My personal introduction to chiefs came in 1963. It was on my third class midshipman cruise on the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764), a FRAM II destroyer out of Newport, Rhode Island. That is at least one, if not three or four stories in itself to be told later.
My next real recollection of a chief petty officer was the senior chief quartermaster who taught navigation at OCS. We learned quite a bit even though much of the course was movies the senior chief let us watch, nearly all as i recall being from the “Victory at Sea” series. But what i most recall was at the end of one class, the old senior chief tells the class, “Yeh, you guys are leaving here and going to the evening mess formation about the time i’ll be reaching over into the back seat of my car on the Jamestown bridge for the first of the six pack of Budweiser i have in the cooler.”
But then there was the Hawkins where my real lesson in chiefdom began. i have already written about Boatswainmate Chief Jones. He was my chief as First Lieutenant and first division officer from when i reported aboard until he retired in August 1968. His best buddy was also instrumental in teaching me how the Navy worked.
Unfortunately, i do not remember his name. i do remember his unique rating. Back in the late 1960’s for a short period of time, the Navy had created the rating of SP for chiefs at the E-8/E-9 level. Machinistmates and Boiler Tenders, when they reached the E-8 level became “Steam Propulsion Specialist.” Our man was an E-9 so his rating was “SPCM.” He was so good he was the Main Propulsion Assistant or in Navy lingo “MPA,” normally a junior officer’s billet, but Paul George, CHENG, didn’t want any JO between him and the SPCM when it came to running and maintaining the plant (until my good friend Rob Dewitt took over). He was still very much in charge before i moved from first lieutenant to ASW Officer.
He was a very a large, swarthy, black-headed chief who hung out in the engineering log room, the office and brains of the engineering plant off of the main deck passageway almost amidships. The first lieutenant and his first division were responsible for the maintenance and cleanliness of that passageway, which ran most of length of the main deck.
We began a major program of taking up the tile on that passageway, re-tiling, and repainting the passageway. It was a demanding work requirement, and i was constantly checking on how it was progressing. One workday, around mid-morning, i found my personnel not up to my standards in their work effort. i don’t remember what i did to address that, but i very clearly remember it was wrong.
The SPCM, hearing whatever it was i did or said, emerged from the log room, put his arm on shoulder, looked at me sternly, and said, “Son (not “Mister,” not “Ensign,” but “Son”), let’s have a talk.”
With that and his arm still around my shoulder, the SPCM led me out on the port side of the weather deck amidships. It was there, i got the best lecture on leadership i ever received. the SPCM talked to me about the world, about the Navy’s world, and how it all worked. i think he gave me the best perspective i could ever had achieved on how to be a good leader.
Although i don’t remember his name, “SPCM” is a tribute to him, and i will never forget.
As noted earlier, BMC Jones was my entry into chiefs taking care of division officers. Ensigns and even Lieutenant Junior Grades (LTJG). BMC Jones was my chief when i was an ensign and first lieutenant on the good ship Hawkins.
We had a chiseled seaman apprentice in first division, who also thought he was a good sea lawyer.
The Navy was different back then. One difference was liberty cards. Normally the ship was in three duty sections, of which one took the duty and remained on board every third day. When liberty call came, the two enlisted duty sections not on duty had been given their liberty cards, about the size of business cards, to show to the quarterdeck watch, a requirement before being allowed to leave the ship. These cards were usually passed out by the division’s leading petty officer at quarters each morning. If you didn’t get a liberty card, you didn’t go ashore.
Seaman Joe Shit the Ragman (a title we gave problem junior enlisted) had done something wrong and the LPO, BM2 Carrier, had not issued the sailor a liberty card even though he didn’t have the duty. To make it worse for Ragman — Back then, junior enlisted were addressed by their last name only. Petty Officers could be called “Petty Officer xxx,” but usually called by their last name only as well; Chiefs were called “chief,” “senior chief,” or “master chief.” Junior officers were called mister, like “Mister Jewell,” until they made commander, then they were called by their rank, as in “Commander Jewell” — it was Friday. That meant Ragman had to stay on board for the weekend. This was an unauthorized but common form of a sub-rosa justice system. Ragman, the sea lawyer, took offense.
Just before Friday liberty call, i had walked down to the first division berthing compartment in the after section of the ship. i was checking the material condition and the state of the berthing compartment. Ragman saw his chance to haul out his sea lawyer skills on a green ensign. He was ranting about the illegality of not allowing him to go on liberty. i was mulling over how to handle this situational ethics situation (even though i had no idea a term for this kind of thing even existed): i wanted to support my leading petty officer; i was sure Ragman had deserved having his liberty card “lost,” but i also was supposed to uphold justice, fairness, and adherence to regulations.
