Ponderisms

As usual, my sister has come through again with some tidbits to ponder as the year ends:

1. Ever wonder about those people who spend $2.00 apiece on the little bottles of Evian water?  Spelled backwards, Evian is NAIVE.

2. Isn’t making a smoking section in a restaurant like making a peeing section in a swimming pool?

3. If the Jacksonville Jaguars are known as the ‘Jags’, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are known as the ‘Bucs’ what does that make the Tennessee Titans?

4. If 4 out of 5 people suffer from diarrhea does that mean that one of them enjoys it?

5. There are three religious truths:

a. Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

b. Protestants do now recognize the Pope as the leader of the Christian faith.

c. Baptists to not recognize each other in the liquor store or at Hooters.

6. If people from Poland are called ‘Poles’, why aren’t people from Holland called ‘Holes’?

7. If a pig looses it’s voice, is it disgruntled?

8. Why do croutons come in airtight packages?  Aren’t they just stale bread to begin with?

9. Why is a person who plays the piano called a pianist but a person who drives a race car is not called a racist?

10.   Why isn’t the number ‘11’ pronounced as ‘onety-one’?

11. If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn’t it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed, tree surgeons debarked, and dry cleaners depressed?

12. If Fed Ex and UPS were to merge, would they call it Fed UP?

13. Do Lipton Tea employees take coffee breaks?

14. What hair color do they put on the driver’s licenses of bald men?

15. I was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a whole lot more as they get older; then it dawned on me … they’re cramming for their final exam.

16. I thought about how mothers feed their babies with tiny little spoons and forks, so I wondered what do Chinese mothers use?  Toothpicks?

17. Why do they put pictures of criminals up in the Post Office? What are we supposed to do, write to them?  Why don’t they just put their pictures on the postage stamps so the mailmen can look for them while they deliver the mail?

18. If it’s true that we are here to help others, then what exactly are the others here for?

19. You never really learn to swear until you learn to drive.

20. Ever wonder what the speed of lightning would be if it didn’t zigzag?

21. If a cow laughed, would she spew milk out of her nose?

22. Whatever happened to Preparations A through G?

23. At income tax time, did you ever notice: When you put the two words ‘The’ and ‘IRS’ together it spells   … ‘THEIRS’?

Happy New Year!!!

Bill

 

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Life on the Oxford, Pt 3

Watchstanding get pretty old after a while.  It is pretty much unendurable when you’ve been at it for over 90 days.  We were slogging our way around Vietnam eastside to Westside and back for two months when we got a call to head for the Indian Ocean.  Our food supplies, always low, got nearly exhausted on this new deployment.  We were reduced to putting hot sauce on everything from powered eggs to mystery meat.  Midrats (the ‘fourth’ meal we had every day just before going on the 0000 to 0400 watch) consisted of bread in which you had to have faith that the crunchy things were caraway seeds; sliced, long, salami-like, tubes of meat (commonly called ‘horsecock’), and mustard with a distinctly tangy flavor.  Don’t even ask about the green beans.  As a M*A*S*H cook said “you want green, have some mayonnaise”.

We ended up that tour by passing so close to Singapore we could taste the tang in the air.  As it turned out, we were pretty fortunate because we ended up in Bangkok, Thailand for a week.  With 90 days of pay in our pockets, we hit the beach by storm.  Amazingly, our ship was the only US ship in port at that time.  The rest were Australian and they really know how to party.  We couldn’t buy a drink anywhere – they’d treat.

– – –

The typhoon we hit wasn’t the largest one that year, but it hit us dead center.  Our speed, at ‘all ahead panic’ was about 10 knots.  The current was against us and running at around 12 knots.  Thus, we were actually going backwards at 2 knots although we were pushing nose-deep into heave swells reaching up to over 40 feet.  There is a picture on the Oxford web site here:

http://members.tripod.com/~USS_OXFORD/perfectstorm.html

The Oxford was built originally as a Liberty ship during WW2.  It was blunt-bowed and flat bottomed.  It would roll, as they say, ‘in a teacup’.  Being bounced from bulkhead to bulkhead as you tried to traverse a passageway would do nothing but bruise your shoulders.  We were all told to just go lie in our bunks and strap in.

