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Sea Tales

seatales As told by:

Steve McCready’s Sea Tales

I served in the USS Mansfield DD728 from approximately March, 1965 to August, 1967 as the Supply Officer, also known as “Porkchop” from the resemblance to same of the Supply Corps insignia, embarking as a green Ensign. I served under Captains Marshall, Nellis and Griffin, all outstanding officers, as each told me. In my 2 1/2 years aboard ‘ole Manny, as I fondly referred to her, we made a 6 months deployment to ‘Nam (’65-’66) and then shifted homeports from Long Beach to Yokosuka, Japan commencing in July, 1966, for further, almost continuous it seemed, operations in the South China Sea. I was relieved in August, 1997, prior to her return to Long Beach via all the exotic ports of call we missed. As grizzled Navy types are wont to say, “lotta water passed under our keel”.

The grandmother of a Mobile, Alabama born writer, used to say “Gossip is no good if it doesn’t start from facts.” I guess that pretty much sums up reminisces about my life in and around a tin can named Mansfield. They all start from fact, then, well, you’ll get the idea.

A beginning: I joined the Navy because, in part, a friend of mine would describe enthusiastically the joys of cruising the Med: Villefranche, St. Tropez, Nice, Naples . . . Upon arrival at NAVOCS in Newport one fine spring day in 1964, we were culled into companies and told we would have a “field day.” How nice. A get-to-know-you picnic. Right! Shortly thereafter came the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and idyllic dreams of lazy Med cruises went out the window.

Making friends among the ring knockers: During my 6 months at the Navy Supply Corps School, located about 300 miles from any body of water big enough to float a motor whale boat, I quickly learned how to make lasting friendships. Seems that at the beginning of any new class the instructor would ask us to tell a bit about ourselves: name, where we were from, where we went to school, etc. When a Naval Academy grad (a “ring knocker”; class ring; you know. Oh, forget it.) made note of that salient fact, I’d pipe up, “Great! And where’d you go to college?” Good start!

Man was it hot: During our ’65-’66 deployment, the crew’s compartments weren’t air-conditioned. With the Supply Division berths located aft, under the fantail, it got direct South East Asian sun, and broiled all day long. Talk about a guilt trip regarding officer’s “privileges” – my quarters were air-conditioned. The Supply Office also was not air-conditioned – never was while I was aboard. Calculators and ledger books didn’t need the cooling radio sets, etc. required. The office was also cramped for space, so as a “favor”, freeing up more space in the office, I’d often work in my air-conditioned room, a couple of steps and a stumble away from the office. Whenever someone from the division needed to talk to me (for advice, rarely; for some cooling, often), I’d let them drip all over me as a form of penance for my ill deserved comfort. Before our shift from Long Beach to Yokosuka, air-conditioning units were finally installed, which, needless to say, had the unhappy facility of breaking down constantly. Panic time, as when the ships washing machine, fresh water evaporator, radar, boilers, sonar, etc. broke down, or a prop fell off.

And dirty: We would put gauze over the air vents in the Supply Office, and 10 minutes later they would be black. Complements of a 1944 launched, oil burning tin can. But we had lots of “field day” fun. I got to check up afterwards. I had special black gloves to check for hidden dirt, Irish – or were they Scandinavian? – pennants and the ilk.

What they (didn’t) teach me: Coming aboard I was issued two 45 cal pistols as part of my Disbursing Officer trappings. Why two? I thought, having never even seen a 45 until that moment, let alone received any weapons training, that after having shot myself in the foot with one, I could use the other to sort of even things up. But I was gung ho and ready for self-training. Went to the indoor shooting range at Long Beach Naval Station, and, with the kick those 45’s had, proceeded to put 6 slugs into the ceiling. (I know. Overhead, not ceiling. But this was ashore. First time I told my wife that her head was not clean, she took offense until I explained that the “head” was the bathroom. She understood, then spent the next hour supervising my “field day” of the “head”.) Anyway, after figuring out that low flying aircraft were going to be in mortal danger anytime I hefted my 45, I went back to the ship and proceeded to strip (disassemble) my weapon. Then I put the pieces in a paper bag and brought them to a nice young bosun to be re-assembled, correctly. (My first attempt resulted in the end from which the “round” is expected to exit the weapon, pointed directly at whoever – me – was pulling the trigger.) I never could figure out why the Navy issued side arms to Supply Officers, the very same group of men deemed to have insufficient eyesight to qualify as line officers, fighter jocks or chaplains.

