Thursday, June 21, 2018

Navy Guantanamo Bay Part II

Most people learn to drive some time or other. Except my mother, she never drove and to the best of my knowledge, she never even tried. 

But even if you're pretty good at driving, you can still have accidents. Just two months earlier, I had been home on leave to attend Bob Deeter's wedding to the lovely Judy Powel and on the way home had driven through one of Miami's infamous 'puddles'.

Water doesn't drain well when it has nowhere to go (like in Miami) and in those days, if you got your brakes wet, sometimes they would just... disappear. 

And that's exactly what happened causing me to run into a Cadillac on Biscayne Boulevard. Had to be a Cadillac! I was in uniform and thought maybe I would catch a break, but no! No breaks! No breaks for you! Here I am showing off my ticket for posterity.

But remember what was probably the hardest part of learning to drive? That's right, parallel parking! And that's essentially what the Executive Officer of the Greene was attempting as we pulled alongside the pier that Wednesday, August 30, 1967.

The problem was that we didn't 'pull alongside' as much as 'run into'. Normally, we would have to fling our lines to the pier but because we came in a little hot and on rather too sharp an angle, we could reach the pier just by dropping the lines over the side. So they moored the lines on the pier and we tied our end off on the ships bollards in a figure eight pattern just like you see them in this photo and held on for our lives.

In this actual photo from the Greene, you can see the bollards are merely just stools that only have lines on them when the ship is docked.

So as we scraped along the pier, those of us who did painting were all cringing at the thought of how much work was clocking up for us as the grinding continued. Meanwhile, the stern was much too far to reach with lines so we held the bow and ran the engines to pull the stern in closer.

We were going to have a bow line that day, but it was going to be metal, we had already laid it out, so the line my two shipmates and I were holding that day was called the bow spring, the next line up from the bow. 

The line ran from the dock, in a multiple figure eight pattern around the bollards on the ship and the three of us held the end. Essentially, we were trying to hold a Destroyer under power with a 2-inch nylon line. 

In retrospect, we should have foreseen that something untoward was in the offing.

And so it was.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Navy Guantanamo Bay Part I

After sailing around in the Caribbean for a while we finally headed for our target destination: Guantanamo Bay. Yes, that Guantanamo Bay. Known officially as the 'Naval Station Guantanamo Bay' or Gitmo as it is commonly called, the station is the oldest US overseas naval facility.

Acquired just after the Spanish-American War, the 45 square mile naval station is rented from Cuba for $4,085 a year. As you may imagine, the Cuban government is unhappy that it is there. Imagine how scary it was to be on that base during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Greene went to Gitmo because there are some islands nearby that are used for target practice and we were going to attempt to sink them. Remember my mentioning how heavy and slippery those projectiles were in the 5-Inch 38-Caliber gun? Now add in a little stifling heat and humidity, jam everyone into close quarters and fire your cannon for ten or more hours a day.

There was a really good reason for doing all that. The experience was getting the gun team better, faster and more cohesive and the fire control people were getting better at aiming. You have to practice and sometimes battles are waged during uncomfortable conditions.

So, late in the afternoon one day, we were coming into our dock at Gitmo and it was time for one of those life-changing events.

Even though most of us had been working at one of our jobs all day blowing that poor, defenseless island to bits, many of us had another job when we came into port. After all, you can't just park the ship and put money in the meter, there's a whole process to mooring a ship. Entire books have been written about it. 

One must carefully position the ship next to the pier and use the engines to bring it close enough to toss the lines to the men waiting on the pier. No, they are not ropes. In the Navy, you don't refer to a rope as a 'rope', it is a 'line'. Geez. Identification is made by the width of the line for example '2-inch nylon line'.

And part of that process is to toss these devices you can see on the left here called 'fenders' to hang over the side which prevent the ship from rubbing directly against the pier saving the paint. You have to save the paint!

 It was bad enough going over the side to scrape paint with having to do so unnecessarily.

If you dropped anchor, like we did in the harbor at Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas, that was a completely different process. Hearing those chains going down is quite a thrill to hear. It sounds like... Liberty!

