (DE-1038) in NATO ops. He was part of the program staff that developed the USS Spruance (DD-963)-class destroyers. In the early 1970s he commanded the destroyer USS Jonas Ingram (DD-938), then served on the staff of Commander Carrier Division Six. After duty in the Operational Test and Evaluation Force, Colbus was one of the initial students in the Senior Officer Ship Material Readiness Course in Idaho and later commanded Destroyer Squadron Two from 1976 to 1979. His final tour of duty prior to retirement in 1982 was as chief of staff to Commander Carrier Group Eight. The three rear admiral aviators he served were Bob Dunn, Jim Service, and Jerry Tuttle.

An index to this volume can be viewed here (.pdf).

In this selection from his first interview with Paul Stillwell in Viriginia Beach, Virginia, on 30 August 1984, Captain Colbus tells of his resesmblance to actor Yul Brynner and a zany encounter with a Marine brigadier general in a Neapolitan night club owned by mobster "Lucky" Luciano in 1957.

Paul Stillwell: What do you recall about liberty during that period?

Captain Colbus: Well, there was one story about going ashore in Italy. This was before my dad died. We all went ashore in Naples as a closely knit squadron with this great man, Emmett Bonner, in command. On this occasion we had five of the seven skippers, myself, a few of the ops officers, and an exec or two. We mustered at the Grotto Romano, a nightclub situated on the side of the mountain overlooking Naples Harbor.

During the evening, at about 11:00 o'clock, Lucky Luciano, the owner and former U.S. gangster, appeared as the master of ceremonies. He approached the microphone, took the spotlight, and was making a presentation in Italian. We all commented that it was time for the floorshow. Lucky then translated into English, saying, “It gives me great pleasure to introduce a man who's brought great pleasure to the world. It gives me pleasure to introduce Yul Brynner.”[1] All of a sudden, the spotlight fell on me. I, of course, am as bald as Yul Brynner and did resemble him. I stood up, took some bows, sat down, and shrugged my shoulders. Everybody laughed. Well, it started—free champagne, free drinks, autographs!

About that time, a distinguished-looking gentleman came over and introduced himself as a United States general. He put his arm around me and said, “This young lady who is with me this evening is French. She met you five years ago in Paris and just wants to renew the acquaintance.”

She started in French, and I interrupted her as best I could by saying, in my high school French, “Enchantee, permittez-moi presenter . . . ” At that time, Tom Walsh stood up; he had just completed a tour as assistant naval attaché in France, was now the skipper of USS Tweedy (DE-522).[2] Tom took over, did all the niceties, and got me off the hook. I couldn't speak French well enough to converse with this young lady. The general and I became great friends. We were arm in arm, drinking too much, and having a grand time.

Somebody in the party asked, “What is he doing? Who is this guy pretending he's a general?”

I said, “Well, I'm pretending I'm Yul Brynner. Who am I to criticize? If it makes him happy, let's relax and enjoy the evening.”

About 3:00 o'clock we broke up, and that was the end of that—so I thought. The next day the commodore had to attend a briefing of Operation Deepwater in the flagship Pocono; I properly saw him off at the quarterdeck. He got in his 26-foot motor whaleboat, and away he went. About 2:00 o'clock he came back with, “Ding-ding, ding-ding, CortRon 12 arriving.” He came aboard and said, “I've got to talk to you.” We went up to his cabin. He said, “Remember that general?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, he really was a general.”[3] By the way, I had introduced the commodore as Dr. Bonner, because, as I said, he was a very professional-looking man, elegant, and with well-groomed hands. He looked like a surgeon.

While at this senior briefing of all the commodores in the Mediterranean in 1957, and all during lunch, this general kept looking across the table and said, “Commodore Bonner, don't I know you from somewhere?” Then, almost into dessert, the general shouted, “Hey, you're not Commodore Bonner. You're Dr. Bonner.” And, oh, boy, I guess even my good friend Emmett had some quivers and felt guilty. The commodore just said, “The general wants to see you.” I really knew my naval career was over.

I went over to see the general. I arrived at USS Pocono and was escorted in to see the general. He was seated at a great desk with flags on either side. I was scared and overwhelmed. He warmly shook my hand and said that my performance was the best act he'd ever seen. He admired my ability to carry off a great coup. All his party thought that I was really Yul Brynner. He stated that any time I wanted to join his service, the Marine Corps, I was welcome to do so, and he would be my sponsor. Is that the way I told it to you before the tape started?

Paul Stillwell: Well, there was more to it than that. Please go on.

Captain Colbus: When I was in BuPers in 1964 as a newlywed, I was walking down the passageway between BuPers and the Marine Corps headquarters one day, and I passed my general friend from the night at Grotto Romano. We both did a double take. “Yes, Yul. What are you doing in town?” I told him I was stationed in BuPers. “What are you doing in town?” I told him I was now married. “How about being my guest this Friday at the Marine Corps Eighth and I ceremony?”[4]

“Yes, sir, with pleasure!” He and I renewed our old friendship. We had a gala night at the Marine Corps retreat ceremony, and my new bride was impressed with my influential friends.

[1] Yul Brynner was a popular American movie actor of the period. His trademark was a completely bald head.

[2] Lieutenant Commander Thomas W. Walsh, USN.

[3] The individual was Brigadier General Ralph K. Rottet, USMC, who served as Commanding General, Fourth Provisional Marine Air-Ground Task Force in the latter part of 1957.

[4] The Marine Corps barracks in Washington, D.C., is at the corner of Eighth and I streets, not far from the Washington Navy Yard. It is frequently the site of ceremonial presentations.



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