Category Archives: Sea Stories

At Sea Indoctrination

Last Friday, after FMG (Friday Morning Golf, a weekly event in my life since 1991 with longtime pals), the six of us sat down with our beers (except for one of us) and began our usual palaver nearly always involving sea stories and war stories (one of us, Marty Linville, was an army artillery officer), both of which could also be called military history, personal accounts, or bullshit.

The group consisted of Marty who retired as a major, his son Michael, his grandson Carson, Rod Stark who was a commander surface warfare officer, Pete Toennies who retired as a SEAL captain, and moi, also a surface commander type.

Michael, who did not serve in the military, began by citing “Platoon” and how his father noted what occurred in the movie was pretty accurate in the events. Marty clarified they were but  that all of the events did not happen to just one unit. Then Michael asked Pete if “G. I. Jane,” aside from having a woman (Demi Moore) going through BUDS training at the time, was realistic. Pete replied that the training depicted in the movie was pretty accurate,

Carson, who is matriculating to Linfield College in Oregon with a golf scholarship this fall and the one with no beer, listened intently.

We wandered off to quite a few politically incorrect topics, and i told a story indicating a man should not get in the middle of women arguing about what they should be called.

But afterward driving home, i began to think about what Pete, Marty, Rod, and i went through long ago.  All of us did it several times: in college, at OCS, our first military tour, crossing the line, and any special group we joined. Some folks call it informal indoctrination, today it is called hazing and frowned upon, primarily because some people have let get out of hand, do stupid things because they think they are being tougher resulting in people getting hurt or killed.

To us, it was all about breaking us down to remake us into a unit, a team. As  Gregory Peck’s character in “Twelve O’Clock High” drummed into his Eighth Air Force unit, it’s all about “unit integrity.”

I have written of how i was indoctrinated to the ways of the sea aboard the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764) in 1963 as a Midshipman third class. But there were many other tricks or embarrassments ahead. Those earlier stories involved sailors trying to get a landlubber, a green newcomer, even worse an officer to be, seasick. The other tricks were to embarrass the landlubber.

When a new crew member reported to his division or his work station, he was often sent on a fool’s mission. Common were the assignment to go find “relative bearing grease,” or a “sky hook.”

My favorite was on my first ship as an officer, the USS Hawkins (DD 873). During one afternoon watch with turbulent seas looming and a severe turn about to be executed, the boatswainmate of the watch piped (blew) “Attention, All Hands” on his boatswain’s pipe through the 1MC speaker system and warned the crew to “Standby for Heavy Rolls.” The watch section in CIC (Combat Information Center, or Combat) sent a new radarman striker to the galley to wait for the cooks to give him some “heavy rolls” and bring them back to the watch.

Of course, there was no such thing, and the poor striker waited outside the galley for over an hour in an honest attempt to carry out his order.

Back to the Lloyd Thomas after my time in weapons and operations, i was sent to engineering, first to the machinist mate division standing watches in main control. On my first work day, the LPO (Leading Petty Officer) directed me to go the Auxiliary Shop and ask “A-gang” for some “relative bearing grease.” i did as directed. A-gang told me they were all out of relative bearing grease and i should go to Damage Control Central and ask them for the relative bearing grease. As i walked forward through the mid-ship passageway, it dawned on me there was no such thing as relative bearing grease.

So instead of returning to Main Control empty handed, i went to my rack in midshipmen berthing on the first deck aft, let it down, climbed in, and went to sleep. After about an hour, Main Control’s LPO became worried and sent third class petty officer looking for me. He lost my trail at DC Central and reported back to the LPO. Finally, the LPO himself started his search and found me asleep in my rack. It had been about two hours since he had sent me on on the search.

He woke me and demanded to know what i thought i was doing, that i could be put on report for sleeping on duty.

i responded by telling him after being unable to find the relative bearing grease, i was too embarrassed at my inability to find it and was afraid to come back to Main Control. Not having anywhere else to go, i came back to my rack and laid down.

He bought it.

And i got the best nap i had since getting underway six weeks before.

A Fitting Reply

Back when Navy ships were steam powered and a new concept in engineering plants had just begun, i was the Weapons Officer aboard the helicopter carrier USS Okinawa (LPH  3) homeported in San Diego.

The new program established the Propulsion Examining Board (PEB) to drastically improve the engineering plants of the fleet. The Navy appointed the most experienced and knowledgeable officers and enlisted in engineering to the board and subsequently those personnel conducted the much feared Operational Propulsion Plant Examinations (OPPE’s). If a ship underwent an OPPE and failed, it was more than likely the commanding officer, executive officer, and chief engineer would be “relieved for cause,” a career ending punishment.

i had experience with the OPPE’s on two ships although i was not directly involved. Neither was pleasant. i also had a tour as Chief Engineer aboard the USS Hollister (DD 788), and it was undoubtedly one of my toughest tours. So i was alert to all of the happenings on the waterfront when it came to engineering plant readiness.

One ship, a cruiser also homeported in San Diego, which will remain unnamed here, had undergone an OPPE. The ship failed, and as predicted, the CO, XO, and CHENG were relieved. The bureau of personnel picked a commanding officer to take over who had the reputation of being a superb engineer and unrelenting in driving ship’s force to prepare the ship’s plant for the next round of the inspection.

This CO drove everyone aboard to focus on preparations. His deck, weapons, operations, and administrative people were put into the fire rooms and engine rooms to properly prepare and then paint all of the spaces. They also provided support in administration and training to the engineers who worked harder than the rest of the ship with 16 hour days being the norm while they trained and brought all of the equipment up to expected standards. It was grueling work hours and the new CO was unrelenting in driving his crew toward the goal.

There was one machinist mate who was the leading grouser about what he was going through. He had been called on the carpet several times for his resistance and even had mouthed off to the commanding officer.

As was his habit, the CO had come in one morning at 0400 to inspect some of the work that was being accomplished. After checking out the progress, he had a cup of coffee and returned to his car to retrieve something he had forgotten to bring on board. When he approached  his parking spot, reserved for the CO, he discovered his car had been riddled with bullets.

He was sure he knew who did it, the resistant machinist mate. The CO marched back to the ship and went directly to main control where he knew the second class petty officer was working on a piece of gear.

“Did you shoot up my car?” he angrily confronted the sailor.

“No, sir,” the sailor replied.

“If i had done it, you would have been in it”

Morning Watch

Previously on this website, i have commented on my habit of rising early.

i did it again today, got up just past five, fed the cats, took out the trash, put up last night’s pots and pans, took out the trash for pickup, added to and tended the compost box, watered the gladiolas, checked the vegetable boxes, set the table, and then sat down at this infernal machine to cuss at all of the blockades to doing anything productive — the genies who dwelled in the evaps (distilling plant) and gave me grief, only allowing the evaps to produce good water when they felt so inclined when i was the chief engineer on the Hollister; well they jumped on my shoulder and rode with me until they leaped into my computer, moving each time i got a new one to torment me to the gates of hell with their insidious, prankish, really evil shenanigans — while the rest of the house and neighborhood slept except for the cats who pestered me while i cussed at my desk.

It is a routine. i do not know how i got into it. i don’t know why i arise early, but i suspect it’s because of the morning watch.

i have written of the morning watch before, but this morning, i am so inclined to write of it again. The morning watch was my favorite watch. It hardly ever started as my favorite. The messenger of the watch would show up in my stateroom beside my rack around 0315, 3:00 a.m. to landlubbers.