Those of us on watch had to continue on watch.  We used typewriters to put down everything we heard so with the ship rolling so hard it was difficult to pull the lever and push the carriage uphill.  One of our brighter lads found that if you put a bunch of rubber bands together and tied one end to your receiver, and the other to the end to the carriage, it would assist you in throwing the carriage.  This worked, but you had to wait until it was an uphill battle.  If you threw the carriage when the ship was on a starboard roll, the carriage shot downhill and ended up on the floor.  The repair guys (called ‘matmen’) were dismayed at us to say the least.

– – –

One time, as we entered Da Nang harbor, a destroyer was coming outbound.  As she passed us, we saw the guns begin to elevate and train.  They weren’t aiming at us, thank goodness, but, instead, aiming at the hillside past us.  Once we cleared their stern there was a thunderous blast as several of their big guns let go.  Dust, debris, and probably bits of Viet Cong flew into the air.  Four volleys later, they secured their guns.  We found out later that a sapper attack had just occurred and the infiltrators had run into the hills around the harbor.  The destroyer was just taking care of business.

As the Chief pointed out on deck later that night “that’s why you have to darken ship and do NOT show lights on deck.  We’re so close to shore that they can hit us with their guns”.  A happy thought.

– – –

In the dead of winter we were fighting our way on a northerly course heading for Sasebo, Japan.  Snow, freezing rain, winds, and general misery abounded.  Those of us who braved the open decks didn’t stay out long.  Finally, we arrived and, as we were maneuvering to our pier, something down in ‘the hole’ let go.  Not being an Engineman, I wouldn’t have known a steam chest from an evaporator, but the scuttlebutt (rumors) were saying  we’d really done something nasty to the engine.

It was decided that we would go ‘cold iron’ which meant we would shut down the entire engineering spaces and draw power and steam heat from shore.  There we sat for just under 30 days.  Since we were a ship of the fleet, we had to supply Shore Patrol Supplementarys (which meant we had to augment the land-based patrolmen) with members of our own crew.  Now, normally, being assigned to Shore Patrol was an odious task but under this circumstance it was a huge success.  Guys would fight to be put on the watch bill for that duty.

Being Shore Patrol meant that you got to see where all the good spots were and where and the even better spots were, so to speak.  Since you carried your SP credentials, you could always claim you were undercover.  (Hey, sometimes that worked – but not with Marines).  I, being a supervisor, even had a Jeep to cruise around in.  However, this was not all skittles and beer as you might imagine – it was COLD!  The Jeep was an open vehicle with steel seats.  The only thing we had between us and the frigid air was a windshield which, for the most part, would end up folded down on the hood because the wipers didn’t work.  At least in winter you didn’t have to worry about bugs in your teeth.

Every Naval base I’ve ever been on in WestPac (Western Pacific) had a Fiddler’s Green Club.  This is where crewmembers of all ships in the fleet come to discuss world events, meet others and interact socially.  Nightly fights were the norm and they never stopped, only went outside into the snow as we threw them out of the various rooms.  You had to be careful though because the next guy you threw out might be on Shore Patrol the next night and be operating on you!

– – –

On one very party night in Sasebo I was studying for the First Class exam to be given at 0900 the next morning.  I finished my drink(s) and wandered back to the ship and crashed.  I barely made muster at 0858 in the crew’s mess, ready, more or less, to take a highly technical, and highly classified, examination for my next higher rate.

This was back in the days when you were handed a booklet with multiple guess questions and an IBM card which you had to use a little plastic tool to punch out the (hopefully) correct answers (remember the ‘hanging chad’ bit of the Florida election?).  I blew the first card and had to ask for another.  I was terribly hung over but determined to do my best.

Of the twenty or so of us in the spaces, I was the first to leave, having punched all the holes (finally) correctly.  The only thing I wanted was rest and an aspirin.

Two weeks passed, then three.  One day, the 1MC fired up and the results of all the tests for the various ratings aboard the ship were read off.  They started with ship’s company (naturally) and then moved to what they termed ‘passengers’ (us).  The speaker worked his way up from Seaman through Third Class and then to Second Class.  I was barely listening when I suddenly heard my name.  I’d passed the test for First Class!  Not only did I pass, but I was the only one out of seven that took the exam with me.  I was elated.  At last, I was able to get into the First Class Lounge and play Acey-Ducey with the guys.  I could watch movies on the mess decks and eat popcorn through Plexiglas instead of having to sit with the rabble.  I was a ‘wheel’.

