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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Operation End Sweep

During my first tour on the USS Stein, we made a Western Pacific Cruise and in those days, WESTPAC meant Viet Nam. We got to the combat zone right at the end of the designated war. I say it that way because if you were alive then, you will remember that the hostilities did not stop because Henry Kissenger said they did. After doing a few weeks of Plane Guard for what ever carrier we were assigned too, the decision was made to begin taking the mines out of Haiphong Harbor. We were assigned to guard the little wooden MSO's. These Mine Sweepers were totally made of wood, so as to be non-magnetic. A good idea if you are looking for magnetically actuated mines! The escorts were us and an LPH. I believe it was the Guadalcanal, but I may be wrong on that. In any case, two events stick out in my mind from that time.

First, a brutal Typhoon came out of no where. At that time, ships had no weather forecasting capability. There were few satellites looking at the weather and the ships did not get the imagery anyway. Yes, the carriers had Aerographer's Mates (AG) who we called weather guessers. But forecasting the weather was as accurate as predicting the next mail call. So, this Typhoon caught all of us off guard. The LPH was really getting beat up. They lost a number of CH 46 helicopters off the flight deck from waves crashing over the deck. Us on the Stein were getting the snot kicked out of us. Let me give you a visual picture of riding a small ship in a Typhoon, or Hurricane. Get in your bath tub. Fill it half way up. Put a small toy boat in the water. Now, thrash your legs and hands as hard as you can. Look at how the toy boat rides. That's a small ship at sea in a Typhoon. Now, if you can imagine, the MSO's were about one fourth the size of our little Destroyer Escort and made completely of wood! I was on the bridge, watching the storm, and listening to the radio communications from the mine sweeps. One transmission said, anything connected to the deck or the overhead, isn't connected anymore! The ships could not make any headway no matter how much engine they used. So, we were all doomed to ride it out. The storm lasted about 36 hours and when it was done, we were all still there, battered, damaged, but still intact. That was a memorable storm.

The second memory is directly related to Operation End Sweep. We were protecting the Mine Sweepers since they had very little self defense capability. Pretty much, a couple of .50 caliber machine guns. We were steaming in Condition Two, which was called War Time Steaming. The gun mount was fully manned 24 hours a day, in two shifts. The rest of the ship's combat systems were manned also, and the ship had most of the water tight doors and fittings closed. I was in my rack, since I was in the off section, and at 2230, (10:30 PM) the General Quarters alarm was sounded. I jumped out of my rack, as everyone else did, grabbed what I thought were my pants, and ran to the Carrier Room, my GQ station. As I got in the Carrier Room, I heard the FTG3 who was on watch in the MK 68 Director stuttering and trying to give gun commands. This FTG3 had the same problem as the late country singer Mel Tillits. He could sing and not stutter, but he stuttered terribly when he talked and even worse when he was excited, and boy was he excited! He would shout "Mow, Mow, Oh Shit!! Mow." The GMG2 on watch in the gun was equally confused so I took over and started all of the hydraulic motors that operated the gun mount. Finally, an FTG 2 took over and I found out what was going on. It seems three North Viet Nameese, Soviet made, "Commar" missile boats had come out of the Delta at a fast rate of speed radiating "Styx" missile radar on us. Thanks GOD the WLR-1 operator was good! The Captain was on the bridge and called the Admiral on the LPH. The rules of engagement were extremely tight at this time, so shooting was done only with permission. The Admiral on the LPH said, Wait One". The Commodore was on the bridge by this time and the Captain said to the Commodore, " You see the situation, I need to shoot first to defend the ship and the MSO's. If I wait, we will be sunk before we can shoot. The Commodore told the Captain, "You heard the Admiral, Wait One". The Captain did something I will admire him for, forever. He told the Commodore," This is my ship, I request you leave the bridge, Helmsman, right full rudder, Mount 51 to remote!" At that time, I out the gun in the control of the Fire Control system and we began to track the missile boats. The Captain was must about ready to shoot when they turned away and ran. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that his BOLD move of turning into the aggressors shocked them and saved our lives. Now that's leadership!

