A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam) – Installment 20

As noted, it was my summer for learning the Navy way.

A major lesson came mid-summer. i was with a number of my first division sailors who were cleaning the ship’s midship passageway. In addition to all of the weather decks and the hull, the deck seaman also had the responsibility for most of the shared interior spaces, particularly the passageways, what landlubbers would call halls.

Our Engineering Department had a special sailor on board. He really ran the deep hole engineering (fire rooms and engine rooms for the Chief Engineer, the Main Propulsion Assistant (MPA) in charge of the engine rooms, and the “B” Division officer in charge of the firerooms. He was unique and held a rating that only lasted for a few years. During those years, a chief who was a Boiler Tender (BT) or a Machinist Mate (MM), if he passed the requirements he would meld the two disciplines and become a “steam propulsion specialist.” Then, his rating would be SPCS (E8) or SPCM (E9).

Unfortunately, i do not know remember our SPCM’s name. He was a burly six-footer with thick black hair and a booming voice.

The passageway under maintenance was close to the engineering log room amidships. The log room was pretty much the engineering office where records were kept on feed water, freshwater, fuel, oil levels, test results, among others. It was also where our SPCM hung out. i was doing something with my sailors. i don’t know what it was. But i know it was the wrong way to handle things.

Our SPCM emerged from the log room, put his arm around my shoulder, and escorted me respectfully to the port side weather deck. Again, i don’t remember exactly what he said, but i know it had a major impact on me, and because of his counsel, i changed the way i dealt with my men, and it was a major improvement.

The SPCM and my BMC Jones were close friends in the goat locker, aka the chief’s quarters. As a result, they took me into their twosome, and continued to provide me with advice about how to be a better division officer.

After liberty call when we didn’t have the duty, Ensigns Rob Dewitt, Andrew Nemethy, and yours truly were spending a lot of time in Newport. On a Tuesday afternoon when Andrew had the duty, Rob and i repaired to The Tavern, what would be called today a sports bar. We had a beer and went to see a friend of Rob’s in a home nearby. When we left there, we stopped at The Black Pearl, then a shack that served as a lounge for the owner of the three masted schooner of the same name. Barclay H. Warburton III, owned the sailing ship and to have a place to relax, have a drink, and grub, transformed that shack on the pier now Bannister’s Wharf, which had been serving as a sail loft, into a small diner. It was wonderful. We had a sandwich, of course their incredible clam chowder, a beer, and headed back to the ship. It was around 2300.

As i drove down Thames Street, an older couple in a late model Buick pulled out of a side street with no warning. Although i was driving within the speed limit, i tee boned them. It totaled my car. Rob’s head went through my windshield, and i smacked the steering wheel with my face. My car was totaled. The couple escaped with minor injuries. They took us to the emergency room where Rob received stitches, and they patched up my mouth, the front of which had lost another tooth, bringing the total to three front teeth (ha, ha, Brenda Lee). It would be about two weeks before they could replace my two-teeth bridge with a three-teeth bridge. (i was cleared of any culpability).

After several days, Rob was back on the ship, and we returned to normal duty except it would not be a normal week. BMC Jones was retiring the following Monday. The ship was having a change of command on Saturday. So on Friday at early liberty around 1400, the SPCM and BMC Jones invited me to join them at the Lighthouse, a favorite pub for chiefs, to celebrate his retirement with a gin and tonic. the three of us in our summer khakis ordered gin and tonics and toasted BMC Jones. The SPCM did not think one gin and tonic was an adequate salute to my chief. He ordered another for the three of us, and then another. i finally escaped, leaving half of my fourth gin and tonic on the table.

i stumbled back to the ship. Ordinarily, i would have eaten in the wardroom for the evening mess, and then retired to my stateroom in forward officers. But that Friday evening was scheduled for the ship’s hail and farewell party to the outgoing and incoming commanding officers. i drank about a ton of coffee, dressed in a sports jacket and tie, and headed for the small officers club up the hill from the destroyer piers.

In the small club, there was a party going on, and the three star admiral, the commander of Cruiser-Destroyer Fleet in the Atlantic, and his wife were in attendance. i somehow ended up in a conversation with the two of them. Of course, the admiral asked me about my missing teeth while his concerned wife listened. i was still pretty…er, inebriated? i waxed effusively about the event, and they appeared glad Rob and i had not been hurt worse. i walked back down the hill to the ship and my rack.

The next day was a grand event: the formal change of command ceremony aboard the USS Hawkins (DD 873). Our commanding officer was being relieved by CDR Maxwell Lasell, a large, physically impressive Naval Academy graduate with a bald head long before it was de rigueur. The CRU-DES band was on the pier . Immediately beyond the quarterdeck, the fantail had a canvas shade rigged. Eight side boys flanked the entry to the quarterdeck from the brow. Just beyond them, in two ranks stood the honor guard awaiting to be inspected by the admiral and the outgoing and oncoming COs. The officer in charge stood in front at attention in his full dress white uniform complete with his Navy sword resting on his right shoulder…and three missing front teeth. It was Ensign Jewell.

The ceremonies commenced at 1000. The band played “Ruffles and Flourishes” three times as the admiral came aboard. After he was saluted, the admiral proceeded to face the honor guard officer as i ordered my charges to salute as i performed the salute with my sword, bringing the hilt to my chin with the blade pointed skyward, bringing it smartly to my side with the blade at a slight angle toward the deck. When the admiral returned the salute, i ordered “to” and brought the sword back to rest on my right shoulder.

The admiral then asked me, “How are your teeth, this morning?”

“They are fine,” i responded, “Thank you, sir.”

Behind him, i saw my new captain, CDR Lasell, silently chuckling.

i breathed a sigh of relief as they moved on toward the rest of the ceremonies.

i would bid adieu to BMC Jones Monday morning, The SPCM would leave shortly after we entered the yards the next month. And i had found a new mentor to add to the XO, CDR Max Lasell, commanding officer of the Hawk.

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