The first in a series of three novellas chronicling the adventures of Petty Officer Zack Martin.
Radarman Second Class Zack Martin finds himself with time for reflection while taking a smoke break on a moonlit early morning aboard a Navy aircraft carrier. He'd prefer to be almost anywhere than aboard a "damned bird farm" crossing the Gibraltar Strait. The veteran sailor is not happy and longs to find a way to return to destroyer duty in the western Pacific.
The trick will be to accomplish that without sinking his Navy career. Carrier sailors find it challenging to transfer back to the surface fleet, and an ensign fresh from training who is bursting with self importance isn't helping matters. Another bungled job by a shipmate leads to a life altering decision by the brass and before long Martin may have the opportunity he's always wanted.
In hindsight, however, he might have wanted to remain right where he was.
"The young petty officer undogged the watertight door and stepped out onto the after port gun sponson. During World War II the sponson housed a single 5-inch, 38-caliber, open gun mount that had accounted for more than one Jap Kamikaze aircraft during the Iwo Jima landing, but the mount had been removed during the midfifties when Shangri-La was dry-docked and modernized. Her straight, wooden flight deck was ripped up and replaced with a steel, angled deck, which allowed the original World War II design to upgrade to the 27C Class configuration that could launch and recover her aircraft much more efficiently. In fact all of the “Shang’s” 5-inch naval guns, and all of the 40-millimeter pom pom guns had been removed during the modernization and replaced by four twin 3-inch, 50-caliber open mounts, two fore and aft to starboard and two fore and aft to port, which meant that the ship’s main armament going forward would rely principally on the fighter and interceptor aircraft of her embarked Air Group Ten. The second level sponson was now nothing more than an empty gun tub with a surrounding guardrail. It was the responsibility of Martin’s surface crew to keep the sponson free of rust and salt residue, with a fresh coat of paint to protect it from the harsh lashings of the sea during the not infrequent storms and squalls that the big ship encountered from time to time.
Leaning up against the rail Martin took a pack of Camels from his dungaree shirt pocket, retrieved a cigarette, and lit it with his ship’s emblem USS Isherwood Zippo lighter and inhaled deeply. The clear moonlit early morning sky had yet to display the first intrusion from daylight, and a brisk breeze from the ship’s sixteen-knot speed embraced his tired body as he tried to let his thoughts drift away from the controlled chaos that usually began long before the eastbound transit of the Strait of Gibraltar.
The ship had recently secured from the navigation detail, which had meant an all hands evolution for CIC as the ship traffic in the narrow strait was—as the “Shang’s” Commanding Officer, Captain Darman, so colorfully defined over the ship’s 1MC announcing channel—“a real Chinese fire drill.”
Martin smiled as he remembered the Skipper’s picturesque words. Captain Darman was a hotshot F-9 Panther pilot and Korean War ace who had successfully navigated his deep draft time as Captain of the aging fleet replenishment oiler Nantahala without “hitting anything or running aground”—his words—and was then given command of the Shangri-La. The crew all loved him and generally thought of him as one of their own. The Captain believed in reward for hard work and appropriate sanctions for anyone caught slacking off or pushing their duties off on a junior. When the Skipper asked a question he expected an answer. Failing one, he expected the reply to be along the line of, “I don’t know offhand, Captain, but I’ll have the answer for you within half an hour or less.”
A Reader Review
May 29, 2015
Sailor rated it 5 of 5 stars
Bravo Zulu Chief.
Enjoyed the novella very much. Revived many memories from over 50 years ago. I was a Tin Can sailor on the east coast. I was an RD2 when stationed in Key West operating with the Fleet Sonar School. Our CIC was much more relaxed than on the larger ships. The smoking lamp was never out in CIC.
Looking forward to more stories.
A Reader Review #2
Jul 14, 2015
Kat Olmstead rated it 5 of 5 stars
After winning this book on Goodreads First Reads I dug right in. This was well written and I truly enjoyed it. I had to know what was coming next for Zack Martin!
Very well written and I recommend it!
I experienced a suicide on board the USS Cascade AD-16 while in Malta in 1966. My division officer put a CO2 fire extinguisher around his neck and slipped over the side via one of the boats on the boat boom. Very sad, he was an Ensign as well. I am a retired ENC, 26 years.
Good luck with this project, Bob. Wish I'd known this character. I spent a career trying to get to the Atlantic fleet. Maybe we could have swapped duty. We chased Shangri-la in the 7th Fleet a time or two, into Yokosuka in the winter of '66. Fair winds!