Category Archives: Sea Stories

The Roughest Seas…for me

Lately, in discussions with former shipmates and  other old sailors, rough seas have been discussed. i experienced rough seas on my first night aboard the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD-764) and fought back seasickness as the radar gang was trying like mad to make me sick (a ritual described here previously). My first ship after commissioning, the USS Hawkins (DD-788) experienced enough bad weather off of Cape Hatteras that she experienced her maximum roll of 45 degrees, dangerously close to her “point of no return,” i.e. if she went much farther she would just keep going and capsize. That was rough. i was chased by a typhoon across the South China Sea, forced out of Hong Kong liberty by another (my wife was there to spend a week with me), and actually in the eye of a hurricane when it was forming in the Caribbean. But in a weekly column in The Lebanon Democrat several years ago, i described the worst storm i experienced in 15-plus years of sea duty.

Notes from the Southwest Corner: Stormy weather? It seems so calm to me

SAN DIEGO – Late last week (2013), a friend called early in the morning to tell me it was raining downtown.

“Rain,” I said, “What rain?” There was no hint of rain only several miles away. “Yep,” Steve responded, “It’s raining real rain here.”

Rain in June is rare here, spot rain even rarer. So there is yet another Southwest weather corner mystery.

The call regenerated thoughts of storms. Even though I was in the eye of a fledgling hurricane as I recently related, it was not the worst storm I experienced.

That storm came unannounced and unwelcomed.

In December 1972, the U.S.S. Stephen B. Luce (DLG-7) returned from a Mediterranean deployment with Destroyer Squadron 24. Being the holiday season, the squadron was allowed to exceed the normal limit of 15 knots.

After crossing the Atlantic on a great circle route to Charleston, SC, the U.S.S. Stanley (CG 32) detached and headed toward its homeport. The other five ships turned north toward Newport, RI, expecting to cover the 1000 miles in about three days, arriving two days ahead of schedule.

There were no warnings about what was ahead. Even without satellites, Navy weather stations normally did a decent job on weather reports, but not this time.

When the storm hit us, wind speeds approached 100 miles per hour, perhaps even more.

The bridge of the Luce was 75 feet above the water line, and green water, i.e. real waves, crashed against the bridge windows almost in relentless rhythm.

We tied bridge watch standers into their posts. Only the officer of the deck (OOD) and his assistant remained unfettered to frequently shift from side to side for better vision. Mostly, this OOD stood behind the center line gyroscope repeater with one arm around a handrail, making small course changes to find a better course.

The bow would climb up a wave and about one-quarter of the 500-foot ship hung in the air above the ocean before crashing down, the bow plunging under water before settling out briefly and starting up the next wave.

Foam covered all the sea except when the wind gave a glimpse of the dark blue ocean. The other ships were often within a 1000 yards but seldom seen except for their masts, the rest of the ship hidden by the waves.

Our watertight doors proved less than that, leaking from the pounding seas. Over a foot of water rolled about the main deck passageways. The galleys could not keep food on grills or steady in the ovens. We ate what was available, cold. We did manage to make coffee for almost five days.

The Luce took innumerable 45 degree rolls. Hanging tightly on a bridge wing, it seemed as if I was parallel to the sea.

When two other officers and I ate in the wardroom, the chairs were tied to the tables, unavailable. We propped ourselves on the floor against the port bulkhead. After a bite or two, the ship rolled fiercely. We lost our seating and tumbled across to the starboard side, sandwiches and coffee flying everywhere.

One enlisted man with the top rack in a three-tiered section was sleeping peacefully when another jolt tossed him out and down, across to the adjacent tier where he landed in the lowest rack with another startled sailor.

The Luce lost two days, arriving in Newport on its original schedule. Two older destroyers arrived about a half-day later. One newer class frigate arrived a day later. The final ship, another frigate arrived a day after that.

On the one frigate that was last in making Newport, a freak wave crashed off a forward bulkhead and ripped a three-foot hole in the back of the forward gun mount. The ship experienced flooding forward but successfully secured the breach with damage control.

