Category Archives: Sea Stories

Before Turning In

Written (and revised today) while the USS Hawkins (DD-873) was in the Portsmouth (Virginia) Naval Shipyard in October 1969 to have her fantail deck strengthened and a crane installed on the port quarter for lifting the Apollo 12 Spacecraft Module out of the water. Hawkins had been assigned as the Atlantic recovery ship in case problems arose with a Pacific recovery where the USS Hornet (CVS 12) was the primary recovery ship and did recover the capsule with astronauts Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon, and Al Bean aboard, November 7. There are a couple of more stories with our involvement, but this was what i was thinking one night in the shipyard.

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, October 1969,
walk around the ship, late,
the command duty officer
checking if all’s well,
night rounds;
on the weather deck,
he turns the collar of
his drab green foul weather jacket
up to ward off the night wind;
cigarettes taste best on the forecastle
when there are lots of stars;
the squalid clutter of a shipyard
disappears after sunset,
and
sometimes he sees better after dark;
he breathes easier
before turning aft
to check the mooring lines once more;
before going below
with his red filtered flashlight
to check the holes and the voids
for watertight integrity
before turning in.

Red Moore

When i began writing this, i thought i previously had written about the Hawkins’ liberty week in Ocho Rios. i could not find it, so i have included it here. i apologize to those who may have read about those infamous three days. This is a tribute to Red Moore. My story is intertwined with Red’s. He was a good man.

i had lost his name, thought it might have been Johnson. Then, another file folder being cleaned out revealed his actual name in three brief lines on a yellowed sheet of notebook paper. i finally had the name  of the guy i had thought about on and off for about for a half-century. It is sad i could not recall his name correctly.

Red Moore.

Boiler Tender First Class Petty Officer Red Moore. i never knew his real first name. And he would have frowned on anyone renaming his rate to “boiler technician.” He was a boiler tender and his fireroom was his church.

USS Hawkins (DD-873).

i was the First Lieutenant and then the Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer in the Weapons Department throughout my near two years on board. Red was, obviously, in the Engineering Department. i had sort of a realization who he was and not much more until an early April (i think) liberty port call in 1969.

He remains, after my near twenty-three years of my Navy service, one of my fondest memories. After that fateful weekend, we were friends as well as shipmates. Red Moore was a sailor’s sailor, old style.

And that man knew more about the Hawk than anyone, anytime, not to mention how well he knew how Navy destroyer life was supposed to be lived.

Red reported aboard from boot camp either in late 1950 or early 1951. Red was a fireman apprentice. The Hawkins had been commissioned in 1945 as a straight stick Gearing class destroyer. In the spring of 1949, she was reclassified from a “DD” to “DDR,” the designation for a radar picket destroyer, meaning the DDR’s had a single 3″/50 caliber gun mount removed from the 01 level aft for additional radar equipment. That  year, she also moved from the Pacific Fleet with a home port of San Diego to the Atlantic Fleet and her new home port of Newport, Rhode Island. That is where Red reported on board.

In 1960, her homeport was moved down the coast to Mayport, Florida (Jacksonville). Four years later, she went into the Boston Naval Shipyard to be converted to a FRAM I destroyer (Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization) in 1964 removing the forward Mount 52 gun mount and added ASROC. After the conversion and being relabeled as a “DD,” not a “DDR.” she remained in Newport, her home port a second time around. i joined her in,Malaga, Spain in late April 1968 as she was concluding another Mediterranean deployment.

i include the Hawk’s history here only because Red Moore was aboard that entire time tending his boilers.

When we completed an overhaul in January, 1969, we went to Guantanamo Bay for “refresher training” aimed at getting us ready and certified for Navy operations (many stories here). After about six weeks of the intense, 0400 to 2200 work days for me, with one of two days liberty in Guantanamo (yippee!) each weekend, the entire ship’s company was ready for a liberty weekend somewhere else.

Friday morning, i arose at 0430 to check the material condition of my Third Division spaces, stopping in the wardroom for a cup of coffee, running to the bridge to relieve as the junior officer of the deck for Sea Detail,  participating in the “low visibility” exercise simulated by taping old navigational charts  on the ports of the bridge, wandering from the bridge to ASW plot to the forward mount and back to the bridge in training exercises, i returned to the bridge to resume JOOD duties as we returned to GITMO to drop off our training team. Reversing course, we headed for liberty. Oh boy!

At the conclusion of sea detail, the CO, Commander Max Lasell, called me over to the captain’s chair on the starboard side of the bridge/pilot house. We had had a turnover that week with a department head and another OOD rotating off the ship.  The captain told me he was qualifying me as the fourth OOD because, he said, i had enough sense to call him at any time i was in doubt about the ship’s location, condition, or safe navigation.

It was about 1800 when we secured from Sea Detail. i had a quick bite at the end of the wardroom mess, worked up the plans for our Monday morning exercises when we returned to GTMO, and lay down for about two hours. After all, this new OOD was assigned the midwatch. i stood the four hour watch, hit the rack at 0400, got up 45 minutes later to be the sea detail JOOD for mooring in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We tied up to the copper mining pier about 0800. Then the fun began.

As ASW officer, i was also the “MWR ” (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) officer and as such had to immediately report to the quarterdeck and meet the tour coordinators from Ocho Rios and gather the information about entertainment and attractions in the area. This took about an hour to arrange all and get the word out to the crew. i had decided i needed rest and was headed to my stateroom for a “NORP” (Naval Officer’s Rest Period) when someone told me i had pulled Shore Patrol Officer duty. As such, i needed to take a tour of the area with the local police to identify the potential trouble spots and determine how our half-dozen shore patrol crew would be deployed. Before liberty call, i was accompanied by the senior enlisted shore patrol petty officer. It was Red Moore.

