A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam), Installment 17

The First Summer

Sea stories abounded in those years. There was less regulation, especially about personal behavior. Drinking was part of the culture. Navy ships were not too far removed from “Rocks and Shoals” discipline. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) was not the dominant means of justice it is today. It was a male culture before the new world had put a stop to many shenanigans. Both officers and enlisted were prone to shenanigans.

And i was a part of a shenanigan as soon as we made fast to the pier.

The welcoming party on the pier was roughly about 700 people, mostly dependents of the crew and the wardroom, lots of children. They were all waiting anxiously as the ship’s engineers connected the auxiliary steam, electric power lines, and the phone lines. The boatswain mates double-upped the mooring lines and coordinated public works put the brow onto the quarterdeck before the guests could come aboard.

The Damage Control Assistant (DCA) who had me wait on the tarmac in Malaga, Spain, came to me and asked me for a favor. After i more or less agreed to help him, he told me he had a problem. He told me he had his family on the pier with his fiancé. Then, he added his other fiancé was also on the pier. He wanted me to engage the second fiancé and keep her distracted while he invited his family to the wardroom with the first fiancé, and then escort them off the ship. His plan was for me to then hand off the second fiancé to him so he could apologize for ship’s business causing him to be delayed in greeting her.

i shook my head in agreement, and amazingly agreed to help him, surprising myself. Even more amazingly, we pulled it off. i never saw either of the fiancé’s again, although i came close to meeting the first after he had dumped the second less than a month later, which provided another sea story.

* * *

For the transit back to Newport, i had shared forward officer’s with the Public Affairs Officer (PAO). i wasn’t particularly thrilled to be with him and deduced he was only the PAO because the CO and XO didn’t want him to fill any billet with responsibility and putting him a position that he was desirous of pursuing as a full time specialty made it easy.

Two new ensigns reported aboard. They missed joining me for the flight to Europe and joining the Hawkins before the western voyage by days. Andrew Nemethy was from Boston. Rob (We called him Bob then) Dewitt was from Maine. They were assigned to forward officers with me.

Forward officers was more like a dungeon than officers’ country. It was on the first deck under Mount 52, which was located on the 01 level (one level above the main deck). There was a small head and a row of three desks with cabinets and drawers above and below the pull down desks. If a desk was pulled down, it was difficult to squirm through to get to the other side as there was less than three feet between the after bulkhead and the cabinets. Amidships there was an opening into the racks. The racks were a larger version of the enlisted racks: metal frames with canvas tied to the frame to serve as “mattresses.” There were two racks stacked on each side of the narrow passageway in bunk-bed fashion.

To put it mildly, it was tight, yet nowhere near as tight as living in enlisted berthing. i still wonder why they had four racks in that compartment. It would have been like being in a sardine can had another officer joined the three of us.

i moved to after officers quarters on the main deck after about six weeks. Andrew and Rob adopted the space as home and remained there throughout their tours. However, we forged a bond as the three new ensigns. They remain close friends as i write.

* * *

i didn’t realize it, but one of best learning periods of my Naval career was beginning.

My First Division Chief Petty Officer was Boatswain Mate Chief (BMC) Jones. He was from Arkansas and about to retire there after he had completed his twenty years of service. He planned to start a gem cutting business and had been working toward that end. He was about 5-9 with skin you would expect on someone who had spent twenty years on small craft and the weather decks of a destroyer. It looked like alligator skin. He was thin, wiry, and and strong, reminding me in that way of my father.

Chief Jones first taught me how to be an ensign division officer. He worked with me before quarters each morning to be sure i was relating the news and direction for the coming workday. Most importantly, he kept me in line to not only play the part but actually become the leader of the division. i remain amazed he did this while always playing the supporting role, always making sure the sailors knew i was in charge. Most of our sailors were close to my age. Yet because of Chief Jones, there was no question as who was in charge: me.

To this day, i remain convinced that the toughest job in any organization is the Navy chief petty officer’s job as a division chief (i’m pretty sure this position in the other military organizations is similar, although not as formal as the Navy’s (CPO’s wore different uniforms, closer to the officers’ uniforms than the sailors’ dungarees and crackerjacks).

We shall call the seaman apprentice Wilson. He came on board after we had returned from the MED. SA Wilson was a strapping young man, about 6-2, and in good shape, about 180-200 pounds. He immediately created the ire of the Leading Petty Officer (LPO) BM2 Carrier. Wilson claimed he was getting seasick when the ship was moored to the pier. Carrier thought Wilson was a sea lawyer, one of the most despicable terms to apply to a sailor.

After a couple of weeks on a Friday, i had gone down to inspect first division’s berthing compartment after noon liberty call. Wilson was sitting on his bottom rack. He was not a happy sea lawyer.

In those days, “liberty cards” were used to control the crew’s liberty. Destroyers had been almost exclusively in three section duty, unless they were deployed when they went to port and starboard, two sections. By this time, 1968, many were in four-section duty when stateside, and three when they were deployed. Each sailor had a “liberty card,” about the size of a business card that denoted what section the sailor was in. In my memory, they were different colors, but i’m not sure. Each morning at quarters, the chief or LPO would hand out the liberty cards to those in the duty section that would have liberty. Each evening or whenever liberty expired, the quarterdeck would take to liberty cards from sailors coming back aboard. The process continued every day unless it was holiday routine, when the LPO would go through the berthing compartment and hand out liberty cards to the off going watch.

Regardless, on a Friday, liberty call went down at noon. The sea lawyer had apparently done something that hacked off Carrier, the division LPO. At quarters that morning, Carrier handed out the cards, but did not give SA Wilson his card. Wilson could not go ashore without his liberty card and would have to remain on board for the weekend unless the card somehow showed up.

When he saw me, the sea lawyer began a rant, going on about he was going to put us all on report for denying him his liberty card. It was the way things were done back then, but certainly not according to the UCMJ even then.

i was perplexed, trying to deal with a situation i had never had confronted. Carrier had gone ashore. i couldn’t consult with him, and besides, this required an immediate judgement from me. As i puzzled, BMC Jones descended the ladder down into the compartment. He asked me what was going on. i responded.

Then Chief Jones, probably 150 pounds soaking wet, turned to Wilson. He grabbed Wilson’s chambray shirt near the top button, shoved him back into the bulkhead, and pushed him upward until the startled Wilson was on his tiptoes. My CPO told the sailor in no uncertain terms, using the most exquisite sailor talk (for the uninitiated, this mean it included enough cussing to fill a book), that he was going to remain on board, and if gave his division officer, me, any grief, he, BMC Jones, would take care of the problem.

Wilson was shaking, mumbling, “Yes, Chief, aye, aye,” and, “I’m sorry Mr. Jewell, i was out of line.”

That was when i realized the power of chief petty officers and also learned, controlled displays of anger, could be a positive leadership tool.

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