Category Archives: Sea Stories

Fairly self explanatory, from what I can remember that is.

A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam), Part 5

Leaving Nova Scotia, the battle group began exercises on the way to Bermuda, our other liberty port. i got my first taste of non-judicial punishment, but it was shy of a step.

The midshipmen who returned late on our last night in Sydney went to XOI. The XO meted our our punishment rather than sending us to see the captain for Captain’s Mast as required by UCMJ. Of course, i had no clue this was not proper. We were required to have 10 hours of “extra duty.” So after the evening mess, i performed duties for two hours, menial tasks that were usually not very pleasant. One was to clean the rudder equipment compartment just below the fantail. That particular task was not difficult. The space was already pretty clean, but it was terribly noisy. The big gears creaked and moaned every time the helmsman on the bridge turned the helm that changed the rudder angle. The gears drove the massive twin rudders just aft of the ship’s propellers.

So, being a 3/c middie and already established as a king nap taker, i climbed up on top of the big gear box and went to sleep in spite of the noise. i woke up before my extra duty period was over.

* * *

It is only a faint recall, but at some point in time, i wondered why the rules for midshipmen was different than the rules for the commanding officer. i do think the incident affected me throughout my Navy career. i tried, mostly if not all successfully, to not break any of the rules and regulations that i expected my subordinates to follow.

i again was learning about the Navy, but what i was learning wasn’t on the Navy’s list of learning objectives. i realized that almost the entire crew were caucasian. The two or three blacks on board were cooks. At the time, the only rating Filipinos could hold was steward. Stewards manned the wardroom, providing food services and butler type services for the officers, such as shining shoes, making racks, and collecting then returning the laundry.

* * *

i was essentially working as an enlisted man. i was transferred to my final department, Engineering; somehow i spent over six weeks in the department, a much longer time than in the other two departments.

i was first sent to main control. One of two engine rooms, main control was the brains of the propulsion system. The control board received orders for speed changes via the engine order telegraph signals from the lee helmsman on the bridge and released the proper amount of steam into the turbines, then to the reduction gears that in turn rotated the propeller shaft to the correct number of revolutions. Main control provided the power for the starboard shaft while the after engine room provided the port shaft’s power.

On my first work day in the holes (our name for the engineering spaces), i was immediately the target of a joke. i should have known, but i had’t caught on to the fun the enlisted were having. The Leading Petty Officer (LPO) stopped my while i was surface cleaning a pump. He told me the space was out of relative bearing grease and directed me to go to A gang (the auxiliary equipment work group and get some from them.

i responded aye, aye, climbed the ladder to the main deck and headed aft to the auxiliary shop. “No, we are all out. The ship fitter’s shop should have some. i acknowledge and headed forward in the main deck passageway, when it struck me: there is no such thing as “relative bearing grease.” Relative bearing is the direction in degrees to a ship or an object. i whacked myself on the forehead for not catching it early and mulled over what i should do. Being a championship napper, i turned around, headed aft, down the ladder to the midshipman berthing. i found my rack and crawled in.

About an hour later, a third class machinist mate from main control shook me awake.

“What are you doing here,” he demanded.

i explained i had been all over the ship looking for relative bearing grease and was too embarrassed when i couldn’t find any to return and face the music.

We went back to main control. All of the machinist mates were pleased i had seen through their ruse. We had a good laugh and went back to work.

* * *

To be continued…

A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam), part 004

It was time for me to learn…and i did. Oh, did i learn, but most of it was not what was the learning objectives the Navy had in mind.

Of the 18 midshipmen from a mixture of good college programs, most of us were more focused on good times. i, to be honest, didn’t have a clue.

The first department to which i was assigned was Operations. CIC was fun. Tracking contacts on the radar, learning how to determine maneuvering board solutions for contacts’ Closest Point of Approach (CPA), and working out maneuvers of our ship getting where it should for formation steaming was not work. It was flat fun. Learning how to stand behind the glass status boards and writing backwards was almost a game.

i loved my time on the signal bridge with the signalmen. Being midshipmen and therefore unwisely undaunted by regulations, the evening (2000-2400), mid (0000-0400) and morning (0400-0800) watches often found me and my middie buddies climbing into the signal flags basket, a canvas bag about six by four feet that held the signal flags, most of which were about two-feet square, hung on rods at the top of the bags. It was a dank but fairly comfortable place to sleep even if was against all watching standing regulations.

