Museum piece

Starting today, I am going to focus THTASS on funny observations, uplifting naval history and memories that are service-related that I find. As an old fussy Senior Chief, there’s plenty to ramble on outraged about. I’ll leave that to the Marines.

Every ship save on that I have gotten underway on, is rusting at the bottom of the ocean, or perhaps is reused as glow – in – the – dark blades. The one is the Queen Mary, a floating hotel in Long Beach California. And it, too, could use a little more upkeep.

All the electronic equipment I learned to maintain and operate is junked or in a museum. And even the uniforms I wore have been relegated to parades and retirement ceremonies. Of course, I can fit in them again.

My first voyage, not including the steamboat or submarine at Disneyland, was aboard the Cunard Lines RMS Sylvania in 1965. I was destined for the maritime life. I could swim. I never got seasick, and I could drink (sodas) like a Sailor.

But now I’m a museum piece. My stories about writing letters, 1 MB computer storage, and replacing vacuum tubes find a smaller audience these days. Maybe I can find a new audience for sea stories at the Midway maritime museum?

destroyermen tell no tales

4347_1153409202041_3983536_nOn a warship there are few times that anything without a strict mission-related purpose is permitted aboard ship.  Of course,  this does not necessarily mean trinkets  the crew buys in a foreign port of call have to be shipped home.   After a visit to Turkey,  there were many nooks and crannies aboard the Proud Pete that were stuffed with oriental carpets, leather goods and other swag. Another time, after a port visit in the Caribbean, many crewmen had Cuban cigars.  And all sorts of goods from stops in the Mediterranean.

The oddest thing to be brought aboard the PETERSON were the temporary port-a-potties welded to the forecastle.  But none of the crew wanted “that”.  It was ordered from the naval authorities during staging for our Haitian interdiction operation which might result in taking aboard refugees.  However is was my tenure’s last Commanding Officer who introduced something I could only guess was some private joke with those who knew him when he was an Ensign – aboard the PETERSON – fifteen years earlier.   It may now sit at the bottom of the Atlantic.

DD969“It” was a park bench the my Commanding Officer, CAPT. Edward Zurey authorized to be installed (welded) in the athwartships passageway near the Ship’s Store.  A corner that during his tenure became known as “Broadway and Main” (for the Main Deck).

 

bench

separating salt from the fake salt

I’ve had many occasions, at work, driving cross-country, at various public events to meet people who are veterans or on Active Duty with one or another branch of the military.  Driving around San Diego, I am saddened by the number of homeless on the streets.   As a veteran, I know that there is a substantial percentage of these men and women – or imply through the hand-lettered signs that they are down-on-their-luck veterans.   Many unfortunately are, but may also be in an untenable position due to alcohol or drug-addiction.   Yet I admit, I am more drawn into conversations  when encountering squids, jarheads, ground pounders or zoomies working in shops, service industries, Costco,  or government offices   mutually recognizing a military connection.   And whether it is initiated by a ballcap, t-shirt or window sticker, we can converse about shared life experience.

4347_1153409202041_3983536_nThere is something instantly bonding about men ( and women) who share the common experience of military service.   Yesterday, I was enjoying a little rest on my homeward commute at my little bastion of like-minded libertarians, and got interested in a conversation one of the guys was having about an exchange with a cop.  Turned out this cop was practiced – but not in a good way – of embellishing some prior Navy experience.  As it happened, my acquaintance, like most of those who have had some years in the military was correcting this cop’s recounting of his service by providing some firsthand expertise in the details (occupation codes known as NECs or MOS in other services, training specifics, locations) that this storyteller had fudged– as would have I in the same exchange.

4347_1153409082038_7039634_nThere is nothing more disingenuous than a person misrepresenting military service.  “Stolen Valor” is the term many may be familiar.  Most of the perpetrators are playing on the sympathies of the public, trying to obtain benefits not owed, or wooing the gullible.   While there have been several court cases deciding that ’embellishment for the purposes of misleading public opinion’ – politicians, editors, bureaucrats, teachers have not been worthy of punishment,  there have been equally social media shaming of these con artists who were bringing discredit to those who serve or served honorably.

