Submitted by Larry Goodman
April 12, 1948
U.S. Naval Training Center, Waukegan, IL.
These were not the good times one expects of their teen years. I had turned 18 and could legally do with my life as I wanted. What I wanted was for my parents to stop their constant fighting. My sister Dorothy had left her abusive husband Don, brought her two young girls, and moved into the small two bedroom house with me and our parents out near the end of West Washington street. They moved me out of my room and I slept on a cot in the upstairs hallway. There was just one bathroom.
I was not dumb and I liked school, especially the Vo-Tech shop and Drafting, but my grades were failing and I knew I would not graduate in June. Life was a living hell.
The worst was yet to come. My sweetheart for the last two years, Betty, called. She needed to talk. We met and we talked. She was getting engaged to a football player. She had been seeing him behind my back. That was the last straw.
The next day in school, I met my pal Bud by his locker and told him things were bad at home and I was going to enlist in the Navy that evening. Bud was also 18, and he too was having the same difficulties. I thought about it all day and that afternoon, after school, we went down town and enlisted in the Navy. We didn’t need anybody’s consent.
Later, at home, I told mom. She cried. I had ten days to get my things in order before catching the Greyhound Bus to Buffalo. Mom and sister Dot walked with me down to the Bus depot, which was the drugstore on the town square in Bradford, Pa. The bus ride to Buffalo was a three hour ride and I was giving this decision a lot of thought. My mind was about to explode. Thoughts were flashing by. Was I making a mistake? Was I running away from reality. Was the future going to be any worse than the past?
In Buffalo, I asked directions, and found my way to the recruiting depot, just two blocks from where the bus stopped. There were several other enlistee’s standing in line. We went thru the rituals, a pre-medical exam, paperwork and swearing in.
I talked to a sailor, Ron, whose enlistment was up and he was getting discharged.
Ron reached to his belt and handed me a brass snap-hook he had been using to clip on his keys and jack-knife. It has the Initials REM. Little did I realize that now when I am 80, I would still be carrying that same snap-hook.
Each enlistee was given a train ticket and food vouchers for the train ride to Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Waukegan, IL. There was to be a train change in Chicago. This was my first train ride. I ate in the dinning car and slept in a Pullman coach.
The train station in Chicago was so big, it had echoes. We walked as a group, staying together for comfort and safety. We walked in a daze up the stairway from the lower level and followed the signs pointing to the street level main concourse. None of my new friends knew where to go. With a bewildered look on my face and my worldly possessions in my handbag, I walked out of the station with images of Machine Gun Kelly, Baby Face Nelson and John Dillinger shooting at each other, and me.
Just as I made the sidewalk, the elevated train went overhead and scared the hell out of me. Four of the us piled into a yellow cab and asked to be taken to the North Shore Train Station. The cab went three blocks and let us out. We could have walked.
The train ride to Waukegan, IL, was short. We discovered there were several other recruits as we got off at the United States Naval Training Center platform. A Chief Petty Officer in a khaki uniform met us recruits and led us through the main gate to the office where new recruits had to check-in and be officially indoctrinated as U.S. Navy Personnel. We handed in our travel orders, a muster was taken. We were assigned to a Barracks, home for the next three months. The Chief then told us to fall out for chow in 30 minutes. Nobody knew how to “Fall Out”. The new recruits were all in civilian clothes and looked out of place among the hundreds of other men in sailor uniforms. We had our first Navy Chow in a long, low, white building called “The Mess Hall”, and wandered back to the barracks. A few got lost.
Groups were formed about the person talking the most, even though that person knew very little what was going to happen next. It was exciting meeting people from different states. One by one they got acquainted. Lights went out at 10. But everyone was too wound up to sleep and spent most of the night getting to know their neighbors in the next bunks. Once the voices dimmed down, one fellow let out a loud long fart. At the far end of the barracks a voice cried out, “Speak again soft lips so I can find you in the dark”. The whole place cracked up.
I was assigned a lower bunk. But I was too excited to sleep. Sometime, in the wee hours of the morning, I fell asleep, only to be woken by someone banging on the garbage can with a nightstick
April 13 1948
Still sleepy, and groggy, the raw recruits were ordered to “fall out” in the dark for breakfast at 0515. After breakfast, we were told that as long as we were in the Navy, we had to attend “Morning Quarters”. There were only three legal excuses to miss morning Quarters.
- A man would be on “watch” or guard duty;
- he would be in sick-bay; or
- he would be in the brig.
To miss Morning Quarters would mean he missed muster, counted as Absent With Out Leave, AWOL, and an official search would result to find him.
Morning Quarters required every man to appear, in the proper uniform of the day, shoes shined, hair trimmed and clean shaven. The group is then counted. When all are accounted for, the man in charge, usually a Chief Petty Officer, (CPO) will walk up and down between the lines of men to inspect them. When that duty is completed, the CPO will turn to the man assigned as “Company Clerk” and announce that all men in the Company is present or accounted for. The Chief then will read the “Orders for the Day”. The orders outline what is expected of the men from that moment until taps that evening. They are told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. They are told what to wear and how to wear it.
Quarters was at 0800 every morning, Sundays included. The group assembled in front of the barracks. Up until that moment, the group was a sorry sight trying to march in a column of two’s. The Chief Petty Officer had us stand in two long lines, facing him. There were 120 recruits in this, what the Chief referred to as “Company C”. When he gave an order, it was preceded with, “Company C…” He would say, “Company C, Attention, Right face, Forward, March.” Of course at that moment not one soul in Company C knew how to do any of those things.
The Chief had 90 days to make these raw recruits into U.S. Navy Sailors. Every characteristic from every ethnic group in America was evident, from the dialect, accent, body language, manners and temperament. There were tall, skinny, short, fat and in between. The Chief had an impossible job.
After forming the two long lines of 60 men in each line, the Chief began pulling them out of line, one at a time, and putting them in proper marching order of two by two, called a Column. In the front row were the shortest, with the tallest guys in the rear. I ended up about halfway down the column. The shortest fella in the group not only got to where the Company was going first, but he also got to carry the American flag. We lined up in exactly the same position every day for the rest of our time in Boot Camp. We had not yet been issued Navy clothing, so the Chief inspected us for clean shaves. Some fellows had to go back and shave again. If he didn’t shave close enough, he was then “Dry Shaved” by shipmates, which is not at all pleasant.
At 18, not many of us needed to shave at all, while others had a five o’clock shadow at 0900.
The “Work Order of the Day” was read. It said the Company was to get their heads shaved and to receive their first issue of regulation Navy clothing, called “Gear.”
The Chief quieted the men down, called out, “Company C, Attention, Right face, Forward…March,” and we stragglers looked a sight trying to march, over to the Barber shop. Some very nice looking hair went on the barbershop floor that day. Next we marched over to the building where we were issued new “Gear”. Each man was to get uniforms, work clothes called dungarees, hats, shoes, underwear and bedding. The gear made a huge stack, and not all of it arrived at the barracks in pristine condition. All civilian clothing, called “civvies” was packed into large boxes and mailed home the next day. Say goodby to anything civilian, we were now slaves and belong to the US Navy. The rest of the day was spent putting our names on all the new “Gear.” Each man had to stencil his first initial and last name on every thing issued to him. One man had a difficult time. The last name was supposed to be stenciled over the left pocket of the Dungaree Shirt. His name was G. Christopherson. Most of his name was hidden under his left sleeve. I walked up to him and said, ”What’s your name, Sailor?”, and Chris raised his left arm.
After the dungarees were properly stenciled, the men changed into dungarees and work boots. Included with the pile of Gear was a handbook called “The Bluejacket’s Manual.” that introduced the raw recruit to the Navy way of doing things. On the first page were the words, “There are three ways to do everything. The right way, the wrong way and the Navy way.”
The Chief taught us how to fold or roll all gear so it would all fit in the canvass sack called a “Seabag.” With all he owned in the seabag on his left shoulder, he could then salute with his right arm. Only lowly sailors carried seabags. Officers and Chief Petty Officers carried a satchel, like an overnight bag, and a Uniform bag.
The Navy gives every new recruit his first issue of clothing. From then on, every sailor must buy his own Gear and is given a list of required items that must be kept ready for inspection at any time. Surprise inspections at all hours was the norm. And mom wasn’t here to pick up after him, all gear had to be stowed in it’s proper place and not laying or hanging around.
All the next day the recruits toiled to fill out paperwork, arrange for allotments to be sent home, taking tests to determine where the Navy would assign them. Then came an opportunity of a lifetime. The interviewer asked me if I wanted to make any changes to my name.
I asked, “Can I drop the “Junior” as a middle name? The interviewer said I could, but due to Military Rules, he needed for me to give him a middle initial. I could not think of one right then, so he had to add “(NMI)” after my first name. I asked what NMI stood for and was told, No Middle Initial. As time went by, that got shortened to (n). I was therefor referred to as Larry (n) Goodman. The “Junior” was gone forever. Family still called me Sonny, but to my shipmates, I was “Goody”. Persons of higher rank always call a person of lower rank by their last name.
On the third day, at Quarters, the work order said the Company was to be given a complete physical/medical exam and shots. Some groans were heard. Afterward, we were marched off to Sick-Bay, the Naval term for Out-Patient Clinic. Two fellows flunked the Physical and were sent home. Two new recruits were assigned to our Company.
On the fourth day the Chief taught us recruits the basic commands, and how to respond. The proper response was “Yes SIR”, and “No SIR”. To not use the “SIR”, showed a sign of disrespect and that was a Court Marshall Offense. Another very important thing we had to remember was, at all times the right hand must not carry anything. That hand was used to salute. Failure to salute was a Court Marshall Offense.
Then, in newly assembled column of two’s, with the Chief and Flag bearer in front, we walked, we did not yet know how to march in cadence, over to the huge blacktop area bigger than any Mall Parking lot, called the “Grinder.” And grind we did. Hour after hour we ground our feet into that hot blacktop attempting to learn how to march, and do what was called “Drilling.” There were several hundred other recruits there with each instructor yelling orders. I sometimes obeyed the command from another group. This made the Chief mad. After a while the group got so they recognized his voice and tuned in on it. By the end of the week, the group could respond to commands like, “Forward, March!”, “Right Flank”, “Right Oblique”, “Reverse” and “Halt, one-two.” “Halt, one-two” became the favorite command. A lot of men had two left feet and were constantly bumping into other men. The Chief said, “You clowns look you are doing a Chinese Fire Drill.”
The Company was taught the proper way to space out the column for marching, the proper way to make a turn, the order being, “Column Right, or Left.” By the end of the second week, all recruits had muscle aches, headaches, and blisters. The Chief didn’t say so, but he must have had aches and pains too. He was with us every step.
A Sailor who gets promoted each time by meeting or exceeding all requirements, can achieve the rank of Chief Petty Officer in 8 years. This is considered choice duty in the Navy. A Chief is graded as an E-7. With good conduct, he could then have two gold hash marks on his left sleeve. Each Gold hash mark indicating four years of unblemished service. Our Chief had four Gold hash marks. With 16 years of perfect record, he could ask for his choice of duty stations. This Chief chose to teach recruits.
If the men of Company C thought life was as miserable as it could get, we were mistaken. More misery was just ahead because on the first day of the Third week, the Company went to the Armory and was issued old Springfield Rifles that weighed 10 pounds. We were told that if anybody ever dropped their “Piece”, (Navy lingo for a gun), that the guilty would have to be disciplined after hours. That was also known as “Extra Duty.” The words had not yet drifted away when there was the clatter of metal hitting the blacktop. Later, after evening chow, the group sat around the front of the barracks and watched the Guilty person do “extra duty” out on the Grinder. His duty was to walk around the outside edge of the entire grinder carrying his “Piece” for one hour. But he was not alone because many other guilty people from other company’s were also doing extra duty.
One thing that was confusing to the new recruits was the Military way of telling time. At first it didn’t make any sense. There are 60 minutes in an hour, so how come one o’clock was 0100, spoken as oh-one hundred hours? 0800 was spoken as oh-eight hundred hours and 10: AM was spoken as ten-hundred hours. But I have heard that spoken as 0-ten-hundred, which of course is wrong. Noon was called 1200 or twelve hundred hours. The numbers are spoken as written, from noon to midnight. When the day is over, midnight can be two different times. The clock hands will be at twelve o’clock, but it can be read as 2400 or Twenty-four hundred hours. And in the same instant it is 0000 hours or, zero-zero hours, to start the new day of 24 hours. Now that explains why the military time does not use AM and PM . There can only be one instant during any twenty-four hour day when the time is 1300. That would be one hour after 1200.
After breakfast, the next day, the Company assembled on the Grinder with rifles. Today we had to remember all that we were taught about marching and learn a lot more “Drills” with the rifle.
We were taught an order called “Parade Rest.” This was very confusing because that order was never given while parading. It was only used while standing at attention. When given the order to “Parade Rest,” the rifle had to be removed from the right shoulder and held at a diagonal across the chest. This position was called, “Present Arms.” Then the left foot was extended sideways twenty inches from the right foot. The butt of the rifle lowered to the grinder near the right foot. The right hand was placed on the sight end of the barrel and the arm extended out full length, locked at the elbow. The left hand, palm outward, was placed in the small of the back. All this was done in a count of eight. Of course a few rifles hit the blacktop.
Another exercise the Chief taught was designed to build muscles. Using the 10 pound rifle, a person went through a ritual called, “The 16 Count Manual Of Arms.” Starting with the rifle in the “Parade Rest” position, the rifle was lifted up to the right shoulder. From the right shoulder, it was transferred to the “Present Arms” position. Then to the left shoulder, then to the “Present Arms” position and then back to the “Parade Rest” position. Then lifted over our heads and twisted right, then left, then lowered to the ground. A cadence was counted off as each move was started. This “Manual of Arms” was also used for punishment when a recruit did “Extra Duty.” And it did build muscles.
While all this was going on, each man was required to report, in alphabetical order, to the Dentist for teeth cleaning and repairs. My teeth were in bad shape, so I got out of a lot of drilling. I hate dentists, but in the end, I had a million dollar smile for free.
New recruits attended mandatory formal training that included classroom study of Naval History. I always hated History in school because it was so boring. But in this History class, the instructor spoke of the Naval Warfare and included what was going on inland as less important. The way he laid out the events was really interesting. The book we were given became one of my favorite books. I read it many times. It was called, “Our Navy.”
Almost everyone that ever took Civics in High School found time to gaze out the window. What was going on outside was more interesting than what was being taught. Well, these classrooms had no windows low enough to see out, and the Civics being taught was called the “Uniform Code Of Military Justice.” (U.C. M..J .). This is the code of Ethics that all Military people live under. Civilian laws only applied when one left the military base. There were many rules, and every one ended with the words, “Shall be punished as a Court Martial may adjudge.” In the military, one is assumed guilty until proven innocent. One of the sentences was the death penalty. I was afraid to breathe, it may be a Court Marshall Offense to use Government air without permission. Or worse yet, exhale Carbon Dioxide and pollute the air. There was a rule under the UCMJ that covered just about every conceivable circumstance. The words “keel-hauled” and “Cat-o-Nine tails” were not mentioned as punishment.
Every Company going through “Boot Camp” had to perform duty as the “Service Company” for the sixth week. These assignments covered everything at the mess hall from cleaning garbage cans, washing dishes, serving food and cleaning up the mess after each meal.
I lucked out and had to clean the Chief Petty Officers living area. This included making four beds, mopping the floors, cleaning the Head, (Navy jargon for toilet), dusting, washing windows, “policing” the lawn and outside area. I picked up cigarette butts, chewing gum wrappers and any scrap of paper no matter how small. I was glad when the week was over, and actually looked forward to marching on the Grinder. Housemaid is not on my list of things I like to do.
During the seventh week, known as Award week, I fell down the stairs and sprained my ankle. I had to wear the Navy Issue Tennis shoes because my foot was swollen. The entire Company scrubbed that barracks so clean it squeaked. They cleaned rifles, made the bunks perfect and the garbage cans sparkled. Then came inspection. All recruits stood by his bunk at attention, eyes straight ahead, arms down at the side with fingers straight and toes pointed at a 45 degree outward. The inspection party walked right past and nobody moved a muscle. At the evening meal, the Chief announced that Company “C” had won the prestigious banner that boldly proclaimed we were the best looking company in camp. But the poor short guy in front had to carry that flag, next to the short guy carrying the American flag, for 6 weeks.
Then came Visitors Day. I was not too excited because none of my family lived within 700 miles of the camp. My name was announced. I had Visitors at the front gate. I was sure somebody else in camp had a similar name, then they announced my name again. I went to the Visitor’s Center and there were my Mom, sister Betty and niece Maxine. They had driven all the way from Pennsylvania just to see me. Boy was I tickled. Mom had baked a cake for me and I shared it with 12 year old Maxine. I took them on a tour of the camp and barracks where the Company lived. They were impressed on how neat and clean everything looked.
But, the day ended, and they started back home. As I watched them drive out of sight, there were tears in my eyes.
The twelfth week finally arrived. Graduation was just another rung on the ladder. Raw recruits were not real sailors yet. They could not be called Sailors because none of them had ever sailed on the oceans. A Salty Sailor has Sailed the Seven Seas. These, according to old Salts, are: the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific, Arctic, Antarctic and Indian Oceans. I would get to sail on four, North Atlantic, Arctic, North Pacific and South Pacific..
Each of the recruits was issued the green, laminated, Armed Forces Identification Card and “dog tags.” The green ID card was to be carried at all times. To lose it would be an automatic 30 day restriction to the ship or station. The tags were to be worn at all times, even to the shower. The tags gave the man’s name, branch of service, blood type and religion. I was not very religious but decided to put down something to avoid harassment, so I chose Protestant. My tags read, Larry (n) Goodman USN -0- P. Rank was not put on the tags.
The afternoon after Graduation, the recruits were given three months pay and new assignments. The single white chevron on the left sleeve, indicating they were Seaman Recruits, was removed and a double white chevron was sewed on. Now they are Seaman Apprentices.
All received train tickets to home, along with travel orders to new duty stations. Some fellows went to ships, some to shipyards, and a few were assigned to Schools.
I was assigned to attend the Class “A” Machinist Mate” School here on the base.
I went to and from Salamanca, New York. That was the closest a passenger train came to Bradford, PA.
I had 14 days leave, and spent all of it at home with my family. They all remarked how “grown up” I had become, unlike the skinny, bumbling boy that climbed on the Greyhound bus three months earlier.
Machinist Mate School
August 1 1948
US Naval Training Center
My Mom and sister Evelyn drove me over to Salamanca, NY . The passenger train soon arrived and we said our tearful farewells. I climbed aboard, heading out for a new adventure.
I had to change trains in Chicago, but now I was an old pro and walked the three blocks to the North Shore Station. I got off the train at Waukegan, IL and showed my pass and Green ID card at the gate just like an old salt. But this time not to boot camp, but to the Naval Training Center School, on a different part of the base. This meant living in another barracks, with not so many strict rules.
I was assigned to the Class of August, 1948. Along with 119 other men, we were to be trained to become Machinist Mates. This was a huge letdown for me. At the recruiting office, I told the recruiter I wanted to be a Machinist. I was not aware that the Navy called a Lathe Operator, a Machinery Repairman. What I was heading for was the engine room of a ship to operate the steam turbine driven main engines and pumps.. So for the next 12 weeks, I attended classes and learned about steam driven equipment. After successfully completing the course, I would be promoted to E-3, Fireman, with three red stripes. Officially known as Machinist Mate Fireman, MMFN.
The rules changed. Now that I was out of Boot Camp, I no longer had to march and do the Grinder. I was not restricted to the Barracks, so evenings I took my Brownie Kodak camera and went for long walks down by the shore of Lake Michigan. I also used the indoor swimming pool, that was free.
The classes were from 0800 to 1600 with an hour off for lunch. The curriculum was heavy because a lot had to be learned in a short time. I filled many pages with notes in my three ring binder.
While in Boot Camp and wearing one white chevron, recruits were not allowed to leave the base. But now that I was no longer a recruit, I had two chevrons and was allowed to go off the Base, in Navy Lingo, Liberty, also called Shore Leave. The two white chevrons were replaced by two red ones to indicate that I was an “Engineer”, with the rate of, Machinist Mate Fireman Apprentice, MMFA.
