The Navy

This is long, but worth your time. Wish I had written it. It’s a long read, but I think it’s a good one.

Garland

The Navy

Before you get all up in my face ’bout what I’m ’bout to ramble on about, lemme first say that I know the human memory tends to heavily discriminate the stuff it stores, cataloguing things the way it wants to and reserving special places for certain select events, sounds, sights, smells, and scenes.  And not only does it selectively edit things in and out, but it tends to embellish events with its individualized set of filters, ethics, morals, priorities, and tastes, magnifying some episodes and minimizing others.

O.K.  That said, I recently came across something that triggered memories of my early experiences in the Navy.  ‘Smatterafact, lotsa things do that as I get older.  My holistic retrospect on my 24 years in the USN is quite positive, and I often willingly go back to relive what were my most exciting and satisfying times .  .  .  all the way from a raw unranked boot in San Diego to the guy responsible for maintenance and repair of elex comm & crypto equipment for CincPac, SubPac, CinCPacFlt, Com7thFlt, and several other high-powered commands in Hawaii.

Hair all shaved off.  Personal effects confiscated.  Clothes that didn’t fit.  Strangers yelling stuff at me I didn’t fully understand.  Food that tasted like stewed dirt.  Beds that spoke of the hundreds who’d slept in ’em before.  Marching in formation with guys wearing exactly the same clothes I had to wear, carrying an out-of-date rifle with which I had to master and demonstrate skills useful in no situation my fertile imagination could conceive.

My entire personality dragged out, ridiculed, abused, and tossed on a scrap heap only to be replaced by one that knee-jerked instantly to commands and single-mindedly carried out lawful orders, even though no one had ever explained to me what exactly an unlawful order might have been.  No longer was I a college boy pursuing liberal arts and intellectual growth but a cog in a 72-man machine dedicating every single waking moment to causing no demerits to the company during inspections, drills, skill training, or parades.

Home was a narrow cot in an open-bay barracks featuring gang showers and rows of sinks, urinals, and commodes with no provisions for individuality, much less privacy.  Lights out happened when the Company Commander decided we’d absorbed enough humiliation for that day, that our lockers were properly stowed, that our shoes were properly shined, our barrack was properly cleaned, and that we clearly understood that we were still useless raw meat that some unfortunate Chief Petty Officer would one day be burdened with molding into halfway decent sailors.

Reveille was 0500, even before the seagulls which swooped down to pick up the lungers off the grinder were up yet.  Formation was 20 minutes later, after shaving and dressing and fixing bunks and being reminded that the coming night would indeed be damned short if we screwed up ANYthing that day.

Breakfast was hard-boiled eggs and beans and soggy toast one day, chipped-something-or-other on soggy toast the next, greasy fried mystery stuff with soggy toast the next, hamburger with tomato sauce on soggy toast the next, and all served with something vaguely white called “reconstituted milk” and a dark, vile, burnt-smelling but otherwise tasteless fluid some would-be comedian labeled “Coffee.” One good thing, though .  .  ..  you could have as much as you could eat in the 15 minutes you were allowed inside for breakfast.  Lunch and supper were always filling and nutritious, even if often unpalatable, indefinable, and unrecognizable.

It was cold all morning out marching around toward no place in particular, and hot in the barracks at night when the giant inventory of our individual and collective miscreancies was recited to us by members of our own group temporarily endowed with positional authority over us.

And I loved it.  I’d go back and do it again if they’d let me and I thought my digestive system could survive it.  Yes, I loved it, yet I counted the days, the hours, the minutes that I had left to endure in that young-adult Boy Scout camp before I could go see the real Navy and have some fun .  .  .  AND get paid.

Once actually out IN the real Navy, I was astonished at the importance, the almost religious reverence, that people in khakis showered upon two things: control over the free time of non-rated personnel, and rust.  To me the sole purpose of Chief Petty Officers was to ensure that anybody in pay grades E-1, E-2, and E-3 get dirty as soon as possible after morning quarters and NEVER have an opportunity to go ashore and act like sailors (i.e., drink beer and bring great discredit upon their beloved United States Navy).

My first assignment after boot camp was on a tanker whose duty was to fuel ships anchored beyond the breakwater, deliver AvGas and MoGas to detachments on islands off the California Coast (San Clemente, Santa Catalina, and others), and defuel ships going into the yards for overhauls or extensive refits.

When not involved in the specific act of transferring fuel in one direction or another, my primary value was in ferreting out and annihilating pockets of rust everywhere on the ship except in the engineering spaces, where my red-striped non-rated peers busied themselves at the same thing, except that their enemy was oil, grease, steam, and water leaks.

Six months later, now a fully-fledged sailor in all respects with three white stripes on my left arm, I got orders to Electronics Technician School at Treasure Island (San Francisco), where my primary duty was to listen to fatally boring lectures on basic electricity and make absolutely certain that my shoes were spitshined at all times.

A giant conspiracy existed amongst the staff, primarily the CPOs, at the school command to do everything in their power to keep those of us who had actually been to sea from contaminating the ones who’d come to school straight from recruit training.  The strategy consisted mainly of ensuring that we fail enough quizzes and tests to require our spending all our evenings at night study, thereby keeping us from going into town or to the club to fill our bellies with beer and our eyes with the silicone boobies of Broadway.

Probably what amazed me even more than the fanatical interest that Schools Command CPOs had in ascertaining that everyone’s shoes reflected light better than polished onyx was the number of people who couldn’t take the pressure of boot camp or service schools and went to extreme lengths, such as bed wetting, to get out of the Navy and go back home to Mama.

Other than its unnatural interest in shoe shines and haircuts, tho, the Navy’s plan was beginning to make sense to me.  First you got stripped down nekkid, both inside and out, all your strengths were identified and your weaknesses exposed, you were shown how to do a job, and then you were sent out into the field to see if you could hack it.  In front of you at all times were both good examples and bad examples: you saw the carrot side reflected in the gold hashmarks on Chiefs who’d learned how to work within the system and you saw the stick side in the red ones on career E-5s who either couldn’t cut it or didn’t know how not to get caught.

Everybody smoked.  Everybody drank beer.  Everybody had a disgustingly nasty coffee cup.  Everybody cussed, except when the chaplain or some officer’s wife was around.  You did your job, and if you were good at it, you got pay increases through promotions.  You pissed people off and didn’t get the message, you stayed in the lower pay grades and got really good at handling brooms, trash cans, and scrub brushes.

The Navy I joined had the old-fashioned Chiefs, those keepers of tradition, guardians of ancient lore, solvers of problems .  .  .  those grouchy, irascible, sarcastic, but indispensable guys who’d been around longer than anybody else on the ship, except maybe the Captain.  They knew where everything was, how everything worked, what everything was for, and who was responsible for what.

Becoming a CPO was really a big deal in that Navy, involving a time-honored festival of near-orgiastic silliness designed to close out the years of irresponsible ignorance with one last naked dance through the fires of humiliation and excoriation to emerge reborn as full-grown lion guarding the gates of the repository of all useful knowledge.

Amongst the Chief’s primary duties were making sailors out of farm kids and smartalecs and goldbricks and Mama’s boys, showing them the skills and qualities required for them to fill his shoes when the time came for him to retire his coffee cup.  The Chief nominally reported to a young butterbar whom he had the awesome challenge of transforming into a leader of those other young men he was making sailors of.

Chief reported to the Ensign, but he delivered the real status to the Ensign’s boss, usually a seasoned Lieutenant or Lieutenant Commander.

Chief generally had a special relationship with both the XO and CO, both of whom sought his advice and assistance in all sorts of problems and situations.  His niche and his positional authority were well established and completely understood by every member of the crew.  Any white hat entering the Goat Locker had better have his hat in his hand and a damned good reason and Heaven help him if he forgot to knock first.

Today .  .  .  I’m not so sure I’d make it.  Chief no longer has that special relationship with CO and XO, and he rarely does business directly with his department head.  As soon as he sheds his dungarees and shifts into khakis, he enters a confusing political arena of Senior Chiefs, Master Chiefs, Warrant Officers, and LDOs all doing what the Chief used to do.  He’s simply gone from technician to supervisor, and his initiation has become as watered down as his authority.

