Chapter 7: Diego Garcia and a Change of Plans, part three

i am now at the point where the installments will be written as we go. The previous installments were edited and amplified version of my rough drafts. So there are likely going to be more incorrect passages. As i have noted, i am not a great editor, especially of my own writing.

As i wrote this installment, this is a bit bigger task than i thought it would be. i will attempt to continue to post installments on Thursdays and Sundays, but the installments may become weekly. i still intend to play a bit of golf.

Thank you for your patience.

With the news of our schedule change, our stay in Diego Garcia took on a different tone with the focus shifting to getting underway for an extended at-sea period.

The ship’s in-port business continued as usual. Liberty ran as usual. We ran “I-Division” indoctrination for new crew members reporting aboard. The ship’s basketball team played games against different base organizations’ squads including the “All Island” team at the base gym. The ship’s softball team played several games including one against the “Near Term Predeployment Force.” Small arms qualifications were being conducted. Preparations and study for advancement exams were underway. And the civilian PACE instructors were conducting a number of courses for crew and officers.

Chaplain Poe held church services: Roman Catholic Mass on Saturday and two on Sunday, Protestant Services on Sunday and Protestant Bible Study on Wednesday, and “Free Worship on Sunday evenings, two Church of Christ lay services on Sunday, and Latter Day Saints lay services on Sunday. He was a busy man.

Military Justice also had to be served. This was not a crew of angels. Sailors were sailors and always will be. The results of a Captain’s Mast on Friday, 21 October, were listed in the next day’s POD and make this point for me:

  1. Captain’s Mast: The following are the results of Captain’s Mast helod on 21 OCT 83:
Rate Viol. UCMJ NJP Awarded
FN Art  92: Derelict in duty 30 Days Restriction to USS Yosemite, 30 days extra duty, RIR {reduction in rank} to E2
SN Art. 86: UA {Unauthorized Absence} from unit (2 specifications)
Art. 87: Missing ship’s movement
Art. 134: Breaking restriction
Awarded Summary Court Martial
SA Art. 89: Disrespect to a commissioned officer
Art. 128: Assault
(3 specifications)
Art. 134: Communicating a threat
(3 specifications)
Awarded Summary Court Martial
SA Art. 86: UA from unit
Art. 87: Missing ship’s movement
45 Days Restriction to USS Yosemite, 45 days extra duty, Forf {forfeiture of ½ month’s pay ($286.00) per month for 2 months, RIR to E1
SA Art. 92: Failure to obey a lawful general regulation 30 Days Restriction to USS Yosemite, RIR to E1, Forf of $100 pay per month for 1 month
SR Art. 86: UA from unit
(2 specifications)
Art. 87: Missing ship’s movement 
Awarded Summary Court Martial

Diego Garcia provided its own challenges. The following POD note demonstrates beach liberty could be dangerous:

Safety Note – Cone Shells

Venomous Cone shells can be found in the Diego Garcia area. They have a highly potent venom apparatus and their stings have caused paralysis, coma, and death. Avoid these shells. 

There was another more menacing threat in the waters around Diego Garcia. A 35-foot hammerhead shark had been occupying the lagoon for years. He was considered a pet and nicknamed “Hector” by the folks assigned to the island. Needless to say, swimming in the lagoon was not wise recreation.

It was easy to forget Diego Garcia was not a paradise. It was a beautiful tropical atoll, if humid, far away from where we came. I personally experienced such an awakening on my first stop there for about four days in 1981 while stationed on the USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3) as the current operations officer of the Amphibious Squadron Five staff. I had escaped from other officers and had stopped my vehicle on the side of the road past the Naval Air Facility. At that point, the atoll was less than a half mile across. I walked over a dune to the beach on the ocean side.

I first stumbled upon the carcass of a long dead fish about six feet long. I surmised it was a tuna of some sort but it had disintegrated into being undistinguishable even though there was still some skin attached to the bone. The thought of wading in the ocean quickly vanished with my discovery.

I decided to just walk the beach. I was at peace, almost meditating as I walked slowly along what I thought was a pebbly surface. Then I felt as if I was having a stroke or something. The long stretch of beach began to seem like it was pulsating, undulating, moving. I became dizzy. I wondered if it was a slow earthquake or if the volcano from which the atoll was formed was awakening. I wasn’t afraid yet, but I was concerned.

I kept observing. I looked down at my feet and realized the source of the strange movement. The entire beach was covered by tiny hermit crabs. They were all moving, producing the undulating movements for as far as I could see. I watched fascinated, trying to get my bearings before I finally left. I never went to the ocean side beaches again.

The ship also conducted the PFT (Physical Fitness Tests) over a period of three days. The Navy’s PFT program was created in 1976 over concern many of our sailors were not physically capable of being able to perform in combat or other dangerous situations on ships. This PFT effort was a follow-on to the “JFK” physical tests introduced in the 1960’s by the sitting president, John Kennedy. Ships made a gesture of complying to those tests but there was no concrete corrective action required in the program, and it was mostly ignored and gradually disappeared.