Bloody shins and such: Hope I get my terms right here. Anyway, the Mansfield had lots of doors (Hatches? Or are hatches horizontal and doors vertical?) along the passageways, affixed in combings (correct?) that stuck up about 6-8 inches off the deck. For the first 6 months, it seems, my shins were perpetually bloody from knocking them on the combings, or whatever they were called. Finally I learned instinctively how to hop, skip and jump through those things so as to avoid pain. Then I’d visit another ship, one with a slightly different layout, like a carrier, and the blood would start flowing once again. I also learned how to scamper down ladders with my back to the ladder, not facing the ladder like some sissy girl, sometimes shouting out “Make a hole” if nobody was around to hear me in the hope that some day I’d achieve sufficient rank (never did) to shout “Make a hole” when there were people there. Anyway, one day I thought I’d visit the engine room – once is enough, I figured – where the snipes play. So I started down, my back to the (very steep!) ladder to make a good impression, but slipped. Fortunately, I was able to grab onto something, making a few graceful swings high over the engine room. Peering down from on high, I noticed that the snipes were holding up signs: 2 sevens, 3 eights and a nine. Made my day!

Spit and polish: One day some 4 striper came aboard for a full dress inspection, sword and all for us swash buckling supply, and line too, I guess, officers. To salute with a sword, you whip it all around, being careful not to stick the salutee, before pointing it toward the heavens, then smartly bring the hilt to you lips to kiss it, although I can’t say I ever read that “kiss the hilt” part in any Junior Officer’s Guide. Anyway, SupDiv – love that Navy talk – was lined up on 0-1 deck, underneath 0-2 deck (I’d explain what that means, 0-1, 0-2 and such, but it’d take too long.), all polished and nobody, that I could tell, spitting. So Sir 4 Striper comes ambling up to me, at which point I start whipping my sword all around, then commence the “point to the heavens” part, forgetting that the 0-2 deck is between yours truly and said heavens. After the fearful clang that accompanied my (unintentional) attempt to pierce the 0-2 deck, Sir 4 Striper slowly shook it head, gave me one of those “Geeze, supply officers are sooo dumb” looks, and passed on without a return salute. And I didn’t even get to the “kiss the hilt” part!

Someone to watch over me: The first check I wrote aboard the Mansfield was for payday cash. I wrote out in numbers $15,000.00 and spelled out fifteen thousand five hundred dollars (and no cents) – or visa versa. No matter. I pickup up $15,500 and carefully locked it away in my cash safe. (Sometimes I’d forget whether I’d “carefully locked” the safe, necessitating mad drives back to the ship to check.) Anyway, after I cashed that first check, a little message appeared the next day from someone in Washington asking me how much cash I really did get. I think I replied honestly. Another time, we were poised for a little jaunt through the South Pacific Seas: Kobe, Japan (Yen currency), at sea payday (Military Payment Certificates used, then, in Japan) and station ship in Hong Kong where I also had to pay a passel of DE’s and mine sweepers that suffered without the care of an embarked Supply Officer (US Greenbacks in HK). Stuffed to the gills, I could barely close the safe. Sure enough, a day or 2 later came the message from someone in Washington, “What the hell are you doing with all that cash on a little tin can?” – or words to that effect. I (didn’t) reply, “What? You don’t trust me?”

Uh, oh: My bride and I were married 6 weeks before the Mansfield shipped out for its 6 months WestPac deployment in ’65. The deployment was very successful, no doubt, I guess, to the outstanding efforts exerted by the Supply Officer – me – with occasional contributions by the line officers and crew. Anyway, during our return trip we made a 24 hour stop over in Hawaii, specifically, I think, to re-learn how to sip a few brews before returning to the mainland after so many days at sea. So there I was, sitting in the O club at Fort Derushi – or whatever it was called – fiddling with my new wedding ring whilst sipping my brew(s). Suddenly, the ring popped off my finger, honest truth, and disappeared. We all made an exerted recovery effort, standard ring overboard drill, but it was gone. Fast forward to dockside homecoming in Long Beach, bride at hand, clutching my wedding ring and wondering why I had mailed it to her from Pearl with no letter of explanation. Seems that one of my fellow Wardroom mates found my ring in his pants cuff, and, as a lark, simply mailed it to my bride from Pearl, sans note of explanation. We all had a good laugh over that. Yeah, right . . . Thanks, (name withheld to protect the guilty).