Messengers of the watch were circumspect in this duty of waking up officers for the mid and morning watches. They had heard of the one who had difficulty in arousing a rather burly LTJG from his rack, finally grabbing his shoulder when the young hard sleeping officer jerked hard and kicked out, whacking the messenger in the head driving him into the locker on the other side of the stateroom and breaking his nose. If calling the officer “lieutenant, lieutenant, wake up, wake up, it’s time for the morning watch” didn’t work, they would get at an angle, ready to leap away, and gently prod the officer.

i never lashed out, but i did grumble a lot. i would rub my eyes, shoo the messenger back to the bridge, put on the khakis i had prepped on the small fold-out desk across from my rack, splash my face with water from the shared sink at the entrance to our stateroom, hit the head on the way out, all with my red-lens flashlight on to guide me through the passageways and up the ladders to combat (Combat Information Center or CIC) to get the operational picture of what was happening before reporting to the bridge and announcing to the off-going OOD (Officer of the Deck), “i’m ready to relieve you, Sir.” It would be around 0340. In five minutes or less, i was briefed, saluted, and announced to the OOD so all could hear, “I relieve you, Sir,” to which the OOD would respond, “I stand relieved,” and the Boatswainmate of the Watch would echo, “Mister Jewell has the deck and the conn.”

It was only then, i appreciated the morning watch. The rest of it was just irksome stuff i did mechanically, reluctantly.

But then, i was in my world. For years, it was with a cup of coffee and a cigarette. On my last two ships, the cigarettes had left me. i was usually in my world of darkness standing at the center gyro compass, peering out into the darkness with not much going on. When the ship was in company with other Navy ships, i might see their running lights sparsely glowing in the surrounding waters. They too were quiet: never too much going on as far as formation changes or information exchanges. All of the elephants were in their racks. Junior officers ruled the  decks, the seas, their universe, and at that time of day, they were not inclined to much other than leaning on their gyros (i have some other sea stories about disliked seniors (elephants) screwing with OOD’s and even CO’s on other watches).

The first signs of the morning came in the aromas. Somewhere on 0430, i would get another cup of coffee and weather permitting, would go out to the starboard bridge wing, lean over the gunnel with my cup of coffee. The galley would be stirring a couple of decks below. Starboard, not port side was where to catch whiffs of the coffee, baking bread, bacon coming up to greet the morning.

Following that, about 45 minutes before actual sunrise, came my joy, my moment of silence, my spiritual moment. First light. It would creep into my awareness, slowly lightening the black sky of a million stars with the stars fading away as the lightness gradually infused the sky, allowing me to discern the horizon, a sharp line between the shades of the sky’s grays and the dark Navy blue of the sea (you see, there is a reason for the color of “navy blue”).

Then, the inevitable rising of that lucky old sun. i didn’t even mind the pink auras of sunrise as mariners know “red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.” Renewal. New dawn. New day.

Better yet, it was a short watch. Relief would come by 0700, allowing the off-going watch time to be the last in the chow line for enlisted and the last three or four to join the wardroom table. All of the other watches, except for the two hour dog watches designed for three section watches to rotate and accommodate the evening mess, were a solid, unrelenting four hours.

Once relieved, my day would come with a rush. Chomping down the bacon, eggs, and toast while reading the morning message traffic, rushing to quarters to pass  the word to my division, taking on the morning duties, paperwork, inspections, paperwork.

Fading around 1000, nearly always. That’s when the rack monster would start calling me. You see, the beginning and the end of the morning watch was not joyful. By the noon mess break at 1130, i was stumbling, eyes burning. Most often, i would skip the wardroom mess and head straight to my rack: a nooner, a long nooner, and what i later came to know as a “NORP,” Naval Officer Rest Period. Good hard sleep, even in rough seas.

On several of my ships, my rack was a couch, for some reason nearly always red faux leather in the daytime. The back would fold down to disclose a mattress in a metal frame. For my rack in rough seas at night or for a NORP i had a system. i would put clothes or blankets at the back of the seat, fold down the frame until the clothes, blankets, etc. left the frame at an angle; then i would pull the mattress outward until there was a crevasse between the mattress and the bulkhead. i would wedge myself into the crevasse where the ship’s rolls had less effect on my NORP. Good hard sleep. An hour, maybe a bit more.

i don’t think i did, but i like to believe i dreamed of the morning watch.

i would continue this sea story, but i have just realized it’s time for a NORP.

The Beginning of a Love of the Sea, part III

About a month and a half ago, i began trilogy of posts about acquiring my love of the sea.

i posted the first two stories of my third class midshipman cruise aboard the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD  764).  Then i rested. Those first two posts centered around how i became insulated against sea sickness. Neither the chief petty officer faking blowing lunch with his mixture of crushed graham crackers and milk in a barf bag nor the tricks of the sailors in rough seas could induce seasickness. My resistance allowed me to never have a problem with seasickness again, not even through the roughest seas, for the rest of my time at sea. Those events gave me a one up on being a mariner.

My real love of the sea was precipitated later in that eight-week cruise. We had been to Sydney, Nova Scotia, Bermuda, and were headed back to Newport in late July somewhere in the middle Atlantic. i had spent my time in deck, operations, and was about three weeks into my five-week stint in engineering.

Engineering was on a four-section watch rotation and did not dog the 18-20 — the dog watches were 16-18 and 18-20, splitting the evening mess and allowing three section watches to rotate through different watches each day; a four section watch would rotate watches without splitting the dog watches into two. The midshipmen were in three sections. i began my engineering tour with the morning watch (0400-0800). Consequently, i stood the morning watch, then put in the 0800-1600 work day immediately followed by the 1600-2000 watches. For five weeks plus, i had a 16-hour workday.

Being young and having no sense at all, i went to the evening movie, shown for the enlisted in the DASH (Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter) hanger aft on the 01 level. Every night. No sense. That gave me about five hours of sleep each day. No sense.

This particular night, the crew’s movie was “The Quiet Man.” i had never seen it, and was entertained and moved by the story. Perhaps that influenced what happened next. The thirty or forty crew members filed out of the hangar deck and headed to their berthing before taps. For a reason long forgotten, i delayed and trailed the exit. i was walking forward across the torpedo deck on the 01 level before heading down the ladder. i was alone. i stopped.

The night was a perfect summer night at sea. The ship was steaming with standard running lights allowing the stars to give off their full glory in the heavens. There was a full moon. It was almost perfectly abeam on the port side. i walked to the life lines and paused.

The Thomas was steaming at 15 knots on a windless night. The roar from the stacks passed over my head and was barely noticeable, but i could hear the swish of the bow waves passing down the port side. The reflection of the moon produced a path of sparkling white from the horizon directly to where i stood.

It likely was no more than a minute or two i stood there. It seemed then, and it seems now it could have been eternity. It was as if the goddess of the sea took her hand from the moon’s path and reached up and grabbed me. There was something deep in my gut, deep in my soul touched by that lady, the sea. She called me. i felt her then. i feel her now.

Oh, i tried to ignore her and the feelings down deep. i spent my obligatory three years after a chequered path to becoming an officer and got out with the intent of being a sports journalist. i only returned because of the financial responsibility of having a wife with a daughter on the way. The need for security. But the feeling from that night on the port side of the Lloyd Thomas never left me.

i spent almost 15 years on sea duty. There were many obligations for a Navy officer, what they eventually marketed as a “Surface Warfare Officer.” Those obligations often distracted from communication with the sea, but the sea never let go, never let go.

i have loved the sea in all of her moods: the calm of the doldrums, the lapping white caps of deep blue at first light, the heat of the water reflecting on a hot summer day in calm seas, the rage of a storm with waves breaking green water on the portholes of the bridge 75-feet from the waterline. And an infinite number of nights with the stars so plentiful, they seemed to run together and the full moon tracing its path to the port side of my ships. And grabbing me deep inside.

If i could go back to sea and drive ships, i would. But technology passing me by and age would not allow such a personal whim.

But the sea. Ahh, the sea goddess. i still love her.


