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The Three Things A Young Sailor Don't Need
By Bob Stockton
Sunday, September 09, 2012
Rated "G" by the Author.
Remembering my first sea duty in 1958.
© 2010 Bob Stockton. All rights are reserved.
DESDIV 132 was due to arrive from Pearl on June 26th, exactly five days after my eighteenth birthday. My days as a transient at the Naval Station were spent scrubbing pots and pans and working the business end of the big dishwashing machine in the scullery, my nights and weekends watching television in the barracks. I was dead broke and couldn’t get paid until my ship got into port. Finally the day arrived. DESDIV 132 was arriving on the morning tide. Walpole, a fellow named Bormann and I packed our sea bags, jumped on the station shuttle bus and headed over to the destroyer piers to await the arrival of Destroyer Division 132.
We were not alone. Waiting on the pier was a Navy band, several Navy Captains and Commanders, the families of the four ships’ crews, sailors returning from emergency leave, and about forty or so sailors that had orders to report to one of the four ships in the Division. Soon the four destroyers hove into sight, navigating the narrow harbor breakwater. First in line was the USS O’Brien, Ken Walpole’s ship. The O’Brien was the destroyer where the Division Commodore was embarked and therefore entered the harbor first, followed by Walke, Harry E. Hubbard and lastly the Ernest G. Small. The order of entrance was decided by the seniority of the three following tin can captain’s seniority. The Small was apparently the junior ship in the Division.
The Navy band was playing stirring marches and all four ships had proudly hoisted their semaphore flags that depicted their four letter radio and signal call signs. On the pier, the families of both officers and enlisted craned their necks to see if they could capture a glimpse of their loved one who was returning home after eight long months at sea in the far Western Pacific. It was a glorious sight to behold, and I will never forget the memory and the mixed feelings of both pride and trepidation that surged through my veins.
Eventually after much pushing by the harbor tugboats the O’Brien was tied up securely and the other three made fast alongside her in a tidy destroyer “nest.” Brows were established between ships and the pier and an exodus of sailors from the ship began. Crewmembers with transferring out orders departed first followed by the two liberty sections that did not have the duty. When in port in the United States (CONUS) the crew was divided into three duty sections. On any given day after ship’s work knocked off, two of the sections were permitted to go ashore on liberty while the third section stayed on board to stand the necessary watches on deck, in the engine and firerooms and other areas where a crewmember on watch was needed.
After a bit things on the ships and pier calmed down and we were told to grab our gear and get aboard our respective commands. This required my crossing the first three ships to get to the Small. It should be noted here that one does not simply walk aboard a naval vessel and casually stroll around to get to the outboard one. There is a certain protocol that must be followed. When walking over the brow to the first ship in the nest one stops at the deck, turns smartly aft, salutes the flag flying from the fantail, turns, salutes the Officer of the Deck and then requests permission to cross the ship. The Officer of the Deck then returns your salute and grants permission. One then proceeds to an athwartships passageway to get to the next ship in the nest and continues to repeat the same process until the final destination is reached. When one gets to the Officer of the Deck on the Quarterdeck of your command instead of requesting permission to cross one exchanges salutes, presents one’s orders and service record to the Petty Officer of the watch and states in a clear if somewhat trembling rookie voice, “Reporting as ordered, sir.” All of this was internalized by me that eventful first day after taking a large amount of harassment each time I screwed up the sequence of the “crossing” protocol.
The Petty Officer logged my arrival time and told me to take my orders and records to the ship’s office located inside the superstructure on the main deck amidships. The office was a tiny affair - after all those old tin cans were only 390 feet from stem to stern - and hand them to the Personnelman on duty. I was amazed how the Navy could cram so much admin space in such a small compartment. This was the office of the ship’s Executive Officer, Admin Officer, ship’s yeoman(YN), ship’s Personnelman and one or two non rated “strikers” who were learning the admin skills to be promoted to Yeoman or Personnelman.
The duty officer that day happened to be the ship’s Executive Officer (XO), Lieutenant Commander Weathering. The XO was the Captain’s right hand man and attended, among a host of other duties, all things administrative. Mr. Weathering scanned my orders, noticing that I had recently washed out of CT school. He asked if I thought I could fit in with the ship’s radiomen in Radio Central. I answered as honestly as I knew how, telling him that I had no problem with code, but couldn’t coordinate typing code translation to paper very well. That’s how you did it in Radio Central of the fifties. Unclassified radio nets were monitored with a headset, a typewriter and a three or four part carbon copy message paper. The classified stuff came in a small “crypto” shack that was only just beginning to become automated. Well then, the XO said after conferring with his Yeoman, the ship is losing quite a few crew from Second Division and that would be my new home. I was told to report to Boatswain’s Mate Second Class (BM2) Durnin. Just where could I find this BM2 Durnin, I inquired. On the fantail I was told. Get going.
I was at least smart enough to be able to find the fantail, even though the XO had his little joke telling me that the fantail was located on “the round end and not the pointy end” of the ship. I flashed an embarrassed smile and was on my way to meet up with BM2 Durnin.
I exited the amidships passageway onto the fantail and knew at once that I had found the Second Division. There were about a dozen or so newbies milling around one sailor wearing working dungarees. The dungaree shirt had a second class crow stenciled freehand on the left sleeve. This must be BM2 Durnin, I thought. I walked up, introduced myself as Seaman Apprentice Stockton and told him that I had been ordered to report to him. Durnin nodded and then told us all to gather ‘round.
BM2 Durnin was the 2nd Division leading Petty Officer, rather smallish with a heavy Brooklyn accent. Durnin had spent eighteen years in the Navy, all at sea and was forever frozen in his current pay grade as the Navy was top heavy with senior Boatswains Mates. He had a colored star tattooed on one earlobe and a fouled anchor tattooed on the other. Both wrists had anchor chains tattooed around their circumference and his face had the appearance of old leather. I just knew that somewhere on his body there was a tattoo of a semi naked mermaid. After he had our undivided attention he uttered the words that I will carry verbatim to my grave:
“Men, this is youse first tour of sea duty and woiking in the deck force requires a lot from youse. Youse guys can get into a lot of trouble on the beach so be careful. And remember this. There’s t’ree t’ings young sailors like youse don’t need. A wife, a car and a transistor radio.”
Apparently BM2 Durnin didn’t care for the popular music of the day. Words to live by, Boats.
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