– – –

I can’t imagine writing down parts of my life as I lived it in the Oxford without making mention of a particularly wonderful liberty town called Olongapo.  Ah, just the thought of it would bring tears to your eyes.  Being there in person would not only do that, but close up your sinuses also.  The place was smelly, dirty, hot, dusty, noisy, and filled with the most incredible assortment of bars, hotels, bars, movie theatres, bars, restaurants, bars and more bars.  There were bars that held only six or eight people and there were bars that could hold the entire crew of the Oxford.

Surrounding these bars were dirt roads.  The main drag consisted of wall-to-wall Jeepneys.  A Jeepney is the shell of a World War 2 American Jeep that has been transformed into a personnel carrier.  It is usually brightly painted and has loads of dangling items from every window.  The more brightly painted and/or chrome items attached, the more status the owner had as an entrepreneur.  The more sailors he could cram into it, the better he could fleece them.  This was definitely the Philippine version of “Pimp my Jeep”.

A typical evening might go like this.

You dress carefully in your freshly starched and pressed Undress white uniform.  This is the white uniform that only contains ribbons instead of medals.  You make sure that your watch is either secured inside your pocket, or has a sturdy steel band (non-expansion).  You put your cigarettes firmly in your sock elastic (no where else on your uniform to put them) and add a second pack in the other sock.  Any money you have is distributed in various places around your body.  Usually about a third is in your left shoe, a third in your right shoe, and the rest in the tiny little watch pocket at your waistband.  I pays to take these precautions, trust me.

Finally (in about ten minutes after you start dressing) you begin to filter up to the Quarterdeck and look unobtrusive.  This can be difficult because there are about seventy other guys doing exactly the same thing.  The crowd grows until the Officer of the Deck (OD) gets pissed and orders us ‘the hell off my Quarterdeck until liberty call’.  I mean to tell you we were like a bunch or roaches ready for the light to be turned on.

The power switch is thrown on the 1MC (shipboard announcement system) and suddenly there it is!  A long, thin blast of the Bosun’s whistle followed by the announcement that we’d been waiting for ever since about 1500: “Now liberty Call!  Liberty for Section Two.  Liberty for all nonrated men to expire on board at twenty-three hundred; all rated and Chief Petty Officers to expire on board at twenty-four hundred.”

By the time the announcement ended, all seventy of us had queued up, saluted the OD, saluted the US Ensign, and blew down the gangplank to shore and began to swarm towards the bridge over the Shit River.  The closer you get to the guard shacks that border Subic Naval Base the headier the smell gets.  Finally, you turn the corner and are confronted with what seems like thousands of people all clamoring for your attention.

This is actually true – there ARE thousands of people all clamoring for your attention.  Jeepney drivers, bar touts, Monkey Meat sellers, girls of all kinds (more on that later), dogs, and the little boys that surround you like locusts and strip you bare if they can.  Your ID and liberty card are scanned by a Marine Guard and he passes you into the tender care of Olongapo, or “Po Town”

Every sailor I’ve ever known that hits this port will begin to salivate for a cold San Miguel beer somewhere about three hundred miles out.  By the time we tie up, this craving has reached epic proportions.  You have just GOT to have one.  This is fixed in your mind as you evade the grasp of young boys and others.  Down the dusty road you go with your shipmates in the quest of the coldest beer in town.  Ask any bar tout and they will be happy to tell you that THEIR bar has the coldest beer.  But, we are on a mission to get to “our” bar, the bar the Oxford has set aside as a place to gather before expanding outwards; and the last place to gather before heading back to the ship.

This bar, called The Shipwreck, is owned by a colorful woman (they are all owned by women) named “Boats” which is short for Boatswain’s Mate.  She had the mouth to prove it too.  We order our beer and it arrives – all seven bottles frozen together in one huge mass of ice.  Now THAT is what I call a really cold beer.  Coldness of beer is ensured by throwing a case or two into a freezer overnight.  The bottles that have the caps blown off are no good because they don’t contain enough alcohol and they freeze.  The beer bottles you are after are the ones that don’t have their caps off.  Quality control in the Manila brewery for San Miguel is a bit lax.  In fact, they didn’t even have standards for alcoholic content that I know of.