The Beginning of a Love of the Sea, part II

Shortly after the chief petty officer’s sea sick bag trick, sea detail was secured and the regular underway forenoon watch (0800-1200) watch was set. Mostly green-faced midshipmen filed into the wardroom.

The midshipman coordinator explained a bunch of basics about life at sea for enlisted and officers, specific rules and expectations, and of course, possible punishment for not behaving like good midshipmen. We were assigned departments and given a schedule for rotating to other departments. i was to begin in operations, rotate to the weapons department after just over two weeks, and finally be assigned to engineering after another three weeks. Before we were escorted to our berthing, which was on the first deck below the fantail near the stern, i was informed my seabag had been delivered to a ship that departed about an hour after us, and the seabag would be transferred at first opportunity.

Thinking that surely would be a day or two, i felt okay. Little did i realize it would be more than three weeks before the seabag was high-lined from the recipient ship to the oiler escorting the carrier force and then high-lined from the oiler to the Lloyd Thomas. i was given the essential of toothpaste, toothbrush, soap to get through the first day while someone was supposed to be considering what they could do for my uniform.

All i knew was i smelled pretty badly and it wasn’t good for someone’s first day at sea. We settled into our berthing and they pretty much gave us the afternoon off except for watch standers. Our new beds, “racks” in Navy jargon consisted of a canvas cloth tied to aluminum frames stacked three deep above three 3×3 foot lockers. If you had the middle or bottom rack (being one of the shorter midshipmen i was elected to have a bottom rack — if the guy above you was in, the sag in the canvas would not allow you to roll over to a new position: you would have to get out of the rack and enter in the position you wanted. i have always been able to take a nap…anywhere, anytime, and this small obstacle did not deter me. After all, i had had a few pretty rough days and little sleep.

But i did get up for the evening mess. i took my place in line on the main deck port side and in due time passed through the mess line. The crew was intent on initiating the midshipmen to being at sea and the cooks were very much into that. The first evening meal was greasy pork chops, beans, and gravy. There may have been some potatoes and white bread, but i don’t recall. When i sat down at one of the mess deck tables, i was not enthusiastic in eating the fare on the compartmentalized metal tray in front of me, but i knew eating was necessary to keep my condition the way it was rather than reaching the condition of nearly all the other midshipmen in the mess. When all of the midshipmen were settled, the sailors had another delight in store. About a half dozen of them took turns walking among  the tables. When they reached where a midshipman was sitting, the sailor would take a sardine he had tied to a string out of a sardine can. Then making sure the sailor was watching, he would swallow the sardine whole. pause, pose, and the draw the sardine back out of his throat and mouth, letting it dangle before repeating the process. We lost everyone again except for two of us.

After the mess, they opened “C-Stores” for cigarettes. i could not believe it. Out at sea, supply sold a carton of cigarettes for one dollar. i stood in line for mine and when the storekeeper informed me they didn’t have Chesterfield Kings, i asked for a carton of Winstons. i got a bad carton and on my next time to C-stores, i went to Pell-Mell’s (another story). But that night, i just wanted to smoke. i needed it…i thought.

My division assignment was radar. That meant i would be working for the radarmen in Combat Information Center (CIC), then quartermasters, and then signalmen. My first watch was the evening watch (2000-2400). The radarmen were smart and nice guys. But i was a midshipman, and their goal was to get all midshipmen seasick that first day. The fact that i smelled like a wet sock that had been in the gym for about two weeks didn’t help.

When i reported to combat, they immediately put me on a radar scope, showed me how to watch the display and report any surface contacts. The watch coordinator put me on a scope where i was facing athwartship (for the landlubbers, it is more difficult for balance, i.e. imbalance induces seasickness, to adjust to the rolling of the ship when facing athwartship rather than fore or aft). The supervisor promised to check on me. They did. About every five to ten minutes, one of the watch standers would come by my radar repeater to check. Each one was smoking a cheap, foul-smelling cigar and ensured, while they were checking on me, their smoke was blowing into my face as much as possible.

So there i was and would be for almost four hours, certain to be sitting in the wrong position, holding on the radar repeater in a dark room with only a few red lights, staring at the cathode ray tube with green sweeps across a black circular screen while the ship rolled back and forth and cigar smoke completely surrounded me after a day of sailor tactics to get me to join my midshipmen buddies hugging the toilets while i smelled like a small goat herd after a rain in my now four-day old clothes. i felt if i was turning green. i could feel clumps in my stomach rising up. i began looking about for a barf bag. i felt a lump in my throat. i wondered how long it would be before, as they say in the Navy i “upchucked.”

Then, sitting there, i told myself i was not going to let these yahoos get pleasure out of seeing me seasick. i swallowed whatever it was coming up, and it went back down. i certainly wasn’t in the best of shape, but i made it through the watch, drank a lot of water from the nearest scuttlebutt when i was relieved by the mid-watch.  And with the nonparallel capability to sleep anywhere, anytime, i hit my rack and was asleep within seconds.

From that moment on the radar watch until as i write right now, i have never been seasick. i have cleaned up from shipmates on numerous occasions. i have been in seas only slightly less hazardous than those in a perfect storm. My biggest problem with motion is getting my landlubber legs back when i hit shore after long periods at sea, not the other way around.

The second morning underway, things began to get a bit better, thanks to the very sailors who were trying to get me sick the night before.

It was better but i certainly wasn’t in love with the sea yet.

The Beginning of a Love of the Sea, part I

It wasn’t like i always wanted to go to sea. My idea of being on the water was waterskiing with buddy Henry Harding and his family or fishing with my father on Tennessee lakes. That was it for my ambition to be on any water.

In fact the Navy was my third choice in my college choices as i was about two months away from graduating from Castle Heights Military Academy. i really didn’t consider any military to be in my future, except for, of course, the draft.

My first choice for college was Centre College. John Thompson, one of the stars of our senior class was already headed there. My parents and i drove the 150 miles up to Danville to check it out. i loved it, but i really loved it because the football coach had indicated they would like to have me on the football team. i believed i might actually be able to play the sport for four more years, my dream. Unfortunately, Centre did not award athletic scholarships. The coach and my grades (i somehow — i still have no idea how  — finished fourth in academics in our class and even more remarkably had scored high on the SAT’s) allowed the administration to award me a $2500 scholarship.

i knew my parents could not afford to pay the balance, and i sadly declined the invitation.

My second choice was Vanderbilt. Each year, they awarded a four-year scholarship, The TRA Grantland Rice Scholarship to a deserving and promising sports writer. i had been the sports editor of the award winning The Cavalier, the Heights newspaper under the tutelage of one of the best journalists of all time, “Coach” JB Leftwich. It was for $10,000, at the time it would cover a large chunk of tuition and expenses.

Rumor has it i finished second. Bob Thiel, who ended up being one of my closest friends even until today, won it. He deserved it because he had been a superb reporter for the Evansville, Indiana newspaper.

i had also applied for an NROTC scholarship, never thinking i would end up being accepted as i kept thinking ole Grantland’s boys would do me well (i always have been a bit too optimistic). William LeRoy Dowdy, II, the editor of The Cavalier, and a far superior academic to me, was also going for the NROTC scholarship. One afternoon in the newspaper office, he and i decided it would be tougher for us if we both listed Duke as our number one choice of schools. So i opted for Vanderbilt. i wish it had been for my desire to take advantage of their reputation as “the Harvard of the South.” But i conceded Duke to Lee because i was a fan of Vanderbilt and Tennessee football and Vanderbilt basketball.

i got it.

There are many twists and turns of my academic disaster after i matriculated but i made it through the freshman year, which meant i would be going on a third class midshipman cruise.

At the end of April, i was ordered to report to the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD-764) in June for eight weeks of midshipman training.

