Category Archives: Sea Stories

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.

 

 

FMG

i’ve written about it many times here.

It is almost a ritual.

The two guys in the foreground are Marty Linville and Rod Stark. Rod is taking practice swings. The three of us began playing golf together in the mid-1980’s when we were all on our last military tours. Marty was the Army’s gift to the Navy’s Amphibious School, Coronado, taught gunfire control, and managed the big gun shooting range on San Clemente Island (about seventy miles west of San Diego). Rod was the director of amphibious training and later became the executive officer of the command. i was the director of leadership and management training for the West Coast and Pacific Rim in addition to facilitating the two-day seminar on Command Excellence for senior officers.

With a pretty rigorous schedule, the only time we could play was on weekends. It was difficult getting tee times on the four Navy courses (Sea ‘n Air on the North Island Naval Air Station, Admiral Baker North and South in the Naval Base recreation area in Mission Valley, and then Miramar, which was a Navy Air Station before the Marines took it under BRAC. One reason for our difficulties was retired folks were also getting tee times. We bitched about old farts taking up weekend tee times when they could play during the week.

So we vowed once we retired we wouldn’t play military courses on the weekend to give more tee times for active duty personnel. Except for tournaments and later Sunday rounds with Pete Toennies and our wives, we have stuck to that vow.

Then in 1991, Marty and i played a weekday round and discussed the situation. Marty had just gone to a 4/10 work week. i was mister mom. So we decided we could play Sea ‘n Air, Baker, and Miramar on Fridays. Rod, who after retiring was the golf pro for the North Course in Sun City, California, had quit that job when we ran into him at Miramar one morning in the mid-90’s. He joined our Friday bunch then. Since those first rounds in 1991, we have played golf at a local military golf course almost every Friday, teeing off early. i have actually made it understood when i worked at Scripps Consulting Group, military contractors, and Pacific Tugboat Services i would not be available to work on Friday mornings.

We call it “Friday Morning Golf.” i have shortened that to FMG. We have had as many as 16 golfers in our group and as few as two. Now, we come close to filling up two foursomes every Friday.

i have posted photographs before, nearly all on the fifteenth tee. The tee and the fairway borders the Navy beach (it used to be called “dungaree beach” for it was where sailors would escape from work when possible and loll about on the beach, but now is a big attraction for all Navy personnel, dependents, retirees, and others). The tee box gives one a great view of the majestic Point Loma, the Rosecrans Military Cemetery, and the wide expanse of the Pacific, not to mention if one turns around the iconic Hotel Del Coronado and the sprawling city of Tijuana are visible to the south. And routinely, we watch my ships, haze gray in their military splendor standing in or standing out of the channel.

But this photo is from the eleventh tee, the shorter one on the small hill rather than the longer flat one to the north. We are waiting for the group in front of us to clear the large par three green. The marine layer i often write about is hanging low over the Pacific, the brown and gray flat area from the middle to the right side of the photo is the beginning of the East to West runway for the air station. It is nearly always the flight path for landing aircraft unless a Santa Ana wind is blowing. So not only do we get to play golf in a rather idyllic setting, we also get to see FA 18’s, Ospreys, helicopters, training aircraft, others, and every once in a while even a C5 seemingly hung in the air trundling overhead like an airborne but very large snail headed for a landing. It is satisfying to know our successors are defending our country well.

Navy Chiefs, Part III

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.”

The Hawkins, nested outboard.

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.

Navy Chiefs, part II

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.

CPO’s, a Navy Thing

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.

Navy Chief Petty Officer insignia

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.

Underway: a sailor enjoying a quiet moment on the fantail of the USS Hawkins (Thanks, Gary McCaughey)

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.

But on the Hawkins, it became quite clear.

 

 

Another Lesson for an Ensign: The Paint Locker, circa 1968

Before chiefs taught me a thing or two or two thousand, i was a very, very green ensign.

Destroyer-Submarine Piers in Newport, Rhode Island where i learned about the paint locker, circa 1968. Photo provided by RD2 Norm O’Neal. Thanks, Norm.

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.

A Story of Chiefs

The Navy was an education for me. In many ways.

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.

USS Hawkins (DD 873), circa 1969

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.

One British Christmas of Yore

Hong Kong. Christmas Eve. 1979.

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.

The HMS Tamar is the tall white building by the bay behind the Navy ships, either US or British. It was turned over to the Chinese when Hong Kong was transferred from England to China.

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.

Merry Christmas.

 

A Chief of Legend

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.

First story:

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.”

Second Story:

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.”

“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.”

Yes, he was a legend.