Chapter 11: Time for Reflection, Change, and Loneliness

This is a break in many respects. My old microfiche reader broke, i’m working on repairing, replacing, or going to the one place in San Diego with a microfiche reader and printer. For me, the story of my time on Cayuga is relevant in my being as prepared for the Yosemite as much as possible. i hope you enjoy it and see my purpose.

As with all things, the one thing constant about Yosemite’s stay off of Masirah was change. Change was doubly hard on me, I think. I was trying to make all things work, and recalled a comment, illustrated by a cartoon from a former captain.

Commander John Kelly, later Captain Kelly, was the commanding officer of USS Cayuga (LST 1186), which was a ship in Amphibious Squadron Five out of San Diego in the spring of 1980. I was Current Operations Officer on the squadron staff. At the conclusion of  a Wednesday morning “message meeting” of the staff, Commodore Jim McIntyre asked for a volunteer with no explanation for what the volunteer was volunteering. The staff of two dozen officers and enlisted were silent. After several seconds, I raised my hand, thinking “what the hell?”

The commodore looked surprised and then said, “The Cayuga needs an executive officer immediately. come to my cabin after this meeting and we can discuss.”

When I sat down with the commodore, he was amazed I had volunteered, especially since I was the only officer on the staff he could have selected for the job. There were only two lieutenant commander surface warfare officers (required to fill the LST XO billet on the staff) and the other was the material officer up to his knees in alligators in the maintenance of squadron ships.

Captain McIntyre explained, “Jim, Captain Kelly is desperately in need of an executive officer. His XO was taken off the ship in a straight jacket to Balboa (the San Diego Naval Hospital) this morning. He had a complete mental breakdown. The Cayuga has had a lot of problems.

“While they were in the yards at Long Beach, a personnelman (PN) hung himself in a fan room. The Philippine community was up in arms and began protesting at the yard gates and the entire mess made the newspapers and the LA TV news.

“Then about two weeks ago, a boatswainmate was killed when an alongside training barge was alongside, and they were conducting unrep training. A line parted and the boatswainmate was hit in the head by a block and tackle that broke loose. They apparently did not set up the rig according to instructions. The first lieutenant is under investigation by JAG.

“They start Amphib refresher training next week.

“You still want the job?” he asked.

I replied, as a good Navy officer should, “Aye, sir,” adding the caveat “But you must promise me I get the weeks of leave you approved for two weeks from now after I have completed the job. My eight-year old daughter is scheduled to come out here for a vacation. That is most important to me.”

Captain McIntyre promised to allow me my leave.

I interviewed with Commander Kelly the next day and was accepted. I reported aboard on Thursday morning.

Judging by the “In”  and “Hold” baskets on his desk in the XO cabin/office, the outgoing XO had not done any paperwork in six months. Personnel advancements had not been forwarded. Critical reports had not been sent. On my first “messing and berthing” inspection, I found total disarray. Racks were not made. Dirt, paperwork, and leftover food and coke cans were everywhere. Cigarette butts and ashes were strewn. Roaches and grease ruled the galley and the mess decks.

I held an all-officers meeting in the wardroom, took feedback from all of them, and laid out a plan, reporting the plan to the captain. I stayed on board for two months, going to my apartment once a week to collect mail and check on my belongings. I actually stayed at my place three nights, giving myself a break once, and the other was to run the Fourth of July Coronado half-marathon which I had entered the day before I “volunteered” (I was also too busy to train after becoming XO, and the half-marathon, my first, was a killer in rare ninety-five degree heat. But i made it, slept off the effects that evening and limped back to the Cayuga the next morning.)

As the two months neared the end and Cayuga had successfully completed the refresher training, the CO recommended to the bureau of personnel I remain the XO and complete a two-year tour. The Commodore endorsed the recommendation, but the bureau explained they already had a Naval Academy graduate in the pipeline who had completed the pre-XO training course.

I transferred back to the flagship by hi-line as the squadron was en route Esquimalt, British Columbia, the Canadian Navy port for Victoria on Vancouver Island. I met Blythe at SEATAC the day after we anchored out. We had a wonderful time in Victoria, with my friend Cy Fraser on Orcas Island, Seattle, and back in San Diego.

When I departed, Captain Kelly had drawn a cartoon of me. It referenced a conversation we shared near the end of my stay on board. He told me he was amazed at how I performed. It was like I was dribbling a half dozen basketballs at the same time. I replied it was more like a dozen basketballs and most of them were only half inflated.

He laughed and the cartoon had this balding XO attempting to keep about a dozen basketballs bouncing at the same time.

It had been a rigorous two months for me. I was disappointed the Navy did not let me complete the tour as it would have completed that check for advancement and been back on track for command at sea, my ultimate goal. In the late nights as Yosemite’s XO, I often reflected on how my experience on Cayuga had given me the right experience, the right perspective, and made my current XO tour easier to digest.

*    *     *

Sitting at anchor at the top of the Indian Ocean was still not a pleasant prospect. When we learned our initial ten days off Masirah had been extended until 1 January, I was upset and even lonelier when I wrote Maureen a note:

Lady,

New word. Schedule has changed again. i didn’t believe it possible, but it’s for the worse. We are now going to stay anchored in this miserable place for a long time. It has been requested we remain here through January 1, 1984. i guess i don’t mind. This is all marking time until i get back to you, but the crew will be bug shit by the time we hit a liberty port. Sure wish i had a tape to tell you all of my frustrations.

Mail call yesterday and none from you. Terribly disappointing but i’ve not been as good as you in writing. i really do go up and down in this job. Hope there’s some mail from you Saturday, even a lecture would be welcomed. Did Blythe tell you i called her? i may talk to you on MARS if get the reception back, but i greatly dislike exchanging thoughts with “over” interrupting.

My god, how i love you.

Got a great letter from Joe (my brother). i may send you a copy. This is a note getting out of hand.

i love you.

jim

Al Masirah, Oman
November 9, 1983

My focus was on our unique situation: 100 enlisted women in a crew of 900 and 6 female officers in a wardroom of 44 on a ship anchored of Masirah, Oman for what appeared would be at least two months. Our rules for male/female relationships were clear and in place. i was glad there had been no overt violation of those rules but didn’t know actually how effective those rules actually were. i and my admin staff were also aware the women were young sailors but women none the less. We attempted to keep them informed about uniforms and dress. This was a new world for me. An example was one POD note:

7. Grooming Standards (women) Hair pieces — Hair pieces or wigs, if worn while in uniform or on duty status shall be of good quality and fit, present a natural appearance, not interfere with the proper performance of duty, not present a safety hazard, and shall conform to the grooming standards set forth in these regulations.

Cosmetics — Cosmetics shall be conservative and in good taste.

This reads strange and out of touch while I enter it 35 years later.

We were in unknown waters in many respects.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.