I was allowed a 48 hour pass on weekends. Most fellows went down to Chicago. Some up to Milwaukee. I preferred Chicago. I saw the Science and Industry Museum, the Aquarium and all the loop. But I did a big no-no. I was told not to go more than 100 miles from the gate. And to be on time getting back to the gate. In Navy lingo, that means from Liberty call Friday afternoon, I had until 0800 Monday to get back to the base. There are no acceptable excuses for being late, and brig time if you are late. I had “been there, done that.”
I caught a train to Chicago, then changed trains to Cleveland, Ohio, 350 miles, to see the 1948 National Air Races. They were just fantastic. Traffic from the airport to the train station in Cleveland caused me to miss the train from Cleveland to Chicago. Then a long layover in Chicago. I was the first off the train at the gate of the Training Center, just as the bugle was sounding for Morning Quarters. I ran from the gate to the barracks and yelled here, stopping at my place in line, out of breath, but safe.
I turned 19 in September. October was cold in the Great Lakes area. All sailors had heavy wool turtle neck sweaters and P-coats, but no cold weather shoes or socks. The barracks and all buildings were heated. But walking to and from classes, and the mess hall was brutal.
November was Graduation. I graduated 20th in a class of 120. Along with graduation came a promotion to Fireman First Class, and three red chevrons. Machinist Mate Fireman, MMFN. Then assignments were posted. We were given a list of duty stations and I chose Heavy Cruiser, East Coast. My new duty assignment was the Heavy Cruiser Rochester CA-124 in Boston Naval Shipyard., Boston, Mass. We each had two weeks delay en route. With a Government paid ticket, I went to Salamanca, NY. My orders were mistyped and I was not supposed to report for duty until November 11, 1958, ten years in the future.
I dared not take that advantage and spend the next ten years in the brig. So I went home for two weeks, then got a train for Boston.
U.S.S Rochester CA-124
Naval Shipyard South Boston, Mass
I felt like the two weeks at home went by so fast, I had no recollection of the time. I remember getting on the train at Salamanca. I loved trains. That train ride to Boston was a big thing for a country boy.
The train was nearly full. I was setting with another sailor talking about our new assignments. The train stopped at a station in New York State. An elderly woman and a very pretty young lady was getting on our car. There were only two empty seats up front. I got up and went up to set there. That meant the pretty lady would have to set with one of us “Sailors.”
I got the Grandma. We had a wonderful conversation. She was a swell person to chat with. Later, in the train station in Boston, I asked the Sailor about the girl. He said she wouldn’t talk. I told him her name, age, hometown, where she was going, and a lot more that Grandma told me.
My new friend and I had to claim our seabags at the freight office. The bags are secured with a cable and padlock. Which was really ridiculous, considering the bag was made of canvas and a sharp knife could open it up. Before we left the station, I wanted to get into my bag for a clean hat. A dirty hat meant I was “Out-of-Uniform” another Court Martial offense. But I could not find my key. I was getting desperate. I managed to get my hand down inside the loop of the cable that formed a ring around the neck of the bag. Knowing how I packed the bag with the hats near the top, I felt around and found a neatly folded white hat. I carefully extracted it from the hole and put the dirty hat in the bag.
I picked up the bag, slung it onto my shoulder and looked like a real sailor, home from the sea. It is also a Court Marshall Offense to report to a new duty station, in a dirty uniform.
The cab that took us to the shipyard was not permitted to enter. We split the fare and walked up to the gate. The Marine Sentry looked at my papers and passed me through. He gave me directions to the Rochester, and I headed out into a vast ship repair facility. My route took me to a walk-way bridge over an empty dry-dock. That was very scary. But I continued and found myself at another dry-dock, but this time there was a ship in it. It had 1-2-4, in large letters on the bow. Boy was that ship huge. It seemed to go on forever. I stepped onto the gangway and went downhill toward the main deck. There, I remembered the Naval protocol. When one boards a U. S. Navy ship, one must face aft and salute the American flag. Then one must turn to face the Officer-of-the-Deck, (OOD) and while holding the salute, in a loud voice say, “Fireman Goodman requests permission to come aboard ship, Sir.” When the OD says, “Permission Granted,” and drops his arm, you drop yours. He asked for “ID” and I showed him the ID Card and Transfer orders. He asked the purpose of the visit. I told him I was reporting for duty. Then the OD called to a messenger and asked that man to take me to the ships office. I saluted again and said “Thank you, Sir.”
We went down ladders and through passageways. At each frame I had to duck with the bag on my shoulder or hit the watertight door opening that is oval shaped. At each door, I had to step up and over the bottom of the door frame, about 10 inches off the deck, at the same time duck my head. It became quite a balancing act.
Eventually, on the second deck down, we arrived at the ship’s office where I surrendered my papers, thus making the reporting official and on time. (Ten years early got no bonus points). I was told to report to the Engineering Office and got directions.
On the next deck down I found the Engineering Office and reported in. I answered many questions, signed my name a hundred times. I was issued a Liberty card and a meal card, and assigned living quarters.
The assigned berthing compartment was coded C-304-M. That was the Machinery or “M” Division bunk room. It was just down the passageway. They taught us in boot camp that all compartments on a ship are numbered in such a way that you can find one easy. The “C” indicated the compartment was in the third watertight section aft of the bow. In this case, the Rochester had four sections. The 3 indicated the compartment was on the third deck down. The even number 04 indicated the compartment was on the starboard or right side. (Odd numbers to port, even numbers to starboard.) It was the second compartment aft of the watertight bulkhead C, on the right side, on the third deck.
Stairways, also referred to as Ladders, were numbered to prevent traffic jams of personnel traffic in emergencies. Forward and up on the Starboard side, Aft and down on the Port.
About 30 men were assigned to the “M” division and they all slept here in C-304-M.
There were not many empty bunks. On ships, bunks are called “Racks.” To conserve space, the racks are stacked four high and chained to the ceiling, also known as the overhead, on one side and fastened to vertical poles on the other. During inspections and cleaning, the racks are triced-up, that is, folded up against each other like folding chairs. The racks are an Aluminum frame 30 inches wide and 80 inches long. In this frame is a piece of canvass with eyelets every eight inches. A rope is laced through the eyelets, then around the aluminum pipe and back through the next eyelet, all the way around, then pulled tight so a quarter will bounce off the canvass. On each rack is a thin mattress and a pillow. In boot camp we were issued two brown wool blankets, three white mattress covers and three white pillowcases. The mattress covers are nothing more than a large bag with tie strings on one end and sewn shut on the other. Sailors call them “Fart Sacks.” A clean fart sack and pillow case was put on every Saturday morning, just before lower deck inspection. In good weather, mattresses were taken up to the main deck, slung over the rail and aired out monthly.
I chose an empty rack. All the good ones were taken. My rack was on the bottom. I had to accept the fact that in Machinist Mate School, I had worked my way to the top and was treated accordingly. Here on ship, in “M” Division, I was at the absolute bottom of the pecking order and had to start up the ladder from the bottom rung. So having a bottom bunk reminded me of my position in the food chain. I was at the beck and call of every body with a higher rank, who wanted to express their seniority. To Question or disobey an order was a Court Marshall Offense.
I got to the lockers and the only locker standing empty had a broken door that wouldn’t lock. Knowing my gear was available to any thief, I stowed my gear. (Later my wristwatch was stolen.)
Everybody came and introduced themselves. They all seemed like a nice bunch of guys. Right away I heard southern drawls indicating many southerners. But I was a Yankee among Rebels. A few were from the North, but we were a minority. There were four black men. I, with very little experience among black people, soon learned that the civil war was NOT over. One did not say anything that would insult the south, and I learned a valuable lesson, Never, ever call a Black person a Nigger.
When my gear and bunk were in shipshape, that is, all neat with nothing loose laying around, I asked one of the bunkmates to give me a guided tour of the ship so I could find the Head and Showers, the Mess Hall and the Engine Rooms. Those three areas and the berthing compartment would be the focus of my life for the next few years. Some parts of the ship I would never see. These compartments were called Officer’s Country, entry by invitation only. To get caught there was a Court Marshall offense.
It was a long walk back aft to the showers. We had to pass through many berthing compartments. Then we went up one deck to the mess hall. The benches and tables were bolted to the floor to hold them in place when the ship rolled. As big as the ship was, I doubted it would roll at all. I was wrong.
Next came the Engine Rooms. There are two on this ship. There are four propellers. I saw them in dry-dock. Each prop was 24 feet in diameter and had four blades. The engines that powered these mammoth props looked too small. In fact they didn’t look like engines at all. The layout was not at all familiar, even though they had a mock-up engine room back in school.
Because the engines and most of the equipment was powered by steam, the ship had 8 boilers. Two boilers, each as big as a two story house were in one boiler room. They were lined up with two boiler rooms, then the forward engine room. Aft of the Forward Engine room bulkhead were two more boiler rooms, then the Aft Engine room. There are water tight bulkheads between all the Engineering Rooms. To go from one to another, you had to go up a 20 foot ladder, walk forward or aft to the desired room, and down a 20 foot ladder. I was soon aware of this when I was assigned to a watch called. “Roving Patrol.” I never did learn why Engine and Boiler compartments are called rooms.
There did not seem to be any piece of equipment that looked familiar. In Machinist Mate School, I learned about High Pressure Super Heated Steam, Steam Driven Turbine Main Engines, Evaporators, De-Aerating Feed Water Tanks, Generators, Pumps, Condensers, Reduction Gears, Valves, Gages, Main Shafts, Lubricating Oil Purifiers and Diesel engines. They may as well have been talking Russian. It was Greek to me. But I committed it all to memory.
The only thing I recognized was the water fountain. I bent over and got a drink, acting like I knew all about the place, but inside I was totally confused. There were pipes of all sizes running overhead. So many I could not see the ceiling, called the Overhead. In the center of the Engine Room were the two main Gage Panels and the valves that operated the engines. The two panels were made of steel, about 10 feet long and 8 high. I counted 19 gages and a clock. The panels, about 10 feet apart, faced to the centerline of the ship,. The panels were identical mirror image of the other. The most outstanding feature of these control panels were the three large Brass Wheels mounted chest high, called ‘throttles’, to control the steam to the engines. These brass wheels were polished to a mirror shine. Below the throttles, was a signal device, called the Engine Order Telegraph.. These were controlled up on the Bridge by the Officer-of-the Day. He relayed orders from the Captain, to the engine rooms, what speed and direction the Captain wanted the engines to turn.
Here, in the Forward Engine room, the space between the gage panels was considered the Control Room for all Engineering functions. There was a small booth with a desk, a phone and an inter-communication system referred to as the “Squawk-Box.” The squawk-box had many switches so the Person in charge could call any number of stations on the ship, including the Captain. This Control Room was where the Engineering Officer controlled all Engineering spaces while the ship was under way, and during emergency drills. It was also his duty station during “Battle Stations”.
Each of the engine rooms had two main engines and two cruising engines. Each main engine consisted of a High Pressure Turbine and a Low Pressure Turbine, plus a small Cruising Turbine. The Forward Engine room had the numbers One and Four engines. The After Engine Room had numbers Two and Three Engines. The main engines, rated at 60,000 horse power each, were direct-coupled to a mammoth reduction gear. Bolted to the back of the gear was a 24 inch diameter Main Propeller Shaft. The shaft was over three hundred feet long. It went through several shaft alleys where huge bearings supported the shaft. The shaft went out thru an opening in the bottom of the ship called a stern tube with packing to prevent water from getting in.
At present, the Rochester was in dry dock so no machines were running. The ship was receiving all services from the dock. As I stood at the Starboard Gage Panel, I felt wind on my face. Over my head was a large pipe, about 24 inches in diameter bringing fresh air down from up on the main deck. Each control panel had a fresh air blower to cool the man at the throttles.
These two blowers were the only motors I could hear running. My guide was telling me a lot of things that made absolutely no sense, but I kept nodding my head rather than admit I was dumber than a box of rocks. At this point, nobody knew or cared that I had just graduated 20th in a class of 120, from a Class “A”, Machinists Mate School.
A few guys asked me why I had the three stripes of a Fireman instead of the usual two stripes of a Fireman Apprentice. But as I found out, having three stripes meant nothing, (This grade, E-3, was equal to a Corporal in the other branches of the Military). I was the low man on the totem pole and had no authority whatsoever. My initiation ritual was going to start in the morning.
The guide took me down a steel ladder. All stairways and ladders in the Navy are called ladders. Some are at an angle like stairs, but a lot are really vertical. All have handrails. We descended to the lower level into the pump room. Here are all the pumps from the huge 12 foot tall Seawater Intake Pumps, to the small Circulating Pumps. About 30 in all. All the pumps had a back-up or stand-by pump except the seawater pumps. The main pumps were steam turbine driven while the back-up pumps were electric.
Also on the lower level were the two huge Main Condensers. These set directly under the main engines. After the steam passes through the main turbine engines, it is no longer under pressure. Sea water passes through the condenser tubes while the steam goes around the tubes. The steam is reduced or condensed back in to water, called Condensate. Circulating Pumps then deliver the water back to the tanks so it can be re-used again to feed the boilers. It all made perfect sense back in school, but here in the real world, I was lost. I could not figure out why they were called Main Condensers, because there were no other condensers in the engine room.
The next morning, after breakfast and clean-up of the berthing compartment, all hands had to “fall-in” for “Morning Quarters.” In fair weather, this ritual takes place up on the main deck. One of the few times “snipes” were allowed topside. All Divisions on the ship were lined up at a given location. The “M” Division was assigned to a spot near the air intake to the Engineering spaces. It was noisy and hard to hear the Engineering Officers when they spoke. The ranks were counted by hollering out a man’s last name. He would respond by yelling “Here, Sir.” Any man not present or accounted for is considered a “Straggler” and that is a Court Martial Offense. At Morning Quarters any information is given. This is known as “Passing the Scuttlebutt.” The uniform of the day is announced, duty assignments are given, and we are dismissed. Then there is a mad dash for the engine room because there are 6 cups, and the first six men get coffee. Then the pot is empty and a fresh pot is made. It never occurred to anyone to buy a bigger pot and more cups. One of the wise-guys made me a target right away. I was among one of the six to get a cup of coffee. I set it down to find some sugar. He picked it up and said, “Whose coffee is this?”, I said, “Mine.” He spit into it and said, “It’s mine now.” I walked over to him, smiled, and spit into the cup, saying, “You may have it.”
The Engineering Divisions are divided up into three groups. The “B” or Boiler Division, The “M” or Machinery Division, and the “R” or Repair Division. I was a MMFN, Machinist Mate Fireman, so I went into the “M” Div. All Engineering personnel, under the rate of Petty Officer, wore red chevrons to indicate an Engineer. The rest of the ships crew below the rank of Petty Officer were called Seaman, and wore white chevrons. The very lowest rank was two chevrons, called Seaman (or Fireman) Apprentice. Once a year, providing you were a good boy, you would get recommended for the next highest rank. If you passed the verbal and written test, you were promoted. That is, providing you were not on some bodies shit-list. There was nobody in the M Division with less seniority than I. No new men reported aboard for several months.
The lowest rung of the pecking order in the Navy is a convict. Then next up the ladder is a Boot-Recruit, then a Seaman, (or Fireman) Apprentice, then followed by Seaman, (or Fireman). I was only on the fourth rung up on the ratings ladder.
I was assigned to the Forward Engine Room. The Petty Officers were the foremen of the group and had absolute authority, do as they say. To question, delay, or disobey a lawful order was a Court Marshall Offense. I did not always like to do what they told me to do, but I knew better than to argue. Machinist Mate Third Class, (MM3), Clifford, was assigned to be my training officer.
His first Order was for me to clean the inside of those 24 inch fresh air pipes. I had to crawl inside as far as I could and wash them shiny clean. It was a black messy job, but I got it done. These types of jobs are not only to maintain a healthy atmosphere on a ship, but to teach humiliation and obedience. It also taught me to hate people who abuse their Authority. Petty Officer Clifford had a sadistic streak and loved shoving his rate down workers throats, knowing they dared not complain or talk back. The military does not screen out people with sadistic traits and a lot of them make Petty Officer Rate. But on the bright side, these types also tend to bend the rules and sooner or later they get caught and Court Martialed. Most are reduced in rank and transferred to another ship.
However, the first day in the Engineroom was here and now and Petty Officer Clifford was standing by watching me climb into the large air pipe. Navy rules say when a man enters a small enclosure or tank, he must have a rope attached so if he passes out, he can be pulled out. Also, another man must stand by to assist the poor soul with whatever supplies he needs. My helper was eager and we got along well. His name was David, from Western Pennsylvania. There were three other fellows in the Engine room, from Pennsylvania, but from the Eastern part.
The sailors that I worked with most of the time was a mixed group. Chuck was from Missouri, Charlie was from Ohio, Doug was from upper New York State, Mike was from Eastern PA. David was from South Western PA and I was from North Western PA. We often went on Liberty together as the six Horsemen. I didn’t drink and had to help them get back to the Base and on the ship when they were “Three sheets to the wind.” In other words, so drunk they could not navigate without help. Back in the days of wooden ships and iron men, when a storm came up at sea, the sails were reefed, or taken in, except three small sails to provide steerage. A ship rigged this way wallered all over the sea, so a Sailor who wallered all over the sidewalk in a drunken state was “Three Sheets to the wind”.
From that dirty job in a pipe, I went to another dirty job assigned to the lowest man in the pecking order, cleaning and painting the bilges. All the lowest ranking low-lifes in the engine-room were called “Bilge-Rats”. They crawled around in the bilges cleaning and painting. I cleaned a lot of bilges on that ship that first year. It was tough crawling over frames and under pumps, squeezing into tight places that I hated. I panicked one time when I got twisted around and could not get out. Three other “Bilge Rats” had to help me. Another name given low rated men was “Peons.”
The Bilge-Rats made a good time of it by singing, telling raunchy stories and just getting to know their fellow “Rats.” Clothing worn in the Bilges had to be thrown away, they were ruined. “Rats” wore the same clothes until the bilges were all done, which took about three weeks a year. Our daily routine went like this. Get up in the morning, put on clean fresh dungarees. Go to chow and Quarters. Go below to the engine room and change into our bilge clothes. Work until lunch. Change into the morning clothes for lunch, (chow). Then after chow, change back into the bilge clothes. The work day ended at 1600, (4PM). After “Working Hours”, change into the morning clothes, go to the berthing compartment. Undress and go shower, wearing a towel. This was in the days before females were allowed on Navy ships.. Come back from the showers, get dressed into the morning clothes and go eat. Then either go on watch, go ashore or stay aboard and watch a movie. At bed time, undress and toss the morning clothes into the laundry bag.
To this day, I hate changing clothes more than once a day. But there was a rainbow. After a hard working day, there was a routine known as the four “S’s.” Squat, (use the toilet), Shave, Shower and Shine shoes. This was all in preparation for going ashore. To go ashore, one had to get his name on the Liberty Party List and Sign Out for Overnight Liberty. The Liberty section had from 1600 to 0800, (4:00 PM till 8:00 AM) to get back aboard. There were no restrictions on travel, but don’t be late, it’s a Court Marshall Offense. If the Petty Officer that was your boss didn’t like the way you did your job, he would not add your name to the Liberty List. If he was going ashore, you did not have to do “Extra duty.” But if he was also in the Duty Section, (because HIS boss was on his case), then the two of you would go down to the Engine Room and he would observe you doing whatever job he dreamed up. This pecking order went all the way up to the Captain. There was a legal way to get a shore pass, all you had to do was to find a pal who was willing to “Stand-in” for you. Then you took a slip of paper called a “Stand-By Chit” and went up the Engineering Chain of Command getting everyone’s signature.
I discovered that there was a way around most of the NavRegs, some were illegal and I won’t discuss them here.
The six Horsemen, in their cleaned and pressed uniforms, referred to as “Dress Blue Canvass”, went up to the Quarter Deck. The ritual was the same on all Navy ships.
Approach the Officer of the Deck, commonly referred to as the OD. Salute with your right hand while showing the ID and Liberty card in your left. Speaking in a clear and distinct voice, say, “Fireman Goodman requests permission to leave the ship, Sir.” The OD would then glance at our cards to see if we were who we said we were, then check our appearance and usually say, “Permission granted,” then return our salute. The sailor was then to turn to the stern of the ship and salute the flag on the fantail and proceed down the gangway to the dock. The OD was usually a very new Officer of the lowest rank. This duty was his “Bilge Cleaning” job.
