Remembering “The Rest of the Story”

Paul Harvey. Remember him?

He was a notable radio news reporter and commentator with a gravely voice. i listened raptly from sometime in  my high school years and college, totally unaware of him being very conservative. At the time, it probably would have made no difference, and i did not hear, as with many of the news reporters (yes, Virginia, there is a difference between reporters and commentators, but you probably aren’t aware of the distinction because the lines have been blurred).

Regardless, i listened. In the summer of 1964, when i was trying to keep my world on track by, at the financial burden on my parents, getting my GPA back to where…oh, what the hell: i was at Vanderbilt summer school. Billy Parsons and i would finish our morning classes, meet at Rotier’s for lunch with a tuna salad, saltines, and iced tea (long before someone invented prepared “sweetened ice tea”) We would get back to the Kappa Sigma house where Billy was the only summer occupant. And we would listen to Paul’s noon newscast.

My favorite three of Paul’s “Rest of the Story” segments were:

1. The stewardess, the female predecessor to “flight attendants,” was getting the come on from two inebriated males, one in first class and one in coach. When the flight landed, the first class (sic) drunk as he is leaving the cabin hands the stewardess a key to his hotel room and says he will see her there at 8:00. When the coach class drunk gets to the door, the stewardess hands him the key and tells him to meet her there at 8:00.

2. The terrorist in the Middle East makes up a mail bomb in a mailing envelope and mails it to a government official. He did not put in the address correctly. The package was returned because he had included his return address. He opened it: as i viewed it, justice in its truest form.

3. The old widow was having difficulty with her oven. It had quit operating. She called a repair company. Their tech came out and replaced the blown fuse. The oven worked as it should. He gave her the bill for $75. The widow was amazed since the repair took less than five minutes and the fuse cost about a dollar. The tech explained they had a minimum of an hour rate charge for any house call. So, she had him mow her lawn for 55 minutes before leaving.

And now, for the rest of the story, mine, with two very close friends, 52 years ago and now.

It was the summer of 1969. i was Anti-Submarine (ASW) Officer on the USS Hawkins (DD-873), a FRAM destroyer that had recently changed home port from Newport, Rhode Island to Norfolk, Virginia. i was running with two other officers in the Hawkins wardroom, Andrew Nemethy from Massachusetts and Rob Dewitt from Maine. i was coming up on the time to request to remain aboard for the second half of my three-year obligation to active duty or request to be assigned somewhere else. Andrew and Rob were commissioned later than me but they too would soon have to face the decision.

George “Doc” Jarden was the Administrative Officer aboard the USS Guam (LPH 9), a helicopter carrier in the amphibious force. He and i were roommates and classmates in Officer Candidate School (OCS) and had become good friends. Doc was also facing a similar decision about staying or rotating.

Andrew and i had discussed staying aboard the Hawkins, and after we got out, buying a sailboat, sailing it to Europe, selling it and using the money from the sale to kick around the continent until we ran out of money and came home to grow up.

i had become “the wardroom sea daddy” on the Hawkins and found myself in an awkward position. Captain Max Lasell began to rely on me and he and i would meet often in the wardroom to share thoughts on the ship’s operation. My weapons department head was being bypassed because he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the light array. i decided i needed to split my tour and go somewhere else. But where?

There were other factors in this problem.

After building up the numbers of service members during Vietnam, the military forces were beginning to cut back the officer corps with early releases, reductions in rank and other strategies. This began to play in our decision about what to do next.

Doc and i often met after our workdays at the Red Mule in Norfolk, a hamburger and beer joint we liked. We discussed our decisions about rotation on most such occasions. We were so similar our service numbers were only two numbers apart. Doc’s was 726236 and mine was 726238 — it is remarkable to me i can remember such things because the Navy went to social security numbers by time i returned to active duty in 1972. We had the same detailer, the officer in the Bureau of Personnel who was responsible for determining our fate in staying aboard or rotating.

Doc, a Duke graduate, was a liberal in his thinking. i described him as the hippie’s gift to the Navy. Even then, i was pretty much apolitical and focused on being a twenty-year old man enjoying life. So, i was surprised as Doc and i were quaffing our beers after cheeseburgers and fries when he said, “I’m going to volunteer to go to Vietnam.” i was shocked. We both had agreed one of the primary reasons to get our commission at OCS was to avoid the draft (the draft lottery was not created until a year or so after we were commissioned) with the concern we would end up as ground pounders in the Army. Now, Doc was thinking about volunteering to go there.

“What, Doc? How could you come to such a decision?,” i almost shouted.

“Well, i’ve been thinking about it,” Doc explained, “Our parents had World War II, and whether we like it or not, this is our war.

“I want to be a part of our war,” he finished.

Now, it may have been a couple of beers, but i mused and agreed.

We began calls to our detailer. It was tough to get through but we did it. The detailer — i have not included his name as i have tortured him enough — informed us a release of officers would be coming soon. He told me i would be cut early. He told Doc he didn’t think he would be cut. Doc and i met again at the Red Mule and scratched our heads.