PS- Remember those pants I grabbed. They were not mine. They belonged to the skinniest guy in the division! I froze my tail off in the carrier room during that 2 hour GQ!

Monday, June 22, 2009

More Officer stories

As long as I am writing about officers, I might as well tell you about an Indian Ocean cruise. My second tour on the USS Stein, we deployed to the Indian Ocean. It was an uneventful period of time in that normally troubled waters, and we were steaming around in the balmy weather on a Sunday morning. I was taking temperatures on the Pyro Boxes that were top side just after breakfast. Gunner's Mates always take magazine and pyro box temperatures at least once a day. This is to make sure the ammunition is being kept at a safe temperature, to check the house keeping of the magazines, to provide powder temperatures to the Fire Controlmen to enable them to compute initial velocity of the 5", or any other caliber gun with a fire control system, and in general, to give the Gunner's Mates something to do early in the morning. It is some what a tradition. in any case, I was on the 02 level, by the signal bridge when I saw Rear Admiral Miller. He was riding Stein since we had been configured for a DESRON Staff. I don't remember why a little Knox class frigate had an Admiral, but we did. In any case, he asked me< "What are these tubes for?" I was sure he knew, after all, he WAS an Admiral. But I explained to him they were the new MK 34 Rapid Blooming Off Board Chaff launchers that we had installed in our last availability. RBOC was relative new at this time and the system belonged to the Gunner's Mates then. It belongs to the EW's now, so it seldom works, just like CIWS belonging to the FC's. Weapons systems belong to Gunner's Mates if you want them to work. Oh well, enough editorializing. The Admiral's next question was, "Do they work?" I proudly stated, "Certainly, they work!" The Admiral then ordered, "Then, let's shoot them." I asked, "How many?" He replied, "All of them". So I quickly found the Captain who was sitting on the bridge and told him of the Admirals' edict. His reply was, "Shoot them". Since all 24 tubes were loaded with real "Chaff", I had the "Boatswain Mate of the watch pass on the 1MC, "Stand clear of the 02 level while firing RBOC." With that, I opened the launcher panels on the bridge and fired, one tube at a time, all 24 "Chaff" rounds. This made a tremendous cloud of aluminum foil in the sky above and behind the ship. Anyone tracking the ship on radar had one big surprise as this new "Target", bigger that an aircraft carrier, appeared, and then slowly disappeared. II then went back on the 02 level and asked the Admiral if there was anything else? He replied, No, that was nice" and went back to his stateroom.

Now if you shoot Chaff, you have to have permission, clearance, and a firing plan bigger than the one for the atomic attack on Nagasaki. But then, Rear Admiral Miller wanted it shot, and we did.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's a small, small world.

If you have read any of my early postings, you know I am from Cleveland, Ohio. I went to Putitas Elementary school until the sixth grade. The building is still there, or at least it was a couple of years ago when I last drove by it. However, it is now a nursing home. In any case, my third grade teacher, Mrs Condon, was a wonderful lady and very proud of her son. While I was in third grade, her son was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy. A marvelous accomplishment and she was very proud of him. She had him in our class to tell us about being selected, and she talked about his accomplishments with great pride. Move the clock ahead a few years, I had just completed my tour as the Gunner's Mate detailer, and I was flying to meet the USS Caron in the Med. The trip to meet the ship was complicated by the fact that they were off the coast of Lebanon, support the Marines during that difficult period of time. So, we flew from Norfolk, to Rota, Spain. We stayed there for a few days and then flew to Souda Bay, Crete in a C-2. Now a C-2 is not a comfortable, spacious, passenger plane and it has no amenities. There is no Head!! Meaning no place to go to the bathroom. Some C-2 has a place for men to vent some liquid waste, (How's that for being delicate) but that hole was sealed up on this plane. So, by the time we got to Souda Bay, I had to GO! As soon as we arrived in Souda bay and they opened the back ramp on the plane, I was "hot footing it" to the first place I saw marked as a "HEAD". I saw the door in the hanger and made a be line for the door. I crashed into the "HEAD". found the urinal, and was immediately glad I did. Then, out of the blue, a Female sailor came out of the stall behind me screaming, "Didn't I see the wheel?!?" What wheel! What was a wheel? I had never been stationed with female sailors, except at he Bureau, and they had Male and Female HEADS. Oh well, I didn't care. I'm a Gunner's Mate, I'm not bashful. And anyway, I felt much better. So, as I departed the Head, I did see a "Wheel" on the door with a Male/Female portion. I guess the drill was which ever sex was on top meant that's who was in the Head. Burt it is hard to see the Wheel through eyes clouded with urine!

