16 August 2017

Navy Memories #11: 1975, A Year of Change

Previous installments:
  1. Boot Camp Memories
  2. About Those Navy Memories
  3. First Orders
  4. Anchor's Aweigh
  5. Man Overboard!
  6. Reflections of a Black Shoe
  7. Destroyer Life and Ports of Call
  8. Warships vs. Big Waves
  9. The Accident, and More Ports of Call
  10. The Black Sea

It was an unusually chilly winter in Elefsis, Greece. Not only cold and blustery, but on one memorable Saturday in January, it snowed for the first time in 16 years.

Okay, it flurried. But there was some accumulation, albeit less than an inch. But children had never seen it before, and one of my clearest memories of that morning was watching the neighborhood kids throw loose handfuls at each other. They didn't know how to make snowballs, but the instinct was there. :)

But Christmas of '74 came and went without incident. In the military, that's never a "given".
It's still awfully nice when it happens. So we began 1975 like this:

Tied up at the pier. Ships (and crews) are happier when underway.

But in February, duty called: time to get underway. We didn't do much besides cruise around, it seemed, but we did continue to play tag with Russian subs and surface ships. At least we were at sea!
We also fired an ASROC (Anti-Submarine ROCket) or two.

Not my ship, but one just like it (a Gearing-class destroyer), launching an ASROC.

We placed a 36" Styrofoam ball, spray-painted orange, in the ocean. Then we steamed 11 miles away, calculated the wind/drift/current, and launched an ASROC at it the unsuspecting foam. Those tasked with checking the target area went back to it, and reported "many pieces of orange-and-white Styrofoam on the surface."

I thought that was pretty impressive.

Speaking of the ASROC launcher - visible in the photo above as a horizontal rectangle from which the rocket just left - it was directly above my desk. Seriously, the base of the launcher formed the overhead above my seat, and the techs had to stand on my desk to work on it. If that sucker had ever malfunctioned (read if it blew up), it wouldn't have been much fun to be sitting in that particular spot.

A typical ASROC launcher

After returning to port, The Powers That Be decided we should have a squadron competition for the deck hands: flaking out lines, splicing lines and/or wire ropes, relay races, lowering lifeboats, etc. My band, as well as one other, played live music for the event. There was plenty of food available, although I can't tell you what it might have been ... probably burgers and such. And, as they say, a good time was had by all.

Counter-clockwise: Elefsis Harbor, the seamen competing, and a group of officers from my ship - note the "715" on the ball caps. Our skipper, Commander John B. Castano, is standing right of center, in a leather jacket with his arms folded.

Here's the same photo, enlarged.

Me and the Willie Wood Band

In February, my almost-20-year-old head was filled with thoughts of fancy and possible romance. I'd been conducting a pen-pal relationship for some time with a lady from Juneau; she was a friend of a shipmate, also from Juneau. Bob had gone on to submarine school at that point, but I wanted to meet Rene'.

So I submitted a revised dream sheet* to the Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS), requesting duty in Alaska. A fateful choice, as it turned out: 30 days later, I got orders for Adak, Alaska, an "isolated duty station" in the Aleutian Islands. That a topic to which we'll return, soon enough.

In late March, we set sail again. The ship stopped at a couple of small ports we'd visited before.

On the day before Easter, there were strong winds which prevented us from entering the port at Kythira. So we dropped anchored off the coast. On Easter morning, we awoke to find that the ship was near not only other tin cans from our squadron, but a group of Russian destroyers as well.

I suspect the reason was that spot was suitable for an anchorage (i.e., not terribly deep). But I also had the strong impression that we did it as part of our Navy's ongoing mission of pestering the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean. I can't remember if someone said that, or if we just joked about it.

Probably the latter, though. Heh.

USS William M. Wood (DD 715), underway.

And then we wound up in Naples, a port of call about which I'd heard many tales.

The harbor water was an impenetrable black, had scattered clumps of floating trash, and smelled foul. Once the ship was tied up at the pier, my first close-up look at the harbor was to see an orange peel and a dead cat drift by.

Naples harbor, with Mt. Vesuvius in the background, taken in '73.

While a group of us were clustered at the rail, a car crashed through the wooden barricades at the shore and fell some 30 feet into the harbor, whereupon it sank like a stone. Even though U.S. Navy divers immediately jumped into that black water, I never did find out if they were able to save the occupant(s).

Not exactly an auspicious start.

But of course, I was anxious to see the sights. As soon as liberty was announced, those of us who weren't on duty headed down the gangplank to "Hey Joe Row".

What's that, you ask? It's the elbow-to-elbow rows of sidewalk vendors, on both sides of the street, yelling at the American sailors: "Hey Joe, wanna buy a watch?" Or a shirt, or pants, or a suit, or girls ... the list was endless. It was best to travel in groups, and just keep walking.

We hadn't eaten since an early brunch, and decided that German cuisine sounded good. Visiting Italy for the first time ... reasonable choice, no? Oh well, we had plenty of time to get local food.  :)

Typical street scene in modern-day Naples; not exactly 42 years ago, but close enough.

We found (read we stumbled across) a place called the Bauhaus, or maybe Brauhaus, Brew Haus ... something like that. Okay, I can't remember it's name, but it was good. The size of a middlin' cafeteria inside, it was brightly lit, with many wooden tables, and looked like a set in a play. Or maybe Hogan's Heroes. There were no Nazi soldiers, though. Lots of very large beer steins on the tables, amidst huge platters of food.