The cut came. The powers that be cut those officers in essentially “non-critical” billets. I was ASW officer on destroyer, including being the sea detail, general quarters Officer of the Deck. Doc was Administrative Officer on a helicopter and like me the sea detail and general quarters OOD, i.e., essential.

We were not cut and resumed our calls to our detailer. He told us they didn’t get down to the numbers they needed, and another cut was coming. He told me i would be cut. He told Doc he would not be cut.

The criteria for the next cut was fitness reports. Fitness reports were the assessments of officers by their commanding officers in the performance of their duties. Doc and i had been rated high in our fitreps and were not cut.

But wait, the detailer told us. They still had to make another cut. i was sure to be cut, he told me. Doc was told he would not be cut. Perhaps, i guess, it was because i was on a destroyer and Doc was on an Amphib. i do not know.

The next cut was done by commissioning date. The date chosen was one month after we were commissioned. Both of us remained on active duty.

i decided to act on Doc’s idea about Vietnam. i volunteered to be a forward Naval Gunfire Liaison Officer (NGLO or GLO). This is a job that requires the officer, aka me, to go out ahead of the front lines, usually with a radio talker and call in fire on the enemy. Really bright people who want to live past the next year stay away from these kinds of assignments. Not me.

The detailer readily, almost gleefully agreed to my proposal. After all, there were very few officers applying for GLO and most that were assigned balked at the idea as much as possible. Not me.

We began planning the rotation when he told me i would be required to extend my active duty for a month. Astounded, i asked why. He explained that any assignment to Vietnam required a complete year for the assignment. To perform the duties of GLO, i would have to go to a gunfire support school and to Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) training a two-week course requiring the trainee to be captured and experience being a Prisoner of WAR (SERE) training including some forms of torture, like waterboarding.

Some sense kicked in: “You want me to extend a month to go over there and probably get my ass shot off? Forget it? What else you got?”

Now mind you, this phase of detailing negotiations took about three, maybe four months of negotiation.

On the next phone call, the detailer told me had an assignment that might appeal to me. i asked him what it was. He told me i would be the executive officer of the Military Sealift Transportation System (MSTS) Transport Unit One (The name of the command was changed later the next year to Military Sealift Command or MSC. i asked him what the job entailed. He said he didn’t know but he would check with the others in the office. i waited on the phone for almost three-quarters of an hour. Fortunately, BUPERS did not have muzak for waiting.

When the detailer came back he explained that no one really knew exactly what it was, but one detailer recalled from the past what he thought was.

“And what did he say?” i implored.

“We think you will be the only Navy Officer on a USNS ship manned my government civilians,” he explained, “The ship is a transport that carries U.S. troops and dependents to and from various ports in the Pacific,” finishing with, “We believe you should hit every major port in the Pacific in your year’s tour.

He paused after my earlier rejection of GLO because of the extension of active duty,  “You will have to extend a month to attend the Register Publication System school for communications in your new assignment.

“Hmm,” i mused, “Extend a month to see all the major ports in the Pacific and being the only Naval Officer on the ship.”

“I’m all in,” i explained.

This occurred sometime in October. Shortly afterward, i received my orders in a radio message to detach from USS Hawkins (DD 873)  in December 1969  and report to RPS school in San Diego and proceed to to Yokosuka, Japan to report to MSTS Headquarters for further assignment to Executive Officer, MSTS Transport Unit ONE. To be honest, i was pretty pumped. i began my preparations in earnest.

As usual, there are several more stories in this too long for inclusion here.

The wearisome and very long flight to Yokosuka put me in late in the evening in mid-January. The next morning, i walked in the rain to the MSTS office building. It was a dreary, dark day. The office was dark and bare. The overweight civilian with a dark tie, white shirt, and dark suit, rose from his chair and shook my hand across the large metal desk and motioned me to sit in the chair in front of him.

He told me i would be leaving that afternoon to fly to Sasebo, Japan. i was not impressed with Yokosuka and wondered if Sasebo would be different. Then, the man behind the desk dropped the bomb on my ideal tour: “Well, it’s not quite what you were told.

“You will be the executive officer of an 18-man unit. There is a CO, a lieutenant commander, you, two doctors, and a chaplain. There is a boatswainmate, storekeeper and corpsman chiefs, 6 corpsman, 3 storekeeper enlisted,  and a seaman.

“There are three troop transports for carrying 1500 Republic of Korea troops to and from Vietnam out of Pusan, Korea. Sasebo is the port for six days of upkeep and resupply. Your unit is aboard the USNS Geiger (T-AP 197), the other ship in the current rotation is USNS Barrett (T-AP 196). The third ship currently in overhaul is the USNS Upshur (T-AP 198).

When i reported to LCDR Hank Fendt on the Geiger the next day, i sent an letter to that detailer: “Dear sir, all the major ports in the Pacific are Sasebo, Japan; Pusan, Korea; and Qui Nhon and Nha Trang, Vietnam. The “US troops and military dependents are ROK troops and officers. Thanks.”

Yep, i was disappointed. But it turned out pretty well. It was a good recalibration for me, and gave me a lot of time to think. It also was a wild, wild time. That is yet another story.