In the Navy of the 50s and 60s, traditions aboard ship were honored, cherished, and observed.  Various initiations occurred from time to time, such as making Chief or crossing the equator, during which rookies or newbies were ritually cleansed, humiliated, and physically abused to degrees generally powers of 10 more severe than anything the Gitmo terrorists ever had to endure from their guards.

Such episodes served the purpose of reminding every member of the crew that new experiences, new threats, new life-altering events could bring even the proudest and strongest to his knees.  And when the purging was over, the initiates were welcomed as brothers, tougher than before because of what they’d learned they could withstand if necessary.

But it was a good Navy, a Navy that won wars, intimidated dictators, brought relief to victims in faraway lands, had fun, and proudly carried the flag.  And I loved it.  But I’m not entirely sure that what we have today is the natural child of that generation.

In 1960 if you got drunk on liberty, your shipmates got you back to your rack and woke you up in time for you to make morning quarters.  If you found yourself in jail, the Chief or your DivOff would bail you out and work with the local cops to fix whatever you broke, or stole, or lost, or insulted, or forgot to pay for.

Today you get drunk and you wind up in a rehab facility with entries in your service jacket that’ll haunt you for years.

Same thing for behavior on the ship.  In 1960, you mouth off to the Chief or get caught goldbricking one too many times and you got a blanket party, or extra duty, or both until you got your act together.  You also didn’t see much of the quarterdeck or the brow, and you could forget that recommendation to take the next rating exam.

Today you act like a jerk and you wind up in a seminar, or a counseling center, or a psych ward and they load you up with a ton of paper that follows you until you abandon ship and go to work for IBM or AT&T or the local sanitation service.

In 1960 you came out with four-letter words and some heat in your voice toward what you saw as petty rules or regs or some would-be politician, and people either agreed with you or stayed away from you ’til you calmed down.

Today you say “Hell” or “Damn” and you’d better be talking about either the Revelation or furry little aquatic animals with big teeth and flat tails.

In 1960, when they were in schools or on shore duty, sailors lived in barracks and ate in chow halls.

Students in today’s Navy or sailors on shore duty live in hotels like the dormitories rich college kids used to have in the 60s.  They’re called “Unaccompanied Enlisted Personnel Housing Facilities” and look like Ramada Inns.  And sailors today eat in “Dining Facilities” like debutantes, and there aren’t any grouchy old Navy cooks in the back stirring the pots or grumbling mess cooks scrubbing pans and swabbing decks.

In 1960, sailors leaving the ship or station on liberty wore the uniform of the day, either Dress Blues or Whites.  Officers and senior enlisted were often privileged to wear civilian clothes ashore, but not always.

Today’s sailors wear cammies most of the time, and it’s hard to find a sailor in dress uniform any more.

In 1960, the Navy Exchange was there to provide low-cost uniform and toiletry items for sailors and their families.  Selections were limited, but quality was good and savings were considerable on things such as booze, cigarettes, candy, and trinkets.

Today the typical Navy Exchange is a poorly managed, badly stocked, miserably staffed business failure that sees more merchandise go out the back door in a lunch bag than out the front with a sales receipt on it.

You want selection and a good price, go to Wal-Mart.  Commissaries aren’t much better except for meat and cosmetics.

In 1960 many officers had at least some experience in enlisted ranks or engines or management and were patriotic military men who commanded respect by understanding the jobs their personnel did and staying out of their way while they did them, then sending them on liberty when they got the job done.

Many of today’s officers are politicians who are afraid to say what’s actually on their minds for fear of offending someone’s delicate racial, ethnic, cultural, or religious sensitivities.  They’re generally much better at leaping to premature cover-my-six conclusions than making well-researched but tough decisions.

In 1960 sailors went to night clubs and titty bars and kept pin-up pictures of girlfriends or movie stars in their lockers.

Today the girls go to sea with the guys and hope they bought the right brand of condom.  Any sailor looking at a picture of a girl today is doing it either on his blackberry via e-mail or on a porn site with his laptop.

In 1960 you got medals for doing something extraordinary, such as saving lives or preventing disasters or killing and capturing enemies in battle.

Today many sailors get medals for not being late for work for more than 6 months at a stretch and never coming up positive on a random drug test.

In 1960 many sailors were involved in collecting human and signals intelligence and analyzing it.

Today the MAAs collect urine and civilian contractor labs analyze it.

In 1960 we had clear-cut rules of engagement and unambiguous descriptive names for our enemies.  The basic rule of engagement was to wipe out the enemy by whatever means available, and we called them “Red Bastards” or “Commie Sonsabitches” or words our grandmothers wouldn’t like to know we used.

Today we call people who want to destroy us, cut our heads off, enslave our women, end our way of life, “Aggressors” or “Combatants” or “Opposing Forces” or “Islamic Warriors” to avoid offending them.  Our sailors are no longer allowed to kick ass and take names, only to Mirandize and make comfortable

In 1960, victory meant that the enemy was either completely dead or no longer had the ability to resist, that all his machines and networks were captured or out of commission, that he had surrendered or been locked up, that the fight was over and he accepted defeat.

Today we declare victory when the opposing forces call time out, insist that it was all a big mistake, and that they’ll stop resisting if we rebuild their cities, their refineries, their factories, their infrastructure.

The Navy I joined was easy to understand.  It was organized and straightforward.  The hard workers got the bennies and the shirkers got the brooms, and everybody in between was anonymous and safe so long as his shoes stayed shined and his hair never touched his ears or his collar.  Chiefs ran the place and officers did the paperwork until required to put on their zebra shirts and referee bouts between CPOs engaged in pissing contests.

Anything a sailor needed to know, the Navy taught him, from tying knots to operating fire-control computers on 16-inch guns.  A sailor never had to worry about what he was going to wear; that decision was made for him and published in the Plan of the Day, which was read every morning at quarters, usually by the Chief, the source of continuity, stability, and purpose for everyone in the division.

Today a kid can’t even get in the Navy unless he finished high school and has a clean record with law enforcement.  He’s expected to be keyboard literate from day 1, and he speaks a completely different language from what his Korean- or VietNam-War grandfather spoke, no matter if that was English or what.  He doesn’t play baseball, or football, or hockey; he plays golf, and tennis .  .  .  more often on a Wii than on a course or court.  The modern Navy doesn’t keep people around to dump trashcans and scrub galleys and clean heads; that’s done by civilian contractors..  And the majority of CPOs today are expected to either HAVE a degree of some kind or be working toward getting one soon.

Today’s successful Navy non-com is a paper-chasing button pusher, not a sweat-stained commie killer.

Today’s sailor is in touch with his “significant others” by e-mail or cell fone almost anywhere he’s sent.  The idea of a 6-month deployment to Southeast Asia with no contact other than snail mail seems cruel and unusual torture to him.

No, it’s doubtful I could succeed in today’s Navy as I did in yesterday’s.  I prefer my triggers to be on pistols and rifles, not on joysticks controlling surveillance drones and other bots.  My policy as a division officer was never to tell a tech to do something that I couldn’t do myself, much less that I didn’t understand.  Today I’d have to learn a completely new vernacular and become familiar with a strange culture before even TALKing to my troops.

And though it dates me and cements me into a mindset that’s fallen out of fashion, I think I liked the Navy that I joined better than the one we have today.  Yes, of course the capabilities we have now are wider, more sophisticated, more potentially effective.  But they’re more fragile, too, and techs can’t even FIND the discreet components in a printed circuit board any more, much less actually isolate a bad one and replace it.

I’ve let technology pass me by, willingly and completely.  My skill set is anchored in tubes and resistors and 18-guage wire and cathode-ray tubes and hand-held multi-meters and bench-mounted o-scopes that weighed 120 lbs.  But still, I LIKE those old Chiefs with the pot bellies and the filthy coffee cups and the scarred knuckles and the can-do attitude backed up by years of hands-on experience, both on the job and in the bars all over the world.

