A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam) – Installation 23

Louie Guimond, Part 2

Two of the greatest benefits i had for ending up with a Navy career were my first executive officer and second commanding officer on my first ship, the USS Hawkins (DD 873).

Commander Max Lasell relieved Captain Thomas Nugent in August 1968. He became Captain while he was the Hawkins the commanding officer. He not only gave me so many points about how to be a Navy officer i cannot recite them all, he gave me his trust and his support, which was invaluable both in that first tour and later in my life. i will write of him later.

* * *

LCDR Louis Guimond was remarkable. He could have been a comic book hero, someone so terrific, so unique, it would be difficult to believe he actually existed if i hadn’t been there.

He joined the Navy in World War II and was assigned to submarines where he became a sonarman. He rose in the ranks and became a Mustang, an enlisted sailor that was so good, the Navy made him an officer, not a limited duty officer, not a warrant officer, but a line officer. He rose to the rank of CDR and retired in his last operational tour, the USS Prairie (AD 15). One of the appeasing reflections i had when my last operational tour was XO of the USS Yosemite (AD 19) was knowing that was my first XO’s last tour.

Louie was about 5-8, extremely fit, and a very good athlete. He had premature white hair. His wife, Natalie, was beautiful. They were devout Catholics. i spent the afternoon with them when i was en route to Vietnam. Louie had been transferred to San Diego when i still had about six months before rotating off the Hawkins in December 1969. Their son, Louis Jr. was about sixteen.

As the Hawkins exec, Louie was very strict with the crew. i’m guessing that is because he was a bit wild when he was enlisted and made sure his crew would not be able to cavort like him. Consequently, the crew did not like him at all. They respected him, but they didn’t like the strictness. The wardroom loved him. He laughed and pulled tricks and made every officer comfortable.

i’ve often thought about how he broke one of the rules about being an XO that for a while bothered me. The first and primary rule in the XO book of rules is to support the commanding officer even if you don’t agree with him. Our first CO was the brunt of Louie’s best jokes. For example when the ship was on liberty in Naples, he convinced the CO he should not buy a reel-t0-reel tape recorder that was vertical, that he should get one where the reels were horizontal on the top of the recorder because gravity would make the vertical reels go slower.

My favorite tale occurred just before i reported aboard. The day before Hawkins was getting underway after a week of liberty in Naples, Italy, the navigation team, as usual, had a navigation brief in the wardroom. The XO, as with most FRAM destroyers and many other Navy ships as well, was the navigator. His assistant was a senior lieutenant junior grade (LTJG) named Chris (i cannot recall his last name as i write), a nice guy and competent junior officer. They had the Naples harbor chart and surrounding waters spread out on the wardroom table. The XO went through the brief meticulously covering all possibilities.

* * *

As he closed, the commanding officer, a very conservative ship driver, looked down, and asked what was the object below the proposed track the XO had laid out on the chart.

“Is that a sunken ship, a ship wreck?” he asked concernedly.

“Yes sir,” the XO replied, “but its highest part, the mast, is 70 feet below the surface, well clear of our draft (with the sonar dome, the draft on the Hawkins was just over 20 feet).”

“XO, in no way do i want you to put us anywhere that wreck,” the captain asserted.

Chris and Louie knew it would be useless to protest, and even though it would make back out of its mooring more difficult, they laid out an alternate plan.

The next day at sea detail, the ship got underway. The XO ignored the alternate plan and backed down the initially planned track. As the ship backed down, the captain was looking forward and aft to check for any craft or obstacles. He asked, “Chris, how are we doing on that shipwreck?”

Chris replied much to the navigator’s dismay, “We are doing well, captain; backed right over it; it was well clear.”

The captain’s reaction was not, shall we say, pretty.

* * *

Louis seemed to take the junior officers under his wing. i vividly recall one summer day in Newport, 1969. For some reason, the XO and i were standing on the port bridge wing while the ship was moored outboard in a nest of three destroyers. Looking out over the pier area, the XO spoke to this green, wet behind the ears ensign while looking out over the array of Naval might. “Jim,” he said, “I remember when ships didn’t have all of those antennae wires dishes.” He paused and continued, “They were beautiful back then.”

* * *

When the first CO went on leave in the summer of 1968. Louie was the acting CO and held Captain’s Mast. As mentioned earlier as XO, he was tough and the crew feared him as he would give them no quarter. i had a seaman who had been put on report and for Unauthorized Absence (UA). i was very concerned. The seaman had reported aboard almost six hours late. i was pretty sure Louie would throw the book at the young sailor.

Mast was held on the bridge. When the seaman stood at attention before the podium, Louis asked him why he had not reported as scheduled. Roughly, here is the seaman’s story:

Well sir, my flight got into Logan Airport a bit late, so i hurried to catch a cab. Then when we were going through Callahan Tunnel, the cab driver started hustling me about giving him my guitar. We got in an argument. So i jumped out of the cab with my guitar, i got lost a couple of times but i walked here from the tunnel.

i held my breath. i was waiting for the XO to lower the boom. Louis studied the man’s service record paused for a minute, and said,

“Son, i should give you the max: reduction in rate, half pay for three months, restriction to the ship for thirty days, and 45  days extra duty.

“But that is one of the best stories i ‘ve heard for a long time at mast.

“You are dismissed with a warning.”

i had some extremely good executive officers, and yes, i had several that weren’t good leaders. Of all of them, LCDR Louis Guimond was the best.

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