NJP Introduction…Mine

These are sea stories about an institution in military life not found in civilian organizations, at least not officially or legally.

For those who haven’t served in the military, the institution is called Non-Judicial Punishment or NJP. NJP is the beginning of the justice system for military organizations, which ends with court martials.

i’m sure the other services will disagree, but because of the nature of being isolated on a ship at sea, NJP is unique in the power it has over the crew and the necessity it has for good order and discipline as well, of course, with justice.

The USS Lloyd Thomas (DD-764) was old school in 1963 when i rode her as a third class midshipman. A “FRAM II” destroyer, she had no ASROC, torpedo tubes amidships, two 5″ x 38 twin gun mounts, DASH, and the amazing hedgehogs.

My first introduction to NJP just happened to involve me. In 1963, i was aboard the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764) as one of 21 third class NROTC midshipmen. Our first liberty port out of Newport, Rhode Island was Sydney, Nova Scotia. We were not aware, or at least i was not impressed with the idea of sticking to rules and regulations. We had just concluded our first year of college, and we were raring to have a good time, which we did.

While in Sydney, liberty on the Thomas was declared by rank: Liberty for second class petty officers and below expired at 2200. First class petty officers and below expired at 2300; Midshipmen and chiefs liberty expired at midnight, and Officers at 0600 (as i recall) before we were to get underway at 0800. On our last night of liberty in Sydney, a half-dozen third class middies executed our plan to have a good time for as long as possible with the assistance of one of the first class midshipmen. He had the duty that last day and had drawn the OOD quarterdeck midwatch. He agreed to not report us if we came back after liberty call during his watch.

We arranged to meet some local young ladies at one of their homes. The crew had found the local dance hall and went there in mass, but we opted to miss that and have our own rendezvous and, of course party, party, party. As i remember, my night was really uneventful, but i did drink a good bit of Carling Black Label (Do you remember, “Hey Mabel, Black Label?) and was happy to stay until about 0200.

That is when our plan pretty much fell apart. When we crossed the brow to report aboard around 0230, our accomplice was no longer the Officer of the Deck. A junior officer had taken over and the Executive Officer, a stern, no fooling kind of guy, was on the quarterdeck.

The dance hall had created some jealousy when the sailors began dancing with girls of the local boys, also at the hall. A fistfight began between a sailor who was dancing with a local was confronted by her boyfriend. The fight expanded until all the men were rioting while the ladies went home. It was a doozy. Bottles of Mabel’s beer were apparently missiles in the air and used as weapons as well.

Liberty was cancelled around 2100 when the shore patrol and local police reported the melee to the ship. The ship was had mustered to see who was missing and began counting heads to ensure everyone got back.

The Exec ordered the quarterdeck to put the six of us on report. We acknowledged but rather than head for our racks, hung around close to the quarterdeck to watch sailors straggle back from the brouhaha. It was a constant but decreasing stream of sailors in varying degrees of disarray.

My favorite returnee was a third class petty officer. He stumbled off the quarterdeck around 0230 on his way aft to his berthing, drunk in partial uniform with his whites torn and bloody and big chunk of his jumper top missing. He also had no shoes or socks. We caught him as he reeled down the weatherdeck.

“Did you win the fight?” we asked.

“Win?” the sailor shouted, “Hell, i got back didn’t I?”

One of the last groups to return were in a cab. About four chiefs and the captain poured out and stumbled (a nice way to describe it) across the brow. The captain, a former submariner, preferred running with the chief petty officers rather than the wardroom. Seeing the stern XO there, the chiefs disappeared immediately after reporting aboard.

The XO, looking for some command guidance and relief apparently, approached the more than slightly inebriated CO and almost pleaded, “Captain, liberty was cancelled at 2100. They had a big fight between the town guys and our sailors at the dance hall. i’ve been very worried about you.”

The captain reeled about, looking cockeyed, and said, “Dammit, that’s great. Liberty for all hands.”

The XO, as quietly and unobtrusively as possible, which wasn’t very unobtrusive, escorted the captain to his cabin.

The next morning, the Lloyd Thomas left the pier to join the other ships of the USS Intrepid (CV 11) flotilla in the eight-week cruise. i’m not saying the captain might have been a little bit hungover and i cannot find a report of the incident in any search, but while standing out the harbor, the Thomas sideswiped a Japanese fishing vessel. i know because standing the port wing lookout, i watched as the startled Japanese crew went from eating their bowls of rice to jumping over the side. Amazingly, the ship proceeded out as if nothing had happened.

A day later at Captain’s Mast, i was assigned three weeks of extra duty, meaning after the working day, i was assigned a couple of hours each day to do onerous tasks. With my devil-may-care, good-times-roll demeanor, i had a good time. The best moment was the night i was assigned to scrub down the after-steering gear room, just aft of my berthing which was on the first deck below the fantail. With the huge gearbox creaking and groaning, i climbed atop and took a nap. Figured that would show the XO.

i never quite understood how i and the other midshipmen got such punishment at NJP for our pretty innocent foray while the Captain was doing his thing and the chiefs got off Scot free.

But i was beginning to understand NJP.

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