28 July 2017

Navy Memories: Anchor's Aweigh

(Note: previous installment can be found here.)

(Second note: most people write "Anchors Away" like a flight crew says "Bombs away". What it really means is that the ship's anchor is no longer resting on the sea floor, but is being hoisted on its chain, and the ship can make preparations for getting underway. "Skipper, the anchor's aweigh." Or even that all the ships in a unit are leaving at the same time: "Anchors aweigh.")

22 November 1973: Thanksgiving morning.

It didn't feel anything like a holiday to me at that point, but then I'd never been away from home on a major holiday before. And I was too busy, taking in all the new things/sights/sounds around me, and figuring out what I was supposed to do.

After an unsatisfying breakfast, I grabbed my seabag and stepped through a hatch onto the main deck of the tender. Since that ship was so much larger and taller than the squadron of destroyers which were normally tied up at the pier, I was looking down across the pier to a ship which hadn't been there the night before.

The USS William M. Wood (DD-715) was built in 1944, launched February 1945, but not commissioned until November of that year. So by the time I reported aboard, she was 28 years old already. Many of the surface ships operated by the Navy in the early '70s were WWII and Korea veterans.

Reporting to my ship was the next step; I descended the ladder over the side of the tender, crossed the pier, and walked up the gangplank to the Wood. I remembered what they taught us in boot camp: as you cross the plank, stop and salute the ensign (U.S. flag), then step aboard the ship. When you do, you've entered the quarterdeck, whereupon you salute the Officer of the Deck, or the Petty Officer of the Watch (whichever is the highest ranking person stationed there).

I presented my orders, and was immediately pulled aside. "Unpack that seabag, sailor!" I was told.
Okay, then: it seemed strange, but an order is an order. I started pulling uniform items out, stacking them as neatly as I could on the deck.

Because of the junta the previous week, security was high. The Commodore (the Squadron Commander) had ordered drills, and various sailors would pass from one ship to another, attempting to board without valid I.D. or orders. If a man was able to do so, he'd then hide a small box someplace on that ship. Then, after alerting the quarterdeck crew his presence, the ship's crew had a very short time to find the box, or the ship would "blow up".

I probably don't need to tell you that the Commodore disapproved mightily of any crew which allowed its ship to be "destroyed."

So while I reluctantly unpacked my skivvies, I was rescued by the arrival of the guy with whom I'd be working for the foreseeable future. He told me to put my things away, and good-naturedly chided the quarterdeck crew for making me do that. Turns out my name was on the Plan of the Day as an expected arrival; hadn't they read it? And didn't they know they should have called him sooner? (I think he was more put out that he hadn't been called right away, than from any inconvenience to me.)

You'll remember that the berthing compartments were rather tight quarters:

He showed me to the berthing compartment in which I'd sleep for the next 18 months, where I stowed all those carefully-refolded items. Then ... then it was time to go meet The Chief.
The Chief Petty Officer (CPO) is the subject of many legends in the Navy, and enlisted personnel tell many jokes about the Chief (paygrade E-7), Senior Chief (E-8), and Master Chief (E-9). Basically, they all revolve around the supposed infallibility of a Chief. I'm pretty sure an Army man would tell you similar stories about Master Sergeants. For example, Chief can't really walk on water ... they walk several inches above it. :)
U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer)
Chief H., my boss for the duration, was a short, teddy bear of a man. (You remember my description of the boot-camp salute training? The hand is to be straight as an arrow, and in line with the entire forearm when saluting.) He appeared to be palming a tennis ball when he saluted, but I never heard anyone mention his version.  He was all business in the office, but wanted to be "Jack" to us at any other time. That attitude was rare, I was to learn. Most CPOs were justifiably proud of achieving that lofty rank, and wanted to be called "Chief" at all times.

Ship's crews have a rhythm at which they work. In port, work was a 0800 to 1700 (8 to 5, for you landlubbers) affair, with 90 minutes for lunch. The crew was divided into sections, and one section had duty each day. On the Wood, there were three sections, ensuring that one-third of the crew was on duty at any given time. This would allow the ship to get underway with sufficient crew, in case of emergency.

Those sailors who were not on duty would often head ashore as quickly as they could get changed into civvies at the end of the workday. Many went to bars, while others - particularly the married personnel - had apartments in Elefsis. Since the idea was to return to the ship by 0700 the next day, so as to report to work on time.

The rhythm was quite different at sea. Since there's no place to go, at sea, the pace is a bit slower. Work began at 0830, and lunch was 2 1/2 hours long. Many sailors would take naps after lunch. The workday ended at 1800.

After the evening meal, the mess deck was cleaned, and a translucent movie screen was hung up in the center of the compartment. A movie was shown nightly, but could be seen from either side. Of course, those on the opposite side from the projector watched it in reverse, but no one cared. It was entertainment!

