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:

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:

Next:  More from the Oxford

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