1) I spent first seven years of my life, 1953 to 1960, in Alaska. I DID NOT LIVE IN AN IGLOO. My Dad was in the USAF. During those seven years, I saw a lot of snow, was on a local kiddie show, and saw President Eisenhower (from a distance).
2) During the next ten years, my brother and I would be enrolled in about six different schools. Dad was still in USAF and we were always on the move. Never in one place more than two years. One of those moves took the entire family to Tehran, Iran. This was from 1966 to 1968 when the Shah was still in power and (supposedly) still loved by the masses.
3) Whether because of all these moves or my own laziness, my school grades suffered. I was a poor student. I had to take summer school in order to get my high school diploma. I did not graduate with my class.
4) In 1972, against the advice of my Dad and Uncle Roy, I joined US NAVY. They both wanted me to join the Air Farce, but I said screw that. I always had a fascination for the sea and I had read a lot of swashbuckling stories of adventure on the high seas. That was for me.
5) It was in the Navy that I learned the facts of life. I was a Mid-western boy on my own and was quick to fall to the temptations of sex, drugs, and rock n' roll. I spent 30 days in the brig for possession of Mary Jane.
6) It was while I was in the Navy and aboard the USS OKLAHOMA CITY CLG-5, that I experienced my only brush with the war in Vietnam. It was April 1975. I was 22 years old. Our ship was part of huge armada sent offshore to rescue evacuees from Saigon. My brother was a Marine aboard another ship in the armada. What I witnessed of the 'bug-out from Saigon' was dozens upon dozens of helicopters, mostly private, landing aboard various ships of the fleet and unloading refugees. Our own ship took on a couple hundred people. Most were South Vietnamese, plus a few white men from Embassy, maybe CIA?
After the refugees unloaded, the helicopters were pushed off the ship to land in the drink. These were all privately owned helos and they could not go back to Saigon. No room to store non-military craft, so off the ship they went with a SPLASH! I saw a helo hover not one hundred yards from our ship, then drop as the engine was shut off. A motor whaleboat was sent to pick up pilot. Later I exchanged a dollar bill for some VC currency.
7) I could write a whole volume on my service in Dick Nixon's Navy, but suffice to say, I wasted the three years I served. I was too busy getting laid, stoned, or whatever to care about any Naval future. Other than the debauchery I subjected myself to, I enjoyed life on the high seas. I did get seasick once going through the Taiwan Straits during a typhoon-hell everyone was sick. During my tenure, I got to man the helm up on the bridge, stand lookout with binoculars and sound powered phones, got to swab the decks, polish brass, and paint the bulkheads. I was honorably discharged with a pay grade no higher than E-3 or a PFC.
8) After I returned to 'the world', in 1976, I went to a community college by using my G.I. Bill money. Soon I met a pretty young girl who worked at the local hospital and within a year she had me going to church, where I cleansed myself of my past sins and we soon married.
9) While going to college, I took a class in Civil War History. I was unfamiliar with all the battles, but became fascinated with the instructor. Spellbound by his lectures, I resolved to learn about the war in more detail. During my research, I discovered an ancestor who'd fought on the side of the Union. It was about the same time I discovered reenacting.
10) In 1980, I attended my first Civil War reenactment. It was a farb fest, but I thought it fascinating. Over the last 27 years, I met many great people. I'm proud to have developed lasting friendships. I can share feelings, fears, and frustrations with these guys than I can my own blood family. I understand how a bond can be formed because of soldiering even we don't spill each other's blood as the real combat soldiers did.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
I served aboard the USS Oklahoma City, CLG-5 from Sept 1973 to Sept 1975. The Okie City had a 5 inch gun turret, a 6 inch gun turret, and a TALOS missile system which was situated aft of the ship (for you landlubber's aft mean rear). The two turrets were forward under the bridge (look at picture in my profile).
We were also the flagship of the seventh fleet. We had a rear admiral. He had his own boat called the Admiral's Barge and the Captain of the ship had the Captain's Gig. Go figure.
Since we had the admiral, we traveled quite a bit. In the two years I was aboard, we visited the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, and Guam. Our homeport (where we spent most of our days) was Yokosuka, Japan.
Twice while in Yokosuka, the ship was in dry dock. Technically, the ship sets on blocks and the water is all pumped out. Always amazed that it didn't tip over. Once water is out, Japanese workers run all up and down doing maintenance work. Good thing they didn't hold a grudge. I guess after WWII, they needed all the work they could get. I'll wager some of these workers were old vets themselves. Anyway, no sabotage.
I served under two skippers. First was William A. Kannakaneu, a Hawaiian dude. He was pretty laid back and didn't work us too hard. I think he was skipper during Vietnam and was pretty tired, because in 1974, we got a new skipper, Paul D. Butcher.
It wasn't long before the new skipper earned the nickname, GQ Butcher.
He liked pulling General Quarters Drills and at all hours. Sometimes at night! He even timed us!
All stations had to be manned and ready within a certain time or he'd throw a fit and make us do it again.
By this time Vietnam was over (or so we thought). It had ended April 1973.
Anyway, my GQ station varied.
Sometimes I would serve in the powder magazine. This was an area about five decks below the turret.
About a dozen guys would manhandle fifty-pound canisters of black powder from one area to a pneumatic hoist. The hoist would take the canisters up five decks.