Before we reached our first first liberty port, i was reassigned to Weapons Department. Nearly all of my time there was uneventful. The best part for me was standing lookout on the bridge wings, especially in the night watches. The dark, deep hole of after-steering was the most joyless watch i think i ever stood.

Just before we reached our first liberty port, we finally rendezvoused with the other ships and were close enough for the destroyer that had my seabag refueled from the oiler and in the process transferred it by hi-line. When we then came along the oiler for fuel, my seabag came across by hi-line. i think i hugged it. i was not infatuated with those camel leather boots and was glad to return them.

Finally, we reached Sydney, Nova Scotia as the summer rolled into July. All of the other ships continued east about 250 miles to Halifax. This is where i learned about the old Navy. By the time i reported to my first ship as an ensign, quite a bit had changed.

The big event was Canadian Independence Day on July 1st. It was a Monday, and the Sydney folks had a great day. i was one of the six midshipmen assigned to be escorts to six young women who were the hostesses of the parade. It was a fine moment. Think of a small town July 4th parade in a small town and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what it was like. We dressed up in summer dress whites and made picture-perfect escorts.

Being a midshipman didn’t make much of a splash with the young lady i escorted. After the parade, i and several of my middie buddies headed to the nearest bar and called, “Mabel, Black Label,” the commercial ditty for Carling’s biggest selling beer at the time. One of us had gone elsewhere, met a girl who introduced us to several more Canadian lasses that evening. We spent the bulk of the remaining liberty running around with these ladies. That, of course, was truncated as we stood a 24-hour watch every third day. Our liberty expired at 0100.

On the penultimate day in our first port, we conspired to have more time with those ladies. One of our first-class midshipmen would be standing the mid-watch as Officer of the Deck (OOD) on the quarterdeck. He agreed to our not returning on time and not reporting us for UA. We planned to come back to the ship around 0230 to 0300. Off we went. The captain had been the CO of a submarine and disdained running with the wardroom. When he went on liberty, he would go with a bunch of chiefs. He too took off with his CPO buddies.

It was a Friday night. The town held its usual weekend dances in the dance hall in the middle of town. Sailors being sailors made a beeline to the dance hall after a day of a lot of calling out Mabel for Black Label. The CO and his chiefs had found a cozy bar on the edge of town to toss ’em down, although i expect the fare was whiskey and gin, not many Black Labels. We were in a nice home outside of the city proper, actually having a quiet, nice, evening with our new lady friends.

Then, hell broke loose, maybe not all hell, but it apparently was close. The local boys did not appreciate the sailors making runs on their women at the dance hall. It became tense and got worse. Finally, a sailor and a town boy threw some punches. It quickly escalated into a brawl and got worse. Soon, all downtown was a brawl, nasty. The local police attempted to quell it, but unsuccessfully. The ship and the town declared Lloyd Thomas’s liberty was cancelled. All liberty.

The midshipmen on their lark and the captain and his buddies were blissfully unaware.

We actually called off our soiree a bit early, returning to the ship around 0200. To our dismay, our conniving abettor no longer was the OOD. The executive officer, in the absence of the commanding officer had replaced the middie with a lieutenant department head to have an experienced officer in charge.

We were caught. Unauthorized Absence (UA). The XO was livid and made sure we were put on report. Even today, i wonder how he was dealing with his boss still not back, location unknown.

Several of us decided to stick around on the main deck as sailors were still straggling back from the town-wide brawl. We were amazed as the steady stream of sailors came across the quarterdeck, every one of them with some evidence of a fight. Our favorite was a third class petty officer. He stumbled across the brow using the hand rails to keep him upright. He reported to the quarterdeck, was written up, and proceeded aft to his berthing. We stopped him, actually because we were worried about him. He was in his sock feet. His face was bludgeoned. His uniform was bloody, muddy, and his white blouse was ripped to shreds. In addition to his shoes, he had lost his dixie cup and his navy blue scarf. We asked him if he was all right and asked how he fared in his fights.

