A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam) – Installment 25

That magical summer of 1968 was about over.

BMC Jones had left. The SPCM had left. My department head, LT Steve Jones, had left. The CO had been relieved. The USS Hawkins (DD 873) was headed for a six-month overhaul in the Boston Naval Shipyard in Charleston, Massachusetts, some 60 miles to the north.

Shortly after we arrived, i would be relieved from my first lieutenant duties and become the ASW Officer. The ASW suite would be undergoing a $4 Million dollar upgrade to the SQS 23G (We called it the 23 Golf”) and the old MK 105 ASW fire control system would be replaced by. The MK 114 ASW fire control system.

Before any of that occurred and because i was still the first lieutenant, i received the assignment of “Tool Control Officer” when we actually did reach the yards. I should have known this was an ominous assignment. Since first division no longer had a chief petty officer or first-class petty officer, BM2 Carrier was the first division LPO, and in charge of the division. Consequently, he became my assistant tool control officer. He was a blessing.

Oh yes, shortly after the Hawk entered the yards, my wedding would occur in Atlanta, Georgia in late September.

Unrecognized by me, my world was about to become greatly different. And i was about to learn some of my most important lessons on how to conduct myself as a Navy Officer on a ship. i was blessed because my new captain was looking over me.

He was an impressive Navy Commander, standing about 6-3, probably around 220, solid, no hair, massive paws that engulfed yours when you shook hands, but elegant, graceful. His smile just sort of took you in, made you feel like you were his friend. It was a while before i saw the anger there. It struck me, when i did see that flash, that his anger was controlled, but more fearsome than most. Only once did i see it flare to explosion. That was about seven months later in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Yet even when i met him at the “hail and farewell” party the night before the change of command, it was apparent you did not want to get on his watch list.

CDR Max Lasell was a Naval Academy graduate. His wife Betty was almost as tall as him with a beautiful smile, dark brown hair. He chuckled when the Admiral asked how my teeth were doing as i presented the honor guard in that change of command ceremony. It gave me a good feeling about what was to come.

What was to come was my learning how to be a Naval Officer, Toward the end of the overhaul, the Navy, playing politics, and public relations decided its origin should be ignored and making its officers who forged ahead with leadership on ships at sea be “specialists:” Surface Warfare Officers. Dumb. Cow-towing to the submarine and aviation boys to make them equal. But that is a discussion i will never win and is for a separate post somewhere, sometime. But CDR Max Lasell taught me how to be a Naval Officer on a Navy destroyer.

It began as we went into the Charleston Naval Shipyard in South Boston. Within several days of entering the yard, the Hawkins went into dry dock. Now this was not an ordinary dry dock. It had built to dock the RMS Queen Mary. The dock was huge. As first lieutenant, i was with first division on the forecastle, primarily for line handling duties.

As the ship entered the huge dock, my first division began to heave the 5″ mooring lines to the line handlers on the edge of the dock. It was a foolish attempt. The distance was too great. We should have used a bolo ( a line with a weight on the end of a messenger line. But i was young, naive as a mariner, and macho. So i decided to see if i could get the mooring line across. Wrong!

Finally, we used the bolo and messenger to get the lines across and the ship sitting on the well deck blocks. My actions and my divisions was a terrible display of poor seamanship.

As we secured, our sound-powered phone talker told me the captain wanted to see me in the wardroom.

The CO and i were the only two in the wardroom. Commander Max Lasell dressed me down. He chewed me up and spit me out for being so stupid. He pointed out rather clearly, i had my men for a reason and i was not supposed to do their job. That stuck with me throughout my Navy career. As i was receiving my just due, i was gaining respect for my commanding officer. As he chewed me out, he was also giving me lessons in deck seamanship and leadership. i was not upset he chewed me out. It was deserved. i actually found myself feeling guilty i had left him down.

My next lesson follows.

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