To continue, we were told we had to stay overnight in Souda Bay because of weather and that we had to stay out in town because there were no rooms available in the barracks. So, people were teaming up to get a room out in town, because that was the Base Commander's rule. There was this Commander, the only officer on the flight. He looked lonely, so I grabbed him up and said, "Let's go get a room and a good meal." The Commander agreed and off we went after changing into civilian clothes. I guess they wanted us to look like we were from Crete. Didn't work, I don't speak Greek. The Commander and I got a room, and started to get to know each other, He told me his name was Condon. I told him about my third grade teacher and about her son. I told him how proud I remembered her being about his acceptance into the Naval Academy. He looked at me and said, "That was my Mom." It really is a small, small world after all.

Maybe someday, I can get a room in the nursing home that was Puritas Elementary school. Maybe even in Mrs. Condon's third grade classroom.

The death of a barber.

My last deployment on USS Caron was very eventful and full of wonderful memories. We had the pleasure of having Destroyer Squadron 36 staff aboard for much of the cruise. DESRON staffs can be a pain, but this staff was anything but. They were pleasant, helpful, and truly became part of the crew. Today, I found out that the Commodore, a gentle man named Bob Goodwin passed away this week. His career after his Naval career really emphasizes his character. In uniform, I saw him a a mentor, a leader, and an instructor of the art of Naval warfare and seamanship. In his retirement, he became a math teacher at a very accomplished Catholic elementary school. He was in the Navy for over 30 years and was a teacher for another 20+ years. Commodore Bob Goodwin was always teaching someone, something.

I remember an in port period during that cruise. We were in Naples Italy, and he had noticed one of the ships in his charge had let their military appearance slip. Yes, we went on liberty in civilian clothes most of the time. But, he noticed the lack of military haircuts on a specific group of sailors and found out, discretely, what ship they were from. Now other Commodores would have handled this lack of military appearance with a surprise personnel inspection, a stern note to the Commanding Officer of the ship in question, or any other number of disciplinary measures that the Squadron Commander has in his bag of tricks. But not Commodore Goodwin. Instead, one Saturday morning, he just happened to be on the signal bridge, when morning colors was done. He walked over to the duty Signalman and handed him a written message. The Commodore said too the young signalman, "Here, Send this by flashing light to that ship over there." The ship was across the pier from us. The young Signalman looked at the message and replied, "Are you sure?' The Commodore said in a calm voice, "Yes. I will wait for their reply." So, the young Singleman flashed "C" "C" "C" to the ship until they replied. He then sent this message. " The Commodore of Destroyer Squadron 36 wishes to express his condolences at the death of your ship's barber." There was no reply. But the message was received.

Subtle messages sometimes get the best results. I learned a lot that day. I will miss Commodore Bob Goodwin.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The stinger strikes again!