What i didn’t know was what happened to my friends. In the last several years through the new things people love to hate like Facebook i have reconnected to my old shipmates, Andrew Nemethy and Rob DeWitt, and my OCS roommate Doc Jarden.

i thought all three had gotten on the next reduction in force. Now i know the rest of the story.

Doc, because he was one of three officers a rather anal commanding officer had qualified as Officers of the Deck (OOD’s) underway. Therefore, he was in a critical position on the Guam. He did not rotate as he wished, was not cut in a reduction of force, and finished his three year obligation on the Guam.

Rob was not cut, rotated to a command ship, the USS Wright (CC 2), homeported in Norfolk. After a working on motorcycles and getting several post graduate degrees, he ended up in home state of Maine as an orthodontist.

And then there was Andrew. i was sure he made the cuts. He didn’t. i found this out when i inquired after he made a comment about being in Vietnam. When Andrew learned of my new assignment and found out he would not leave the service early, he decided he would follow suit and requested a tour in MSTS. He got it. He as in the MSTS office in Saigon. He describes how he got there:

You were the inspiration for that, traveling all around the Orient on a freighter having a jolly old time in ports, seeing the world, and writing poetry, which as you may recall, We sent back-and-forth to each other. That I ended up in Vietnam is all due to you!

What could go wrong? The glitch was that I had no idea…MSTS had posts in Vietnam. Oops.  That is why Lasell was chuckling at my orders when they came in. Traded a cushy boring job on the destroyer for the excitement of being in the middle of a war. You were the inspiration for that, traveling all around the Orient on a freighter having a jolly old time in ports, seeing the world, and writing poetry, which as you may recall, We sent back-and-forth to each other. That I ended up in Vietnam is all due to you!

The Lasell Andrew mentions was the commanding officer of the Hawkins. He was on of the best i had in the Navy. Ironically, his last tour was the commander of the MSC office out of San Francisco. Sadly, he passed away after i had finally located him in the Southwest corner but before i could go see him. i owe him a lot.

Now the rest of this story also is dripping in irony. The funny thing is three of us ended up in journalism of sorts. Doc became a television producer. Andrew was a journalist in Vermont, and i have been all over the charts in my writing efforts.

The real rest of the story is there are three guys with whom i had great relationships and shared good and hard times and we have reconnected. We have our lives to live and they are in Maine, Vermont, North Carolina, and the Southwest corner. i might get to visit with them in the coming days, but time, which does not change, is getting shorter. It doesn’t matter. i have reconnected with three pretty special people.

JJ…
Hey sailor…belated Happy Vet’s Day.  Note the switch to personal email–my day-to-day involvement with our local NPR station is just now coming to an end.
So, my tour after the Guam.  In early July, 1968 got a nice note from Bupers to proceed unodir within 60 days to DaNang to take over as officer in charge of a river squadron.  Okay, then…not exactly the kind of news one hopes for, but we had all volunteered and that was the way it was.  Lots of anxiety, but basically resignation.
Meanwhile, the CO of the Guam was a tough son-of-a-bitch, and like all COs of carriers–fixed wing or helo–was an aviator.  He was uncomfortable on the bridge, but at the same time had little time or respect for young OCS officers.  He only reluctantly qualified anyone as an underway officer of the deck.  I was one of the few.

 

You know, I have no idea there was a person, a detailer, making decisions about my next duty. I did request to join MSTS, because I was sick of Norfolk, new we weren’t going anywhere, and wanted something a little different in my last year than the same old same old. You were the inspiration for that, traveling all around the Orient on a freighter having a jolly old time in ports, seeing the world, and writing poetry, which as you may recall, We sent back-and-forth to each other. That I ended up in Vietnam is all due to you!

The glitch was that I had no idea, stupidly, that MStS had posts in Vietnam. Oops.  That is why Lasell was chuckling at my orders when they came in. Traded a cushy boring job on the destroyer for the excitement of being in the middle of a war. What could go wrong?
Fortunately, nothing, and I would not trade the experience, nor taking an in country discharge making money and then traveling back around the world, for anything. Just about killed my poor parents though, especially since I was an only child. Taking four weeks, or maybe it was three, of survival training down at Quantico,, with Marines, was an interesting experience and also launched my interest in fitness and being in shape, which I turned out I was pretty good at. Carried that athletic interest for the rest of my life. It was a cold slosh of reality too, since they threw us in a simu,aged VC prison camp and among the things they did was throw us in a muddy pond, during the winter, so it was really cold, and then “tortured” us and used psy ops tricks on us.
I will never forget that the guy who probed the hero in our platoon and outsmarted our captors to unite our crew was the least likely looking hero of the bunch, a gangly professorial JG. Meanwhile a commander who was going to Vietnam, an older guy and seemingly all no younger,  totally fell apart before our eyes, and was not shipped out as a result, at least that’s what I heard. So you never know who’s going to be the brave one or how people will react. Lesson learned.
My theory was that if the Viet Congress wanted to get me, I would try to at least be able to run like a bastard and at least be as fit as they were. Plus I had good boots and noflip-flops. 😝

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