Posted by: davidbowerkingwood | February 19, 2018

Once Upon a Time I was in the Navy

Coping with the Draft Board

Although I was in college, a member of the United States Naval Reserve, an active candidate for a reserve officer commission and married, I still had gotten my draft notice from the draft board. When it came in I could hardly believe this had happened; I was more than willing to serve as an officer in the Navy after graduation and was even planning on that as a part of my commitment to the USNR.

I took the notice to my commanding officer but was told once the draft notice had come in there was nothing they could do; the die had been cast and I would be going into the armed forces in some capacity somewhere. I took the required testing and was given the option of signing up for the USAF or the Army but there was one other thing I could do; I could volunteer for active duty in the Navy. Since the Navy was more familiar territory and I was already a non-commissioned officer I did not have to spend much time deciding on the Navy option.

By volunteering for active duty in the Navy I satisfied the draft board that I would be serving in a branch of the military so that made them happy. My life had now taken a dramatic, and totally unexpected turn; for the next two years my life belonged to the United States Navy.

I must confess that I was not a happy camper; I knew the draft was in operation but I somehow thought my Naval Reserve status as an officer candidate, being married and in college would give me some protection from the draft. I had really expected to serve after graduation as an officer but to have this happen was most unsettling. I resigned myself to serving my time and then turning my back on the military and trying to get on with my life; God made it clear He had different plans for my life.

While this was unsettling for me it was even worse for my wife; she was sending me off and neither of us had the slightest clue where I would be going. I checked out of TCU and we moved back to Houston so she could stay with her parents while I was serving. My orders came and I was told to report to the Receiving Station in Charleston, South Carolina; from there I would be transferred to my first duty assignment.

Anchors Aweigh My Boy

Although this was near the end of the Korean war my first duty assignment was far removed from Korea; I was assigned to the Fifth Naval District and sent to a WWII Destroyer Escort, the USS Hemminger DE 746 to report for duty.The DE class destroyer was diesel powered and intended for convoy protection; of course, the jazzy paint job had been replaced with solid Navy gray by the time I was assigned to her. Because of its diesel engines it could cross the Atlantic without needing to refuel; while not so speedy as a Fleet Destroyer, which was powered by steam, it was much faster and more maneuverable than the cargo ships it was escorting across the Atlantic and faster than the German submarines sent to sink Allied shipping.

The Fifth Naval District was using her as a training ship for Naval Reservists from all over the Eastern half of the United States. We would pick up a group of reservists and take them on a two weeks training cruise and treat them to a liberty port at midpoint in the training. One of our favorite stops was Havana, Cuba, this was pre-Castro and Havana was a very happy place.

Later, when I heard Castro had taken over, it was really hard for me to imagine the happy people I had seen in Havana under the rule of a Communist dictator.

The time came when I was to be transferred to another ship; this time I was being assigned to a small coastal minehunter that had been adapted for special testing of a new harbor defense system, the USS Gillis, GS 13. This was considered floating land duty so my wife decided to join me in the Norfolk area. It was during this phase we finally got our first car, a 1954 Volkswagen sedan. We had a small apartment in Bay View, Virginia; when I say small I really mean small; it was part of a front porch that had been enclosed and turned into a tiny apartment. While it was small, we were together again.

The appearance of the Gillis failed to convey its important mission for the Fifth Naval District; there was a great concern over the safety of the waters of Chesapeake Bay and the Gillis was spearheading the development of a system of harbor defense that would protect shipping in the bay from enemy mines that could be secretly deployed.

We had very advanced sonar and radar gear on board and specially designed equipment that was being tested. Once when a test plane crashed in the Potomac, just outside Washington, D.C. we were called upon to try and help locate all the wreckage we could find with our superior sonar; all the test planes of that class were grounded until it was determined what caused the crash. That lasted several weeks then we returned to Chesapeake Bay.

Top Heavy with Brass

We would often have a large number of high ranking Naval officers on board who would be checking our progress. I’m talking admirals, captains, and the like. After the tests we would return to port and all that brass would be on the flying bridge, the top bridge on the ship. My duty station was the pilot house and the signal bridge just below where they would be standing.

We entertained ourselves as we returned to port by watching the large cruisers and aircraft carriers we would pass on our way back to port. Some alert seaman would just happen to look down on our tiny vessel and notice all the high-ranking officers and pass the word to everyone on watch; we could see the crowd develop as they looked down on us and doubtlessly wondered what in the world all the high-ranking brass could be doing on that tiny vessel. I suspect they never figured out that one.

My Last Assignment

In the Navy, when the ship is ordered to transfer personnel, they look for those with the shortest time left to serve, they are called a “short timer.” By that time I was a short timer so I got transferred again. This time it was to a large ocean-going tug boat called the USS Samoset ATA 190.

The Samoset was also attached to the Fifth Naval District and got all sorts of weird jobs; surprisingly I was the ranking non-commissioned office in my category so I was in charge of navigation and visual communication. In a way that was very interesting, it was my job to make sure all of our navigational charts were up to date and to plot our courses when we were sent somewhere.

I bunked in the chartroom just behind the pilot house and had the responsibility to make sure we got where we were supposed to be going. It got to the point I would wake up any time there was a change in speed or direction; I would glance at the clock and see the change was authorized by the course I had set then go back to sleep. I rather enjoyed the responsibility.

One of our longest assignments involved testing a torpedo protection device; this took us to Key West, Florida where we stayed for several weeks. We would tow the target behind us while torpedoes were fired at the target; fortunately, there were no accidents.

It was not too much later that I was discharged from the Navy and free to return to the life I had known. Next, we were going to try and pick up where we had left off, but that was easier said than done; more on that next time.


Responses

  1. Soooo interesting. I’m proud that you served our country in the Navy. I love you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My Navy time was a completely different life from anything I have otherwise experienced; I’m glad to have had the opportunity. I love you too!

      Like

  2. It was wonderful that Adele could be with you, albeit in a tiny apartment! God has been faithful! I love hearing of your adventures as a “tin can sailor,” David. Thank you so much for sharing. And THANK YOU for your service! We owe you and all who served a debt that can never be repaid. xox

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I always enjoy reading your blog, David. So well written and very captivating! I loved the pictures of the ships, too! I also thank you for your service!

    Like

    • Thank you Sheila; those Navy years were a total departure from my life before and after.

      Like


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