07 August 2017

Navy Memories #9: The Accident, and More Ports of Call

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

When we left the ships of Destroyer Squadron 12, the ripple effects of the earlier oil embargo had left the Navy with budget concerns. So all six destroyers were tied up at the (ahem) relocatable* (cough, cough) pier in Elefsis, Greece.

It was the next-to-last year of the Viet Nam war (if you were there, it was a war; I don't what what Congress called it. "Police action", my Aunt Fanny - we weren't writing traffic tickets!). That same Congress was busily shrinking the military budget; the nation was tired of the fighting, and oil was a lot more expensive than it had been. So there we sat. And as the saying goes, ships are safe in port, but that's not what ships are for.

On the 4th of July, I was injured; details aren't important. But I managed to break my left ankle and fracture three vertebrae. They took me to the Air Force hospital in Athens. (The Navy had a small clinic, also in Athens, but no emergency facilities. Either way, all of the help was 20+ miles away.)

The X-rays confirmed the injuries, and I was admitted. Treatment then was primitive compared to today; these days, they glue the vertebrae fragments back together. But I was confined to lying on wooden slats and wasn't allowed to raise my head for 7 days. The morphine they administered every 4 hours only lasted for 3 1/2 hours; that last 30 minutes was unpleasant, each time.

But I digress.

In July and August 1974, the Wood conducted continuous patrols in the vicinity of Crete during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. It's a strange feeling to be left behind.

A shipmate with whom I've reconnected on Book o' Faces tells me that they sailed around a couple of islands for days, firing the five-inch guns, and eating a lot of beans and cornbread. He got awfully tired of that, he said. (It could have been worse, Bob: I was eating hospital food and hobbling around on crutches.)

On the other hand, once I was more or less mobile, I ate a lot of lunches at the base cafeteria, and took in an occasional movie. All things considered, I'd rather have been on the ship, but would have been a liability. But when the ship came back in early September, I was able to rejoin the crew. It was six months before I could walk without a cane and a limp, but I managed.

* * * * *

Later that fall, we visited Menton, France, a town halfway between Nice and Monaco. Never mind that it was late fall, and a bit chilly ... it was the French Riviera, baby!

Menton, France
A friend and I had the first two days free, so we took a water taxi to shore, walked around to find a hotel, and rented a room. Then we explored this beautiful Mediterranean city. Pastry shops, cafes, boutiques ... narrow streets ... murals on building fronts ... it was like being in a movie.

The next morning we boarded a bus to Monaco, and just walked around. We tried to take in the sights and sounds of that famous place.

There were Rolls Royces on the streets, and - amid the other exotica - a '57 T-Bird. :) But we enjoyed the palm trees, the parks ... and then we stumbled upon Monte Carlo, the famous casino.

Of course we had to go in. We entered the very large foyer, where there were dozens of slot machines. Gentlemen must wear a tie to enter the casino proper, don'tcha know, so we plopped a few francs in the foyer's many slot machines ... just so we could say we'd done it.

I managed to win about $36 worth, and little old ladies in mink coats, hands dripping with diamonds, were patting me on the back. (I have no idea what they were saying. It sounded congratulatory, but could have been "Quit taking our money, American!") It was, again, like being in a film, and I treasure that memory. But I realized that the money would pay for the hotel room, the bus fare, and the meals we'd eaten thus far. So I stopped.

I often wonder if I should have been more adventurous, but I broke even for the weekend, and called it good. A lowly enlisted man in those halcyon days didn't make a lot, and I figured going back to the ship with no loss of funds was a good thing.

* * * *

We also visited Sousse, Tunisia. If I recall correctly, we were the first American warship to port there in some 30 years, which would have been during World War II.

As the smallest destroyer in the squadron, we were the only ship which could make it into the shallow harbor. The harbor was 26 to 30 feet deep, but the Wood drew only 18 feet below water (the "draft" of a ship is how far the keel is below the water line).

Believe it or not, we maneuvered a 390' destroyer into that harbor, and tied
up along that center pier shown here. And there was a French submarine on the opposite side.
Hearing them playing The Marseillaise each morning was stirring.

One of the nice things about pulling into foreign ports is that the Navy paymaster always had the local currency available. Sailors could exchange dollars for the local money, at a decent rate of exchange. If you tried to do that in the new city, there was no guarantee that you wouldn't get ripped off.

The currency in Tunisia was the dinar; I only had 55 dollars at the time, which worked out to 5 dinar. Each dinar was worth 1,000 millennia. Figuring I was virtually broke, I thought I'd be able to get a meal somewhere, and call it good.

Then I found out that a bottle of Coke cost 16 millennia. The price of a pair of shoes, seen in a shop we passed, was 230 millennia. Suddenly my 5,000 millennia looked pretty good!

Sousse Beach
So six of us went to the only hotel we saw, way down the beach, for a meal. We each had filet mignon, a number of sides, crepe suzettes, and the guys consumed a few bottles of wine as well.

The meal was prepared at tableside, by a personal chef. The filet was so soft you could cut it with a spoon.

And the bill came to $17 for the six of us.

* * * * *

But then came the Black Sea. 


* The story was that the Navy had solicited bids for, and approved plans for, a pier which could be floated to a new location, if the port of Elefsis didn't work out. What the Navy got was a concrete structure, on piers. (That was a local joke, among the sailors.) It wasn't going anywhere - and in fact, it's still there today.



threecollie said...

Still more good stuff. Thank you

Rev. Paul said...

You're welcome, ma'am; I'm glad you like it.

Leilani Sterling said...

Paul, I am enjoying your story..To think that we went to high school together and was in band and church together too. I really didn't get to see you too much after you left and went into the Navy. I'm going to have to go back and read all of your stories thus far. It has been interesting reading. If you ever become really famous beyond your Small Town in Alaska and back here at home then I can say I remember when...... LOL Love from your hometown.

Rev. Paul said...

Thank you, Lani; that's really nice of you to say. IF I can make it to the Class of '73 reunion next year, perhaps we'll be able to say "hi" again. :)

drjim said...

More great "Sea Stories", Rev!

Rev. Paul said...

Thanks, Jim. The memories are getting a little fuzzier with the passage of time; I thought it was time to jot things down.

drjim said...

Oh, yeah. That's why I did the same with my "Jim's Old Firebird" posts!

Leilani Sterling said...

sounds great Paul just let me know when the reunion is or let Paul Barber know or let both of us know because we were talking about you & your sister just the other day. I am sure there will be others that we went to church with that would love to see you as well. It will be your 3 years ahead of me and Paul's reunion right? You notice that I refuse to say my age though I can sure tell how old I am daily.....and sometime feel twice that. It is going to be your 45th class reunion if I am figuring correctly. Just announce it real well on FB if you do come back home.

LindaG said...

Really enjoyable post.

And you did very right by breaking even in a casino!

Rev. Paul said...

Lani, will do.

Linda, I've always thought so. Thanks. :)