At the Main Gate, the Sailors had to show the Marine Guards their ID and Liberty cards. He in turn inspected us for compliance with Uniform Regulations. Cleaned and pressed uniform, Hats on square, nothing in our jumper pockets, neckerchief tied in a square knot, black socks and shined shoes. When it came my turn, the guard said for me to go back to the ship and put on a regulation uniform, that he could not let me pass thru the gate in a “Tailor-made” uniform.
That very morning, I had paid $125 to another sailor getting discharged, for this custom made dress uniform made in Japan. It had dragons embroidered on the inside of the cuffs and under the collar flap. The Jumper fit like a glove with a zipper up the side and the fabric shone because it was silk. The pants were skin tight except for the 18 inch bell bottoms. I thought I was a real salty guy.
The other Peons went on without me. I trudged back to the ship very depressed. The OD looked at me with a disgusted look and we went through the ritual. I went below to change.(He realized he had made a error in allowing me to go off the ship in a non-regulation Uniform).
This time I made it out the gate and went down the street to a small café. My five buddies were there waiting. We talked about getting a cab, but one of the more experienced guys said to go to the next corner and get a bus for a dime.
Downtown was a glitter of neon lights. None of us sailors had eaten on board, so we decide to eat and see a movie. But some of the group had seen the movies and wanted to go to a bar and drink. Most of the group was only 18 and 19, below the legal drinking age in most states. But they soon learned that the uniform was the only ID needed to get anything illegal. While three went off to drink, the rest of the group went to eat. I got a Hamburger with Fries, Coffee and a side dish of Boston Baked Beans. After eating three of us went to a movie. We came out at 2100, (9:00PM) and decided to go see another movie. When we came out we were hungry again. So we had a hotdog and root beer, and caught the bus back to the base. We walked back through the gate, showed the ID and Liberty Cards to the Guard, walked to the ship, saluted the OD, showed our ID’s and went below. It was after taps and lights were out. But the Navy doesn’t like the dark, so red lights are on all over the insides of the ship. I got undressed by my locker, brushed off my uniform, turned it inside out, folded it neatly, put it in a paper sack and stowed it in my locker. I put my shoes inside socks to protect the shine and stowed those in my locker. I folded my white hat inside out and put it in the bag with the uniform along with the neckerchief. Then I visited the head, climbed into my bottom rack, pulled up a wool blanket and went to sleep.
In boot camp, every recruit was issued one heavy blue Wool, Class “A” Dress Uniform with white stripes on the collar and cuffs. On the upper left arm was his stripes indicating rate. As years went by, ribbons were added to the left chest and service stripes went on the left forearm of the Dress Blue Jumper. One stripe for every four years of service. These were in red, unless you were a super hero and had no black marks on your record. In that case, the stripes were in gold, indicating Good Conduct. A medal was on your left chest for that also.
We were issued one heavy blue Wool Class “B”, Undress Uniform with no stripes but with rate sewed on the left arm,. and two work uniforms, pants and shirts, called dungarees. We were issued one pair of dress shoes, one pair of work shoes, now well worn from Boot camp, and crawling in the bilges, a pair of “Play Shoes” called Sneakers.. We were also issued three white uniforms with no stripes. These whites were used as “Dress” and “Undress” uniforms. The only difference was when to wear the black neckerchief for going ashore. They were also summer uniforms and a positive bear to keep clean. Later, sailors were required to sew their rate on the left sleeve.
Wearing the dress uniform every time ashore soon got it dirty. A civilian dry cleaner came on board every morning to get these soiled uniforms and return them the next day on a hanger like brand new. Sailors had to pay for this service. The ships laundry would wash dress blues, but then the men themselves had to iron them. It was easier to have the uniform done ashore and delivered ready to wear.
When the dress shoes got scuffed and no longer could pass Saturday morning personnel inspection , sailors had to go down to the ships store and buy a new pair. The old shoes then became everyday shoes, and needed no shine. When shoes got badly scuffed, they became “Steamers”, or shoes worn during times at sea when spit and polished shoes were not expected to be worn in the engine rooms. Smart sailors would buy a complete uniform including hat, neckerchief, underwear and shoes. Then put it away just for inspections.
Storage is limited on ships, but sailors could have as many articles of clothing as they wanted. Smart sailors would buy many pairs of socks and underwear. Work boots were too hot to wear in the engine room where the temperature often reached 100 degrees. The “boon-doggers” , high work shoes, were rarely used after boot camp. It was many months before I wore them again.
On Navy ships, the crew is split up into two duty sections called Port and Starboard. When the Starboard Duty Section is ashore, the Port Duty Section has enough trained personnel to get the ship underway in the event of an emergency. Our normal underway engine room ‘watch’ consisted of; A senior Petty Officer in charge, usually a Chief Machinist Mate, an assistant, usually a Petty Officer in training to be Chief. There were two throttle men, one pump man and a messenger. The assistant would relieve any man that needed to go to the head.
Each Duty Section is divided up into three-4 hour assignments. At all times, there must be somebody awake and be on ‘watch’ for whatever might occur. These watches can be long and boring. But they can also be so busy the time just flies by. At sea, there are watches that control the ship, but in port, the watch must be the eyes and ears of the ship. While in Port, this was mostly for fire protection. Especially while in dry dock.
I was assigned to the Port Duty Section and had the ‘Mid-Watch’, from 12 to 4. That meant that from Midnight to 4 AM, I was awake and ‘on Duty’. Then again from noon to 4 PM.
My “Watch” was called the “Roving Patrol.” I carried a flashlight and a clipboard. These were hooked to a web belt around my waist. The clipboard banged against my leg at every step. My job was to inspect every Engineering Compartment on the ship once an hour, and record the time, place and condition on the clipboard.. Some fellows cheated, wrote in false readings because they were too lazy to inspect all the compartments. If you were caught putting in false readings, you were put on ’report’, and had to explain to the Captain why you did it. You most likely would end up in the Brig, then transferred to another duty station. All records on the ship are legal documents to be used as evidence in a Court Marshall. Mistakes cannot be erased, just crossed out and initialed by the person who is taking the readings.
This is a huge ship and had a lot of Engineering Compartments. 2 Engine rooms, 4 Boiler Rooms, 2 Workshops, 6 Shaft alleys, 2 Generating Rooms, A Rudder Control Room, 3 Berthing Compartments, an Office and a Store Room. By the time I climbed up and down a 20 foot ladder into each machinery compartment, four times a watch, I was a pooped pup and ready to be relieved when the watch ended. A “Watch” is four hours long and an eternity wide. In the olden days of wooden ships and iron men, the time on ‘watch’ was signaled by ringing the ships bell every half hour. Starting at midnight, one bell was 0030 (12:30 AM civilian time), two bells was 0100, (1:00 AM), three bells was 0130, (1:30 AM), and so on every half hour until the watch was over at 8 bells, or 0400, (4:00 AM). At this time the men would be relieved by other men, and the bells would repeat, starting with one bell, etc.
Each watch had names. The Mid Watch was from midnight, 12 to 4. The Dog Watch from 4 to 8. The Morning watch from 8 to 12. Then the Mid Watch, the Dog Watch and the Evening Watch. At sea, a man was assigned to a series of watches for a week, then rotated. I would have the mid watch for a week. Noon to 4, and Midnight to 4.
I had 4 hours on and 8 hours off During the times off watch, I was expected to get some sleep, study for the next rating, write letters, clean the area around my bunk, clean my work area in the Engine room, replace missing or torn clothing, shower and shave. The very worst of the assigned watches was the 4 to 8. The day started at 0330 when you were shaken awake to go on watch. At 0600 you were relieved for breakfast. Then back on watch until 0730. Then dress in clean dungarees to line up for morning quarters. After quarters, you were told to “turn to”, another Navy expression, meaning to “Get to work.” Wise sailors, also referred to as “Old Salts”, knew that the bunk room was “off Limits”, so they would change into work clothes in the engine room.
A work day was from 0800 to 1100, 1300 to 1600. The bunk room was open during lunch period and lots of guys lay down for a nap. Chow went from 1100 to 1230 and the line was usually long. After chow, we had until 1300 to do anything required done. At 1300, it was back in the salt-mine until 1530, when we were to go on watch. We were relieved for supper at 1700, then back on watch until 2000. It made for a very long day. The Mid-watch was by far the best one. We could “sleep-in” until Morning Quarters at 0800. But that would mean missing breakfast. I did not miss many meals while in the Navy. Missing a meal was murder. We would bring canned food aboard and keep it hidden in the engineroom so we could have a “Midnight Snack”. Some places on ships had hot-plates and cooked food at all hours. These were not legal and had to be hid from the inspectors.
There wasn’t a lot of time for recreation. That’s why Sailors go wild when they “Hit the Beach”, meaning to go on Liberty ashore.
It was December 1948 in Boston and the town was gaily decorated. The ship was nearly deserted because most of the crew was on leave. I had no “Leave” time on the books because I had used it in the first six months. Sailors are allowed 30 days vacation a year and it does not accumulate. Use it or lose it. Normally a sailor has to put in a years service to earn that 30 days leave, but because I was a Graduates of a Class “A” school, they gave me the 30 days before I had a year in service. But now I had to wait a year before getting another 30 days. My first year of service was up in April of 49. Then I had to wait another year to accumulate the 30 days. They conveniently forgot to tell me this in school.
The local USO group had arranged for entertainment on the ship. The selections must have been very skimpy because here is what we saw in the ships lounge.
First, a couple wearing roller skates came out and put down a 3 foot diameter circle of plywood with a shiny surface on it. Then they stepped on the circle, faced each other holding one another with hands on elbows. They began skating in a circle, faster and faster. She began climbing up until she was setting on his shoulders. Then she slipped down and with her feet wrapped around him, leaned back, her head nearly touching the floor. Somehow, she regained an upright position and climbed up again. This time he held her overhead while spinning all this time. They had other routines, all twirling. I got dizzy watching them.
Next came a ballet dancer who must have been called at the last minute because she had on street clothes. A bunch of sailors were setting on the floor, excuse me, the deck, and as she twirled, they could see her undergarments. Before that day, the only feminine undergarments I had seen were on a clothesline. This country boy was shocked.. I don’t remember much after that. The poster said “Join the Navy and see the world.” But I never dreamed that included woman’s underwear with her in it.
Christmas day. I slept late, missed breakfast. Noon chow was all the usual things starting with Turkey. This time, I stuffed himself. Navy rule, don’t waste food. “Take what you want, but eat what you take.” You may have seconds and thirds after everyone else has gone through the chow line. I gained 39 pounds that first year in the Navy. The Navy does not serve fattening foods. With nothing to do after chow, I went back to bed. Ho Ho Ho Hum.
January first 1949, was a big day. The ship’s repairs were completed and she was scheduled for a “Shakedown” cruise. I was eager to see the ocean. For 18 years all I ever saw was hills. I could not even imagine what flat land looked like.
The ship cannot move unless steam pressure is up in the boilers. So the boiler crew must get up at 2400 and start the oil burners going. It takes a long time to heat tons of water from room temperature to the state of Super-Heated steam. Pure fresh water will turn from a liquid to a vapor, called steam, at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, at sea level pressure, 14.7 pounds per square inch.. But this is like what you see blowing out of a teakettle, wet steam. The moisture in wet steam would damage the turbines, so the steam is “Super-Heated” to 800 degrees. Now it is dry hot air at 614.7 pounds per square inch pressure. Very dangerous. If you hear a hiss, never stick your hand out to feel the steam. It will cut your hand like a knife. Steam burns are very painful and take a long time to heal. (Been there-Done That).What you should do is get a piece of paper and move it around the hissing noise. The steam will cut the paper. If the leak is bad and cannot be stopped or by-passed, the whole system has to be shut down. After all, this is a shake-down and looking for leaks is a part of the job. Another important leak all the crew has to look for is a fresh water leak. Like a dripping shower head, or a water fountain not shutting off. All crew members are allowed 9 gallons of fresh water per day. That includes drinking, cooking, showering and washing clothes. In the forward Engine Room is a machine about the size of a car that converts sea water to fresh water at 150 gallons an hour. This Evaporator runs 24/7/365, while underway. It is a very important duty and only well trained engineers can operate it. There are four fresh water tanks that hold 1000 gallons each to store the water. A small Circulating Pump, on the lower level of the Forward Engine Room, removes water from these tanks and pumps it at 30 PSI throughout the ship. Conserving water on a ship is one of the most important things a sailor can do. To waste water is a Court Marshall Offense. If too much water is used, the remaining water is rationed. That means from then until the fresh water tanks are full, either take a salt-water shower or none. Bunkmates frown on the second choice. Sometimes when the Fresh water Converter breaks down, the whole crew suffers until the machine is running again.
It is the responsibility of the Forward Engine room to supply the boiler room with water to “Feed” the boilers. One of those four tanks supplies water to the Feed Water Pumps, that supply the Boilers. fresh water. So the “Feed Water Pump” has to be turned on and certain valves opened.
While waiting for the steam pressure to build up, we engage the “Jacking Gear” that will rotate the main turbines. There is no clutch, so when the engines turn, the reduction gears turn, the main shafts turn and way back aft, the props turn at one revolution every three minutes. The purpose of this is to allow the turbines to heat up slowly, evenly and not warp. Once the Boiler Room reports to the Engine Room that they have steam pressure, the Officer of the Watch, usually the Engineering Officer himself, in the Forward Engine Room, calls the other stations in the Engineering Department on the squawk box asking them to report readiness to get underway. When all stations report they are ready, the Officer tells the Petty Officer to “dis-engage the jacking gear..” When the P.O. comes back and says, “The Jacking Gear is disengaged, Sir.”, the Officer reports to the bridge that the Engineering Department is standing by to answer all bells. An announcement will be heard throughout the ship, “Now go to your stations, all the Special Sea and Anchoring Detail.” What that means is, expertly trained people are assigned to position themselves at critical places on the ship. The Steering Wheel up on the bridge: at the anchor to either raise or lower the anchor as required. It also means that expertly trained Throttle men will take over the duties of running the main engines, to start the engines turning when ordered to do so. Once the ship is out of port, the word will be passed, “Now secure the Special Sea and Anchoring Detail.” At that point the regular watch will take over. During the time the Special Sea and Anchoring detail is set, the ship is “battened down”, with most watertight doors in passageways and deck hatches closed and locked. This is known as Condition Zebra.
After the Special Sea and Anchoring Detail is on station, the Engineering Officer notifies the bridge, almost immediately, the Engine Order Telegraph , (EOT), will go DING. A red arrow on that instrument, that was at the 12 o’clock position, will point to a marker on the dial. That will tell the Throttle men what speed is required and in what direction. In this case the order was one third forward on the port engines (and one third back on the starboard engines). Although there are two Starboard engines and two port engines, the bells control both the engines on that side of the ship.
When the EOT bell rings, the Throttle men have to do all of the following in a very short time;
- Glance up at the clock and remember the exact time.
- Press the talk button on the two way phone hanging from his neck and answer the phone talker on the bridge, repeating the “Ahead One Third” message. All messages must be repeated to the sender to avoid confusion, especially with so many dialects.
- Lean down, move the black arrow on the EOT to match the red arrow.
- Slowly open the appropriate valve by turning one of the large brass wheels. This must be done very slowly to avoid causing damage to the main engine. That is a Court Marshall Offense.
- While the engine is responding, keep an eye on the Revolution Indicator, also known as a ‘Tachometer’.
- Write the time and bell in the Engineering Log, that is on a clipboard in front of him.
- Watch the RPM (revolutions per minute) on the Tach, and continue to adjust the throttle until the needle stops on the correct RPM..
In the engine room, there is no feeling of movement. The crew down there may as well be standing in a large steam plant at a hospital. The Revolution Indicator shows the prop is turning. The Throttle men must adjust the valve to hold the revolutions exactly to the order. One third speed means one third of Full speed, which is 120 revolutions. That translates into 40 Revolutions a minute for one third speed. All throttle men are of Petty Officer rating, with many hours of training. They respond automatically, no wasted time, and no mistakes. Running the ship into another ship or dock is a BIG no-no. When that happens, Admirals get involved and the Captain’s Navy Career is over. Navy Regulations state that a Captain of a Naval Ship is responsible for anything that happens on that ship. Even if he is not aboard.
After breakfast, the morning watch came down and took over control of the engine room. The relieved watch can go up on deck, but they have to change into undress blues to be on deck . To be caught there in dungarees is a Court Martial Offense. (Out of uniform). And be sure not to put heel marks on the deck. I wanted to see the action, so I put on my undress blues and went up on deck.
I watched from the 01 level, the deck above the main deck so I would not be in the way. The command came from the bridge, and resounded throughout the ship on the PAS speakers, “Single up all lines.” Dock workers then lifted the heavy loops of braided rope, called Hawsers, from the bollards on the dock while the deck crew hauled the line aboard. Please note that a rope is a rope until it is aboard a ship, then it becomes a line. When all lines were singled up, the word came, “Let go the Aft lines.” Three Aft docking lines were taken aboard. At this time the bridge ordered the engines to turn. The ships stern started drifting away from the pier. The word came, “Take in all lines.” The ship moved away from the dock and began moving forward toward the open sea, and we were under way. I was finally a sailor.
“Way” is used as a nautical term. If a ship is moving, she has “Way” on. She is making “way”, she has steerage “way”, she is under “way.” All having to do with the ship no longer attached to land. If she is at anchor, the anchor is in the mud on the bottom of the bay. When the anchor is winched up, as soon as the anchor is free of the bottom, the report goes up to the bridge, “Anchor’s Away.” Somehow, that got changed to Aweigh, as in the Navy Song, “Anchors Aweigh.” The anchor detail does not “weigh” the anchor, although it weighs over a ton. But they do hose the mud off the chain as it is pulled aboard with a huge winch called an anchor windlass..
The United States Ship Rochester, Heavy Cruiser number CA-124, (Cruiser, Heavy) was four years old. She was built during the second world war but commissioned after the war. She never saw action. She was the fourth ship of this class, having one smokestack and an airplane crane on the stern. She is 675 feet long, 76 feet wide, weighs 16,850 tons, and is a battle cruiser with many guns. Her crew numbers 2500 men. (No Women). I was a very proud sailor going to sea. Anxious, but proud. My anxiety was short lived. When the ship passed the lighthouse marking the entrance to Boston Harbor, she began to roll. It was a slow deliberate roll and I got sick.
Getting Sea-Sick and not be able to perform your duty is a Court Marshall Offense, but I didn’t care. After feeding the fish my breakfast, I went below to lay down. The berthing compartment was “Off Limits” because they were cleaning. I needed to lay down. The only place legal for me to be at that moment was the engine room. But it was hot down there and I needed cool air. I went back up on the 01 level, found a secluded spot and sat down. I began feeling better. A gruff voice got me to stand at attention. It was a Bosun’s Mate. These fellows are even meaner than the Petty Officers down in the Engine room. First he wanted to know who I was, he was looking at the red stripes. Then he wanted to know if I was “Shirking Duty” (Goofing Off when I should be working). Then he said he was going to put me on report, meaning a Captain’s Mast. I thought fast and answered the questions honestly and with respect. I told him that I had just got off watch and needed some fresh air. I said “If I am in a restricted space, I apologize. I did not see any signs to that effect.” The Bosun softened a bit after I told him this was my first time at sea and I was sick.
The Bosun said I could stay for awhile, but to remove my shoes so they would not leave black marks on the freshly cleaned deck. The Bosun’s name was stenciled on his shirt but I asked him his name. He said his nick-name was Sharky.
I told him my name. We became friends. A year later on, we would team up and pull a trick on the Navy.
The shakedown cruise was a partial success. Upon our return to the dock, The Yard Crew had to come back aboard and do some minor repairs. Then the ship was ready to take on “Stores.” Semi-Trucks were lined up on the dock packed with “Stores” that had to be carried aboard and stowed in their proper place. Mostly food, a lot frozen, repair parts and hardware items, clothes and shoes, lubricating oil, greases and a lot more “Stuff.”
At these times when taking on stores, it becomes a total crew involvement. The Bosun’s pipe is blown. The sound goes throughout the ship on the PA system. The word is passed, “ALL HANDS, report to the dock-master for assignment and work detail.” The detail is called a “Working Party.” Muster is taken so all hands are either present or accounted for. Those lucky souls on watch are excused. All others must carry stores. You eat it, you carry it. You wear it, You carry it. You use it, you carry it. Officers are excluded from manual labor. It’s a sneaky trick, but Petty Officers relieve any man on watch, ranked below him, so that peon has to carry stores.
