Late In Summer…Quite a While Ago

i was a month away from my first and short marriage. i was not smart enough to realize what a stressful situation i would be putting my bride-to-be through, taking her out of Atlanta debutant equine loving environment to a place she would be alone while i traveled from our apartment in Newport to my ship in overhaul in Boston. Dumb. But i didn’t know it. i was in love (she understandably gave it up after just over four months).

So on that New England late summer morning driving to my ship, the USS Hawkins (DD-873), this poem came into my mind. 

Tonight i walked out to give Billie Holiday, Sarah’s Catahoula mix, a relief break after her evening meal. It was another of those glorious sunsets in San Diego. Being sensitive to giving someone too many sunset photos ever since my father jokingly admonished me for sending them one thousand or so sunset phots in Vietnam, i did not include a photo.

But the scene took me back to that August morning fifty years ago.

Late in Summer

palsied pink fingers: looming autumn clouds
gently tap
the horizon awake;
an infinite gray ribbon of highway
slashes through
green phosphorescent hills

non-think
embraces the drive;
his mind wanders
to pines and someone
far away.

cool solitude,
impervious to the immediate objective
excite brute loneliness:
thoughts of someone
gather as a gray storm
tumbles like a cascading stream
in his mind.

palsied pink fingers
curl to a fist;
enlightening rain
spits on the windshield
while far away
sweltering rays silhouette the pines.

Boston, Massachusetts
August 1968

“Murphy’s Law”

From my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives thanks to Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Pipey, and cousin Nancy:

Nagler’s Comment on the Origin of Murphy’s Law: Murphy’s Law was not propounded by Murphy but another man of the same name.
 Goofy guy’s addition to Nagler’s Comment on the Origin of Murphy’s Law: And the goofy guy didn’t add anything because it was added by another goofy guy.

“Murphy’s Law”

From my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives thanks to Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Pipey, and cousin Nancy:

Golub’s Second Law of Computerdom: A carelessly planned project takes three times long to complete than expected; a carefully planned project takes only twice as long.
 Goofy guy’s source documentation of Golub’s Second Law of Computerdom: The computer geeks stole this law from the bible for home repair business.

“Murphy’s Law”

From my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives thanks to Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Pipey, and cousin Nancy:

Universal Equine Equation: At any particular time, there are more horse’s asses in the world than horses.
 Goofy guy’s extension of the Universal Equine Equation: In U.S. politics, it’s real close to 100% horses asses and there are no horses.

“Murphy’s Law”

From my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives thanks to Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Pipey, and cousin Nancy:

Terman’s Law of Innovation: If you want a track team to win the high jump, you find one person who can jump seven feet, not seven people who can jump one foot.
 Goofy guy’s realization of Terman’s Law of Innovation: Ahh, that’s why i was never invited to join the track team. 

“Murphy’s Law”

From my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives thanks to Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Pipey, and cousin Nancy:

Wagner’s Law of Sports Coverage: When the camera isolates on a male athlete, he will spit, pick, or scratch.
 Goofy guy’s addendum to Wagner’s Law of Sports Coverage: And then there will be at least four commercials. 

“Murphy’s Law”

From my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives thanks to Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Pipey, and cousin Nancy:

Pfeifer’s Principle: Never make a decision you can get someone else to make.
 Goofy guy’s exemplification of  Pfeifer’s Principle: Congress…with lots of rock throwing while waiting…and waiting…and waiting…for the next election cycle.

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.

Chapter 11: Time for Reflection, Change, and Loneliness

This is a break in many respects. My old microfiche reader broke, i’m working on repairing, replacing, or going to the one place in San Diego with a microfiche reader and printer. For me, the story of my time on Cayuga is relevant in my being as prepared for the Yosemite as much as possible. i hope you enjoy it and see my purpose.

As with all things, the one thing constant about Yosemite’s stay off of Masirah was change. Change was doubly hard on me, I think. I was trying to make all things work, and recalled a comment, illustrated by a cartoon from a former captain.

Commander John Kelly, later Captain Kelly, was the commanding officer of USS Cayuga (LST 1186), which was a ship in Amphibious Squadron Five out of San Diego in the spring of 1980. I was Current Operations Officer on the squadron staff. At the conclusion of  a Wednesday morning “message meeting” of the staff, Commodore Jim McIntyre asked for a volunteer with no explanation for what the volunteer was volunteering. The staff of two dozen officers and enlisted were silent. After several seconds, I raised my hand, thinking “what the hell?”

The commodore looked surprised and then said, “The Cayuga needs an executive officer immediately. come to my cabin after this meeting and we can discuss.”

When I sat down with the commodore, he was amazed I had volunteered, especially since I was the only officer on the staff he could have selected for the job. There were only two lieutenant commander surface warfare officers (required to fill the LST XO billet on the staff) and the other was the material officer up to his knees in alligators in the maintenance of squadron ships.

Captain McIntyre explained, “Jim, Captain Kelly is desperately in need of an executive officer. His XO was taken off the ship in a straight jacket to Balboa (the San Diego Naval Hospital) this morning. He had a complete mental breakdown. The Cayuga has had a lot of problems.

“While they were in the yards at Long Beach, a personnelman (PN) hung himself in a fan room. The Philippine community was up in arms and began protesting at the yard gates and the entire mess made the newspapers and the LA TV news.

