03 August 2017

Navy Memories #7: Destroyer Life and Ports of Call

One of the most important tasks that Navy warships fulfill is to not only show American sea power, but also to "show the flag". That means visiting foreign ports in a show of friendship with other countries.

Sailors usually just think of it as another port, another place to explore ... time ashore is time not spent on duty, on the ship.

Some of the places which my ship, along with other ships of Destroyer Squadron 12 visited in 1974:

Chania, Crete (pronounced Han-yah'). It's the second largest city in Crete, after Iraklion. We arrived there in the afternoon, if memory serves, so several of us decided to find a restaurant. On the waterfront we came across a large restaurant. After a large serving of goulash, with which most of the group decided to try several beers, many in the group were already decidedly wobbly. Those of who hadn't partaken decided to walk up the street into the center of town.

I don't recall seeing any pedestrians besides an occasional group of sailors. As the sun was setting, we came across a small pastry shop that was still open. Thinking that a bit of dessert would be good, we went in and found an older fellow behind the counter who heard us talking, and asked if we were Americans.

It turned out that after WWII, he had visited New York. He loved his time in America and Americans, in general. He wanted us to stay so he could practice his English, and gave us free pastries while he talked about his time in the States.

* * * * *

In early '74, we conducted off-shore bombardment on the coast of Sicily. I know, I know; it sounded strange to me, too. The ship was equipped with two gun mounts, with two guns each. These were called "5"/38", or five inch diameter, 38 caliber rifled guns. I don't want to get into the weeds writing technical stuff here, so - if you're interested - you can read about them here.

The forward mount on the USS Joseph P. Kennedy (DD 850), a ship nearly identical to mine.
Picture from a battleship. The gun mount shown here is much larger than that found on a tin can,
but the projectiles shown being carried are the ones I write about, here.
In a nutshell, the rounds had an maximum effective range of about 11 miles, and those guns were impressive to see in operation. The concussion from a single blast, even when we were closed up on the bridge, would knock dust down from the overhead light fixtures, and cause my hair to fall into my face. And those guns made some rather spectacular, fiery smoke rings, too, some 12 or 15 feet in diameter.

We pounded that sandy, rocky coastline for hours, off and on, over several days. Apparently our accuracy was good, as we won the squadron's award for battle efficiency (the Battle "E").

* * * * *

The oil embargo which started in October '73 as a response to the U.S. support of Israel during the Yom Kippur war didn't just wreak havoc on the U.S. drivers. It also trickled down to the fleet.

We learned in early '74 that the fuel oil supply would be tight for awhile. The ships of the squadron tied up to the pier, and there we sat, awaiting any emergency which might require us to get underway once more.

There were plenty of escapades committed by sailors during those long months of relative boredom, but such tales are not my purpose here. Further Affiant sayeth not. :)

However, one thing happened during that time which was not in the usual routine.

I had begun to wonder how we might obtain new uniforms, et cetera. In Greece, there was only the Air Force Exchange on their base, some 20 miles away from Elefsis. The Navy Exchange sent forms to the squadron; each sailor submitted a list of what he wanted/needed. Eventually, NavEx's "traveling salesman" came to ship with all the uniforms or gear we'd ordered. We lined up like customers at a gas station convenience store, identified ourselves, and paid for what we'd ordered. He set up shop, so to speak, in the DASH (Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter) hangar, and took payment there.

DASH hangar on a ship undergoing restoration. As you can see, it wasn't a large space.

One other thing which I'd almost forgotten: the Red Cross set up cots in there, for blood donations.

* * * * *

When the skipper of my ship informed the Commodore that I was mid-pursuit of a music degree, I was immediately named the squadron's music director. I was tasked with purchasing instruments and forming a squadron band.

Trying to find a music instrument store in a foreign city of three million people (then) was a bit daunting. This was all pre-computer, and the phone books looked like this:

So it wasn't easy. First we had to find a taxi driver who spoke some English (not always easy to do). Once he understood what we wanted and took us to a music shop, we discovered that no one in the store spoke English, either.

Ever try ordering "a six-string electric guitar, a bass guitar, an electric organ, a set of drums, and four amplifiers" in a language you don't speak?

Fun times.

But we eventually found what we needed and brought it all back to the ship. Finding musicians was easier ("Hey, anyone here play guitar, bass, or drums? Can anyone carry a tune in a receptacle smaller than a wheelbarrow?"). We practiced in the DASH hangar, and eventually wound up playing for the Seamanship Olympics on the pier.

That's me, front and center (March '75).
I'm not so thin, these days.
My guitar buddy (Andy, on the left) and me with our collection. He's added a
couple more, since then.

* * * * *

There's a lot more, Gentle Reader, but my notes are still a bit scrambled. As long as all y'all keep reading, I'll keep posting these.


drjim said...

Ah, yes....the 5"/38..."The Gun That Won The Pacific War".

We fire blanks from one of the 5"/38 mounts on the Iowa for special events.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Keep Writing, Reverend. The band picture is priceless.

Rev. Paul said...

Jim, that's right - the U.S. Navy used it for 50 years, but doesn't anymore. Most of navies still do. And the recoil was a bit more noticeable on a smaller ship. Nothing like the big guns on the Iowa, though. :)

TB - will do ... and thank you.

threecollie said...

You betcha we'll keep reading. Great stuff as always

Rev. Paul said...

Thanks, Marianne; I appreciate it.

Ed Bonderenka said...

Carry on.

Rev. Paul said...

Aye aye, sir!

LindaG said...

I don't know too many who are that thin any more. We certainly aren't.
And I blame the Air Force for that. Basic training chow hall food is a LOT different from what I was used to growing up.

Great post, Reverend. Thank you!

Rev. Paul said...

I hear you, Linda, although I can't blame the Navy for the weight I've gained in the 40 years since I got out. That on me, right there. :)

LindaG said...

I know. True that, too, Reverend. :)