The story of that day is below, but to continue with my lovely liberty, i was eager for the duty to end, so i could get some sleep before having about six hours of liberty on Sunday before we sailed. Addressing several problems that arose with my division folks kept me up until about 0230. i hit the rack then. Heaven…i thought.

Ninety minutes later, the messenger woke me up.  A copper ship had arrived and our pier space was needed. We set the Sea and Anchor detail and moved to an anchorage. This episode took about three hours. Blessed sleep awaited. Then Ralph Clark, the senior watch officer came to me with an apology. He had not advised Rob DeWitt, the relieving shore patrol officer, he had the Sunday duty, and Rob, being a bright boy, had spent the night in a room at the Playboy Club. Ralph couldn’t get in touch with Rob, so i would have to stand shore patrol duty that day as well. Red Moore had been relieved by another first class and the rest of my “liberty” in Ocho Rios was spent chasing drunks.

i returned to the ship at 1330. We set sea detail at 1500, and got underway, securing Sea Detail at 1730. After being relieved, i went to the wardroom evening mess and retired to my stateroom. But this junior OOD had been assigned the evening watch (2000-2400). i awoke after just over an hour of sleep and headed to the bridge. After the watch, i returned to the wardroom for midrats (midnight rations, and man, you just can’t miss midrats if you are a sea dog), once more finding my rack, this time around 0030. Ahh, such  pleasure.

However, we had to set Sea Detail at 0400, and i had to check condition Yoke in my spaces before that. So i was up at 0315, checked my spaces, and reported to the bridge. We arrived at Gitmo at 0630, picked up the trainers, and headed back to sea.

On our liberty weekend, i had about ten hours sleep over the three days and no liberty for our “liberty” weekend.

But you know what? It was worth it to be able to tell this tale and spend a day of duty with BT1 Red Moore. Red made my job as shore patrol officer a piece of cake. He knew sailors and knew where they would go to get in trouble, what kind of trouble they could find, and how to take care of it. He kept me aware but pretty much took charge. He was fun to watch in action.

In the late afternoon, one of our patrols came back to our SP station at a downtown police precinct and reported one hotspot was out in the jungle. Apparently, a clearing had been made and a big tent structure had been converted to a dance hall, complete with a bar. There were a number of huts nearby. The number of prostitutes normally around Ocho Rios was very small. But a bunch of these ladies of the night had been picked up in  the capital of Kingston and bussed across the island, a bit over 50 miles, and deposited at this party town in the jungle. Sailors, being sailors, had flocked there.

Around 2200, Red and i decided we should check out the place as liberty was expiring. It wasn’t expiring at fantasyland. It was hopping there. The band was playing loud with a driving beat, the bar was doing a brisk business, and women and men filled the place dancing.

When several of the sailors spotted the lieutenant junior grade in uniform, they came over to talk. One was my second class torpedoman. They were trying to buy me a drink, but i kept declining. One of the women asked me to dance. i declined her as well. Then as the group and i were chatting, i felt something between my legs. The spurned dancing lady had her hand on my crotch from behind me. As gently as i could, i removed her hand and with Red walked to the other side of the dance area. There some drunk decided he didn’t like officers and decided to take me on. He confronted me and was about a foot from my face shouting profanity. i tried to think how i could reason with a drunk and if we had enough shore patrol to wrestle him down and get him back to the ship.

Red stepped between us, told the belligerent drunk to calm down. Even though drunk, the sailor knew not to mess with Red Moore. Red ushered me to our truck, and we left. As Red was driving away, i said, “Moore, i appreciate what you did back there, but i could have handled him if he tried to hit me.”

“Oh, Mr. Jewell,” Red replied, “I wasn’t worried about him hitting you. I was worried you might hit him.” He continued, “That would have caused more trouble in so many ways we don’t even want to think about.”

He was right.

After that liberty weekend, BT1 Moore and i spent more time together. We would meet on the weather decks when he had come out of the forward fire room and i had come down from a bridge watch or perhaps during the workday, and just chat, learning about each other.

About nine or ten months later, BT1 Red Moore left the USS Hawkins after 18 years of service on one destroyer. He was planning on retiring in Arizona, his home, after completing his 20 years of active duty. For what we Navy folk refer to as our “Twilight Tour,” Red had been granted his request to spend his last two years as a recruiter in Phoenix, i believe.

Before i left the Hawkins just before Christmas of that year, i learned Red had been killed in an automobile wreck in West Texas on his way to his new duty station.

i had a bunch of enlisted folks who greatly helped me along the way. In my formative tour, BMC Jones, an SPCM whose last name i cannot recall, BM2 Carrier, and the entire sonar gang, ASROC gunner’s mates, and torpedo men were invaluable in teaching me how to be a good officer.

Red Moore was a master of boilers, the Navy Way, and life.  i wish i could have a beer with him right now.

Another Hard Hit Ball, an addition

My brother and Marty Snyderman have already commented on my earlier post about hard hit baseballs. Perhaps Rcio wasn’t all that fast at that point in his career.

