A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam) – Installment 16

Headed Home the First Time

Once clear of Gibraltar, the at sea routine kicked in with the entire ship. We had 20 days of transit back to Newport. We arrived back to our home port 15 May.

Although i had spent two months at sea on a destroyer in my midshipman training cruise, it was a completely new and fascinating experience as a junior, and i mean junior, officer.

i was a bit deflated when i was told i would be the First Lieutenant in charge First Division until the current ASW officer was transferred in late September. In retrospect, it was a good thing. i learned the aspect of destroyers that went back to sailing ships: deck seamanship. My first chief petty officer was BMC Jones, and no one could have introduced me better as to how the Navy on ships really work.

Lieutenant Steve Jones was the Weapons Officer and my boss as department head. He broke me in well. The other sailor who really became a friend was BM2 Carrier, the division Leading Petty Officer (LPO). He taught me almost as much as Chief Jones on how to be a division officer.

i was learning in my job, on my watches, division work, and how the wardroom works. It was a different world then, and i don ‘t think there is anything like it in the world today. It was old Navy.

* * *

The wardroom dining table was on the starboard side of the wardroom, which was on the main deck, two levels below the bridge. The table sat ten. For the three meals, the oncoming watch’s OOD sat to the left of the CO at the head of the table, his other watch standers, the Engineering of the Watch (EOOW), the CIC Watch Officer (CICWO) and the Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD) followed. The lone exception was the Wardroom Mess Caterer, almost always the Supply Officer sat at the end of the table opposite from the CO at the head. i always assumed that was his position for taking the criticism of the Commanding Officer about the fare. The more senior officers, nearly always the department heads not going on watch, followed until it reached the setting to the right of the Captain. That was reserved for the executive officer. The other officers sat on the large couch that curved around the forward and port bulkheads of the wardroom. They would dine at the second seating along with the off going watch standers.

The table settings would make Emily Post proud. The china was white, the silverware was silver with a soup spoon, a teaspoon, and knife on the right, and the salad fork was on the left side of the setting with the dining fork on the inside. The dessert fork was above the plate. The table cloth was white, ironed with nary a wrinkle. Each officer had his own napkin ring. It was silver, or perhaps pewter. i find it hard to believe ours were silver. In many destroyer wardrooms, including the Hawkins, the napkin rings had been engraved with the initials or last name of the officer. The white napkins in the rings were collected and placed in the napkin drawer to be used for a day or two before the napkins were replaced and washed. The new folded napkins were at the table setting the next mess with the appropriate ring on top of the napkin.

At the time, Navy officers received a Basic Allowance for Sustenance (BAS). The intent was to to pay the officer’s contribution to the wardroom mess. If i remember correctly, mine was $48.00. This supplement to base pay was to pay for the monthly contribution to the wardroom mess. The monthly fee varied greatly. Some CO’s and their mess caterer, normally the supply officer were parsimonious and went cheap on filling the larder. Some preferred dining on the high end and damn the expense, often requiring the officers to pony up more than their BAS.

i think the Hawkins was somewhere in the middle. We ate well, but our fee was stayed within our BAS.

The fare was rather amazing…until we ran out of fresh stores. Eggs, bacon, cereal with milk, were standard choices, waffles, and pancakes were often in the choices and brunch for holiday routines was spectacular. This was of course before real eggs and fresh milk gave way to the powdered versions, which was in pretty short order.

The noon mess was something from the aforementioned Emily Post: soup was served first, followed by a salad, then the entree with vegetables, followed with dessert, all, of course, eaten with the appropriate utensil. A pre-meal prayer was given by the captain or someone he assigned randomly.

The evening mess was varied, often with sandwiches and soup.

The formality at the meals, especially the noon mess, was rigorous.

i confess, it made me feel important, different.

* * *

But to get back to sea stories, as i noted the oncoming watch’s OOD sat to the right of the captain. During one noon mess, the oncoming OOD was a really good guy. I believe his first name was Chris. He sat beside the mercurial screamer of a CO. During the meal, the conversation turned to topic of great interest to Chris. In making a point, he slammed his right hand down on the table. Unfortunately, his soup spoon was in the soup bowl when he slammed. His hand caught the spoon and flipped with a full soup spoon full of soup onto the captain’s face and khaki shirt.

The wardroom went totally quiet, awaiting for the captain to explode. He wiped his face and as much soup as he could off of his uniform and amazingly remained silent.

Chris, forgoing the remaining courses, excused himself and quickly left for the the bridge.

The time went quickly. On Wednesday, May 28, 1968, the USS Hawkins passed the Beavertail Light to port and Brenton Reef to starboard, the line between Inland and International Waters. She tied up around 0900 at the Newport Naval Base destroyer piers.

i was about to experience life in port of a Naval officer.


2 thoughts on “A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam) – Installment 16

  1. I really enjoy reading your stories, they are so interesting to me. You have been to so many places and seen and experienced so much

    1. Thanks, Laverne. The Navy let me see a lot of things i never would have had i not had to serve those first three years. My experiences were at a level unavailable to tourists. For that i am also grateful.

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