His reply: “I came back, didn’t I?” He turned and headed for his rack with no further comment.

Thinking we had reached the zenith of entertainment, we started to disburse when two cabs pulled up to the brow. The captain and five chiefs piled out of the cab. The stumbling chiefs were holding their CO up as the they reeled across the brow. The XO frantically tried to convey the seriousness of what had happened. The captain, rolled his eyes when the XO told him all liberty had been cancelled.

“Bullshit,” the CO resisted. “Liberty for all hands!”

The exec, realizing this was not a good place for further discussion, had the chiefs escort the CO to his in-port cabin, and rescinded the edict resuming liberty.

The next morning, many hung over bodies, including the captain, set sea detail. i was on a detail with first division on the forecastle. The ship got underway and began to navigate out of the narrow channel. A medium size Japanese fishing vessel was anchored on the edge of the channel. i do not know what happened, but some conning errors occurred, and the Thomas veered toward the craft. The crew was on the weather decks, many eating their breakfast, when they realized the destroyer was headed for them. i watched in amazement as the big ship sideswiped the smaller fishing vessel. The vessel’s crew scrambled. Chopsticks were flying. Many of the crew ran to the port side and abandoned ship with an assortment of dives and jumps.

i was not into international law, international relations, any news that did not involve sports, not to mention we were on our way out to sea for another month or more. So, i don’t know what happened to the collision aftermath except for our ship, it was very minor. Nor do i know what were the ramifications, but i do know that captain remained there for the duration of our cruise.

It was a different world and a different Navy.

“For those of you, probably a very few, to relate: “The Adventures of Remo Williams” continues.

A Tale of the Sea and Me (for Sam), part 003

The continuation of Chapter 2:

i assumed i was over the hump with the hijinks of the sailors dealt to midshipmen. It was not over that day and would not be for almost half the cruise.

When the Lloyd Thomas cleared the bay, we and the other ships headed south. i’m guessing there was an exercise for the USS Intrepid (CV 11) flotilla requiring going south. i did not know at the time, and the concern was far from my mind, at the time, but our first liberty port would be in Nova Scotia about three weeks away.

The efforts to find me some clothes would not reach fruition until the next day. i was stuck in my service dress khaki worn for over 72 hours, sweaty, smelly. i had taken off the cover, tie, and blouse, but it was still bad.

i went to the organization meeting for midshipmen and was assigned to operations for my first department. The midshipmen were to spend time in operations, weapons, and engineering during their cruise. i went down and aft to the midshipmen berthing, and while the other middies were emptying in their seabags in their small lockers below the three-tiered racks (beds) i was depositing my discarded blouse, cover and tie in mine.

i had the lower rack of three one row off the centerline. For those who weren’t on Navy ships in the 1960’s, the racks were aluminum frames not quite three-feet wide and about six feet, six inches long. A piece of canvas had grommets where hemp 1/2 inch lines went through and laced the canvas to the frame. the bedding was about a 2-1/2 inch straw mattress with a sheet bag. A sheet, pillow with case, and a tan or grey wool blanket completed the bedding. The canvas sagged enough, especially if the middie above was large, enough where one could not roll over. If one wish to switch positions, rolling over was impossible. You had to get out of the rack and crawl back into the desired new position.

It was time for the evening mess on the mess decks. The mess decks were forward on the first deck. One entered into the chow line, cafeteria style, collected the fare on a metal tray and found a seat on the metal table and chairs. This first mess at sea, perhaps because the midshipmen were there was a bit different than most of the menus. The fare was greasy pork chops, pork and means, and mashed potatoes. i i’m sure there was more items but i don’t recall.

What i do recall is after all the middies had gone through the chow line and found a place to sit, we were treated to a parade. About a half dozen sailors had assembled somewhere near the chow line and handed out sardines from a can. About four sailors tied the sardines onto a string. Then, they paraded through the mess decks making sure the midshipmen were watching. They held the sardines above their heads, dropped them into their mouths, swallowed and announced the sardines were much better the second time around. Then they would pull the sardines out on the string and continued the process as they strolled my the mess deck tables where the middies sat.