But it did bring up another hard hit ball i did not see in person. In the early 1950’s, i listened to Dick Shively  and then Larry Munson announce the Nashville Vols baseball games. When someone hit a home run, Shively would began slowly with his natural voice, saying repeatedly, “It’s going; it’s going, it’s going,” with each reiteration getting higher pitched and louder until he and the ball reached their zeniths as the ball went over the fence, and Shively concluding with a scream, “IT’S GONE!!!” Munson, as i recall copied this home run narration of Shively’s.

In the one Sulfur Dell game against the Little Rock Travelers, the Vols were ahead in the eighth inning, 3-2. The Travelers player-manager, Les Peden, came to bat with a runner on. Peden hits a long line drive to left center, just left of the huge scoreboard projecting out from the fence. It was exciting already and Munson went wild, screaming his usual “It’s going, going, and hitting his highest note, “IT’S GONE!!!”

But the ball hit squarely against a telephone pole behind the fence and bounced back over the fence almost to the infield. With his voice breaking at his highest pitch and volume, Munson hoarsely in a falsetto screech screamed, “AND IT’S COMING BACK IN.”

Of course, it still counted and the Travelers won the game, but i will never forget that call.

A Moment at Sea: Eight Months Aboard the USS Luce (DLG 7), part I

This began with the idea of it being a couple of sea stories with some of my shipmate stories included. Mike Foster and i just recently reconnected.

As i began, i realized again how that short eight months were some of the most impactful in my life, determining the course i set for my Navy career. i also considered how it would add to my narrative for my grandson. So i began roughly about the time Sam’s mother was born.

i woke up thinking about it. In the middle of the night. Couldn’t get back to sleep for thinking about it. Didn’t want to forget what i was thinking about. If i had not been fearful of that, i probably could have resumed my slumber. Couldn’t. Had to get up and record it.

That happens quite frequently to me.

i used to wake up and start thinking about relationships going south and not understanding why. My brain would get entangled with why the south bound bond had deteriorated. Then, that ole brain of mind would start plotting how to turn it around with me knowing all the while that wouldn’t happen. But then, i have always been a dreamer, an optimist. Finally, i went to a counselor and she (Martina Clarke) was marvelous for me. i don’t think about those kind of things anymore. i accept the fact i can’t control others perception of me. i just have to keep trying to do what’s right. That happens when you get as old as me, i think.

But this was a whole different matter. These were positive thoughts, pleasant. i wanted to save them. Why? i don’t know. My only answer is i am a writer, always have been, just didn’t always admit it.

*     *     *

Recently, i hooked up (electronically) with an old shipmate. We have been communicating quite a bit about Navy things. Mike Foster is the president of World Wide Realty Solutions out of Connecticut. But in 1972-73, he was one of the four OOD’s on the USS Luce (DLG 7) with me, often relieving me on watch. Our communication has brought back recall of the shortest and one of the most rewarding tours i had in my Navy career.

There will be some repeats of my other seas stories in here. Yet, my experience on the Luce should stand as whole as i remember it:

It was a defining eight months of my life. It began because i had applied and been accepted for recall to active duty. i was one of six officers accepted back in that year as surface line officer. A primary reason my application was successful was Captain Max Lasell, the commanding officer on my first ship, the USS Hawkins (DD 873), had appeared before the board and recommended i be accepted.

As with all things, i wasn’t sure i was doing the right thing, but i felt was necessary to adequately provide for my family. i had a promising career (i felt) ahead of me in sports journalism. i was the sports editor of The Watertown Daily Times, a model of excellence as a mid-size daily in upstate New York. i had been successful enough to either rise further in that organization or attain success by moving on to a major daily in a big city. i was confident of my future but the rules of the guild kept management from paying me enough for adequate financial security. Had it just been my wife and i, we could have toughed it out, but our child was scheduled to arrive on the scene. i couldn’t see ends meeting. Thus, i applied to get back in.

Another little problem was my reserve status. Even though i was accepted back for active duty, i was informed if i did not achieve becoming a regular line officer (a designation of 1110, rather than 1105) within a year, i would be discharged. That would have made our situation untenable. So the heat was on.

Our daughter Blythe was born July 7, 1972. i left the newspaper as August rolled around, carted my wife Kathie and our daughter to Paris, Texas via my home of Lebanon, Tennessee, parked them with my in-laws and left at the end of the month to catch my new ship, the  Stephen B. Luce somewhere in the Mediterranean.

i flew to Newark and then caught a MAC (Military Airlift Command, an Air Force organization) to Rota, Spain. After a day, my next flight was to Naples. A LDO lieutenant and two chief petty officers took our one night of liberty to find an off-limit area, not because of the red lights but because one of the chiefs had heard of this great Italian in the forbidden sector. And so, we went. Somewhere in the middle of Naples, we cut off the main street and walked up a stairway. Now, this was not an ordinary stairway. It was about fifty or sixty feet wide, a street not for vehicles really with a stair level every ten feet or so. We walked up those stairs for about a quarter mile. The chief who had hooked into this adventure nodded toward a single door among the many.

i still don’t have a clue how the chief knew of this place and i am dumbfounded as to how he might have located it. This was long before Google maps. But there we were four Navy personnel in civilian clothes deep in the heart of Naples somewhere, with no capability to speak Italian surrounded by oh, about a gazillion Italians who could not speak English.

We walked in. There were about six tables the size of card tables, covered with white table cloths and a wine bottle candle in the middle of each table. Three of the other tables were occupied. We were led to one in the middle of the room. in a room about twenty by twenty feet. i am not even sure we ordered. i don’t remember a menu. Perhaps the chief used a hand signal.