Anyway, after three or four of these, the huge mass of us begins to break up into groups.  There are never loners out on liberty in Olongapo.  It just isn’t done.  The instant you exit the bar, the law of the jungle takes over.  Inside, the mama-sans run with an iron hand.  Outside, you take your own chances.  Within seconds you get hands wandering all around your body.  Most of them are owned by future TSA pat-down artists who are only checking you for money, cigarettes, or signs you really could use a massage.  Some of them are actually female, the rest are not.  The ones, who are not, are called Benny Boys.  It is entirely possible that before the evening is over, you will get ‘the eye’ from a comely female only to find out that she isn’t a she at all.  It is extremely difficult to tell them at a glance they are so good.

From bar to bar, you navigate.  High winds, rough seas, and the ever-present shoals of humanity try their very best to part you from your money.  Some are successful, some are not.  I’ve heard tales of liberty parties that made it up one side of the four blocks of bars and back down the other – having a drink in each – but this is usually hooted down as a ‘tale for landlubbers’ and not true.  In fact, all the times I tried it I never got past the second block.

Soon, it is time for the various floor shows to begin in the larger bars.  Small bars know this and will even be known to close their doors and shoo their clientele through interior doors to a larger bar next door.  They split the take also.  Floor shows always start with several songs played by various Philippino bands.  Some are very good and some are very bad.  All are very loud.  Next, to the accompaniment of said bands, come the dancing girls and singers.  You haven’t lived until you see a forty year-old women with an appendix scar dancing a hootchie-kootchie dance, or an extremely well-built woman in a pained on dress singing ‘Cold Finger’, a James Bond themesong.

Some acts would have a Tijuana resident blushing.  Audience participation, in some cases actually solicited, is a big plus.  The evening moves along and the crowd moves from one bar to another.  All nightclubs have agreed to have their starting times staggered (as well as their clientele) which allows everyone to see the various shows.

By arrangement with the local constabulary, the shows start at the far end of town and work their way towards the main gate of the base.  The local cops, called PC’s (Philippine Constabulary), think nothing of wading into a disturbance and firing their submachine guns into the ceiling.  I don’t think much of it either, especially if there is a second floor.  A lot of big clubs are built on the second floor with smaller little bars underneath them.  The Ponderosa was the biggest one in town; it even had a sister club outside the gate at Clark Air Base.

By the time you present yourself at the town end of the bridge to the base it seems to stretch off into infinity.  You aren’t navigating well, you’ve run out of cigarettes and are now smoking local smokes made from horse manure and old telephone books, and you’re hungry.

This is when the guys with the charcoal braziers begin to tempt you with the sounds and smells of broiling meat.  NEVER, never ask what kind of meat it is; just pay your peso and bite it from the bamboo shoot.  Using whatever change you have left from your evening, you can watch the little kids dive into the raw sewage of the river for those that you toss into it.  They seem to enjoy it, but I don’t think I would.

Finally, you stagger past the Marine guard, show your ID and liberty card and shuffle down the long walk back to the ship.  Your uniform, once pristine white, is now a sort of reddish grey.  Your watch pocket is surrounded by grime from your fingers that reached for beer money.  Your shined shoes are now covered with dust and scars from the high heels of the girls who love to stand on your feet to keep you from moving away.  You trip up the gangplank, salute the Ensign, salute the OD, and make sure your name is on the “arrived home safe” list so you won’t be reported as missing in action.

You can hardly wait two days for your next liberty in this garden spot.

– – –

One extremely bright and sunny day as only the South China Sea can be, I was called down to the Ops Officer’s office.  You got your orders, here they are.  I was handed a sheaf of paperwork which I quickly scanned.  I was being sent to, of all places, Pensacola, Florida!  The very same place I’d had my initial training.  I was going to be an instructor.  Only two more weeks and I was on my way back to the World!!!!!

Bill

Life on the Oxford, Pt 2

If you are at all interested in what the Oxford was about, here’s the URL for an Oxford site my very good friend George runs:

http://members.tripod.com/~USS_OXFORD/

There are pages and pages of really great information on what shipboard life was all about; from the scary to the mundane.  I have contributed several articles to this web site myself.  Here are two of them.  The first could have escalated into something like the Pueblo:

Tense Times aboard the Oxford -- Isle of Phu Quoc

On our first swing around Vietnam and onto the western side of the coast, we headed towards the Isle of Phu Quoc (sp?).  I was on watch as supervisor in ORP and about 1400 or so, we suddenly killed the engines.  Much speculation was voiced by my guys about why we had stopped.  I went up on deck and the first thing I saw was two smallish Cambodian gunboats standing off the port side.  What I didn't see at the time was the third one making rings around the stern and up the starboard side.  Not until I heard the exhaust did I see it.  They were manning all the firepower they had (as well as the two standing off about 200 yards) and here we were hanging on the rails watching them!  If I wanted to (which I certainly did NOT want to) I could have heaved a rock over at them.