When we pulled in, none of the Luce’s usual weather deck projections remained: life lines, fire stations, and damage control equipment were gone. Ladders (stairs to the landlubber) between decks had disappeared. Plenum chambers for air vents had been ripped back from the exterior bulkheads, eerily resembling giant wings.

Remarkably, we only had one major injury. At the storm’s onslaught, our assistant navigator took a dive into the brass around the chart table and cut a gash in his forehead, requiring several stitches.

Strangest of all, the sun shone daily through the entire ordeal.
Never before and never after have I been so glad to be home for Christmas.

2/2

Long Ago, A Sea Story

My brother Joe and i talked this morning. It’s a long way between the Southwest and Northeast corners of this country, but during our phone calls, the distance seems to melt away. Today, we talked of COVID and the things old brothers and younger brothers talk about, but not politics. We don’t talk politics. Joe always seems to give me a new deeper, philosophical aspect of whatever comes up. i lean on him, sometimes too much i’m sure. i am the ribald one, telling funny stories. Today during our talks, something came up reminding me of a sea story.

Now this sea story occurred a long, long time ago. It was during the time i was the executive officer of the 18-man MSTS (half-way through the Navy changed the name from Military Sea Transport Service to Military Sealift Command, i.e. MSC) Transport Unit One. We rode the MSTS ships carrying Korean troops to and from Vietnam. Our unit was responsible for liaison between the ship and the troops and coordinating, loading, unloading, and maintaining good order and discipline.

One of our staff was a Master Chief. i won’t divulge his name or rating here to protect the guilty. i mean, this was a different time, and this guy and i would be excoriated for what he did and what i’m telling now about what he did. What i’m trying to say is this is not a politically correct post for the current culture of our world and even would have been offensive to many during the time it occurred. That, of course, makes it a wonderful sea story.

This master chief was extremely good at his work and the esprit de corps of the enlisted and officer personnel. He was also an old school master chief.

 *    *    *

The Master Chief’s first misadventure came during one of ours stays in Sasebo, Japan, where the ship went through resupply and maintenance after each roundtrip sail between Pusan, Korea and two ports in Vietnam. After a day of liberty, the master chief reported to the CO and me with his entire head bandaged up.

“Good Lord, Master Chief, “What happened to you?”

“I got my jaw broke,” he replied.

“How?”

“This Japanese wife of one of the chiefs stationed here hit me with her purse,” he nodded his head resignedly.

“Hit you with her purse?” i puzzled.

“Yes sir, XO,” the Master Chief replied, “I was at the chief’s club playing the slots in the game room. i wasn’t doing very well on the one i was one, and i watched this woman and she was doing pretty well.

“So when she left, i went over and started playing that machine. I had just won a small jackpot when she came back. Apparently, she had just gone to the head.

“When she saw i had won some money on the machine she had been playing, she hit me with her purse.”

“She broke your jaw by hitting you with her purse!” i exclaimed incredulously.

“Well sir, her purse was full of quarters.”

 *    *    *

Now the Master Chief enjoyed his liberty. On one stop in Pusan, he decided he would go down to the sizable and wild red light district. He talked the ship’s stewards into giving him a whole uncooked chicken, found a long pole, tied a piece of twine to it, and on the other end attached the chicken. The Master Chief went down to the red light district’s main drag. He hung the pole over his shoulder with the chicken dangling on the twine behind him. Then, he walked up and down the middle of it.

When we found out what he had done, i asked him what in the world he was doing. The Master Chief replied, “I was trawling for a woman.”

He never told me if he caught anything.

 *    *    *

On one of our ports in Vietnam, the Master Chief found an Air Force doc who performed vasectomies. This was in the earlier days of the procedure, at least for the military, and the Navy had not authorized them. So the Master Chief signed up for one on our next trip to that port.

As we pulled into Pusan before the ship’s next trip to Nam, the Master Chief prepared for our one night of liberty there. This time, he had a friend make a sign on a pole, he carried and marched down that same central street of the red light district. The sign read in Korean letters: “Get the Last Live Load.”

Once again, i never learned of the success or failure of his exploit.

i’m glad i never knew what happened.