Movies were sent from the carrier with which we were underway, and when they'd all been watched, we got new ones. Sometimes the timing was bad, and we'd wind up seeing the same movie more than once. That didn't matter much, either. It was something to do, and we didn't anywhere to go, anyhow.

The only time anyone complained was during a horrible storm in December, '73: we watched The Poseidon Adventure while wedging our hands and feet around tables (bolted to the deck) and stanchions. We tried not to slide across the deck or crash into the bulkheads while seeing that cruise ship capsize in similar weather.

I found it all very exciting. Storms on the ocean, in a destroyer ... cool! And okay, just a bit scary.

But movies weren't the only form of entertainment. Reading was popular, and paperbacks were a hot commodity. And woe unto the sailor who wouldn't pass on a book when he was finished with it! They made their way from one man to another until the pages started falling out.

Louis L'amour novels were very popular, but even more so the tales of one Mack Bolan, "The Executioner".

Off-duty, sailors played cards ... a lot. Some gathered around a guitarist to listen and/or sing, some tried to find quiet corners in which to nap, or just sat on the main deck and watched the sea.

But it was the Cold War, and we played hide-and-seek with Russian warships, and chased submarines. We refueled every three or four days by sailing alongside an oiler, and they passed lines across, along which heavy hoses were rolled on pulleys, to pump fuel oil into our tanks. Generally, other supplies were transferred across at the same time.

We drilled to break the tedium and to stay in good battle trim: General Quarters, security breach, man overboard, collision alerts, and gunnery practice and/or anti-submarine rocket launches. The six destroyers which made up our squadron had competitions: which ship was fastest? Who was most accurate at off-shore bombardment?

Life was good, and days were never dull. There was always something going on, and things to do. Maintenance was a never-ending issue, as we kept an almost 30 year-old WWII-issue ship intact and in good operating condition.

But pictures work better than words. Here, see for yourself: the ship featured at the beginning (USS Bordelon (DD 881)) is the same as the one on which I served. And this was my era.


threecollie said...

I laughed out loud at the Poseidon Adventure. The book scared the heck out of me. The movie more so. I can't imagine watching it on a pitching and plunging ship!

Rev. Paul said...

Let's just say I was trying very hard not to think about what was going on outside. Was only partially successful.

Bob said...

On one occasion during my TAD on USS Deyo it was Surf 'n Turf day, steak and lobster, and in this case not simply lobster tails, but whole lobsters, and the ship was taking heavy rolls during chow call. I went through the line, got my tough, rubbery steak, had a lobster plopped down across the tray (it covered the entire tray) and entered the dining area, where lobster shells were carpeting the deck and you crunched every time you took a step. And there were plenty of leftover lobsters for midrats that night, as well, and all the sailors who never ate midrats made sure to show up that night.

Sandy said...

Rev. Paul,

I enjoyed reading this post, and watching the video. Thank you for sharing part of your military experience with us :-)
Thank you for your service dear friend.

Rev. Paul said...

Bob, the food on the Wood was horrendous, for the first couple of months. We ate a lot of PB&Js, and it was that gosh-awful gov't surplus peanut butter that has the consistency of sawdust. Then in January '74, when the Commissaryman rating was combined with Steward, and became the Mess Management Specialist ... the food improved immediately. In our case, the senior cook onboard was a Steward, so our food literally got better overnight.

Sandy, thank you for reading & watching it all. It was an honor to serve.

Old NFO said...

Saw the P2-V7 fly over...LOL, that wasn't me! And the BM2 on the fueling evolution had a wedding ring on, lucky he didn't lose the finger... That looked like it was in the Med too!

Rev. Paul said...

It probably wasn't you, NFO - I think that was 1970. Boats might be known as Ol' Nine Fingers by now. And yep, it was a Med cruise. One of the reasons why I like that video. That, and it's a Gearing-class, so I get to see familiar sights.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Wow. Mack Bolan. How long since I have heard about that series?

Keep writing Reverend. Highly enjoyable for us civilians.

drjim said...

Wonderful stories!

One thing I distinctly remember my Dad telling me was that "If you go in the Army, you listen to your Sergeant. If you go in the Navy, you listen to your Chief. Don't forget what you learned in boot camp, but your Sergeant or Chief will teach what you need to know TO STAY ALIVE!".

I've had the opportunity to work with many CPO's on the Iowa, and they all have great sea stories.

Rev. Paul said...

TB, I had no idea the series was ongoing, with nearly 600 published thus far. I don't think I've read one since leaving the ship in '75, either. As far as writing more about it ... we'll see. :)

Jim, it's a fact that the Chiefs are who make the Navy functional. Sure, they follow orders just like anyone else, but few argue that a Chief makes things happen. Any Ensign who wishes to make Lt(jg) learns quickly to listen to the Chief.