As i briefly pondered my quandary, Chief Jones, who had been looking for me, slid down the ladder to the compartment. This wiry, small man, with a cigarette hanging outside of his mouth, stopped Ragman’s rant by merely holding up his left hand toward him. Then he asked me what was going on. i responded.
BMC Jones turned, grabbed Ragman’s blue chambray shirt with his right hand, pushed the fabric he had grabbed up to Ragman’s throat, and pushed him up against the bulkhead. i swear Ragman, all 180 pounds and six feet of him was quivering.
“Listen, you little shit,” Chief Jones said evenly despite being red in the face with veins pulsing, “If you ever pull that kind of shit again, i’ll see to it you never leave this ship. Ever.”
“Got that,” the chief concluded.
Then he turned to me and said to me, “Sir, let’s go up to the main deck. i want to discuss when we are going to retile and paint the main passageway.”
He turned and quickly ascended the ladder out of the compartment.
This ensign meekly followed, shaking my head in amazement.
Of the three military branches, Army, Navy, Air Force (Sorry Marines, as good as you think you are and as good as you have been, you remain a subordinate part of the Navy and really have become an unnecessary part of the military force because you just duplicate the mission of the other services, even if you are good.), the Navy seems most unique to me.
One of my best friends, Marty Linville, an Army artillery wizard who received a well-deserved Silver Star for his heroic action in Vietnam as the commander of an artillery unit, and i have often discussed the difference between enlisted personnel and officers, Army and Navy.
The biggest difference, in which the Army’s side of this difference also includes the Navy’s Special Forces warriors, the SEALS is that the true, original Navy officers, now known as Surface Warfare officers (what a bunch of malarky) is their expertise in driving ships. Their other, equally important purpose is to lead or manage (or both) their subordinates, at least in rank. Officers in the Army and SEALS, especially the junior officers, are out in the field waging war while leading their subordinates.
Marty and i agree the differences in the historical structure comes from the differences in role. Obviously, there are some historical and tradition elements that foster the difference. The Navy, the surface warfare kind, seems to draw more distinction in the rank divisions of officer, chief petty officer, and other enlisted.
Their uniforms announce that difference. But in the Navy, it is significant, although the new Navy seems intent on wiping out any differentiation, both symbolically with uniforms and literally with less separation between the ranks. With the advances in technology and many other things, this merging may be necessary. i wouldn’t know. i’m old school. As in old.
i have formed a long distance bond with a number of sailors on my first ship, the USS Hawkins (DD-873). i reported aboard in April 1968, flying from Rota to Malaga, Spain and coming aboard as she was on her way back from a nine-month Mediterranean deployment to her homeport of Newport, Rhode Island. i had completed OCS in early February, spent two months in Key West attending the Anti-Submarine Officer’s School before flying out of Charleston with my entire belongings: my uniforms, a small civilian wardrobe, and a grunch of books, all in a plywood 2 x 2 x 4 foot cruise box that weighed in the neighborhood of a ton.
i was slated to be the ASW officer, but the resident ASWO was not leaving until early October, so i was assigned the first lieutenant’s billet for the return, the summer of minimal local operations until the September beginning of a six-month overhaul when i took over as ASW officer.
Those first six months were a crash learning course in how Navy ships at the time really worked. The “Navy way” was continually emblazoned in my head for the next twenty-two years. A great deal of that learning curve concerned the differences between the enlisted, the chiefs, and the officers. Actually, there was another division: the “leading petty officers” or “LPO’s.”
The system worked well even though the different groups made fun of the others. A great example of that is the cartoon taking a shot across the bow at officers, Norm O’Neal, a radarman (RD) at the time and now a close friend through email and social media, sent me last week:
My immediate reply was:
Norm, this one wouldn’t let me “reply to all,” the officers said this about a lot of chiefs.
To which, Norm replied, “Ouch.”
To which i added:
Actually, Norm, as it is with nearly all situations, there are good people and bad people in every level of every organization.
My first chief petty officer was the Hawkins’ BMC Jones. He saved my ass on several occasions. He was a small, thin, wiry, gnarly, old chain-smoking chief from Arkansas. After teaching this ensign the ropes, he retired the Monday after the change of command on the Hawk in August 1968 (speaking of good and bad, there was the CO who made the deployment, the screamer whose name i can’t recall right now being relieved by Max Lasell, who remains one of the top three of the CO’s under whom i served, and that’s another story).