Once again, a large numbers of midshipmen lost it and headed for the weather decks or barf bags. Perhaps my aroma was like an invisible shield. The act did not disturb me. Shortly after the mess, i went back to my rack. i was scheduled for the mid-watch (0000-0400). It had been one hell of a day.

It was not over.

About 2315 (11:15 pm for landlubbers), the messenger of the watch roamed through the midshipmen berthing, awaking those who were to go on watch. That meant me. i put back on the stinky uniform, and headed for midrats on the mess decks. The midrats (or midnight rations for those going on the midwatch) consisted of greasy grilled cheese sandwiches and coffee.

i gulped mine down and headed to CIC to arrive in time to relieve the watch at 2345. Unknown to this greenhorn, sitting on a ship facing forward or aft was the worst for dealing with the sea rolls. Of course, the radarmen on watch sat me on one of the view radar repeaters facing forward, not toward port or starboard.

Combat Information Center was always at darken ship with only red lighting to retain night vision and have clear vision for watching the radar repeaters. The repeaters were dark, machinery grey, four-foot high, 2 1/2 feet cubes with a dark green circular screen on top. The radar sweep emanated from the center and swept around the circle. If blips occurred on the screen, they were “contacts,” surface ships. i was determined to do a good job and sat focused on the screen.

By this time, we were off Cape Hatteras. i learned later that the sea around the cape was the worst for bad seas. It certainly was that night. We were taking on some serious rolls. i felt a bit queasy.

That’s when the radarmen decided to achieve their goal of getting me sea sick. They all lit up cigars and walked by my station, blowing the smoke into my face as they gave me instructions on what to watch.

It was 0100 in the morning. i smelled to high heaven in clothes i had worn for three days in hot weather. i was rolling with the ship in a dark warm space after being subjected to fake barf and sardine swallowing and re-swallowing.

And finally, i was beginning to feel sick, sea sick. i could feel the need to vomit swelling up. i could feel my innards coming up. And then, i told myself i was not going to give these guys the pleasure of me succumbing to their efforts.

i swallowed whatever was coming up, and and stared at the radar screen.

i did not get sea sick. i made it through the mid-watch. The next morning, the crew had assembled enough uniforms to give me something to wear until my seabag finally arrived. The one thing that stood out was the only available shoes were camel leather boots one sailor had bought during a visit to an Arabian liberty port in the Mediterranean. They had a distinctive odor about them, but that aroma was certainly tolerable after four days of smelling me.

i had passed big test. To this day, i am convinced my refusal to become sea sick has served me well. On ten ships, in some of the worst seas possible over 14 years of sea duty, i was never sea sick. i even cared for shipmates and cleaned up the mess they made.

And if you are going to become a mariner not getting sea sick is a wonderful thing.

i was then ready to learn about being a sailor, a crazy, mischievous sailor, but a sailor none the less.

A Tale of the Sea and Me (for Sam), 002

After reading my first post on my serial book, several folks have asked me about the periodicity for publishing. i was astounded, even felt complimented that there are folks out there who think i might have a plan, and if i did, i might just might stick to it.

Well, that ain’t the case, folks. My plan is for this to be my top priority in writing until it’s finished. They may come out daily or every week or so. i hope this does not disappoint you, but i am retired (except for this, you see), and i really do things when the mood strikes. We’ll see. i hope you enjoy.

And Sam, you don’t have to enjoy. You don’t even have to read, at least right now. But these are for you.

You Are In the Navy Now, Chapter 002

My Navy sea stories at Vanderbilt are limited except for the third class midshipman cruise in the summer of 1963. But to give Sam of an idea of how i got to my sea stories, here’s a very truncated recap:

i made several bad decisions. i partied and i drank, too much of both. In two years and one summer semester, i flunked out. That venture and the ensuing ones are stories of their own. But the summer after my first year, 1963, served as my introduction to sea stories…and there were several doozies.

The first began before i actually boarded my first ship for the third class midshipman cruise, the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764). i had unwisely taken the travel money to get to Newport, Rhode Island where i would embark on the Thomas. Most midshipmen took the paid airfare to arrive. I ended up not making any money as was my plan. My choice was traveling by bus. i left Nashville on a Trailways at noon on Saturday and arrived in Newport at 0700 on Monday morning. It was 42 hours of travel in an unseasonably warm early June with stops for travelers departing and boarding and meals. It was all in the only service dress khaki uniform i had. It was a dress khaki shirt with black tie, gabardine khaki trousers and blouse, black shoes and socks and a combination cover, again khaki.