 But this particular day, the Greene was coming in to moor at a pier at Guantanamo Bay and the Executive Officer would be bringing her in. Because even officers need to get experience. 

And experience was what we got.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Navy DD-711 Part VIII

It's one thing to be on board a ship in port. It's another to be at sea. A few things change - like always hearing the drone of the engines, water is conserved so you shower in seawater and just do the final rinse in fresh water and you stand duty on the bridge. 

And when you have the duty, you get to steer the ship, not somebody else, just you. Yes, piloting like a million other sailors before you. I'm sorry I don't have any photos of me on the bridge, but this is a close approximation.

And even though radar and sonar work really well, we still watched the air and sea with binoculars and unbelievably, sometime we spotted things the advanced technology missed. It happens.

And at night, the stars come out. Lots of stars. Different stars. Blinding stars. Stars enough to read by. More stars than you thought there were.

Heading south from Portsmouth, we were going off to make a circuit around the Caribbean and the Captain wanted to see how the engines were doing so he really cranked it. Gearing-class Destroyers could do nearly 37 knots which is about 42 miles per hour. That's speed-boat speed, friends. The fan-tail sank and the focsule rose and we zipped right along. No showering at all for a time while that was going on.

Running into a little weather, I learned why there were windshield wipers on the bridge windows even though they were four levels up. 

Not just for the rain, but the waves and bow-spray. That whole mess would go right over everything. Yes, I was sea-sick, everyone was sea-sick. Whee!

And that's why there are water-tight doors! They keep the ocean from coming in and drowning us all. That was good thinking because it wouldn't take long.

So we went all over the Caribbean to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, you name it. I've been to most of those places since, but it's not the same when you're not sailing up in a warship.

Our last stop was where we would be doing our weapons testing - Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Navy DD-711 Part VII

In case there is anyone left out there who hasn't learned the following fact, allow me to provide insight and tutelage:

Keep your mouth shut.

This is good advice. It will help you all your life and extricate you from many dangerous situations. However, it's always been a tough lesson for me personally and what happened next was another instance. We had arrived for our first class about our new gun and the Gunner's Mate was giving us the rundown on the weapon and the operation thereof.

Of course, I'm sitting there yammering to one of my friends and paying no attention and the Gunner's Mate crooks his finger at me and says, "C'mere, you're going to show us how the projectile-man does his job."

Well, the 5-In 38 is a pretty big gun and it fires pretty big shells. The bullets you may be familiar with have the projectile and powder all combined into one cartridge. In this case all that together would be about five feet long and weigh too much for one person to handle, so the projectile is separate from the powder. As a result, loading the breech is a two man job. 

The powder-man pulls his powder from the powder hoist, slams the powder into place and with perfect timing, the projectile-man pulls the projectile out of his elevator, slams the projectile into place, steadies it and reaches up to pull the rammer control lever to load the newly formed combination into the barrel. Then he signals the gun captain and off we go.

The projectile weighs 55 pounds, is smooth as glass and has no handholds. Oh, and it explodes. The man who handles this delight is the projectile-man.

The manual for the gun has this helpful hint:

Precautions: 1. Never drop a projectile ... because the fuses are 'quite delicate and, when struck, may fail to operate entirely - or may even explode prematurely.'

To review: Projectiles weigh 55 pounds, they're smooth as glass, you pick one up and load it every four seconds for possibly hours on end and if you drop one, you may kill everyone you know. Bottom line - No pressure on the projectile-man!

Part of what was going to happen during training was that we would be assigned a job within the gun team on one of the three levels of the gun. This wasn't a fast-food joint, so we weren't going to rotate around to different jobs. You kept one job because you had to become expert at it. Your movements had to be smooth, you had to have flawless timing and you couldn't make a mistake. You were big boys now.