Before Turning In

Written (and revised today) while the USS Hawkins (DD-873) was in the Portsmouth (Virginia) Naval Shipyard in October 1969 to have her fantail deck strengthened and a crane installed on the port quarter for lifting the Apollo 12 Spacecraft Module out of the water. Hawkins had been assigned as the Atlantic recovery ship in case problems arose with a Pacific recovery where the USS Hornet (CVS 12) was the primary recovery ship and did recover the capsule with astronauts Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon, and Al Bean aboard, November 7. There are a couple of more stories with our involvement, but this was what i was thinking one night in the shipyard.

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, October 1969,
walk around the ship, late,
the command duty officer
checking if all’s well,
night rounds;
on the weather deck,
he turns the collar of
his drab green foul weather jacket
up to ward off the night wind;
cigarettes taste best on the forecastle
when there are lots of stars;
the squalid clutter of a shipyard
disappears after sunset,
and
sometimes he sees better after dark;
he breathes easier
before turning aft
to check the mooring lines once more;
before going below
with his red filtered flashlight
to check the holes and the voids
for watertight integrity
before turning in.

Red Moore

When i began writing this, i thought i previously had written about the Hawkins’ liberty week in Ocho Rios. i could not find it, so i have included it here. i apologize to those who may have read about those infamous three days. This is a tribute to Red Moore. My story is intertwined with Red’s. He was a good man.

i had lost his name, thought it might have been Johnson. Then, another file folder being cleaned out revealed his actual name in three brief lines on a yellowed sheet of notebook paper. i finally had the name  of the guy i had thought about on and off for about for a half-century. It is sad i could not recall his name correctly.

Red Moore.

Boiler Tender First Class Petty Officer Red Moore. i never knew his real first name. And he would have frowned on anyone renaming his rate to “boiler technician.” He was a boiler tender and his fireroom was his church.

USS Hawkins (DD-873).

i was the First Lieutenant and then the Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer in the Weapons Department throughout my near two years on board. Red was, obviously, in the Engineering Department. i had sort of a realization who he was and not much more until an early April (i think) liberty port call in 1969.

He remains, after my near twenty-three years of my Navy service, one of my fondest memories. After that fateful weekend, we were friends as well as shipmates. Red Moore was a sailor’s sailor, old style.

And that man knew more about the Hawk than anyone, anytime, not to mention how well he knew how Navy destroyer life was supposed to be lived.

Red reported aboard from boot camp either in late 1950 or early 1951. Red was a fireman apprentice. The Hawkins had been commissioned in 1945 as a straight stick Gearing class destroyer. In the spring of 1949, she was reclassified from a “DD” to “DDR,” the designation for a radar picket destroyer, meaning the DDR’s had a single 3″/50 caliber gun mount removed from the 01 level aft for additional radar equipment. That  year, she also moved from the Pacific Fleet with a home port of San Diego to the Atlantic Fleet and her new home port of Newport, Rhode Island. That is where Red reported on board.

In 1960, her homeport was moved down the coast to Mayport, Florida (Jacksonville). Four years later, she went into the Boston Naval Shipyard to be converted to a FRAM I destroyer (Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization) in 1964 removing the forward Mount 52 gun mount and added ASROC. After the conversion and being relabeled as a “DD,” not a “DDR.” she remained in Newport, her home port a second time around. i joined her in,Malaga, Spain in late April 1968 as she was concluding another Mediterranean deployment.

i include the Hawk’s history here only because Red Moore was aboard that entire time tending his boilers.

When we completed an overhaul in January, 1969, we went to Guantanamo Bay for “refresher training” aimed at getting us ready and certified for Navy operations (many stories here). After about six weeks of the intense, 0400 to 2200 work days for me, with one of two days liberty in Guantanamo (yippee!) each weekend, the entire ship’s company was ready for a liberty weekend somewhere else.