I know I have spent plenty of time writing about outstanding Gunner's Mates that I have know, worked with, and held in high esteem. It might give you the idea that there are no less than outstanding Gunner's Mates that ever served in the U.S. Navy. We do screen our folks pretty well, but once in a while someone sneaks through. Not that that person is a bad person, or does not try to be all that he can be. I just had to borrow that from our Army brothers. But some folks just don't have the nerve to be in a gun mount or turret that is ready to blow up. I am not being too dramatic here. But it is a fact. One such Gunner's Mate was on a two gun DDG, with MK 42 Mod 7 gun mounts, during the Viet Nam war. His ship was providing naval gun fire support for the troops on the beach, and during that firing, Mount 51 had a foul bore. The gun would not fire. Now let me break in here and explain the MK 42 gun loading system. It was a fully automatic, hydraulically operated, electrically controlled, loading system. Designed to shoot 40 rounds per minute of 5"/54 ammo from a single barrel. It used a two sided gun loading system. everything was electrically interlocked to ensure that everything was in it's place before the next step happened. A pretty neat design if you remember that the gun is cycling at 40 rounds per minute! Again, that's moving a 75 pound projectile and a 44 pound powder charge, projectile stacked on top of the powder, a total of 119 pounds, at a rate of 40 rounds per minute. At this time in the gun's evolution, there was no solid state switching, no circuit cards. The gun loading system used 1492, 115 volt AC, micro switches to monitor the position of every component in the gun loading system. If you were on a MK 42 Mod 1-6 gun mount on an aircraft carrier like the USS Constellation of the USS Kitty Hawk, you had 1496, 115 volt AC micro switches, because they has "Anti-Chucker" Pawls. Someday I will tell you what they were for.

In any case. Mount 51 had a foul bore. Hot gun or Cold gun, I don't know. But instead of checking where the equipment was, and trying to find out why the gun did not fire, this NERVOUS Gunner's Mate used the Stinger to fire the gun and clear the bore. His real problem was that the right transfer tray did not come up and therefore was in the way of the recoiling mass of the gun housing. You guessed it. He turned the right transfer tray, the empty case tray, and most of the components mounted in the slide to scrap metal. One gun down! Not to worry, the ship can continue their mission, they have Mount 52.

Late that same day, the same NERVOUS Gunner's Mate was in mount 52 as the Mount Captain, shooting naval gun fire support. They experienced another foul bore. And this NERVOUS Nellie grabbed the stinger and ..You guessed it. Folded another transfer tray into scrap metal.

Now both times it was the right transfer tray. Which, if you have been in a MK 42 Mod 7 gun mount should cause you to wonder about his competence, since the stinger was on the right cradle guide arc, and you have to lean over the right side of the gun to "sting" the firing pin. I guess he thought it was nice to have all the room, with the transfer tray being down and all.

But it gets better. Later, in the Navy's infinite wisdom, this NERVOUS Gunner's Mate was sent to Great Lakes as a MK 42 "C" School instructor!! He did decide to leave the active component of the Navy and join the reserves. I'll bet there were plenty of MK 42 Mod 1-8 gun mount that breathed a sigh of relief.

Note; It amazes me how I can remember so much about things 30 or 40 years ago, but I can't remember what I had for breakfast. Well, it give me comfort and joy to share these stories with you, while I still can. You should see the smile on my face right now.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Grenades!!

When we commissioned the USS Leftwich, the Navy decided we would go through a full refresher training, called REFTRA. It was six weeks of drills, training, exercising ever piece of equipment on teh ship, long hours, no sleep and lots of pressure. There are three "Battle Problems", one in the beginning, a mid term, and a final. The equipment check, the Friday before REFTRA started had already set the tone of events. First of all, my REFTRA observer was a Chief Gunner's Mate Missiles, with no gun mount experience at all. Second, Mount 52 had a catastrophic hydraulic casualty that took the combined efforts of me, the NAVSEACENPAC tech reps, the ORDSTA Louisville tech rep, and my friend at the manufacturer of the gun mounts, FMC, to discover what was wrong and it took the better part of six months. To say the least, it was one difficult problem.

But this post is about the three battle problems. When the REFTRA observers come aboard for the battle problem, one of my jobs was to provide three concussion grenades. They were used to simulate the three "Hits" the ship would take in the simulated battle. For the first battle problem, I was on the quarterdeck and provided the three concussion grenades, complete with their cardboard safety liners. This was to ensure the grenade did not accidentally go off in case the pin fell out. Trust me, those pins won't fall out. And, you can't pull them out with you teeth like you see in the movies. Your teeth will come out, but most likely, not the pin! In any case, I provided them to the observer, a GMM. I never thought to train him, after all, he was there to train me and my folks. He SHOULD know what he is doing and I don't want to humiliate the guy who is grading me.