But Chief Jones was relieved by a short, portly, old BMC with thick white hair whose name i also can’t remember. He was the first of many chiefs who worked for or with me officers called “ROADS Scholar” for Retired On Active Duty. You could tell them by the permanent crook they had in their pointer finger from holding on to their coffee cup they used while they spent about 95% of their time in the chiefs’ mess.
But that was only part of my crash education about Chief Petty Officers on the Hawk. i learned why Chief Petty Officers, a unique position in the military services, were so important. Through my remaining twenty-two years, this idea of chiefs being different was continually emphasized. For good reason.
My initial realization of the difference was from the get-go. i had wondered since i first became connected to the Navy when i began my NROTC scholarship tragedy at Vanderbilt, why senior enlisted had uniforms more like officers than the other enlisted. Although i was slowly learning why through OCS in Newport, Rhode Island, ASW school in Key West, and two weeks in Rota waiting to join my new ship, the difference slowly was becoming apparent to me.
Before chiefs taught me a thing or two or two thousand, i was a very, very green ensign.
As an ensign, i stood duty in three sections. The qualifications for standing the OOD, Officer Of the Deck, watch in port, was not too stringent. You had to be a junior officer, chief, or very good first class petty officer. And breathe. i would add “chew gum” but that was deemed inappropriate on the good ship Hawkins or any other Navy ship at the time.i may have stood an under-instruction watch, but i don’t remember it.
i don’t remember standing many of those earlier watches, not even the first dog one particular duty day in the summer of 1968. But i most definitely remember the next watch.
It was the mid-watch. About half-way through around 0200, a third-class petty officer came back from liberty. He was lit. After saluting, he began to rant and rave and chewing me out in particular. i was not quite sure what to do. My petty officer of the watch (POOW) recognized my dilemma and called the duty Master-at-Arms.
As i was trying to tell the boozy sailor he was on report, the master-at-arms showed up on the quarterdeck. He was a first class gunner’s mate. Unfortunately, as it is in many of my recollections, i don’t remember his name. i do remember he looked like an NFL tight end. He wore his chambray shirt sleeves folded up above his elbows to show up his rather impressive biceps, even with a couple of tattoos disguising the ripples. He had a tight crew cut under his dixie cup (“hat” for land lubbers), which of course, was pushed back from his forehead. A Pell Mell dangled from his lips.
“Don’t worry, sir,” he said to me, “I’ll take care of this guy.”
Then, he grabbed the sailor by the arm, leading him off the quarterdeck and forward, telling him, “Come on son, we’re gonna have a little talk down in the paint locker.”
The paint locker was part of the boatswain’s locker on a Gearing-class destroyer. It was all the way forward on the first platform (a partial deck below the main deck), small and dark. i did not know it at the time, but it was also the location of some non-NJP discipline.
When i asked the POOW why the master-at-arms was taking the drunken sailor to the paint locker, he just said, “To help sober him up,” and then he chuckled.
i learned the next morning at quarters what the POOW really meant. The sailor who had been “sobered up” passed me as we headed for our different division musters. He looked not quite like he had been put through a meat grinder, but it was close. His face was black and blue and one eye was swollen. i don’t think he ever gave an OOD any trouble after that.
The master-at-arms had applied some discipline. Back then, that wasn’t such a bad thing. Today, all hell would have broken loose and all of us would have been plastered all over the major networks for being slightly cross-threaded with political correctness. But this type of justice kept a lot of sailors from going to captain’s mast or worse, and it straightened many of them right up.
i learned a lot.
It probably wouldn’t work today: too many sea lawyers.
The Navy was different back then. i think they continue the traditions, but those traditions, like chiefs initiations and over-the-line rituals are watered down. Political correctness, you understand. The divisions between ranks have been muddled. This may or may not be a bad thing. i am not wise enough or knowledgable enough to determine, but it is different.
And i liked the way it was.
When i was in the Navy, the lower enlisted were the work force, and boy, did they work. In fact, they were incredible workers. There are very few people in this country today who could even fathom putting in the hours at work those sailors did.
The third and second class petty officers were a transition. They too did hard labor, but their expertise and knowledge in their fields (ratings) began to give them more say in the way ships operated.
First class petty officers were escaping most of the hard labor, but they still got involved. “Leading Petty Officer” speaks of their new role in leadership.
Then there were the chiefs. Lifers. Loving the Navy. Thinking they knew as much as the old man. Some did. But as with all things, there were some really good ones and there were some who were…oh, to be nice, they weren’t quite as effective.
An Ensign learns this quickly. i did. My first ship was the USS Hawkins (DD-873). i had completed the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Officer course in Key West when i reported aboard in Malaga, Spain in April 1968. The sitting ASW officer would not leave until October. In the interim, i was the First Lieutenant, deck officer in charge of first division, boats, davits, exterior spaces, and anything else that wasn’t specifically related to any other division or department.