The travel for my orders gave me two options. i could have the NROTC unit book an airline flight out of Berry Field to Providence and further transportation to Newport, Rhode Island or i could get there on my own and receive travel pay. After checking out the cost of a Trailways bus ticket from Nashville to Newport, i decided i could pocket a significant amount of money if i chose the pay your own way and get the travel pay. Bad idea.

My parents drove me to Union Station, which then was also a Trailways Bus Station. i was in my service dress Khaki midshipman uniform, complete with my combination cover. Around noon, we said our goodbyes and i boarded the bus. It was rather full. i took the aisle seat on the right side about one-third of the way back next to an older lady with a small hat on top of her gray hair.

By then, i smoked Chesterfield Kings. Cy Fraser had introduced me to them. After baseball games in my senior year, i had smoked Winstons when several of our baseball team after games would find a place where they would sell beer to minors (under 21 at the time) and find a country road, sit on the side of the road (along with several other antics of greater legend) in our baseball uniforms where we could smoke cigarettes and drink Country Club Malt Liquor. But that autumn of my matriculation, my fraternity pledge brother and still one of my lifetime friends, Cy introduced me to Chesterfield Kings. i liked the image. i liked the macho aspect of an unfiltered cigarette, and i liked the smoke.

The little old lady was not as enthusiastic. She bewailed the sinners who would smoke cigarettes. She foretold of death shortly after the U.S. government decided, even with the money thrown at them by tobacco interests, the public should be warned.

i lit up. In fact, i was pretty much a chain smoker for the entire five hour ride to Louisville with what seemed like interminable stops. She got off. i ate a woeful Stewart sandwich with chips at the fifteen-minute rest stop, drank a coke and reboarded.

The bus ride, with a stop at every spot in the road, took over forty-three hours with a transfer in Providence for the final hour ride to Newport. The bus arrived at the station in Washington Square at 0730. It was a sunny morning and the quaint little “square” was intriguing.

It was much different than when i was later in Newport. The station was at the point of the triangle to the east. “Washington Square” is not a square at all. Back then, Eisenhower Park was in the middle, and the courthouse stood at the east end, the base of the isosceles triangle they call a “square.” The sides of the triangle held a uniform shop amongst other shops and a diner or two. It seems there were a couple of attorney offices, and if i remember correctly, there was one or two bail outfits. Near the bus station were what we would call today, dive bars. Several more sailor bars were on Thames (pronounced thāmes, not “‘tems” like the street in London), the old, old street which ran north toward the Naval Station.

The waterfront of Newport still had that air of an old and rough seaport area, not the upscale touristy aura there today.

Other midshipmen, who were much smarter than me and had taken the air travel option were bussed from the Providence airport to the Trailways Station. The Navy haze gray buses were waiting for us. i debarked from the bus and went to the baggage hold to retrieve my seabag, which had all of my 3/c midshipman sailor gear in it, working whites and the classic dungarees with the blue chambray shirt — to this day, i am amazed some yahoo thought we should get rid of them and the bell bottom uniforms so our sailors could look like bus drivers and plumbers — and the dixie cup with a navy blue band around the brim — ditto on the Navy ditching them for ball caps, piss cutters, and combination covers.

Regardless, mine were not in any of the cargo holds. The buses were waiting as i frantically queried the bus personnel. As the Navy petty officers were telling me we had to leave because my ship, the Lloyd Thomas would be one of the first to get underway in less than two hours, the bus folks were admitting my seabag was not transferred in Providence as it should have been, that they had located it and it should, hopefully,  be delivered to the ship before the Thomas got underway.

Wondering just what the hell i was going to do if it didn’t make it but a bit placated by the assurance of the bus station manager, i took my bus  seat for the fifteen minute ride to the destroyer piers on the Naval Base.

As we filed off the bus, the chief directed me to Pier 2. My ship was on the north side about three-quarters o f the way down the pier. i had passed by Pier 1 and marveled at the USS Yosemite (AD 19). The flag ship was adorned with all sorts of flags and pennants with an immaculate and large brow to the pier. She was the flagship for Commander, Cruiser-Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet and was an impressive sight. She was the first Navy ship i saw for real. Little did i realize i would be her executive officer on my last operational tour twenty years later.

As i walked down Pier 2, i noticed small black particles in the air and settling on my combination cover and my blouse. i tried to brush some of them off, but they not only clung to the fabric, they were making holes. Back in those days, steam ships would “blow tubes” while pier side. This is roughly the equivalent having a chimney sweep clean your chimney. Blowing tubes was shooting forced air through the boiler tubes up the stack, blowing off the acidic residue, those black specks i encountered. If the residue was left on the stacks they could eat into the tube, and destroy the 600 pound boilers, most likely with a disastrous explosion. By the time i was commissioned, doing this pier side was forbidden and usually done on the mid or morning watch. By the time i was CHENG on the Hollister, you could get in real trouble and face fines, if you were caught with any smoke coming from your stacks. But then, there were no such restrictions. That cover and that blouse had little holes in them when i turned them into the unit upon my return.

i walked across the Lloyd Thomas’ brow, stopped, faced aft, saluted the ensign hoisted on the fantail, and asked the OOD on the quarterdeck for permission to come aboard, just as my Navy instructor had taught me to do. About a half-dozen of us were checking on board. The petty officer immediately escorted to the wardroom where the other midshipmen awaited us with the executive officer. There were eighteen third class and three first class midshipmen. The XO welcomed us aboard quickly. When i inquired about my seabag, one of the petty officer escorts informed me it was not delivered.

We were sent to the 01 deck forward of the bridge where Mount 52, the second forward 5″ 34 twin gun mount used to be, now it it had a hedgehog mount, an anti-submarine weapon on each side, but was more of a ceremonial deck than anything else. We fell into a three-rank formation facing the port side as the ship got underway.

In spite of stinking to high heaven and the restrictions of being at parade rest in the ranks, i had an initial feeling of exhilaration as the USS Lloyd Thomas cleared the pier, backed into a turn in Narragansett Bay and headed south by southwest out the channel past Fort Adams, Jackie Kennedy’s family Auchincloss estate and the summer mansions of ten mile drive.

About ten minutes after getting underway, the midshipmen in formation had their attention distracted. Some were already getting a little pale from the rolling of the destroyer through  the channel. A chief had gone down to the chief’s mess and retrieved a “barf bag,” a paper sack hung on rails through the ship’s passageways when getting underway, hopefully being used by some poor seasick dog to keep from puking on the bulkheads and decks. The chief poured some milk into the bag. He then took vanilla wafers, crumbled them up, and added them to the milk before shaking his mixture into a chunky mess.

He emerged from the port side hatch just aft of the midshipmen’s formation and under the port bridge wing where no one on the bridge could see him. He then spoke loudly to ensure all of the midshipmen could hear him, “Damn, every time we go to sea, i have to get sick. Looks like it’s gonna happen again.” He then paused, retched, shook, and pretended to blow lunch into the seasick bag.

The midshipmen were staring at him in disbelief. When he was sure they were watching, he explained as if to himself, “And there’s only one way to cure it.”

With that pronouncement, the chief proceeded to put the bag to his mouth and gulp down the milk and vanilla wafer concoction, making sure a great deal of the contents dribbled down his khaki uniform and onto the steel deck.

That was the final blow. Out of the twenty-one midshipmen, there was one first class, and two third class midshipmen including me,  left in the formation. The other eighteen were at the safety rails, retching their innards away into the sea.

i’m sure the sea detail on the bridge was wondering about the wimps they had just taken on board.

It was not an auspicious beginning of my time at sea. It was about to get worse.


i know i have recounted this story before, many times orally and once or twice on paper, or this poor excuse for paper that shows up on your computer screen. The other day on the  US Navy Gearing Destroyer group on Facebook, there was an entry from someone who had served on the USS Brownson (DD 868). The name generated my recall of the story.  i love it, and now that i’m hooked up with some destroyer men on Facebook, i wanted to share it again.