They circled us at about 7 knots until someone on the bridge got on the 1MC and told us to get below - about the same time I guess they got tired of "intimidating" us.  Apparently, we told them to buzz off as we were in definite international waters.  Looking back it was sorta fun being the object of attention, but at the time it was pretty tense.  They eventually buzzed off.

And the second is typical of some of the ‘newbie’ pranks pulled on everyone:

CTSN Blank and the Pings from Beyond

We were underway near Tiger Island (DMZ) about 50 Miles offshore when I woke up about 0200 or so after hearing a couple of sonar pings reverberate around forward berthing.  I didn't think much more about it and went back to sleep.

The next day, the new guy, CTSN Blank (not his real name), asked me and others sitting around the Euchre table if we had heard "those weird noises" last night.  Of course, we said we had, but not to let anyone else know he'd heard them.  We told him that it was a seismic test being run by the Vietnamese to see if they could detect any vessels by sending directed sounds into the ocean and waiting for their patrol vessels to inform them that they'd detected a ship.  Our job here was to "mess up" their searches by responding with pings of our own.

That night we provided him with a clipboard, penlight, and sound powered phones (connected to a guy on the mess deck).  We unscrewed the overboard discharge tube (where water was pumped out should we happen to be sinking) on the port side and had him keep his ear pressed to it for over two hours listening for the pings again.  When he heard them he was to report over the powered phones.  We also provided him with what we called a "tattletale" - which was just a short tube of aluminum that would fit in the discharge tube and be dropped overboard.  He thought it was a noisemaker programmed to sound like the Oxford.

Sure enough, about two hours into his "watch" we heard the sonar pings again and he duly reported this fact to us.  We told him to drop the "noisemaker" and secure from the watch - be especially sure that he didn't wake anyone.  One of our accomplices went behind the racks behind him and dropped a garbage can lid on the deck.  I thought we'd have to scrape this guy off the overhead.  Naturally, everyone not actually on watch was waiting to cheer him on.  He eventually got over it.

I have a small photograph of myself as a handsome sailor doing what he does best:

This was taken while I was sitting at the bar of the Soldiers and Sailors Club in Hong Kong in summer of 1965.  A bit of Guiness in front of me.

Crossing the Equator is a Big Deal – especially in the Navy.  The entire ship’s work comes to a halt and the festivities begin.  Well, festive if you happened to be a Shellback; definitely not if you were a Pollywog (like myself).  We were woken up at around 0500 to the sound of cut off fire hoses whacking the wall lockers and the shouts of “wake up, you guys” (I cleaned up the language, by necessity).

We were to dress in the uniform of the day – dungarees, but they had to be inside out and backwards.  We were not allowed to walk upright but only crawl everywhere.  If we happened to be outside, that meant over non-skid (remember – paint to which sand had been added) which tore hell out of our knees.  We sat against the wall in the mess desk being hand fed raw oysters and soda crackers in preparation for the day’s ordeal.

This was the moment that some of our ‘special’ passengers were singled out for individual attention.  We happened to have a very great Air Force guy on board, a traffic analyst, who would go along with anything.  He was handed two three-foot long “wings” of silver emblazoned with USAF on one, and “I am a Zoomie” on the other.  He was told he would be allowed to walk upright but only so that he might show off his wings.  We also had two Marines on board.  One of them, A Master Sergeant, would have “nothing to do with this crap” and refused to get with the program.  The other, A Lance Corporal, had to drag an huge iron anchor around all day and put a globe-shaped hat on his head in a parody of the Marine insignia.

Finally, breakfast was over and we were herded up on deck to the blows of the aforementioned fire hoses and other paddles.  If struck, we were to respond “thank you, sir, may I have another”.  Of course, they were ready to comply with that request.  Down the port side of the ship we went, running such gamut’s as the “garbage chute” (filled, indeed with real garbage), kissing the Royal Baby, visiting the Royal Barber, and other fun items.