Joking around, a trait one learns over time, although never soon enough, to use judiciously: Bob Kesteloot mentions that gun fire missions used to wreck havoc with the old Mansfield, knocking down light fixtures, etc. Tell me about it. As Chief Porkchop, I’d have to order all those replacements parts, etc. Actually, as Chief Porkchop, I didn’t do the actual ordering, but I could have, I think. Anyway, after I discovered that the ship would send a post ops form message detailing damage to the enemy, I once wrote up, in a like form, a phony message detailing damage to the Mansfield, e.g. smashed light fixtures, cracks in the decks, overhead insulation torn loose, destroyed bug juice dispensers, etc. I then had a friendly radioman route the message, with explicit instruction NOT to have it sent, to COM, OPS, XO and CO. There were also similar form messages sent after port visits (goodwill stuff, “ladies of the evening” reports, et al) and supply requests prior to port arrivals (food stuffs, money, fuel, etc. requirements). These as well would – once only! – receive the same treatment by yours truly. Such shenanigans would then result in a call over the ships loudspeaker for me to high tail it to the bridge for my expected chewing out. Ltjg Howard Cone – COM, Lt Bob Henry – OPS, and, usually, LCDR Dick Blaes – XO, and Capt. Nellis, generally tolerated me. “Oh, it’s just that Steve again.” However, after about 5 minutes with “Black Jack” (Honest – He even had his coffee mug so emblazoned) Griffin, after he relieved Capt. Nellis, I picked up that my sense of humor might not correspond with his to allow such stuff. Maybe we never got to know each other well enough.

The tables turn: My wife delivered birth to twin daughters at the Yokosuka Naval Station Hospital while we were at sea. (Didn’t the Navy tell us we had to be there for the keel laying, but not the launching?) Actually we were entering Danang harbor after a gunfire mission off North Viet Nam to offload a Marine officer and some special radio gear, as memory serves. A message from the Commandant of the Naval Hospital was sent to me advising of the birth of twin daughters (unexpected – this was in the pre-sonogram days, just after the discontinuance of the use of leeches to draw blood from the patient). Baby A and baby B, he announced. (Interesting names I thought.) Baby A and mother were doing fine, while baby B was on the critical list, it went on to report in true, dry, “post action” Navy reporting lingo. Critical baby B was a purely precautionary measure, it turned out, although not reported in the message. All was fine. Anyway, Ltjg Cone, as radio officer, was one of the first to see the message, and blew up at the poor radio messenger for preparing another of one of those stupid phony messages as an inappropriate means of pulling my chain. But it was legit, and I left the ship on “emergency leave” from Danang – ship was on its way back to Yoko anyway – in my undress whites (90 degree plus weather) – arriving, frozen, back in 30-40 degree Yoko.

Ashore: In Yokusko, my wife and I had a little British Sunbeam Alpine two-seater roadster. (I guess that dates me.) Our house in Hyama was owned by a Japanese gentleman, who lived next store, and spoke not a word of English. (My Japanese was pretty weak – bier-yu, ichi ban and the like – so we were even.) He was intrigued by this two seater (rare in Japan then), left hand drive (ditto) convertible (also ditto), so he used to occasionally wash said vehicle all the better to gain a closer look I guess. (Unless something in our rental agreement, which I couldn’t read, stipulated occasional car washes as covered by the meager rent.) One day, after a series of furious hand and arm signals, I somehow made it clear that I was inviting him for a drive, to which he happily, I assume given the grin on his face, consented. So off we drove, on the left side of the road. No fool I. That was the law. After about 10 to 15 minutes of carefree rambling, accompanied by chattering back and forth in languages neither of us understood (the hearing not the spoken parts), I made a U turn to return home and sallied forth on the RIGHT hand side of the road. (OK, anyone ever make the mistake of turning right into an English “roundabout”?). His chattering went up a few octaves, but I simply nodded and grinned in response. At that point a truck appeared, heading directly in my path. My brain having obviously shut down, as it does now and then, I cursed him (the truck) and waved him to his right / my left. Being a conscientious driver, he did so and we waved to each other as we passed, although his wave was somewhat violent in nature, as opposed to my friendly one. Glancing over at my “homeowner” guest, I noticed that he was flat on the floor of this little Sunbeam Alpine, a difficult proposition in that car. Realization! Yikes, or something, I was on the wrong side of the road and liable for a ticket – or worse. So I scooted left and drove on home sans the happy chattering that accompanied our outbound leg. The car washes and joy rides ended after that little jaunt.

More shenanigans: After a gunfire mission on a Viet Cong food supply (herd of cattle with the VC brand), I sent one of my men to the bridge with a can of paint and a small paint brush. Ordered NOT to do anything, I told him to tell, when asked by the OOD or CO what he was doing on the bridge, that the Supply Officer had told him to paint cows on the bridge wing, similar to what aviators used to paint on their planes signifying planes shot down or bombs dropped. Shortly thereafter came that call over the loudspeaker . . .

