Chapter Three continued, part three

The next big problem would plague the Yosemite and particularly me for nearly all of the deployment and beyond.

A week before the underway date, a senior chief went to a fast food restaurant to take home some fare to his family. He spotted a cook in the back, a Yosemite sailor who was AWOL at best, a deserter at worst. When MMFN(N) Edmunds realized he had been recognized, he bolted for the back door. The senior chief tackled him in the parking lot and with the help of shore patrol brought Edmunds back to the ship. The quarterdeck watch allowed them to come aboard and put MMFN Edmunds on restriction.

When I received the report the next morning, my antennae quickly rose and started vibrating. I remembered Lieutenant Commander Louis Guimond, a Louisianan, a Cajun, who was the XO on the Hawkins, my first ship. Louie was one of the best if not the best XO I had throughout my Navy career. One afternoon, the shore patrol brought back a sailor who had gone UA (Unauthorized Absence) several months earlier. The ship had declared him a deserter. When Louie heard they had the guy on the quarterdeck, he ran out to the quarterdeck and screamed at the shore patrol to take the guy off the ship immediately and to the base brig. The XO knew if the ship accepted the sailor, he would be part of ship’s company and the ship’s problem. The Hawkins would be responsible for the ensuing court martial, and the sailor also would be part of the crew, preventing the ship from getting a replacement.

But MMFN Edmunds was on board. I couldn’t change that. Now he was my problem. I shuddered when I discovered he was Machinist Mate Fireman (Nuclear). This meant he had been in the nuclear program, most likely on a submarine and was kicked out. The nuclear submarine commands, because of nuclear safety and security, had an instruction allowing them to simply get rid of a trouble maker by declaring him unfit for the nuclear program. All such problems were reassigned to…yes, that’s correct: they were assigned to a Navy ship. They became the surface navy’s problem.

The reason I shuddered was recalling the only nuclear dropout I previously had as a subordinate. I was Chief Engineer, on the USS Hollister (DD 788) in 1973-75. An MM3(N) reported aboard and was assigned to M division, the division that operates the propulsion part of the engineering system. This new sailor was assigned to main control. Soon he got into some trouble and went to captain’s mast. The captain found him guilty, reduced him in rank to MMFN, reduced his pay in half for three months, restricted him to the ship for three months, and assigned him 45 days of extra duty. This was the maximum punishment a ship’s CO could allot at captain’s mast except for three days in the ship’s brig on bread and water, an extremely rare occurrence.

As one would expect, the now MMFN was not happy. Hollister engineers, including me, just didn’t realize how unhappy he was. When his duty section had the duty on a Wednesday, he was assigned to roving security patrol. When a ship was cold iron, i.e. not steaming, a roving security patrol was set. This patrol would be on four-hour watches, roaming through the engine rooms, fire rooms, and other engineering spaces to ensure the plant was secure and safe. In the early part of his mid-watch, this MMFN opened up all of the sea valves to allow sea water to come into the space. When it was discovered by the next watch, nearly all equipment on the lower level of main control, which included vital pumps, most with electrical components, were underwater. The Hollister was scheduled to get underway the following week.

The MMFN was assigned a summary court martial. In the process, as chief engineer I had to provide all the evidence against him, but as his department head I had to counsel him. It was the most difficult two-headed job I ever experienced.

My machinist mates worked around the clock. We took several of the pumps to a “bicycle shop” in Long Beach, got the ones required to light off repaired and installed in time to get underway. It was an incredibly demanding week, one of the worst I endured in my Navy career.

So I think it was natural to be alarmed. MMFN Edmunds later proved my concern was justified.

Edmunds’ young wife was not happy either. She made all sorts of crazy, nonsensical claims and demands for Edmunds to be released off the ship and not deploy. She began making protests. She demanded her husband be allowed to stay ashore. As much as I wished we had not allowed him back on board, he was now Yosemite’s problem, and we needed to follow regulations and JAG procedures. The ship would have to prosecute him through the proper JAG regulations.