Long lines are formed at the back of each truck. Four men begin to unload each truck and hand a box, bale or sack to a man waiting in line. That man puts the load on his shoulder.
A storekeeper with a manifest on a clipboard checks the item off his list of what is on the truck. The man with the item on his shoulder walks up the gangplank. As he steps on board, another storekeeper with a clipboard checks off the box/bag number. He tells the laborer where to take the load. When the man reaches the hatch going to the appropriate store-room, he hands the box to a man on the ladder, who in turn hands it to another man down below, and so on until the box reaches the store-room where a storekeeper checks it off his list and has it put in it’s resting place. The frozen food boxes go directly to the huge walk-in freezers.
The man who brought the box aboard, now goes down another gangplank to the dock and gets in line for a few minutes rest, then repeats the routine until the truck is empty. I was carrying a box of apples. When I went by the open engine room hatch. The man on “watch” down there, had his head sticking up for air. I handed him the box and kept going, getting back in the line going ashore.
The empty truck departed and a full truck took it’s place. This routine continues until there are no more trucks. It takes several hours with no stopping for rest or chow.
The Chief Storekeeper did some detective work and decided the “Snipes” had stolen the box of apples. He came down to the engine room to find them. He had no luck. He knew we had the box, but no proof. What he didn’t know was the box was in the air pipe over his head.
A second shakedown cruise was completed and the ship was officially accepted by the Captain as ready for sea, all stores and a full crew on board. The word was passed, “Make all preparations to get underway.” This time the cruise was to the Ammunition Depot in the center of the Delaware River, near Philadelphia, PA.
The ship had several large bore guns on board. These included the 8 inch main battery. Three guns to a turret for a total of nine guns. Two turrets were on the fore deck and one turret on the aft deck. These guns fired an 8 inch diameter shell that stood three feet high and weighed 2000 pounds. The gun powder that pushed the shell out of the barrel with such force, that the shell landed 10 miles away, was in bags. Six bags were needed for that shot. All of the ammo and powder for the big guns was far to heavy for human handling. These were brought aboard on skids by the dockside crane and lowered directly into the bowels of the ship.
There were six- five inch gun turrets. Each turret had twin guns that fired a 5 inch diameter shell about 18 inches long and weighed about 40 pounds. Again, these were too heavy for the crew to handle.
But the six anti-aircraft guns used a 40 Millimeter shell that came in clips of four. These were not very heavy, and we carried these aboard in boxes, two men to a box. Also brought aboard were rifles, pistols and ammo for them. The ships armory was the storage locker for these hand to hand combat weapons. A Detachment of Marines assigned to the ship were responsible for the small arms in the armory. They often did firearms practice off the fantail shooting at objects tossed from the bow of the moving ship.
A lot of strange looking crates came aboard, nobody knew what they contained.
Arctic Circle and Reserve Cruises
The Ship got underway and headed North. It was announced over the PA system that the ship was taking part in the North American Expedition. Our destination was an island off the coast of Greenland, above the Arctic Circle. The purpose of the Expedition was to put a Detachment of Marines ashore on the Island for ten days with full battle gear. They were supplied with food, shelter and cold weather gear that was all new and untested under actual extreme conditions. This was February of 1949 and winter in the Frozen North.
A couple of days later the ship came to a complete stop. Word was passed that a pod of whales had surfaced around the ship and the Captain ordered that the propellers be stopped to avoid hitting the animals. I rushed up on deck to see a sight few people ever see. As far as the horizon in all directions were large blue whales. Water spouts were popping up all over as they breathed. It wasn’t long and they dived, and we continued North to the Arctic Circle.
After two days of sailing north east, we were just about at the spot where the Titanic lay on the bottom. A wreath was tossed overboard and a prayer was said over the PA system.
A few days later, we spotted our first iceberg. Not a very big berg, but a threat to navigation. Permission was granted to fire some ammo at the iceberg. The guns roared, but the berg didn’t seem to be affected. That was exciting for a country boy.
We arrived at the frozen island and the ship anchored off shore. The Marine Detachment formed on deck, got last minute instructions and climbed down the rope ladder to one of the ships life boats waiting there. The boat made several trips taking 6 men at a time with all their gear.
I stood on deck shivering. It was bitter cold. I turned and ran to the doorway and scuttled down the engine room hatch like a rabbit. I reached up and pulled the hatch shut behind me but didn’t secure it. The engine room was a cozy 80 degrees. The air coming out of the two blower pipes was so cold, somebody had stuffed a bale of wiping rags in them to shut off most of the flow.
Ten days later, the Marines came back aboard. I guess the Expedition was a success, but I never got the official word. One of the Marines told me on the cruise back to warmer weather.
About 100 miles off the Newfoundland coast, I was out on deck getting some fresh air and watching the ocean. I saw something in the water ahead that looked strange. As the ship got closer, I saw two different colors of water. The sea we were in was a dark green. The sea ahead of us was a pretty blue. The ship went from one to another with no indication of the difference.
Later, talking to one of the ships Officers, I learned we had passed from the cold North Atlantic sea, into the warm Gulf Stream. There is a river of warm water that flows up from the south Atlantic Ocean, sweeps past Bermuda, the East coast of the USA, the Maritime Provinces, curving south below Greenland, Iceland and down past Ireland and England. This warm water is several miles wide and very deep with it’s own current, different from the green cold waters of the North Atlantic. They never join.
The ship docked in Boston and the Expeditionary Forces gathered their cold weather gear and left the ship.
The next eight months were training cruises. We took aboard several hundred Naval Reserve people of all different ranks including Officers. The Reserves must put in one duty weekend a month and two weeks training a year. For their training, they were assigned the USS Rochester.
The ship made “Reserve Cruises” to: Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia; Bar Harbor, ME; Marble Head, MA; Newport, RI; New York City; Philadelphia, PA and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
A fresh batch of reserves came aboard every two weeks. Turn around time in port was usually one weekend to refuel and take on “Stores.” After six months of this routine, The regular crew was getting ready to kill for some time off. But we made cruises all summer and Fall.
While anchored off Bar Harbor, Maine, they allowed some sailors to go ashore.
They didn’t dare allow the entire liberty section to go at once because that would more than equal the entire population of the tiny island. But I was among the lucky sailors and went directly to the beach. There was a long pier sticking out several hundred feet, I suppose for cruise ships.
I had my bathing suit on under my uniform and my towel in a small satchel. Out on the end, some young boys were diving into the water. It looked so refreshing, I peeled off my uniform, folded it neatly, tucked my valuables into my satchel, walked to the edge and dove. It was about 14 feet to the water, and I made a clean dive, then immediately went into shock. The water was ice-cold. I came to the surface and swam over to a float nearby. I climbed up on the float in the warm July sun to warm up. After a while, I had thawed out, but faced a big problem. I had to get back into that cold water in order to get to the ladder on the pier. My courage left me. I stood on the edge of the float and kept teetering. Eventually the float and I got out of rhythm and I fell into the Arctic Ocean. The only thing missing was the icebergs. I swam to the pier and climbed the ladder. After rubbing myself dry, I lay on my towel for an hour while my suit dried. Then I dressed and went over to the village. It took ten minutes to walk the length of Main street. I rented a bike and rode around the island. About two hours later, I walked to the beach and caught the boat back to the ship.
On the last reserve cruise, the ship went to Cuba. The US Navy has a base on the Eastern tip of the island. We were given permission to go ashore to the base. I wanted to swim, so I went to the beach. I waded out and dove in. YUK, it was terrible. I swam, but not long. It must take some time to get used to almost hot salt water.
One day, a paper was posted on the bulletin board announcing names of those who passed tests and advanced up one rank, effective immediately. I made Third Class Petty Officer. My rank was officially Machinist Mate Third Class, (MM3). YIPPEE, no more bilge cleaning.
Back in Boston, the word was passed that the ship was going to the Mediterranean Sea for six months. Transfers were made for those short-timers whose enlistment would expire when they were over seas. There was a brief lull between the departure of the salts and the arrival of the new replacements. I took advantage of this situation and got a top bunk and a locker that locked. When the newcomers were aboard, I was no longer the low man. Now I had some bilge rats to boss around.. Now I could stand around and talk with a cup of coffee in my hand while the peons cleaned the bilges. What was even better, the fellow who gave me those dirty assignments was not on the advancement list and now I was equal in rank with him. He could not tell me what to do.
As a Petty Officer, I had to train the new men. I liked that part of the job. Along with the rank, I was assigned new jobs, like Throttle man, and Pump Repairman. But these were under the supervision of an Old Salt, or one that had a lot of experience.
West Coast Bound
A new captain was assigned to take over the ship. I recall standing in the chow line when the word was passed. “Now hear this, Our new home port will be Long Beach, CA.”
We were stunned. What happened to the Med cruise? No answers were given.
In December, we had Christmas in Boston again, I had not yet accumulated enough leave days, plus, I was flat broke. I spent my second Christmas away from my family and home, on my new home aboard ship.
January, 1, 1950, the ship left Boston and got underway for long Beach, California. To get there, we had to go through the Panama Canal. As we cruised to the southern latitudes, it got warmer each day. Then we docked in Newport News, Virginia. I watched as they removed four of the Kingfisher aircraft with a dockside crane. Then they lifted off the two catapults.
Next, they prepped the steel deck and laid down teakwood. Then came the big surprise. Four Sikorsky H-5, helicopters were lifted aboard and stowed down in the hanger deck. One of these was destined to go into the history book.
On January 15, we entered the first lock of the Panama canal.. The transit took eight hours. While in the canal, I got a telegram. My sister Lois had passed away from Cancer. I sent a telegram back to mom telling her I could not be there for the funeral. There was nothing else I could do.
Then the ship was in the Pacific Ocean. Up North we went, passing the Baja Peninsula, and stopped in San Diego for repairs. There is always something that needed fixing on a ship.
At San Diego, we were assigned as Fleet Command Ship, and Admiral Radford came aboard. The Rochester was now his “Flagship.” Admiral Radford was the Naval Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet and US territories. In NavySpeak, CinCPac, spoken, Sink Pack.
All this meant that the ship had to sparkle at all times. NO Engineering lowlife, referred to as “snipes” were allowed up on the main deck except going to and coming from liberty. Well, a man can only stand so much below decks and cabin fever sets in. There are no port holes to look out of on a warship. I put on my undress blues, a clean white hat, I even shined my Steamers and went up on deck. A Bosun’s Mate scolded me and told me to go below where I belonged, I went. But once at the bottom of the ladder, I scooted across the ship and popped up on the other side, just as the same Boson’s Mate was approaching. He hollered for me to stop, but I ducked down the hatch and ran like hell to the next ladder down. I was heading for the engine room like a rabbit to his hole. Boson’s Mates are afraid to go down those holes. I had jumped through those watertight doors thousands of times, but this time I misjudged and as I hopped up to clear the combing, I hit my head on the top and was knocked cold. I woke up in sickbay. Some sailors had put me on a stretcher and hauled me there. My head hurt and there was blood all over my uniform. My white hat was missing. I asked the medic to notify the Engineering Officer so I would not be marked as AWOL, because no body knew where I was. The Doctor told me not to bump my head again because there was a clot and if it broke free and got into the brain, I would die. If the UCMJ didn’t get me the blood clot would. I had both feet in the grave.
Later that evening, the Engineering Officer came to hear my story. He thought it was funny and that was the end of it. He didn’t like the “No Engineers on deck” rule either.
They kept me in sickbay overnight for observation and let me go the next day. I was in strange territory that far forward, but I found my way back to the M Division compartment without going out on the open deck.
The Engineering Officer apparently had told the Machinist Mate Chief, my Engine room boss, about the incident and the Chief came to me in the berthing compartment. I told him the story, and he laughed and told me to take a few days off. My head was about to explode with pain.
First South sea Cruise
The ship left Long Beach, California with the “Flag” aboard.. All Admirals, from one star to four stars are considered “Flag” Rank. Admiral Radford had his three star Flag flying from the Yardarm as we headed out to sea. He was going to make a tour of the South Pacific. As CinCPac, he was responsible for all Navy and Marine personnel and equipment west of California. That included the entire western Pacific theater.. There were at that time several hundred ships and probably 200,000 Navy and Marine personnel serving under him. He was equal to General MacArthur, who was in charge of all other men and equipment in the far east.
Our first stop was Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. That is a 2000 mile run straight southwest from Long Beach. We did not have any escort ships. The Engineering Log went 4 days with the same entry by each watch. The time on the hour, every hour was entered, then the last bell noted, “Engine Order Telegraph at Full Speed”, then signed by the Throttle man. It was a boring watch. A throttle man must constantly let his eyes rove over the entire gage cluster, His mind must be recording what each gage reads, and he must take action if any gage pointer is not at it’s normal position. Time goes by so slowly, it is very hard to maintain vigilance. Talking is discouraged because of it being a distraction.
Besides the two throttle men, there was an Officer in charge, usually an Ensign or a Chief Warrant officer. Next in the chain of command was a CPO, or Chief Petty Officer. There was a Petty Officer of lower rank to assist and relieve the peons. If my throttle watch was boring, I can imagine what the officer of the watch was going through.
There was a low ranked individual called a messenger. His responsibilities included making coffee, taking a clipboard and a prepared sheet of paper and going all over the engine room, recording gage readings that could not be seen from the command center. Probably over 50 readings had to be recorded every hour. It was a full-time job. At 30 minutes before the end of the watch, he had to go up to the berthing compartments and notify the next watch. He had to know where every man slept, so he carried a flashlight at night..
On the lower level was a pump man. His responsibility was to make sure all those pumps ran and put out their designed pressure. Should any pump fail, he had to start the back-up pump. An experienced pump man had his ears tuned and he could tell the instant a pump made a different sound.
I was at the Starboard Engine Control Panel. The Messenger came running past me and grabbed an arm full of rags from the rag bin, and disappeared over to the port side of number two main engine out of my view. The Chief, as bored as I was, saw an opportunity to do something beside set and drink coffee. He hurried over to where the messenger was trying desperately to stop an oil leak. Oil was gushing out of the reduction gear. The Chief ran back to the control desk, reported to the Officer of the watch what happened, the Officer reached up to the squawk-box and pulled the switch for the bridge and said, “Bridge, Forward Engine Room with an Emergency.”
The bridge answered. The Engineering Officer asked that the Number 4 main engine be shut down for repair of an oil leak. The bridge said to “Wait “ONE’, meaning that person had to get permission from a superior officer. In a few seconds a new voice came over the speaker, I recognized it as the Captain. The Engineering Officer told the Captain about the oil leak, answered a few questions, then the Captain gave permission to stop number 4 main engine. When the Engine Order Telegraph rang, I answered it and slowly shut down the throttle valve to stop the steam flow going to the turbines. But because the ship was moving at 20 knots, the prop kept turning. I opened the astern throttle to stop the engine and adjusted the pressure to hold the shaft stationary. Then number 3 engine, in the aft engine room, was speeded up to keep the ship going in a straight line.
The Petty Officer assisting the Chief, took over my throttle watch and told me to go and assist. I went to the reduction gear and assessed the problem. A small copper gage line had snapped off from vibration. The Chief, with the Engineering Officer standing close by, told me to effect repairs immediately. The Chief called down by intercom to the pump man on the lower level and told him to stop the number 4 oil pump. The oil stopped leaking. I ran to the workbench and got a tool called an easy-out and an adjustable pipe wrench. Meantime the Chief sent the messenger to wake up the Engineering Store Keeper to open the store room and get a replacement part. By the time I had the broken pipe out, the new part was there and I applied Permatex Sealant to the threads and screwed it in. I removed the gage from the old pipe and screwed it into the new pipe. I nodded to the Chief who called down to the lower level to tell the pump man to start the oil pump, but stand by just in case the new part leaked. It did not.
The oil pump was brought up to full 15 pound pressure and as the messenger cleaned up the oil spill on the machine and deck plates, I returned to my duty station.
The Chief and the Engineering Officer watched the new part for a few minutes, conferred that it was going to hold, then the Engineering Officer called the Captain and told him that the repair was successful and the Engine Room was again ready to answer all bells. When the E.O.T rang, I reached down to answer, then shut off the astern steam while opening up the ahead valve and the Number 4 engine was brought up to 120 rpm. I wrote the details in the log, the Chief wrote in his log, the Engineering Officer came over and copied down what I wrote, for his log. I don’t know for a fact, but I believe the Officer of the Deck, up on the bridge, wrote something in his log, and the captain wrote in his log. Later, the messenger told me he leaned over the reduction gear to read a gage, and his foot slipped, breaking off the small pipe.
On the fourth day we arrived at Pearl Harbor. After the Ship was properly tied up, the Admiral went ashore. Then Liberty Call was announced.. I was eager to see Hawaii and the Hula Girls. I walked Waikiki beach from one end to the other and did not see one Hula Girl. All I saw was Tourists in Hawaiian shirts carrying cameras, looking for Hula Girls. Another myth busted.
The Hula Girls danced at an outdoor bar-b-que called a Luau for tourists. This was not the Paradise I had in mind. I went back to the ship to wait for mail call.
A few days later the ship headed out to sea, this time West to visit the famous Island of Midway. It was an overnight run. I saw the Gooney Bird Motel where the passengers stayed, when the China Clipper Flying Boats landed here as an overnight stop en route to Australia and Far East Ports.
There were the famous Gooney Birds too, but not much else. The Island is occupied with US Military people. There is no town. The war had ended 5 years ago but some of the scars remained, like sunken ships in the harbor.
Our journey continued….but the rules say that no United States Money may be used after Hawaii. All Greenback folding money and coins had to be exchanged for Miltary Script. All men on board had to line up like payday and turn in their American money for Military Payment Certificates.(MPC). This money was smaller than our standard greenback, and each denomination was a different color. The coined money was exchanged for paper money, also color coded and each denomination had a different size.
We also found out that without warning, the “OLD” script would be declared obsolete and new issued to US Military personel. This was intended to keep the Japanese from hoarding money. The exchange rate was 3600 Yen for ten dollars, American. If we exchanged our MPC for Yen, a person needed a satchel to carry all that paper money in. There was no rule on how much Yen we could have per man.
If we were caught with green backs west of Hawaii, it was a Court Martial Offense. But if we carried MPC back to the states, it was worthless. Not even Banks would take it.
One day we crossed the Equator. It was boiling hot. In true Naval tradition, the day was declared a “Holiday” and a ceremony was prepared to initiate new crew members. A person who has crossed the Equator, and properly initiated was considered a real salt, commonly known as a “Shellback.” Those that have not are called “Pollywogs.” During this ritual, rank is not considered. Officers must go thru the same ritual.
A Shellback then picks certain Pollywogs to do crazy things. One man had to hold two rolls of toilet paper up to his eyes like binoculars and gaze out at the horizon to look for mermaids while wearing a heavy jacket in the boiling sun.
The ritual consisted of many things, mostly foolish, but the last one was what we all remember. Navy ships dispose of all garbage by dumping it into a 3 foot diameter, 15 foot long canvass tube hanging off the Fantail, called the Garbage Chute.. The garbage then gets churned up by the wake. Seagulls love it. The last ritual all of us Pollywog had to do was crawl on our bellies thru this chute laying on deck. Naturally, Shellbacks were stationed along the chute to stop us by standing on the chute.
What seemed like forever, I saw daylight and crawled out of that stinking, smelly mess. A Shellback hosed me down with a fire-hose In front of me was a canvass tied up like a bowl and filled with salt water. I was forced to jump in where another Shellback kept forcing my head under water. Each time I came up for air, he would ask, “What are you.” At first I said a Pollywog, he ducked me under. I said an old Salt, he ducked me under. Finally I got smart and said, a Shellback, and he released me.
All Shellbacks have a notation put in their service file that he crossed the Equator with the time and date and longitude. We are presented with a certificate to frame and hang on the wall at home. No pictures are allowed to hang in the sleeping compartments.
We stopped at Kwajalein. While walking along the shore of a beautiful beach, I finally saw a hula girl. She was naked from the waist up, wearing a grass skirt and barefoot. She passed me with a coy smile. This country boy was shocked.. I learned later that her attire was common on the south sea islands. (Maybe Hawaii was that way once, but no more).
All told, we stopped at 20 islands, most names I have forgotten. (I’ll never forget Kwajalein). Then the ship tied up at Auckland, New Zealand. Guess what? They walk, talk and dress like Americans. Nothing new here. English Chocolate was good.
Navy Personnel, assigned to shipboard duty in the Far East are required to report back to their ship by midnight. The sailors call this “Cinderella Liberty.” One can be sure that to report back late will bring more than a coach turning into a pumpkin.