I LIKED guys like Harry Truman who weren’t afraid to make hard choices and fire egomaniacs and take personal responsibility for their own decisions.  It was GOOD to see people standing on a beach or a pier waving when the ship pulled in, knowing there’d be dancing and singing and fistfighting and dangerous liaisons, not snipers with Russian-made rifles and lunatics planting IEDs along the streets.

Yes, we lived with the omnipresent fear of instant nuclear annihilation, mutually assured destruction, uncertainty about tomorrow, and all that.

But it seemed that the government was on our side, that our country did good things throughout the world, that the US was the best place to live on the planet and our presidents didn’t feel they had to apologize for a goddam thing to anygoddambody.

It’s not so much that I want a do-over; I just want teachers, and senators, and taxi-drivers, and clerks, and college professors, and congressmen, and judges, and doctors, and kids growing up to see my country the way we all saw it in 1960 .  .  .  as a strong, charitable, fun-loving, loyal, don’t-piss-me-off place with no patience for petty tyrants and loonies.

I wonder what my British counterpart might feel about the direction HIS country’s taken in the last 60 years or so.  Probably much the same as what the native-born Roman Legionnaire of the 4th century felt when he saw what had become of his beloved SPQR.

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The Ugly Contest

The Ugly Contest

By: David ‘Mac’ McAllister

It was a hot sultry night in the Philippines. I lay in bed, skin wet and clammy with passion spent perspiration, the stale taste of beer on my breath. The oscillations of the floor fan across my body lulling me to the brink of sleep. The last thing I remember before dozing off – rats scurrying on the window sill in the moonlight.

It was close to dawn as my internal alarm clock faithfully started to rouse me from my slumber. As I lay in that glorious twilight between sleep and consciousness my mind drifted back to the night before. Prolonging the inevitable as long as possible I remembered the Hole in the Wall and the terms of the Ugly Contest. As the reality of deeds done set in, my senses raced to wakeful horror. Fully awake now, I was afraid to open my eyes for fear of what I may find next to me; besides, there was something nibbling on my feet – RATS.

As my eyelids snapped open like window shades, there she was at the foot of the bed; that fucking baby duck, the one I bought and didn’t have the heart to feed to the crocodile at Pauline’s, in her hands allowing it to peck at the soles of my feet. Reflexes brought my legs and torso upright, knees meeting at my chin. As my vision cleared and the San Miguel haze abated in the dimly lit room, I noted all she was wearing was a pair of golden hoop earrings. Jesus, I wasn’t even going to be in the running for the Ugly Contest, what a movie star! I think I was probably going to be late for morning muster at the Hole in the Wall.

Walking out onto Rizal Ave I was greeted by the already hot tropical Sun searing through my bloodshot eyes, two or three dozen roosters crowing and some nitwit singing out “BAAALOOOT!” Hopping in a jeepney. I bounced along in the dusty heat towards the main gate, and my destination.

Now the Hole in the Wall was a little one step go down joint that served as a starting off and finish up hangout for us hole snipes. Depending on how you looked at it, it was either the first den of inequity encountered or the last outpost of passion before crossing the bridge that separated Olongapo from the Naval Station.

Ugly Contests, for the uninitiated, were a cross between and animal act and charity with a little machismo thrown in for good measure. Usually occurring after a day or so in port, the basics are as follows: All participants put twenty or thirty pesos into the pot, then scour the night for the ugliest girl they could find, take her home and meet up the next morning with her in tow. The lucky sailor with the winner, as judged by his peers, got bragging rights plus a small portion of the pot; while the majority of the winnings were given to the girl.

Stepping out of the jeepney, I was greeted by the aromatic stench of Shit River which was met on its way down by last night’s beer trying to come up. Swallowing hard, I negotiating the returning crowd of sailors, stepped down into the Hole in the Wall and quickly ordered beers for the crew awaiting my late arrival. Picking mine up, I inspected the label ensuring it said Philippines and not Manila, wiped the neck on my shirt tail and finger popped the bottle opening. Little trick’s, learned the hard way, to avoid the horrid San Magoo’s. A long pull on the cold sweet beer settled my rebelling stomach and washed the bad taste of the river smell away. Not having a horse in the race, I was relinquished to spectator status this morning. So leaning against the bar, sipping on the beer, I settled in to watch the festivities.

From bad past experiences, the Ugly Contest was always referred to as a beauty pageant while the contestants were present. You know ugly girls can get really ugly when their feelings get hurt. A great spectacle was always made and many of the contestants were paraded about by their sponsor’s so as to show off their most despicable qualities.

MM3 was one of those individuals that could shit, shower and shave, put on deodorant and foo foo, then don a brand new tuxedo and still look like crap. His standards of excellence regarding the fairer sex were well below those of an inbred red neck snorkeling after his sister. Consequently, he was hard to beat at these affairs and his notoriety was legendary.

That being said, our newly reported aboard BT1 stepped down into the Hole in the Wall hand in hand with what I would classify as a poster child for revulsion. There wasn’t really one defining trait that set her over and above the rest. It was just that, as they so frequently say on “American Idol”, she had the total package. Thin stringy hair, a few beetle nut stained teeth and eyes that creepy pale color associated with cataracts, she was beyond homely. Her body shape was that of a timepiece alright; rather than an hourglass, that of a clock – round.

Totally surprised by this unusual turn of events, BT1 was beside himself to be unanimously, although inconspicuously, without contention judged to be the hands down winner without so much as having to do anything but walk in with this lovely.

Well, after the awarding of the grand prize BT1’s honey jumped for joy and hopped around the joint, as well as her chubby little legs would permit, singing “I be d’weenner, I be d’weenner” over and over. Picking up her winnings she placed an unforgettable nauseating lip lock on old BT1 and up and out she went, disappearing into the humanity of the morning rush. As everyone else was left to distance themselves from the specimens that they had drug in, I clapped BT1 on the back and said, “Let’s head out shipmate”. Across the bridge we went, tossing Pesos to the Bonka boat girls, thru the main gate and into a taxi, off for Alava pier. Busily jabbering away congratulating my new shipmate on his victory in unseating MM3, I finally noticed his lack of enthusiasm, response or reflection upon his good fortune. So I poked him in the shoulder and said, “What’s up with you? Aren’t you proud of that shit?” as we jumped out of the cab and started up the brow. He gazed at me through watery eyes and said, “I don’t mind winning, it’s just that that was my wife”.

“Oh!” say’s I.

Now, what the hell do you say to that?

I thought to myself ‘Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clear to the bone’, but instead, said “Well shipmate, beauty is in the eye if the beholder” and left it at that.

He and I became regular shipmates; however, I never did see him in the Hole in the Wall again.

David “Mac” McAllister a native of California, now resides in the Ozark Mountains of Southwest Mo. Having served in Asia for the majority of his 24-year Navy career, he now divides his time as an over the road trucker, volunteer for local veteran repatriation events and as an Asia Sailor Westpac’rs Association board member and reunion coordinator. In his spare time, he enjoys writing about his experiences in Westpac and sharing them online with his Shipmates.

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The Rest of the Story

The Rest of the Story
VFP-63 NAS Miramar
April 1982

Now I never made a cruise with my friend PHCS Jerry Govia even though we were in the same squadron We were always in different Dets, but I did spend a lot of time on the water with him fishing, waiting for the fish to bite or in most cases not bite. We would pass the many hours just talking, telling stories I always enjoyed Jerry’s Story’s, he had that distinct Rural Arkansas mannerism that was both insightfully and amusing.
Now I was a single Senior Chief at the time (Between marriages). Jerry was a married Senior Chief with Kids. I tried to have as many female companions as I could bag while in port. Jerry, being married, sometimes like to hear about my exploits.

One day we got to conversing about the “sound” ones sexual partners emanate during love making. We talked about screamers and moaners, biters and scratcher’s, lovers and cursers and just about everything two Navy Chiefs could conjuror up sitting in a fishing boat.

