Category Archives: Sea Stories

NJP Introduction…Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you win the fight?” we asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But i was beginning to understand NJP.

I Knew Admiral Rickover and He Knew Me

I Knew Admiral Rickover and He Knew Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Fill’er Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a good tour.


CHENG and My Father

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toothpick in a Bathtub

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

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

USS Hawkins (DD 873), circa 1969

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

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

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

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

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

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

Close Call: Near Collision At Sea

Please bear with me. i’m reliving my past. This time, it was sponsored by the Facebook group, US Navy Gearing Class Destroyers. The admin guy for the page posted photos of radio central aboard the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (DD 850), which continues to be restored as a museum in Fall River, Massachusetts. A shipmate from my first ship, USS Hawkins (DD 873), Gary McCaughey, commented and added a photo of him as a second class radioman, ET3 Mike Rebich, and RMSN Michael Jury  in the Hawk’s radio shack in 1969.

i began to comment on the post, but decided i wanted to post my thoughts here because it is part of my story for my grandson Sam. i began with a question for Gary:

Gary, were you on another, ship, like a cruiser before the Hawk?

USS Hawkins (DD 873), circa 1969

Hawkins barely missed a collision with the oiler in rough weather that autumn (i believe it was autumn, October perhaps). i remember talking to a second class (i think) radioman in the radio shack afterwards. i’m wondering if it was you.

i had the 20-24 bridge watch and had the conn during an exercise for a sub testing a new streaming sonar array system. The oiler had replaced another FRAM, which had engineering problems.

The Hawkins had problems of her own as en route (i recall the exercise was in the op areas northeast of Newport, Rhode Island) a freak wave curved around a port side weather deck bulkhead and dumped at least 50 gallons, probably more onto the after switchboard (hmm, i think i’ve written of this before) requiring the damage control gang (LTJG Nemethy was the DCA) to run emergency electrical cables throughout the ship for the remainder of that time at sea.

The Hawkins and the oiler had made several runs on different patterns. Each ship’s CIC and bridge would work outmaneuvering board solutions for the designed run toward the sub’s location with a turn out as we neared the center of the plot, over the sub.

The next run would produce a CPA a bit closer than the others. i asked Captain Max Lasell (i think he had made captain by then) to remain on the bridge instead of going down to watch the movie in the wardroom, adding i would call the wardroom to have them hold the movie’s start until he arrived. Captain Lasell agreed.

For this run, the oiler did the calculations and ran the pattern correctly but apparently executed the maneuver a couple of minutes late. As i realized we were close to in extremis with CBDR, i shouted “The captain has the conn,” and he took over while i made sure his orders were understood and executed immediately. With the captain’s  emergency maneuvering, the oiler passed in front of us, port side to, by about fifty yards. i remember looking up and seeing their pilot house.

After the near collision, Captain Lasell and i discussed what happened as he sat in the captain’s chair on the port side. We decided i would have done everything he did although i was not sure i would have ordered the port engine all ahead flank. we weren’t sure we would have collided if i had retained the conn, but we knew it would have been closer.

After the watch, i went to radio to pick up my radio messages. The second class told me he had been on a cruiser that had a collision. We talked for about ten minutes before i went down for midrats. To put it mildly, it had been a bit more exciting than i would have preferred. i had learned some valuable lessons i would use in future close calls.

After my talk to the second class radioman (perhaps Gary), the possibility of what could have happened sunk in. It took me while to go to sleep that night.

This was written in Navy “shipese.” If you would like an explanation, just let me know.

From a Lucky Old Vet

It’s that time, and tomorrow morning, i shall walk up my hill, stand under my flag at the peak — i put a light on it so i could keep it up during the night, not because i am lazy — i might be but not for this — but because a number of neighbors have thanked me for being able to see it in the morning and how good it makes them feel. If i raised it according to regulations, it would be at 8:00 a.m., and many would have already gone to work by then.

i shall stand there, look down on the combatants of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, and i will take off my cap and put my hand over my heart (not the cap: the U.S. Flag regulations call for one to take off his cap and put it at his side while putting his right hand over his heart). This will be my salute to all veterans. Later, i plan to go over to the golf course, hoping Jessie Thompson, the Pearl Harbor survivor will be there and i can thank him for his service.

Memorial Day is for honoring those who have died in defense of our country. It has been expanded to honor those veterans who have died after serving. Tomorrow is not a day for mourning,  saluting those folks who have left us, or lowering the flag to half mast. Tomorrow is a day for honoring our veterans.

