Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club
By: Garland Davis
The novel and movie, “Mister Roberts” pictures life aboard a “bucket” that tiresomely traffics between the islands of Tedium and Apathy with side trips to Monotony.
This is my story of a WestPac at the end of the war in Vietnam. My ship also made those stops at Tedium, Apathy and Monotony. We also frequently visited Exhaustion and Total Exhaustion.
I reported into a Pearl Harbor-based Destroyer of DesRon 11 in early September of 1972 as a CS1. I was to be the leading cook. The CS2 I was relieving met me and my wife at the airport and carried us to our hotel. I never saw him again. He never returned to the ship. UA and eventually listed as a deserter.
I found a fucking mess when I reported aboard. There were no menus, no records of stores aboard, the chill reefer was full of sour milk and rotting vegetables, the freezer was a shambles, and the dry storerooms looked as if they had been stirred with a stick. No attempt had been made to load out for WestPac. The ship was leaving in ten days.
The galley was filthy and crawling with cockroaches. The cooks were cooking and serving whatever they could find. I went to talk with the Supply Officer and Assistant Supply Officer. I told them what I had found and what it was going to take to get ready to load stores. First I had to know what we had aboard before I could order and it was going to take a major evolution to empty and clean the reefers and salvage what I could. The storerooms would need to be emptied and cleaned and restocked. Then I could hold and inventory and get an order done.
I was thinking that it was a good thing I had sent my wife to Japan to stay with her family during the cruise. I would have seen very little of her during the days before we departed for WestPac.
The Supply Officer managed to get me a twenty hand working party of Sea Scouts who were aboard for two weeks. I worked those boy’s asses off. Within three days, I was able to get an inventory completed and an order done. Once I had accountability established and stores coming aboard, I turned my attention to the menu and the galley. I restricted all the cooks and mess cooks and after supper on Friday evening, we held field day in the Galley, Mess Decks, and Scullery. I was ready for WestPac two days early.
The morning we departed, two more CS’s and two mess cooks missed movement. I thought I was to do the entire cruise three cooks and two mess cooks short but a CS1 reported in Subic after a first short stint on the gun line.
About this time the North Vietnamese walked out of the Paris Peace Talks. This pissed Nixon off. We were en route to Hong Kong in early December when they turned us around and sent us to the Tonkin Gulf. Until the shooting stopped we were either sitting on station awaiting firing orders, chasing a carrier back and forth while they strove for nineteen over the deck, or ran into Haiphong harbor and shot up the shipping. With the exception of plane guard, it was shoot all night, rearm and refuel all day and get a little sleep if possible.
Being short of cooks in the galley and I was the only one who knew how to bake, I was working eighteen and twenty hour days overseeing the cooks and mess cooks during the day and baking half the night.
The whole crew walked around like zombies. A group of PO1’s took over my reefer decks for an evening crap game when possible. I don’t think there was a big winner. The game probably had five hundred bucks in it. They could have accomplished as much by making up a watch bill designating who was to hold the money on a particular day. They got pissed at my CS1 and me because he went down one night and won the money. He bought money orders and mailed it to his wife the next day. That pretty much ended the crap games.
We got a few days chasing the carrier. The tempo of rearming and refueling slowed down and we were able to get a little rest. A surprise, a CSSN was high lined over from the carrier with orders to us. Someone in the bureau had forgotten to let us know he was coming. He was an “A” School graduate and had a little baking experience. Took a load off me. Still had to help him, but didn’t have to do it all myself.
I had taken the advancement exams for CSC in February 1971. I had passed the test and was eligible for promotion, but my advancement had a Bureau Hold placed on it. I was investigated for cheating on the test. For over a year before I left North Island, I probably was in the ONI CID offices, at least, three times per week. Two men in civilian clothes, I later learned that they were both W-3’s, questioned me over and over.
They always started with, “Did you have prior knowledge of the questions on the advancement exam for Chief Commissaryman?”
This is where I let my smart mouth overload my dumbass, I would always answer with, “Yes!”
Of course their next question was, “How did you know what was on the test?”
Every time, I answered, “I studied.”
Now I don’t know how I did on the test. One of the investigators told me I aced it. The other said I missed one question.
Now we are on the gun line in February 1973, almost two years after I took the test. While my advancement was on hold, I was not permitted to take subsequent advancement exams.
It was shortly after supper and I am in the galley with the baker when the bridge passes, “Chief Petty Officer Davis lay to the bridge!” I knew they weren’t talking about me. I continued on with what I was doing. The BTC came to the galley door and said, “That’s you Dave, they want you on the bridge.” He handed me a green log book and said, “This will be your charge book.”
The first notation in my charge book was, “Appearing in front of the Commanding Officer in an improper uniform.” Signed Ray Harbrecht, CDR, USN. He also gave me a copy of a message that authorized advancing me to CSC effective May 16, 1971.
The Chiefs scrounged enough uniforms for me to get through a few days until I was high lined to the Ranger where I was able to purchase work khakis and brown shoes. I filled out my sea bag when we finally got to Subic.
I locked horns with the XO a couple of time over steel beach cookouts. He was determined that a steel beach was the best way to improve morale on the gun line. Every time he planned one, something happened to cancel it. Twice we cooked steaks in the galley instead of on deck. The third time he planned one, I told him that I was out of steak. He said order more. When I tried to explain to him that beef was ordered in units and for every case of steak, you had to take four cases of ground beef, two cases of oven roast, two cases of pot roast, and etc. He got mad at me and told me he would get the steak. He ordered eight cases. We ended up with three pallets of beef and no room to store it. We transferred it to the carrier along with the steak. The Supply Officer told me that he was telling the Wardroom that I didn’t explain the rudiments of ordering beef to him.
While on the gun line the XO, would walk around the ship between rearming or refueling evolutions and then call the Officers and Chiefs and chew us out because people were sleeping. He would then have the word passed, “All Hands Turn to, Titivate the Ship!”
The Senior Chief Fire Controlman took a lot of the XO’s wrath off me. He had Narcolepsy and was retired after we returned to Pearl. He could fall asleep between spoonsful of soup. The XO would get mad at him for sleeping while he was talking. He sent him for evaluation in Subic and he was flown to Pearl. We had a retirement ceremony for him after we returned. Of course he slept through it.
About the time we arrived in Hawaii, my CS1 learned that he had made CSC and would be frocked to Chief on August 16. The ship was told to transfer either of us to one of the Tankers homeported in Hawaii. I had barely started the planning to bring my wife from Japan to Pearl when the Supply Officer told me that the XO was adamant that I be the one to go to the tanker.
I told the Supply Officer, “All you guys are going to do is get inspected right and left and told that you are not ready to fight the war that we just fought. The AO is leaving for WestPac next week. I’ll take WestPac over that bullshit any day. As a friend of mine said, when the SubPac detailer threatened to send him to a diesel boat home ported in Subic, ‘Master Chief, throw me in that fuckin’ briar patch’”
And that is how I made Chief. Probably would have made Senior and Master Chief, but I never learned to prevent my smart mouth from putting too much of a load on my dumbass.