Yet it was the exchange of sea stories with my shipmate which brought back great memories for us both.  Both of us entered the Navy a year apart in the 1970s.   He was a fellow technician, working with computer systems aboard ship before the Navy combined the ratings,  Many times, the Navy consolidated skills that had their own individual occupations with others,  as was the case with my own rating after my retirement.   Regardless of the fool trying to boast about details of service that other “salty” Sailors – ones with years of sea duty and military experience – could immediately call his bluff,  my conversation yesterday was refreshing in bringing the memories back to the surface.

4347_1153409602051_4092653_nIn those days, there were traditions and customs, regulations and deckplate leadership.  When some Sailors who were otherwise experts in their trade, had a little too much to drink on the prior night’s liberty, their shipmate including the supervisor would look ot for them.  As Mess Deck Master at Arms, a temporary assignment aboard ship,  the ability to encourage the crew, curry favor, or even to mentor and train some junior sailor were all part of my experience.     There is nothing that someone with sea duty, can really describe to a civilian about life at sea – noise,   drinking water with a little trace jet fuel (JP5) in the lines, the drills, the boredom, and port visits that another military member doesn’t instantly know what you are talking about.

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No, I did not sail with Noah

“Memories which someday will become all beautiful when the last annoyance that encumbers them shall have faded out of our minds.”
Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

I am reading my letters written in boot camp forty years ago. As an eighteen year old enlisted sailor,  I entered the training gate by military bus at four in the morning of 3 October, 1977.  This was my first real separation from family.  I wanted to share my adventures.  It is not gripping prose. 

27 October, 1977

Dear Mom,

Payday!  I went to cash my paycheck. After deductions for the ditty bag ( personal items, toiletries and shave kit, $65) and taxes, I have $173 for two weeks.  I am sending you $163 in a money order.  Use it for bills or put it in the bank for me.

We got big news today which made our Company Commander very happy: we earned a 4.0 mark on our barracks inspection which means the inspectors found nothing to report.  And we began a competition between companies which will mean a lot in the coming weeks.  After the barracks inspection, we had a personal inspection – uniforms, gear, shave and such.  In our third week, we took a test that I had been worried about.  It was very easy and I nearly aced it.

At our classification interview – to select which career I would follow, I went for the CRYPTOLOGIC TECHNICIAN, MAINTENANCE ……..  It seems I have been preliminary accepted into this field – part of the Advanced Electronics Field I signed up for.  But it means a COMPLETE security check as I would be dealing with ….. equipment.  I will be sending home a document to for you to completely fill out and return to me as soon as possible. I hope I can get into this “hush, hush” rating.  I sure hope that the investigators will not dig up anything to disqualify me.  …. the Navy will spend five months investigating me.  They will uncover everything and find and talk to everyone I was in contact with.   And five months of schooling.   According to the classification brief, school will pack two weeks of high school electronics training into a single 8-hour day!  If I should fail school I will be screwing up a six-year commitment and become a barnacle-scrubber!

Please thank Nana and Robin for their letters. They help a lot.  I will write again, probably on 4- 4 day next week when we cross the bridge into advanced training.  Movies, recreation room, and a Baskin-Robbins and hamburger joint available to us on our liberty time.  The hitch is that the Company Commander decides whether we earn a pass to visit these things.  Tell Senorita I miss her and not to bug Buttercup too much.

P.S.  Please send postage stamps as it is hard to obtain them here in RTC and I like to keep up a running commentary.    After all the physical training, you will see a definite change when you come here for my graduation.

I miss you a lot. Tons of love,

 

Go far in life by going far (away)

When I initially joined the Navy in the late 70s, I  had already travelled to both coasts of the United States and to Great Britain – Northern Ireland, Scotland and London, England. But as a kid traveling with your parents or with a grandmother,  it doesn’t really make for an adventure.