Heroes: Supply Officers aren’t generally considered heroes, at least this one wasn’t. While the other members of the ship’s company were awarded bronze stars and the like for “Meritorious action etcetera, etcetera, etcetera”, the most I could hope for was the Order of the Crossed Quills, which I never got. One operation brought us close inshore to a North Vietnamese shore battery – we were the first ship, along with the USS “Forgotitsname”, to conduct Naval gunfire operations along the coast North of the demilitarized zone. There then commenced a modern day duel. I was stationed, actually hiding, in radio central, – see “Crypto” below – my General Quarters post, where I could clearly hear the splashes from missed North Vietnamese shells. How to describe how I felt. Remember the description of my Japanese homeowner, cowering on the floor of my Sunbeam Alpine has we drove head on toward that truck? I think that best describes how I felt. Then there was the issue of combat pay, welcome to those of us without trust funds to offset our meager Navy salaries. As I recall, we were eligible for combat pay during months when some element – any element – of an operation we were supporting was subjected to hostile fire. “Didn’t that spotter plane pilot mention that he thought someone was shooting at him? Or was it just a close encounter with a sea gull?” Or maybe, memory fails me here, we were eligible if we got within X number of yards of the shore. We were always within X number of yards of the shore.

Food favorites and wardroom etiquette: A favorite meal in the Wardroom was Indonesian “Reis Taffel” (rice table – rice with a vast number of toppings). For one, I had our stewards simply add a small bowl of roasted ants my mother had sent me as a gag, I hope, Christmas gift, to the range of toppings displayed. Finding it empty at the end of the meal, I simply told the assembled that I was delighted that they enjoyed the ants so much, before quickly leaving to a chorus of curses. Belay that. There was no cursing in the Wardroom. Or discussion of religion, politics, sex or other interesting and invigorating topics. Instead we had fascinating discussions about ship movements (“That was a swell corpen 8 maneuver – whatever – you made, Skipper.”), Naval etiquette (“Do you leave your calling card at entrance or exit when visiting the Admiral for tea, XO?”), ship’s equipment (“When you gonna get that f____, ops, ‘scuse me, evaporator fixed, Rudy?”), and the like.

Dry ships: One of my duties was to act as the check sight observer in the aft gun mount during training missions. ‘Ole 4-eyes, squinty me, was to peer through this vintage 1944 sight to ensure that our mount was not trained on the plane or boat pulling our target. The Navy then, and I assume now, had zero tolerance for shooting up fellow sailors. As with most military training exercises, it involved 5% feverish activity preceded by 95% “dead time”, at least for me. I developed the skill of napping on my little perch in the gun mount, relying on the goodwill of our mount captain – he never failed me – to wake me before the call came to me: “check sight clear?” One day, during one such mission, I discovered an unopened fifth of good-looking rum nestled up in my check sight area. I retrieved it and calmly advised the mount captain that, as a dry ship, we couldn’t tolerate spirits, except those in “Doc” Danforth’s legal stores. Would he kindly ensure that said rum was tossed overboard? After awakening from my customary nap, I noted that the rum was gone. No words with the gun mount captain were required, for I knew in my heart that he had followed my orders explicitly. Sure . . .

Department audits: Quarterly, there were audits to perform of the ship’s store inventory, with store re-opening held up until the books balanced within plus/minus about 2-3%. Once I couldn’t get the books to balance and had to close the ship’s store, per the regulations, until I could get them to balance. With the store closed, members of the crew with cigarettes available, started to sell packs for up to a dollar each instead of the usual 10 cents charged by the store. The law of supply and demand really worked! Other “necessities” were in short supply as well, soap, toothpaste, etc., as days seemed to pass with the books still not balanced. The Chief Porkchop aboard – me – swiftly assumed enemy status, being routinely dumped on from one and all, from CO (constant), through XO (more constant!) down through SA’s (semi-constant; rank has its semi-privilege). I tread the open decks, especially at night, with utmost care. Finally, buried deep in one of the Supply Corp manuals, the XO and I found some obscure paragraph that allowed re-opening of the store, with the books un-balanced, for “essential items critical to the welfare and morale of the crew”, to say nothing of the W&M of the damn Porkchop! I think the paragraph must have been added as a provision in case the store records were destroyed by enemy gunfire, but we grabbed the provision to cover stupid supply officers as well. I’m also thankful that BuSup did NOT require that the mess be closed, pending “book balancing”, of the food stores audits!

Damn nested destroyers all looked alike: One night in Subic, after a “few pops” at the O Club, I returned, somewhat unsteadily, to my bunk. Shortly (I guess) thereafter, an officer woke me and began berating me, in obviously blurred English (I guess), questioning why I was in his bunk. I mumbled my regrets (I guess), and ambled off to my own bunk on the Mansfield.