Quickly, four drinking glasses came out and shortly afterward a bottle of wine, unlabeled with the cork halfway out was placed next to the candle setting. A basket of bread soon followed. Then after about five minutes, the waitress, a portly, dark complected woman, brought out four white plates filled with…yep, spaghetti and meatballs.

Oh lord, was it good. In my recall, it was the best. Everything was perfect. My kind of place. at the top of the front wall, they had a television, i’m guessing a 15-inch set. The ’84 Munich Summer Olympics were on the screen in Italian of course. It was the track and field events they were showing — this was prior to the terrorist killing 11 Jewish athletes, one of their coaches, and a police officer by “Black September” Palestinians. When we finished our meal and the second bottle of that red wine, chianti, i don’t know, but it was good; paid and tipped generously; nodded and nodded our appreciation, we left.

i don’t know how but the chief got us to the main street, we caught a cab and went back to the US Naval Base.

It was good. The next morning, i was the only one to catch a flight to the Kerkyra International Airport on the island of Corfu off the west coast of Greece. i arrived in the mid-afternoon, looking forward to a night on a Greek isle. That’s when i learned the ship would depart for a big exercise the next morning. i stayed aboard and hit the rack early.

Good start to a deployment? Maybe.

 

NJP, II

After my personal introduction to NJP, it was six years before i got to witness it in action again, or at least a variation of it (i think i’ve written of the sea stories before in other places).

i reported to my first ship, the USS Hawkins (DD 873)  in Malaga, Spain in April 1968, and  rode her on the last stages of her MED deployment (that is “Mediterranean” for landlubbers, not “medical”). i relieved the First Lieutenant as the ASW Officer would not rotate until late September that year at the beginning of an overhaul. In those days, the first lieutenant had a bunch of sailors in first division who were more likely to go to mast than most divisions. Not all, but most.

So once we got back to homeport, i spent a lot of time with report chits, XOI, and captain’s mast. The CO, Commander Tom Nugent, was…well, let’s not go there, but he was a stern taskmaster. Strangely, he was lenient at Captain’s Mast. i had several of my boatswainmates get off a lot lighter than i expected.

Then, while late on the evening (2000-2400) Officer of the Deck (OOD) watch on the quarterdeck, i learned the old way was still in my Navy. A very drunk seaman, one of mine in first division, came back from liberty and was so inebriated, i wasn’t sure he would make it across the brow. He was belligerent. When i attempted to calm him, he started cussing me out. As a fresh ensign i was trying to figure out how do deal with the kid while the petty officer of the watch (POOW) called the duty master-at-arms on the 1-JV sound powered phones.

The duty MAA was a first class gunner’s mate. He was big, burly, stout, and ugly. He had a crew cut and his muscles bulged from the tee shirt with one sleeve rolled up to hold his package of camels. He came up to the quarterdeck, saw what was happening and put his arm around the belligerent, drunken sailor.

“Come on, son,” he soothed, “Let’s go down to the boatswain’s locker and talk about this.”

They walked forward together, and i was relieved the incident was over.

It wasn’t.

The gunner’s mate took the young man down to the boatswain’s locker and gave him an old fashioned ass whuppin’.

i know this happened because i came from officer’s call the next morning to quarters for first division. There in the first rank was the offending boatswainmate. i expected him to look pretty bad because he had to be hungover, but he also looked like he had been through a meat grinder. The gunner’s mate had exercised the old style of discipline. My chief explained to me how it worked.

Wisely, i did not question what had happened.

Within a couple of weeks, i saw the old style at work again. First division had a strapping young seaman who was not overjoyed about being in the Navy and was often questioning authority. It did not help that he was also extremely prone to seasickness. If the ship rolled a little bit tied up to the pier or in a nest of other destroyers, this guy would blow lunch.

He had managed to piss off the First Division Leading Petty Officer (LPO), BM2 Carrier. i don’t know exactly what he did, but Carrier was my man second only to BMC Jones, whom i relied upon. Carrier held my hand and escorted me through some tough times. He also was old school, sailor, and back then, liberty cards were used to control who left the ship. The duty section would not be issued liberty cards at quarters. Those not in the duty section, would be given these cards to show to the quarterdeck to get approval to depart after liberty call. The division LPO issued the liberty cards at the close of morning quarters.

It was a Friday. When the LPO issued the liberty cards at quarters, he strangely could not find the seaman’s card. This was a frequent occurrence for sailors who upset the chief or LPO. This meant the seaman would be on board for the entire weekend.

Shortly before the noon mess and early liberty call at noon, i went down to inspect division berthing on the first deck underneath the fantail. The upset seaman was in berthing and seeing me, he became a sea lawyer, screaming about his rights and how the Navy couldn’t do this to him. Again, i was flummoxed and trying to decide how to handle this.

Chief Jones, was about 5-8, a soaking wet 130-pounds, wiry, wrinkled, and about to retire with 20 years in about a month or so. He was also checking out the spaces. Up on the main deck, he heard the seaman yelling below. Chief Jones slid down the ladder to berthing, ran over to where this 6-2, 190 pound kid was berating me. The chief grabbed the seaman by the front of his blue chambray shirt at the chest, pushed him up against the bulkhead and then lifted him up until the seaman’s feet cleared the deck. The chief then launched into a profanity laced tirade that would have made the coarsest of sailors proud, concluding with something along the lines of “don’t you ever confront an officer and deal with your problem on board; see  you at quarters Monday” (Well, i’m sure that wasn’t exactly what he said, but it was close).