I joined the Navy to see the world.  For nearly three years, I trained at various bases – in San Diego, at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago, in Pensacola, Florida and in Georgia.   And then I returned to Arizona.    I still wanted to see the world.  So in between university semesters, paid in part by my military service, I spent several weeks each summer on the eastern shore of the Sea of Cortez,  Mexico with a group of scuba divers from Arizona.

I joined the Navy again in 1987 for the adventure – and spent the next three and a half years near Washington, D.C. working as an electronics technician ( a Cryptologic Maintenance Technician specifically).  I travelled all over the region from the shores of Lake Erie in the northwest to New York City, and all the historical places from Philadelphia to Annapolis, and then spent some vacation time as far south as Daytona Beach.   But it was my decision to specifically request a sea-duty assignment, rare for those in my job specialty, when my world travel really took off.

After training, my orders sent me to San Francisco to board a cruiser, the USS TEXAS.   Panama, Ecuador, and then north to and through the Panama Canal to the western Caribbean.  I’ve ordered red snapper dinners in Panama,  cigars and hotel rooms in Ecuador, and taken pictures of the Galapagos Islands as we sailed past.   I’ve lived in the Kitsap peninsula opposite Seattle for a year,  travelled to Esquimalt, British Columbia and Vancouver, Canada.  (it is where I first learned about micro-brew beer and ales).  On different ships and at different times,  I enjoyed visiting countries around the Mediterranean, and one of the first American Navy ships to visit Bulgaria in 50 years.

As a kid who joined the Navy out of high school,  I had been itching to get away from the desert.  I never understood why my old Navy mentors, WWII sailors would have settled in Arizona and not near the sea. “We have had plenty of ocean.  I am here because it is all beach”.   After eight years of sea-duty, I understood that comment.   And I was glad that I had a love of history and foreign languages to complement my technical profession.  I’ve met and hung out with Spaniards in Cartagena, Spain.  Enjoyed smoky jazz and partying with the French in Toulon and Paris,   and sipped cappuccino in Catania, Sicily, Naples and Trieste.  By the way,  Trieste was also the place I was cussed out, in German, by a shopkeeper with he presumed, a German tourist and his lousy italian!

Whether visiting the historical sites of the Minoan civilization – and a 4000 year old queen’s working toilet,  or seeing the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem,  I was grateful for my teachers from high school and college for fostering my interests.

In wartime,  there are often too little focus on the wonder of travel and the opportunities to get to know people.  The world is still full of wonderful places and people, but also dangers that sobers an American’s optimism at times.  In an age when political forces are talking walls and not tackling the forces that cause people to come to the United States,  we have put bandages and temporary dams up.   There are forces also that want there to be no restrictions, and yet are unwilling to discuss the restrictions existing in the travelers own countries.  And language and education advocates want to change history and eliminate a common language.  All of these are just as ignorant as those who have never travelled to faraway places.   America used to lead the world in the post-WWII years not solely out of the hubris of a few, but because it defied the hatreds, disunity, and class struggles of ninety percent of the world’s population.    When Americans travelled to places outside the US, whether in the military or for other purposes, they would get assurances that we had it pretty wonderful.

Reading Mark Twain’s Innocence Abroad, I would love for us to have some of that innocence again.

40, 7 and 2: lucky numbers

I moved my first attempt at blogging from Blogger to WordPress today.  My other blog  are observations of daily life mostly reflected in adventures and sometimes misadventures of my two dogs.   This blog,  Truths, Half-truths and Sea Stories,   I hope you will find entertaining and thought-provoking.    It is my second blog hosted on WordPress, and expresses more salty insight into daily events.

I retired in April 2010 ( 7 years ago),  after combined Active, Retired, and Inactive service of more than 32 years in the United States Navy.   I took my initial ASVAB aptitude test while the Vietnam War was all but ended ( 1975), entered bootcamp when Jimmy Carter was President (1977), and then re-enlisted into Active Duty after George H. W. Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan as President.  Since I retired as a Reservist,  I am eligible to claim a pension starting at age 60 ( 2 years from now).