By: Garland Davis
It was an unwritten code of the sailor: never stand when you can sit; never sit when you can lie down, and never stay awake when you can sleep. This was never truer than when providing gunfire support to Army and Marine troops engaged with Viet Cong insurgents or North Viet Army regulars.
Between watch standing, General Quarters, refueling, re-arming, stores unreps, and added bullshit from topside, there was little time to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Add water hours and the seeming monotony of the meals, powdered fucking milk, the same shitty movies, and the ship store out of every cigarette brand except outdated, unfiltered Luckies it was amazing that morale did not go completely to shit.
The clammy incessant heat drove everyone to seek whatever cooling comfort that was available. A-gang machinist mates frequently needed to get into the reefers to check the internal temperatures. Everyone was begging the cooks for a little ice. Giving in to them would have meant no ice for the bug juice at the meals. The bug juice sucked, but it made the fuel oil flavored water drinkable. The fucking galley serving ice cream and all the fucking bowls were hot from the scullery and melted it before you could reach the table.
Meet your closest shipmate in a passageway and greet him, he either returns the greeting, tells you to fuck off, or completely ignores you. Tempers were on edge. Added to the mix were the racial tensions and anti-war sentiments of the country seeping into the fleet. Real and imagined remarks, slurs, and treatment were causing problems. Capable CPO’s, able LPO’s and knowledgeable Officers were often busy diffusing situations. Situations very often, caused by some of my fellow CPO’s and some dumbshit Junior Officers.
Even with morale in the shitter, with black and white sailors distrusting each other, hippies and dope smokers trying to drop out, there was still a sense of camaraderie in the crew.
The ship suffered a casualty in Mount 51 and the something to do with breechblock needed replacement (I don’t remember the exact details). This was categorized as a two to three-day yard job. While the officers were busy sending messages to whomever and re-planning firing missions, the GM1 with assistance from the BM1 and the A-Gang MMC set about changing the breechblock assembly. The Gunnery Officer, upon discovering this told them to stop, that they couldn’t do it. It was a yard job. GM1 went to the Weapon’s boss and told him that he thought it could be done at sea if the rigging was right and that the BMC and BM1 were available to handle that. The MMC would provide tools and the HT’s would weld fittings needed for the riggers. He and the Weps Boss went to the CO. The Old Man listened and told them to give it their best shot.
During the next forty-eight hours, the whole crew came together to offer help and support any way possible. All the animosity and slights seemed to drop away. We were all shipmates. To shorten a long story, we went back on the gunline two days later with mount 51 in battery.
Finally arriving in Subic, a few days liberty and many of the slights and disagreements forgotten, we were ready to go out and do it again. We were young and did things we were not supposed to be able to do. We did them because we did not know we couldn’t.