LCDR Louis Guimond was the XO, a mustang coming up from the ranks after being a submariner in WWII. He was tough and the crew feared him as he would give them no quarter. Shortly after we went into overhaul at the Charlestown Naval Shipyard in South Boston (the USS Constitution is now moored there), the new CO, one of my best, CDR Max Lasell, went on two weeks of leave. Once again, i had a seaman put on report and forwarded from XOI to Captain’s Mast. i was very concerned. The acting CO was Louis Guimond, the feared XO, who would conduct Captain’s Mast. The seaman had reported aboard almost six hours late and was an unauthorized absence. He had not divulged his reasons at my investigation nor at XOI.

Mast was held on the bridge. When the seaman stood at attention before the podium, Louis asked him why he had not reported as scheduled. Roughly, here is the seaman’s story:

Well sir, my flight got into Logan Airport a bit late, so i hurried to catch a cab. Then when we were going through Callahan Tunnel, the cab driver started hustling me about giving him my guitar. We got in an argument. So i jumped out of the cab with my guitar, i got lost a couple of times but i walked here from the tunnel.

i held my breath. i was waiting for the XO to lower the boom. Louis studied the man’s service record paused for a minute, and said,

“Son, i should give you the max: reduction in rate, half pay for three months, restriction to the ship for thirty days, and 45  days extra duty.

“But that is one of the best stories i ‘ve heard for a long time at mast.

“You are dismissed with a warning.”

And that, my friend, is Navy justice at work in the old days.

NJP Introduction…Mine

These are sea stories about an institution in military life not found in civilian organizations, at least not officially or legally.

For those who haven’t served in the military, the institution is called Non-Judicial Punishment or NJP. NJP is the beginning of the justice system for military organizations, which ends with court martials.

i’m sure the other services will disagree, but because of the nature of being isolated on a ship at sea, NJP is unique in the power it has over the crew and the necessity it has for good order and discipline as well, of course, with justice.

The USS Lloyd Thomas (DD-764) was old school in 1963 when i rode her as a third class midshipman. A “FRAM II” destroyer, she had no ASROC, torpedo tubes amidships, two 5″ x 38 twin gun mounts, DASH, and the amazing hedgehogs.

My first introduction to NJP just happened to involve me. In 1963, i was aboard the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764) as one of 21 third class NROTC midshipmen. Our first liberty port out of Newport, Rhode Island was Sydney, Nova Scotia. We were not aware, or at least i was not impressed with the idea of sticking to rules and regulations. We had just concluded our first year of college, and we were raring to have a good time, which we did.

While in Sydney, liberty on the Thomas was declared by rank: Liberty for second class petty officers and below expired at 2200. First class petty officers and below expired at 2300; Midshipmen and chiefs liberty expired at midnight, and Officers at 0600 (as i recall) before we were to get underway at 0800. On our last night of liberty in Sydney, a half-dozen third class middies executed our plan to have a good time for as long as possible with the assistance of one of the first class midshipmen. He had the duty that last day and had drawn the OOD quarterdeck midwatch. He agreed to not report us if we came back after liberty call during his watch.

We arranged to meet some local young ladies at one of their homes. The crew had found the local dance hall and went there in mass, but we opted to miss that and have our own rendezvous and, of course party, party, party. As i remember, my night was really uneventful, but i did drink a good bit of Carling Black Label (Do you remember, “Hey Mabel, Black Label?) and was happy to stay until about 0200.

That is when our plan pretty much fell apart. When we crossed the brow to report aboard around 0230, our accomplice was no longer the Officer of the Deck. A junior officer had taken over and the Executive Officer, a stern, no fooling kind of guy, was on the quarterdeck.

The dance hall had created some jealousy when the sailors began dancing with girls of the local boys, also at the hall. A fistfight began between a sailor who was dancing with a local was confronted by her boyfriend. The fight expanded until all the men were rioting while the ladies went home. It was a doozy. Bottles of Mabel’s beer were apparently missiles in the air and used as weapons as well.

Liberty was cancelled around 2100 when the shore patrol and local police reported the melee to the ship. The ship was had mustered to see who was missing and began counting heads to ensure everyone got back.

The Exec ordered the quarterdeck to put the six of us on report. We acknowledged but rather than head for our racks, hung around close to the quarterdeck to watch sailors straggle back from the brouhaha. It was a constant but decreasing stream of sailors in varying degrees of disarray.

My favorite returnee was a third class petty officer. He stumbled off the quarterdeck around 0230 on his way aft to his berthing, drunk in partial uniform with his whites torn and bloody and big chunk of his jumper top missing. He also had no shoes or socks. We caught him as he reeled down the weatherdeck.

“Did you win the fight?” we asked.

“Win?” the sailor shouted, “Hell, i got back didn’t I?”

One of the last groups to return were in a cab. About four chiefs and the captain poured out and stumbled (a nice way to describe it) across the brow. The captain, a former submariner, preferred running with the chief petty officers rather than the wardroom. Seeing the stern XO there, the chiefs disappeared immediately after reporting aboard.

The XO, looking for some command guidance and relief apparently, approached the more than slightly inebriated CO and almost pleaded, “Captain, liberty was cancelled at 2100. They had a big fight between the town guys and our sailors at the dance hall. i’ve been very worried about you.”

The captain reeled about, looking cockeyed, and said, “Dammit, that’s great. Liberty for all hands.”

The XO, as quietly and unobtrusively as possible, which wasn’t very unobtrusive, escorted the captain to his cabin.