The first battle problem begins, with no Boom! As a matter of fact, no boom for hit Alpha, Bravo, or Charlie! After the days events, the Combat Systems Officer, a real dolt, and the Captain are on me about having bad grenades. Well, I had a lot to fix, procedures to write, training to do, and I did not have time to chase grenade issues. So, I put them off and forgot about it.

Three weeks later, time for the mid-term battle problem and I am hoping to do better. The observers come aboard including my Missiles Chief. I handed him three grenades and I went about my work. The battle problem begins with Hit Alpha, and no boom. No boom for hit Bravo or Charlie either!! Now I am worried. There must be a problem with the grenades. Of course, the CSO and the Captain are really on me know. But, again, I manage to push the issue aside. However I did check to see if there were any issues reported with concussion grenades, none. Curious.

The day arrives for the final battle problem, and again, I am on the Quarterdeck with the required three concussion grenades. I turn them over to my Chief Missile Gunner's Mate observer, and set about my duties. The battle problem begins with hit Alpha and again, no boom. I am in Mount 52 and the observer calls me on the 21 MC and asks me to come to Mount 51. My thoughts are on what is wrong now!?! When I get to Mount 51's loader room, I am met by a puzzled look on this Chief's face. He asks me, "When I throw the grenades, do I have to take this cardboard ring off the spoon and body of the grenade after I pull the pin?"

Somewhere, off the coast of San Diego, are seven concussion grenades that went off after the sea water deteriorated the cardboard band and the spoon popped, probably when a ship was going by. I would have loved to be there.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What is that smell?!

I was a First Class Gunner's Mate, (GMG1) and well into my second tour on the USS Stein, that's right, I didn't get enough punishment from a Knox Class DE the first time, We were off the coast of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Look it up on a map. Diego Garcia is right on the equator! We were doing small arms familiarization firing on the fantail. My job was to get the entire crew and a contingent of Midshipmen familiarized and able to fire, safely, a number of small arms. Not a small task! Most sailors don't shoot pistols and rifles very much, if at all. If you have read some of my earlier postings, you already know that. I believe we shot the 1911A1 .45 Cal Semi Automatic Pistol, the M16A1 rifle, and some shotgun. In any case, I was up on the fantail, in the blazing sun, all day. We started at 0800, broke for lunch, and shot until dinner. I was wearing a white "Skivvy "shirt, dungaree pants, and shoes. No hat, NO sunscreen, just me and the sun. During the afternoon, I kept smelling this "Burning" smell. Something like meat being cooked on a gas grill. But I just could not identify the smell.

After we returned all of the weapons to the armory and the ammo to the small arms magazine, I went to take a shower. As I was washing my neck, a big piece of burned skin came off the back of my neck, in my hand. It did not hurt, but I swear, it was about three inches square. I smelled the skin, and presto! The smell of cooking was me!! Needless to say, my neck was a little sore for a few days and I now have more than my share of moles that the skin doctor has a field day with. I have often said, If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself. But, maybe not.

Friday, June 5, 2009

We have to get this one over the side!

Late in my first tour on USS Stein, most often, when we were shooting, I would man the EP2 panel in the carrier room. That was the panel that controlled the entire MK 42 Mod 9 gun mount including all gun loading system operation and the movement of the gun. My Chief, Chief Mowery, someone who should be familiar to you by now, would be in the carrier room also. On day we were shooting and the right lower hoist malfunctioned. Chief Mowery went to the magazine, one deck below the carrier room, to see what was wrong. That left me in the carrier room to answer the onslaught of questions I have talked about. It did not take long for the Chief to call me to the magazine scuttle. He said, "we have some severely damaged ammo down here and we have to get it over the side, quick!" So, I called this GMG3 down from the gun mount to open "Water Tight " doors for me Now this GMG3 was a small, slight gentleman. He was an individual with a BA in English, who joined the Navy to "Beat" the draft! Macho he wasn't. Normally, he could not open a quick acting water tight door that was completely dogged down with both arms! But, he was the best I had. So, I told this diminutive GMG3 that he needed to get me to the Port boat deck, quick. With that, I got down on my knees and Chief Mowery passed this mangled projectile up to me. Let me describe this projectile. It seems the projectile drum rotated the same time that the lower hoist raised. It jammed, with 1500 psi of hydraulic pressure, the projectile into the one inch thick top of the loader drum. The projectiles nose fuse was broken off the projectile, hanging by wires, The projectile was cracked all the way down the side, to the rotating band, and layed open, Oh, did I tell you this was real combat ammo. Explosives, designed to sink ships? Yep. The real McCoy.