For those of you who weren’t around the Navy’s Destroyer School in 1973, you may not have heard this story about the USS Brownson (DD 868). Three of the Brownson’s junior officers, including one who was stashed there waiting for department head school in Newport, Rhode Island, related it to me at a late afternoon tea…okay, okay, a couple of pitchers of beer for happy hour at the small annex to the officer’s club up the hill from the destroyer-submarine piers.

CHENG (chief engineer for landlubbers) on the  Brownson had won the respect of the ship’s officers who were with me in the six-month course was just on the south side of daffy and apparently had done several wild and goofy things while aboard . But he was a superb engineer and somehow the captain tolerated all of the shenanigans.

The gang swapped sea stories about CHENG’s antics. The sea stories were surprising, sometime a bit shocking. Then they told me the best one:

The Brownson had been operating for about two weeks with exercises in the Atlantic op areas off of Newport but had been independent steaming for several days. There was not much going on, no shipping to speak of, and relatively calm seas. Those watches, especially at night, are boring where you struggle to stay awake. CHENG had the midwatch on the bridge, nine total bodies on the bridge in the dark. In watches like that when i was OOD, i would query the watch standers about the actual names of the 16 points in the compass, like “one point off the starboard bow” is “nor, nor by nor east.”

But Brownson’s CHENG had a bigger idea. About half-way through his mid-watch, he transferred steering control to after steering. Then he shifted the entire bridge team to the flying bridge on the 04 level directly above the bridge. Finally, he had the Boatswainmate of the watch go to the 1MC (the ship’s loudspeaker system) and pipe attention, followed by the announcement, “Captain to the Bridge!” On old destroyers or for that matter any Navy ship i served during my career, every captain when underway spent his nights in the “sea cabin” immediately aft of the bridge so he could quickly access the bridge in an emergency — apparently, the new age of commanding officers no longer feel required to sleep in the sea cabin but choose the much larger, more comfortable Captain’s Cabin below the bridge for the evening.

So the pipe has called attention and the Boatswainmate has called the captain to the bridge. The captain erupts from his rack, crashes out of the sea cabin in his pajamas with his housecoat dragging behind…and there in the middle of the night on the “darken ship” bridge no one is on the bridge.

The officers telling the story did not explain what happened after that except to say, the captain and CHENG had a meaningful conversation in the wardroom the next morning.

i keep trying to imagine what ran through the captain’s mind those first thirty seconds or so when he ran onto the bridge ready for an incredible emergency and the bridge was empty.

Musings on an Early Saturday Morning

i am tired. But awake.

i woke up a bit earlier than usual, and even though it is a Saturday, i did not roll over and try to go back to sleep, an “iffy” proposition all the time, but not an option today.

You see, Maureen has to return a favor. A friend of hers took us to the airport about ten days ago for our trip to San Francisco. She picked us up at 11:00 a.m. Her flight back east and beyond was around 8:30 a.m. and she, like most women i know, especially my wife, wanted to have a buffer in time. So Maureen is to pick her up at 6:55 a.m.

Come to think of it, Karen is a bit more daring than Maureen. For an 8:30 a.m. flight, Maureen would want to be at the airport just after midnight before the flight but will compromise. We would have left home at 5:00 a.m.

So i made sure i got up and didn’t roll back over to dreamland in order to make coffee for when Maureen arose (i was also the backup alarm). One should not ever have to deal with Maureen without an early coffee or when she’s hungry. i’ve learned that.

The coffee has just finished percolating (i like that word: percolating). i started this when it was not quite alarm protection time. The coffee is done and i have retrieved the paper from the driveway.

Getting up this morning was particularly tougher this morning. i watched the Aztecs squeeze out a win over Air Force, 21-17, in a game extended an hour by a lightning delay.

Lightning delay! In San Diego! With rain! Who’d a thunk! Rain. i had almost forgotten what is was like. So much so, i made an excuse to go outside when it started so i could feel it, taste it, smell it. It was all good.

By the way, the game was a defensive battle in the rain, the kind i really like including the Tennessee rain-soaked Alabama 10-9 victory in Neyland Stadium in 1966 when Stabler was the quarterback and Louis Thompson was the super duper defensive tackle and when Tennessee had driven down the field with seconds left on the clock and missed a short field goal by inches and some nut sportswriter asked Bear what he would have done if the field goal attempt had been good and the Bear said “we would’ve blocked it and the game was mostly punts the rain and mud, the kind i like — after all, i was a diminutive linebacker in the dark ages. The Aztec win was marred by lots of miscues, the kind announcers feast on because they can blame somebody for something rather than crediting the other side for making it happen. Still, i’m a long-distance San Diego State football fan. They are fun to watch.

Even in the rain. The joyous, glorious rain, something everyone back on the right coast is getting too much of. A blessing here. i think about that a lot. i love San Diego weather, a big reason we stay here. It is high desert on the ocean front and the best weather year round for anyplace i’ve been in the world (and i have been to quite a few places in this world). i miss the seasons even though we claim to have them, and there is a subtle difference between the “summer” six months, and the “winter” six months. We can even detect a minuscule bit of spring and autumn. But it ain’t like back home.

i love rain. i like to walk in it. i am even known as a “mudder” by my golfing friends because i golf better in the rain. Rain and i have a long love affair.

i remember smelling it on the wind in Lebanon’s Augusts, a respite from the summer heat, especially around early football practice.

i remember it as a welcomed interloper into grave digging at Cedar Grove, where we would have to stop (but knowing digging in the wet clay was going to be a bear when the rain stopped).

i remember Henry Harding and i in a golf cart (why weren’t we walking at that age?) sitting under a small structure when a lightning storm caught us on the fifth hole.

i remember running in it during a Hash House Harriers run with the Aussies in Columbo, Sri Lanka, and sliding down the side of a a virtual cliff in the mud, clinging to vines to slow the descent because the downpour made the normal route impossible to traverse and then running through the road for the last mile in water up to my shins to reach the huge open shelter where the Aussies had steaks on the barbie and yanking one steak off and a Fosters out of the ice cooler and gnawing and gulping with the rain still dripping from my pores.

i remember the driving rains in the storms at sea coming down at a slant and the roar of the frothing, turbulent waves crashing over the bow and rolling down the main deck, and just how incredibly beautiful, even haunting the rain was in those moments.

i remember running my lunch circuit in Coronado during my last assignment, the circuit being modified by one of those rare rains and having to climb a temporary fence near the Hotel Del Coronado because the staff didn’t want anyone to walk through the foot or so of water collecting on the sidewalk. So i ran through it and climbed the fence and felt proud of myself for some curious reason.

And with what is my most poignant memory of the rain, i remember running in my street clothes (what a strange term for just clothes) in the rain until i thought my lungs would burst, running down West Spring Street, stopping and looking up for what seemed like an eternity, screaming, screaming as loud as i could. It was my freshman spring at Vanderbilt. Henry and Beetle’s mother, my beloved Virginia Harding, had passed away way too young. i did not know why. i didn’t understand. i felt cheated. i looked up to the heavens and screamed with the rain pouring down, onto my upturned face. And the rain was soothing.

i’m sure my love for the rain is not grasped right now by the folks who just went through the wrath of Michael. There are family and friends who live in Michael’s path whom i’ve not heard from yet. i try to imagine the grief, the scary future, the emotion of dealing with such destruction and loss. i can’t quite manage absorbing the enormity. i grieve for all of them.

And at almost the same time, San Diegans (i’m half San Diegan, half Lebanonite) were joyful, even with the rain delay of the football game, at less than a half-inch last night, hoping for more today, hoping the wildfires would be less of a possibility.