The next morning, the Lloyd Thomas left the pier to join the other ships of the USS Intrepid (CV 11) flotilla in the eight-week cruise. i’m not saying the captain might have been a little bit hungover and i cannot find a report of the incident in any search, but while standing out the harbor, the Thomas sideswiped a Japanese fishing vessel. i know because standing the port wing lookout, i watched as the startled Japanese crew went from eating their bowls of rice to jumping over the side. Amazingly, the ship proceeded out as if nothing had happened.

A day later at Captain’s Mast, i was assigned three weeks of extra duty, meaning after the working day, i was assigned a couple of hours each day to do onerous tasks. With my devil-may-care, good-times-roll demeanor, i had a good time. The best moment was the night i was assigned to scrub down the after-steering gear room, just aft of my berthing which was on the first deck below the fantail. With the huge gearbox creaking and groaning, i climbed atop and took a nap. Figured that would show the XO.

i never quite understood how i and the other midshipmen got such punishment at NJP for our pretty innocent foray while the Captain was doing his thing and the chiefs got off Scot free.

But i was beginning to understand NJP.

I Knew Admiral Rickover and He Knew Me

I Knew Admiral Rickover and He Knew Me

BONITA, CA – Last Friday, one regular golfer noted he had an Admiral Rickover story.

When I mentioned last week’s column and the midshipmen who broke his engagement only to be rejected by Rickover, my golfer exclaimed, “I knew that guy. He was my roommate at the Academy.”

The two stories were similar but took different twists at the end. When Rickover noticed the roommate’s grades had slipped, the midshipman confided his fiancé had moved to Annapolis for his senior year, a distraction, but his focus would be on nuclear power if accepted. Then Rickover used the ploy he had used with my story.

“Call you fiancé and cancel the engagement,” Rickover demanded. Doing as told, the midshipman called his fiancé with Rickover listening, he announced, “Honey, I just wanted to tell you I’m going to be an Naval aviator, not a nuclear submariner.”

Then there were two moments when I was A&M’s nuclear power advisor and in Rickover’s gun sight.

Texas A&M was renowned for it’s nuclear engineering program, and one NROTC cadet was a brilliant nuclear engineer. He held a 4.0 grade point average when I counseled him in preparation for the Navy’s Nuclear Power program acceptance process.

“Midshipman (name not included intentionally), I am sure you will get to the final interview with Admiral Rickover,” I commenced, “But I can find no commonality in Rickover’s interviewing techniques to tell you what you should say or do.”

“However,” I continued, “The one consistent thing I’ve found in all of the post-interview comments I’ve read is this: If you make a statement or respond to a question from the admiral, do not recant. When interviewees go back on a previous comment to the admiral, they are not accepted in the program.”

Concluding, I cautioned, “So I advise you to stick to your guns, no matter how hard the admiral tries to dissuade you.”

The young man went to Washington, D.C. and flew through the preliminary process. He entered Rickover’s lair in the late morning. When he refused to budge on a statement, Rickover sent him to the “waiting room,” a small room with a chair and a light bulb where he waited for several hours before being summoned again.

Again Rickover pressed him to recant his position. The midshipman refused. He went back to the room for a couple of more hours. The process was repeated into the late evening before Rickover directed him to stay over and see him again the next morning. After another round of refusing to budge and more time in the “waiting room,” the admiral finally asked the midshipman if he had been coached and by whom.”

The midshipman told the admiral “Lieutenant Commander Jewell” in the NROTC unit had given him some suggestions about how to respond in the interview. He was dismissed. Rickover picked up his phone and called the president of Texas A&M. The Admiral demanded his Navy staff, a.k.a. me, should not counsel midshipmen when they were to interview. Then he called the NROTC Unit Commanding Officer, my direct boss, Colonel Ivins. The next morning the colonel called me in and told me what transpired.

“And you know, Jim, Admiral Rickover called in the middle of supper,” he griped, “I swallowed my taco whole, nearly choked.”

The midshipman? He never made it to submarines. The nukes considered him so valuable after he was commissioned, they sent him straight to the research arm of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He never wore a uniform, but did very well.

Another prize midshipman was the regimental commander of the Cadet Corps, probably the first Navy cadet to hold the position. He also was brilliant and loved the Aggie Corps. I gave him the same direction, but it did not prove a factor.

Upon his return, he noted the interview went well until Rickover asked him what was entailed in being the regimental commander. The cadet told Rickover he was responsible for leadership of the 3,000 strong corps. Rickover mumbled something to the effect that was his job.

That evening, the TAMU president and Col. Ivins received their second calls from the admiral. “What the heck do you think you’re doing down there,” he screamed at the president, “You teach them nuclear engineering. I’ll take care of the leadership.”

The colonel got off a bit lighter this time. He didn’t swallow his taco.

 

 

 

Fill’er Up

i probably worked harder In 1973-74 as Chief Engineer (CHENG, i preferred to be called) of the USS Hollister (DD 788), than in any of my other Navy tours. i had longer hours and more things to do in less time as First Lieutenant of the USS  Anchorage (LSD 36) or the Weapons Officer, nee First Lieutenant of the USS Okinawa (LPH 3), but my previous tours had given me experience in those two jobs. As CHENG, it was a whole new ball game, and i had no real experience in engineering. Not only that, it was a time when a commanding officer with no engineering experience, like mine, left CHENG alone. i had to insist he come down to main control to see a malfunctioning pump for himself. i think, in the nearly two years i was the engineer, it was the only time he went into the engineering spaces.