I was all for the new standards of physical fitness. I remembered a few enlisted shipmates from previous ships who were too obese to get through hatches. The new requirements not only required passing the minimum standards of pull-ups or push-ups, sit-ups, and a 1½ mile run, they established a “body fat” minimum.” At the time, failure to meet the body fat standards or to pass the PFT noted the service member could be administratively discharged – later, there was more teeth put into the program with on-board remedial programs for failures, and if that was not productive, the service member could be sent to a Navy program for failure at body fat reduction much like the earlier established drug and alcohol rehab programs. The program was quickly labeled the “fat farm” by sailors (In my final Navy tour, I had a most rewarding experience when I required a senior chief to go to the “fat farm”). If all of these failed to produced results, the service member could be administratively discharged.

Emily Baker (now Black), our DCA recalled the Yosemite included push-ups in our PFT, not pull-ups. Linda Schlesinger, one of our stars in the supply department remembers the command master chief, BMCM Weaver crossing the finish line of the run with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

It was late October. We had been away from our families for a month and a half. For many of the crew who had not deployed before, it felt like we had been gone for an eternity. Christmas was still two months away. But we were reminded we were not going to be like Elvis and be home for Christmas. We had set up a studio for videotaping Christmas messages back home. Those crew and officers who wished to send a message back home could be taped and the videos would arrive back home for the holidays. The tapings brought the realization of not being home for Christmas into clarity.

Although I did not make a video tape for Maureen or Blythe in Texas, I was lonely also. I had made three deployments from 1979 through 1981, but I had been a bachelor then and viewed them as long, hard work interspersed with lots of fun. Now I was married, had been with my wife for a whopping two weeks before the ship left Mayport, and I was lonely as I expressed in a (amended) letter her I wrote 20 October:

Lady,

i have decided, quite on my own, there is no way possible, no way, you can be the woman i think you are.

i mean, i mean, really mean i look at your pictures. By the hundreds, i look at your pictures and know, no matter how gawdawful (Southern term)good looking i think you are, how much more i think you are good looking in the first person.

There ain’t no possible way a woman could be as wonderful as i know you are. So what must i do?

Spend as much time for the rest of my life trying to be with you, at least enough to figure out how you can be this wonderful and how (god bless office panels) i could have found you.

Love, scooby dooby doesn’t hold a candle to our love, scooby dooby.

*     *      *

The possibility of sexual liaisons among crew members continued to concern the command, i.e. the captain, me, and senior officers and enlisted. Although we knew men and women forming romantic relationships would never be stopped, we felt we needed to keep them at a minimum. I was not sure such liaisons would have a disastrous effect on the crew and the command, but I knew such going-on’s could lead to some very difficult problems and possibly create friction in the crew. One of the main functions of my job as XO was to promote good morale. I also was the figurehead for good order and discipline. Both could be threatened if amorous relationships went south. Another important aspect was our charge, specifically the captain’s and therefore mine as well was to make the Women at Sea program successful. Pregnancies while deployed, any negative impact on the ship created by relationships between men and women crewmembers (as well as in the wardroom), fraternization between male and female sailors of different ranks, especially officers and crew would have disastrous effect and possibly destroy the program. I should add such problems would leave an incredible bad mark on the captain’s and my Navy careers.

We didn’t want to throw threats at the crew or continually remind them of keeping their distance. After all, that would be going against the mantra of not having women or men on the ship because they were all sailors first. Still, I felt reminders of acting like sailors would help. The ship held “Military Rights and Responsibility,” “Culture Expression,” and “Women at Sea workshops on a regular basis. I also would frequently add POD notes reminding all hands the weather decks were off limits after taps even during in port periods.

*     *     *

Yosemite was now engaged knee deep in preparing to go to sea. Departments were ensuring they would have the needed supplies for the voyage north and our stay off Masirah (with no definite end date set yet). It was a busy time, but considering all, it was pretty much that way the entire deployment.

On Monday, 24 October, the Lynde McCormick moors alongside to refuel in the morning. That afternoon, Yosemite returns to the POL piers to refuel and then return to her anchorage.

0800, Tuesday, 25 October 1983, USS Yosemite gets underway for the North Arabian Sea and the island of Masirah, Oman. A new chapter of Navy history is begun.

“Murphy’s Law”

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

Beifield’s Principle: The probability of a young man meeting a desirable and receptive young female increases by pyramidal  progression when he is already in the company of 1) a date, 2) his wife, 3) a better looking and richer male friend.

Goofy guy’s proof of Beifield’s Principle:  i can recall at least 276 incidents of this happening to me from 14-years old until i reached 60.