Jerry remarked to me “You know Okie I like doing it with mirrors”

I was hesitant to pursue his statement “Mirrors” I repeated

He quickly added “You know those Concave mirrors– the ones that make things look bigger”

I let out a Nervous spontaneous laugh

Adding to his humors vein I asked “for whom– you or your partner”

He replied “Me of course”

He explained “I like to think of myself as one of those Macho mother fuckers– hung like a horse”

I had played right into his witty line of thought “Really” I injected

In that slow southern draw “Yeah you know take a big old dong and screw a woman until she passes out”

Jerry just laughs and spits a wad of tobacco in the water “No really I WISH, I could just once, screw a woman until she passes out, now that would take a Macho mother fucker to do something like that.”

Jerry asks me “Okie wouldn’t you like to do that just once?”

“Well it’s not on my to do list” I answered

You could tell it was on his list as he went back to fishing, chewing his tobacco, gazing out over the water.

Now it was April 1982 our squadron was decommissioning we had no aircraft left so for the rest of the time we had nothing to do work wise. Our Commanding Officer CDR Dave Beam was a 4.0 officer told us to go fishing, play golf, whatever. So we just mustered a few times a week then split.

When we weren’t fishing, us CPO’s would be over at the Chiefs Club gambling/playing shuffleboard, shooting pool, or playing ‘ship captain crew’ (a dice game).

One of the bartenders was a blond from Colorado named Mary. Now I had in the past had relations with Mary she was a good friend and could banter with the chiefs like an old hand. On one occasion I had gone home with her and during the height of our passion Mary passes clean out. I immediately think of Jerry’s wish, I imagine to myself (Man I’m a Macho-Mother-Fucker!!)

Our next fishing trip I’m telling Jerry about Mary Passing out. Jerry was really intrigued with the story so much so that the first chance he gets he goes to the Chiefs club to verify the story.

Jerry “Hey Mary can I ask you a question”

Mary “Sure”

Jerry “Did you take Okie Bob home the other night?”

Mary “Sure did”

Jerry “He said you passed out on him”

Mary “Sure-A-Nuff”

Jerry was astonished! Mary was called away to tend to other customers. Leaving Jerry to weigh the magnitude of the testimonial.

Some more VFP-63 Chiefs drift in; they pretty well had a lock on the horse-shoe bar. Jerry tells the Chiefs about Mary and me.

I walk in and am greeted with a Chiefs chorus of “There that Macho-mother-fucker is”

I’m somewhat confused with the cat calling.

I sat next to Jerry. Jerry confesses that he had quizzed Mary about my claim.

Then I realize that Jerry has gone and told the whole Chiefs Mess my passing out story.

It was like I had taken his dream away from him having performed his wish with Mary!

Mary comes over and asks “Okie what’s all this Macho shit”

“I think Jerry’s got it stirred up,” I said

Mary tells Jerry “I had not finished with what we was talking about” She added “ I didn’t tell you why I passed out”

I was just a beaming thinking about the verification of my virility

Jerry “Go ahead” the whole horse-shoe Bar full of VFP-63 Chiefs got quiet was leaning forward listening.

Mary “Well it’s like this about 10 years ago I was in a car wreck and lost one of my lungs when Okie and me was going at it the other night and He was in the short strokes, He squeezed so hard, all the air left out of me—– so I passed out”

The bar broke out in a Hugh roar. My bubble burst, My one day of Macho fame evaporated!! Poooof!

A big old smile came back on Jerry’s face his wish had gained new life and as Paul Harvey use to say “Now that’s—– the rest of the story”
Okie Bob

 

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Good-bye, Hitomi

Good-bye, Hitomi

By:  Brion Boyles

 

I wrote this a few years ago, posted to the Facebook page of an old friend of mine, Captain Coleman Landers. We were reminiscing about the old US Navy when sailors made bad mistakes and choices but somehow managed to escape the career-ending punishments of today. Different times. Well….here goes one:

“Aboard the supply ship USS WHITE PLAINS (AFS-4), 1984. We had just pulled into Sasebo, Japan, after back-to-back Indian Ocean deployments and nearly 9 months at sea. A freshly-promoted but “salty” 2nd Class Quartermaster, I had re-enlisted in the Navy 2 years earlier in order to return to Japan and marry my sweetheart…a bar girl named Hitomi. Unfortunately, I had signed aboard the most underway ship in the Navy…. no BS. We had spent 23 days that year in Japanese WATERS, never mind actually being in her homeport of Yokosuka, Japan. We were NEVER in port…..always gone …. lobbing jet engines, toilet paper and ice cream at the busy US fleet.

I had learned a few months earlier that my fiancé had run off with the Damage Control Officer of a flashy destroyer, the USS ELLIOT. I learned this by way of a “Dear John” letter I received when we dropped anchor in Phuket, Thailand a couple of months before —a scribbled, pathetic little letter written by her new beaux, no less— which also had enclosed my tiny diamond engagement ring, listed on the customs form as “Costume jewelry, valued $10”. The ELLIOT was part of a Search and Rescue operation that had been lurking around Sasebo for a few months, sniffing around for the little bits of Korean Air Lines flight 007 the Russians had shot down earlier that year, and Lt. Jerk had locked his radar on my gal. He gave her an engagement ring the size of an ashtray and offered her the life of an officer’s wife. His scrawled words had told me not to bother coming back for her…. she’d be long gone.

Now, here I was back in Sasebo… a dollar short and several months late….but after a few hours on the beach avoiding her mother’s tiny bar where Hitomi had worked, I learned from a few shipmates on the street some shocking news: she had, in fact, NOT left Sasebo yet, but was leaving on the first train THE VERY NEXT MORNING…with HIM.

The WHITE PLAINS had given only Cinderella (midnight) liberty—we, too, were leaving the next morning, underway at 0900 hours. A Navy ship just doesn’t get up and go…it takes lots of preparation and her crew is needed many hours ahead to make certain all are aboard and all is ready. Well, I was feeling out of place in this town, anyway. A few hours on the beach would be good enough… Until I heard this strange news, I was already longing to get back to sea.

It was odd, but the entire crew had heard about my fiancé. Don’t ask me how. All night long, when I ran into other cracker-jack uniformed friends, they’d volunteer to drop their beers and go with me to Shiraki-Cho alley…to the “Blue Moon Bar and Grill” and kick the living shit out of Lt. A-hole, but I had declined their offers. Nonetheless, after a few rounds of beer, I said “to hell with it!” and didn’t return to the ship at midnight like I was supposed to. Instead, I was going to see her again, come hell or high water, and say a proper good-bye.

I hung out at the Sasebo train station all the rest of the night until the taxis carrying her, him, and a few relatives pulled up to the curb in the cold dawn ‘round about 0815. Hitomi’s aunt spied me…watching from behind a hot coffee vending machine, with the collar of my thick Navy pea coat pulled high around my face against the morning chill and my heartache…and dragged me out of the shadows and in front of my ex-fiancé and the very nervous Lieutenant. He stood there quaking while a tearful Hitomi and I whispered. I gave Hitomi a last kiss and put her on the train, then stood in the light rain and waved to her as the train glided off into the sunrise, taking them both to Yokohama and thence to Texas. Hitomi’s mother was there, crying her eyes out…said it was like something out of a Bogart movie.

Anyway, now it was 0830 and I was over 8 hours AWOL, but I didn’t care. I said good-bye to Mama-san and grabbed a taxi back to the ship. When I walked up the brow, everyone aboard was already at their Sea and Anchor Detail stations, and all saw me… from the Skipper on the bridge wing to the line handlers on the pier, getting ready to cast off. I sauntered down to my bunk, changed out of my crackerjacks and into my dungarees…knowing what was sure to come.

I then headed up to the bridge, to the chart table and my Chief’s stern gaze. The mooring lines were clear of the pier, and we were slowly pulling away into the fog, the harbor and out to sea. I knew I was probably going to be busted down to 3rd class Petty Officer…there was no denying it. I had disobeyed orders and damned near missed ship’s movement. Everyone saw me come up the accommodation ladder at 0850. My spotless record was about to come to an end. Yet, when I took my station next to my Chief, not a word was said. Not one, from anyone……ever.

 

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Heavenly E-Mail

Heavenly E-Mail

By:  Garland Davis

 

E-Mail
From: stpeter@thegate.com
To: gabriel@archangel.com

Subj: Entrance Policy

Hey Gabe, you gotta talk to the boss.