These assignments wouldn't be made for quite a while, so it's easy to figure out what the Gunner's Mate was doing when he beckoned me to the front of the class. He had been annoyed by my talking and was intending to embarrass me by having me fumble the projectile-man job like an idiot and drop the dummy shells so he could talk about the danger of explosions. What he didn't realize was that I had been going to the gym excessively over the past six months. Consequently, after I had done 20 or 30 loads in a row effortlessly, suddenly I was the projectile-man. Karma.

To close out the class, we did some live firing and I must say it's an adrenaline rush to hear that cannon fire and see the hot casing come flying out the back of the breech where the hot-casing-man used his huge asbestos glove to bat the casing down into the casing drain. There's only room enough inside the gun for us to stand and it would be no fun at all to have a red-hot brass casing rolling around by your feet. 

When we got back to Portsmouth, someone took this photo of me in front of my gun. That's my barrel there behind me on the left. Look how happy I am. Those are the bridge windows up there above the gun. That's where Captain Kirk sits as he's firing on the Klingons.

In this closeup, you get the full, brutal impact of this imagery. This is really something to write home about, isn't it, folks? If you look very closely, you can actually read my name stenciled on my shirt. Because I wouldn't want anyone to steal that shirt! No way!

It turned out that the training we had just received was 'just-in-time' training. The Greene was about to head to the Caribbean for her 'shake-down' cruise following the refit. This was done not only to ensure the upgrades all worked properly but to get the crew working together as a team. 

Of course, we were also going to blast one small island practically out of existence.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Navy DD-711 Part VI

The blind joy associated with all that paint chipping and repainting couldn't go on forever. Sure enough, an end date began looming. But then something happened which distracted me a bit. The scores from all those tests I took during boot camp came back like the ghost of Christmas Past. After six months, one of the officers on board had gotten around to looking at my file and coincidentally had just seen a memo reminding staff that the Naval Academy at Annapolis routinely accepts a few dozen cadets from the enlisted ranks.

He thought it would be prestigious for the Greene (and his own career) to contribute a candidate. He asked me if I was interested. You know, to get a free college education and a commission. Oh, all right, but I was looking forward to chipping some more paint! 

So, more tests. But there were also some much more involved physicals including an evaluation of how I would look in uniform. Geez, picky. Then the psychologists! OMG! They desperately wanted to see if I would crack under pressure. I remember one of them examining my fingernails under a magnifying glass and I wanted to know what in the world he was looking for.

"I need to make sure you're not biting your nails." This was apparently a sign of deep, untreatable naval psychosis. So, I said, "Oh, no, I can't bite my nails." 

"What?", he said, looking up at me sharply. "What do you mean by that?" "I can't, they're too hard" and slammed my fingers down - nails first - onto the table a few times. The way he stared, it was clear that in his world what I had just done was impossible. But after a prolonged silence, he just made an impressed face and wrote out a critical-looking note. I'd love to know what he had written! Perhaps 'Hard as nails!'. 

So someone somewhere bundled all these findings up, put a bow on them and off they went into the ether. They would 'get back to me'.

On a Destroyer, everyone has half a dozen jobs. For example, you may have regular daily duties, but a different job to perform during Search and Rescue, another if there is an active fire and another for General Quarters otherwise known as Battle Stations. For your listening pleasure, this is what you hear for General Quarters:

Try ignoring that, huh! Since there were quite a few departures from the Greene after the cruise to Vietnam, there were some job functions open. As a result, a flurry of us were sent off to gunnery school in Virginia Beach. We were going to be a team that operated a 5-Inch 38-Caliber cannon.


You've seen this gun before on the deck of the Greene, but this is a closeup image, although it's not my particular gun. Technically the weapon is named the Mark 12 5-Inch 38-Caliber Dual Purpose Mount Naval Deck Gun. We wouldn't be breaking in anything new, these guns had been in active use since 1934 and had seen plenty of action in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere.

The '5 Inch' part of the name meant the projectiles it fired were 5 inches wide and the '38 Caliber' part meant the barrel was 38 times longer than the width of the projectile or 190 inches. The 'Dual Purpose' part meant it could be used against surface targets and aircraft.

