i know i have recounted this story before, many times orally and once or twice on paper, or this poor excuse for paper that shows up on your computer screen. The other day on the US Navy Gearing Destroyer group on Facebook, there was an entry from someone who had served on the USS Brownson (DD 868). The name generated my recall of the story. i love it, and now that i’m hooked up with some destroyer men on Facebook, i wanted to share it again.
For those of you who weren’t around the Navy’s Destroyer School in 1973, you may not have heard this story about the USS Brownson (DD 868). Three of the Brownson’s junior officers, including one who was stashed there waiting for department head school in Newport, Rhode Island, related it to me at a late afternoon tea…okay, okay, a couple of pitchers of beer for happy hour at the small annex to the officer’s club up the hill from the destroyer-submarine piers.
CHENG (chief engineer for landlubbers) on the Brownson had won the respect of the ship’s officers who were with me in the six-month course was just on the south side of daffy and apparently had done several wild and goofy things while aboard . But he was a superb engineer and somehow the captain tolerated all of the shenanigans.
The gang swapped sea stories about CHENG’s antics. The sea stories were surprising, sometime a bit shocking. Then they told me the best one:
The Brownson had been operating for about two weeks with exercises in the Atlantic op areas off of Newport but had been independent steaming for several days. There was not much going on, no shipping to speak of, and relatively calm seas. Those watches, especially at night, are boring where you struggle to stay awake. CHENG had the midwatch on the bridge, nine total bodies on the bridge in the dark. In watches like that when i was OOD, i would query the watch standers about the actual names of the 16 points in the compass, like “one point off the starboard bow” is “nor, nor by nor east.”
But Brownson’s CHENG had a bigger idea. About half-way through his mid-watch, he transferred steering control to after steering. Then he shifted the entire bridge team to the flying bridge on the 04 level directly above the bridge. Finally, he had the Boatswainmate of the watch go to the 1MC (the ship’s loudspeaker system) and pipe attention, followed by the announcement, “Captain to the Bridge!” On old destroyers or for that matter any Navy ship i served during my career, every captain when underway spent his nights in the “sea cabin” immediately aft of the bridge so he could quickly access the bridge in an emergency — apparently, the new age of commanding officers no longer feel required to sleep in the sea cabin but choose the much larger, more comfortable Captain’s Cabin below the bridge for the evening.
So the pipe has called attention and the Boatswainmate has called the captain to the bridge. The captain erupts from his rack, crashes out of the sea cabin in his pajamas with his housecoat dragging behind…and there in the middle of the night on the “darken ship” bridge no one is on the bridge.
The officers telling the story did not explain what happened after that except to say, the captain and CHENG had a meaningful conversation in the wardroom the next morning.
i keep trying to imagine what ran through the captain’s mind those first thirty seconds or so when he ran onto the bridge ready for an incredible emergency and the bridge was empty.