Quartermaster Charlie Law. Barrel-chested and bass-voiced, Law had emerged as a leader of the enlisted men aboard the spy ship. He loved the Navy and was proud
to the point of cockiness of his talents as a course plotter. He also was grateful to Bucher for qualifying him as an officer of the deck, meaning Law could steer the ship on his own, a rare and exalted station for an enlisted man.
A tenth-grade dropout, the quartermaster had spent his adolescence in Tacoma, Washington, a blue-collar city permeated by the stench
from surrounding mills that sawed and pulped the rich forests of the Olympic Peninsula into wood and paper products. His parents split up when he was four, and his no-nonsense mother raised him with money she made running a tiny greasy spoon. Law tried to enlist at 15, lying about his age and telling the recruiter the timeworn fable that his birth certificate had been destroyed in a fire at the county hospital. But his mother refused to sign the papers. The day he
turned 17, he enlisted on his own.
He worked mostly as a deck ape, chipping paint and mopping decks
aboard a Navy tug, an oil tanker, and a supply ship based in Japan. He was a brash kid, a smart-ass, but he learned fast. Somewhere along the line, a senior quartermaster took Law under his wing and taught him the fine points of shooting stars and fixing a ship’s position.
Law’s prowess with sextant and pelorus made him someone aboard
ship. He had exceptional vision, 20/13 in one eye, 20/14 in the other. He often competed with Bucher, himself an excellent navigator, to spot the first evening star, and Law usually won. He liked that officers depended on him, made important decisions based on his calculations. They simply took his word for where they were. “And I always knew where we were at,” he said in an interview many years later, his pride still evident. “It was the only thing I was really that good at in my life.”
After retiring from the Navy, Law planned to work as a navigator on tuna boats out of San Diego. But the time he spent in North Korean prisons ruined that dream forever. Read about what happened to Law in Chapter 11, “Summer of Defiance.”