There were about 25 sailors standing on the dock waiting for a boat to take us to our ship anchored out in the harbor. The last boat was full when it left, and the Cox’sun said it was his last run because it was after midnight. The Captain’s boat, called a “Gig”, was tied to the landing awaiting the “Old Man.” He arrived, looked about and asked, “Are any of you going out to the Rochester?” We all raised our hands. He said, “I can take 5 of you.” When the Captain’s “Gig” departed, we knew something had to be done, and soon. The Bos’un Mate “Sharky”, who had befriended me a few months before, approached me and asked if I could get a landing craft started. I said maybe. He pointed to several landing craft tied up nearby. I went aboard one and turned on the engine room lights. The US Navy, in it’s infinite wisdom, mandates that all machinery have a list of instructions on how to operate it, posted near the machinery. I saw the operating instructions and located all the pertinent valves, switches and guages. After making sure the engine was in neutral, (Operating instruction number 1.), I pressed the start button and the engine started.
The Bos’un came aboard and had three men with him to act as deck hands. My job was done, because the Cox’un of a landing craft can operate the engines from the control console up on deck. They maneuvered the boat over to the dock, all the “stragglers” came aboard and we shoved off for the Rochester.
When the LCU, Landing Craft Utility, was properly tied up to the gangway, all aboard went up the ladder, saluted the flag, saluted the OD, requested permission to come aboard and went below. I stopped just out of sight to see what would happen.
The OD went over to the rail and yelled down, “OK, Cox’sun, shove off..”…. Nothing happened. He repeated his command. Nothing happened. The OD then instructed the Messenger to go down and see what the problem was. The messenger came back aboard, told the OD that the boat had no crew on board. The OD then instructed the messenger to “Go below and roust out the duty crew of the lifeboat.” These three men had to get up, get dressed, go get the lifeboat, tie it alongside the landing craft, untie the landing craft, take the landing craft back to the shore, tie it up and return to the ship.
Under way again and this time for Subic Bay in the Philippines. Poverty found a home here. After one trip off the base, I went back and spent some time in the base swimming pool. Then some little kid let go a turd that floated to the top and they chased us all out to drain and chemically clean the pool.
Our well deserved Rest and Relaxation, (R&R) at the Subic Naval Base was rudely interrupted one day by the announcement that the North Koreans had invaded South Korea.. We have been ordered to patrol off the Korean Coast. In a very short time, the crew on shore leave was hustled back to the ship and we steamed at flank speed up the South China Sea toward the 38th parallel.
Flank speed was the last notch on the Engine Order Telegraph. When that bell was rang, the Throttle men were instructed to, “Give her all she’s got.” The ship was not very fast, but when we were steaming at 30 knots, about 26 miles per hour, everything on board shook.
Out on deck, the back part of a ship is called a Fantail. I have no clue where the name came from. But to stand back there at Flank speed was a challenge. The wind was strong, the spray was washing up over the deck and the props were putting up a huge rooster tail that frothed the sea for miles back in a long white foamy wake. It was exciting for this country boy.
Then disaster struck. We ran smack dab into a storm cell. Normally when a ship encounters a storm at sea, she slows to one third and heads into the wind. Not this Admiral. The orders said to get to Korea ASAP, and by God we were going to obey orders or die trying.
That poor ship took a beating smacking into giant waves taller than the ship. At times the force was so powerful, the ship actually stopped, at Flank speed. Things were flying that never were intended to fly. That meant anything not fastened down.
Down in the Engine Room, there is an inclinometer, an instrument that measures in degrees how much the ship rolls off a vertical position. I watched it roll to starboard 45 degrees, then to Port 50. On it’s roll back to starboard it hit 55 degrees. We wondered if she would ever come back to vertical, or continue bottom side up..
At that point, I was standing straight, but the Control panel in front of me was too far away to touch. Then when the ship rolled back, the control panel was touching my chest. The Chief took pictures of us to prove the incident.
We arrived off the west coast of Korea and slowed to 2/3rd speed, ten knots. We were low on fuel after that high speed run and an oil tanker was just ahead. When we were alongside, we slowed to 5 knots and a braided line with a weight was shot by a gun over to the tanker. The tanker sailors snagged the line and pulled. Our seaman had attached a bigger line onto the small line and that was hauled over to the tanker and fastened to a secure shackle. Now the ships were married and it took a very experienced helmsman to keep that line from sagging into the water or snapping in two. On that line, the Tanker sailors attached a series of pulleys. The pulleys acted as trolleys. A large 8 inch diameter black hose was attached to the trolleys and our seamen pulled it across. The open end was plugged to keep out sea water. That was removed and the hose was shoved down a hole in the deck. The hatch cover, normally bolted to the deck covering the hole was just removed, and the hole went directly to the tanks below the waterline. A signal was given and oil began flowing into our tanks.
We took on 50, 000 gallons of black heavy fuel oil. The ship held more but the tanker was empty. That meant the refueling had to be repeated in a few days. After the lines were retracted, the two ships parted. The tanker to Japan for more fuel and us on Patrol. We were about 5 miles off shore and could see tall mountains but no people. An airplane with a spotter on board, flew over the ship and pointed inland, he radioed the ship and the voice was piped to the crew so all could hear him talk to the Captain.
He would give the coordinates for a target and the 5 inch guns would fire a salvo. He would tell us to move a bit to the right or left and we would fire again. When that target was destroyed, he would fly around and radio another target. At one time, our target was a cave in a mountain, four miles inland. The guns fired, corrected and he yelled into the radio microphone, “Rochester, your accuracy is uncanny. Two shells went into the cave and the top of the mountain lifted right off. .It must have been an ammo depot.”
At night, we steamed at Flank speed around the southern tip of Korea and by morning we were on the east side of the Peninsula, and fired rounds all day. That night we steamed around the point and fired on the other coast the next day. The enemy thought there were two large Gunships off their coasts.
When targets were too far inland for the five inch guns, the word was passed to clear the main deck in preparation of firing the huge 8 inch guns. When these shoot that 2000 pound missile, the explosion would deafen anybody standing on deck. When all 9 guns fire a broadside at the same time, the ship moves sideways away from the blast. The recoil is that great.
The spotter told us where the target was and often what it was. We blew up a train, a train bridge, a highway bridge and several oil and gasoline tanks. The crew on the ship could not see all this because it was beyond the mountains along the shoreline.
But we got credit. When the Military Publication, Stars and Stripes, was published and delivered to our ship by helicopter, the Rochester was front page news. The biggest reason was, we were the only gunship on the scene. Others were coming, but at that moment, the Rochester was making headlines.
When Our relief ship arrived on the coast, we headed to Sasebo, Japan for fuel, mail, and Liberty Call. We had been at sea for 127 days. We were ready to hit the beach in Japan.
The old salts on board told us all about the good and bad things that might befall us in Japan. The Chaplain published a list of streets and houses that were “Off Limits” to Navy personnel. He might just as well have given us a road map, because that’s where most of the crew went. My section had duty the first night in port.
The next afternoon when Liberty Call was piped through-out the ship, I went up to the Quarterdeck in my Dress Blue Canvass and shined shoes, all ready for shore leave. I requested permission to go ashore, Saluted the Officer, Saluted the Flag and started down the gangway.
At the foot of the gangway was a young Japanese girl with a small boy. He saw me coming down the gangway and shouted, “Daddy.” I made a hasty U-turn and went back aboard. I saluted the Flag, Saluted the Officer, and told him I forgot something.
It was common practice for the Japanese girls who got pregnant to point at a sailor and say, “He’s the one.” And it was difficult to convince the Navy Officials that she was wrong.
It was more important for the USA to have good relations with Japan than the future of a single sailor. Japanese girls who wed American Military personnel had a free ticket to the Good old US of A. Not that they weren’t attractive and very easy to fall in love with. More than one Sailor served out his enlistment and retired to Japan.
General Douglas MacArthur, Commander in Chief of all land forces in the far east theater, devised a plan to invade behind the Korean Forces and cut off their supply lines. He chose the area near the port of Inchon because of the huge natural harbor. The invasion force was gathered out to sea on several ships. On D-day minus 2, four warships entered the harbor at high tide.
That part of the world experiences very high and low tides that often exceed 25 feet. The four ships had to find deep places in the bay to anchor, because we were going to be there for several days. When the tide went out, we were surrounded by mud flats.
Then the bombardment began, and continued for 30 hours. The ship was at General Quarters, all hands at their Battle stations, condition zebra was set. Translation: All guns were manned and ready to fire; all watertight hatches were closed and dogged down tight. If you were not where you were supposed to be, you had to stay where you were. This of course was a Court Marshall Offense, and a serious one. A sailor had three minutes after the “General Quarters, General Quarters, all hands, man your battle stations” announcement, to get to his duty station.
Once every four hours the command was given to open a few hatches so people could use the heads. Mostly we were bored silly with nothing to do but wait and listen to the guns firing.
On the morning of the second day, a small plane flew over and dropped a bomb. It hit the airplane crane on the aft deck, bounced off and exploded near the side of the ship. The crane had a big dent near the top. Somebody climbed up there and painted a purple heart ribbon near the dent. The day of the invasion, the only Battleship still in Commission, the USS Missouri, BB-63, anchored outside the harbor entrance and we could hear those huge 16 inch shells whistle as they passed over head.. But then the radio blasted out, “Missouri, Missouri, cease fire, cease fire, you are killing our own troops. The gooks had retreated so fast our troops were chasing them and ran right into the coordinates that Missouri was given to fire at. The next issue of Stars and Stripes had headlines. MISSOURI BACKS UP INCHON INVASION.. Nothing was ever said about how many soldiers were killed.
The North Koreans, along with several thousand Chinese soldiers, had made their big push and our smaller forces could not stop them. Our troops were bring forced to the very southern tip. The order was given, “All seaworthy vessels in the Japanese waters, make all available speed to Hungnam on the east coast of Korea to assist in the removal of personnel from the beach.”
Our ship, was at the scene the very next morning, with ships of all sizes and descriptions arriving every minute. On the beach could be seen fires and explosions were heard. Our troops were burning and destroying anything useful that could not be loaded on the ships.
Transfer to USS Los Angeles
The Advancement in ratings list went up. My name was on it. Now my rank was Second Class Petty Office (MM2), at the ripe old age of 20. I was among the youngest on the Rochester to ever attain that rank. Along with the promotion came a transfer. The Navy believes a person has a better chance to gain respect due the rank if transferred to a new duty station. There, the people know him as that rank and not remember him as a non-Petty Officer. My transfer orders were given to me during the Hungnam Evacuation. My seabag was packed, and goodby’s were said. I climbed down a rope ladder to a landing craft called an “Mike Boat.” along with other men being transferred. The Mike boat took us to a flat-bottomed ship called an LST.(Landing Ship Tank). These were also a landing craft, but carried tanks, trucks and men to the beach. The two front doors would swing open and a ramp would lower to the beach.
We rode the LST to Sasebo, Japan, located on the southern tip. There were about 30 of us being transferred to the USA to take a ship out of mothballs and get her ready for duty.
We were taken by trucks to a train station where we boarded a troop train. The train went under the inland sea of Japan thru a very long tunnel. Then up the coast to Yokohama.
At the receiving station, we were counted and told to make ourselves scarce. Our troopship was not due to dock for a week. We had liberty and very little money. Most of us prowled the base, hung out at the library, ate at the chow hall and slept on a floating hotel tied up at the Navy base in Yokosuka. There were movies every night.
Eventually the troopship arrived and we went aboard. My bunk was the seventh one up, in a compartment filled with servicemen of all ranks. Some were GI’s heading home from Korea with battle scars and hero badges.
The weather kept getting colder. Our destination was supposed to be San Francisco, California. We tied up at Adak, Alaska. More people came on board. Now we had a fully loaded ship for the run to San Francisco. Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge always brought a lump to my throat. The ship got a heroes welcome, bands were playing, women were crying, and it was a festive occasion. But like all good things, it ended too soon, and we found ourselves trucked to another train station. This time we boarded a regular passenger train called the Twilight Limited, heading for Los Angeles. The crew and passengers figured us for Heroes. We didn’t complain. Meals were free to us. We de-trained at Los Angeles. Buses were waiting to take us to Long Beach Naval Shipyard. Our final destination was the Heavy Cruiser, USS Los Angeles CA 135. A yard crew had taken her from the “mothball” fleet and was in the process of returning her to her original condition.
When a ship is no longer needed in active duty, she is put in the “Mothball” fleet where she is sealed up tight. Temperature and Humidity are controlled to keep her in top condition until needed. A crew paints her as needed as she sleeps with hundreds of other warships, some very famous. We spent about a month getting things in the Machinery Division ready. I was in charge of the pump room and had 5 men working for me. New men were coming aboard every day.
I was standing by my bunk getting ready for Liberty one afternoon when some one spoke my name. I turned and there was a buddy from high school, Johnny Barber. In all the years I was aboard ships, he was the only one from my home town to cruise with me.
It took about three months to get the ship ready for sea trials. The LA was slightly older and a bit different from the Rochester, but soon the engine room became familiar.
On the day of the sea trials, the ship had just barely cleared the breakwater when the Roving Patrol Watch called the Engineering Officer at his station in the Forward Engine room.
The Patrolman said there was smoke coming from the starboard shaft alley. The Officer sent me to investigate. I climbed down into the shaft alley and discovered the main shaft bearing was very hot and smoking. I called the Officer and reported what I found. They stopped the starboard, number 4 engine, turned the ship around and went back into the port. There was no oil in the bearing. The bearing was ruined. The shipyard sent men with gear down and they jacked up the main shaft a few thousands of an inch. They rotated the bad bearing out and rotated a new one in. They added a few gallons of oil and a test was made. All was well. Back out to sea and more trials.
Second far East Cruise
The ship went to Korea and relieved the Rochester. We patrolled both east and west coasts of Korea and fired thousands of rounds of ammo. Once a month we went to a liberty port. Sometimes Nagoya, Tokyo, Yokosuka and Sasebo, Japan, sometimes Hong Kong.
Then we headed for states-side and a repair yard.
The ship returned to Long Beach after our tour of duty off the Korean Coast. I had accumulated some days off and put in for “Leave”, NavySpeak for Vacation.
On a window in town I saw an ad for a commercial, non-scheduled airline to St Louis, MO. I bought a one way ticket, and along with several other sailors, was bussed out to the Airport and boarded a Military Surplus C-47, still in War paint. We sat in steel bucket seats with no padding, no air conditioning and as we found out later over the mountains, no heat.
The flight over the mountains was cold. We asked for blankets, but the male steward said we had to rent them. We did, but it was too uncomfortable to sleep. Getting up and walking around was not allowed. The plane bounced up and down, we were all miserable. We asked for coffee and found out none was on board. I must have dozed off, because I awoke just as the plane landed in Amarillo, TX. This was not on the list of stops. There was a mechanical problem, the flight would be delayed a few hours.
My original intent was to fly into St Louis, then get a bus over to Mattoon, IL where my sister Betty lived. But those plans fell apart on the next stop. The plane took off and had to make an emergency landing in Kansas City, MO. Passengers were told the flight was terminated, we could get a partial refund at the counter. Most of the passengers got a bus to St Louis. There, I, changed busses and went to Mattoon, IL..
I spent a couple of days with Betty. She offered to drive me over to Upper Sandusky, OH where our brother lived. I spent a few days with my brother and family, then they drove me over to Bradford, PA. It was great being home after two years had gone by. But the situation I ran from was still there. I had made the right decision.
When it was time to head back to the ship, at the Mount Alton Airport, I got on a Douglas DC-3, the civilian version of the C-47. This plane had real comforts, and the flight from Bradford to Chicago was a pleasure. At Midway field, I got on a huge airplane called a Constellation. It had four piston engines, referred to as “propeller driven”, and three tails. This was a long distance flight, 6 hours to Los Angeles. Passengers were allowed to get up and walk around on this plane.
At LA airport, I walked out and discovered that the airport was situated very near the Pacific Coast Highway, the direct road that went to Long Beach. I was in Civvies. Not knowing how the buses ran, I began hitch-hiking. My luck was bad and nobody stopped for me.
I walked the twenty two miles, arriving at the ship Absent Over Leave, (AOL), a Court Martial Offense. So I had to appear before the Captain, who had no sympathy. I was restricted to the ship for 30 days.
But I was very shrewd. As a Second Class Petty Officer, I volunteered for Shore Patrol Duty. My assignment was the long arcade that ran for several miles on the beach, and a haven for Sailors with so many beer joints. Shore Patrols do not carry guns, but carried a night-stick and leggings, plus a black arm band with SP in white letters to identify them as authority to arrest military personnel. Most arrests were sailors staggering around drunk, and fighting.
A few were out-of-uniform, that is, missing a hat, or cuffs not buttoned. Those salty dogs with their hats on the back of their heads, were just told to get “squared away.”
Those that required removal from public view were put in Navy owned vans spotted along the Arcade. All the ruffians were accumulated in there until the van was full. This required somebody to stand guard on the Vans. Getting volunteers was not a problem because the long cement walk was hard on feet. SP’s were required to wear canvass leggings and grinder boots shined to a mirror. The van full of sailors was driven to the SP headquarters where the bad guys were put in a detention cell. After filling out the paperwork, the driver returned to the Arcade. The SP Headquarters would then notify the sailors duty stations and arrange transportation.
A normal tour of SP duty was from 1600 to 2400, 4PM to Midnight. One thing I was very glad to learn. The Navy looks after their own and we never turned a man over to the civilian cops. Sometimes they brought naughty sailors to us. One place that almost everyone wanted to go to, at least once, was Tijuana, Mexico. This notorious border town was wide open, anything you wanted, you could find it there. But a lot of Sailors also found themselves in the Tijuana jail. Once behind bars, you were, “In the system.” And it took a lot of cash to bail you out. All the cops there drove brand new cars and wore new uniforms, paid for by bail money. You were allowed one phone call and you prayed it was not a wrong number, or busy.
Another popular spot was the Hollywood Canteen. This was a club that female movie stars would go and dance with Military guys. The SP never got a call to drag some guy away from there.
Third Far East Cruise
My four year enlistment was up in April of 1952, but the announcement came that all enlistments were frozen for the duration of the war. That meant I would make another cruise to the Far East.
While en route to Hawaii, a tragic thing occurred. The ships store rooms are all down near the bottom of the ship, about 7 decks down. To get there, one must open a hatch in the deck and prop it open. Then climb down a vertical ladder to the next deck. There one has to open a hatch identical to the one above, and so on to the last deck down. A store-keeper went down. The lack of Oxygen there caused him to pass out. Another store-keeper saw this and climbed down to rescue the unconscious man. He too passed out. A Warrant Officer, (a Machinist Mate Chief up one grade), saw the two men laying 7 decks below and went down. He too passed out. Somebody called the Search and Rescue team. The rescue team, knowing about foul air in store-rooms, donned OBA gear. (Oxygen Breathing Apparatus). Then the Rescue Team went down and brought up the three men, who were now deceased. Had the first man followed proper procedure, all three would have lived.
After a brief stop in Hawaii, we steamed over to Midway Island to take on fuel.
From Hawaii to Yokosuka, Japan, is roughly 8 thousand miles. There we refueled again and had liberty. A few days later, we arrived off South Korea and relieved the Rochester.
Standard rotation of ships patrolling the waters off Korea was six months in the states and six months overseas. Because of the time it takes to get there and back, the rotation time was shortened to five months. The time in the states was used not only for R and R, but repairs to the ship, training exercises and release of crew members whose enlistment was up. I always had a batch of new men to train.
The war had became an inland war and we just patrolled with very little action. But we were in the war zone and got Hazardous Duty Pay. North Korea did not have a Navy so we were in no danger except from aircraft. All ships in a war zone must establish a water tight integrity. There are two conditions. X-ray and Zebra. When word is passed to “Go to your stations, all special sea and anchor detail.” That means the ship is either approaching or leaving port, or some dangerous situation. Then condition X-ray is set. Certain water-tight doors are shut and dogged down. When the order is given, “All hands, Man your Battle Stations”, that means we are going to engage the enemy and ALL water-tight doors and hatches are shut, dogged down tight and the ship is sealed. Because we were in a dangerous situation, condition X-ray was set at all times in the war zone.
It seemed like forever, but once every three weeks, the ship was relieved of duty and we got liberty in Japan.
The routine of patrolling off the coast of Korea went from boredom to nausea.