What can be seen above deck is only part of the greater system which is three levels deep. It took a lot of men to operate this thing efficiently. A well coordinated team could fire each barrel 14 times per minute. When fired, each of those 55 pound projectiles could go as far as ten miles. So they had to train us and get us some real life experience or we would kill everything around us including ourselves.

To get us trained, they scooped the team up and sent us around the corner to Virginia Beach on the Atlantic where we actually got some beach time and I managed to learn a valuable lesson.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Navy DD-711 Part V

The Greene as a Destroyer was primarily an anti-submarine weapon. A sub killer. It's even part of the ship's insignia. I really struggled with that Latin phrase, it seems to be saying: 'State and Clears Prepared'. Really? What does that have to do with laxatives? 

On the ship's patch is an English phrase: On the Affirmative Way'. Hmm? I think I like 'State and Clears Prepared' better.

Well, choose whichever phrase you'd like. At least the dice make sense. There was also a tradition to blast a song whenever we pulled up alongside another vessel. The song was 'Green, Green' by the New Christy Minstrels. If you're bored you can listen to it here.

I always loved that the lyrics include "Say, buddy, can you spare me a dime?" Because, you know, we're homeless and we're worthless and we have no money. It really lifted my spirits.

At this point, I was sending a lot of my paycheck home because I was still making the car payments on the car I had given to my father. It was his first relatively new car since I had bought it less than a year before. The money was going home via money order, ever heard of them? People without a checking account (like my parents) had to pay their bills in person or buy a money order at 7-11 for the amount plus fifty or seventy-five cents and then mail in the money order. My parents refused to get a checking account because they said it would cost too much. ... ... Yeah, I know, I tried, but they never got a checking account.

But even sending that car payment home I always seemed to have more money than everyone else and they were always running out like the day after payday. So I developed a pretty lucrative loansharking business. Calm down, I never overcharged and I only loaned money to my friends so I never had to break anyone's legs. In retrospect, I was only providing a service based on a clearly defined consumer need. That's what I tell myself anyway.

The base where we were doing our refit was as big as a small town. There was every kind of mechanical shop you can image along with human niceties like bowling alleys and restaurants and a huge gym which I used all the time.  

But after working all day, sometimes you wanted to get those grimy clothes off, wash the paint chips away and go have a drink. In this illegally taken photo, someone kindly captured the essence of Rich the sailor-boy standing with my friend Owens who had no first name. Look how happy and filthy I am! I was probably going to be leaving the ship soon.

But no one wanted to go into town in uniform. You were treated much better if you were in civilian clothes. Some businesses had signs posted that read 'No Dogs or Sailors Allowed'. However, when you left the ship, you had to be in uniform and that created a conundrum. 

This collision of worlds was solved by entrepreneurs who developed a system of locker rooms which they built right outside the base gates. You could rent a locker and keep your civilian clothes off base and change and shower right there. 

Many of them also ran a bar, a tailor and a laundry so when you came back at the end of the evening, you gave them your disgusting, sometimes bloody clothes and they would be ready for you next time around. 

This was the true essence of capitalism, the creation of a service based on a clearly defined consumer need. Even if the consumers were sailors.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Navy DD-711 Part IV

There were always watches to be held aboard ship. Since the Greene was now deep inside a Naval Base, watches were mostly to keep an eye out for fire. But we did have some advanced weaponry on board. Beside the cannons and anti-aircraft guns, the torpedoes and depth charges, there were cruise missiles and DASH - a Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter.

The DASH was pretty cool considering this was all happening more than fifty years ago. So the watches were at least to some degree security minded what with the tactical nuclear devices and all.

Watches were kept 24 hours a day, usually four hours long with the worst being the dreaded 'midwatch' which ran from midnight to 4 AM. The mess always had coffee going and would cook up some chicken noodle soup for the midwatch people so they wouldn't pass out and fall overboard.

I was a little surprised to discover that while in port the concept of 'weekends' existed. I just thought they would work us like rented mules except for rare instances of liberty. But even during the rehab of drydock, if we didn't have duty, we were usually granted liberty. Let me be clear, if we could get off the ship, we got off the ship. Since the drinking age was 18, there were all the bars in the world to choose from.