BMC Jones was my introduction to the way things worked. He taught me the ropes. It still amazes me how he ran first division, taught me many things about being a division officer and deck seamanship while never appearing to be in charge, always deferring to his division officer. Green upon green me. Crazy. But it worked.
Chief Jones was from the Arkansas Ozarks. He had another four months to reach twenty years. He planned to retire on the button. Chief Jones was a chain spoking, rail thin, ruddy complexion chief boatswainmate, probably around 5-8 and 130. He was not to mess with.
After we crossed the pond and completed our deployment, arriving at our homeport of Newport, Rhode Island in early May, being on a ship was different. Back then, the crew had liberty cards. They reflected which section the sailor was in. There were usually three sections rotating the duty. The duty section remained on board for 24 hours while the other two sections had liberty. Those liberty cards were handed out by the chief or leading petty officer shortly before liberty call. It had many implications not on top of the table. Liberty cards were incredible leverage for the LPO’s and CPO’s.
We had this seaman apprentice who required leverage. He was a strapping, very fit 6’2,” 180-pound young man, and pretty smart too. Problem was he wanted to use his smarts to get away with stuff until he had completed his obligation. We called sailors like this “sea lawyers.” Chiefs and LPO’s didn’t like sea lawyers. To put them in their place, the chiefs and LPO’s used leverage. Like liberty cards.
We will call this guy Seaman Farkle. Back then, you didn’t have to be so polite. Anyone below chief was called by their last name. Period. Chiefs were called chiefs. Officers were called by their rank, e.g. “Ensign Jewell.”
It was a Friday. We were cutting the hard working folks some slack. Liberty call was at noon, not the usual 1600. i had gone down to the first division berthing to check out the material condition. Farkle was there, upset. It seems he had tried some sea lawyering out on BM2 Carrier, our LPO and a very good one. Farkle was in section 2, section 3 had the duty. But when Carrier passed out liberty cards to the division, he couldn’t find Farkle’s. That meant Farkle had to remain aboard the ship, even though it wasn’t his duty day.
Farkle decided an ensign was ripe for using his sea lawyer tactics. He approached me and began an intense tirade about abuse of his rights, how he was demeaned, how the chief and LPO were acting outside of procedure, were in violation of regulations.
He was making headway on this green ensign. i wasn’t yet wise in the ways of that Navy. He had some good points, from a sea lawyer’s perspective about rights and all that, but i wanted to back Carrier and Chief Jones.
Farkle was in my face, livid with his sea lawyering when Chief Jones slid down the ladder (forward, not climbing down backwards; that’s how true sailors descended ladders). The slender, wiry chief slid in front of me and grabbed Farkle’s shirt at the top two buttons. Then he pushed Farkle against the bulkhead and with one hand lifting the young man about six inches off the ground. Then Chief Jones read Farkle the riot act like only Boatswainmate chiefs can do. It was classic and can not be repeated here because non-that-era tincan sailors are the only people who would understand, and others will read this.
All sea lawyering disappeared from Farkle. He was a quivering mass of fear, nodding affirmatively and declaring his fealty.
Farkle stayed on board that weekend.
i learned a valuable lesson about the old Navy…and i loved it.
Commander, Amphibious Squadron Five, his staff, and his flagship, the USS Tripoli (LPH 10) had drawn Hong Kong as their liberty port over Christmas and had pulled into Fleet Landing on the Hong Kong side right next to the great Fleet exchange.
Staff officers Mike Peck, the Tactical Air Control officer; Pete Toennies, the UDT advisor; OW Wright, the admin officer, and me, the staff’s current operations officer, had become good friends and running mates since i joined them in Hobart, Tasmania in November, and we had proved we were good liberty hounds. We were ready for Christmas in Hong Kong.
Mike and i had been in this wonderful city several times before. Mentioning the name of Johnny Lee, the tailor, got us a room in the Holiday Inn on the Kowloon side, a much improved version of the chain than those in the states. In Hong Kong, it was considered a luxury hotel. Mentioning Johnny Lee gave us the large room with two queen beds for $65 US dollars a night.
There are a number of sea stories related to this liberty, but i will stick to one aspect of our port stay.
The British Navy contingent in Hong Kong had hosted a reception for the squadron the day after we arrived. Mike and i hooked up with lieutenant junior grade in the British Navy, and we had a great time swapping stories. Unfortunately, i don’t remember his name, but i do recall he was a helicopter pilot who had been retrained to drive their surface effect boats in Hong Kong with the mission of interdicting any attempts at illegal immigration. This had been a big problem for the Brits after the evacuation of Vietnam as many of those displaced were trying to get into Hong Kong.