By sheer circumstance and good luck, i am one of those veterans. It wasn’t really a sacrifice for me to serve our country. When i got back in the second time, i gave up my career in sports journalism for the security of my family. i had some close calls, but to me my service on ten ships and two shore duties was not arduous. i remain quietly respectful for those who really put it on the line. i have lost good friends whose lives were cut short because of service. i have number of shipmates who have debilitating injuries and less than good health because of their duty. So my few close calls are insignificant. As i have said often, i loved going to sea.

i hope everyone in this country stops for a moment tomorrow and salutes the veterans who served with honor in defense of our country and our way of life. i hope we put aside our political differences to pay homage to those who have served.

i plan to post one or two more of my Lebanon Democrat columns in the next day or so  dealing with this veteran and others. Some of what is included will be repeats from what has been posted before. But i hope it provides the opportunity to think about what our veterans have done.

Why Navy?

SAN DIEGO – As the new year ramps up, I am back in the Southwest corner considering why I made the Navy my career.

My father also has wondered why a boy from Middle Tennessee would choose the sea for his livelihood. Others have wondered the same thing.

The sea called me during my midshipman cruise on the U.S.S. Lloyd Thomas (DD 694) in 1963. We steamed from Newport, RI, to Sydney, Nova Scotia; to Bermuda; and back to Newport as part of the U.S.S. Intrepid (CVA 11) battle group.

My last four weeks were in engineering with two watches and normal work requiring 16-hour work days. Having no more sense than now, I went from my last watch to the crew’s movie in the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH) hangar – “DASH” was a weapon which did not last long. Sailors called it “CRASH” instead of “DASH.” But its hanger on the 02 level just aft of amidships was perfect for showing movies.

This night, I watched “The Quiet Man” for the first time. As I left the theater and traversed the torpedo deck, I walked to the port side and gazed at the full moon.

The ship was making 15 knots. The moon’s reflection cut a wide, rippling, reflective path straight to me. The boilers roared through the forward stack. The bow wave was white, curling from the side and swishing its whisper as the ship cut through the water. “Darken ship” allowed no lights except those for navigation. At least a billion stars blanketed the black sky.

The sea grabbed me. She came down that path from the full moon, wafted across the bow wave, and reached deep inside. I felt her grab my heart and take it away.

I have loved her in her fury of the winter Atlantic, when she tossed a 500-foot ship around like a cork, ripping off protruding metal like dandelion bristles, and tossing sailors around the ship like matchsticks. Her intense fury blanketed the sea surface with froth.

I have loved her in the doldrums of the South China Sea where not a breath of wind existed, and the sea surface was glass for a week. I saw my first “green flash” then.

In the summer of 1973, steaming in the operating areas off of Newport, Rhode Island, my father saw why I went to sea. My ship, the U.S.S. Luce (DLG 7), was undergoing a major inspection. My Commanding Officer learned of my father visiting and invited him to ride during our underway day.

As a lieutenant, I was the sea detail officer of the deck. My father was by my side as I had the “conn” while the ship stood out of Narragansett Bay. As soon as we reached the operating area, we went to 25 knots for rudder tests, rapidly shifting the rudder to max angles both ways. The commanding officer and I went into a frantic dance, running in opposite directions across the bridge to hang over each wing checking for small craft in the dramatic turns.

After the rudder tests, I took my father into the bowels of the ship to our anti-submarine warfare spaces. My father stood behind me as I directed prosecution of a submarine contact. In the darkened spaces with sonar pings resounding, he watched as we tracked the sub on our fire control screen and simulated firing a torpedo.

After lunch, we set general quarters and ran through engineering drills. Finally, we transited back to Newport.

With mooring complete, the captain gave my father a ship’s plaque. My wife and mother were waiting on the pier when we debarked from the ship’s quarterdeck. As we walked the brow to the pier, my father said to me, “Son, I now understand why you would want to make this a career.”

I did. Somewhere in the latter stages of that career, I met a woman, a native of San Diego, and we got married. After a brief taste of being a Navy officer’s wife, she and I returned to San Diego for my “twilight” tour, the last four years on shore duty.

So now when I walk up our hill to raise and lower the flag, I look out to sea and check to see how many ships are pier side at the Naval Station.

And that, my friends, is why I made the Navy career and live in the Southwest corner, far from my home in Tennessee.

To my family veterans: Thanks. i don’t have photos of numerous others in  uniform, but thanks to all.

Jimmy Jewell
Jason Gander
Bill Prichard with his fighter named “Colleen.”
Ensign James “Pipey” Orr
















As for me:

Goofy guy, 1989
Goofy guy, 1968

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.