When Weekend Drinking Means Alcoholism

When I was called back to active duty with the Navy in the Korean War, I roomed with another CPO at the Naval Air Station for about six months. He was a hell of a nice guy and a skilled aircraft line worker. But every Friday night he went out and drank heavily throughout the weekend. As a non-drinker I rarely went with him on his benders, but many the Sunday night he came back staggering alone or with help.

Sometimes, his friends or Navy Shore Patrol guys brought him back because he had passed out at a bar or on the street. Because he was so respected around the base, and he was a non-violent drinker, he never got into serious trouble. He always bragged that, despite his alcoholism, he never missed a muster. His record did show some incidents, but never enough to cost him loss of rank or other punishment.

But one Monday morning, he missed muster on the aircraft line, because no one could find him Sunday night. He did show up at noon and was immediately put on report. I don’t know what the punishment was, but it was a relative slap on the wrist, because he didn’t change his ways. In those days, alcoholism was a discipline problem, not considered a medical problem, especially in the Navy. He was OK for awhile, then he missed another muster, And another.

I was sitting in our room one Monday morning when he staggered in, escorted by two armed Marine guards. I thought it would be another forgive and forget incident, but when the Marines started gathering up my roommate’s gear, I knew it meant he was going to the brig. It would be much worse for him.

This highly-skilled CPO, after 19 years of loyal Navy service and father of a growing family, was court-martialed. His sentence was a year’s brig time, dishonorable discharge and total loss of benefits. That was in 1952. Today, hopefully, he would have been given no brig time, adequate rehab, and maybe even if it didn’t cure him, a medical discharge.

That’s a true story of how so-called “weekend drinking” was truly alcoholism, and the terrible results it can bring to a good man and his family.