The three of us hit it off. To show our appreciation of the new friendship, we took the Brit to Gaddi’s, one of the finest high end dining establishments in the world, housed in the famed Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. It was a good evening. So Pete, Mike, the Brit and i ran around for several days. The younger helicopter/surface effect boat driver invited us to Christmas Eve mess at the British Navy’s wardroom.
Now the officer’s mess in their wardroom was no ordinary place. The wardroom and the accompanying galley were not on a ship. They were on the penultimate floor of the British Navy’s Hong Kong headquarters, a thirteen story building on the waterfront. The Brits called it the HMS Tamar, as if it were a ship. The wardroom was actually two stories high and the bayside was a huge glass window looking out on Hong Kong. The city and its lights were a beautiful sight on Christmas Eve from that vantage point.
The HMS Tamar’s wardroom consisted of about one hundred officers, about a third of which were women, something US Navy officers weren’t accustomed to at the time. With shrimp cocktail appetizers and drinks, we chatted with all of the male and female officers before sitting down for the evening mess. It was a traditional British Christmas feast that seemed to have no end. Roasted goose and roasted gammon (smoked ham) were the traditional meats but the British Navy added roast beef. Then there was roasted chestnuts with Brussel sprouts, roasted potatoes, pigs in a blanket, parsnips, and swede (rutabaga), ginger bread stuffing, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, and concluding with, of course, English Christmas Bread Pudding.
All of this of course, was accompanied by continuous libations of wine, whiskey, and of course, gin. It was all very, very lovely.
After dinner, we continued our discussions with just about everyone in a Royal Navy uniform. We were like celebrities. My glass was much like the professor in “The Bishop’s Wife” when Cary Grant, the angel kept magically filling the writing professor’s glass.
Just before midnight, i was looking at Mike and Pete, thinking it was about time to say our thanks and give our hosts Christmas wishes, catch the elevator, and walk back to the ship, berthed between the HMS Tamar and the U.S.Fleet Exchange. But the group of about six junior officers insisted we attend midnight mass with them. If anything, this contingent about half men and women officers, had consumed a lot more beverage than any of us. Regardless, we agreed. Then they exited the main wardroom and started walking up the stairs. i was surprised there was another floor and asked where we were going.
“To the chapel,” they informed me.
i would like to say we filed in quietly with decorum. i think Mike, Pete, and i mustered the strength to approach some semblance of decorum. But it was a pretty raucous bunch who found seats in two rows toward the back of the small chapel that held about 150 people, if that. Our group was laughing and continuing to have fun until just before the service. Then, one of the female officers behind us, tapped me on the shoulder.
She pleaded with whispers for us to help them out. One of the male junior officers had hidden a fifth of gin and brought it into the chapel. He was also blown out of his mind and close to passing out. The young female officer asked me to take the gin and hide it through the service. She explained if the senior officers caught him our any of the English in our group with the booze, they could be booted out of the service, not the mass, the British Naval service.
We, somewhat dubious, complied with her pleas. She passed the bottle to me under our seat. With Mike and Pete’s approval, i slid it up under my sports coat and cradled it with my left arm as inconspicuously as i possibly could.
The service went on, but i was too nervous to pay much attention. Getting up and down for the liturgies and hymns was a frightening proposition. With great difficulty, i successfully maneuvered through the stand/sit requirement each time. At the conclusion, i breathed a huge sigh of relief. Pete, Mike, and i had worked out a strategy, whispering during the service. We would file to the left to the center aisle and they would move as rapidly as they could without causing attention, leading interference for me. i would continue to cradle the booze with my left arm, hopefully looking as if nothing were amiss.
i had just cleared the aisle and was headed for the exit when the plan ran afoul of what Kevin Kline’s character in “Silverado” would have called “bad luck.”
Unbeknownst to us, the commodore, Captain Jim McIntyre, also known as the “Silver Fox,” was attending the mass, sitting on the front row with the British commander and a couple of Hong Kong notables. He spotted me and my interference walking quickly toward the door. He walked more quickly, caught up with me, grabbed my left shoulder, and spun me around.
“Sure am surprised to see you three here,” the commodore laughed.
i wasn’t thinking much about the commodore yet. When he spun me around, my grasp on the bottle of gin slipped. i lurched over catching the bottom with my right hand and moving it back up into its hiding place as covertly as i could.
Reaching out with my right hand, i shook his and said, “Commodore, you don’t know the half of it,” concluding, “It’s good to see you here as well. Merry Christmas.
