Friday, November 11, 2005
My service career started one day in early July 1956. My friend David Cherry and I had gone to the head of Wallowa Lake to cool off after working in the hay fields all day. After swimming we sat in the shade near the picnic area looking at girls.
We saw the Navy Recruiter drive by, waved him down and signed up for the Navy there on an old log picnic table. My folks were furious but it was too late to change things then. I ask the girl I had fallen in love with (Lynn Davis) to marry me and she agreed but would only set a date after her graduation from high school and completion of classes at Kinman Business University.
On the last day of my childhood, August 2, 1956, the Navy Recruiter picked me up at home in Lostine and drove me out to LaGrande for the first train ride of my life to the Induction Center in Portland. There among a hundred or so other recruits I was poked, prodded, felt, questioned and otherwise embarrassed. I don’t know where they found enough granite benches for a hundred naked guys to set on but when they said ”SET” it sounded like a round of applause.
Next stop on my way to the sea was at Recruit Training Center, San Diego, California.
“Boot Camp” wasn’t as bad as I had been led to believe as I was already in good physical condition, had grown up with a rifle and could tie knots with the best of them. However, they still felt they should break you down physically and mentally into a quivering mass and mold what was left into their idea of a Sailor. I was awarded a recruit rank and put in charge of the men in my Company (Company 389) that could not swim. I daily marched them to the pool and watched them try to keep from drowning. I was allowed to swim for my own enjoyment and used that privilege often. While a Recruit I was not allowed to cross the border into Mexico while on liberty but had the run of San Diego. I soon struck a friendship with a fellow named Roger Good that owned and operated a store called “The Magic Shop’ where he sold magic props to professional and amateur alike. I loved playing with all the neat stuff offered and between the two of us we could really blow peoples minds. I remember one time he had special ordered costuming for a theatrical presentation of the life of Jesus for some special occasion. When it arrived we opened it and Rog dressed me as Jesus, beard, flowing hair, robes, the whole works and sent me out on the street. The looks I got were priceless! Great fun.
After coming home on leave after Boot Camp I returned to San Diego for Sonar (sound navigation and ranging, in case you ever wondered) School. This lasted from November 13, 1956 to May17, 1957. I could tell you everything I learned but then I would have to kill you. I will say though, that I was very impressed with the abilities of our Navy to locate just about anything under water.
Upon completion of Sonar School I was stationed aboard the U.S.S.Savage DER 386 home ported at pier 91 in Seattle Washington, (no longer there). There I became a member of the Sonar team that was part of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line. The ship was a standard Destroyer Escort with outlandish radar and sonar capabilities and we were on the lookout for any indication that someone may be trying to approach our country by sneaking in. We were on “picket” duty for thirty days at a time and it was our job to secure that portion of the line we had been assigned to. We steamed back and forth along our “picket station” line that was broken into coverable segments along the coast between Alaska and Northern California. We traveled just fast enough to maintain steerage and control so when the weather was nice it was fine but winter storms with waves higher than the ship were a little troubling. One storm was so bad I bought a movie camera and film from the ships store and filmed the green water coming over the bow and covering the windows on the top deck from inside. Awesome!! Another time we had a pod of whales that decided to travel with us for some time and accidentally a young one came up under the ships propeller. It cut its tail off about where the body was as big as a washtub. An artery as big as your arm soon bled it to death but the adult whales kept trying to protect it by forcing it down under water only to have it get lose and pop back to the surface. We reported it as a hazard to navigation and continued on. The next day, returning along our “line” we found the body floating and abandoned by the other whales but there were scores of sharks feeding off the remains. Permission was given to draw small arms (pistols and rifles) from the small arms locker and we shot sharks for a while. Scary, when one was hit and started to bleed, the others would attack it with such frenzy that it just turned the whole area into foam. Never liked sharks after that.
In December 1957 I had saved up enough leave to go home for Christmas and married the girl of my dreams on the 22nd. Too soon I had to leave and I returned to Fleet Sonar Training Center on January 7th 1958 for further education on the operation and repair of an “ Anti-submarine warfare attack director” (Early Electro-mechanical computer). I fed in all the pertinent information and they turned the operation of the ship over to me as I led through the attack plan to destroy the submarine in question. Kinda neat on paper. I finished classes on September 12 1958 and was returned to my ship in Seattle.