Friday morning, i arose at 0430 to check the material condition of my Third Division spaces, stopping in the wardroom for a cup of coffee, running to the bridge to relieve as the junior officer of the deck for Sea Detail,  participating in the “low visibility” exercise simulated by taping old navigational charts  on the ports of the bridge, wandering from the bridge to ASW plot to the forward mount and back to the bridge in training exercises, i returned to the bridge to resume JOOD duties as we returned to GITMO to drop off our training team. Reversing course, we headed for liberty. Oh boy!

At the conclusion of sea detail, the CO, Commander Max Lasell, called me over to the captain’s chair on the starboard side of the bridge/pilot house. We had had a turnover that week with a department head and another OOD rotating off the ship.  The captain told me he was qualifying me as the fourth OOD because, he said, i had enough sense to call him at any time i was in doubt about the ship’s location, condition, or safe navigation.

It was about 1800 when we secured from Sea Detail. i had a quick bite at the end of the wardroom mess, worked up the plans for our Monday morning exercises when we returned to GTMO, and lay down for about two hours. After all, this new OOD was assigned the midwatch. i stood the four hour watch, hit the rack at 0400, got up 45 minutes later to be the sea detail JOOD for mooring in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We tied up to the copper mining pier about 0800. Then the fun began.

As ASW officer, i was also the “MWR ” (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) officer and as such had to immediately report to the quarterdeck and meet the tour coordinators from Ocho Rios and gather the information about entertainment and attractions in the area. This took about an hour to arrange all and get the word out to the crew. i had decided i needed rest and was headed to my stateroom for a “NORP” (Naval Officer’s Rest Period) when someone told me i had pulled Shore Patrol Officer duty. As such, i needed to take a tour of the area with the local police to identify the potential trouble spots and determine how our half-dozen shore patrol crew would be deployed. Before liberty call, i was accompanied by the senior enlisted shore patrol petty officer. It was Red Moore.

The story of that day is below, but to continue with my lovely liberty, i was eager for the duty to end, so i could get some sleep before having about six hours of liberty on Sunday before we sailed. Addressing several problems that arose with my division folks kept me up until about 0230. i hit the rack then. Heaven…i thought.

Ninety minutes later, the messenger woke me up.  A copper ship had arrived and our pier space was needed. We set the Sea and Anchor detail and moved to an anchorage. This episode took about three hours. Blessed sleep awaited. Then Ralph Clark, the senior watch officer came to me with an apology. He had not advised Rob DeWitt, the relieving shore patrol officer, he had the Sunday duty, and Rob, being a bright boy, had spent the night in a room at the Playboy Club. Ralph couldn’t get in touch with Rob, so i would have to stand shore patrol duty that day as well. Red Moore had been relieved by another first class and the rest of my “liberty” in Ocho Rios was spent chasing drunks.

i returned to the ship at 1330. We set sea detail at 1500, and got underway, securing Sea Detail at 1730. After being relieved, i went to the wardroom evening mess and retired to my stateroom. But this junior OOD had been assigned the evening watch (2000-2400). i awoke after just over an hour of sleep and headed to the bridge. After the watch, i returned to the wardroom for midrats (midnight rations, and man, you just can’t miss midrats if you are a sea dog), once more finding my rack, this time around 0030. Ahh, such  pleasure.

However, we had to set Sea Detail at 0400, and i had to check condition Yoke in my spaces before that. So i was up at 0315, checked my spaces, and reported to the bridge. We arrived at Gitmo at 0630, picked up the trainers, and headed back to sea.

On our liberty weekend, i had about ten hours sleep over the three days and no liberty for our “liberty” weekend.

But you know what? It was worth it to be able to tell this tale and spend a day of duty with BT1 Red Moore. Red made my job as shore patrol officer a piece of cake. He knew sailors and knew where they would go to get in trouble, what kind of trouble they could find, and how to take care of it. He kept me aware but pretty much took charge. He was fun to watch in action.

In the late afternoon, one of our patrols came back to our SP station at a downtown police precinct and reported one hotspot was out in the jungle. Apparently, a clearing had been made and a big tent structure had been converted to a dance hall, complete with a bar. There were a number of huts nearby. The number of prostitutes normally around Ocho Rios was very small. But a bunch of these ladies of the night had been picked up in  the capital of Kingston and bussed across the island, a bit over 50 miles, and deposited at this party town in the jungle. Sailors, being sailors, had flocked there.