With that, i turned before the conversation could continue, caught up with Mike and Pete and rendezvoused with our new British friends. They were ecstatically happy with their new heroes as we returned the bottle of gin. The female officer’s whose plea we had answered kissed me on the cheek, gave me a hug, and thanked the three of us for saving their hides.
They never knew our all of our hides could have been in deep, deep trouble if i hadn’t caught that bottle on the way down.
Christmas Day was anti-climatic, quiet and spent mostly on the ship. But it had been one great Christmas Eve, one i’ll never forget, but i hope i don’t have another like it.
This post is a old Navy sea story of mine and is really true. It is not for folks who are overly sensitive and certainly not for those who are politically correct.
He was notable, a legend amongst us, at least amongst Navy folks.
1970. Sasebo, Japan in mid-January. i was the new XO of MSTS (now MSC) Transport Unit One (gone with the wind of time) which road USNS troop ships carrying Republic of Korea troops to Vietnam and back. He was the master chief corpsman. i cannot remember his name for now. But he is indelibly etched in my memory bank, how frail and sketchy that might be. i met this jocular, white haired master chief shortly after i reported aboard.
The master chief liked to gamble a bit. So he frequently visited the game room (aka slot machine room) at the Sasebo Chief’s Club. As we were getting underway for our overnight steam to Pusan, Korea, i spotted him with a large bandage around his head and jowls.
“What happened to you, Master Chief?” i inquired.
“I broke my jaw,” he tersely replied.
“How?” i asked just as tersely.
“This woman, a dependent wife hit me in the chief’s club,” he responded.
Somewhat astounded for several reasons, i pursued, “How could that have happened?”
“Well sir, i went into the game room and grabbed a stool for an empty slot…at least i thought it was unoccupied,” he continued, “Well, this woman apparently had had a winning streak and left her machine for a moment. When she came back, she got mad at me taking her slot machine and hit me.”
“She hit you and broke your jaw?” i stated, even more amazed, “Must have been one big woman.”
“No sir, XO. She was tiny. i think she was the Japanese wife of one the chiefs stationed here.”
“She was a tiny Japanese woman, and she broke your jaw?” i stated, totally flummoxed.
“Well, sir,” the master chief embarrassedly concluded, “She hit me with her purse. It was full of quarters.”
The Master Chief was single. He had decided to get a vasectomy. The Navy medical facilities did not provide for such procedures in 1970, but he had found a Army dispensary outside of Qui Nhon, Vietnam, arranging for the procedure on our next port call. As we were departing Sasebo for our overnight excursion to Pusan, i went down to the ship’s infirmary to the unit’s two doctors who had become good friends. The master chief was working furiously on a cardboard sign. i suspected it had something to do with the red light district in Pusan where most of the single unit members frequented when our ship was in port.
“What are you doing, Master Chief,” i questioned.
“Well XO, this is going to be my last port before my vasectomy, so i’m going trawling.”
“Yes, sir. Just before i go on liberty, i’m going down to the galley and get a whole chicken, thawed. Then, i’m going to tie it on a long line and this pole with the sign on it. When i get down to about the San Francisco Club, i’m going to walk down the middle of the street with that chicken at the end of my pole. i’m thinking i’ll catch me several of those women.”
Although wary, i still asked, “Master Chief, what does the sign say?”
He held it up so i could see. In big block letters, he had scrawled, “Get the last live load.”
The other story about my visits to Chuck’s Steakhouse in downtown Honolulu is not so romantic.
For the younger readers, i would ask you to consider it was a different time. Things for which require pillories today were not considered improper, especially for seafarers. We lived hard, worked hard, and played maybe even harder. This is a story about working and playing hard.
The USS Okinawa was returning from a WESTPAC deployment in late 1981. I was one of the OOD’s in four sections for the roughly two week sail from Subic Bay in the Philippines to Pearl Harbor. i also was the sea detail OOD when on Saturday at 1000, December 11, Oki entered the bay and moored at Hotel Pier, the last pier to the west on the Naval station property and close to where people could catch the tour boat to the Arizona Memorial, significantly removed from the other mainland piers.
It was a long sea detail and what came next was taxing. The wardroom had planned a hail and farewell, mostly farewell, party that evening in Honolulu at Chuck’s, one of my favorite places in Honolulu that evening. But i had much to do before that rendezvous.
Because, i had spent ten months of that year in WESTPAC, deploying in January as Current Ops on the COMPHIBRON 5 staff, and after returning to home port San Diego, having a month before flying back to join the Okinawa as Weapons Officer in Perth, Australia, i had been allowed to take the Command Qualification written exam on board the ship. But because of the many duties of the Weapons/First Lieutenant, i had not had the time to take the long exam. So the Captain (later Admiral) Dave Rogers decided i could take the test after we docked in Pearl.