I know talking to all those open border socialists from Boston and San Francisco has made him rethink the concepts of heaven and hell. But since he opened the gates between us and them this place has literally been going to hell. The immigrants say they are cold and have started breaking the harps up to build fires and they keep poking the Seraphim with their pitchforks. Like I said , “going to hell!”

And giving in to all the pet owners and opening the gate to lesser creatures so they could have their doggies and kitties has become a disaster. We have serpents, water snakes in the fountains, frogs and lizards crawling all over the streets. We have ants in the sugar bowl, stray dogs crapping in the streets, and feral cats digging up the flower beds. The bats are scaring the crap out of the winged angels.

But the real disaster is the cockroaches. We are being overrun by fuckin’ cockroaches.

Gabe you got to do something.

Pete

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Significance

Significance

By:  Garland Davis

There are good days

The seas are blue/green and serene

Shipboard routine is

Mundane

Life

Is nothing more than a series

Of interconnected tasks

Lacking meaning

Our days dictated by Chiefs and Officers

But mostly Chiefs

Our knowledge, abilities and self-worth judged

By men who were once us

Suffering is but

A sailor’s duty and due

Sin Loi Mother fucker

They say

Life boiled down

To a comfortable cliché

Then the storm comes

Things change

All that was senseless before

Has meaning and importance

Routine is no longer

The mundane

But suddenly and crucially significant

We strive and struggle

We plead to the almighty

To shelter us from the storm

From ourselves

From ignorance

When the storm and gale rage

We realize the significance of life

When a bad one hits

We devoutly pray

That a good one comes

And takes all this significance

Away

 

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USS Midway

USS Midway

“There was Truly Magic Here”

By:  Garland Davis

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I wrote this in tribute to a great ship, a rewarding period of my life and an homage to my Midway shipmates.  I borrowed liberally from “The History of Midway Magic” and the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum for facts and dates.

The onset of World War II saw the greatest shipbuilding program of modern times.  The progression of American aircraft carrier design led to larger and more heavily armored battle carriers.  USS Midway CVB-41, to be the lead ship of new large carriers, was ordered on August 7, 1942.  She had the distinction of being the first carrier named after a WWII battle.  The battle between U.S. and Japanese carriers at the Battle of Midway in June of 1942 turned the tide of WWII and proved conclusively the value of Naval Aviation.  CVB-41 was the third ship and second carrier to bear the name Midway.  The first Midway, a fleet auxiliary, was changed to USS Panay in April 1943.  The second ship bearing the name was a jeep carrier CVE-61, which was changed to USS St Lo in September 1944.

Midway was constructed at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company.   Midway was the lead ship of three 45,000 ton CVB’s.  Her sister ships were USS Franklin D Roosevelt (CVB-41) and USS Coral Sea (CVB-43).  Two additional ships of the class were canceled.  The Midway class hull arrangement was modeled on the canceled Montana class Battleships and was a new much larger design intended to correct problems in the Essex class design.

Midway was launched on March 20, 1945 and was commissioned on September 10, 1945.  She was the largest warship in the world for the first decade of her service.  Every aspect of Midway’s construction included the most modern innovations possible. Twelve Babcock and Wilcox boilers powered four Westinghouse geared turbines which developed 212,000 horsepower for a maximum speed of 33 knots. Midway was designed with two catapults, fourteen arresting cables, and six barriers. Her design aircraft compliment was 137. In their early years, the Midway-class carriers were the only ships capable of operating nuclear strike aircraft.

Early in 1947, operating off the East Coast Midway operated F4U-4B Corsairs and SB2-C-5 Helldivers. She conducted three training cruises in the Caribbean before sailing from her home port at Norfolk, Virginia, on another experimental mission. On that landmark cruise, she was accompanied by scientific observers as her crew fired a captured German V-2 rocket from the flight deck on September 6, 1947. The purpose of Operation SANDY was to see if a large rocket could be launched from the deck of an aircraft carrier with little to no modifications. The actual ship launch test was only conducted once. There were prior tests carried out at White Sands on a simulated aircraft carrier deck to see what effects the rocket would have if it were to explode on the deck. This test marked the first time such a weapon was fired from a ship at sea or a moving platform. It decisively demonstrated the potential of large rocket fire from surface ships.

Midway spent the following years operating in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.  In January 1954, Midway deployed to the Mediterranean for the seventh time. Just before entering port in Athens for a state visit, Midway collided with a replenishment ship, USS Great Sitkin, AE-17. Occurring in the Aegean Sea about 1700 on a Sunday, the ships were conducting a side-by-side transfer of materials in rough seas. Swells were reported to be about 15 feet between the ships. Upon casting off the last securing lines, the Great Sitkin began a sharp starboard turn. This caused her port stern area to sideswipe the Midway’s aft starboard side, just above the waterline, crushing one of the starboard weather deck 5″ gun mounts. There was no fire and damage control made temporary repairs while underway. Also during this cruise, a major fire on the flight deck occurred when an F2H bounced over the barrier and went into the pack. Casualties were four pilots and approximately four crew. This cruise was extended an additional month due to their relief, USS Bennington having a catastrophic port catapult machinery explosion, which killed about 100 of the crew. Bennington had to return to CONUS for repairs before finally departing for the Mediterranean. Midway returned to Norfolk in August of 1954.

In December 1954, with Air Group One aboard, Midway departed Norfolk on a world cruise, which culminated in her transfer to the Pacific Fleet. Joining the Seventh Fleet off Taiwan in February 1955, she became the flagship of COMCARDIV Three, operating from the Philippine Islands and Japan. Shortly after her arrival in the area, Midway participated in the evacuation of 24,000 military and civilian personnel of the Republic of China from the Tachen Islands, off the China coast. She remained in the area patrolling the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea until June. For this operation, Midway was awarded the China Service Medal. Midway left Yokosuka, Japan and returned to NAS Alameda, California in July 1955. She entered Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Washington and was decommissioned for the first time in October 1955.

While the gradual removal of armament helped to curtail the burden of excessive weight, the advent of the angled carrier deck not only added additional tons of displacement, but became a serious factor in stability. Built as axial, or straight-deck carriers, the problem of cycling and spotting aircraft for either launching or recovery operations remained a detriment to combat efficiency since only one function could be performed at a time. The angled flight deck, pioneered by the British, changed all that.

After being decommissioned in October 1955, Midway underwent a modernization project to give her the capability to operate high-performance jet aircraft. She was fitted with two steam catapults on the bow and a shorter steam catapult in the new angle deck. The purpose of the third catapult was to allow ready deck launches while keeping the landing area clear for recoveries in an “alert” situation. Additional improvements included the installation of a hurricane (enclosed) bow, moving elevator number three to the starboard deck edge aft of the island, enlarging the number one elevator to accommodate longer aircraft, new arresting gear, jet blast deflectors, and the largest aviation crane ever installed on an aircraft carrier. On recommissioning in September 1957, Midway’s load displacement had grown from 55,000 to 62,000 tons

Midway was again decommissioned in February 1966.  During the intervening years she had operated in the Pacific Ocean and with the Seventh Fleet conducting combat operations during the early years of the Viet Nam War.  After decommissioning she underwent the most extensive and complex modernization ever seen on a naval vessel. This upgrade would take four years to complete, but yielded a much more capable ship and made Midway operationally equivalent to the newest conventionally powered carriers. The flight deck was increased in surface area from 2.82 acres to 4.02 acres. The addition of three new deck-edge elevators could now lift 130,000 pounds compared with 74,000 pounds of her sister ships, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Coral Sea. Two powerful new catapults on the bow, three new arresting gear engines, and one barricade were installed and rearranged to accommodate a change of 13 degrees to the angle deck. The smaller waist catapult was removed since it was ineffective in launching the now heavier aircraft. Modern electronic systems were installed, a central chilled water air conditioning system replaced hundreds of individual units, and Midway became the first ship to have the aviation fueling system completely converted from aviation gas to JP-5. Delays, caused partially by the simultaneous construction of USS Horne and modernization of USS Chicago, and unscheduled repairs to the fire-damaged USS Oriskany, drove the initial modernization estimate from 87 million dollars to 202 million dollars.

