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.