I begin to hear that we would be changing homeport to Honolulu sometime late 1958. My new wife (If Uncle Sam wanted you to be married, He would have issued you a wife) would be able to move there with me and find base housing. We were excited.
The following is an excerpt from my Sonar log:
“Jan 1 1959 Hawaii bound. The word is out. I relieved the watch this first day of 59. Conducting a modified active search on gear that is working fine. In 10,000 yard keying range. I tested the 29MC circuit and found it working fine. Now it’s up to my eyes and ears in the middle of this night. Happy New Year!”
January 12 1959 we pulled into Pearl Harbor. On the way over from Seattle I learned that the closest distance between two points is really a parabolic curve and not a straight line. A straight line would have taken us up over the top of the curve of the earth and we went “around” the hill to the North and saved a bunch of miles. We also spotted a new volcanic island being formed and were the first to report it. We got close enough to see that it was about a mile wide and 3,000 feet high with smoke still spewing out. I have a Polaroid picture of it somewhere.
Upon arrival in Hawaii I found that my commanding officer had decided I would be happier if I could live stateside with my new wife and had made all arrangements to have me transferred to another ship as soon as possible. I fought it but to no avail. I spent two weeks being a tourist and doing everything I could before being sent back stateside. I had bought a small carved, jade I suppose, pagoda for Lynn as a souvenir and wore it around my neck while surfing on Waikiki beach one day. I could see the fast fish around me but was surprised when a tug at my neck liberated the carved pagoda. I ducked under to see and found I was surrounded by a swarm of Barracuda. Nuff surfing for today!!!
I was transferred to the U.S.S. Lyman K Swenson DD729 (I can’t for the life of me find the date) Late January or early February 1959. The Swenson was home ported at Long Beach California and I hated it. I couldn’t have my wife with me and I ended up with a bunch of party animals that drank ALL the time. I finally made friends with a Bosons Mate and a Scribe who were pretty intelligent folks and learned to play chess and to enjoy “good’ restaurants. Pennington took us down coast to a French Château where they didn’t even speak English and I had my first Fillet Mignon and Creap Suzette washed down with $60.00 a bottle wine. Not bad for a kid from nowhere.
We were preparing for our Pacific tour of duty and had to undergo a routine inspection before leaving. During that inspection they had to close and reopen the main seawater induction valve. This was a valve in a line about eighteen inches in diameter. It was stuck. A crowbar through the handle with a chain hoist hooked to it managed to break it lose----from the bottom of the ship. Very suddenly an 18-inch geyser of salt water was trying to sink our ship. Since it was tied to the dock very securely, the ship began to list badly away from the dock. Soon the crow’s nest was striking the ship tied up to our outside and we had to cut it away with fire axes. It floated clear and was out of danger. The call for pumps was answered instantly and we soon were pumping out at the same rate as we were being flooded. To stop the flow they threw a sheet of plywood over and several guys swam it down below the hole and let it float up to stopper the flow. A new valve and some welding and we were good to go. Ya, right!! Damned rust bucket!
We left for our Wes Pac tour (western pacific) and passed through Honolulu on June 22 1959 headed for Subic Bay, Philippine Islands. We arrived in the Philippines on July eighth and it was HOT. For morning muster we were allowed to stand at attention for only a short time because you could blister your feet at 8:00am if you had to stand too long in one place on the hot deck. We were issued “Mickey Mouse Money” U.S.Script, to keep the communist hunter/killer groups (hucks) from getting Green Backs that could be used if they smuggled someone into the States for terrorist reasons. We didn’t care; as long as the bars still had cold beer we spent our script. Once I paid with a $5.00 script and received Philippine Pesos (paper money) back as change. I noticed it said ”VICTORY” on the back and ask about it, as I had not noticed that before. The bartender wanted it back right now. So did everyone else standing around me. I found out that it is quite rare because the country had over-printed “VICTORY” on the back of one days printing of money and that was the day that McArthur had returned. Your history may tell you that Macarthur had said,” I shall return” and was received as a hero when he did. Still got it hid away in my junk someplace.