On April 16, 1971, Midway began her sixteenth deployment 13,000 tons heavier than her original full load displacement. Arriving off the coast of South Vietnam with Air Wing Five embarked and a crew of 4,500, she relieved USS Hancock, CVA-19 on May 18. This was the beginning of single carrier operations, which lasted until the end of the month. During this time, the ship launched over 6,000 missions in support of allied operations in the Republic of Vietnam. Departing Yankee Station on June 5, she completed her final line period on October 31. Midway returned to Alameda on November 6th, after spending 146 consecutive days at sea. For this deployment, Midway was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation.

Due to a sudden North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam, Midway left on April 10, 1972, for a third Vietnam deployment, seven weeks prior to her scheduled deployment date. On this deployment, Air Wing Five aircraft played an important role in the effort of U.S. forces to stop the flow of men and supplies into South Vietnam from the North. On May 11, aircraft from Midway along with those from USS Coral Sea, CVA-43, USS Kitty Hawk, CVA-63, and USS Constellation, CVA-64 continued laying minefields in ports of significance to the North Vietnamese. Thanh Hoa, Dong Hoi, Vinh, Hon Gai, Quang Khe, and Cam Pha, as well as other approaches to Haiphong. Ships that were in port in Haiphong had been advised that the mining would take place and that the mines would be armed 72 hours later. On August 7, an HC-7 Det 110 helicopter, flying from Midway, and aided by other planes from the carrier and USS Saratoga, CVA-60, conducted a search and rescue mission for a downed aviator in North Vietnam. The pilot of an A-7 aircraft from Saratoga had been downed by a surface-to-air missile about 20 miles inland, northwest of Vinh, on 6 August. The HC-7 helo flew over mountainous terrain to rescue the pilot. The rescue helicopter used its search light to assist in locating the downed aviator and, despite receiving heavy ground fire, was successful in retrieving him and returning to an LPD off the coast. This was the deepest penetration of a rescue helicopter into North Vietnam since 1968. HC-7 Det 110 continued its rescue missions and by the end of 1972 had successfully accomplished 48 rescues, 35 of which were under combat conditions. In October, an aircraft crash landed on Midway’s deck. This aircraft ran into a group of parked aircraft and destroyed eight of them, killed 5 crewmen and injured 23 others. On January 12, 1973, an aircrew flying from Midway was credited with downing the last Mig of the war. Upon the signing of the cease-fire on January 15, Midway returned home. The Presidential Unit Citation was awarded to Midway and Carrier Air Wing Five for exceptional heroism for the period April 30, 1972 to February 09, 1973. This award was a rare presentation during the Vietnam War. During this time Midway was on her third Vietnam combat cruise and spent 208 line days on Yankee Station. CVW-5 had five air combat victories including the last downing of a Mig during the Vietnam hostilities. CVW-5 suffered 15 combat and five operational losses in this period.

On September 11, 1973, Midway left Alameda on one of her most important voyages to date. Arriving in Yokosuka, Japan on October 5, 1973, Midway and Carrier Air Wing Five marked the first forward-deployment of a complete carrier task group in a Japanese port as the result of an accord arrived at on August 31, 1972 between the United States and Japan. Known as the Navy’s Overseas Family Residency Program, Midway’s crew and their families were now permanently home-ported in Japan. In addition to the morale factor of dependents housed along with the crew in a foreign port, the move had strategic significance because it facilitated continuous positioning of three carriers in the Far East at a time when the economic situation demanded the reduction of carriers in the fleet. It also effectively reduced the deployment cycles of her sister Pacific Fleet carriers.

In April 1975, Midway returned to the waters of Vietnam. On April 20, all fixed-wing aircraft of CVW-5 were flown off to NAS Cubi Point and ten USAF 40th Aerospace Rescue & Recovery Squadron H-53’s were embarked. Midway, along with USS Coral Sea, CVA-43, USS Hancock, CVA-19, USS Enterprise, CVAN-65 and USS Okinawa, LPH-3, responded to the North Vietnamese overrunning two-thirds of South Vietnam. On April 29, Operation FREQUENT WIND was carried out by U.S. Seventh Fleet forces. As South Vietnam fell, the H-53’s from Midway flew in excess of 40 sorties, shuttling 3,073 U.S. personnel and Vietnamese refugees out of Saigon in two days, bringing them onto the ship. Midway’s HC-1 Det 2 Sea Kings then transported the evacuees to other ships. One South Vietnamese pilot flew a Cessna O-1 Bird Dog observation plane with his wife and five children out to Midway. He passed a note asking permission to land. The angle deck was cleared and the pilot made a good approach and landed with room to spare. The crew of Midway met him with cheers. For her role in the operation, Midway was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation and the Humanitarian Service Medal.

Immediately following Operation FREQUENT WIND, Midway steamed south into the Gulf of Siam to Thailand and brought aboard over 100 American built aircraft preventing them from falling into communist hands. When they were aboard, the ship steamed at high speed to Guam, where the planes were offloaded by crane in record time.  After the offload in Guam and a brief stop in Subic Bay, Midway entered the Indian Ocean and operated there from October until the end of November. On November 25, 1975, during post “MIDLINK” exercises, a fatal accident occurred. While attempting to land on the Midway, an aircraft struck the ramp, bolted, impacted the barricade, and struck another aircraft. Flying debris injured two crew members. Midway returned to Yokosuka in time to celebrate the 1975 Christmas holiday.

In June 1976, Midway participated in Exercise TEAM SPIRIT, an exercise in intense electronic warfare and bombing missions over South Korea. In August 1976, a Navy task force headed by Midway made a show of force off the coast of Korea in response to an unprovoked attack on two U.S. Army officers who were killed by North Korean guards on August 18. Midway’s response was in support of a U.S. demonstration of military concern vis-à-vis North Korea.

1977 saw Midway participating in MIDLINK ’77, a two-day exercise hosted by the Iranian Navy, and included representatives of Pakistan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

February 1978 saw Midway joining in with the JMSDF (Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force) for the largest combined exercise to that date. On May 31, 1978, while docked in Yokosuka, Japan, a fire which originated in the exhaust ventilation system, quickly spread through the 3A boiler uptakes on the second deck, and terminated in the main uptake space. The cause of the fire was later thought to be from welding in a vent system containing a fine oil mist which ignited and spread.

Midway relieved USS Constellation, CV-64 as the Indian Ocean contingency carrier on April 16, 1979. Midway and her escort ships continued a significant American naval presence in the oil-producing region of the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf. On August 09, while berthed in Yokosuka, Japan, a fire, caused by a broken acetylene line, broke out killing one worker and injuring 17 sailors. Also in August, the Vice President of the United States boarded Midway in Hong Kong for a courtesy visit. On November 18, she arrived in the northern part of the Arabian Sea in connection with the continuing hostage crisis in Iran. Militant followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had come to power following the overthrow of the Shah, seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4 and held 63 U.S. citizens’ hostage. Midway was joined on November 21 by USS Kitty Hawk, CV-63, and both carriers, along with their escort ships, were joined by USS Nimitz, CVN-68 and her escorts on January 22, 1980. Midway was relieved by USS Coral Sea, CV-43 on February 5, 1980.

Following a period in Yokosuka, Midway was again on duty on May 30, 1980, this time relieving USS Coral Sea on standby south of the Cheju-Do Islands in the Sea of Japan following the potential of civil unrest in the Republic of Korea. On July 29, Midway collided with the Panamanian merchant ship Cactus while transiting the passage between Palawan Island of the Philippines and the coast of Northern Borneo 450 nautical miles southwest of Subic Bay enroute to Singapore. While Midway sustained no serious damage, two sailors working in the liquid oxygen plant were killed, three were injured, and three F-4 Phantom aircraft parked on the flight deck were damaged. On August 17, Midway relieved USS Constellation, CV-64 to begin another Indian Ocean deployment and to complement the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, CVN-69 task group still on contingency duty in the Arabian Sea. Midway spent a total of 118 days in the Indian Ocean during 1980.