Goofy guy’s corollary to Beifield’s Principle: Once you reach 60, it doesn’t matter because if you are lucky, those attractive young female you meet will think you are a nice old man or the father of one of their friends; if you are not lucky, they will think you are a dirty old man.

A Good Day for an Old Man

One morning last week, i awoke grousing about all of the things i had to do. i complained about not having the time to read for a couple of hours, workout to combat aging for an hour or so, record all my records, write more on my book, yadda yadda yadda. Dark day, feeling bad, feeling old.

So i started with my honey-do list. You know, that never-ending list which is continually interrupted by more instant honey-do’s and require you to do about twenty other tasks to get to the one she wants you to do for her immediately. This time, i put a twist in it and put what we both wanted done at the top of the list.

i began with replacing a wood-rotted, termite-weakened beam in the trellis outside our master bedroom. This included beginning a sanding and scraping the entire trellis in preps for painting. Next i worked on our tomato-strawberry, herbs, and onion garden boxes. Then i planted some more gladiola bulbs in large planter boxes. Finally, i began to repaint the crowns of the posts on our stucco fence. Our next door neighbors to the northwest decided to invite Willie Wonka to visit and painted their house and their side of the fence, including my side of the post a bright yellow.

There are a couple of stories here but i will bypass them for now.

The point is i worked all day. Nothing artsy-fartsy, nothing technically sophisticated. Just work. When it was concluded, i felt…well, satisfied. i wasn’t trying to influence anyone to do anything to make me some money or prestige or power. i was just doing something useful and working up a bit of a sweat. It reminded me of long, long days working the well deck of the USS Anchorage (LSD 36) with loads and unloads. It reminded me of digging graves in Cedar Grove Cemetery in the hot and humid summer days. It reminded me of mowing the adjacent acre yards of J. Bill and Bessie Lee Frame and Fred and Ruby Cowan across Castle Heights from our house.

Satisfaction, a good tired.

It seems to me such enjoyment, such satisfaction of just doing good work has been mostly dismissed by the way we have progressed (sic).

i thought about making a point or two here about some important things. i put all of that stuff behind me, forgot about dealing with other people in the thorny miasma of relationships we have created, and just put my effort in doing something productive.

That is enough to make it a good day for an old man. It’s too bad we all can’t have those kind of good days.

“Murphy’s Law”

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

Truman’s Law: If you cannot convince them, confuse them.

Goofy guy’s admission concerning Truman’s Law: What success i’ve had is from inadvertently effecting Truman’s Law; unfortunately, i was also confusing myself. 

Chapter 7: Diego Garcia and a Change of Plans, part two

This installment follows the Yosemite’s change of schedule, eliminating Perth, Australia as a liberty port and departing for anchorage off of Masirah, Oman with the objective of providing more repair and maintenance services for Battle Group ALFA.

The change made perfect sense. I suspected wanting to be at sea rather than in a port might have played a small part in the captain’s idea. I was elated. We would be at sea. There would be many less problems without liberty. The CO and XO would have much more control over ship’s company, and the change would, in fact, allow us to do our job better and more frequently.

On the other hand, this would also affect our schedule, most significantly our liberty port visit to Perth, Australia. Perth was one of my all-time favorite ports of call. I had spent over two weeks there where i joined the wardroom of USS Okinawa (LPH 3). I was single, and Perth was a wonderful place to visit.

As with all things related to Navy ship’s schedules, that schedule did change. The departure from staying in Diego Garcia make a voyage east to Perth impractical.

With the loss of Perth as a liberty port, the captain and I lobbied through radio messages to the chain of command for the Yosemite to return to Mayport at the end of the deployment by going east, around the world. Of course, we both wanted to circumnavigate the globe. We also mistakenly believed it would be a public relations coup for the Navy: the first Navy ship to go around the world with women as part of ship’s complement. The chain of command, not too excited about getting positive public relations for the Women at Sea program, denied our request.

But we would be headed north shortly. We might have been the first tender to operate in a forward operational area since the Korean War. That made missing Perth and not going around the world a little easier on me.

As the plans were changing, we continued to operate as other tenders had in the Footprint of Freedom. Liberty launches began their round trip circuits at liberty call until the expiration of liberty. Our few rules about fraternization seemed to work. We would watch and other officers would report to us how our sailors would go to the Navy clubs and have a good time. As they left, a number of couples could be seen walking with their arms around each other or holding hands. As they walked toward the liberty launch pier, they would gradually move away from affectionate postures and by the time they arrived at the liberty launch, they would have quit holding each other, not holding hands and mixing with everyone else as if they were not a couple.

Having liberty meant having problems, even on an atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean. One medical report in the ship’s logs for October 16 is proof:

Received injury report on Schmidt, Joe. S., MM3 [again, personnel who had performance  problems are made anonymous by using the name “Schmidt”] Procured head injury from falling out of his rack. Urinalysis to follow.