Coming back up up the starboard side, we visited the Royal Court and had our punishments decreed.  Swallowing more oysters was popular as well as other unidentifiable items.  Oh, I forgot, if you were crawling down the dark garbage chute, steer clear of the warm garbage because the guy ahead of you had just left it.

Suddenly, the Pollywogs were empowered and we went into full rebellion.  The fight was on.  Since we were hove to (stationary in the water) there was no problem with being blasted off the deck with a high-pressure blast from a fire hose.  We battled the Shellbacks back and forth across the deck in a battle for supremacy until finally the Captain calls a halt.  He proclaims, with the authority of King Neptune himself that we are all declared worthy of being Shellbacks.  We gathered on the fantail (aft end – main deck) for a huge barbeque and battle of the bands.

For more information, and lot of pictures which explain far better than I could, see this:

http://members.tripod.com/~USS_OXFORD/shellback.html

Next:  More from the Oxford

Life on the Oxford – Pt 1

Getting adjusted to life aboard ships is almost the same as adjusting to married life.  You are living in intimate contact with, in my case, 56 other guys in a compartment about the size of a nice condo’s living room.  Bunks, or ‘racks’ as they are known – for obvious reasons, are stacked in tiers three high.  The lowest one is for lower-rated men (seamen and Third Class POs).  The top ones are for higher rated men (senior Third Class and Second Classes).  The choice middle ones are for senior Second Classes and First Class POs.  They are set approximately 24 to 27 inches apart.  There are no curtains but you do have a small fluorescent light right above your head that will buzz like crazy each time it is turned on.

The upper racks have to contend with piping of all sizes and types.  Fuel oil, water (both potable and sea), ventilation ducting, fan housings, and electrical trunking.  It isn’t unusual for someone to be tucked in right next to a fan which whines and rattles on a continuous basis.  The lower racks have what is called a ‘tricing rod’.  This is a hinged piece of pipe that, when you raise the rack during the day, you pull down to keep the rack from falling down flat.  Thus, you hear the phrase “All hands heave out and trice up” when the Bosun calls Reveille over the 1MC (shipwide loudspeaker system).

Each individual rack has a one-inch thick piece of cotton batting that acts as a mattress.  It is enclosed in what is euphemistically called a ‘fart sack’.  Each week, this linen bag is stripped off your mattress and thrown into a huge laundry bag about fifteen feet long and maybe 18 inches across.  A new one is issued at that time.  The rack itself is split hoprizontally.  You have a hinged hasp in the middle that you can put a lock on.  Unlock the hasp, lift up the top tray, and you have compartments to put your entire seabag’s worth of uniforms in to.  This, along with a very small wall locker, is where you keep EVERYTHING you own.  There is, surprisingly, very little theft.  Peer pressure being the main reason for this.  After all, who would want to spend the next year or two with someone who was branded a thief?  Things can get really ugly very fast.

The bathrooms, known universally as ‘heads’, have maybe six or eight stalls and the same number of urinals.  Against the opposite bulkhead (wall) are sinks with stainless steel mirrors (glass mirrors can shatter if the ship takes hits).  The water in both the commodes and the urinals runs 24/7 with sea water.  This running water can be heard throughout the berthing compartment all the time.

The deck is highly polished tile.  The way it is kept highly polished is with the sweat of low-rated men and huge buffers.  For those people sleeping off the midwatch in a lower rack, it isn’t unusual to be jarred awake by the crash of an out-of-control buffer wielded by a skinny runt of a guy who would have trouble holding up a broom much less a whirling, 24-inch, buffing machine.

But, this is all the good stuff you get used to almost immediately.  Within a week, I hardly heard all the various noises around me.  I slept very well, considering I like a softer bed than a half-inch of cotton over stainless steel.  I also rated one of the coveted middle racks.  My big problem was that there was an overhead speaker directly over my rack.  The morning began with the piercing whistle of a Bosun’s pipe (which preceded EVERY announcement over the 1MC).  This usually stimulated my heart enough to begin cursing while trying to regain lost sleep.

At 0800 every morning there came the testing of the ship’s alarms and bells.  First the Whoop-Whoop of the Collision alarm, followed by the DONG – DONG – DONG – of the General Quarters alarm.  Everyone who has seen any wartime naval movie (except British movies) has heard this alarm.  When you listen to it every day you tend to begin hyperventilating at the first instant.  Even to this day I still feel my pulse quicken at the sound of this alarm.  Any Navy man will tell you the same thing.