On March 16, 1981, an A-6 Intruder from VA-115 aboard Midway sighted a downed civilian helicopter in the South China Sea. Midway immediately dispatched helicopters from HC-1 Det 2 to the scene. All 17 people aboard the downed helicopter were rescued and brought aboard the carrier. The chartered civilian helicopter was also plucked out of the water and lifted to Midway’s flight deck. In September 1981, the Chief of Naval Operations kicked off a tour of Far East Naval Units when he visited Midway while in port Yokosuka.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  Midway Food Service was awarded the Edward F. Ney Memorial Award for excellence in food service in both 1982 and 1983 becoming the second ship and first aircraft carrier to win the award in consecutive years.  The author is proud to have been the Leading Mess Management Specialist and to have led a Kick-Ass Food Service Division during the period from 1981 until 1984.

In December 1983, Midway deployed to the North Arabian Sea and set a record of 111 continuous days of operations.

From 1976 until 1983, Midway made six Indian Ocean cruises accounting for 338 days. She made 28 port calls in Subic Bay for 167 days, nine port calls in Hong Kong for 40 days, seven port calls in Pusan, Korea for 32 days, seven port calls in Sasebo, Japan for 28 days, three port calls in Perth, Australia for 16 days, three port calls in Mombasa, Kenya for 14 days, three port calls in Singapore for 11 days, one port call in Karachi, Pakistan for three days, and one port call in Bandar Abbas, Iran for two days. Perhaps it was the exotic nature of Midway’s liberty ports that contributed to the “Midway Magic”.

After several years of dependable overseas service, on December 2, 1984, Midway and her crew were awarded their second Meritorious Unit Commendation, for service rendered from July 27, 1982, until May 1, 1984.

On March 25, the final fleet carrier launchings of an A-7 Corsair II and an F-4S Phantom II took place from Midway during flight operations in the East China Sea. The Corsairs and Phantoms were being replaced by the new F/A-18 Hornets. On March 31, Midway moored to Dry Dock 6 at Yokosuka Naval Base to begin the “most ambitious work package in its 40-year history.” EISRA-86 (Extended Incremental Selected Repair Availability) condensed the workload of a major stateside carrier overhaul from the usual 12-14 months, into an eight-month modernization. This included the addition of the catapult flush deck nose gear launch system, the additions of MK7 MOD1 jet blast deflectors, restack and re-reeve of arresting gear engines, installation of larger rudders, the addition of new fire main system valves and pumps, new air traffic consoles, a new viable anti-submarine warfare capability, the construction of intermediate maintenance avionics shops to support the F/A-18 aircraft, and the removal of over 47 tons of unusable cable. Blisters were also built and mounted to the sides of Midway. With this monumental task being completed three days ahead of schedule, the first Air Wing Five F/A-18 Hornet trapped aboard Midway on November 28, 1986.

On January 9, 1987, Midway was reactivated with Battle Group ALFA and departed Yokosuka. On May 22, while en route to Eastern Australia, Midway trapped a VMA-331 AV-8 Harrier operating off USS Belleau Wood, LHA-3. These Harrier operations were the first in Midway’s history. On this cruise, Midway was the first U.S. Navy carrier to visit Sydney, Australia since 1972. Over 7,000 visitors toured the ship during the 10-day port call. On July 10, the launch of a VFA-195 Hornet marked the 76,000th catapult shot from the port catapult since Midway’s recommissioning in 1970. On November 14, the EA-3B “Whale” made its last run from the deck of Midway. The Whale was replaced by a C-2 Greyhound from VRC-50, which embarked aboard Midway on November 9 for an Indian Ocean deployment. During 1987 and 1988, the ship deployed to the Indian Ocean as part of Operation ERNEST WILL, earning the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.

At the time of her refit in 1986, hull bulges had to be added to create additional buoyancy to compensate for the increased tonnage. However, these ungainly appendages seriously affected Midway’s stability. During sea trials in 1986, excessive rolls in moderate seas took green water over her flight deck, thereby hampering flight operations. A 1988 Senate committee, outraged by the inept modifications carried out in the shipyard, voted to retire Midway early as a cost-saving measure. However, after considerable Navy lobbying the committee was overruled, with $138 million voted to remedy her stability dilemma.

On March 13, 1989, Midway participated in Exercise TEAM SPIRIT in the waters off South Korea for the second consecutive year. From June 7-8, Midway was put on standby after the massacre in Tiananmen Square for possible evacuation of American citizens from the People’s Republic of China.

Midway’s dependability for rapid response was reaffirmed on August 16, 1989 as she celebrated her 44th year of service by deploying again to the Indian Ocean. On August 28, Midway participated in Exercise THALAY, a three-day exercise with Royal Thai Navy ships. On September 9, Midway logged its 200,000th catapult shot since being recommissioned in 1972. On September 30, an F/A-18 Hornet aircraft from the Midway mistakenly dropped a 500-pound bomb on the deck of the USS Reeves, CG-24, during training exercises in the Indian Ocean 32 miles south of Diego Garcia, creating a five-foot hole in the bow, sparking a small fire, and injuring five sailors. On November 10, Midway became the first Navy carrier to pull pier side in Fremantle, Australia. While returning from this cruise, Midway participated in Operation CLASSIC RESOLVE, supporting the Philippine government of President Corazon Aquino against a coup attempt. The operation, run in conjunction with the Air Force and assisted by the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) lasted from December 2 to December 9. For this action, she earned another Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.

1989 and 1990 saw extensive sea time, including deployments to the Northern Arabian Sea and trips to Australia, Diego Garcia, Hong Kong, Kenya, Korea, Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore.

From 1973 to 1991, Midway’s history is hallmarked by Indian Ocean cruises and port calls at some of the most exotic Far East ports. Being America’s first forward deployed ship, Midway remained on the “knife’s edge” of readiness and maintained a highly visible presence in the region in support of U.S. policy. Midway no longer went in for overhauls, rather her upkeep was managed through periods of EISRA (Extended Incremental Ship’s Restricted Availability). These brief periods allowed Midway to be serviced, but also available at any time. In the post-Vietnam era prior to 1990, Midway earned four Battle Efficiency Ribbons, the Navy and Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, three Armed Forces Expeditionary Medals, the Humanitarian Service Medal and two Meritorious Unit Commendations.

Midway’s last two years in commissioned service would prove to be perhaps her most historic. In 1990, while celebrating 45 years of service, Midway received official announcement on her decommissioning. An announcement in February confirmed that she was scheduled to decommission in 1991. Even with this announcement, Midway continued to maintain her seagoing reputation by being underway more than most other aircraft carriers. With her unique combination of modernized strength and years of experience, she strived to maintain peace and stability in the Western Pacific.

Disaster struck the Midway on June 20, 1990. While conducting routine flight operations approximately 125 nautical miles northeast of Japan, the ship was badly damaged by two onboard explosions. These explosions led to a fire that raged more than ten hours. In addition to damage to the ship’s hull, three crew members died and eight others were seriously injured in the line of duty. All 11 crewmen belonged to an elite fire-fighting team known as the Flying Squad. When Midway entered Yokosuka Harbor the next day, 12 Japanese media helicopters flew in circles and hovered about 150 feet above the flight deck. Three busloads of reporters were waiting on the pier. About 30 minutes after Midway cast its first line, more than 100 international print and electronic journalists charged over the brow to cover the event. The news media made a major issue out of the incident, as it happened amid other military accidents. It was thought that the accident would lead to the ship’s immediate retirement due to her age.

Despite the announced decommissioning and the fire, Midway’s role as a potent member of the U.S. Naval forces was again reaffirmed when she departed Yokosuka, Japan on October 2, 1990 in support of Operation DESERT SHIELD. On November 2, 1990, MIDWAY arrived on station in the North Arabian Sea, relieving USS Independence, CV-62. For the DESERT SHIELD portion of the campaign, Midway was the only carrier in the Persian Gulf. She was the first carrier to operate extensively and for prolonged periods within the mined waters of the Gulf itself. On November 15, she participated in Operation IMMINENT THUNDER, an eight-day combined amphibious landing exercise in northeastern Saudi Arabia, which involved about 1,000 U.S. Marines, 16 warships, and more than 1,100 aircraft. Midway also made the first Persian Gulf port call for an aircraft carrier when she visited Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates for Christmas of 1990. Midway was also the flagship of the Persian Gulf Battle Force Commander, Rear Admiral Daniel P. March (Commander Task Force 154). Admiral March was the operational commander for all coalition naval forces within the Persian Gulf.