The ship docked and after all of the details of and administrivia of arriving in Hawaii were concluded, i began the test around midday and finished just over three hours, handwriting seventy-two pages of my answers to wide-ranging questions from ship driving, weapons capability, engineering operation, weather, navigation, Rules of the Road, international relations, and much more. To say it was taxing is not an adequate description.
When i finished, i found Lou Rehberger had waited for me. All of the other officers who did not have the duty left as soon as they could get off the ship. Lou, the Marine Air Operations Officer, was a major and a good one. He and i had spent a lot of time running around the flight deck when available and in many of our liberty ports.
Before heading into Honolulu, we decided to go for a run. We ran Pearl Harbor, or rather we ran the perimeter for about six miles before turning around, a twelve-mile run. i needed it.
We showered, donned our civvies, and headed into town. Lou had rented a car. We went straight to Chuck’s Steakhouse, arriving over two hours before the party was scheduled in the party room in the back.
Lou and i sat at the bar and each ordered a Mai Tai while we decided what to do. When we finished, we decided they were good enough to have another before wandering around. The bartender cleaned our first glass, made our second Mai Tai’s in another glass, served them and handed the first glasses to us. They were high ball glasses with the “Chuck’s Steakhouse” logo etched into the side.
We asked, “What gives?”
The bartender explained they were having a special and if you ordered a mai tai, he would give you the glass.
Lou and i looked at each other and ordered another mai tai. It had been a long day. We had two nice highball glasses in front of each of us. We ordered a third. When we ordered a fourth, the bartender laughed and said, “Here, i give up.” He reached under the counter and pulled up a case of Chuck’s Steakhouse highball glasses and pushed them across the bar to us. We split them. i broke my last one about three years ago. i wonder if Lou still has any of his.
We took the case out to Lou’s car and by the time we returned, the officers of the wardroom began arriving for the hail and farewell dinner. To be honest, i don’t remember much of it, but i’m pretty sure i had a good time. At the conclusion, now well into the night, about six of us decided to go to the Bull and Crown, a British themed bar where it was rumored a lot of young women hung out.
The bar was crowded and everyone was having a good time. i sat down at the bar next to some guy and ordered a drink. The guy and i said hi and then did usual bar talk. He asked me a question. When i responded, i realized i was speaking some language of which no one else was understood.
i actually realized i had more than i should have, perhaps the four mai tai’s may have influenced that outcome. i went over to Lou who was talking to a nice looking young lady, touched him on the shoulder and told him i had too much to drink and i was taking a cab back to the ship.
i did. First time. i’m proud of that.
But i still miss Chuck’s Steakhouse in that just a bit out of the way hideaway in Honolulu.
Peter Thomas is a rather amazing man. He has accomplished many rather incredible things in oh so many ways in his life. i have written of some here before. But more than that, our paths crossed back in the mid-1980’s and we have been friends, close friends ever since, even though it is nearly always a brief stop or long distance communication.
Peter is in Honolulu, Oahu, Pearl Harbor actually, doing his thing as a top manager in submarine maintenance. Yesterday, i received an email wondering if i would help him write a book. i, of course, replied in the affirmative, and then asked what kind of book.
Today, he responded to that with no real answer to my question but told me of dining alone and as he wrote “out here in Honolulu living the so called “good life.” “Solo.” His wife Sandra, a rather incredible Scottish lass, is back at their home in Poulsbo, Washington, taking care of business.i wrote him a response, hit “send.” Then i thought i wanted to share my thoughts. Here is a somewhat redacted version of what i sent:
You bring back good memories.
Every time i went to Pearl, i went to Chuck’s Steak House in downtown Honolulu before Chuck’s moved apparently beachward and became “posh.” i, like you,usually was solo. Chuck’s was then located in the middle of a small nondescript street, i think either Seaside Avenue or Duke’s Lane, a couple of blocks inland from what was then the Princess KaiulaniHotel. i couldn’t locate the spot the last time i was there.
You had to walk down a few steps to enter Chuck’s. There was no view. i’m not even sure they had windows. It was a rather cavernous place with the bar to the left (there is a great story that goes with that bar) and a large party room in the back. The dining area was not fashionable or posh: wood tables and the decor was drooping fishing nets and old fishing floats hanging from the ceiling.
i always ordered a mai tai and then the grilled mahi-mahi with a house salad and baked potato with a glass (or two or three) of chardonnay (this was before i found chardonnay to be too “buttery;” now, it would be viognier). While enjoying my mahi-mahi, i would watch the other diners, always finding some interesting, human, and humorous moments. After dinner, i would have a cup of coffee, black as if there was any other way to drink coffee for a sailor, pull out my spiral notebook or a piece of stationery and write.
i wrote some of my best stuff there. Most, if not all, were letters to Susan Butterfield, one of the most magnificent loves of my life (then; now she’s a happily married Mrs. Brooks and remains a very close friend).