We made a stop in Okinawa on the 28th of July but were not allowed to go on shore. As I remember we just picked up mail and took on fuel. The place that we made a mail and stores stop at on August 5th was the Island of My Dreams, A place called “Bo Ko Ko was a very small (You could see it all from the ship) crescent shaped island surrounded by the clearest water I had ever seen. It was a coconut plantation and the dock was standing on palm tree logs and was lashed together with coconut fiber rope. We couldn’t tie up to it because it was so fragile but it came out into the water several hundred feet and was strong enough for the water taxi they used. As I remember this was the only place we left stuff instead of picking stuff up. They hauled several loads of foods to shore before we left again. I will always remember that white white sand and watching the fish under the ship.
Our next stop was Kow Shung, Formosa. The armpit of the civilized world. We were in and out of this port several times as we had to put on a show of strength in the Formosa Straights because the Chinese were shelling Quemoie Island at the time and were being rude neighbors. While out, we could hear the whistle of the Volkswagen sized shells that were in the air. We never heard the gunshot or the explosion on the other end but knew that some real damage was being done During one time out; we were in a terrible storm. Being at General Quarters (ready for war) we had the magazines under our heavy guns loaded with the big stuff. During the movie that night we heard a sizeable racket coming from above. It sounded like something rolling around. Every one ran. Some ran away, some, including me, ran to see what was going on. I was the first one to the hatch leading to the ammo carriage and swinging it open I saw live 5-inch ammo projectiles and powder cases rolling around together. I swan dived in to cover as many as I could to keep them from rolling and several others did the same. Saved the day. Whew! Some casings were dented so the gunner’s mates emptied the powder and removed the caps to make them safe. I tell you this so I get to tell you what they did with them later. Regulations say they were thrown over the side but you and I know better. Well they did go over the side but it was in trade for neat stuff brought alongside by the “Bum Boats”. After an agreement had been arrived at the items would be hoisted aboard and the empty 5-inch solid brass shell casing would be thrown over to the waiting party. Unless a good catch was made, the bottom of the boat would suddenly spring a 5inch hole as it went right on through. That water was so dirty you could almost walk on it and a dozen men would dive in to retrieve that brass from the bottom of the bay. It must have been like gold to them.
After the last trip out from Formosa we steamed over to Hong Kong for Liberty, Rest and Relaxation. Wow! What a place. I ate Kobe Beef at a restaurant that was so fancy I had to buy a nice set of custom tailored clothes just to get in (good excuse), It was served by Hindu Sheiks with turbans set off with huge jewels and huge-er knives in their sashes around their waists. I rode the tramway to the top of Victoria Peak and viewed the whole city at night. I tried to eat something (??) at a back street restaurant that sat 6 people setting shoulder to shoulder, (shades of black market intrigue, gun running, drugs or the beginning of another Tong war). Kowloon was off limits at the time even though it was only a few minutes away across the bay. Great place!
By September 28th 1959 we were steaming into Sasebo Japan. I believe that is where I learned to drink tomato beer and found Akadama plum wine. It’s also where the Noritaki China factory is and where I purchased our fine hand cut crystal stemware. Sorry, I couldn’t afford Noritaki China even at the factory. We left for Yokosuka Japan and arrived there on October 4th. We refueled and took on provisions and made way for a few days in Kobe, arriving there on the October 10th Yes, Kobe Beef comes from Kobe Japan and these cattle are pampered, hand raised, over fed beauties. They turn out the best beef in the world and it costs like it too. I took a train from Kobe to a ?Town? called Takarazuka where the only people that live there are woman. They all participate in an all woman musical revue. Typical traditional Japanese stage shows with all the lions and dragons and drums and people committing hara-kiri. It was truly fascinating as were their acres of formal gardens. Another chance of a lifetime realized.
It was then back to Yokosuka but I have lost track of the time. While there I was invited to board a British Ship. The H.M.S. Centaur had, as second in command, a fellow named “Sir Roger Makin” and after meeting some of the sailors from that ship, they had arranged a meeting. After the formalities I was invited to stay for “grog” (the daily ration of Rum) and was told that I at least needed to touch my lips to every offered cup to keep from insulting anyone. I just made it back to the old Swenson before passing clear out. Yup, the “limeys” teased me about it the next time out on liberty. Somehow they knew.