When my bus reached downtown Newport, to put it politely, i stunk.

Things got worse. When they offloaded our seabags, mine wasn’t there. After some lengthy confusion, the bus agents told me my seabag had not been transferred when we changed buses in Providence, adding it should arrive on the next bus and would be delivered to my ship before we got underway.

It didn’t.

i was stuck with no uniforms. None, not my other dress uniforms, not my midshipmen working khakis, not my dungarees, not my middie dixie cup caps with the blue fringe, not my underwear and socks, not my toiletries.

As the Thomas got underway, someone sent a message stating my seabag was just delivered to another ship on the cruise and would be transferred by hi-line, which should occur soon. “Soon” turned out be three weeks.

i was not distraught, but “concerned” is too mild.

When we all met the executive officer in the wardroom, he greeted us, gave us some ground rules for being part of ship’s company, then told us we would muster on the 02 level forward of the bridge above while we stood out of the channel to sea. Before we left the wardroom, he directed the ASW officer, the midshipmen coordinator, to see if they could get some enlisted dungarees for me to wear until my seabag arrived. He also directed the supply officer to open up ship’s store and let me purchase toiletries…after we were secured from sea detail.

We filed up to the 02 level where Mount 52 had been removed during the Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization Program the year before i came on board. She was a “FRAM 2,” which meant she did not get an Anti-Submarine Rocket (ASROC) launcher and her torpedo tubes remained amidships unlike the FRAM I, which had the ASROC launcher amidships and torpedo tubes where Mount 52 had been.

The 18 third-class midshipmen and the 3 first-class midshipmen fell into formation in full view of the bridge a deck above and aft of us. For the duration of the approximate six nautical mile transit to the sea buoy, we stood at parade rest with an occasional at ease. For the first 10 minutes, we were at parade rest.

Now midshipmen were considered “fresh meat” for pranks by the crew. We were even better than recruits for the sailors could yank the chains of college students. They delighted in such fun, and the chief petty officers were the champion pranksters. One senior chief was the star. His target was the formation of midshipmen.

He grabbed one of the small paper “seasick” bags hung on hand rails around the ship when the ship first got underway for those who had to adjust to the sea, getting their sea legs, and likely getting sick several times. The senior chief struck below to chief’s quarters and the galley. He grabbed a large handful of graham crackers, crunched them up in the seasick bag, and then filled the bag with milk. He shook the bag until he was sure the mixture was complete.

Then he went up the port ladder to the deck where we were in formation. the senior chief was under the port bridge wing so anyone on the bridge could not see him. But by cutting our eyes while at parade rest, all of the midshipmen could see and hear him.

He was seemingly ignoring us but proclaimed, “Yep, every time i have gone to see for 18 years, i have to get sea sick before getting my sea legs.” He paused and said in a distressed voice. And it’s happening again.”

With that, he began to gag and choke and leaned against the safety lines. He leaned his head over the safety lines and brought the seasick bag up to his mouth. For about a half minute, he feigned retching, gagging, and, as we called it, chucking up into the seasick bag.

By now the midshipmen had dropped their parade rest and were earnestly watching the drama unfold. The senior chief raised the bag in his hand up to his mouth again and tilted it up again as he announced, “And there is only one way to cure it.” He began pouring the mixture down his mouth making sure most of the contents missed and poured down his face and uniform and on the deck. He crumbled the bag and threw it over the side, turned and struck below.

That did it. Only three of the midshipmen remained in formation. The rest had rushed to the sides and were barfing like crazy, some too soon to make it to the side. The bridge was amazed to watch what they must have believed were the greatest collection of pansies in midshipmen uniforms that they had ever seen.

To this day, i will never understand why i was one of the three who did not get sick. i didn’t feel that good, but i made it through that ordeal, little realizing the worst was to come before my first day at sea was completed.

Perhaps it was an omen about my Naval career long before i had any intention of making it a career.