Watches: The nice thing about being a Supply Officer, or, Lord help me, a CO, was we didn’t stand watches. See, Supply Officers couldn’t learn what all those ship bells signified, e.g. 8 bells (clean sweep down to and fro?), and most COns had just forgotten. XO’s didn’t stand watches either. They were at the stage – age? – where they hadn’t forgotten what the bells meant, just most of them. Terrible sight to see the 2nd in command rushing to the bridge at 6 bells shouting “Is it my turn yet?”

Payback: But the Regular Navy Types got back at us Porkchops. We were made “Crypto Officers”. It was our job to decrypt – I’d tell you what that means, but it’s classified – all the messages that came to the ship and were NOT addressed to us. Those that were addressed to us were automatically decrypted by “gear” – is that the technical term? – in radio central. One thing I could never figure out, is that all the encrypted messages not destined for the Mansfield, would always arrive between the hours of 2:00 and 4:00 AM (0200 and 0400, OK?). Then a messenger would gleefully wake me up, stating that the OOD had just received some critical message, probably not for us, and would I kindly get my butt up to the crypto room, see if I remembered the combination lock to the door and could figure out how to work the crypto machine – description is classified, but I can tell you it involved using bird feathers and black ink – to confirm that the message was, as usual, not directed to us. Why the Navy ever bothered with encryption I’ll never know, as most of the stuff sent could only be figured out by some idiot savant, what with ComCru this and deg lat that.

Combination locks: Between the Supply Office, my cabin and Crypto, I had about 7 combination locks to safes and doors to remember. My little secret was to write down the combination to one safe (never my cash safe or crypto room, puleeze!) and put it in another. To be secure, I’d never indicate which safe the written down combination opened. As combination locks had to be changed seemingly constantly, I was always forgetting combinations. There would then follow a mad scramble of safes being opened and closed as I sought out the “lucky number.”

Entertainment: Although watching junior deck officers screw up port arrivals – “Come to port 5 degrees, belay that, 10 degrees to the right, all engines astern one third, belay that, all engines emergency astern!” – was a favorite form of entertainment, BuEnt (Bureau of Entertainment) was nice enough to send us a steady stream of 16mm movies, some in color! As a non-watch standing Supply Officer – see Watches above – I got to see every damn one of ’em. (It was a matter of pride.) One in particular, I remember. It was a 1930’s vintage Russian film about Peter the Great, or Lesser, or maybe about Catherine the Hot. Anyway, in one scene there was this cuckoo clock that, on the hour, would open its doors from whence appeared this full frontal nudity lady. Not some carved statue, but a real human naked lady. Well, I was shocked that the Navy Censors (BuCen?) would allow such filth to be distributed among the fleet! So I rigged up some loop to that part of the film that would allow me to view the offending scene over and over and over and over and over. Well, you get the idea. The next day I fired off a six page report to BuEnt via, as was required, CO USS Mansfield, ComDesDiv 19, ComDesRon 9, ComCruDesPac, BuCen and a few other “Com’s” and “Bu’s”.

Coincidence (Non-Naval): Ltjg Howard Cone, erstwhile COM officer and later Naviguesser and master of shooting the top of the radar mast instead of the sun with his trusty sextant to give us a “good fix”, – we’d steam for days and always be in the same spot! – and Ltjg Patrick Kelly-Rodgers, the latter an Irish citizen that somehow managed his way into OUR Navy, and received some sort of a medal for that feat, or whatever, were bunk makes in the aft officer’s country stateroom that had the fuel oil intake running through it. (Man, it smelled.) Not that that, the fuel oil filler part, has anything to do with what follows, but it seems Howard’s father was a Pan Am pilot and Pat’s a BOAC (now Air Lingus and British Air) pilot back in the glory days of flight. Well, Howard Cone, Sr. flew President Roosevelt over the Atlantic to the Casablanca Conference for the first time a president had flown overseas. (Pan Am, I guess, was cheaper than Pan Navy.) Pat’s pop (can’t remember his first name, but many swear it was God) flew Winnie Churchill over the Atlantic for a meeting with FDR, the first time a British Prime Minister had flown overseas – or at least over the Atlantic. Interesting, and, unlike most of my stories, 100% true and verifiable. You can look it up!

Departure: As I left the Mansfield for the last time, the CO muttered “What a relief!” As I thought he had simply said, “You are relieved”, we both were happy.

All in all, a great time for me. She was a fine ship embarked with fine people, at least while I was aboard. Can’t vouch specifically for the times before and after.

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