After dinner, i often walked to Waikiki and strolled along the boardwalk looking out at the surf in the warm Hawaiian starlit evening. There was a comfortable emptiness there for me, difficult to adequately describe.
This post is actually a response to an email i received today from my long time and close friend Lee Dowdy. Lee received his doctorate in International Relations from Tulane. He and i worked as editor of the Castle Heights newspaper and annual respectively in 1962. Lee went to Duke and i went to Vanderbilt on NROTC scholarships. He fared much better than me. He had good study habits. Our families were so close they could be considered family, not plural. He saw an article in the Navy News Service and remembered i had served on the Anchorage. The story was about a U.S. Marine rocket system successfully tested on the new Anchorage. It reminded me of a post i wrote about theUSS Yosemite (AD 19) going down in a “SINKEX.” i have included the link to that post at the conclusion.
Good story, but unfortunately, it’s not my USS Anchorage (LSD 36), but it’s successor USS Anchorage (LPD 23).
My Anchorage was decommissioned in 2003, lasting quite a bit longer than nearly all ships now, 34 years in active service despite some major problems. She remains the most decorated dock landing ship on the west Coast.
Her plant had bastard SSTG’s after a fire in a shipyard work building destroyed the originally installed generators. They were being worked in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, shortly after commissioning when the building caught fire.
She also had two four-foot diameter screws to hold the flight deck in place that did not screw back all of the way in. This happened when i was first lieutenant in a San Diego maintenance period. A sub-contractor located under the Coronado San Diego Bay bridge took them off to sand blast and resurface the flight deck grit compound. But no one had considered the well deck walls which held the flight deck in place (with the four gigantic screws) would move inward when the three flight deck panels were removed. They did just that. Then when the sub-contractor tried to reinstall the panels (each was about 15 feet in depth, linking together and about 50 feet across the well deck) they were a bit too long to fit.
i know this as i had the duty in 1975 on a summer Sunday when they were attempting the reinstall. A 60-ton crane was lifting them off the pier to place them back over the well deck. All was going well and i went back to the wardroom to read. i was lounging on an installed sofa when i was jolted with a huge bang. i ran out and discovered the contractors after unsuccessfully lodging the last panel in place were lifting it up about ten feet from where it was supposed to go and dropping the huge panels, which must have weighed more than a couple of tons each, trying to drive them in place. They had made three drops before i got back to the flight deck and had them stopped.
i know they never fully reinserted the screws because i took Sarah aboard in 1998 when she was a fourth grader and had chosen a Navy ship for her topic in an assignment. It was a wonderful moment. They bonged me aboard as “Commander, Retired” accompanied by four bells while we walked down the pier. The CDO personally took us to all of the spaces. When we walked down the wing walls to the stern, which was my primary position as well-deck master in well deck operations, i spotted the huge screw in the overhead, hanging out with maybe only half of the screw threads outside of where they were supposed to be. The COD was amazed when i told him the history of the flight deck. i still don’t believe those nuts were trying to drop it in place by dropping it.
In spite of that, she did so well on her INSURV inspection for decommissioning in the mid-1990’s, the board recommended she remain active and she did so, going on at least two, if not three or four more deployments. After her decommissioning and some political haranguing with the Taiwanese, she remained in Pearl Harbor with the inactive ships until she was sunk as a target in a RIMPAC exercise in 2010. It took over six hours to sink her. The missiles couldn’t do it. Finally, the USS Bremerton (SSN 698) broke her back with a torpedo.
She was an elegant fighting lady until the end.
My two years were the best two in my career even though my personal problems had begun. As first lieutenant i did everything. Never stopped. It was great for a mariner. Art Wright was my captain for most of the tour and he was one of the best CO’s i had. Great memories.
Oh yes, the “HIMARS” rocket the current Anchorage tested looked a lot like the JATO rockets we fired while on a Caribbean exercise in 1984 while i was XO on the Yosemite. It was one of the craziest things in which i was involved during my sea time. Yosemite was simulating an orange force enemy for the main blue force. The JATO rockets, apparently unlike the HIMARS except in looks, were not much more than giant Roman candles. But we fired about ten or so (as i remember). The exercise did give us about five days in Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Puerto Rico (and as usual, there are several sea stories about that stop).
It was also our underway period when we were in the eye of what eventually became Hurricane Diana as she began forming, yet another sea story.