Another time I worked in the shell deck. This was where the shells were stored. Six guys in a round room would manhandle fifty-pound shells to another hoist. This area was a deck above the powder magazine. Watertight doors could seal off these areas from each other.
Sometimes I served on the bridge, either as a helmsman, operating the engine order telegraph, or as a lookout with binoculars and sound powered phones.
A lookout had to be alert, sweep the whole area assigned him, and if a ship spotted, he had to sound off in the phones to the bridge where it was spotted. The lookout had to know that a circle was 360 degrees and any object in the circle was plotted at being so many degrees port or starboard.
For example, if a ship were spotted in the three o'clock position, you'd say that it was at 045 degrees off the starboard side, or some such nonsense. I think you catch my drift.
Despite all the GQ drills, live on the sea was fun.
Earlier, I said we had the admiral.
Well, he liked showing the flag at different ports.
Of all the places we visited, the sailor's favorite was Olongapo City, Philippines inside Subic Bay. Just outside main gate was a living and breathing Sin City filled with many vices to tempt a young serviceman and his wallet. Problem with Philippines was there was a curfew. Had to off streets by midnight. Filipino army was on the streets at 12:01. Made the mistake once in being out past midnight in Manila. Two Filipino soldiers pulled up in an army jeep. Both were strapped with sidearms. A 50 caliber machine gun was mounted on the jeep. Looked right out of Rat Patrol, but these boys weren't grinning. However, they would accept a bribe. My buddy and I had a couple B girls with us. The girls and the soldiers jipper jappered in that monkey language for a few minutes, then the girls gave the two soldiers about $100 US dollars to look the other way. We all could've ended up in a nasty Filipino jail cell that night, but greed won out.
Twice we sailed into Hong Kong. It was quite the modern city. I took a tour with a few guys on a bus that went all around the island. We took a boat across the bay and had lunch in a floating restuarant. It was my first taste with Mongolian BBQ. I fell in love with Oriental cooking and learned to use chopsticks with some dexterity. In Hong Kong there are dozens of tailor shops. I had a pair of bell bottom pants, a silk shirt, and a pair of snake skin boots made. That's right! Snake skin boots. I had seen a pair worn by a member of Three Dog Night and I wanted a pair. They were the size of Beatle boots, just barely went up to mid calf. They had a zipper on the side and 4 inch platform heels. I don't recall the price, but probably half a paycheck. I was looking sweet! I knew one guy that had a pair of blue suede shoes made and another guy who got a leather motor cycle jacket. By some twist of fate, I now own that biker jacket.
Hong Kong was also were guys could buy heroin. I never did any of that crap, but knew a couple of guys who O.D. 'd on board the ship because they were using H.
We had a lot of drugs pass through the ship. Heroin, pot, LSD,coke, and speed. We had an officer, a LTJG, who was busted for having grass in his overnight bag. Instead of jail time, I think he was asked to resign from the Navy. I was caught with a gram of hashish in my possession and I served 30 days in the ship's brig. But that is for a later tale.
I told you that our ship's homeport was Yokosuka, Japan. Homeport means were the ship spent most of its time. Some guys had bought homes and apartments in Japan. A buddy and I had an apartment for a few months. It was best discribed as a flophouse. Only one room, no furniture. It was a place to crash after an all night binge. To heat the place in winter we had a kerosene heater. Stinky!
Outside the main gate at Yokosuka Naval Station, and up a block or two, was the Strip. There were about two dozen bars that catered to sailors and Marines. It was similar to Strip outside base in Olongapo City, Philippines except no midnight curfew. One of the fav bars was called the ZIGZAG after the reefer paper. Rock and roll music played in most of these bars. In Olongapo City, there were live bands. These were Filipinos who played American Music. Some of these Filipino bands adopted a particular band and music to showcase. What today we call a cover band. One band would play nothing but Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple music all night. Smoke On the Water was played so often by so many Oriental bands, I grew to hate that song. One Filipino bar had a lady that sang like Janis Joplin and another group of Flips that played Alice Cooper music-I kid you not!
Back to Japan. Sometimes a few of us would take the Japanese light rail into Tokyo were we'd look at a few bars or just cruise. They had a McDonald's and a couple other American eatery's in Tokyo. This was '73-'74. There was also a lot of Picinkco machines. This were silly little silver marble machines that played like a slot machine. Hundreds of them. In Japan I discovered the first video game, PONG.
Sometimes a buddy and I would go to a rock concert in Tokyo, then stay in a fancy hotel for the night. In Tokyo I saw Three Dog Night, Eric Clapton, and Rod Stewart.
A favorite night club in Tokyo was called Moogans. It had an upper and lower floor. On the upper floor you could look down on the dancers. They also played live music. One band I saw a couple times was Edwin Starr. This was the guy who did "War, what is it good for, absolutely nothing." Saw him a couple times at Moogans. Saw the Exorcist in Tokyo. In was in English with Japanese subtitles. I remember a friend was grosses out and wanted to leave. I just laughted through most of the flick. A lot of Japs left the theatre at same time as my buddy.
On the Yokosuka Naval Station there was the usual on base entertainments, a bowling alley, a gym, a library, a PX, a cafeteria/snack bar, and a movie theatre. Used to smuggle Sloe Gin into movie house then mix with soda pop. Another time about six of us had just smoked some Thai stick Mary Jane. After that we all went into movie house to see Blazing Saddles. Needeless to say, we all laughed till we either cried or pissed ourselves or both.