But even with alcohol available in the clubs and apparently marijuana and possibly other drugs available through sailors not abiding by Navy regulations, we had a minimum of liberty problems. I attribute some of that to the fact male sailors behaved better when they were with women sailors.

*     *     *

But Yosemite had business to do. To do that, we would have to refuel. It had been a long way, since Palma since we took on fuel. Combatants, for all of my time aboard them, refueled at sea.

In my first Navy years, it was from a Navy oiler. Back then, the surface Navy had the destroyer, amphibious, and service forces. The service force consisted of ammunition ships, cargo ships, and oilers. Refueling at sea was a tricky evolution, bringing a ship alongside an oiler, passing hoses from about 120 feet apart, maintaining course and speed (usually 12 knots) with the combatant maneuvering to maintain station on the oiler. The refueling usually took an hour or so depending how much fuel the combatant needed to top off. The fueling was usually accompanied by a high line between the ships with the oiler delivering supplies and mail and swapping movies. It was a demanding operation for all hands from the engineers, to the personnel on station to latch up the refueling rigs, and the bridge where the OOD keeping station was a mark of good seamanship.

By the time Yosemite deployed, most of the service forces had transitioned out of the Navy and became Military Sealift Command ships manned by the merchant marines, not sailors. The amount of refueling at sea had greatly decreased with most refueling being accomplished in liberty ports. It really didn’t matter as Yosemite’s capability to refuel at sea had been removed a number of years before we deployed. In a way, I was relieved. Even though we had the best LDO Bosun I had ever met, a Commanding Officer who was an expert in such maneuvers, and I was a conning officer with tons of experience, we had enough on our plate without having to go through refueling at sea.

On Monday, 17 October, we weighed anchor, moved to the “POL” pier and commenced an all-day refueling, returning to anchorage in the late afternoon.

Our business, Yosemite’s mission, was to provide repair and maintenance services to forward deployed ships. The first was not a destroyer type, but a nuclear submarine. The USS William S. Bates (SSN-680) came alongside and tied up to us the next morning. The one-day alongside allowed us to perform some minimal maintenance and repair work. The Bates primary need we provided was provisions. We resupplied the sub with stores, especially food items. Linda Schlesinger, our ship’s store officer at the time remembers the sub was down to hot dogs and brussels sprouts.

The XO with his requirement to be sure everything was ship shape was a bit concerned.

It was our first maintenance period since deploying, a nuclear submarine getting supplies and maintenance services from a destroyer tender. I was well aware the high jinks submariners could initiate. Their wild liberty escapades were well-known sea stories (rumors) among surface sailors. Those submariners had spent long, long days submerged without any contact with females. Some of their antics on liberty, even commanding officers, were legendary. Again, Yosemite’s executive officer was concerned, but no incidents from the sub reacting to the women crew members occurred, at least as far as I knew.

Later that morning, the USNS Catawba (T-ATF-168), a Military Sealift Command (MSC) fleet tug came alongside to port. She refueled and got underway the next morning.

After Catawba departed from refueling, I went ashore. I went on a run of about ten miles with the doc, Frank Kerrigan. We showered and changed at the gym and then went to the Officer’s Club for dinner. I sat down at the bar for an after dinner drink. Sitting next to me was the master of the Catawba.

Diego Garcia had some new buildings at the base. The transition to new barracks was completed, but the old wood buildings where base personnel originally had been housed were still standing. They reminded me of many of the WWII buildings used for training at OCS in Newport, Rhode Island, or perhaps more so like the barracks in Asia during WWII depicted in movies, wood siding on the outside with interior open space, all on stilts. The Officer’s Club was small and a spot for escape to me. The bar and dining area looked out toward the northeast where the “toes” of the “Footprint of Freedom” were visible. The “toes” were West Island, Anniversary Island, Middle Island, and East Island. The “O” Club had a great view, was comfortable, had passable food, and occasionally gave one the opportunity to have some contact with someone outside of the command, sometimes a needed escape for an all-consuming effort for an executive officer.

Catawba’s master provided me an escape. Unfortunately, I have no record of and do not remember his name. We talked over a couple of drinks. I remember most of the conversation well because I was thinking about my future.

The master related he had been a second class quartermaster on a destroyer with six years in the Navy. He got out, used his navigation experience in obtaining his third mate’s license, and quickly moved up to master of a fleet tug in his early thirties. The salary for a master of any sea-going merchant marine ship was almost three times what I was making as a commander and executive officer with 15 years of service. And the Catawba’s contract was working at sea for six months with the next six months off at home each year.

Being on a ship at sea had become a passion for me. If my quest for command at sea did not materialize, by now a likely result, I considered another option for continuing a life at sea. In my first executive officer tour with Military Sealift Transportation Service (MSTS) which had a name change to Military Sealift Command (MSC) in 1970 while I was XO, I experienced life as a member of the Merchant Marine. Transport Unit One rode the USNS Geiger and later, the USNS Upshur carrying Republic of Korea troops to Vietnam and back to Pusan, Korea. The Navy transport unit officers consisted of a commander CO, the XO, two doctors, and a chaplain. The medical team consisted of a chief and six corpsmen. Two “storekeepers” were assigned to the unit. One second class yeoman, a boatswainmate chief and two seaman rounded out the unit.