Along the main drag of Norfolk were bars, cheap restaurants, a couple movie theaters, and at the end of the street, the Douglas MacArthur Memorial. Speaking of movies, this one time I went to town early intending to meet up with my friends at some bar or other. But mid-day, I went to see 'Casino Royale' with Peter Sellers. 

In those days, there was something called 'continuous showings'. When the feature ended, the theater went right into the previews and then the feature started again with no 'lights up' time in between. So I sat there and watched that movie over and over until the theater closed. I've never done anything like that before or since. No other movie ever deserved it.

Even though it was very uneven and had maybe five different directors, Casino Royale was hysterical then and I still watch it whenever it comes on TV. Why, I could watch it again right now!

Practically everyone on the ship smoked and they all made fun of me for not smoking. But even then I just told them I was rebelling against my parents by not smoking. This always amused me. The phrase 'The smoking lamp is now lit' meant nothing for me!

Our days were spent around paint. Paint, paint, paint. Taking paint off and putting it on. Taking it off and putting it on. First red lead, the primer and then some shade of grey. But first we had to take the old, tired paint off. To do that trick, the first tool we used was the pneumatic needlegun which shoots metal rods in a repetitive pattern out of the end of the device with the side effect of loosening your teeth.  
Only on infrequent occasions would one of the needles disconnect from their little cage and shoot someone in the leg. The slamming action it performed would burst any loose paint off the surface and into your eyes and mouth where it evidently belonged. The person in this photo is wearing eye protection. Hah! Not in 1967, such an innovation had not been invented.

The other main device was the pneumatic disk sander. The thing would sand the remaining paint off in a dust cloud that would enter your lungs and stay there killing you. The trouble with this monster was that after using it for ten hours, it seemed to actually get heavier. And when you're the tall guy who can reach much higher than other people, most of your sanding is done over your head where it got even heavier.

Sure enough, I brought it down one time right onto my knee. CHING! Cut a huge groove in my kneecap. You might not think there was that much blood in the kneecap area... but there is! Enough to run down your leg and fill up your boot so that as you walked to sick bay, you would leave bloody footprints behind you. And of course, your shipmates are yelling at you because now they're going to have to mop up all that blood and that was inconveniencing them. 

Yes, the scar is still there and the groove is still in my kneecap and I still hate my friends. Good times.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Navy DD-711 Part III

Eating was a major event, it was that 'change of pace' that broke up the day and we ate like kings. The food in the Navy was always top-notch. There were steaks and crab cakes and the first time I ever had lobster tails was on board the Greene. But the enlisted mess deck only held maybe 40 or 50 men so there was no dawdling over brandy and cigars. You got in, you got out and sometimes you had to take your food elsewhere. Once in while they would have a cookout on the fantail and on Sundays they would serve brunch all morning in case someone could sleep.

This photo above is an actual photo in the galley of the Greene and this man from the Philippines is about five feet tall. Now picture me at six foot four hunched over like a vulture. I always dreaded mess duty, it took me another week to recover my ability to stand.

The morning opened with reveille and these orders: "Sweepers, Sweepers, man your brooms. Give the ship a good clean sweep down both fore and aft! Sweep down all decks, ladders and passageways! Dump all garbage clear of the fantail! Sweepers." The ocean is still clogged with all the brooms thrown overboard because as soon as we could, they were tossed and we went down for breakfast. 

You may notice that the normal uniform of day was just jeans and a blue work shirt. You only wore your dress uniform on board for arriving and departing port. And these were 'working' dress uniforms, we would never wear them for liberty... heavens!

And, yes, all our uniform pants had bell bottoms. No, not for style or tradition but because large bell bottomed pant legs could be quickly and easily folded up when the deck was awash.

Fun on board the ship took two forms: leaving the ship as soon and often as we could and fighting. There was no TV and the ship's library was a single shelf of books maybe three feet long. The nightly diversion was a movie shown in the crew's mess. Since it's more difficult than you might think to fit 250 men into a space that accommodates no more than 50, disagreements arose and were rarely settled via negotiation and compromise. 