Edmunds went to Captain’s Mast. Rather than mete out the maximum punishment a captain was allowed under the UCMJ, Captain Boyle assigned Edmunds to a summary court martial. This would take place after the ship got underway for deployment. MMFN Edmunds was not happy. He did not want to deploy in the worst way. His wife as mentioned was perhaps more upset.

This resulted in my first time to respond to a congressional inquiry. Although it wasn’t a congressman, it was Nancy Reagan, the first lady. This was even worse. Edmunds’ wife wrote a letter of protest to the first lady. Nancy, or her staff, in turn wrote a letter to Yosemite. At that time, a ship was required to respond to a congressional or first lady inquiry within 24 hours, including the vetting process through the chain of command. Guess who had to write the response. The XO. Me.

I guess it was a good response. Nancy didn’t call me or otherwise respond. We kept Edmunds on board until we got underway. I’m sure neither he nor his wife were pleased. I thought it was a stunning victory for good order and discipline, and that’s a significant part of an XO’s job. Little did I realize MMFN Edmunds would be a major thorn in my side, not for just the deployment but most of my tour on Yosemite.

Because there were only a small number of officers and sailors who had deployed on a ship before, we began running all sorts of warnings, instructions, and word of things to do and not do in the Plan of the Day or as we called it the POD, the XO’s vehicle to communicate the daily running of the ship to the entire crew. I kept consulting with the captain, the first lieutenant, and the engineer about word to get out to the rookie sailors. It was a new experience for me. All of my previous ships had been manned by officers, chiefs, and sailors who had been on numerous deployments. The department heads, the division officers, the chiefs, and the experienced petty officers made sure new folks knew how the rules at sea were different and also made sure the newcomers obeyed the rules of going to sea on a ship. But for Yosemite, there were large numbers of leaders who had not really gone to sea. So we passed the word at quarters daily and, we posted notes in the POD.

For weeks, there was a constant reminder to conserve fresh water:

  1. ­CONSERVE FRESH WATER: ALL HANDS ARE REMINDED TO CONSERVE FRESH WATER TO KEEP US FROM HAVING TO GO ON WATER HOURS. REPORT ANY FRESH WATER LEAKS IMMEDIATELY TO DAMAGE CONTROL CENTRAL. TAKE NAVY SHOWERS. FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO WONDER WHAT A “NAVY SHOWER” IS, YOU DO THE FOLLOWING.
      • TURN ON THE WATER TO WET DOWN.
      • TURN OFF THE WATER TO SOAP UP.
      • TURN WATER ON TO RINSE OFF.

DON’T BE SHY TO LET SOMEONE KNOW ABOUT IT IF THEY’RE NOT FOLLOWING THESE PROCEDURES. WATER HOURS ARE AN INCONVENIENCE THAT WE DON’T WANT TO HAVE TO EXPERIENCE. 

Then we warned about safety at sea. We preached about securing all loose items before getting underway to keep them from becoming flying objects when the ship began to roll in rough seas. And a POD note warned:

  1. SAFETY NOTE: S A F E T Y!!! ALL HANDS ARE REMINDED TO THINK SAFETY. THIS MEANS STAYING AWAY FROM LIFELINES, NO “SKYLARKING.” REPORT ALL SAFETY DISCREPANCIES TO DEPARTMENTAL SAFETY PO’S/SAFETY OFFICER. THE MAIN OBJECTIVE IS TO “THINK SAFETY.” IF WE KEEP THIS IN MIND, WE’LL ALL HAVE A SAFE DEPLOYMENT.

All Navy ships tried to provide entertainment. In my earlier days, entertainment was the evening movies for the crew, chiefs, and wardroom. The movies were high-lined from ship to ship until they were replaced by the service force ship, usually an oiler, which had returned to port for a resupply of fuel oil, other supplies, and a new batch of movies. I use the word “new” cautiously because the available movies were older reruns, many black and whites. Occasionally, like once or twice a deployment, we would have “steel beach” parties on the fantail and grill hamburgers. That was about it for our entertainment.