I had actually considered finishing my obligated Navy service of three years, attaining a third mate’s license with the merchant marine and spending my life at sea. But my career goal was to be a sports writer, and an offer from a good friend to become such in Watertown, New York, was too good to turn down. After my three year obligation, I left active duty and became a sports writer and then sports editor of The Watertown Daily Times.

Talking to the master of the Catawba, that possibility of remaining at sea crossed my mind again. I had always wanted to be on ocean going minesweeper and a fleet tug was similar in size and more of a working ship. It could be, no, should be fun. But I dismissed the thoughts quickly. I was married now and wanted to spend as much time with Maureen as possible.

The next day, the USS Lynde McCormick (DDG 8) came alongside for repair and maintenance services. The planning conference and the ensuing dinner in our captain’s cabin with the McCormick’s commanding officer brought about another first on our transit north in the coming days.

As we concluded the McCormick’s maintenance period, radio messages from CINCPACFLT confirmed our schedule change. The Yosemite would head north in three days, arriving off the island of Masirah, Oman on November 1.

As mentioned earlier, the bad news was the scheduled liberty port visit to Perth, Australia was cancelled. The crew was not happy with the idea of not going to Perth but going to sea and working. Also as mentioned earlier, i was personally disappointed.

I had flown to Perth from Subic Bay, Luzon, Philippines on a C-141 in September 1981 to report aboard USS Okinawa (LPH-3) to relieve Ken Manni and become the weapons officer.

The flight was one of the most miserable in my Navy career. Being the only officer on board other than the flight crew and dressed in my service dress blues, I sat on a cargo jump seat in the back of the aircraft and concerned about my appearance when reporting to Okinawa, I remained there during the flight while a number of the enlisted passengers climbed atop the large amount of cargo and slept sprawled out for most of the initial ten-hour flight. The pilot announced we would land at an Australian air force base in Queensland to refuel and a breakfast had been prepared for us at the base enlisted mess. This was welcomed news as our only in-flight meal was a box lunch we had been handed while boarding. It consisted of a ham and cheese sandwich on white bread with a bag of chips, an apple, and a stale cookie. The flight crew handed out cokes and cups of water sporadically throughout the ten hours.

Unfortunately, no one had told the Australian galley of the plans. The breakfast did not occur and we re-boarded for the remain twelve hours.

But the miserable flight led to one of the best liberty I had during my time at sea. Shortly after I reported aboard, a group of officers hired two cabs to take us to Eagle Wools, a sheepskin plant outside of Perth. I was not interested in purchasing any sheepskins, but decided it would be good to mingle with my new shipmates.

Eagle Wools was consisted of a warehouse where a number of ladies were sewing sheepskins into various items, mostly hats and slippers – they later became the manufacturer of Ugg boots, but that came much later and the warehouse now boasts a modern showroom.

We were greeted by Phil White, the plant’s manager. He pointed the other officers to product sales material and turned them over to the ladies. When he asked me, what I was interested in buying, I responded I wasn’t interested, just along for the ride. He asked me if I would like a beer. Of course, I did. The two of us went over to a corner and a 1950’s era refrigerator. Phil opened it up. It was stuffed with cans and cans of Emu beer. We had both had about three when the officers finished their shopping.

I ran with Phil White and his wife for the rest of our liberty stay. I went to pubs that might as well have been in Britain. Phil took me out to the R&R inn in a park where Australians and Americans escaped from the rigors of battle in World War II and Vietnam. There after a hearty lunch, I had face-to-face time with kangaroos, koalas, and wombats. The couple also introduced me to several enchanting Aussie women. It ended the night before our ships sailed with Phil and I back at Eagle Wool, swapping tall tales. After not intending to buy any wool products at the outset, I ended up with four two-hide sheepskin rugs, a couple of wool hats, and to top it off, a nine-piece sheepskin I have used for a rug before my bachelor fireplace, a bed cover, and something to make me very, very warm when needed.

I was looking forward to escapades with Phil again, but it was not to be.

Thoughts on Cathy Alley’s Facebook Post with Thanks to Judy Gray

Thanks, Judy.

Judy tagged me on Facebook so i would see Cathy Alley’s post of Kate Smith singing “God Bless America.”

For those of you who did not see it, here is a version taken from one of “The Kate Smith  Show” videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zF7a0wB-Lg

After we got our first television, about a 15-inch screen that sat in the corner of our living room across from the front door, black and white screen, of course, i was impressed with Kate’s singing.