Meanwhile, the United Nations set an ultimatum deadline of January 15,1991 for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. After steaming for two and a half months in the North Arabian Sea, Operation DESERT STORM, the fight to liberate Kuwait, began on January 17, 1991. Aircraft from Midway flew the initial air strikes of Operation DESERT STORM. An A-6E Intruder from the “Nighthawks” of VA-185 flying from Midway became the first carrier-based aircraft “over the beach” during that first strike. During the conflict, Midway’s aircraft flew 3,339 combat sorties, an average of 121 per day during the war. Midway aircraft dropped 4,057,520 pounds of ordnance on targets in Iraq and occupied Kuwait.

The jet aircraft aboard Midway were not alone in taking the fight to the Iraqis. HS-12 conducted two Combat Rescues, rescued and captured a total of 25 Iraqi sailors, destroyed nine mines, and captured the first piece of Kuwaiti soil – a small island (the only property captured or liberated by the Navy). HS-12 also recovered the body of an Iraqi Naval Officer who had apparently been killed by his crew. At the end of the war, HS-12 chased down an escaping speed boat and forced it ashore on another island. The four captured occupants turned out to be members of the Iraqi Secret Police.

After 43 days of combat, Kuwait had been liberated with a resounding defeat of Iraqi forces. Operation DESERT STORM ended at midnight on February 27, 1991. Midway was the only one of the four carriers operating in the Persian Gulf to lose no aircraft or personnel. Midway departed the Persian Gulf on March 10 and returned to Yokosuka, Japan. For her actions during Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM, Midway again received the Battle Efficiency Award and the Navy Unit Commendation.

Midway’s versatility was again demonstrated in June of 1991 with her participation in Operation FIERY VIGIL. On June 16, Midway was given one day’s notice to sortie from her berth in Yokosuka, Japan and steam at high speed for Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines to assist with the evacuation of military personnel and their families following the volcanic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.

Prior to departing, Midway crewmen worked through the night loading enough food and supplies to provide for 5,000 people for two weeks. Items included 1,100 cots, pet food, and baby diapers and bottles. Within 24 hours of receiving notice of the emergency, Midway was underway with the helicopters of HS-12 as the sole representative of Air Wing Five embarked.

Midway made her best speed toward Subic Bay, slowing briefly near Okinawa to embark six helicopters from HMH-772 and a contingent of Marines. The ship arrived at Subic Bay June 21 and brought aboard 1,823 evacuees, almost all of them Air Force personnel leaving Clark Air Base. Additionally, Midway brought aboard 23 cats, 68 dogs, and one lizard, pets of the evacuees. Midway’s guests were greeted with a clean bed, a hot shower, and a steak dinner, their first hot meal in more than a week.

In a trip which included a high-speed night transit of the Van Diemen Passage, Midway took the evacuees to the island of Cebu in the Philippines. On arrival, HS-12 and HMH-772 flew them to Mactan International Airport. There, the evacuees boarded Air Force transport planes for flights that would eventually take them to the United States.

In August 1991, Midway departed Yokosuka, Japan for the last time, steaming towards her first United States port call in almost 18 years. She had been the first carrier to be “forward deployed” in a foreign country, sailing for 17 years out of Yokosuka, Japan. Arriving in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Midway turned over the duty as the “Tip of the Sword” to USS Independence, CV-62. Independence would be replacing Midway as the forward-deployed carrier in Yokosuka, Japan. This turnover included swapping CVW-5 for CVW-14, the first air wing change for Midway in 20 years. After leaving Hawaii, Midway made a brief visit to Seattle, Washington, where more than 50,000 people visited the ship during a three-day open house.

On September 14, 1991, Midway arrived at her final homeport, Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, California. Her crew then began the tremendous task of preparing the ship for decommissioning and preservation as part of the Ready Reserve Fleet.

As part of her decommissioning preparation, the Navy sent out a Board of Inspection and Survey team to assess the ship’s material condition and evaluate her capabilities. To perform this inspection, the ship got underway for one last time on September 24, 1991. On this day, the ship successfully completed a rigorous series of tests, including full-power sea trials. Midway trapped and launched her last aircraft that day, with the honor falling to Commander, Carrier Air Wing Fourteen, Captain Patrick Moneymaker, flying an F/A-18 Hornet. At the completion of the day’s events, Midway headed for home at 32 knots. Despite her age and imminent decommissioning, the inspection team found Midway fully operational and fit for continued service, a testimonial to the men who maintained the ship throughout her many years. At the end of her career, Midway’s last embarked flag officer, Rear Admiral Joseph W. Prueher noted, Midway had “sprinted across the finish line.”

Midway was decommissioned for the last time at North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego, California on April 11, 1992. She was stricken from the Navy List on March 17, 1997 and was stored at the Navy Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, Bremerton, Washington.

On September 30, 2003, a long-awaited event happened… after eleven years, Midway was finally underway again! Although only under tow by the Foss Maritime Company’s tugs Lauren Foss and Lindsey Foss, she was heading back out to sea for another voyage. Midway was on a journey to Oakland, California.

October 07, 2003 saw Midway arriving at the Charles P. Howard Terminal in Oakland, California. Restoration work was performed before Midway was again taken under tow on December 31. The Foss Maritime Company’s Corbin Foss towed Midway down the coast of California, arriving in San Diego Bay on January 05, 2004. Midway was temporarily berthed at NAS North Island to load restored aircraft and also add ballast and equipment in preparation for her move across the bay to Navy Pier.

Midway’s final journey occurred on January 10, 2004. Several hundred guests were aboard as she was towed across San Diego Bay to her new home at Navy Pier. With much celebration and ceremony, Midway was berthed at Navy Pier, where she officially opened as the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum on June 07, 2004. Once again, Midway’s popularity showed as 3,058 visitors went aboard on opening day.

Conceived and built during the desperate days of World War II, the carriers of the Midway class carried a crew of 4,500 and up to 70 aircraft. The 1,000-foot-long Midway was once the largest carrier afloat, growing from 45,000 tons in 1945 to 74,000 tons in 1991. However, she had a displacement about two-thirds that of contemporary nuclear-powered flattops. When operating at sea the ship was refueled every three days, burning approximately 100,000 gallons of oil a day. When first built, the Midway’s bow was open to the sea, and was enclosed in 1957 as part of a major overhaul.

The ability to adapt to new technologies, systems, platforms, and operational needs is nowhere better exemplified than in the design and 50-year operational history of the USS Midway. Designed during World War II, in 1945, this “flattop” initially operated piston-driven propeller aircraft, yet returned from her last deployment in 1991 with the Navy’s most modern, multipurpose strike-fighters. Her original axial-deck design was modified to an angled-deck layout, her original hydraulic catapults were replaced with more powerful steam catapults, and the most basic electronics replaced by advanced sensors and communications equipment.

Midway sailed in every ocean of the world, covering more miles than anyone can count. It is estimated that more than 200,000 young Americans trod her decks, gaining manhood, fighting their country’s wars and sometimes paying the ultimate price. After ultimately serving her country for 47 years, Midway now carries out her final “tour of duty” as a floating museum in San Diego. She is a tribute to the contributions of the armed services and as a dynamic, interactive beacon of education and entertainment.

“Midway Magic” is more than a slogan. The ship operated longer, survived more modernization projects and was forward deployed longer than any other aircraft carrier. It was the crew of the Midway that provided the sorcery. But, like the magician’s hat from which the rabbit appears, the Midway was the vessel in which the magic had been created. Long after the quiet descended on Midway’s empty compartments, her catapults forever silent, her main engines cold and motionless, and her halyards clear, those of us who were part of Midway’s story will remember her and say “There truly was Magic here.”

 

 

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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.

 

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