But the Yosemite bunch needed more. Many would not be standing watches, so off hours were dead time. We wanted to give our sailors something to do rather than think up things, which might not be so good, for themselves or for the ship. We found a space for weight-lifting, several officers and enlisted volunteered to lead group exercises. And we created areas and times for sunbathing:

  1. SUNBATHING: ALL HANDS ARE REMINDED THAT SUNBATHING HOURS ARE FROM 1130-1300. THE MALE SUNBATHING AREA IS THE FLIGHT DECK (i.e. the DASH Deck). THE FEMALE SUNBATHING AREA IS 03 LEVEL AFT OF THE OPS COMPLEX. PROPER SUNBATHING ATTIRE MUST BE WORN. FEMALES MUST WEAR ONE PIECE SUITS (NO BIKINIS). MALES MUST WEAR BOXER STYLE SUITS (NO BRIEFS).

To add to such concern, this XO added a hand-written note at the bottom of the POD: “Remember sunbathers, you are responsible for ensuring against sunburn. Sunburns are not legitimate reasons for not performing work.”

As I copy these notes, I keep thinking of the television series and movie “M.A.S.H.” and feel in retrospect a bit like Corporal O’Reilly.

After all, it was a different time and a uniquely different challenge for the Yosemite to deploy, unlike all of my other preparations to go overseas.

Our underway preparations were going well until Wednesday, September 7, when Chief Engineer, Ken Clausen, reported the evaporator had gone down. Our scheduled underway on Thursday was delayed. It was not feasible to leave port with no guarantee we could produce fresh water for cooking, drinking, and washing or, most importantly, feed water for the boilers. I was very concerned as I remembered another tender. The USS Prairie (AD 15) in 1974 was about to get underway out of its home port of Long Beach while I was the chief engineer on the USS Hollister (DD 788) also homeported in Long Beach. The Prairie suffered a casualty to her Ship’s Service Turbine Generator (SSTG). Since the Prairie was launched in 1939, many plans and blueprints were not available. The Navy finally flew in an eighty-year old man from Philadelphia who had helped design the generator. It took about two months to make the repairs. I was envisioning this happening to the Yosemite and her evaporators (as we called the distilling plants).

But the engineers and repair department worked continuously and on the original scheduled underway day, Thursday, they successfully got the distilling plant running.

Finally, the USS Yosemite, the “Busy Lady,” was going to get underway for her deployment to the Indian Ocean. It was just under a month after I reported aboard. I had no real idea of how this was going to turn out.

I expressed my feelings in a letter to Maureen, September 9, 1983:

…Another short note before we go. It looks like we’ll make it this time. It’s 11:30 a.m., 1130 my time. All our equipment is operating, and we’re scheduled to get underway at 1:30 p.m., 1330 my time. It will be a relief in many ways.

Only the thought of delaying our life together causes sad thoughts. i am proving to be a good executive officer, and this time at sea should put it all in order. There is absolutely no one yet to whom i relate as a friend like there was on Okinawa. That is because of my position, the way it should be. Everyone seems so different. That’s not derogatory. It’s as though they have a lack of experience (not counting the captain). Of course, i am now a senior officer, XO, so that too is as it should be. i have to be a teacher. There’s so much to do, and the majority, a large majority of the crew has never deployed before.

My philosophy of life, if you can call it that, is becoming more cynical. People are incredibly naïve about life at sea. i hope this job proves to me they can learn and they have no evil purpose.

Except for you and me. How did i find you? God must exist to allow us to meet, to be together to love as we do.

Take care and write and tape cassettes and laugh on the tapes and walk the beach and think of me. i feel that empty gut feeling coming on. It’s loneliness setting in and will exist on its own, independent of all the other things going on and the thoughts i must put to the forefront to do this job right.

i love you.

It was going to be a lonely eight months.

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