On an overcast September morning at Port Hueneme, Calif., about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles, Navy Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Curtin marched down the line of Seabees during inspection, stopped and complimented 18-year-old Leon L. Louie on his new haircut. "This is for you," Louie respectfully replied. Then, Seabee Louie pulled a chocolate cream pie from a paper bag and aimed it square at the officer. As pie filling dripped from Curtin's khaki jacket, the other Sea-bees shook with suppressed laughter. For the battalion it was supposed to be a tension-relieving practical joke. But for Louie, a Chinese-American from Fresno who had enlisted straight out of high school, the pie fling quickly ceased to be a laughing matter. The Navy convened a court-martial. The charge: assault and battery.

The trial nearly brought back burlesque. In his defense, Louie claimed that he was merely relying on a time-honored technique to boost morale which had been sagging since his battalion, recently returned from six months in the backwoods of Puerto Rico, received orders for a remote island in the Indian Ocean. To prove its point, the defense called an "expert" witness—Soupy Sales of TV renown, who has himself been the target of some 19,000 pies. Pie-throwing, Soupy testified, is a "harmless joke meant to entertain and amuse."

Failing to see the humor of the situation, the five-member military court docked Louie $400, restricted him to the base for two months and busted him to the lowest possible rank. As if that were not punishment enough, even Louie's technique came in for criticism—and from his own expert witness. Safely off the stand, Sales was asked whether Louie should really have thrown the chocolate pie. "No," replied Sales, a former Navy man. "That shot called for lemon meringue."