But there were a number of good moments, most of which were funny experiences i had as engineer. Today, shuffling through old files, i found a note i had written of one such incident.

As CHENG, i tried to go through all of my spaces daily to catch any problems requiring correction, to talk to my sailors, and just get a feel of how things were going. After all, the Hollister was 29 years old, and the previous CHENG, who had been a corpsman before getting his commission through the NESEP program, fixed auxiliary steam lines using plaster casts like the ones he had previously used for broken bones when the ship was on line in Vietnam. She wasn’t in great engineering shape.

But on one of my daily walk-throughs, i was checking out the forward fire room and had slid down the ladder to the lower level. There, two firemen had placed a 55-gallon drum on the deck plates. The two were cleaning out debris and oil from the bilges below and dumping it into the drum.

i pointed out to them the drum, once full, would be much too heavy to lift up the ladders and out to the pier. They seemed puzzled when a BT3 (Boiler Tender third class petty officer), who had overheard the conversation from the boiler flats, slid down the ladder seeking to remedy the problem.

“Don’t worry, sir,” he explained to me, “There won’t be any problem with lifting it out of here.”

And then pointing to the bottom of the drum, he further explained, “There’s a hole in the bottom of the drum. All of the oil and water is going right back into the bilges.”

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, i did not record my reaction or the ensuing result. Today, i just shook my head and laughed.

It was a good tour.

 

CHENG and My Father

This is a slight rewrite from about fifteen years ago. A very special moment in my life initiated my writing this. i don’t recall if it was newspaper column or i simply wrote it. 

Recently, Mike Dixon, a close Lebanon friend, basketball one-on-one opponent, baseball teammate, and of several other connections sent me an email containing a photo purported to be a Popular Mechanics cover from the 1950’s. The photo showed a massive control board with many gadgets, dials, and meters. The email falsely claimed the photo was Rand Corporation’s idea of a home computer in the future 2004. A couple of my old Navy connections had sent the item to me previously, and i had checked it out to find out it was a hoax. The photo was actually a control panel for the propulsion plant of a nuclear submarine used for training prospective submarine officers. i informed Mike of this information. When he sent a not of appreciation, i provided him the following response:

When i first saw the photo and the claim from someone else a long time ago, i questioned it primarily because it did look more like a FRAM engineering plant’s main control board in the forward engine room but a bit more sophisticated. i then started checking it out and discovered the photo’s actual source.

In case you don’t recall, one of my Navy tours was as chief engineer or “CHENG” on the destroyer, USS Hollister (DD  788). FRAM’s were WWII vintage destroyers “modernized” (Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization) in the 1950’s and early 60’s by taking off  the original superstructures and replacing them with lighter aluminum versions and new electronics and weapon packages that would add back the weight and then some. The aluminum superstructure created a ship better equipped for that era’s battle-at-sea environment, but the aluminum also induced bimetallic corrosion at the juncture of the new superstructure with the steel main deck. This was a serious problem by 1973 when i assumed my duties. This was the tour where Earl Major and i reconnected while attending destroyer school and with both my destroyer and his cruiser, the USS England (CG 22) being homeported in Long Beach.

When i arrived on board, the Hollister was forty-years old. The plant in those destroyers is still the most reliable ship propulsion system i ever experienced, especially for ships with the mission of war at sea. Duplication was everywhere and it was steam, steam, steam. Any electrical engineering equipment was backup or auxiliary. Those old greyhounds were small, fast, and durable. My vintage Hollister weighed in at 4200 tons and was 390 feet long and forty feet beam to beam. During one engineering full power trial, we built up the four boilers superheat and were still accelerating at 35 knots when we had to call off the dogs in order to make another commitment.  i still have no idea what speed she might have reached.

Main Control aboard USS H. R. Tucker, taken from Jesse Fox’s post in the Facebook group “U.S. Navy Gearing Class Destroyers.”

Main control and both the forward and after engine rooms were snarling, hissing, clanking, roaring webs of pipes and asbestos-lagged machinery, hotter than Hades and louder than the pits of a NASCAR racetrack or a flight deck during an A6 takeoff (and i know as i have been in all three places). The lower levels were mostly a swamp of pumps akin to a mechanical jungle. The entire engineering plant was quintessential Rube Goldberg. The heart was the main control board flats. We stood behind a wheel similar to the one in the hoax photograph as the machinist mates responded to the engine order telegraph from the bridge to funnel the appropriate amount of steam from the fire rooms through the turbines larger than a Ford Exhibition SUV to reach a finite RPM. When i climbed the ladder through the hatch to the main deck after general quarters or engineering drills, i  was flushed and hoarse, feeling like we had just harnessed an untamed stallion and ridden him through a fiery desert, then him dragging us through a steaming jungle pond.

Another photo of the main control board in the forward engine room, this one of the USS Carpenter (DD 825) taken from Jerry O Brien’s post in the “Gearing Class Destroyer” Facebook group.

Ship’s propulsion was not my favorite endeavor on warships. i loved standing watches on the bridge, conning the ship, feeling the pitch of the bow into the waves — a primary reason i eschewed carrier duty — navigating by the “seat of my pants,” piloting in coastal waters and the harbors. i loved the deck evolutions of alongside replenishment, the gun shoots with 5″ 38’s booming in my ears, putting the boats in the water, and all of the boatswainmate endeavors. i also loved the dark, blue-lit hole of sonar and the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) plot where we detected and tracked submarines, watching the scopes and the fire control tracking while listening to the high-pitched beeps of the sonar transmissions and return echoes.