After thoroughly stuffing ourselves, we were off in search of further adventures. My personal thought was that I'd probably never visit Italy again, so I wanted to see as much as I could.

The usual procedure for a ship in a port is that the sailors who are afforded liberty will go ashore, usually in civvies unless directed otherwise, and then return to the ship at night. It's the best of both worlds, as you can walk around a foreign land, sample the food and drink, meet people, and then return to U.S. "soil" at the end of the day.

The next day, our group thought it was high time to find out the difference between American pizza, and the real deal. Naples is reputedly the birthplace of pizza, so there was no time like the present.

We found a place with a wait staff who spoke some English, and ordered the daily special pizza.

Turns out it was served in a glass pie pan, roughly 13" x 20", and was 2 1/2" deep. Lots of soft, bubbly crust, with all the day's leftovers piled on top.

One of the best pizzas I've ever eaten, too; we thoroughly enjoyed that meal. Then we did more wandering around town, but I no longer remember much about it. As April drew to a close, my mind was starting to wander, too.

I had orders to the other side of the world, and thoughts of leaving began to crowd out everything else.

So bright and early on the morning of May 1, 1975, I left the ship. After a short hop on a helicopter, and a longer flight on a MAC (Military Airlift Command) flight for Athens - because that's where my tickets specified I was departing from - I boarded a TWA flight for New York.

From there, to St. Louis to see my parents for two weeks, and then to Juneau, to see the pen pal I mentioned. It was ... interesting, but fantasy and reality are frequently quite different. I found that out for myself, and moved on.

Me at my parent's house in Missouri. Shown as an E-3 here, I was already scheduled for promotion to E-4 on May 16th, but wouldn't find out about it for nearly two months because of the transfer from Greece to Alaska.

Back in those days, one couldn't fly from St. Louis to Alaska. I took Ozark Airlines to Chicago ($25 fare on military standby - eat your hearts out!), Northwest Orient Airlines to Seattle, and then Alaska Airlines to Juneau.

The SeaTac to Juneau flight stopped in Ketchikan. On the ground in Juneau, I discovered that they'd left my seabag on the plane, and off-loaded some old raggedy bag that looked like it had rabies. Or maybe the mange. Either way, it certainly wasn't mine.

The baggage claim lady kept looking at my ticket which said the flight originated in STL, and referred to it as Salt Lake City for the next three days until the bag turned up.

So for those three days, I could wear the clothes I'd flown in. Or maybe not...

I stayed in Juneau for two weeks, did a lot of hiking, and bought clothes I thought appropriate for Alaska: a down coat, thick socks, and heavy hiking boots. Flannel shirts, blue jeans, and underwear. All the things you don't think about, until you don't have them.

Next stop: Adak, Alaska.

It's a form on which you can list the stations, ships, and overseas locations where you would like to be stationed. If there is an opening, you might get assigned to one of your choices. Otherwise, you can keep on dreaming.  :)


Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Thanks for writing Reverend. Enjoying it very much.

Rev. Paul said...

It's my pleasure, sir; I'm very glad you like it.

Old NFO said...

Heh... Brings back memories... Found this from the 80s but it talks about Kythria. https://www.csmonitor.com/1983/0331/033154.html We used to det to Souda Bay and make a 'lap' over Kythria on takeoff, and one on landing, just to see who was moving. The other one was Sidi Barrani, but occasionally the Egyptians got a bit 'chippy' about us dipping in there... :-)

LindaG said...

I am so behind. Sorry for that. But I do remember Dream Sheets.

Shortly after you went to ADAK, I ended up at Clear AFS in the middle of Alaska, and hubby ended up at Eielson AFB. From which he went TDY to Shemya AFS, on Shemya Island. I did not like when he went on those TDY's, especially when one was as cleanup crew when one of the Cobra Ball's crashed out there on landing. Lost a good friend on that flight.

Like the mothballing of the SR-71, I will never understand why they stopped making battleships. A couple of those off the coast of NK and I don't think we would have needed to wait so long for Kim Jong Un to decide that playing with Guam was a bad idea.

Thanks for the post!

Rev. Paul said...

NFO - interesting, that. That's the first I knew that the Russian Navy was using Kythira as a routine anchorage; makes my memory of that Easter morning even more fun. :)

Linda - no worries. Shemya is the only place where the weather was supposed to be worse than Adak's. :) The battleships were mothballed for several reasons: a) they were horribly expensive to operate, b) they were inefficient compared to more modern ships, and c) with their bulk, they were extremely susceptible to missile attack. Modern missiles & smart bombs were and are more effective than the best off-shore bombardment which the big ladies could dish out. Granted, the Missouri sitting off the coast would give one pause, but NoKor & China have those new "carrier buster" missiles which could go through a battleship without slowing much.

Either way, you're welcome. :)

threecollie said...

Thanks again for sharing your amazing memories! Also for the weather quote which made its way into Friday's Farm Side along with several others from all over the USA

LindaG said...

Ah. Victim of technology. That is too bad that they could not have been retrofitted and what not. But probably I do understand.

Rev. Paul said...

threecollie, I suspect I've forgotten more than is remembered here. 40+ years will do that, it seems. And you're quite welcome.

Linda, a couple of the battleships (Iowa, Missouri) were retrofitted in the '80s, and were large parts of the battles in the Middle East thru the early '90s. But each successive retrofit grows more expensive, especially the electronics, and The Powers That Be deemed them to be too much after awhile.