I caught a train to Tokyo. It was about a 4 hour trip through the “bread basket’ of the country and was where I learned to eat paper. The timing of the trip left me hungry as a bear long before we were to arrive at Tokyo so I bought some candy from the porter. Try as I may, I could not get the paper to un-wrap from the delicious smelling candy. A young lady laughed at me and offered to explain how. Somehow what she was saying and what I was thinking she was saying must have been oceans apart. Still no luck. She was still laughing. She finally took a piece and popped the whole thing in her mouth, a second later she took it back out and the paper was gone. The Japanese use rice paper, totally digestible, they never un-wrap anything but eat it wrapper and all.
Tokyo. City of extremes. Buildings built from concrete to paper, steel girders to bamboo poles, lighting from Japanese lanterns to” way out” neon, Mercedes Benz to rickshaw, rich to poor. The Ginza district is, or was in 1959, the most outrages place I was ever in. Great place to see once and glad I got to but have no desire to go back. On the trip back to Yokosuka by train I got to see Mount Fuji by moonlight just before I dozed off. I don’t know why I didn’t see it on the way to Tokyo in the daytime?
Before leaving Yokosuka for Honolulu I visited the “Pearl” brokerage house there on the docks and priced pearls by the bucket full. They run from thousands for a perfect black as big as your thumb to $.50 for irregulars the size of a BB and they had EVERYTHING in between. This was the same place that Sachs 5th Ave. and Wal-mart bid on pearls for their stores. It was amazing.
The stop over in Pearl Harbor was very anti-climactic after a run like we had so homeport of Long Beach looked pretty good just because it wouldn’t be moving under your feet. Which reminds me, yes you can get “sea sick” on land after months of using your “sea legs.”
By the time we hit the states I had been in charge of the Sonar Gang for quite a while and had whipped them into a crack team. To burn time, the Navy had us practice our anti-submarine warfare capabilities. To simulate depth charges on a battle run we would tape dye packs to a concussion hand grenade and throw it over the side as if it were a pattern of depth charges. At the explosion the practice sub would release a huge bubble of air. Points were given by the distance between the very visible bubble and the dye packet mark. We began to feel the sub was not bubbling at the proper time and our score was lower than acceptable to us. I had the grenade man wrap toilet paper around the handle on the grenade as a devise to let it sink further before it exploded. All hell broke lose on the next run because we had dropped our hand grenade into the conning tower and ruptured the seal around the periscope. We ask them nicely not to cheat anymore.
The time between our return to the states and the move to Vallejo Naval Shipyards, Mare Island, has turned to a blur in my memory. I am sorry but nothing comes to mind except my visits to Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Disney Land. I saw Watts before the riots but it was still not safe for a “Whitey” even at that time. I saw the stars and handprints of the stars in front of Grumman’s Chinese Theater. I took a ride on the M.T.A. of Kingston Trio fame. I ate at the first Pizza Parlor (McGoo’s) on the west coast. I became personal friends with several employees of Disney Land and used their pull to get in at discounted rates and visited quite often.
Now back to the Vallejo Naval Shipyards mentioned above. As modernization caught up with the Navy they found that just plain Vanilla ships were not enough and set out to bring some of the older ships into the present day. The Swenson was to be dry docked and made new again. New engines, new design propellers, new everything from the main deck up including a helio-pad and the newest and best anti-submarine warfare devices in existence. We had to move into barracks on base since the ship was being ripped apart and I spent many hours visiting the sights of San Francisco. I went to the opera and have no idea what it was all about. I don’t think I would have liked it even if it had been good. I wandered Golden Gate Park till some gay hit on me. I did attend a concert by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra and found it to be very enjoyable. I rode the cable cars, visited Fisherman’s Wharf, China town, and had a drink at the Top “O” The Mark (nice view). Finally my time was drawing near to discharge and I was transferred to U.S. Naval Receiving Station, Treasure Island, in San Francisco, California. I reported in at 2:40 pm in the afternoon of July 22 1960 for separation and all paperwork had been completed by July 28th 1960 but I had another $9.75 coming from Uncle Sam so I had to wait until August 1 to be paid by check # 70074572. Free at last, Free at last.
After being out for a little over a year I received a letter from the commanding officer of the Lyman K Swenson that looked like it had gone round the world. As it turned out, maybe it had because it had taken 364 days to be delivered. It was thanking me personally for the part I had played in earning the highest anti-submarine warfare score ever on the west coast, allowing the ship to have a giant “E”(for excellence) painted on her stack. I knew darn well that sub was cheating.