We drilled in all sorts of situations like torpedo hit, shell hit, fire in a boiler room, and medical emergencies. My emergency assignment was Leader of a Damage Control Party and we operated out of the passageway directly over the aft engine room. I had the team rig timbers to brace bulkheads, run a hose into the engine room and pump water with a portable pump called a P-500, and the perinial favorite, the Fire drill. All sailors must know how to fight fires. On a ship, you fight the fire and do whatever you can to keep it from spreading. To run and jump over the side may be the safest thing to do, but to do it without permission is a Court Marshall Offense. All sailors go to Navy fire fighting schools for one week every year. All shipboard sailors are taught basic first-aid and life saving techniques. We are taught how to use a device called an “Oxygen Breathing Apparatus.” Commonly known as the OBA. One put on the apparatus, cinched down the head straps, took in a few deep breaths and went into a smoke or steam filled room with a rope secured to a safety harness.. A line tender would pay out the line, keeping it rather tight because it was the only communication. One tug meant, are you ok? One tug back said, yes. Two tugs, give me more line, three tugs, I’m coming out, four tugs, I need help.
One day the Auxiliary steam safety blew and filled the aft engine room with steam. The crew on watch evacuated and the word was passed for the Damage Control Team “C” to assemble. I was team leader and was told all the engine room crew was out. They told me what happened.. I already knew where the emergency shut-off valve was from prior practice drills.
I put on the OBA and with a line tender standing by, went down the 20 foot ladder into the steam filled room. Visibility was zero. I knew my way around the engine room blind folded, as a part of my training for Petty Officer. I found my way over the forward bulkhead, located the valve and shut it off. I waited for the exhaust blowers to remove the steam, removed the OBA and went to the bottom of the ladder to tell the crew on watch they could resume normal duties.
Then I had to report to the Engineering Officer with all the details, so he in turn could report to the Captain. The failed valve was by-passed, and all Auxiliary steam to the aft engine room was routed from the forward engine room until a new valve was installed. Auxiliary steam is low pressure steam used to run the pumps and all mess deck steam kettles.
When ever people were solicited for training ashore, I volunteered. And that’s what I did when we rotated to Japan for our R and R. Training was always a big plus to get promoted.
The ship was scheduled for returning to the states for six months and we were ready. But an incident occurred that solved a mystery. All during this cruise, we noticed little things missing. Jewelry like rings and watches and of course money. But we could never catch the guilty person in the act. So we set a trap. One fellow was known to have a large sum of money in his locker. He was the person to see if you needed a loan till payday. This fellow, I’ll call Bob was asked to cooperate and he agreed. He got ready to go up to the showers and “accidently” forgot to lock his locker. A Petty Officer hid in the berthing compartment where he could see the locker, and waited. Not too long and in walked a sailor, looked around, spotted the locker and opened it up. He had a hand full of money when the Petty Officer told him to “Freeze.” He was caught, and had no alibi. Stealing from a shipmate is the lowest of the low. The worst part of this trap was, we caught a man we all liked and was buddy with on shore leave. His locker revealed his torrid past.
The Chief master-at Arms was called and he took the thief to the brig. While in the brig, the thief became friends with the guard. Somehow the thief talked the guard into showing him the Colt 45 Automatic Pistol the guard was wearing. The thief then shot his own little toe off. This required he be transferred to the Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, From there he disappeared. I never found out what became of him. The guard was Court Martialed and discharged.
The war had been raging for two years and the allied forces had pushed the North Koreans north as far as the Hahn River that marks the northern boundary between Korea and China. The Los Angeles was assigned patrol duty near the mouth of the Hahn River. The Captain decided to go up the river a ways and anchor. This was a dangerous move we found out later.
Because we were in a war zone, condition Zebra was set. On-deck lookouts were positioned every 20 feet around the main deck, armed with rifles, but were not allowed to fire unless ordered to. The ship approached the anchorage and the order was given to drop anchor. The order came down to slowly reduce the engine speed to allow the anchor to dig into the bottom. When the order came down to secure the engines, the jacking gear was not engaged because the river current was turning the props. The Machinery Division was at General Quarters, but that was modified to allow the watch to be changed every four hours.
A lookout on the bow shouted he spotted something floating toward the ship. Anti-Aircraft guns were trained on the object and shot several rounds at it. The object was too low for the guns to get into the gun-sights. Another floating mine was observed and the order was given to fire the rifles at it. This required expert marksmanship because the bullet had to hit one of the spikes sticking out of the 36 inch diameter sphere. To miss meant the mine would strike the ship and explode. Nobody missed because ten rifles were shooting at the mines when they came within range. The mines blew up with a huge roar and water spouts flew 100 feet into the air. Spotlights were used at night to see the mines, which kept coming at the ship all night.
A supply ship came and tied up to our port side. Stores were brought aboard. When that was done, we were told to make preparations to get underway. The starboard anchor was holding the ship and the port anchor was in it’s normal stored position. As the Starboard anchor was brought up, the crew washed the mud off with a powerful stream of salt water from a fire hose.
The ship started to drift downstream. The stern drifted out, causing the bow to overhang the smaller supply ship. The port anchor Fluke caught the handrail of the supply ship and ripped off every stanchion like they were paper. The ship drifted back, the anchor ripping off chocks, bits, cleats and stanchions. Men were running to get away from the unstoppable giant ripper. The damage to the supply ship continued until the anchor met a watertight bulkhead. The anchor shank broke, the ship gave a shudder, and we went downstream with part of our anchor imbedded in the supply ship. Needless to say, we had a change of command ceremony when we reached Japan. Causing damage to government property is a Court Martial Offense. Captains are not immune. A Captain is responsible for all that happens on his vessel.
Then came the trip to States-side and shore leave. More repairs were made and new gear was added to the ship. My extended enlistment was up in April 1953. My orders came to release me early and I got discharged in February of 1953. I decided to try civilian life and stayed in a small town of Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.
Civilian life put a lot of pressure on me. I went from a high school kid into a man’s world where all decisions were made for me. When to get up, when to eat, what to wear, where to go what to do and how to do it. Laundry was taken away dirty and brought back clean every week. Medical and Dental was free, food was free. The Navy provided me with all the necessities of life, sent me to foreign countries and paid me to do it. All that was so different now.
After getting a job in a department store in San Francisco, I tried to be a civilian, but there were no buddies to mess around with. I felt like a stranger in a foreign land. I did not belong. The longer I was a civilian, the worse I felt. Finally in July of 1955, I re-enlisted and asked for a heavy cruiser.
Fourth Far East Cruise
My hopes of another Cruiser was dashed, and I got assigned to a Destroyer, one of those fast sleek vessels that escorted the bigger ships and did gopher duty as well as anti-submarine patrol. As on all cruises to and from West Pacific, we stopped in Hawaii. I chose to stay on board, having seen all there was to see in Paradise the last 6 times I passed through there.
The ship made the usual 6 month rotation to Japan. A hand painted Blue Ribbon was on our forward smokestack. We were the best Destroyer in the fleet and proud. The status gave the ship an unexpected surprise. We were chosen to do a “goodwill” tour to several ports in the South Seas. We went to the Fiji Islands. In honor of our visit, a festival was arranged for that evening. Several sailors were invited to participate. We were instructed to be on our very best behavior, not to do or say anything that would offend our hosts.
The Fiji people are all tall and Regal. At the time of our visit, they had only recently given up cannibalism, where they had their captured enemies for dinner, literally.
A huge bonfire was built in the open air arena. Bench seats made a huge circle. Over the fire was a huge black iron kettle. After the opening speeches, which I didn’t understand, two people, dressed in white, went to the boiling cauldron and dipped out a liquid. This was transferred to a half coconut shell. The shell was handed to the tribal leader who took a generous swallow and passed the bowl to the person on his left. That person took a big swallow and passed the bowl to me. Now I had a problem. I absolutely will not drink from the same glass as someone else. But I did not dare refuse, so I shut my eyes and put the coconut to my lips and took a sip. The white milky substance was called KAVA, a popular south sea concoction, the main ingredient being coconut milk with an narcotic kicker. I handed the bowl to the man on my left and waited to see what happened next. For all I knew, he may have had a phobia of drinking after a white man.
He did not hesitate, and drank the remaining liquid. The person in the white robe took the bowl back to the cauldron and filled it. The bowl made the rounds of at least 50 people in the circle. Then my turn. After the first drink, my mouth was tingling. After the second drink, my throat was tingling but my mouth was numb. I don’t drink beer or liquor. I was having a tough time swallowing. Soon my throat was numb. The bowl made several rounds. I tried to think of a way out of drinking more. But then the cauldron was empty. The bowl stopped making the rounds. I was getting sick. I may end up in the brig, but I had to throw-up and I left the circle. Then I passed out and came to on the ship. What ever fate awaited me was far less important than getting well. I was sick for two days. I managed to do my duty but it was rough.
Next we visited Auckland, New Zealand. While tied up to the pier there, a very interesting thing happened. A brand new junior Officer was assigned as assistant Engineer Officer. He decided to look into every engineering compartment. He was told that the Roving Patrol did just that. So he followed the patrol and observed the notations on the clipboard. One of the places the clipboard showed as normal, could not be found. The Officer asked the Patrol where the compartment was. The Patrol did not know. He just filled in the blank space just like the patrol did before him. The Officer was determined to find that compartment. He got out the blueprints of the ship and discovered that the missing compartment was actually the Port Rudder stock. A sounding tube was indicated as being in the Repair shop. They went there and the tube was not there. The Officer was sure the plans were correct. He demanded the tube be found. The only place they could not look was underneath a welded in workbench. They removed everything on the bottom shelf and he instructed a repairman to use a cutting torch to cut a hole in the shelf. This was done. There was the missing tube with a cap on it. The repairman took a good sized pipe wrench and removed the cap which was rusted on. Then the patrolman lowered a dipping rod and it showed the compartment full of water. Panicsville. The Officer notified the Captain of what he found. The Captain ordered a diver to go under the ship and investigate. That compartment should be dry.
I was ships diver and got ready to go over the side with scuba gear. (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus). I swam down to the rudder and located the rudder stock. At the bottom there was a hole about three inches in diameter and it was threaded for a pipe plug. I surfaced and reported what I had found to the Captain, who was now leaning over the rail. They decided to blow out the water with air pressure and the repairmen went to rig the hoses and fittings. The store keeper went to get a 3 inch pipe plug. Somebody welded a ring on the plug and with a line tied to it, they lowered it to me in the water. I saw bubbles and knew they were blowing out the water. I yelled for a wrench and soon one was lowered to me on a line. I tied the wrench to my wrist, took the plug and dove down ten feet to the bottom of the rudder stock. When no more water came out of the hole, I screwed in the plug and tapped on the steel so they would stop pumping air. I tightened the plug and surfaced. Both the officer and I got commendations.
The ship steamed from New Zealand to Hong Kong. It was interesting to see the “Boat- People” who lived on small sampans and seldom went ashore. They hovered around the Navy ships hoping for a handout.
A bunch of us took the tram up to the top of Victoria Peak where the vista was breathtaking. We sailors, dressed in our white uniforms and white hats, and standing taller than the Chinese, were easy to spot in the crowded streets. The beggars followed us everywhere. They developed a technique that really made us mad. We had spent hours putting a spit-shine on our shoes. The beggar shoe-shine boys would take a small amount of black polish and when we weren’t looking, reach around from behind and wipe the polish on our shined shoes, making them look bad. Then we had no choice but to let them shine our shoes. In the next block, another beggar would repeat the performance. The dirty buggers often got black shoe polish on our white pants, and they were ruined. We soon learned to catch a taxi at the shipyard gate, and have the driver take us to places of interest. One such place was a Theme Park called Tiger Balm Garden. No beggars were allowed in there, so we could walk around and look at the brightly painted figurines depicting Chinese Culture and Architecture. No rides, just a walking park.
Some of us “Old Salts” wanted to get a pair of custom made boots. The driver took us to a shoe shop and we each ordered a pair of “Hong Kong No-Squeak Boots.” When it came my turn, I made a sketch on paper of the eagle design, and asked the man to outline the eagle with chrome rivets. The ship was due to sail in five days, but he promised he could have all five pairs of boots ready by then. Wearing boots is not allowed when in uniform, but several of us had motorcycles back in the states. These boots were for riding..
On the last day, I had duty, so I gave a friend the money and asked him to pick up my boots when he got his. Later that day he returned with my boots. I hurried down to the engine room and ripped open the package. There in all their splendor were my eagle boots. But the eagle was lopsided and looked more like a turkey. Thirty bucks down the drain.
Months later, in California, I wore them a few times while riding at night with my blue jeans outside the boots to hide the eagle. Then, while heading back from a long ride, it rained.
From the Motorcycle shop where I stored my Harley to the Locker club where I changed into my Uniform, was three blocks. Somewhere in the second block, my Hong Kong No Squeak Boots lost both soles that were glued on. I threw the boots into a nearby garbage can and went into the Locker Club in my stocking feet.
En route to Pearl, the Captain decided to stop the ship and have swim call. All those not on duty put on swim trunks and lined up outside the rail, leaning out, hanging onto the railing, waiting for the words to come over the PA system. The bosun’s pipe blew, I heard the man say sw…and I let go. Just before I hit the water, he finished his message, ..weepers man your brooms.
But even tho I had deliberately jumped ship, a very serious Court Martial offense, I did not get into trouble because many others had done the same thing. But I was the first to hit the water.
I dove down, rolled over on my back and looked up at the ship. Then swam under the ship several times. It was cooler in the shadow. Then we began tossing a beach-ball around. Someone said, why is the ship so far away? It was drifting with the wind. Some began swimming toward it most of us were excellent swimmers, but the ship was drifting away.
The Captain dared not start the engines or the men in the water would be in danger of being sucked under and into the propellers. Then a lifeboat was launched. It came to us but it could only carry 5. But trailing out behind it was a 50 foot hemp rope. We grabbed the rope and the boat pulled us back to the ship, it’s little four cylinder diesel pulling for all it had.. We all made it. On the way, one older sailor was having trouble. I held onto him with both arms around him and my fists clutching the rope. Finally all was aboard and the ship got underway. Later, I was awarded a life saving commendation.
San Diego, CA
My accumulated leave time was over 30 days, it was use it or loose it. I walked up and down Automobile row in San Diego looking for the right car. I spotted a beauty. It was a 1950 Pontiac with a new paint job. As I discovered later, the paint covered a multitude of sins. But it ran good so I applied for my 30 days leave and headed across country for Pennsylvania alone. But enroute I swung up into Michigan to visit my sister Betty in West Lansing. It was in the wee hours of the morning when I pulled into her driveway. I left the lights on and beeped the horn. She stuck her head out of the upstairs window and asked who I was. I told her it was Sonny, her kid brother. She said that was not possible because her kid brother was in Korea and slammed down the window. I waited a few minutes for her to open the door but she never did, so I drove on down to Pennsylvania I arrived home 14 hours later having driven 2785 miles non-stop except for food, gas and oil. The return trip had a lot of surprises.
My Niece Maxine, now a 20 year old, asked if she could ride along and share the expenses. I welcomed the company. Then my nephew Richard, also in his twenties, wanted to see the Wild West, so he joined our group. He could help drive. My cousin Jean also wanted to go along. That was a big plus because she was a Registered Nurse. So the four of us jumped in the Pontiac and headed for California, singing and full of energy. Each of us had a responsibility. Richard was assigned as Navigator, Maxine was Treasurer, Jean was Secretary. It was Jean who kept the log book and made notes of our daily progress. My goal was to pick up Route 66 south of Chicago and follow it all the way to the West Coast. That route is almost all gone now, but there are still stretches that can be run in the West. The second day found us entering Springfield, IL. When we came out of the restaurant after breakfast, the car would not start. We pushed it next door to a service station. The mechanic did a lot of guessing, but nothing he did changed the ailing motor. He recommended another garage. We paid to have the car towed there. That mechanic did some tests and said the motor was shot.
Now we had three choices. Sell the car and go the rest of the way by plane. Pool our money and have a rebuilt engine put in, or pay to have the engine rebuilt and loose three days.
Time was not on our side, I didn’t have three days extra before I had to report back aboard ship in San Diego. We huddled and decided to get a rebuilt engine put in.
We discussed our decision with the mechanic and he said it was a wise move. He also agreed to do all the labor for a flat fee of $100, regardless of what else pops up. He also agreed to drive to St. Louis and get another motor. I went with the mechanic and the three passengers went on a tour of Lincoln’s Hometown. On the third day, we loaded up the car and headed down Route 66. It felt good to be back on the road again after losing two days and two nights.
The mechanic said to stay under 50 for the first 100 miles, then open her up for one minute. I followed the instructions and crawled at 50 for an hour, but just as I was approaching 90 miles an hour, a Missouri State Trooper pulled me over. After listening to our sad tale of woe, he felt compassionate and let us off with a warning that he would radio ahead and all other State Troopers would be on the lookout for a green Pontiac with California license plates.
We had crossed the state line into Oklahoma and I asked Richard to drive awhile.
It was all good road and all he had to do was follow the route 66 signs. I woke up when the car was bouncing around. I looked out the window to see what was going on. I asked Richard if we were on a detour, he said no. I asked if he was following the route 66 signs, and he said yes, there is one now. I looked and we went passed a Phillips 66 advertisement sign that looked like a route sign but was not white. He turned around and went back while I studied the map. We had lost a couple of hours, so to make up lost time , we got on the Oklahoma Turnpike and cruised.
But another incident delayed our trip. As we went on the Turnpike, people would pass us and wave frantically. I thought the people were real friendly in OK. But then the car stopped and we coasted to the side of the road. The floor under my feet was very hot. I popped the hood and checked the Transmission fluid. It was dry. I opened the trunk and got the 2 gallon can of motor oil my dad told me to carry, and poured that into the transmission. When the car cooled down, we headed west and had no trouble from there to San Diego.
The western desert was all new to my three passengers. The miles of open range was nothing they had seen before, having been born and raised in the Allegheny Mountains.
On the sixth day, we crossed into California and arrived at my brothers home in Chula Vista that afternoon. We were tired and all needed a bath. But we were also glad to arrive in good shape.
The Orleck was now permanently assigned to San Diego, CA. Because the crew had put forth an extra effort, the ship won the Blue Ribbon award for excellence. This entitled the ship to tie up at Broadway pier in San Diego at the foot of Broadway. All other “tin-cans” had to tie up to a buoy out in the bay. Destroyers are referred to as Tin-Cans because they have thin hull plates and no amour plating. There are official records of a torpedo going in one side of a destroyer and out the other.
On the day the ship was out for her “photo-Op”, the plane, with the photographer, developed engine trouble. It was a single engine plane flying circles around the ship taking pictures. The plane crashed into the water a few yards off our port bow. I was standing by the port lifeboat when they began lowering it. They could not locate the engine-man, so I jumped in the lifeboat. When the boat hit the water, I started the engine and the coxswain steered toward the submerged plane where the pilot and camera-man were hanging on. A third crewman began hauling the soaked and scared men aboard.
Meanwhile, I felt water in my shoes. I looked down and water was bubbling up from a drain-hole in the bilge. I put my foot over the hole while controlling the engine as the boat made it’s way back to the ship. The crew attached the hoisting gear and the lifeboat was raised up to deck level where the pilot and camera-man and us crew-men got off. The bilge water drained out thru the open hole. I never did find the plug.
Fifth Far East Cruise
They needed a ships Driver. One catch. He would have to drive on the left side of the road in an American equipped vehicle. I volunteered and was sent to a drivers-ed class to learn the Japanese rules of the road.. When I was qualified and assigned as ships driver, my duty status was altered. I was on 24 hour call.
At the same time period, the boss of the forward engine room was a mean Chief machinist mate who took an instant dislike to me and we had problems. He, being the higher rank, put me thru a living hell with many dirty jobs. I knew how to get around a lot of his orders and with being the ship’s driver, the Chief couldn’t touch me. I had to go to the base motor pool and sign out a sedan, bring it to the ship and wait in the car or on the Quarter-deck for who-ever needed a ride. I say who-ever, but it was only available to the Officers. I was on stand-by in a class “A” dress Uniform of the day, no other duties. It really ticked the Chief off when he could see me lounging at the wheel or on the ship, and he couldn’t do anything about it. But he got even when we were months at sea and he had me jump though hoops.
We refueled at Pearl and while there, I volunteered to be ships duty driver. Anything to get off the ship and away from the Chief who was hell bent on making my life miserable.