At first, i didn’t know about Kate’s show. We didn’t have a television. My only awareness of television was provided by Roberta Padgett. The Padgett’s lived to the north of their lot that separated our house from theirs on Castle Heights Avenue. The Padgett’s were one of the first to get a television on our block, around 1950. Roberta would invite me over to their den, which i considered an incredible place to have as our den was about half a dozen years away from reality, to watch “The Howdy Doody Show” in the afternoon.

Because of that, Roberta was the girl with whom i fell in love.

But in 1954, we caught up with the Jones’s…or at least the Padgett’s, when we got our own television.

i would turn Kate on when i got home from school . Her half-hour show came on at 3:30 p.m. on WSM, the only channel we initially had in Lebanon, at least what we could capture on our small but still ugly roof antenna. The shows consisted of what WSM considered the best of the three only networks, NBC, CBS, and ABC. Before Kate, there was only the Native American logo and silence (although i think i remember a sound as well, like a hum). As i recall (not necessarily a reliable source), the Native American chief’s image was accompanied  by the logo of National Life and Accident Insurance, the station’s owner.

But for me, Kate was only a time killer before what Roberta had shown me: “The Howdy Doody Show” where my favorite parts were the “Tons of Funs” silent movies, Flub A Dub, and Clarabell. Phineas T. Bluster was an object of my disdain. Buffalo Bob was a bit of a wuss in leather shirts with western fringe. Howdy was just too damn cheery. Chief ThunderThud endeared himself to me with his expression of awe, “Kowabunga.”

Of course, i lost my heart to Princess SummerFallWinterSpring, one if not the first of many loves in my life i dreamed about in television. The real life Roberta had competition.

Then at 5:00 p.m., i was riveted to Ruff ‘n Ready, the white whiskered guy in a cowboy outfit because he introduced the daily oater. Roy Rogers and Bob Steele ignited my desire to be a cowboy after my father introduced me to Hopalong Cassidy, who started that dream. Hopalong rode Topper into my life on Castle Film’s 8 mm film “Bar 20 Rides Again.”

i know all this stuff about Hoppy, not because i remember so well but because the three-inch square box with Hoppy holding his gun on the front sits on my bookshelf.

When Daddy would set up the portable movie screen to show home movies to us and whatever relatives might join us, nearly always Aunt Bettye Kate and Uncle Snooks, the children would demand we watch Hoppy and Woody Woodpecker first. He usually relented for one of the two.

i don’t recall Hoppy ever being on Ruff ‘n Ready’s show.

Now to prove my recall is faulty, the next afternoon highlight i remember was “The Mickey Mouse Club.” i am not sure what happened, but Kate, Howdy, or Ruff ‘n Ready must have fallen off the screen. My post school, pre-supper world was focused on that show, not because i enjoyed the cartoons, or much of the rest of the show, but my love was now squandered on two television dreams: the aforementioned Princess SummerFallWinterSpring and Annette. i kept wishing i could go to summer camp and capture Annette’s heart and whisk her away from that wimpy Skip — meanwhile in New York, one of my best friends of all time who i would not meet for another six or seven years,  Alan Hicks, was head over heels for Darlene.

But alas, my joy was ended when the news took over. John Cameron Swayze told it like it was without bias, a lost art, on “The Camel News Caravan.” i rejected the idea of listening to the news. Hmm, old habits have returned. But i did like John’s Timex commercials. i particularly remember them tying a Timex wrist watch to an outboard propeller and whirling the boat around the water for a couple of laps. After the boat docked, John took the watch off the prop and declared, “It takes a licking, but it keeps on ticking.”

Then it was supper time. Not much better things in my memory than Mother’s suppers. The fare varied but every supper seemed to include her legendary biscuits and fresh tomatoes.

It seems my every weekday during the school year from 1950 to 1956 was highlighted by afternoon television. This is a faulty memory of course. There were other things going on, but the way i remember it, even though she created only a nuisance of waiting for MY shows, Kate started it all.

i am aware of the current displeasure with Kate and her other racially incorrect songs creating the latest rancor. i also know any comment i might make about that will be taken as offensive by one side or the other, perhaps both, and i wonder why we insist on having two sides , or three sides, or exponentially more sides, even today.

All i know is i did not infer any negatives on those afternoons. Kate was part of it.

God Bless America.

Chapter 7: Diego Garcia and a Change of Plans

Chapter 7: Diego Garcia and a Change of Plans

While entering into the lagoon through the toes of the “Footprint of Freedom” I recalled my other visit with pleasure. I had been there as the Weapons Officer of the USS Okinawa (LPH 3) in 1982. Sitting seven degrees south of the equator, the atoll measures just over eleven square miles. From the air, the land mass around the lagoon looks much like a footprint, which where its nickname originated among sailors.