Weather is awesome, unpredictable, different…and strange.

*     *     *

Maureen has left, taking her coffee with her. Good. Karen will be glad she is on time. i suggested i meet Maureen on her way back from the airport for breakfast at Donny’s. Donny, a former professional bike racer in Spain, has the coffee shop with the best coffee in the world and several years ago added sandwiches to the offerings. And breakfast, good, good breakfasts. Maureen said that was a good idea but she had thought about making pancakes. i immediately nixed any more discussion about Donny’s. Nothing, nothing beats Maureen’s apple and blueberry pancakes. Made me want to run down to the Navy commissary and get some Tennessee Country Pride sausage. We’re out. Mild or hot is fine with me. Tennessee sausage with pancakes. Best breakfast in the world. i’ll settle for Maureen’s pancakes without my Tennessee sausage this morning.

*     *     *

And i wander in and out of these musings. In between i read my email. One came from my brother-in-law, Daniel Boggs, lives in Crossville. Tennessee. This native San Diegan fell in love with East Tennessee and moved there. Loves it. Dan is a music lover. He shares his love of music with Bob Hurt, another San Diegan gone to Crossville, who has had some gigs as a deejay on an Anaheim jazz station. They both know their stuff.

Dan sent me a “You Tube” video of an Aussie playing “Deep River Blues.” Tommy Emmanuel is the Aussie. i watched, but more importantly listened. i could not imagine someone matching Doc Watson playing and singing “Deep River Blues.” i couldn’t even imagine anyone trying.

Tommy Emmanuel is one hell of a guitar player. His introductions praises Doc, his inspiration. Then he plays and sings the song. Rather incredible. He even did some stuff Doc didn’t do. Impressive. Enjoyable:

i have a lot of friends and family who are music lovers. There are several: Andrew Nemethy (guitar and piano), Rob Dewitt (banjo), Alan Hicks (banjo), Cy Fraser (mandolin…well, a little bit), Evan Fraser (the things Evan does with native instruments from all across the world as a member of Dirtwire and several other bands is phenomenal), Tommy Duff (guitar), Martha Duff (piano), Tim Prichard (guitar) to name a few who are accomplished musicians. Sarah, my younger daughter, is pretty good on the guitar and piano as well.

i, on the other hand am about in dunceville. i played the piano for about four years up until high school. i was okay, but didn’t have a great ear and was only so-so reading music. i now sit down and stumble through Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” followed by my short composition inspired by Jody Williams’ “Endless Sleep,” a rockabilly tragedy tear jerker in 1958. Then i pull out the Cokesbury Hymnal, and pick out the gospel songs i really like such as “I Come to the Garden Alone,” “Amazing Grace,” and several others with my left hand in my lap. When i play those hymns, i wish i had paid more attention, practiced enough to ingrain the left hand, almost boogie-woogie accompaniment my grandmother, Granny Prichard and my aunt, Barbara Jewell, played and demonstrated for me.

As for the guitar, i’ve had one since the mid-1950’s. Fooled with it pretty much ever since. To no avail. So i pick at a single ditty i invented that sounds like the beginning of a couple of songs i’ve heard, play some other simple things i made up and maybe a terrible rendition of the Beatles “This Boy.”

Didn’t really learn either instrument. Didn’t practice. So now, i try to play both with everyone out of earshot. Just for me.

But i have worshipped Doc Watson since i first heard him. i believe Rob DeWitt introduced us. On the USS Hawkins in 1969. Maybe it was Andrew Nemethy. Or both. i listened. i began collecting Doc’s albums. Think i have four or five now, not counting Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s collection “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” where Doc is one of the star performers.

i saw Doc live about a half-dozen times, about two hundred thousand times too few. He played for Maureen and i on our second date when i took her to the Belly-Up Tavern again. She too fell in love with his music. And as good as Tommy Emmanuel is, perhaps even more technically advanced than Doc. He ain’t Doc. There’s only one:

Thank you, Danny.

*     *     *

These musings have gone from the dark of early morning to the promising but stubborn clouds unwilling to bring more rain. This is way too long but i’m into it, winging it, not wanting to stop, i think of ships.

In a not-yet-post piece, delayed by my inability to quickly resize photos, i inserted some comments about our San Francisco trip. i won’t elaborate here except for my last Saturday experience: My gracious Vandy brother Alan Hicks got tickets for a San Francisco “Fleet Week” event. We boarded the Jeremiah O’Brien around 1000. The O’Brien is liberty ship. She carried cargo when she participated in D-Day. Remember D-Day? That may seem like a silly question to someone my age, but i don’t know how much younger folks actually know about that war long ago.

Regardless, the O’Brien was in the midst of that day of death on Omaha , Utah, Gold, Sword, and Juno beaches some three quarters of a century ago . Impressive. My nostalgia loomed large as we walked down the pier. A ship like her, modified to carry troops instead of cargo, carried my father and his fellow 75th Battalion of Seabees from Gulfport, Mississippi through the Panama Canal to San Francisco where the remainder of the battalion boarded — and i’m thinking that happened at Fort Mason down the Bay in the Marina District from the Fisherman’s Wharf pier where the O’Brien was moored last Saturday — and then on to the South Pacific.

Her three-cylinder reciprocating engines with two 250-pound boilers were an older vintage engineering plant than my last ship, the USS Yosemite’s  400-pound, four-boiler, geared turbine plant. O’Brien was a year older. Two of my destroyers, the Hawkins and the  Hollister were of the same vintage with four 600-pound boilers, steam turbine plants. Still as Alan i descended into the bowels of O’Brien’s engine room, the heat filling our lungs, i was taken back to those days on destroyers and the tender. The roar of the boilers and clanking of the reciprocating engines sung in my heart as if it were thirty, forty, even fifty years ago. At sea.

The O’Brien got underway right after we talked to the pilot. “Maritime, or Coast Guard?” Alan asked of his training and qualifications.

“Hawsepipe,” the pilot responded. He seemed a bit embarrassed. We were impressed. i let the term simmer in my mind. “Hawsepipe:” he had learned the ropes by coming up through the system. The term took me back again. That hole in the bow where the anchor chain rolls out in thunder and creaks back up, dropping and retrieving the anchor. “Hawsepipe:” where the anchor is housed while underway. Oh, sweet sea. Oh, sweet ocean. The lady of a fierceness and beauty just laid out an unimaginable swath of destruction but can be like glass in the doldrums, but always, always beautiful.

“Hawsepipe,” he said.

The O’Brien, with the help of two tugs, slid from her berth and traversed a large part of the Bay, under the Golden Gate and back, holding steerageway off of Alcatraz as the Blue Angels did their aero-acrobatics in F-18’s, aircraft just coming into the military when i retired. Impressive.

But not as impressive as the Jeremiah O’Brien. She was magic. She was magic. She took me back in time.

We docked and disembarked about 1600.

*     *     *

i hope this lengthy, rambling musing has not put you off. i was on a roll. That often happens when i hit upon music i like, recalling rain, or falling in love with the sea again, even if it is from long distance.

Maureen is back home. We had her wonderful pancakes and read the paper. The house is stirring. Vanderbilt’s game against Florida is about to begin. i plan to watch, then take a nap, a bit longer than usual.

i will sleep well.

Sailors, Midshipmen, and Hatteras

In a recent post on the Facebook group “US Navy Gearing Class Destroyers,” Manny Gentile wrote:

When the midshipmen came aboard for their summer cruise, we went to great lengths to torment them.

i spent time on four Gearing class destroyers, the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764), the USS Hawkins (DD 873), USS Waldron (DD 699), and the USS Hollister (DD 788). i also had a tour aboard the USS Stephen B. Luce (DLG 7).