So, I cradled the broken round in my arms, and stood up and turned around slowly. It was that time that the GMG3 got his first look at this mess. His eyes got as big as saucers!! He ran for the door in the carrier room and opened it up with one arm in one motion, and did the same, on a dead run, through the ship, up a ladder, and not only to the Port boat deck, but all the way to the fantail!!. Of course, I stopped and threw the projectile over the side from the Port boat deck. Then I went back to the gun and got an equally smashed powder charge and did the same thing. Them I went to the fantail and told a panting, scared, GMG3 that everything was OK now. I never saw him open door like that again, but I am glad he did so well that day.

We're Ready!!

When I was on the USS Mullinnix, we had three 5"/54 Mk 42 Mod 7&8 gun mounts and a twin mount 3"/50. The 3"/50 was aft and between mount 52 and the after stack. It was the source of many funny stories. One time, we were shooting mount 31. I was in mount 52, Mount 31 had stopped firing and they had a foul bore condition in the right gun. The manual fire would not work, for reasons I don't remember, so the GMG1 in charge of the gun decided to use a "Stinger" from one of the 5"/54 mounts. We had "Stinger" in the 5" guns to fire the gun if the electrical circuit failed. It basically was a Ten Cap Blasting generator from demolition charges that had a long metal rod connected to a 6 foot lead of wire. To make the voltage you had to crank a handle that in turn turned a small generator in the unit. The GMG3 got the "Stinger" from mount 52. I know, because I handed it to him. I decided to sit in the left hand gun door and watch this circus. Now remember, I have told you before, that the chain of command, through the Fire Controlmen, have a inane ability to ask the same question, "What is the ETR of the casualty?" in a hundred different ways. Well, mount 31 had a large speaker on the bulkhead of the ready service magazine, and it was blaring stupid questions. Mean while, the GMG1 has the Blasting Machine in his hands and he is cranking the handle, unbeknownst to the GMG3. Why, I don't know. I guess it was fun. In any case, on the other end of this "Stinger" was the GMG3 who was trying to find a safe way to touch the "Stinger" to the firing pin, while not being in the way of all the recoiling mass of components that were going to come at him when the gun went "BOOM:".. The Fire Controlmen in Plot asked, "When are you going to be ready to clear the gun through the muzzle?" The GMG3 replied, "I will call you when I am ready." Just about that time, the GMG3 found the firing pin, at the same time the GMG1 cranked the generator on the Blasting Machine. BOOM!!! The gun fired. Plot immediately called mount 31 and asked, "What was that?!" Not even flustered, the GMG3 replied, "We're Ready!"

On another occasion, I remember the ship had some expanded metal bins mounted around teh gun tub of mount 31, The purpose of these bins was to store onions and potatoes. I don't know if storing fresh potatoes and onions outside, in the ocean air is good or bad. But, that's what we did. Just after the bins were installed and stocked with fresh onions, we got underway. As was the Captain's habit, as soon as we cleared the sea buoy, we shot all guns. When it came time to shoot mount 31, an interesting thing happened. With the first round from that twin mount, onion skins filled the air!! There were onion skins everywhere as they continued to shoot. I don't remember how may rounds mount 31 shot, but the Stew Burner's did not need to peel onions for a while!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Swine flu... 1976

With all this hype about the "Swine Flu" it has brought back a story to mind. When I was at Great Lakes, a fellow First Class Gunner's Mate made Chief. He had had vale replacement surgery. That's right, in 1976, when all this open heart surgery was new, the Navy doctors replaced a valve in his heart with a "Pig's" heart valve. At his time, Chief's initiation was far more demanding than it is today. Far more "Trust" was required from the Prospective Chief than today. I am not saying what we did was better, I am saying it was far more wide open. One of the Prospective Chief's "Charges" was being the culprit who caused "Swine Flu" and made it so all of the "Real Chiefs" would have to get a vaccination!! In any case, the Cardiologist was worried that all of the festivities would ruin his good work. So, the Cardiologist volunteered to go through "Initiation" WITH the new Chief. Since I was not a Chief at that time, I don't know how it went,, but both survived and the Chief went on to complete his career.