Since we all carried large knives which were required for our jobs, it is amazing we had the discipline not to carve one another up like Thanksgiving turkeys. But the fist fights and food fights would put any fraternity to shame. It's interesting to note that when you see people punching one another in movies, they may show teeth getting knocked out, but they never explain that teeth are hard and sharp and can take chunks out of your knuckles. and when those chunks are right on the bendy parts of your fingers, it can take weeks to finally heal. {The more you know!}

Our first actual cruise took us from Norfolk to Portsmouth, Virginia. That sounds cool, but it was only a couple of miles around the harbor. Because the Greene was going into drydock and the level of paint chipping and scraping and sanding and painting was about to reach monumental proportions.

But, be that as it may, I had now been on an actual warship underway under it's own steam. It was really very interesting to feel the rumble of the big engines. Because who knows what might happen next!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Navy DD-711 Part II

Coming out of boot camp, I had been targeted with the rating (job function) named Fire Control. Before you get all excited and think, OOOooo, a fireman!... No. No. 'Fire Control' in this instance means the technicians who handle the computers that target, aim and fire the ship's weapons. This symbol is for the Fire Control rating. So, long before I ended up at Eastern Airlines at their computer division, the Navy had somehow figured out my facility for computer-work even at this early stage. I guess all those tests we were taking weren't just for fun.

But you don't get to be president of the company without having to do some work first (usually), so all the new kids went into First Division. Here were the actual sailors who did sailor-stuff on the ship, steering the boat, loading stores, chipping paint, you know... sailor-stuff. The people who worked permanently in First Division came under the rating Boatswain's Mate, pronounced Bosun's Mate. This symbol is for the Boatswain's Mate rating. Look, they're anchors!    

My immediate superior was a Boatswain's Mate Petty Office Second Class named Lennox. I should have already pointed out that no one I encountered in the Navy ever used a first name, so I have no idea what his first name was or even if he had one. But he was responsible for my performance ratings which were always high and had pivoted on one event early on. 

Often, people would take the attitude, "If you're not watching me, then you don't care and I'm not working." But BM2 Lennox had taken me high into the mainmast rigging where I had to work alone scraping and painting some equipment. There was only room for one person to hang on so he left and when he came back I was just finishing up what had been a considerable amount of work. I think he was so surprised, he nearly fell to his death.

After that, he knew he could trust me to do work unsupervised, which freed him up to drink more coffee and this pleased him. Coffee was available 24 hours a day and many of the career men were never seen without a coffee cup on their finger. Even when they were sleeping or showering.

The sleeping area for First Division was arguably the harshest on board. But at least air conditioning had been added before the ship had gone off to Vietnam. Our racks were located at the very front of the ship under the forecastle which is pronounced 'FO'ksul'. This is the part of a ship that rises and falls the most when driving through seas. It was right under that forward 5 inch 38 caliber cannon destined to become my cannon. Compare sleeping there versus the stern section nearest the fantail which remains calmer and flatter even at high speed. Yeah, well, if you want the whole experience, then have the whole experience!

Our living/sleeping/studying/entertainment/recreation area was one thin rack in a stack of three with a thin mattress and one locker just big enough for our clothes. The lockers were built-in to fit the shape of the ship so no two were the same size or shape. When someone left the ship for a new assignment, imagine what happened when he emptied his locker! Of course, I could only fit in my rack sideways or with my knees bent. Oh, and if you wanted to stand up straight and you were my height, well, good luck, buddy! 

Only once while I was on board did we haul those mattresses up topside to beat them with sticks and give them a little sun to air out. But this was a real, working Navy ship with a job to do and responsibilities to perform. The Greene had been part of the Cuban Missile Blockade, capsule recovery for both the Mercury and Gemini space programs and had been around and around the world. It's a thing.

Look where I was at the very top of that mainmast above the bridge and I didn't fall off and get killed or anything!