The Good Ship Anchorage, Fighting Lady to the End

This post is actually a response to an email i received today from my long time and close friend Lee Dowdy. Lee received his doctorate in International Relations from Tulane. He and i worked as editor of the Castle Heights newspaper and annual respectively in 1962. Lee went to Duke and i went to Vanderbilt on NROTC scholarships. He fared much better than me. He had good study habits. Our families were so close they could be considered family, not plural. He saw an article in the Navy News Service and remembered i had served on the Anchorage. The story was about a U.S.  Marine rocket system successfully tested on the new Anchorage. It reminded me of a post i wrote about the USS Yosemite (AD 19) going down in a “SINKEX.” i have included the link to that  post at the conclusion.
Good story, but unfortunately, it’s not my USS Anchorage (LSD 36), but it’s successor USS Anchorage (LPD 23). 
My Anchorage was decommissioned in 2003, lasting quite a bit longer than nearly all ships now, 34 years in active service despite some major problems. She remains the most decorated dock landing ship on the west Coast.
Her plant had bastard SSTG’s after a fire in a shipyard work building destroyed the originally installed generators. They were being worked in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, shortly after commissioning when the building caught fire.
She also had two four-foot diameter screws to hold the flight deck in place that did not screw back all of the way in. This happened when i was first lieutenant in a San Diego maintenance period. A sub-contractor located under the Coronado San Diego Bay bridge took them off to sand blast and resurface the flight deck grit compound. But no one had considered the well deck walls which held the flight deck in place (with the four gigantic screws) would move inward when the three flight deck panels were removed. They did just that. Then when the sub-contractor tried to reinstall the panels (each was about 15 feet in depth, linking together and about 50 feet across the well deck) they were a bit too long to fit.
i know this as i had the duty in 1975 on a summer Sunday when they were attempting the reinstall. A 60-ton crane was lifting them off the pier to place them back over the well deck. All was going well and i went back to the wardroom to read. i was lounging on an installed sofa when i was jolted with a huge bang. i ran out and discovered the contractors after unsuccessfully lodging the last panel in place were lifting it up about ten feet from where it was supposed to go and dropping the huge panels, which must have weighed more than a couple of tons each, trying to drive them in place. They had made three drops before i got back to the flight deck and had them stopped.
i know they never fully reinserted the screws because i took Sarah aboard in 1998 when she was a fourth grader and had chosen a Navy ship for her topic in an assignment. It was a wonderful moment. They bonged me aboard as “Commander, Retired” accompanied by four bells while we walked down the pier. The CDO personally took us to all of the spaces. When we walked down the wing walls to the stern, which was my primary position as well-deck master in well deck operations, i spotted the huge screw in the overhead, hanging out with maybe only half of the screw threads outside of where they were supposed to be. The COD was amazed when i told him the history of the flight deck. i still don’t believe those nuts were trying to drop it in place by dropping it.
In spite of that, she did so well on her INSURV inspection for decommissioning in the mid-1990’s, the board recommended she remain active and she did so, going on at least two, if not three or four more deployments. After her decommissioning and some political haranguing with the Taiwanese, she remained in Pearl Harbor with the inactive ships until she was sunk as a target in a RIMPAC exercise in 2010. It took over six hours to sink her. The missiles couldn’t do it. Finally, the USS Bremerton (SSN 698) broke her back with a torpedo.
She was an elegant fighting lady until the end.
My two years were the best two in my career even though my personal problems had begun. As first lieutenant i did everything. Never stopped. It was great for a mariner. Art Wright was my captain for most of the tour and he was one of the best CO’s i had. Great memories.
Oh yes, the “HIMARS” rocket the current Anchorage tested looked a lot like the JATO rockets we fired while on a Caribbean exercise in 1984 while i was XO on the Yosemite. It was one of the craziest things in which i was involved during my sea time. Yosemite was simulating an orange force enemy for the main blue force. The JATO rockets, apparently unlike the HIMARS except in looks, were not much more than giant Roman candles. But we fired about ten or so (as i remember). The exercise did give us about five days in Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Puerto Rico (and as usual, there are several sea stories about that stop).
It was also our underway period when we were in the eye of what eventually became Hurricane Diana as she began forming, yet another sea story.
Thanks to Wikipedia for helping me recall accurately…more or less.

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