(Sometimes i would go into ASW on the mid (midnight to four a.m.) or the morning (four to eight a.m.) watches after my own watch on the bridge and, while one watch stander monitored the sonar search another sonar technician (ST) and i would “talk” to whales on the underwater telephone nicknamed “Gertrude.” The whales would talk back.)

But engineering was an awesome thing to behold. The machinist mates and the boiler tenders were working men in the fullest sense, giving themselves to incredible hours of hard labor to keep their beloved monster steaming safely. i appreciated and respected their knowledge, their experience, and their work effort. Even though i remained an officer-of-the-deck (OOD) and weapons oriented, that tour in engineering still brings a sense of satisfaction.

In the spring of 1974, my father took a very unusual solo trip to Long Beach. My mother stayed in Lebanon. i took Daddy down to Pier 9 at the Long Beach Naval Station where the Hollister was berthed. i gave him a tour of the engineering spaces, my domain. We went to the forward and after fire rooms, each containing two boilers the size of small two-story buildings and their intriguing support equipment through three levels of forced draft blowers, fresh and feed water tanks and cable runs, which would out cable a TVA dam plant. We went to both engine rooms with propulsion shafts with diameters the width of a one lane road and every conceivable pump one could conjure as well as a distilling plant (we called them evaporators or “evaps”) that defied logic. We visited the welding shop, the machine shop, the damage control lockers, and damage control itself, a plotting and communication hub for any emergency. When we emerged and headed back to my Navy quarters in San Pedro, my father seemed contemplative.

This man was a pioneer in many ways in the automobile world. he was acknowledged as one of the best, if not the best automobile mechanic in Wilson County, having started to work on cars in the late 1920’s. He drove his first car, his older brother’s, in 1924 when he was ten around the block and stopped it by hitting the garage gate because his legs couldn’t reach the brake pedal. He bought a junk car from a Cumberland law student in 1932 or so for ten dollars. He completely rebuilt the engine and the drive train, then constructed a wood chassis. He drove that on dates with my mother (and others) for three years and then sold it for ten dollars. In  the sixties, he built a VW Beetle for my sister from two totaled wrecks, practically by himself including welding the good parts remaining from the two, doing all the engine work, upholstery, chassis, electrical. He knew more about the practical application of mechanics and engineering than anyone i have ever known, and at that stage of my Navy career, i had experienced college engineering propulsion professors and  the elite officer and enlisted engineering community. He garnered my greatest respect.

i, on the other hand, had fallen into the engineering job through progression. i had been a sports editor, a disc jockey, a sub chaser, and a deck hand. Engineering was something i was passing through.

As we drove across the Vincent Thomas Bridge from Long Beach to San Pedro, Daddy finally spoke, “Jim, I would have never considered you would ever be the head of such a mechanical wonder. I’m proud of you and just a bit amazed.”

To this day, i am convinced the wrong James Rye Jewell was the Chief Engineer of the USS Hollister.

Toothpick in a Bathtub

This began when i had one of the three best combinations of CO’s and XO’s i had in my Navy career of ten sea tours.

USS Hawkins (DD 873). 1968. Newport, Rhode Island.

USS Hawkins (DD 873), circa 1969

i don’t know why thought of this came into my head this first day of 2020. i mean, the regular two-year overhaul, scheduled to last six months began in September. Commander Max Lasell had just relieved as Captain and Louis Guimond remained as XO. i was still the First Lieutenant until the sitting ASW Officer completed his tour in early October, when i would relieve him. The ship steamed to the Boston Naval Shipyard, nee Charlestown Navy Yard (now long gone). i have about fifty sea stories of those six months. but there is one memory that sticks in my mind and replays over and over again.

The Hawk transited up the Mystic River to the main yard  to begin the  six-month overhaul. In late October, Hawkins left the yard and piloted to the Navy dry dock in  South Boston. The transit was one of my last days as the first lieutenant, subsequently becoming the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Officer. One of the bigger jobs in the overhaul was the upgrade of the sonar and ASW fire control systems, costing four million dollars in 1968, or just under $30 Million in today’s dollars. So after the ship was docked and the water was pumped out, i was one of the first to go to the floor  of the dock and study the underwater hull, now dry and sitting on the huge wood blocks.

i was awed by the size of the ship, especially the sonar dome which increased the ship’s draft by about ten feet. More impressive was the dock itself. It was dock #3. Reputedly, this dock was built to hold the RMS Queen Mary. At the top right of the  1946 photo below, the Queen Mary is in Drydock #3.

Queen Mary‘s length is 1,132 feet (She currently is in pier side on the mole pier in Long Beach open for tours with the staterooms  available for lodging) compared to Hawkins’ length of 391 feet. The British liner has a draft of 34 feet compared the Hawk‘s 14.5 feet (extended to over 20 feet with the sonar dome attached). Queen Mary has a beam of  147 feet while Hawkins was 40 feet wide.

The Hawkins rested on the massive wood blocks as we descended to the floor  of dry dock #3. Shipyard personnel escorted the captain, the executive officer, the chief engineer, and me to the floor of the dock as we checked out the screws, the various intakes and discharge valves and, for me, the sonar dome.

i was an ensign. i really didn’t do much more than gape at what i saw. My lasting impression of my destroyer sitting on those blocks in the dock built for the huge liner was “a toothpick in an empty bathtub.”