Around 2200, Red and i decided we should check out the place as liberty was expiring. It wasn’t expiring at fantasyland. It was hopping there. The band was playing loud with a driving beat, the bar was doing a brisk business, and women and men filled the place dancing.

When several of the sailors spotted the lieutenant junior grade in uniform, they came over to talk. One was my second class torpedoman. They were trying to buy me a drink, but i kept declining. One of the women asked me to dance. i declined her as well. Then as the group and i were chatting, i felt something between my legs. The spurned dancing lady had her hand on my crotch from behind me. As gently as i could, i removed her hand and with Red walked to the other side of the dance area. There some drunk decided he didn’t like officers and decided to take me on. He confronted me and was about a foot from my face shouting profanity. i tried to think how i could reason with a drunk and if we had enough shore patrol to wrestle him down and get him back to the ship.

Red stepped between us, told the belligerent drunk to calm down. Even though drunk, the sailor knew not to mess with Red Moore. Red ushered me to our truck, and we left. As Red was driving away, i said, “Moore, i appreciate what you did back there, but i could have handled him if he tried to hit me.”

“Oh, Mr. Jewell,” Red replied, “I wasn’t worried about him hitting you. I was worried you might hit him.” He continued, “That would have caused more trouble in so many ways we don’t even want to think about.”

He was right.

After that liberty weekend, BT1 Moore and i spent more time together. We would meet on the weather decks when he had come out of the forward fire room and i had come down from a bridge watch or perhaps during the workday, and just chat, learning about each other.

About nine or ten months later, BT1 Red Moore left the USS Hawkins after 18 years of service on one destroyer. He was planning on retiring in Arizona, his home, after completing his 20 years of active duty. For what we Navy folk refer to as our “Twilight Tour,” Red had been granted his request to spend his last two years as a recruiter in Phoenix, i believe.

Before i left the Hawkins just before Christmas of that year, i learned Red had been killed in an automobile wreck in West Texas on his way to his new duty station.

i had a bunch of enlisted folks who greatly helped me along the way. In my formative tour, BMC Jones, an SPCM whose last name i cannot recall, BM2 Carrier, and the entire sonar gang, ASROC gunner’s mates, and torpedo men were invaluable in teaching me how to be a good officer.

Red Moore was a master of boilers, the Navy Way, and life.  i wish i could have a beer with him right now.

A Moment at Sea: Eight Months Aboard the USS Luce (DLG 7), part I

This began with the idea of it being a couple of sea stories with some of my shipmate stories included. Mike Foster and i just recently reconnected.

As i began, i realized again how that short eight months were some of the most impactful in my life, determining the course i set for my Navy career. i also considered how it would add to my narrative for my grandson. So i began roughly about the time Sam’s mother was born.

i woke up thinking about it. In the middle of the night. Couldn’t get back to sleep for thinking about it. Didn’t want to forget what i was thinking about. If i had not been fearful of that, i probably could have resumed my slumber. Couldn’t. Had to get up and record it.

That happens quite frequently to me.

i used to wake up and start thinking about relationships going south and not understanding why. My brain would get entangled with why the south bound bond had deteriorated. Then, that ole brain of mind would start plotting how to turn it around with me knowing all the while that wouldn’t happen. But then, i have always been a dreamer, an optimist. Finally, i went to a counselor and she (Martina Clarke) was marvelous for me. i don’t think about those kind of things anymore. i accept the fact i can’t control others perception of me. i just have to keep trying to do what’s right. That happens when you get as old as me, i think.

But this was a whole different matter. These were positive thoughts, pleasant. i wanted to save them. Why? i don’t know. My only answer is i am a writer, always have been, just didn’t always admit it.

*     *     *

Recently, i hooked up (electronically) with an old shipmate. We have been communicating quite a bit about Navy things. Mike Foster is the president of World Wide Realty Solutions out of Connecticut. But in 1972-73, he was one of the four OOD’s on the USS Luce (DLG 7) with me, often relieving me on watch. Our communication has brought back recall of the shortest and one of the most rewarding tours i had in my Navy career.