My assignment meant that I was to deliver the Captain to where ever he wanted to go. He directed me to wait for the three other Captains of the destroyers in the squadron.
I was then directed to go up over the pass called Pali, to the Officers Club on the other side of the island. Traffic was heavy as we crept up the winding two-lane road. The line of cars going down was solid. All at once I saw a car coming at me, I jerked the wheel and got over to the side, nearly hitting a stone wall. The car passed us and my captain said, “Good job, Sailor, that was quick thinking.” As a reward, when I dropped the Officers off, he told me to pick him up there in about three hours. So I had official permission to drive all over the Island in an official Navy vehicle burning Navy gas. Who said Life wasn’t fair?
A bunch of us guys were lounging in the berthing compartment doing sailor things like shining our shoes, pressing our dress blues, writing letters and shooting the bull. One fellow was sharpening his knife, just for something to do with his hands. All sailors are issued a multi-purpose jackknife and we clipped them to our belt with snap-hooks. A commotion brought our attention to the top of the steps leading out of the berthing compartment. A drunken sailor was there mumbling something about getting even with a Petty Officer who did him wrong. The Petty Officer who was sharpening his knife went to the foot of the ladder and tried to reason with the drunk. Believe me, one cannot reason with a drunk. The drunk at the top of the stairs had picked up a heavy hammer from someplace and was coming down the stairs to kill the Petty Officer. As the drunk swung the hammer down, the Petty Officer brought up his hand to protect himself. The sharpened knife was in that hand. It ripped through the drunks trousers, cut the webbed belt and jumper. It cut a long gash in the drunks belly. Blood and guts came out as he fell on top of the Petty Officer. We dashed over, tried to put the intestines back, separated the two men, and called for a medic. The Petty Officer ran up the ladder, went to the rail and threw the knife overboard. He was never charged. The injured man was transferred to a hospital and we never saw him again.
From Pearl harbor, we steamed to the USA with the three other destroyers that made up Destroyer Squadron One. (DesRon1).
When a ship is rotated back to the states for six months out of the year. It is not for “all hands” to have a few months of Liberty. Sure, a great deal go on 30 days leave. But the majority are glued to the ship and have duty one out of three days. When the ship is not being repaired, we steam out to sea for training exercises. Like gunnery, Anti-Submarine Warfare, the always popular Abandon Ship drill, and that perennial favorite, FIRE. I have served aboard three ships and never had to fight a fire. The Navy demands that every man aboard be trained to save the ship. Because the Chief was giving me such a hard time, I volunteered for every training school that was posted on the bulletin board.. Some schools were repeats, but who cares, it got me off the ship. I even volunteered for a glee club to sing at the Naval Hospitals in Japan. I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. But, like I said, they don’t turn away volunteers.
The Chief never let up while at sea and he arranged the duty section so I was always on watch in the engineroom the same time he was. One of his favorite tricks was to load me up with orders so fast I could not carry them out if I were twins. He wanted dearly to have me court-martialed for failure to obey an order. But he wasn’t as smart as I. The rules say when given several commands, obey the last command first. Sometimes he forgot what commands he gave and some things never got done. I must say it made a four hour watch go by fast. He was too fat to come down into the lower level pump room where I was standing my watch. He would ring a bell, and shout orders down a brass pipe.
The Orleck never made it to Korea, we were assigned as Station ship in Yokosuka. I am not sure what our duty was, but we stayed tied to the dock a lot.
June 30 1957
San Diego, California
Del’s Hot Bike
Sometimes a story is so odd that it sounds like it was made up. But this story is true
On the way back from Japan, I was on the same watch as Del. We talked about a lot of things but he was really interested in buying a Harley-Davidson Motorcycle. He knew that I had a Harley and he would pump me for my experiences. I may have embellished my tales a bit, and he was determined to get a bike as soon as we landed in San Diego. Bear in mind that he had never thrown a leg over a Motorcycle, but during our talks, I gave him very specific instructions.
The ship arrived in San Diego and a lot of us put in for 30 days leave. He went ashore one day before me and I didn’t see him again for a month. But this is the tale as he told it.
He walked into the Harley shop, acted like he was an old hand with big bikes, and asked to see something with a lot of power. It happened that the owner’s son had just turned in his modified bike for a new bike. It was just what Del wanted. He asked if he could take it for a ride before buying, and the dealer agreed..
The shop had an entrance that went down the center of the shop and ended at the workbench. Del sat on the bike, checking the controls, remembering what I had told him. The bike was facing the street, about 200 feet away. He started the bike, revved it up, popped the clutch, the bike front end rose off the floor and Del did a “wheelie” on the rear wheel out across the sidewalk, gaining speed all the time. Somebody yelled, “It’s a one-way street, go left”, and he slammed on the brakes to turn, but instead, made a 180 degree turn and headed back into the shop, gaining speed as he flew past spectators and rows of bikes.
He approached the workbench and slammed on the brakes, the front tire just kissing the bench when he stopped. The Shop owner came up to him as he shut off the bike and said, “Son, I have been in the bike business for 40 years and I have never seen such a display like that. Where did you learn to ride?.” Del looked at him with an innocent grin and said, “That was my first time.”
Del bought the bike and headed for Oregon up the Pacific Coast Highway, known locally as the PCH. Back then it was also known as the El Camino Real, (The kings Highway) and was designated as US 101. It ran all the way from San Diego to Seattle.
The freeways were just being built at that time and the road he was on suddenly veered into a detour. He missed the turn, blasted thru the barriers and rode on prepared dirt for a mile without even slowing down. The cement crew probably shook their heads when the saw the bike track on their smoothed out dirt. Any Harley rider can vouch that the big road Harley’s are not good on soft dirt. He eventually came back on the paved road and heading north on 101..
Del was cruising along at night, saw a bunch of lights ahead but never slowed down. He breezed past the California Inspection Station and all those law enforcement people at a cool hundred miles an hour. Then he was in Oregon and almost home in Grants Pass. They never caught him.
But, he had had enough of motorcycles, having passed Harley 101 with no sweat. He traded the bike for a car for the return trip. I take full blame. I created a monster.
July 1, 1957
The Destroyer was anchored out in San Diego Bay, off Broadway pier. To go ashore, we had to pay for a water taxi. It was a beautiful day in downtown San Diego as I walked from the Fleet Water Taxi office near Broadway pier over to the Seven Seas Locker Club. We Tin Can sailors were not allowed to have civvies aboard. We had to rent a locker at the club. We went there to change out of the Uniform of the Day, and into more suitable attire for riding our bikes.
The Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Shop was around the corner and down three blocks from the locker club. My bike was stored there. I had written to the shop from Hawaii and told them to prep the bike for my 2500 mile trip east to Pennsylvania. When I arrived at the shop, my bike was waiting. But there was bad news. The front tire had a split in the tread and had to be replaced. By the time I paid for 6 months storage, the prep and mounting the new tire, I had $15.00 left in my travel kitty.
This almost ended the trip right there. It was not financially possible to go across country with a motorcycle and $15 dollars. I did some last minute figuring and decided to go back to the Locker Club and get my Uniform. I stuffed it into a saddlebag and concluded that when the money ran out, I would store the bike and hitch-hike the rest of the way in my Sailor Suit
The route I chose was US 395 North out of San Diego, across the Mojave Desert, thru the lower end of Nevada, up across Utah into Colorado, then pick up US 30 in Nebraska. Then follow US 30 to the Ohio border and switch to US 6, with a stop in lower Michigan. I also decided that gas was more important than food, so I made up my mind not to eat.
The bike would go 130 miles on a tank of gas. Gas was $.39 a gallon. It was almost 3000 miles to Northwestern Pennsylvania.. A fill-up would cost $1.36. The distance, 3000 miles, divided by 130 = 23 times I would need to fill up. Twenty three times $1.36= $31.28. So I would run out of gas about halfway. I estimated near Kearny, Nebraska.
About two hours later, I pulled into the crossroads called Baker, CA. Not much here, a gas station and a store. The owners were an elderly couple. She was the talker. He was nearly blind. They apologized for not having cold drinks, the walk-in cooler was not running. They asked if I knew anything about refrigeration. Well, I knew a little. They said if I could get the cooler working, they would pay me. I did some checking. Out back was a gas driven generator. It was putting out the proper voltage. But the wires running into the store were too small to carry the load. The man said he had new wire. I ran new heavier wires from the Generator shed to the store. The cooler began cooling down and the lights got brighter. They were so pleased, they gave me 10 dollars, a bag of sandwiches, and a tank full of gas.
Riding out into the desert in the noonday sun was murder. The air was so hot it was hard to breath. Harleys’ have a V-twin, air-cooled engine, but the engine wasn’t getting cooled much, and the heat was scorching my legs. The leather seat got so hot, I rode standing up a lot.
I was going merrily on my way, at about 75 miles at hour, when a blast of an air horn almost blew me off the road. A Greyhound bus went by me so fast, the wind pushed and pulled the bike sideways. I had to smell diesel fumes for the next ten miles.
Then I was cruising down the strip of Las Vegas. A gas and pit stop, a cool soda and off again. No time for sight-seeing. I had miles to cover. The route clipped the corner of Arizona, then into Utah. About14 hours after leaving the Harley Shop, I pulled into a roadside rest. The sign said, “BEWARE of Rattlesnakes.” I unrolled my sleeping bag out on a picnic table and went to sleep.
At dawn, I secured the bedroll to the rear fender and rolled out onto the hi-way. In a few minutes. I was in downtown St. George, Utah. The route turned right at the main intersection. I saw the sign at the last second and peeled the bike over, almost rubbing the crashbars on the pavement making the turn. A Utah Highway Trooper pulled me over and read me the riot act about California Bikers. I showed him my Navy ID, explained I was not a part of a biker gang, and he let me off with no citation.
At Cove Fort, there was a turn-off to the right, through a pass to Green River. I loved that section riding along the river. I stopped and washed the bike and took a nap. Later, I passed through Grand Junction, Colorado and picked up US 6 to go through the mountains.
Colorado is a beautiful state to ride in the mountains. However, the road made many turns and my attention had to be on the road. Every traveler comes back with a horror story. This is mine. US 6 had many tunnels. No big deal, just remove my sunglasses, enter the tunnel, look for the sunlit opening on the other end. My eyes never had a chance to adjust.
But I went into a tunnel at 65, removed my sunglasses, and could not see the other end. I backed off on the throttle. I saw headlights coming at me, but they weren’t ahead of me, they were to the right of me and down low. I was heading for the opposite wall at 60 miles an hour..
I knew the car had to pass on my left, so I pulled the bike to the right and he went past, real close. But then his lights blinded me. I still did not see the end of the tunnel. I kept slowing down. My lights were on , but my eyes had not adjusted to make out details. Just as time was running out, I saw the opening to my right and down low. I was shaking when the bike came into sunlight. No, my life did not pass before my eyes. But I am not too fond of mountain tunnels.
Climbing mountains was no problem for my powerful Harley. And leaning on the curves was fun. It was in one curve when the motor sputtered. I reached down to open the reserve valve. It was already open. I used an old racing trick to make the bike zig-zag to slosh the gas over to the pick-up tube. In my enjoyment of the mountains, I had ran low on gas, opened the valve for the reserve, and forgot to close it at the last stop for gas.
There was no reserve gas. I coasted over the top of the mountain, turned off the key and coasted down a 14 mile hill. At the bottom. I rounded a curve and coasted right into a gas station.
On the outskirts of Denver, it began raining. I continued to ride, the rain was stinging my eyes. Night had fallen. During the day I wore sunglasses, but had no eye protection for night riding except the windshield. I passed a sign saying NEBRASKA, the Corn Husker state. I picked up US 30 and rode into Kearny. I saw an old gas station with an overhang. I pulled in and parked the bike. I laid my ground cloth on the cement and rolled out my sleeping bag. I was almost to sleep when something sloppy wet licked my face. There was an old sheep dog. I made room for him on the ground cloth, he curled up by me and we slept the night away.
Kearney, NE to Joliet, IL
Right on schedule, I ran out of money after gassing up in Kearny. This was the second day without real food, I was eating potato chips and pop. There was a small café ahead advertising home cooking. I decided to stop and eat, then wash dishes. I went in and sat at the counter. The waitress was young and pretty. She handed me the menu and poured me coffee.
I glanced up and saw a picture of a navy ship on the wall. I asked why the picture of a Navy ship so far inland. She replied that her brother was on that ship. I looked closer and saw the numbers painted on the hull, 877. I told her I knew that ship, that it was in the same squadron as my ship. She yelled, “MOM”, and I started for the door, thinking I was in trouble. Mom came in and when the story was told, mom insisted she buy my breakfast. Wow, did I eat.
But then the truth came out, I was flat broke. Mom told me she would give me five bucks if I would look up her son when I got back to San Diego.
The next crises happened in Iowa. It was late at night. I recall parking the bike outside a café, and ordering coffee. The next thing I knew the sun was shining in my eyes and I was on the back seat of a car. I went into the café. The waitress told me after she took my order for coffee, she turned around and I was sound asleep. She almost carried me to her car and put me in the back seat. I gave her my last few coins and hit the road. As I was approaching the toll bridge across the Mississippi River, I pulled into a gas station to see if I could sell my tool kit for bridge toll. The gas station owner showed me his tool collection. He offered to give me money for the toll. I cruised over the river, continued toward Joliet, ran out of gas and coasted into a truckstop
I slept in an abandoned car in back of the truckstop.
July 4, 1957
Joliet, IL to Mattawan, MI.
The sun woke me up. I was tired, dirty, broke and out of gas. Today was the day I would start hitch-hiking. I was starving as I entered the truckstop restaurant. . I sat at the counter and ordered hotcakes, sausages, eggs and coffee. A fellow came in and sat beside me. He asked if that was my bike. I said yes. He wanted to buy it. I said no. He wanted to borrow it, I said no. He asked about the California Plate. I told him my traveling troubles.
When he learned I was in the Navy and on my way home, he told me he wanted to pay for my breakfast. Then we walked over to the bike and talked about motorcycles. He still wanted to take it for a ride. I told him it was out of gas and I was broke. My two wheel trip was going to end right here. I asked where I could change into my uniform. He said he would fill the tank if he could take it for a ride. I accepted. He came back about ten minutes later, topped off the tank and thanked me. I hopped on and went on up into Michigan.
The story changes direction now because the reader will want to know about this budding romance. I had ridden 2500 miles on a motorcycle to meet a girl.
One of my shipmates was Bucky. His girl was going to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She sent him a list of girl’s addresses who would write to lonely sailors.
He gave me one of the names and I wrote to her. The girl’s name was Darlene. We exchanged many letters along with pictures for a year. I had 30 days leave coming and was riding to western Pennsylvania to see my Parents and sisters. It was not much out of my way to go into Michigan and see this girl.
It was a warm July day as I was getting close to her hometown. Not wanting to look like a biker bum, I stopped at a gas station to clean up my act. The restroom was tiny but I managed to strip, wash and shave. Then I put on my wrinkled uniform, left the hat off, and rode into Mattawan, Michigan.
I parked in her driveway and knocked on the door. Her mom answered and said Darlene was running errands and would be home in a few minutes. She invited me in and we chatted.
Darlene came in. The moment was tense. After a few minutes, she and I went outside to talk. The tension was going away. She said I could sleep in her Grandfather’s house, a block away. I asked if she wanted to go for a ride. We rode on the back roads that wound around the grape vineyards, and orchards. She was giving me a guided tour. We came to a curve, I leaned left, she leaned right, we ended up in the ditch, laughing.
That night at supper I met her Dad and two younger sisters. They all wanted to hear of my adventures.
For a week, Darlene and I talked about our future. I was 28 and she was 21. But we melted together like butter and honey. We agreed to meet again when I came back on my way to the west coast in two weeks. She also loaned me some money to get to Pennsylvania, 700 miles on down the road.
The ride to PA was not all peaceful. Going through Ohio, I wanted to change routes and took a north-south road to go from US 30 to US 6. The road had been recently paved and had a 6 inch drop-off at the edge of the new blacktop. A car was backing out of a driveway ahead. I eased over to the right to avoid him. He backed all the way and was blocking the road. The only choice I had was to go off the road onto the dirt shoulder. There were mailboxes all along the shoulder and each driveway had a new blacktop approach. At each mailbox, I bounced up in the air, then back onto the dirt. After three mailboxes, I aimed at the corner where the driveway met the road and got back onto the road. The driver of the car probably had no idea what problems he caused me.
The road also had many railroad crossings. As I approached each one, I slowed down, only to find they were smooth as silk. At the next one, figuring it to be a smoothie, I maintained my 65 MPH speed. The bike went airborne because the road dropped off at a slant beyond the tracks. While in the air, I saw the road making a turn to the right. There was nothing I could do until the bike came back to earth. When it did, I had both brakes clamped down tight. The bike bounced, skidded, then slid. When I regained control I was aimed right down the road just like I knew what I was doing An hour later, I was in the hills of western Pennsylvania and it was a great feeling..
That afternoon, I stopped in front of my parents house in Bradford.. Homecoming was joyful and tearful, It had been a year.
But I was restless and went on short rides after giving the bike a good wash and wax. I hooked up with some friends and we rode up to see the Cattaraugus County fair. A County Mounty, a.k.a., sheriff deputy, pulled me over to check out the California plate. He believed I had a stolen bike. He radioed the dispatcher and “Ran the plate. The dispatcher told him I was who I said I was and he reluctantly let me go.
Sooner than I wanted, it was time to get the bike prepped for the 3000 mile ride west. The Harley dealer could not find anything wrong beyond a normal tune-up and chain tightening.
I had withdrawn sufficient funds to have a pleasant trip to the west coast.
Depart New York for California
After the usual tearful goodbyes, I was back on the hi-way and soon picked up route 6 that I would follow into Illinois, then Route 30 all the way to Utah, then US 40 to Vallejo, California.
But first a small detour to see my girl in Michigan. We kissed and hugged like long-time lovers. We agreed to get engaged by vows, but I had no ring to give her.
I did not look forward to the traffic in suburban Chicago. But I kept to my route and later in the day was zooming westward through endless cornfields.
Sleeping in Motels, having a shower and eating regular meals was no comparison to the rugged trip east. I actually enjoyed the summer rains. In Iowa, after crossing the Mississippi River, a two tone 57 Ford Fairlane 500 came up alongside me and challenged me to a race across Iowa.
He too was heading for California. He put pedal to the metal and shot down the road. I cranked on some speed, shifted into fourth gear and passed him doing 95. Then he went past me doing over a hundred. I waved my hand, admitting defeat. I had no desire to get killed doing something stupid, or at the least, paying a huge fine. I never saw him again.
The ride across Nebraska and Wyoming was just a dream come true as the bike ate up the miles. My butt was getting sore, so I would stand up, then set side saddle, and as a last resort, scoot up and set on the gas tank til the pain was excruciating. Then I would slide back onto that soft leather seat and it felt sooo good.
Somewhere in Nebraska, I teamed up with two riders heading for Seattle. We rode together until they turned off at the junction west of Little America. I arrived in Salt Lake City at night and after getting a room and a hot shower, I slept until daylight.
I had to be very cognizant of my gas now because I was heading out onto a great desert where service stations are few and far between. I never passed one without stopping to top off at each one, not knowing how far it was to the next, and if it was still open.
Crossing the great Salt Lake Desert was a straight run of 66 miles to Wendover. About halfway, I saw a car with the hood up. True to the code of the trail, not passing someone in need, I stopped to see what their problem was. The fan had slung a blade into the radiator. They had lost most of the coolant.
I removed the broken fan blade from the radiator and removed the blade opposite the missing blade so the fan would run balanced.
They had a choice, go back or go on to the next town. They had no extra water, but they did have a cooler with melted ice. I told them to drive about 25 miles an hour for five miles. Stop awhile to let the engine cool, and pour in a pint of cool water. Drive another 5 miles and repeat the procedure. The engine would not boil over and they would make it to Wendover. They chose to continue west.
I rode until Reno came into view. Gassing up, I decided to go the last 150 miles and be at the Navy base come daylight rather than spend another night on the road. It was not a wise decision. Although it was hot out on the desert, I was now heading into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It got downright chilly, I had no heavy jacket to put on, I was wearing a light windbreaker with no gloves. The windshield helped some, but cold air found it’s way up my sleeves and pants legs.