The weather is best described as muggy. Although there is considerable wind, I never felt it as a problem. The oppressiveness of mid-70 lows and mid-80 highs throughout the year is mollified somewhat by the ocean breezes. Although the annual rainfall was just over eleven inches, the humidity and the dew points produce categories of “muggy,” “oppressive,” and “miserable,” nothing else all year long. In spite of the small amount of rain, the humidity produces jungle thick vegetation if not held in check. I found it livable, even bearable in the shade and thought if I ever were marooned on an island I would want it to be like Diego Garcia.

But it wasn’t deserted. The base had a gym, complete with racquetball and basketball courts, weight rooms with spas and saunas in the dressing rooms. There were enlisted, chief, and officer clubs, as well as a “seaman’s club” for the merchant marine. The Navy exchange was small but adequate. The exchange had pith helmets like the ones worn by the “Ramar of the Jungle” cast in the television series that ran for two years in the early 1950’s. In my first visit, I bought two pith helmets. I kept one and sent the other to my brother in Vermont. A number of the officers and crew of Yosemite purchased pith helmets as momentoes.

Diego Garcia is the largest and only inhabited island in the Chagos Atoll chain, which consists of approximately sixty islands. It has been a British Indian Ocean Territory. (BIOT) since 1965 when it was detached from being a part of the British colony of Mauritius. The local population, consisting largely of former slaves on the coconut plantation on the eastern side of the island, were forcefully deported to the Seychelles and Mauritius for the British to focus on the island being a forward military operating station for the Indian Ocean.

The British military maintained a presence with a unit of about thirty personnel as the United States Navy became the dominant presence on the island. A significant number of deployed USNS cargo ships were anchored there to provide immediate equipment and supplies to U.S. forces in any surprise conflict in the Mideast or other Indian Ocean areas, particularly in the Persian Gulf. The Navy also commissioned a “Naval Air Facility,” used primarily by the Air Force for long range bombing capability throughout the Indian Ocean.

Once Yosemite anchored in the middle of Diego Garcia’s lagoon, base personnel brought out a large barge to serve as our departure point from the accommodation ladder to the waiting liberty boats to take our crew and officers to the island.

I was a bit anxious again. It seemed I spent quite a bit of time being anxious. Liberty on Diego Garcia would be different than Rota or Majorca. To begin with, there were some Navy female personnel assigned to the Naval Station there, but very few. Our sailors would be going on liberty with just themselves, male and female. And there were no orphanages to attend to, no tours to occupy liberty time. The possibilities concerned me.

We were expecting to be there for almost three weeks, transit to Perth, Australia for liberty, then back to the atoll before a transit and short period anchored off Masirah, Oman.

One of the first events was the transfer of our operations officer. Kathy Rondeau, who in my mind, had proved her mettle. She had been competent and skillful, a good leader. The only assuaging aspect of her departure is Noreen Leahy had proven she would be just as reliable as Kathy.

A good moment in the captain’s and my relationship with Kathy and the other women officers was when, in the presence of the other women officers she asked the two of us, the old guard, about what she should do next to further her career in the Navy. Although aware of the success we had had thus far with women at sea, CAPT Boyle and I both were aware of the senior chain of command, all male, being resistant to allowing women to continue to be on ships. We advised her and the other women officers to continue to go to sea as much as would be allowed. Our reasoning was any operational tour would be looked upon as a plus throughout a female officer’s career. But we also advocated them getting a sub-specialty. Having a sub-specialty would allow them to continue on that path if the advancement for female officers at sea did not go further.

Kathy departed on her way back to a shore billet at her new duty station at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville.

After she left, she sent me a letter, which I received while we were anchored off Masirah. Here are excerpts from that letter:

Thank you for all you did for me. You can never know how much you have helped me grow as a Surface Warfare Officer. That night we spoke about OOD quals – you said a lot of good things and I listened to your good advice. I agree with you about not worrying about what other people think or how other people got their quals. Also, I am proud to be a Surface Warfare Officer, and XO, if it had not been for the cruise, you, and the Captain, I wouldn’t be so proud…

…I never said goodbye to you, XO, it was too hard for me to do…you were so good to me and taught me so much professionally and built up my self-confidence as a Surface Warfare Officer and a department head.

*     *     *

Maureen was never off of my mind. One of the principals at Parron-Hall Office Interiors, Bob Long, where she was an account executive was also an excellent photographer. For a wedding/going away present, Maureen gave me some beautiful photos of her. One large one framed, which I hung on the after bulkhead of my office so I could look at it anytime I glanced up from my desk. It was the photo, Dina Weaver, the ship’s ombudsmen noticed Maureen looked like Susan Lucci, the long term star of “All My Children.”