(Chapter 2 to be continued)

A Tale of the Sea…and Me (for Sam)


This is a different way for me to tell stories, sea stories to be exact. It is not for the faint of heart, the politically correct, or the pious. i am writing it to give my grandson an idea of what my life was like and what i experienced.

It is also written to share sea stories, wonderful tales of what used to be in our Navy on ships at sea. Until my last two tours, my Navy was all men on steam ships, mostly old steam ships, but very, very reliable for accomplishing their mission. It was a man’s world then. We cussed, we chased women on liberty, and we drank too much on liberty. We were as close to “Fiddler’s Green” as any mariner would ever get. Oh yes, we laughed a lot.

This is sort of a Charles Dickens kind of thing. i am not in the financial position to publish another book. As i write this, both of the books i have published, one, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems through a “print on demand” company, and my last one, Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings, which was self-published, are in the red. So my idea is to publish this book as a serial as Dickens did with a number of his novels. Therefore, the serial will not have an editor other than moi, which means it is likely to have a lot of errors.

if there appears to be enough interest, or if an “angel” steps forward, i may decide to go ahead and publish in one manner or another. But for now, you get what i got. And what i got is nearly thirty years of sea stories,

As much as possible, when there are negative characterizations of the folks in these sea stories, i will attempt to make them fictional. That is, of course, unless i am that folk. i can laugh at myself, and i don’t have a problem with others laughing with me. But i don’t wish to hurt anyone’s feelings while telling funny stories about another time, another place in a world that no longer exists.

i would like to know how you feel about these serial posts other than this is gross, this is inappropriate, this is disgusting, kinds of comments.

You see, during my Navy service, i was somewhat of a swashbuckler, although it was more swish than swash. i loved most of it. It was unlike any civilian pursuit or any pursuit that did not include long deployments at sea. And these sea stories are indicative of the environment that shaped me.

Sam, both of my grandfathers both died before i was born. i have always longed to know what they were like. Due to many things, distance, time, etc., i have never spent enough time for me with you in your youth. i want to give you a clear and unadulterated idea of what i was like. These sea stories are a a large piece of me.

i hope you understand.

Chapter 1: How It Began

My life can best be described as chequered. I don’t know why. I am not really sure why.

But it has happened.

Through it all, the Navy has had a thread in my life beginning with my birth.

In January 1944, my father cobbled together enough liberty passes from his friends in the 75th Seabee Construction Battalion to spend about a week back home. He took a train from Gulfport, Mississippi to Nashville. His battalion was awaiting a liberty ship to take them to the Western Pacific. He was there when i was born at 7:30 in the morning, 19 January 1944. He left the next morning to catch a train back to Gulfport. The Seabees were a branch of the Navy. After my mother and aunt took me to Gulfport in May so he could see his infant son, he left for over two years in the middle of the Great War in the Western Pacific.

It wasn’t until my junior year at Castle Heights Military Academy that the Navy entered my thoughts again. Someone, perhaps Col. Brown, our professor in calculous our senior year, informed us a Navy scholarship was available. Lee Dowdy, another town boy who was much less frivolous than I, pointed out we should try for that. The Naval ROTC scholarship paid for tuition, provided books, and gave the students $50 a month (a huge sum in 1962) toward room and board. Being awarded the scholarship would open up the possibility of attending some of the best universities in the country for us.

Lee and i were both making good grades and while applying – we were filling out much of the required paperwork for the NROTC scholarship and others in the “Cavalier” room, the journalism center for the award-winning newspaper, The Cavalier, and The Adjutant, the school’s annual.

When we reached the section where we were required to enter our top three choices for colleges to attend, Lee and i discussed our options. We both expressed the desire to attend Duke.

Then, as just about any two 18-year-old boys i have ever known, we figured out how to outsmart our seniors. We figured we would be less likely to get our desired program if both of us applied for Duke since we were from the same high school. I demurred.

I put Vanderbilt as my top choice, Duke as my second, and Michigan as my third – Jimmy Gamble and i had dreamed of playing football at Michigan since we were the co-captains of our junior high team.

Lee got Duke. I was awarded a scholarship to Vanderbilt.

And so, my life with the Navy began. Although i have delved in numerous other pursuits, The Navy, or more accurately being on Navy ships at sea, is me, part of the core of me.