I asked the Chief later, if they would have to replace the "Pig" valves. He said "Yes, every ten years or so." I told him they should have used Velcro to close him.

Swine flu is not new, a Chief Gunner's Mate started it!!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A true Shipmate!

I have written before, briefly, about Master Chief Gunner's Mate James Smith. Jim was ten years my senior, yet we became fast friends when I was an instructor at Great Lakes. Jim was the real thing. Not a phony or a wannabee. He did two in country tours in Viet Nam as a small boat commander. One in PBR craft and one on Zippo boats. The latter were flat bottom landing craft type boats, modified to carry a large flame thrower and a large amount of napalm gas for the flame thrower. A very effective weapon in the jungles of Viet Nam. Both tours in country, he was wounded. In addition to those tours, he did at least four "Gun Line" tours on destroyer type ships providing naval gun fire support for the troops on the beach. Jim was a real combat sailor. And truthfully, he was my hero.

Now James Smith was a stout man. Strong, with a quick temper and a great sense of right and wrong. He also had an astonishing ability to drink more beer or bourbon than anyone I every knew. That was the Navy of the past. We worked hard, played hard and fought hard. Jim fit that mantra to a tee.

He had great sea stories, some I doubted. although I never told him, but many I believed. At the end of Jim's tour at Great Lakes, he got orders to teach at the new Iranian Gunner's Mate school In Bandar Palaviv, Iran, which was on the Caspian sea. Yes, at that time, with the Shah in power, Iran was our allay. Remember DDG 993-996. Well, those ships were build for Iran. But the Shah fell, and we kept them. In any case, Jim came home a little early from his scheduled year in Iran. I asked him why he came hoe so abruptly and he explained that a certain, Iranina Commander had called him a liar in public, and he decked him! That did not surprise me. Again, Jim had a keen sense of right and wrong, and calling him a liar was on the wrong side of Jim. So, as the story goes, since Officers in the Iranian Military were considered part of the Royal family in some way, to save face, the Shah signed an execution order for Jim!! But, he called the U.S. Navy liaison in Bandar Abass and told him to have Jim out of the country in 48 hours. Thus, his quick exit from Iran.

Now I must admit, this story seemed a bit difficult to believe, but there he was, about 2 month early. So, I believed him. Some months later, I reported to the Pre-Commissioning unit for the USS Leftwich (DD-984). The Chief Electronics's Technician, ETC Ripley and I were getting to know each other and he asked me, "Do you know a Chief Gunner's Mate named Jim Smith?" Right then and there he told me the story of how Jim decked this Iranian Commander for calling him a liar! I thought, this story must be true.

Then, I got transferred to Washington D.C, to be the Gunner's Mate detailer. One day I ran into an LDO friend of mine, the previous Officer in Charge of Gun School. His name is Loren Dixon. He said, "You will never guess what your friend Jim Smith did in Iran!" Loren went on to explain that HE was the Navy Liaison in Bandar Abass and had to get Jim out of the country in 48 hours. Wow!

