Back when Navy ships were steam powered and a new concept in engineering plants had just begun, i was the Weapons Officer aboard the helicopter carrier USS Okinawa (LPH 3) homeported in San Diego.
The new program established the Propulsion Examining Board (PEB) to drastically improve the engineering plants of the fleet. The Navy appointed the most experienced and knowledgeable officers and enlisted in engineering to the board and subsequently those personnel conducted the much feared Operational Propulsion Plant Examinations (OPPE’s). If a ship underwent an OPPE and failed, it was more than likely the commanding officer, executive officer, and chief engineer would be “relieved for cause,” a career ending punishment.
i had experience with the OPPE’s on two ships although i was not directly involved. Neither was pleasant. i also had a tour as Chief Engineer aboard the USS Hollister (DD 788), and it was undoubtedly one of my toughest tours. So i was alert to all of the happenings on the waterfront when it came to engineering plant readiness.
One ship, a cruiser also homeported in San Diego, which will remain unnamed here, had undergone an OPPE. The ship failed, and as predicted, the CO, XO, and CHENG were relieved. The bureau of personnel picked a commanding officer to take over who had the reputation of being a superb engineer and unrelenting in driving ship’s force to prepare the ship’s plant for the next round of the inspection.
This CO drove everyone aboard to focus on preparations. His deck, weapons, operations, and administrative people were put into the fire rooms and engine rooms to properly prepare and then paint all of the spaces. They also provided support in administration and training to the engineers who worked harder than the rest of the ship with 16 hour days being the norm while they trained and brought all of the equipment up to expected standards. It was grueling work hours and the new CO was unrelenting in driving his crew toward the goal.
There was one machinist mate who was the leading grouser about what he was going through. He had been called on the carpet several times for his resistance and even had mouthed off to the commanding officer.
As was his habit, the CO had come in one morning at 0400 to inspect some of the work that was being accomplished. After checking out the progress, he had a cup of coffee and returned to his car to retrieve something he had forgotten to bring on board. When he approached his parking spot, reserved for the CO, he discovered his car had been riddled with bullets.
He was sure he knew who did it, the resistant machinist mate. The CO marched back to the ship and went directly to main control where he knew the second class petty officer was working on a piece of gear.
“Did you shoot up my car?” he angrily confronted the sailor.
“No, sir,” the sailor replied.
“If i had done it, you would have been in it”