Chapter Five: The Med and the Suez Canal, part three

We moored pier side. I was back in Palma, one of my favorite liberty ports of all time.

The other time I had visited Palma de Majorca, the island’s large city, I was the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Officer aboard the USS Stephen B. Luce (DLG 7). Majorca was the epitome of my vision of a Mediterranean island.

The city of Palma is as old European as you can get except for the weather, which seemed to always be Mediterranean perfect. The perimeter of the island was composed of separate beach communities of different nationalities filled with tourists on vacation. On that previous stop, a shipmate and I traveled the perimeter, stopping every five miles or so when we could detect a community of different nationality, seeing Spanish, German, Dutch, French, Italian, and so forth. Better yet, all of the beaches did not require tops. And nearly every commune had a disco.

It was fun, but I was married with a brand new daughter back in Paris, Texas. So I had a drink and watched. Also there was great shopping with great prices back when a sailor could get a bargain in Europe. Best of all was sitting around at the tapas bars on the streets and drinking Sangria.

This time, it was different. I was the XO, in charge, leading by example. We greeted the welcoming party, which included U.S. expatriates in the Navy League. The Navy League has good and bad points. I had been exposed to both on previous tours. I was a bit wary, but these folks when they met with the Captain and this XO in the captain’s cabin were anxious to reach out to help the sailors have a good time. Even though I was somewhat concerned with Palma being the first real liberty port for this ship with women in the crew and thought I should remain on board and monitor the situation, I could not evade a dinner at the home of an elderly Navy League couple when they invited Captain Boyle and me to their home for dinner two evenings later.

The first night of liberty gave me my first inclination of how having women as part of the crew could be beneficial. The wardroom officers on liberty had taken off to various attractions in the city and the island. I went into the “gut” with George Sitton, Ken Clausen, and Steve Strzemienski to check out how our sailors, men of course, were behaving.

The “gut” is Navy slang, somewhat of a generic term for an area in a big city, mostly in Europe, where sailors liked to hang out. It was an area filled with floozy bars and floozy women. It might even be labeled as a “red light” district. In many places, like Naples, Italy, it has been declared off limits to sailors by SOPA (Senior Officer Present Afloat) or the shore commander because of the unsavory and even dangerous reputation, certainly deserved in most “guts” I knew. Of course, sailors of the old guard loved to go to those kinds of places.

But not Yosemite sailors on this voyage. The gut was essentially empty of our sailors. We finally found an old, spacious bar with our sailors, about a half dozen of them. But they were chiefs, not junior enlisted. Master Chief Weaver, our command master chief; Master Chief Brewer, the leader of the huge R-2 Division, the heart of the Repair Department, Yosemite’s main producer of repair and maintenance work; Chief Johns, the boatswainmate chief who was always annoyed that most of the other chiefs had not been on deploying ship before; and several other chiefs sitting around a large table, drinking beer.

They asked us to join them, and we did for a couple of beers. It was an enjoyable hour or so. Master Chief Weaver, after an inquiry from me, acknowledged he never drank any alcohol except beer. He told me he quit the hard stuff because it made him crazy and angry and only got him into trouble.

When we got back to the ship, I puzzled over why our sailors had not flooded the gut. It wasn’t off limits and Palma’s “gut” was the prototypical area for old Navy liberty hounds. It finally dawned on me our sailors didn’t go there because we had female sailors, and female sailors certainly wouldn’t be attracted to the gut. We had arranged for a tour program in Palma. On Saturday the day after our arrival, day tours were scheduled for La Calobra, a magnificent beach reached on a winding narrow road with incredible views, and the Caves of Drach, four wonders including an underground lake. In the evenings, a “Medieval Banquet” was on Saturday as well as a BBQ dinner show at Son Amar, a venue just outside Majorca, famous for comedy, show horses, and acrobatics.

It was the beginning of a liberty transfiguration for the Navy. The women were interested in these tours and shows.

So Yosemite male sailors went where the female sailors went, not to the gut. I hoped it would last.

Palma was as enchanting as Captain Boyle and I recalled from our previous visits. We enjoyed our evening with the Navy League couple. It was fortuitous for me as they invited me to join another Navy Leaguer for golf at the Palma Country Club the next day. I accepted.

The gentleman picked me up at the ship and drove me out to the club where we played 18. The course was extremely nice, and I liked the layout. Being on a Mediterranean island, it was dry and dusty. Still, it was a good time, and the gentleman and I had appetizers and a gin and tonic before he took me back to the ship. Even though my golf game was its usual awful, I felt like I was in high cotton.

Palma was a very successful port visit. I was amazed. There were no liberty incidents. I had never been on a ship that did not have some kind of an international incident during liberty in an overseas port and my liberty ports in foreign countries was extensive. I was also astounded when I received the Welfare and Recreation report of tours. Over three-quarters of enlisted personnel had gone on ship scheduled tours. No ship I had ever been on had more than twenty percent, if that, to go on tours.

Again, I simply hoped all of our port visits would have the same happy ending.

*     *     *

From the day I relieved as executive officer and throughout our voyage to Diego Garcia, XOI and Captain’s mast were frequent occurrences, often twice a week.

When someone was charged with a violation under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a long way from the Navy’s original Rocks and Shoals, the procedure aboard ship was for the accused to be screened by the executive officer . The XO could either dismiss the charges or send the accused up the chain to Captain’s Mast. My part of the process was called XOI for “Executive Officer’s Inquiry.” While the executive officer was not supposed to mete out any punishment, also prohibited from the department head, the division officer, the division chief, or leading petty officers, this prohibition was often circumvented with threats like “…if you don’t want to go see the captain, then I’ll put you in hack (stay on board the ship) for three days.”