The Thomas was my ship for the third class midshipman eight-week cruise in the summer of 1963.

It was on the Thomas, my first time on a Navy warship at sea where seafaring reached into my gut and captured me…forever. It was also where tormenting of midshipmen was taken to an art form, and i was one of the targets, perhaps another reason for me to forever be a pocket of resistance.

i have told part of this before, but must repeat as the beginning had something to do with my first experience of Cape Hatteras, or to be more correct at sea east of Cape Hatteras.

In the summer of 1963, i opted to ride a bus from Nashville to Newport rather than flying due to my usual lopsided logic that i could save some money and use it for other things. My family drove me to Nashville’s Union Station where i caught a Trailways Bus. It left at noon Saturday and, with one transfer in Providence RI arrived in the Newport “square,” actually a deep triangle around 6:30 Monday morning, forty-two hours on a bus with stops only for passengers and some meals in my Navy Service Dress Khaki midshipman uniform.

When we offloaded, i found my seabag with all of my clothing had not been transferred to the new bus in Providence. i was assured my seabag would be delivered to the ship before we got underway.

Driving down Thames street toward the Navy base and the destroyer piers, i recall Newport as more of a sailor’s town: rough looking bars, a working waterfront much more so than a tourist attraction. When the bus stopped at the foot of the piers, i remember the USS Yosemite (AD 19) as the first ship pier-side in its grandeur as the flagship of the Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet (i was Yosemite’s XO on my last operational tour twenty years later). As i walked down the wood creosote pier, i was in awe of the gallant destroyers nested in threes on the pier. I thought it was smoggy, but the tin cans were “blowing tubes,” cleaning out the boiler tubes by blowing residue out the stack, a practice soon prohibited from environmental concerns. But that day, the acidic soot particles landed on my blouse and cover putting small black holes in the fabric.

By the time, i walked across the  brow and awkwardly saluted while reporting aboard, i smelled worse than a goat on a bad day. We had a short introduction by the XO in the wardroom before we were hustled the to the 01 torpedo deck forward of the bridge and put into formation, 18 third class midshipmen and three first class midshipmen.

As we let go all lines and got underway, i was informed my seabag did not arrive in time but would be on another ship and transferred by high line as soon as practicable.

As we stood in formation, standing out of the harbor and the Narragansett Bay in incredible weather, a gnarly, old chief emerged from the hatch underneath the port bridge wing where all the midshipmen could see him but not visible from the bridge. The chief had grabbed one of the seasick bags, small paper bags that were a poor sister to the airsick bags available in aircraft. He had gone to chiefs quarters, crumbled vanilla wafers into the bag and then filled it about half full of milk.

As he emerged onto the weather deck, he grumbled, “Every time we get underway, i have to get my sea legs.” With that, he leaned over the lifelines and gurgled and belched as if he were throwing up. When finished, he raised up and announced so we could hear him, “And there’s only one way to cure it.” He then put the seasick bag to his mouth and drink the contents with the milk and crumbs of vanilla wafers spilling down his cheek, onto his uniform and the deck.

Of the twenty-one midshipmen in formation, eighteen immediately became seasick and rushed to the life rails to copy the chief’s throwing up but for real. i was one of the three still standing. i don’t know why, but i suspect i stunk so much from almost three days in the uniform on a bus that i was numb.

After sea detail was secured, we went to our assigned berthing on the fantail. All the third class midshipmen changed into the midshipmen version of an enlisted sailor’s dungaree uniform. with Dixie Cups that had blue piping on the rim. i remained stinking in my ripe service dress khaki but discarded the blouse. We went through an orientation and were assigned watches. Afterwards, we gathered in our berthing and became acquainted.

The evening meal on the mess decks was all greasy: pork chops, pinto beans, and other things i don’t remember. As we sat down, a couple of sailors walked through the mess deck announcing they would have an appetizer before the meal. They had tied strings onto sardines and had put them back in the sardine can. They opened their cans, held the sardines by the string and appeared to swallow them. Then they pulled them out announcing they were so good they would eat them again. They repeated this several times and more midshipmen rushed to the supply of seasick bags.

i had drawn operations as my first section of duty and was assigned the mid-watch. i was still in my gabardine, by now wreaking khaki trousers and cotton dress shirt, sans the tie. The first class radarman was the CIC watch supervisor. He gave me the job of staring at a radar repeater in the forward part of the darken ship space. The only lights beside the radar repeater were red to retain our night vision, and of course the glow from the repeaters. My station at the radar repeater required me to sit facing forward, thereby making the side rolls of the ship much more difficult to handle for seasickness. My seabag arrived three weeks later by hi-line. The destroyer who received it from the bus line had transferred it to the oiler in company and eventually the oiler transferred it to the Thomas.

i was already getting queasy as the ship came into the vicinity of Cape Hatteras. By my calculations today, i’m guessing we were about one hundred miles east of Hatteras, legendary for rough seas. The seas and Hatteras mix did not disappoint. The Thomas was taking twenty-degree rolls. That was about when all of the radarmen on watch lit up cigars. They kept changing stations while i rocked monotonously at my repeater turning green. Me turning green, not the repeater scope. As the radarmen moved from one station to another, each would come by my station to check on me, of course blowing as much cigar smoke as they could into my face.

i could feel myself getting sick. A lump came into my mouth from down below. It was nasty. Green to the gills, rocking to and fro, staring at the sweep of the radar on the scope, it appeared the sailors had gotten to one of the last three midshipmen who had avoided sea sickness. But from somewhere deep inside, i decided i was not going to give in. i swallowed down that lump and whatever else had come up from below, and gutted it out. By the time, the morning watch arrived, my green had gone away. Before i hit the rack, i brushed my teeth and had a drink of water.

i was given underwear and socks from ship’s store. A third-class radarman about my size donated enough sailor gear for me to wear.  He also donated some boots he had bought in Turkey on the last deployment. They were of camel leather that had not been cured very well. In short, they stunk. But the stench was nothing compared to the khaki i had been wearing for four very long days.

i never got seasick, or even close to it again. The ordeal was a blessing in disguise.

i soon realized all of the pranks the sailors were playing on the midshipmen and naive sailors, which continued on every ship i rode during twenty-two years. About three weeks later, i rotated to engineering and was assigned watches in main control and the fire rooms. On a forenoon (0800-1200) watch in main control, the watch supervisor instructed me to go to “A” gang (auxiliary engineering) and bring back some “relative bearing grease.” i dutifully headed for the “A” gang shop where i was told they were out and i should check with the BT’s (Boiler Tenders) in the after fire room. As i left their shop, i finally realized they were pulling my leg — “relative bearing” is the term for degrees from the bow of the ship often used to describe the ship’s position relative to another ship or object ashore — and there was no such thing as “relative bearing grease.”

i decided i just go take a nap in my rack. About an hour later, one of main control watch standers woke me up demanding to know what the hell i was doing. i acted sheepish and told him i was sorry, but i kept looking for some “relative bearing grease” but no one seemed to have it. Consequently, i was too embarrassed to return to main control empty handed.

The sailors never tried to pull my leg the rest of the cruise.

The tales of sailors pulling such stunts on new sailors reporting aboard or midshipmen are legendary. My favorite was the CIC watch on the Hawkins. It was at the end of a morning watch (0400-0800). The Boatswainmate of the Watch on the bridge piped attention with his Bosun’s pipe over the 1MC speaker which went throughout the ship and then warned “Stand by for heavy rolls” as the ship approached some rough seas. The CIC watch told their new striker, an RDSA, to go down the to the galley and wait in line to get some “heavy rolls” from the cook. The poor yokel did as he was told and spent an hour in a line of one at the galley hatch before he was told he had been tricked.

Sailors were fun. More seasick stories to come.