Another great "Smith" story comes from one of his in country tours in Viet Nam. It seem, after getting wounded, he ended up in a hospital, More of a MASH unit. Jim was mobile, since his wound was in his arm. The fellow in the bed next to him was not. Jim said, this poor fellow was in a body cast from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. There were tubes going in and out, and a square hole that should line up with where his mouth should be. Jim said, one day he heard this fellow whisper, "Is anyone out there?" Jim said, sure I'm here. The fellow in the cast said, "Can you get around?' Jim said sure, what can I get you? The fellow in the cast said, "A pint of bourbon!" Jim said, he went to the small store in the compound and bought two pints of bourbon. One for him and one for his new drinking partner. One rule for those of us who used to or still do drink a little. You should always drink with a friend. In any case, Jim said, he poured bourbon in the hole where this fellow mouth should be, in amounts that roughly equaled a mouth full. Jim said, the fellow, and he, drank both pints!! Now that's a Shipmate!!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Standing up for your people

When I was a student in MK 42 "C" school, at Great Lakes, Illinois, I was blessed to have a class of exceptional individuals. There were three Chiefs in my class, two who later promoted to Master Chief, a First Class who I has written about before briefly, Red Mills, a Second Class who was an exceptional leader even then, myself, a "Fleet Return" Third Class, and a number of new Gunner's Mates just out of the Boot Camp/"A" School pipeline. I worked hard in "C" School, because I wanted to succeed and I wanted to advance. I had a God given ability to remember anything related to my rating. Some of my friends said I had near total recall. I may have, or it may have just been my love for the Gunner's Mate rating and what we did. In any case, I was academically, number one in my class. My friend, GMG1 Red Mills, was getting ready to take the Chief's test and he asked me to help him study gun mount power drives and fuze setters. I agreed and we began to study evenings at school. Soon, other First Class Petty Officers joined our study group. That was good, because I was also getting ready to take the Second Class test at he same time. So I was learning and so were they.

The day came and we all took our advancement tests. Actually, the tests are on different days, but we all took our tests. Then the wait for the results. When the Second Class results came I was in shock! I had FAILED the exam!! I could not understand. I studied for six months, what the bibliography for advancement said to study. I was number one in my "C" school class, and I was helping others through a study group. How did I fail the exam. I was devastated. The best score I received was a Very Poor!! Well, two of the Chiefs in the class, Chief Mowery and Chief Morris, both thought the same way. They told me to go to the barracks and get the sheet I received when I took the test. That sheet tells the serial and series of the advancement exam that you take. They they compared those numbers to the serial and series on the results sheet I was given. Chief Mowery found the problem. I took a 67 series test and was graded on a 72 series answer sheet. He told our instructor he was going to the Navy Exam center to straighten things out. At this time in Navy history, the Navy Exam Center was at Great Lakes, Illinois. Not far from Naval Training Center where Gun School was. Armed with my two pieces of official paper, off he went to the Exam Center. The Chief was gone the rest of the day.

Now I have told you a little about Master Chief Mowery, but let me expand a bit. Bill was a big man, powerful, even ominous in appearance. He normally got what he wanted, when he wanted it. He was a professional and he expected perfection. We later served on the USS Stein together, and he was a big reason I made Chief. That being said, I can imagine Chief Mowery stomping into the Navy Exam center and demanding to see my test and demanding they grade it on the correct scale! NOW!! In any case, the next morning, Chief Mowery walked up to me and said, "You made Second Class. You will be promoted in the first increment." And a couple of weeks later, the paper work came backing that up.

I learned a lot that day from Bill Mowery. You stick up for your folks, especially when the system has failed them. You always go the extra mile to make sure your sailors are treated correctly. He always treated me that way, and everyone else who met his standards. Master Chief Mowery was a real leader, and a great mentor. I owe you Bill, and I will always remember you. Thanks!!

A closing note; As many of you know, I have been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease (PD) and Dementia. That is one reason I am writing this blog. The PD is annoying and sometimes disabling. I now use a cane to help with stability. But the Dementia is robbing me of my ability to remember and learn new things. My near total recall is now completely gone. I have trouble remembering words or even forming sentences when I am tired and on a few occasions, briefly, I have lost the ability to read. I get lost in my own mind, and can't remember from one moment to the next what I wanted to do. I see folks that I work with everyday, and have for twenty years, and I don't remember their names. This is the frustration and demoralizing truth of Dementia. Today, my mind permits me to remember the past, I know that will be taken from me soon also. So, I will write as long as I can. To preserve what I have learned to help others, and to help me remember what was so important to me for 40 years.