When I first came into the Navy, liberty cards were dispensed at quarters or after the working day to all personnel who did not have the duty that day. Those precious cards were often missing when a sailor had done something to displease the LPO, CPO, division officer, etc. and the sailor had no option but to remain on board. During my early Navy days, the old system of Rocks and Shoals had not completely disappeared at the lower levels. It was not uncommon for an offending sailor to be taken to the boatswain’s locker and return black and blue from an unofficial disciplinary beating. Many sailors considered that a better option than being sent to captain’s mast.

I never participated in that, but I was involved with others delivering such punishment several times when I was a junior officer on the old destroyers. I certainly didn’t offer punishments or threats during my XOI’s on Yosemite. However, I became pretty good at chewing sailors out and then dismissing the charges before captain’s mast. After all, I had many opportunities to watch executive officers and commanding officers do some pretty amazing acts to scare or intimidate sailors at mast before dismissing the charges. To put it another way, I had learned from the masters.

Even though the rules and regulations for shipboard discipline had been spelled out and there were few options for the XO to mete out discipline, he…or rather I could be an effective disciplinary force.

The word about my ability at chewing out sailors at XOI quickly became known in the wardroom, especially by the seasoned warrant officers. By the time we reached the Indian Ocean, over two months, my ability became so well known, a warrant officer would sometimes call me aside to tell me he had put a sailor on report and was sending him to XOI but the case shouldn’t go to the captain.

On one occasion, the warrant officer explained, “XO, this kid I’m sending to you is a pretty good kid who did a stupid thing. He doesn’t need to see the Captain; he just needs a good ass chewing; and you are the best at that.” And after I gave the sailor a superb chewing out, and as the party was leaving my office, the warrant officer turned to me and gave me a “thumbs up.”

There was one occasion after the deployment where the sailor who appeared before me had been four hours late in reporting aboard from liberty. He limply explained he was sitting in his apartment and had waited for his ride from another sailor. When I asked him why he had not called the ship to tell his superiors he would be late, or why he had not called his ride to find out if the ride was coming, he told me he thought it was best for him to just wait.

“Are you telling me you just sat in a chair in your apartment doing nothing for four hours and thought that was the best way to handle the situation?” I asked.

When he meekly nodded assertion, I arose from my chair behind my desk and walked into my small head leading forward to my cabin. The mirror above the sink faced aft and could be seen from the position of attention before my desk where the sailor stood during XOI. I looked in the mirror, making sure the sailor was watching my reflection. I studied my face, twisting it, looking at it from different angles in the mirror before returning to my desk.

“Do I look that stupid?” I yelled, “I don’t think I look that stupid. Do you think I look stupid enough to believe your story?”

I then chewed him up and down for his stupidity for about five minutes, going on a rage, pounding my desk, before finally turning to him and his chain of command to announce.

“This time I’m going to dismiss this case. But if it ever happens again, I will see you go to a court martial. Got that?” I yelled.

When the sailor nodded numbly, I announced, “Case dismissed. Get him outta here.”

But there were some difficulties in my tough guy XO image.

There were a couple of people who always attended XOI. The legal yeoman, YNC Lucy Gwinner recorded the proceedings. The admin/legal officer, Ensign Mike Jackson also attended to provide Navy legal advice, the command master chief, BMCM Weaver, the chief or LPO and division officer of the accused, and finally the Substance Abuse Coordinator, or SAC. The Yosemite’s SAC was EMC Paul. She was the only female chief electrician in the Navy at the time. She had had a rough time with alcohol but had gone through a recovery program and wanted to help others, a perfect mindset for the job of counseling sailors concerning drug abuse, the recovery programs available, and the options sailors had. She attended XOI in case I needed expert opinion on what we should do when drug or alcohol abuse might be involved and also there to be assigned counseling duties for the sailor in front of me. EMC Paul was also tough as nails. She was old Navy. I admired and respected her.

She knew my act.

So when I was putting on my act, going on my tirades, she knew I was on stage, performing at the top of my game. But occasionally, I would do something, like the mirror looking stupid stunt she knew was an act, and she found what I was doing humorous. It was very difficult to continue with my rage charade when EMC Paul was stifling her laughter in the after section of my office, behind the accused.

Then there were a few occasions when a female sailor came before me and I had to strike the fear of US Navy justice in her heart. Male sailors could break down. I could not only handle their breaking down, it fueled my performance because I knew they were absorbing the lesson. But when the female sailor began to break down and cry, it was very difficult for me to continue in my tough guy role. EMC Paul laughed at that as well.

Once when she started laughing quietly behind the accused’s back, I lost it. Another sailor and done something really stupid and ended up reporting to duty late. After hearing another long winded and worthless explanation, I started beating the desk with my fists again, but stopped and asked Chief Paul if she knew what diseases the doctor could handle.

Chief Paul looked puzzled.

Then, I explained, “I need to know if he can cure terminal dumbness because this guy has it so bad I’m afraid he’s going to die right here.”

Chief Paul began to shake while muffling her laugh. Seeing her, I could feel myself losing it. I spun my chair around and began laughing into my handkerchief, hoping the sailor would think I had a coughing spell. Finally, I turned around and dismissed him with my usual fit of an angry warning.

Then, Chief Paul and I both had a good laughing session.

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