A Pocket of Resistance: Good Ship Gone

Tonight, i participated in some email banter about a super bowl pool. i commented on my pick of number 19, the hull number of my last ship, the USS Yosemite (AD 19). One of the emailers asked if it was still afloat. In my response, i included the below, written when i learned of Yoyo’s demise in 2003, with my answer in the negative. i was not thrilled to get orders to her in 1983, but she was one of the best ships i had of the eleven at-sea assignments. From 2003:

USS_Yosemite_AD-19_1988

Yosemite: Good Ship Gone

The news came, as expected, from the Commanding Officer, a man who has Navy blue for blood in his veins. I did not call him “CO” or the aviator term “skipper” – he would have chopped off my head with that insult. I called him “Captain.” Without fail. I now call him Frank and a friend.

The USS Yosemite (AD 19), destroyer tender par excellence is gone.

The Navy radio message, the means of communicating throughout my Navy career, was the bearer of the news, forwarded by the Commanding Officer in the new mode of communication: e-mail.

The message subject was “SINKEX,” as in gone. That means she was sunk as a target in a Naval exercise. Since the message came from a destroyer squadron commander, I hope it was a surface ship that shot her down.

And I mean down. Two thousand, three hundred, and forty fathoms. That’s about 14,040 feet. Deep.

It is right that she went down that way, and hopefully it was shells from a gun mount, not a missile, but I suspect the latter sang the final hymn, read the final prayer for the good ship Yosemite.

Sailors use the feminine gender to describe ships. There is probably some politically correct group out there trying to neuter the tradition. That it is sad because Yosemite and the other ships I served on were true ladies of the sea, elegant, practical and fearsome in their different ways. I loved all of those that carried me as part of their wardrooms.

Yosemite was special. I confess I had to learn to love her. I went to her to serve as executive officer in 1983 for the sole purpose of attaining the necessary qualifications to screen for command at sea. I did not like tenders: they did not go to sea enough. They did not land amphibious troops and equipment; they did not fire guns and missiles; they did not hunt submarines. They did not scream around at twenty-seven knots with the spume of a rooster-tail off the stern and the wake as wide as a four-lane highway extending to the horizon. They did not belch landing craft out of the stern of a well deck in rolling seas.

But Yosemite had been there when I first met the Navy in 1963. She was the flagship of Cruiser Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet, tied up at Pier One in Newport, Rhode Island. I was a midshipman on my way out of NROTC because I didn’t have good study habits nor good sense at nineteen. She seemed massive and imperturbable as I walked passed on my way to my destroyer and an eight-week cruise.

She was in Newport when I came back from deployment on my first ship after being commissioned from OCS in 1968. Her deserved reputation was such that we would figure out ways to get our repair work to her, rather than to take it to our “parent” tender.

And she was my last ship, the penultimate tour for me and the penultimate step toward my never achieved goal of command.

She could wheeze out fourteen knots with her four hundred pound boilers, but we steamed at ten knots most of the time. The fact sheet lists her top speed as nineteen knots but that was several tons and numerous years before I became her “XO.”

She steamed like a champion for my tour. We deployed for seven and a half months just a month after I reported aboard. She was the first ship with women as part of the crew who spent extended periods out of port (Most before had transited from port to port and provided repair and maintenance services pier side or moored). She provided repair availabilities for destroyers and cruisers while anchored off Masirah, Oman, and she accomplished in four days what normally took two weeks back in the states. She did that for fifty-five days, took a break and then did it again for forty-five days. She had a crew of 900, including 106 women, and a wardroom of 44, six of whom were female, and gave me a completely different perspective of women at sea: the Captain said it best when he announced, “We don’t have women on this ship. We don’t have men on this ship. We have sailors on this ship and we are going to operate that way.”

She was given a letter of commendation for being a member of the Indian Ocean Battle Group, an unheard of honor for a repair ship.

She steamed as a member of the orange force in a Caribbean exercise, something tenders do not normally do.

She was in the middle of the eye of a developing hurricane, eventually escaping to the northeast before the winds and seas reached full hurricane strength.

She was proclaimed the best repair organization in the Atlantic Fleet.

Her crew was an amalgamation of old sailors, repair personnel who had seldom spent any time at sea, and young wide-eyed men and women, learning how to be sailors. The first lieutenant was the best boatswainmate I knew in twenty years, even though he had outgrown the title. The doc was so new he didn’t know how to salute or how to dress in Navy uniforms. He has become the godfather of my daughter and one of my closest friends. And there was this special woman, the operations officer, a lieutenant, who was one of the best officers with whom I served. And there were many others who had an impact on my life.

She was commissioned in 1944, the year I was born. She was decommissioned in 1994.

It is fitting that she went down the way she did. She spent her life supporting the fleet. She was sunk supporting the fleet, providing one last service.

And she and Davy Jones will sleep well together.

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