The Gloekles

A couple of months ago, i queried several Hawkins sailors about the Gloekles. i told them i was thinking about writing a post about the Gloekles and would appreciate any input.

i may have entertained you (maybe) with some information on these Hawkins sailors before, but to make sure here’s the story:

My first ship was the USS Hawkins (DD 873). After getting my commission from OCS in early February 1968, i attended the Anti-Submarine Officer’s two-month course in Key West and then flew to Rota, Spain, on to Malaga where i joined the Hawk on her way out of the Mediterranean en route from a nine-month deployment. i immediately became the First Lieutenant in charge of First Division, the deck gang, as we crossed the Atlantic to our homeport of Newport, Rhode Island. i became the ASW Officer as we entered our ROH (regular overhaul) in Boston in September. After a six-month overhaul, we went to GITMO for refresher training (for non-Navy folks that was Guantanamo Bay where Atlantic based ships went through two-month period, getting underway every weekday for certification as operational after overhauls.

By the time we returned to Newport, i had qualified as one of four OOD’s (Officer of the Deck underway) and one of four CDO’s (Command Duty Officers, who stood twenty-four hour duties and acted as the captain’s representative, responsible for the ship when the captain and the executive officer were ashore.

The Gloekles were not some small islands in faraway sea. Nor were they some dangerous passage close to some foreign shore. i had some first hand knowledge of the Gloekle’s. They were nice, friendly, sincere young men. Twins. They were SA’s (Seaman Apprentices) when they reported aboard and were assigned to First Division, the deck division, the one headed up by the green officer, one Ensign Jewell. They were of the old Navy.

i had experienced that Navy on my Third Class Midshipmen cruise aboard the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764).  There were sailors on the Thomas who thought of their ship as their home, their parents, their world. They lived on board for their entire careers. There was a fireman who had made it to second class BT (boiler tender) at least three times (and then would get busted at captain’s mast) with eighteen years in service on the Thomas. There was a second class cook with 17 years of service who also lived on board, and there were more. They  would not have been considered the brightest bulbs in the light fixture, but they served that Navy well and that Navy served them well.

The Gloekle’s were not in Mensa by any stretch. But they were sincere, well meaning, and as mentioned before nice young men. From somewhere in the Midwest as i recall.

They also had a penchant for getting themselves in predicaments and at least on one occasion, dragging me with them.

In the summer of 1968 after our return from the Med, we went out to the op areas for several aerial gun shoots where our two twin gun mounts (5″ 38) fired at a aircraft-towed target sleeve. i was assigned as check sight observer for Mount 51 on the forecastle. i sat in a seat up in the left front of the mount with a sight. My job was simply for safety. Before the mount captain could fire either gun, i looked through the sight to ensure we were shooting at the right thing, the target. i would tell everyone on the JS or JP sound powered phone circuit (as best as i can remember) if the guns were aimed “on target,” “clear,” or “cease fire” if they were aimed incorrectly, like at the aircraft rather than the tow . The mount had 12 personnel cramped inside including me. It was hot and it was loud (and this was long before anyone had come up with hearing protection). i loved it although i wanted to be more a part of the action rather than as a safety observer.

The hot case man in Mount 51 was one of the Gloekles. i don’t know which one. But i well remember looking back and watching him working at his task. The hot case man squatted at the rear of the mount underneath where the mount captain stood on his raised platform. He wore his regular dungarees, a battle helmet, and large asbestos gloves. His job was to deflect the powder casings as they were ejected from each mount after firing a round to ensure they went out of the mount through the hole in the bottom of the mount and onto the forecastle deck. It was an assignment coveted by noone. But this particular Gloekle twin obviously was enthralled.

His look of concentration was beautiful to watch as he swatted the brass casings. He knew his job was important, and he was completely focused on the task at hand — after a gun shoot, another job was to “police the brass.” Any of the casings, about a yard in length with diameter of five inches, that had not rolled overboard were collected and tossed into the sea. i often wish i could have saved them all, stored them, and then sold them for the brass; i would be a rich man today; we have a three-inch brass casing used to hold dried flowers by our living room fireplace; for a long time, i had the base of a five-inch casing and used it for an ashtray. i don’t know where it went. But Gloekle was not concerned with that. He was doing his job.

At that time, the First Division chief was BMC Jones, an incredible Navy chief and a superb boatswainmate. Just before the noon mess, he and i were walking the main deck, checking on how the painting of the ship was going.

Chief Jones turned to me and asked, “Have you ever seen a one-armed Gloekle?” At first, i thought he was talking about a unique piece of equipment used in deck evolutions. Then i began to consider he was pulling my leg. Finally it dawned on me, he was talking about one of the twins.

“Yeh,” the chief continued, “Gloekle was in the mess line on the port side of the main deck and he got frustrated with something. He turned and hit one of the grates on a air duct. His fist and arm went through the grating.

“He broke his arm and the doc put in several stitches. Won’t be good for much of anything for at least a month.

“Damn one-arm Gloekles,” he mused.

The Gloekles also were known by shipmates as good guys. One struck for the radioman rating while the other was a DK (disbursing) striker while we were in the yards for overhaul. The disbursing striker didn’t make it and returned to the deck division as a seaman.

In May of 1969, Hawkins went to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for a month. There the fantail deck was strengthened and a special davit was installed. The ship had been designated as the Atlantic recovery ship for the Apollo 12 mission in July, a backup to the planned return in the Pacific where the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV 12) had the primary recovery assignment.

Taking advantage of a month in the shipyard, the deck division cleaned and repainted the paint locker. To do so, they had moved all of the paint into a large conex box on the pier. One afternoon before liberty call, the new first lieutenant came to me and said, “You aren’t going to believe this, but Gloekle locked himself in the paint locker. He was in there for about two hours until someone discovered him there just before knock off. We have no idea how he did it.”

i had been qualified as OOD (officer of the deck on the bridge watch) in late February 1969 and as CDO (Command Duty Officer, responsible for the ship during an in port 24 hour period) shortly afterwards. i had  the CDO duty one night in August while the Hawk was in a maintenance period and Hurricane Blanche was building southeast of Norfolk (in June, Hawkins’  home port had been changed from Newport to Norfolk; i was not thrilled with the change). i read the message board after eight o’clock reports and there was no radio traffic that addressed  Blanche as a threat to the Naval Base.

After making my rounds before taps, i went back to the wardroom and caught the 10:00 o’clock news. The lead story was how the ships at Norfolk Naval Base were preparing to sortie because of the approaching hurricane. i had heard nothing from higher commands. i called radio, no answer. RMSN Gloekle, the other twin, was standing the evening watch in radio  Somehow, he had locked himself out of radio and had spent a couple of hours trying to get back inside the radio shack. Finally, he woke up the duty radioman who had another set of keys.

When the dust settled, Gloekle brought me the message board again. The radio message from SOPA (Senior Officer Present Afloat) had ordered the sortie preps about two hours before and each ship was required to report if it could get underway within twenty-four hours. i called the captain and the chief engineer at their homes. The engineer confirmed the main engines were open for maintenance, requiring more than a day to button them up and get underway. The captain confirmed the radio message response i had written and i sent it out immediately, later than other ships but apparently okay with the chain of command. A disaster had been averted.

One of the best things about the draft was Navy ships were melting pots of the United States. Sailors were from everywhere in the country and with all different kinds of backgrounds. Many i have known went on to successful careers in a variety in the civilian world. Many stayed in, like moi, and had good careers. Back then, some stayed in because it was a safe place to be, like i said earlier, it was their home, their world. i enjoyed knowing all of them except for the small number of miscreants i ran into through twenty-two years.

And then there were the Gloekle’s. Sadly, i don’t know what happened to them. But i remember them fondly in spite of some problems with them locking themselves in or out of things.