There will be some repeats of my other seas stories in here. Yet, my experience on the Luce should stand as whole as i remember it:

It was a defining eight months of my life. It began because i had applied and been accepted for recall to active duty. i was one of six officers accepted back in that year as surface line officer. A primary reason my application was successful was Captain Max Lasell, the commanding officer on my first ship, the USS Hawkins (DD 873), had appeared before the board and recommended i be accepted.

As with all things, i wasn’t sure i was doing the right thing, but i felt was necessary to adequately provide for my family. i had a promising career (i felt) ahead of me in sports journalism. i was the sports editor of The Watertown Daily Times, a model of excellence as a mid-size daily in upstate New York. i had been successful enough to either rise further in that organization or attain success by moving on to a major daily in a big city. i was confident of my future but the rules of the guild kept management from paying me enough for adequate financial security. Had it just been my wife and i, we could have toughed it out, but our child was scheduled to arrive on the scene. i couldn’t see ends meeting. Thus, i applied to get back in.

Another little problem was my reserve status. Even though i was accepted back for active duty, i was informed if i did not achieve becoming a regular line officer (a designation of 1110, rather than 1105) within a year, i would be discharged. That would have made our situation untenable. So the heat was on.

Our daughter Blythe was born July 7, 1972. i left the newspaper as August rolled around, carted my wife Kathie and our daughter to Paris, Texas via my home of Lebanon, Tennessee, parked them with my in-laws and left at the end of the month to catch my new ship, the  Stephen B. Luce somewhere in the Mediterranean.

i flew to Newark and then caught a MAC (Military Airlift Command, an Air Force organization) to Rota, Spain. After a day, my next flight was to Naples. A LDO lieutenant and two chief petty officers took our one night of liberty to find an off-limit area, not because of the red lights but because one of the chiefs had heard of this great Italian restaurant in the forbidden sector. And so, we went. Somewhere in the middle of Naples, we cut off the main street and walked up a stairway. Now, this was not an ordinary stairway. It was about fifty or sixty feet wide, a street not for vehicles really with a stair level every ten feet or so. We walked up those stairs for about a quarter mile. The chief who had hooked into this adventure nodded toward a single door among the many.

i still don’t have a clue how the chief knew of this place and i am dumbfounded as to how he might have located it. This was long before Google maps. But there we were four Navy personnel in civilian clothes deep in the heart of Naples somewhere, with no capability to speak Italian surrounded by oh, about a gazillion Italians who could not speak English.

We walked in. There were about six tables the size of card tables, covered with white table cloths and a wine bottle candle in the middle of each table. Three of the other tables were occupied. We were led to one in the middle of the room. in a room about twenty by twenty feet. i am not even sure we ordered. i don’t remember a menu. Perhaps the chief used a hand signal.

Quickly, four drinking glasses came out and shortly afterward a bottle of wine, unlabeled with the cork halfway out was placed next to the candle setting. A basket of bread soon followed. Then after about five minutes, the waitress, a portly, dark complected woman, brought out four white plates filled with…yep, spaghetti and meatballs.

Oh lord, was it good. In my recall, it was the best. Everything was perfect. My kind of place. at the top of the front wall, they had a television, i’m guessing a 15-inch set. The ’84 Munich Summer Olympics were on the screen in Italian of course. It was the track and field events they were showing — this was prior to the terrorist killing 11 Jewish athletes, one of their coaches, and a police officer by “Black September” Palestinians. When we finished our meal and the second bottle of that red wine, chianti, i don’t know, but it was good; paid and tipped generously; nodded and nodded our appreciation, we left.

i don’t know how but the chief got us to the main street, we caught a cab and went back to the US Naval Base.

It was good. The next morning, i was the only one to catch a flight to the Kerkyra International Airport on the island of Corfu off the west coast of Greece. i arrived in the mid-afternoon, looking forward to a night on a Greek isle. That’s when i learned the ship would depart for a big exercise the next morning. i stayed aboard and hit the rack early.

Good start to a deployment? Maybe.