At a mountain bus-stop, after gassing up, I spoke to the Greyhound driver about staying close behind the bus and not have to buck the cold air. He said ok and that he would give me plenty of advanced warning by horn or brake lights if he was slowing down or stopping.
So off we went, me sticking ten feet away from the bumper. Diesel fumes were strong and every now and then I would drop back to 50 feet and breath fresh air. Then tuck myself up behind the bus where it was a few degrees warmer. But I was still very cold and as we approached my turn-off to Vallejo, I was not in any condition to be operating a motorcycle. For one, my hands were frozen and I was not able to operate the clutch or brakes.
I shifted gears with my toe, ignoring the clutch, and slowed down to 25 through town. Just outside the Navy Base entrance was an all-night café. With great effort, I was able to stop the bike and get the kick-stand down. I went into the café and ordered coffee. It was scalding hot. I wrapped my hands around the cup and eventually the tingling needles let up so I could flex my fingers. But when it came time to pay, the waitress had to reach in my pocket for the money.
Now, I had a more serious problem. I was out of Uniform and had to change before going past the guards at the gate. I sat in the café for another hour warming up before getting my uniform out of the saddlebags and changing in the restroom.
Motorcycles are not allowed on Navy bases so I had to ride the bike over to the parking lot and leave it, then walk through the gate, hoping the guards would not see my motorcycle boots.
It was a long walk from the gate to the barracks where transients are bunked. But it warmed me up. I was almost normal when I undressed and got into bed.
I had made it back with one day to spare. The ship had not yet arrived by the next day so and had a goof-off day and reported aboard the next morning.
A true biker cannot call himself a “Biker” until he has joined a gang. Here is my tale.
I love riding the streets of San Francisco at night. There were pitfalls to be on the look-out for, like streetcar tracks and slippery manhole covers. But I soon learned how to master them.
One night, as I was heading back to Vallejo, I was on Van Ness Avenue at a red light. I heard a roar behind me and saw what looked like a thousand head lights coming up behind me.
They were a lot of Harley’s. They pulled up on each side and behind me. I looked over and gave a “thumbs up”, the universal sign between bikers. They returned the greeting. No words were spoken. The light changed and I led the procession to the next light, two blocks away.
We sat, revved our engines, smiled and looked at each other’s “Iron.” The light changed, I peeled off to the right to cross the Oakland Bay Bridge and they kept going.
As they rode away, I could see the skull and crossbones on their jackets. I had just ridden with the most notorious biker gang in the world, and lived to tell about it. I can tell my Grandkids that I rode in San Francisco with The Hells Angels.
San Diego, CA
Life on board was almost unbearable, the chief always finding something for me to do.
One day I went to the Engineering Officer and asked to transfer to the Repair Gang. I knew there was not a competent lathe operator aboard and there was a need. He agreed, and I moved back to the Repair gang berthing compartment. Monday morning while at Quarters, the M division was just down the deck from the R division, I heard the Chief ask, “Where’s Goodman?” Somebody said he transferred to the “R” division on Saturday.. The Chief was so mad he got red.
I was no longer under his power. In my new assignment, I was given the responsibility to straighten out the Engineering Storeroom. It needed a lot of attention. Old obsolete parts had to be taken off and new parts ordered. The Bureau of Ships, (BuShips) issues a list of what must be kept on board as spare parts. Using that list, I ordered a lot of stuff. When that was done, I got a truck from the motor pool and carried off the older obsolete parts. Those I took to the Naval supply Depot where they dispose of them at Auction to civilian junk dealers.
One day the Chief who gave me such a hard time in M Division, came down to my Store room and asked if I would order a carburetor for a P-500 pump. I started writing on the order pad.. I knew these things:
- He had no P-500 pumps in his inventory, all portable pumps for fighting fires were the responsibility of the Repair division.
- All the P-500 pumps were in good working order.
- The list of required items to be on board did not include any carburetors.
I had him sign the order pad. He asked to be informed when the carb came aboard. I said I would. He went up the ladder.
The next morning after the Repair Gang secured from morning Quarters, I sought out the Supply Officer, who was in charge of all the Store rooms and asked him if he had a few minutes. He wanted to know how things were in the store room. He had been down to inspect several times and was very satisfied how well organized it was. I told him what the M Division Chief had done. He asked if the carburetor had come aboard. I told him it would not because it was not on the approved list. He said he would take the matter up with the Captain. That was the last time the Chief ever bothered me.
In the Military, one must learn how to survive. The way I was taught by an old Salt was to learn the rules. Then, figure out ways to get around the rules. Revenge is rampant in the Military. Some person with power can make life exceedingly rough for people under him. Those poor souls must take it and not say anything, until the day comes when they can transfer out from under him, or the person in Authority gets transferred. But the other way is to get “Back” at the person, like I did the Chief. Use the rules to my advantage. He broke the rules and I was able to trap him.
Sixth Far East Cruise
The pen-pal romance blossomed into a serious affair with letters daily. But mail going to ships at sea was always sent to her next port of call, so those daily letters had to be organized by postal dates. Sometimes when at sea, we would go up alongside a refrigeration ship to take on perishables. That ship and the tankers always had mail for us too. A big morale booster.
I finally got up the courage to ask the big question. This was asking a lot of a small-town girl who had only seen me for a few days in July of ‘57. We seemed so compatible in many ways, and yet there was a small area of doubt. I held onto that letter for a few minutes before dropping it in the mail room slot.
I had met her parents, but she had not met mine, nor did she know how poor my family was. That item alone could turn her away. A few weeks later, her answer came back, yes.
We set a date as January 28. Plans and decisions were made, knowing there might be last minute changes. Looking back, I know now I made a big mistake by not telling anyone in my family. They got their first clue when Darlene sent out the wedding invitations. But 700 miles is a long way to go for people with little or no income. Not one of my family was present for the wedding.
My biggest problem was distance. During the preparations, I was on the ship in the Far East. Dar had to wing it when I was at sea and no communications was possible. This was in the days before cell-phones. That cruise seemed to go on forever, my girl doing all the preparations for the wedding, and my life just miserable. My mind was made up, I was going to get out of the Navy when my enlistment was up in July of ‘59.
But I did get to see an Atomic Bomb blast. Our far east tour was over so we headed for the Island of Eniwetok. We had been selected to participate in the underwater atomic bomb tests.
All cameras were confiscated. All hands were schooled in Radiological Warfare. We learned about the Alpha and Beta Particles and the Gamma Rays. We all had to wear a small test badge that showed pink about the size of a dime. When that turned red, we had been exposed to the maximum amount of radiation and had to leave the area.
It was hot near the equator. At the island, we anchored five miles from ground zero, or the spot where the bomb was to explode. We all had to wear dark sun glasses on the day of the explosion. But in the meantime, liberty was allowed. This being the Dungaree Navy, we went ashore in Dungarees. Normally, the only time a sailor can wear Dungarees off the ship was during the famous “working Parties.”
Liberty on this small island consisted of swimming in a roped off area, play softball, pitch horse-shoes and drink warm beer. I chose swimming. The designated area was about 150 feet long along a sandy beach. The area had an anti-submarine net hanging down to the bottom from buoys, that extended out from shore 50 feet. The net was to protect us from sharks. We had no scuba gear of our own, so we used snorkels and held our breath to dive 50 feet down.
But somebody had SCUBA gear that didn’t work. Maybe I could fix it. Another man and I messed around and got it to working. Then we tore apart an inflated life vest that was marked as unserviceable. The gas cylinders and valves we conveerted into a speargun. To test it we put a broom in the vise, straw side up, and shot our spear at it. The spear went thru the broom like it was not there. But when we tried to use the speargun under water, the bubbles were so intense, the water went cloudy. Another great invention down the drain.
The tropical fish were there by the millions. And one huge Grouper. That old boy must have weighted a hundred pounds. He was very interested in these strange looking creatures that were swimming in his world. He would come right up to our face mask, look us in the eyes and we could reach out and touch him. He was not afraid. There was a four foot long Moray eel there too but he hid when we dove near him.
On the walk over to the swimming area, we went past a pole along the road. On the pole was a handset telephone but no dial. I was curious and picked it up. A male voice said, “What area Code and phone number.” I told him the area code for my girl in Michigan. He connected us and she answered. We talked for a few minutes and said goodby. She told me later that the phone bill was over 75 dollars.
We were anchored in a lagoon off a small deserted island. It was hot and very little to do.
Not every sailor “has it made” while in the Navy. For a few it is a great life, but for most it is one boring day after another and almost everyone checks off the days on a calendar. We call those people “short-Timers”, to separate them from the career sailors who found a home in the Navy.
For those sailors who like their booze, it was hell being out to sea and nothing to drink. One of those was “Weeping Willy”. He was always complaining about something and asking if anyone had any booze stashed, (a court marshall offense). Willy, a Petty officer Third Class, had his fill of the Navy and decided to jump ship. His timing could not have been worse. But in his warped state of mind, any port in a storm, so he jumped overboard. It did not take him long to discover that he could not swim and began yelling for help. I was walking the decks for exercise when I saw him in the water. Other sailors ran to the rail. An Officer came and asked if anybody had life saving training, I said yes and he asked me to rescue the man in the water. I dove over, came up and got the chest hold on Willy who was thrashing in the water trying to stay afloat. I swam over to the side of the ship towing Willy. Somebody tossed down a rope and I got Willy in the noose. They hauled him aboard. Then they pulled me up. The Captain awarded me a commendation.
On the day of the blast, a lot of civilian technicians came aboard with instruments that would tell them several things about the blast effects. The ship was still anchored. I had the engineroom watch, but with the engines shut down, I was free to watch the bomb go off. The port side of the ship faced to bomb site. I was standing on the ladder with my head and shoulders sticking up out of the hatch. The day was clear, hot and little wind. The sea was a perfect blue.
The PA system was tied into the radio so all could hear the countdown. The bomb was suspended on a cable 150 down from a barge anchored in the center of a huge lagoon. All around the barge were old navy and civilian ships, unmanned and ready to meet their fate. The countdown began. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-0
The sea in the lagoon turned white in an instant. I was waiting for something really big to happen. Then the ship went sideways in the water about 5 feet and rolled very heavy from the shockwave traveling about 600 miles an hour. An increase in wind began shoving me down the hatch into the engineroom. Almost immediately, it reversed and I was hanging on to keep from being blown up on deck. It was over in seconds. Still, I was expecting more. Then a huge column of water began rising up from the lagoon real fast. So fast that many of the ships went right up with it. They looked like toys from where I stood 5 miles away. They began falling back into the sea. The column went up and up and began the mushroom shape. Then the fireball came out of the top with a brilliance that hurt my eyes with dark glasses on. In seconds the fireball disappeared and the mushroom cloud began to flatten out. There was a loud boom, sound travels slower than light so I saw the flash before the boom reached me. Then a very dark cloud blocked out the sun, and it began to rain. About 15 minutes later, the clouds were drifting out of the area and the sun was even hotter than before.
The civilian technicians came around and recovered our dosimeter badges. Mine was in the red. But so were the badges of the crew who witnessed the blast while exposed on deck.
When the technicians gathered all their gear and departed, the word was passed to make preparations to get underway. We were headed for San Diego, with a short layover in Pearl.
Eventually the ship did arrive in San Diego. A shipmate in the M division was married. He was taking his wife and new baby east in a 1949 Chevy Convertible. But more than that, he was going to Michigan. We agreed that I would help drive and share the expenses, and drive straight through with no overnight stops.
As a part of this agreement, he would deliver me to my girl’s house, about 25 miles from where his aunt’s house was.
The trip started in bright sunshine, but the high spirits soon deteriorated when we went over the mountains and started across the southern California desert. The rods began knocking. We had no choice but to make repairs. We found a ditch that we could lay in and drove the car to straddle the ditch lengthwise. We walked up and down the road looking for containers to catch the oil, that we had to use again. Then we removed the oil pan and tightened the rod bearings.
This was a first for me. I am no mechanic. By some miracle, the engine ran good and carried us all the way to Michigan.
We traveled across the rest of California and Arizona on old US 80 with no problems. When we got into the mountains of eastern New Mexico, it began to snow. At higher elevations, it was blinding. At one mountain pass, a State Trooper at a road block stopped us and said we could not proceed without snow chains on the rear wheels. We went back to the last town and bought chains, using up our shrinking gas funds, drove up the mountain, installed the tire chains, and went over the mountains.
It was after midnight and below freezing. as we approached Vaughn, NM. The alternator died, so we continued to drive on the battery. We found out that by driving with the lights off, we could drive, but the road was covered with snow and we decided to stop. About a mile ahead, I could see the headlights of cars on a road we thought was US 60. The outside temperature was far below freezing and none of us had winter clothing. We wrapped the baby in as many layers of diapers as we could find,. I carried the baby and the mom walked with me to the intersection. I stopped several cars and asked them to take the mom and baby into Vaughn so they could be warm. They all refused. But a semi truck stopped and he agreed to leave them at a truckstop.
I walked back to the car, frozen to the bone. My shipmate was in a terrible mood and we had heated words. He did not like being separated from his wife and baby, but his wife knew it was the right thing to do for the babies safety.
About a hour later, a semi-truck approached from the rear. We flagged him down. We told him we needed to get the car into Vaughn, could he pull us? He said he would rather push us, and he did, right into the truck-stop, where we found the mom and baby doing fine with lots of attention from travelers.
The car was fixed the next day and we were once again on the road. Nothing went wrong across Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri, until we were going up through Illinois when the voltage regulator went bad and took the Alternator with it. We happened to be near a junkyard on old route 66 and pulled in. The junk man said he had what we needed but he was damned if he was going out in that cold wind to work on a damned car.
I said I would go get the parts, but my buddy and his wife said they were broke. They had just enough money to buy formula and diapers for the baby. I was also broke. I made a supreme sacrifice. The only thing I had of value was my Japanese Nikon Camera. The junkman never heard of the name and was reluctant to deal. I insisted he call a camera shop and get the value. He was much friendlier after he found out he was getting the better of the deal.
I swapped my Nikon Camera worth several hundred dollars for used car parts to go on a car that was not mine, and no likelihood that my “Buddy” would ever repay me.
My fingers were so cold I could not bend them, but somehow I removed the parts from a wrecked chevy and put them on “our” car. We drove on up into Michigan, arriving at 4 AM.
The original agreement was dead. They were not going to take me a foot farther. I called my girl, got her out of bed, told her my location. She said she would drive down to get me, it would be about an hour. The roads were snow covered and the plows were not out yet. Her Dad did not want her to make the trip alone so he drove. They saw me standing by the curb because my “Buddy” would not let me wait in the house.
I slept on a cot in the basement of my girls house. Sometime during the wee hours of the morning, she snuck downstairs so we could have some private time..
The remainder of the time until the wedding is a blur. But we got married and went to Pennsylvania to show off my bride to my family. On our return to Michigan, having told my tale of the horrible car breakdowns and swapping my camera, my new bride loaned me plane fare and I flew back to the west coast. I was going to be gone the usual six months, so the good-byes were long and sad. The ship was making preparations for another far east cruise.
Seventh Far east cruise
Another incident, with many innocent people involved, occurred during my last days on the ship. Like any device on navy ships, the ship’s whistle and siren must be tested on a regular basis. The most practical way to do this is to signal other ships that this ship is getting underway.
The whistle and siren are mounted high up on the front of the forward stack, just over the bridge. They are steam powered, and like all steam operated devices, must be drained to prevent condensation from being blown out when the devices are operated. The responsibility of seeing that the devices are drained properly falls under the Repair Division . The person in charge of the repair division should appoint a person to perform routine inspection of the steam drain to assure it is working properly. First Class Engineman “Z”, was in charge of the Repair Division. After my transfer to the Repair Division, he began getting on my case for not keeping my area clean. At the same time, besides my store room duty, I was also standing watches 8 hours a day in the engine room. This I still don’t understand. A man from one division standing watch in another division is not normal routine. I suspect that the Chief Machinist Mate was behind this maneuver to “get” me for squirming out from under his authority.
I probed around and discovered that no one had been assigned the responsibility of keeping the whistle and siren steam drain open. I got out the plumbing diagrams of the ship and followed the pipes that took steam up to the whistle and siren. Then I followed the pipes that drained the condensate and located the steam trap and the valve that drained the lines of condensate.
Making sure no one was watching, while on roving patrol, I shut off the drain valve. The ship was in port at Pearl harbor so there was no need to test the whistle and siren until the ship was ready to get underway. On that day, the Captain, the Officer of the day, the Navigation Officer, and several crew were on the bridge. Lines were cast off and the Captain ordered the whistle and siren be sounded to alert other ships that the Orleck was underway. A gusher of hot water came out of the skies and soaked those people standing on the bridge. The Captain was very angry. He went to the “squak-box” and all over the ship we heard, “Engineman “Z” report to the bridge on the double.” Poor unsuspecting “Z” got a royal ass chewing from the man with the power to demote him on the spot.. All he could do is stand there and listen, because he had no idea what the Captain was yelling about. When he was dismissed, he had orders to personally see to it that the whistle and siren never blew scalding water over the bridge again.
First “Z” looked at the piping diagrams to find out where the valves were located that controlled steam and condensate to and from the whistle and siren. Then he went down into the boiler room and found the valves. Of course the condensate drain was closed. He opened it and drained out the hot water.
From that day on, he followed the Captains orders and each morning, at 0700, “Z” would go down into the boiler room and make sure that the drain line was open. He could not assign the job to an other man. The Captain told him he was to do it himself. “Z” was obligated to do that simple task, for the years he was assigned to that ship. No scalding water cascaded down on the bridge again.
He never found out who closed that drain valve. If he is reading this, I don’t apologize.
The End of an Era
=============================================================== The ship was approaching San Diego. A few small boats were coming out of the harbor to greet us. All the crew on the destroyer were lined at the rails in our dress whites in anticipation of seeing our loved ones. One small boat came around the ship and I saw a pretty girl waving. I looked at her, she waved, I could not believe it, but there was Darlene. Somehow she had managed to get to California, find her way to the docks, get aboard somebody’s boat and have them come out to meet the ship. I was thrilled beyond belief.
The ship went in and tied up alongside the three other ships in the squadron, already tied to the dock. As luck would have it, we were the last ship out from the dock. I was standing near where the gangplank was to be put across. Somebody hollered my name. I looked over and there was my wife, standing on the next ship. The space between the ships narrowed, and the lines were tied. Then the plank was put down and here she came running to me.
And there was more surprises, my brother and his family were there too. It was the best home-coming I had ever had.
Darlene had talked her dad into making the trip west. But she had all her “stuff” to take. He made a box trailer that was waterproof. She loaded it full and she followed her dad and mom pulling a travel trailer. In 2500 miles, she never had to back up, Not once.
Dar and I bought a mobile home and parked it in a small trailer park in Chula Vista, south of San Diego. Life on shore was sweet. We bought a 56 Pontiac Convertible. We rode my 55 Harley on weekends. Because the nasty chief no longer had control over my duty status, I had weekends off.
The ship was scheduled for an overhaul to take place the next four months at San Francisco Naval Shipyard at Hunters Point. It is approximately 600 miles from Chula Vista to San Francisco driving on the Pacific Coast Highway. Every weekend, I loaded up the car with three sailors who chipped in on the gas, and we made the 14 hour drive. Leaving the ship Friday afternoon at 1600, (4PM), we drove all night and got into Chula Vista in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
Then leaving CV at 1400 Sunday afternoon, (2 PM), we headed back up the PCH and arrived at the ship Monday morning with two hours to spare.
Dar was homesick, pregnant and very sad. She had no friends to visit with, but she did have my Brother and his family who lived about a half mile away. Because I had the car, she was confined to doing anything within walking distance of the trailer. She got a job working at a bank near the trailer park.
After three months in the Repair facility in San Francisco, the ship returned to San Diego.
When we learned she was pregnant, we knew these next few months would be very tough on her. We talked it over and came up with a fool-proof plan. Every day, I would take something personal off the ship until my locker was empty. The only clothes left were my work clothes and shoes in the engine room. I checked myself into the Balboa Naval Hospital complaining of sharp pains in my rectum. Preliminary examination revealed that I had a pilonidal cyst on my tail bone. I was admitted. The operation and recovery was to take 3-5 weeks. As per Navy regulations. If a man is admitted to a Naval Hospital, his records must accompany him. That meant that when my records left the ship, I was officially transferred.
The cyst was removed and I recovered. Because my enlistment was up in a few days, the Navy sent me to the Receiving Station and I was discharged. I called my wife and told her to come get this civilian off this Navy base.