I looked at that photo a lot. After all of my work had been put to bed, I would write her a letter, perhaps adding every night. Sometimes I would write just for me. Here is a poem I wrote and sent to her between Yosemite clearing the Suez and Diego Garcia:

To Maureen, the Beginning of an Epic Poem

 Indian Ocean phosphorescence,
glowing wave in the night
awes me not,
i have seen this glow in other oceans,
while young sailors shout in delight
at their sighting the sparkling waves;
i, unamused, return to my stateroom
with better things to do
like dream visions that are real.

 there should have been a diaphanous mist,
ethereal, mystical,
flowing about her
when she walked toward me
the first time
(mind, do not play tricks on me:
i desire to remember the moment
exactly as it was,
clear, finite.
her dress a gossamer gown,
softly caressing the elegance of her body;
her hair curled and falling to her shoulders gracefully,
framing her delicate, fine yet soft features;
eyes, oh eyes that drew me in, took my breath,
suggested more than my mind could comprehend,
grasped my soul
and
told Scherazade’s thousand tales,
drawing me into a bottomless pit of emotion
before i knew emotion could have no end,
allowing me to float suspended in her beauty.

 i was afraid to speak,
afraid i might fall from suspension,
might break the image before me;
then we got down to business;
what in god’s name did i think, i think;
perhaps suspicious of her beauty,
certainly awed;
i made a joke.
did she notice i was nervous?

oh, little boy,
walk away
if you are merely making a furniture deal;
walk away happy with the thought
you will see her at least one more time.

 i am deep into the Indian Ocean night;
i have learned to gauge the depth of the night
by the strength of the coffee;
now, the coffee is knock your socks off strong,
burnt grounds black;
the work seems endless;
the sea is infinite;
yet i smile
when i dream of her.

*     *     *

Before we had arrived in Diego Garcia, I decided to let Maureen know our schedule.

I hedged on rules about confidential material in a quick note to Maureen. I felt guilty in that I would be screaming mad, or at least fake being screaming mad if a junior officer or sailor had divulged such information to a spouse, but I also knew from experience, ship’s schedules, although confidential information, were quickly available to just about everybody. I overcame my guilt when I thought our schedule was set. I sent it to Maureen with trepidation:

Boggs,

Around the world seems to be a lost hope. Here’s the schedule as we know it:
14-24 Oct: Diego Garcia
25 Oct– 2 Nov: Transit to Perth
3-7 Nov – Perth, Australia
8-16 Nov – Transit to Diego Garcia
17 Nov – 7 Dec: Diego Garcia
7-12 Dec – Transit to Masirah, Oman
13-25 Dec – Masirah, Oman (anchorage, no liberty)
26-31 Dec – Transit to Diego Garcia
1-10 Jan – Transit to Mombasa, Kenya
11-17 Jan – Mombassa, Kenya
18-23 Jan – En route to North Arabian Sea
29 Jan-9 Feb – Ops North Arabian Sea (i’m guessing we’ll be at anchorage in Karachi, Pakistan with some liberty)
10 Feb-21 Mar – En route Mayport (Best bet is one stop in the Western Mediterranean: we plan to ask for Malaga, Spain. If we could stop in the eastern Med, it would most likely be Athens or Korfu, Greece.

*     *     *

The first morning after arriving, we had our “turnover” with the USS Cape Cod (AD 43). It was very short. The tender we were relieving had not had one period of maintenance for a Navy ship. We were appalled. The thought of sitting at anchor in the lagoon with nothing to do was not a comforting thought. Captain Boyle thought of a way to make us more effective and was determined to make it happen. He forwarded his proposal to Admiral Butcher, our immediate operating superior and the Commander, Task Force 76, and Admiral Hogg, Commander 7th Fleet, the senior Navy officer for operations in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean

Captain Boyle recommended Yosemite, rather than remaining in Diego Garcia except for one December week off of Oman and the liberty trip to Perth Australia, sail immediately to anchorage off Masirah, Oman and provide maintenance and repair services to ships of Battle Group Alfa, the USS Ranger (CV 61) carrier group for the bulk of our time in the Indian Ocean.

The chain of command realized Captain Boyle’s idea had merit and ordered Yosemite to get underway and head to an anchorage off the island of Masirah, Oman much earlier than scheduled.

The problem the captain had identified was distance. Nearly all, if not all U.S. combatants were operating in the North Arabian Sea or in the Persian Gulf, a distance of over 2,000 miles from Diego Garcia. For a ship to receive maintenance and repair services, she had to transit that distance twice to get to and from Diego Garcia, over 4,000 miles. That’s over ten days. Adding the repair availability, normally two weeks back in the states, would make a ship unavailable to meet operational requirements for over three weeks.

Going to anchorage off the island and staying there until Christmas made good sense. Compared to Diego Garcia, Masirah is much closer to the primary operation areas of U.S. forces. A ship could reach Yosemite within a day of being on station, sometimes less. Since Yosemite would be at anchor, essentially at sea, with no liberty, time for services to be completed could be compressed into much shorter periods. Such a move would allow Yosemite to be much more effective in accomplishing her mission, i.e. providing support services to combatants in a forward deployed area.