“Then about two weeks ago, a boatswainmate was killed when an alongside training barge was alongside, and they were conducting unrep training. A line parted and the boatswainmate was hit in the head by a block and tackle that broke loose. They apparently did not set up the rig according to instructions. The first lieutenant is under investigation by JAG.

“They start Amphib refresher training next week.

“You still want the job?” he asked.

I replied, as a good Navy officer should, “Aye, sir,” adding the caveat “But you must promise me I get the weeks of leave you approved for two weeks from now after I have completed the job. My eight-year old daughter is scheduled to come out here for a vacation. That is most important to me.”

Captain McIntyre promised to allow me my leave.

I interviewed with Commander Kelly the next day and was accepted. I reported aboard on Thursday morning.

Judging by the “In”  and “Hold” baskets on his desk in the XO cabin/office, the outgoing XO had not done any paperwork in six months. Personnel advancements had not been forwarded. Critical reports had not been sent. On my first “messing and berthing” inspection, I found total disarray. Racks were not made. Dirt, paperwork, and leftover food and coke cans were everywhere. Cigarette butts and ashes were strewn. Roaches and grease ruled the galley and the mess decks.

I held an all-officers meeting in the wardroom, took feedback from all of them, and laid out a plan, reporting the plan to the captain. I stayed on board for two months, going to my apartment once a week to collect mail and check on my belongings. I actually stayed at my place three nights, giving myself a break once, and the other was to run the Fourth of July Coronado half-marathon which I had entered the day before I “volunteered” (I was also too busy to train after becoming XO, and the half-marathon, my first, was a killer in rare ninety-five degree heat. But i made it, slept off the effects that evening and limped back to the Cayuga the next morning.)

As the two months neared the end and Cayuga had successfully completed the refresher training, the CO recommended to the bureau of personnel I remain the XO and complete a two-year tour. The Commodore endorsed the recommendation, but the bureau explained they already had a Naval Academy graduate in the pipeline who had completed the pre-XO training course.

I transferred back to the flagship by hi-line as the squadron was en route Esquimalt, British Columbia, the Canadian Navy port for Victoria on Vancouver Island. I met Blythe at SEATAC the day after we anchored out. We had a wonderful time in Victoria, with my friend Cy Fraser on Orcas Island, Seattle, and back in San Diego.

When I departed, Captain Kelly had drawn a cartoon of me. It referenced a conversation we shared near the end of my stay on board. He told me he was amazed at how I performed. It was like I was dribbling a half dozen basketballs at the same time. I replied it was more like a dozen basketballs and most of them were only half inflated.

He laughed and the cartoon had this balding XO attempting to keep about a dozen basketballs bouncing at the same time.

It had been a rigorous two months for me. I was disappointed the Navy did not let me complete the tour as it would have completed that check for advancement and been back on track for command at sea, my ultimate goal. In the late nights as Yosemite’s XO, I often reflected on how my experience on Cayuga had given me the right experience, the right perspective, and made my current XO tour easier to digest.

*    *     *

Sitting at anchor at the top of the Indian Ocean was still not a pleasant prospect. When we learned our initial ten days off Masirah had been extended until 1 January, I was upset and even lonelier when I wrote Maureen a note:

Lady,

New word. Schedule has changed again. i didn’t believe it possible, but it’s for the worse. We are now going to stay anchored in this miserable place for a long time. It has been requested we remain here through January 1, 1984. i guess i don’t mind. This is all marking time until i get back to you, but the crew will be bug shit by the time we hit a liberty port. Sure wish i had a tape to tell you all of my frustrations.

Mail call yesterday and none from you. Terribly disappointing but i’ve not been as good as you in writing. i really do go up and down in this job. Hope there’s some mail from you Saturday, even a lecture would be welcomed. Did Blythe tell you i called her? i may talk to you on MARS if get the reception back, but i greatly dislike exchanging thoughts with “over” interrupting.

My god, how i love you.

Got a great letter from Joe (my brother). i may send you a copy. This is a note getting out of hand.

i love you.

jim

Al Masirah, Oman
November 9, 1983

My focus was on our unique situation: 100 enlisted women in a crew of 900 and 6 female officers in a wardroom of 44 on a ship anchored of Masirah, Oman for what appeared would be at least two months. Our rules for male/female relationships were clear and in place. i was glad there had been no overt violation of those rules but didn’t know actually how effective those rules actually were. i and my admin staff were also aware the women were young sailors but women none the less. We attempted to keep them informed about uniforms and dress. This was a new world for me. An example was one POD note:

7. Grooming Standards (women) Hair pieces — Hair pieces or wigs, if worn while in uniform or on duty status shall be of good quality and fit, present a natural appearance, not interfere with the proper performance of duty, not present a safety hazard, and shall conform to the grooming standards set forth in these regulations.

Cosmetics — Cosmetics shall be conservative and in good taste.

This reads strange and out of touch while I enter it 35 years later.

We were in unknown waters in many respects.

“Murphy’s Law”

From my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives thanks to Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Pipey, and cousin Nancy:

Weber’s Definition: An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing.
 Goofy guy’s pronouncement concerning Weber’s Definition: It is amazing how many such experts i have met in my lifetime.