Our watches were set up along the same lines as shoreside watches, but we did not have any time off between a series of watches.  They were run like this?

0800-1200

1600-1800

2000-2400

0400-0800

1200-1600

1800-2000

2400-0400

And the cycle repeats.  The ‘short shift’ at the 1600 to 2000 of only a two-hour period was to allow all hands on watch to get a good evening meal.

Along with our watchstanding duties there was also ship’s work to be done.  When you got off watch at 1200 you were expected to work at various places designated by which division you were in.  My division, Forward Operations – Collection, was supposed to attend to the ‘After Deckhouse – 02 level’.  This was the large blocky structure on the aft end of the ship that rose from the main deck (00 deck) through the 01 level to the 02 level.  We had to continually start at one end, chip all the paint down to bare metal, apply red lead paint, then grey paint, white trim on railings, or non-skid (sand added to black paint) for the decks.  Once we reached the forward end of the ADH we started all over again.  Fighting the never-ending war against corrosion and idle hands was crucial to the Navy way.

I had a bunch of California surfers in my watch section.  They were forever finding humorous and creative ways to ‘cork off’ (which means exactly what you think it means – goof off) I would find them below decks ‘looking for something’ or in the gedunk (snack bar) ‘just got here to buy a soda’ or sitting quietly in a head somewhere reading a book.  Keeping them rounded up and working was a job unto itself.  We would get brief respites from this manual labor whenever the Moonbounce guys fired up their equipment so they could shoot messages back to Hawaii through a huge (25 foot) dish on top of the ADH.  Satellites hadn’t been invented yet so we just used the natural satellite we already had up there – the Moon – to bounce our signals around.

Notice also that the watch schedule leaves very little time for the luxury of sleep.  The best time you had for sleep was either the first part of the evening before the midwatch or the last part of the afternoon after chow relief and before your eve watch.  Otherwise, sleep was a lost cause.  As I mentioned, when 0800 rolled around, the compartment lights went on and didn’t dim until 2200.  People walked past your rack all day long, they banged into it with buffers, they woke you up to ask if you were off the midwatch, and you didn’t get much sleep at all.  I can attest that you eventually get used to that also.

Next:  More life aboard the “Ox”

Some short PI vignettes

It was a big day was when the wife-telephone network came alive and reported that the Commissary had a new shipment of … (fill in your favorite staple here).  Real milk was once in a while provided from Australia; the rest of the time we made do with ‘reconstructed’ milk which meant powder added to water.  Beef was another major event.  The Australians did this big time for us.  Every couple of weeks a reefer truck would secretly back up to the rear entrance of the Commissary and unload sides of beef.  Being that this was a watchstanding base, and people were up at all hours, there was actually NO time when EVERYONE was asleep.  The second the truck came through the gate, the telephones came alive.

– – –

Our housegirl had adapted to having a baby in the house easily.  She’d rigged up a swing for the cradle and tied it to her elbow so when she ironed, the cradle gently rocked.  Since she lived right downstairs she was available to watch over our house all the time.  She kept a meanly clean house and was very protective of our baby.

Our neighbors in the duplex to the north were bachelor Chiefs (E-8’s) and they lived three to a house (each in their own separate rooms, of course).  They’d get to partying and anything could happen.  Once evening, Maria was taking a walk and was not really ‘accosted’ by one guy, but he was pretty aggressive.  He followed her back to our house and kept knocking on her door.  He just wanted to talk he said.  Maria finally had had enough of this and opened the door – with a two and a half foot long cane machete in her hands.  He turned a couple shades of white, backed off, and couldn’t get out of the yard fast enough.

– – –

My wife and I enjoyed going down to “The Roads” once in a while.  We did this mostly during the daytime so as to not inhibit the evening trade.  We usually took our new daughter down with us.  The wife got to know a lot of the girls who worked down there and was made to feel at home in one special bar called Mona’s Place.  Mona was a large woman who laughed a lot.  She declared that she was Kathryn’s Philippino grandmother.  She would take over and watch the baby while the two of us sat and talked to the girls.  The wife drank orange soda; I usually had a San Miguel.  The brand my wife liked best was Fanta Orange Squash.  The jukebox would be roaring out songs and the girls would dance to them.  I remember one song in particular that was very popular at the time called “The House of the Rising Sun”.  Kathryn would look around, smile, and gurgle at all the girls as they made a fuss over her.

As a result of every bar girl in The Roads knowing I was not only married, but had a great wife and a small child, my wife trusted me implicitly to go out on my own also.  One evening in particular stands out in my mind.  A friend had come over from Clark AB and was staying with us.  The two of us decided to go down to the Roads and have a few.  We piled into my convertible VW and headed out.

Along the course of the evening, we gathered up several things: 1) two extremely beautiful (and well known) bar girls who just wanted to have some fun, 2) two VERY large (3-foot in diameter) Mexican Sombreros, and 3) a Shore Patrol escort who followed us from bar to bar.  My friend and I knew them well enough so there was no hassle.  We finished up our tour-de-farce and went back on base; less the two girls of course.

Before I even got parked (a distance of about a half-mile) my wife was phoned twice with the “bad news” that I was carousing down at The Roads with bad girls.  We had a very good laugh at that.

– – –

I reported to work one day and got called into the Ops Chief’s office.  “Here are your orders” he said.  “They only gave you four weeks to pack up so you’d better get started.”  He smiled a really snarky smile.  He and I had been at odds for almost my whole time in the PI.  He was a Marine (one of the rare ones I didn’t like) and loved to hand out bad news with a smile.  My argument that I had only been here for less than half my regular tour (3 years) fell on deaf ears.

My wife took the news pretty hard when I told her.  After I showed her my orders, she just asked what kind of ship the USS Oxford was; she already knew where it was going and she didn’t like it one bit.  I was headed “Fordu supt billet SEA” which meant simply “For duty in a support billet in Southeast Asia”.  I was headed into Vietnamese waters.  All I could tell her was that we would stay well offshore and just ‘listen’.  I wouldn’t be getting shot at (I hoped I wasn’t telling a lie).

We didn’t do much laughing after that.  Our household good were packed up, we made arrangements to ship our car back to Oakland (it took four months this time), and sat in our empty house until it came time for us to leave for Clark Air Base.  No car this time.  We ended up sitting in two seats on a long, grey, navy bus with about forty sailors making the trip to Clark also for various reasons.  None of them cared enough to even let us sit together.

We pulled up to the terminal and the seven of us that were leaving San Miguel to join the Oxford hustled our families into the building.  We milled around smartly for about ten minutes until an Air Force type called our attention and began to read off names.  When he got to my wife an assistant took her arm and led her away into an area enclosed by a low iron fence.  We both thought that this was just for processing but we were wrong.  Within minutes, she was moved again – out the door and onto the tarmac.  I didn’t even have a chance to kiss her, and Kathryn, goodbye – she was gone; boarding the plane.  Shit.

Somberly, myself and the other six guys were loaded into a small minivan and run down to Subic Bay.  I left the airport before the plane even got off the ground.  We pulled up at the main gate, showed our orders and were directed down to the pier where our ship awaited us.  Hoisting my seabag on my shoulder I climbed the gangway to my next assignment.

Next:  Life aboard a Navy ship

 

BYTECC USB Flexible Drive Sucks

Today, I made a two-hour long trip down to Microcenter and back to see if I could find a USB Floppy drive.  I have a bunch of disks that I really need to find out what is on them.  I found the above-named drive for $25.  The box states that it will support Windows 98/2000/ME/XP and Vista.  It will definitely NOT run on any of those systems.  It is a huge pile of junk from mainland China that even screams “JUNK” at you with their manual (shown below):

BYTECC "Ploppy" disk drive

I find this absolutely hilarious.  There it sits on my desk.  A flat, black, blob of ‘plop’ directly from the cow.  It will do NONE of the following:

1) Read from a floppy

2) write to a floppy

3) format a floppy

4) anything else.

Basically, it sits there and clicks once in a while if you access it using Windows Explorer, but that’s all it does.  The manual, written using those little magnetic word/phrase things that stick to a refrigerator, is contradictory, incomprehensible, and just plain wrong.  There is no mention of windows 2000/ME/XP or Vista inside it’s huge 4 pages (counting the cover page).  There are three pages of Windows 95 installation dialog boxes with nothing visible in them but extremely tiny print which even a magnifying glass cannot enhance.  What it does have is “Copyright 1997” at the bottom of page 4.

So, what I’ve apparently bought is something that is probably less functional than a real, honest to goodness, cow plop.

Bill