Engine Room Excursions’

Engine Room Excursions’

Now, set condition ‘This Ain’t No Shit’ throughout the ship!!!

Over the years I’ve told a gazillion stories about the ‘Canoe Club of Old’ where the world was wild, forbidding, perilous and looming with snake-oil peddlers and iniquitous dames waiting outside the gate and of the drifting fog that swallowed ships whole and how we weathered storms of unknown origin!! Well, it was also a place and time where there was an endless supply of room temperature IQs and plenty of stupidity to go around!!!

On the Baglady, I was a young lad who didn’t have much direction… but several of my compadres had decided to work towards their Enlisted Surface Warfare Qualifications (ESWS)! This was back in the day before it was mandatory, and you had to be an E-4 or above to qualify!! I must admit, I didn’t have much drive to accomplish such a task, especially since I knew I was only gonna finish one tour and get out… so I thought!!!

Well, this ol’ ship was beginning to show its age! She used the most sophisticated of Fifties technology and if you found Stonehenge carvings in a cave somewhere with ancient arrowheads and such… you probably saw the ol’ Baglady up there as well!! I suppose the Navy needed to make room for some new shiny toys, so that’s why they got rid of the Knox Frigates!!!

Part of ESWS quals was going down in the Engineering spaces and learning all the dials, knobs, and gauges associated with the different pieces of rusted & whistling circus calliopes deep in that underworld! I had to get in good with one of the Snipes if I wanted a tour down in the hole… the pit… the place where no one dared to go without invitation!! I knew just the guy!!!

Pat the Electrician was the fella I had in mind! He wasn’t a pit snipe per se, but he had a good reason as any to enter the dwellings down below!! I was damned determined to get a few pearls of wisdom from him as well as anyone he could introduce me too in the belly of the beast!!!

There was always someone on watch down in the pit! The trick was finding the friendlier ones!! There were a few Pit Snipes I needed to be watchful of!! I knew of their antics through celebrated shipboard folklore… and lord knows I didn’t wanna run into those animals at the wrong time or place in their neighborhood!!!

After some discussion with Pat, he agreed to give me the Grande Tour, or his best guess of it in the pits while introducing me to the zoo animals down below! Before we headed in he handed me a broomstick…

“There’s 1200 pounds of steam coming outta them pipes… and it can cut you in half!”

The broom was carried in front so if there was a steam leak, the telltale sign would cut into the broom instead of me!! Hell, I just figured it might be of good measure in case them bastards tried to hogtie me into the overhead!!!

I remember a sign hanging over the hatch at the top of the ladder going down…


Now let me tell you something about Enginerooms back in the day if you hadn’t grown up as a pit snipe! They’re hot, noisy, dirty and often smelled of greasy bilges!! There are fuel and flammable lube oil, steam, and plenty of electricity going around to make one helluva spark!! To a pea-sized brain of an idiot, it could be a constant fire hazard!!!

The first thing of note was the noise! You had to where double earing protection in many areas as it sounded like WWIII was about to erupt!! We wore ear muffs called Mickey Mouse Ears giving the appearance of a dozen John Belushi ‘Wild Bill Kelso’ characters prancing around tappin’ gauges and turning valves!!!

There was a lot of sweatin’ and gruntin’ going around for all and plenty of pipes, valve stems, and steep ladderwells to fall down or break things while putting you in a mild coma! One thing was for damned sure… it was hotter than a marathon runner’s jockstrap in that place… like the waiting area at the gates of hell!!!

As we walked by a few snipes it was apparent they weren’t skippin’ and sing’n sea shanties in that hell hole! Their faces were hard and many of them could scare the bejesus outta decent people without saying a damned thing!! They didn’t appear much of a friendly bunch from first glance!!!

The deeper into the Engine Room we got, the louder the grinding and thumping of diesel and steel and the squealing of hydraulic and steam with a rattle here and there! There was odd whining and vibrating at the high end of the audio range coming from every direction!! These old steam engines sounded like a giant bloated cow gett’n ready for the slaughter!! The shit all looked ancient… like stuff outta museums!!!

I knew that being a twidget, I was about as welcome as a fart in a phone booth down in these parts! Pat introduced me to a fella who looked like he’d just experienced a retroactive abortion!! He had a face like a bag of greasy spanners, chewing Copenhagen and spitting into a soda can… maybe into someone else’s soda can… who knows!!!

“Swing, this is such-n-such… this is Swing! He’s workin’ on his ESWS!”

… He looked me over once or twice…

“So what do you want to know?”

“Well, I suppose I want to know what it takes to move the ship through the water!”

… I must have come across sounding like a smartass though it wasn’t intentional!

“You got a Power Drive, Reduction Gears, and a shaft that turns a propeller… Suck’n Two, spinnin’ One… going that-a-way… any more questions?”

I suppose that was short, sweet & to the point, but not exactly as I had in mind! Then a First Class came around the corner and I had a little sigh of relief as things were getting tense!!!

“Aah, it’s you guys! I had to make sure you weren’t Chief or the Cheng! They like to wander down here and catch some dumb ass doing something they ain’t supposed to be doing. It’s part of their job description I suppose!”

Pat introduces me to the First Class and explains what I’m down there for…

“I’ve been told that Chief Such-n-Such is on the ESWS board and has a fascination with things of no relevance… You ain’t passing that board unless they want you too!”

“I’m sure I’ll do okay as long as I study!”

“Listen, kid… I’ve been around the world three times, been to several of those Goat Fucks in the Chief’s Mess and rode the shaft at least twice, not by design… I know what I’m talking about!”

Yeah, this Twidget wasn’t getting nowhere down in Snipe Country and probably needed to build a little rapport before kneeling at the Gates of Hell…

“Yeah, well this info doesn’t come for free! No one gets out of here alive, especially a fresh air fag like you… this is home of the long shafts and you’re about to get shafted!”

Next thing I know, ‘Strong like Bear & Smart like Tractor’ comes outta nowhere with cutoff green coveralls grabbing ahold of my collar!

“You’d ever drink Bilge Wine?”

“Wha-Wha-What’s Bilge Wine?”

“It’s like moonshine that didn’t get run through the radiator enough!”

“Doesn’t sound too good to me!”

… About this time I was shaking in my boots!

“Oh come on now… which would you rather do, drink a quart of our infamous Jonestown Bilge-Wine laced with snipe sweat or eat the contents out of a duplex strainer… your choice?”

… That’s when he put me in a headlock while one of his henchmen grabbed me by the feet!

“Dude… You smell like a bucket of horse shit!”

… And that’s when the duct tape came out, and I knew I was gonna end up ten feet in the overhead or hang’n upside down in the nastiest part of the bilge!

Then one of the Chiefs came around the corner…

“Knock off the bullshit and get back to work! This ain’t no place for lollygagging!”

… Saved by the Gauddamned Bell!

“I like you… You remind me of myself when I was young and stupid! If you really want to learn about Engineering Spaces, a couple of midwatches in the hole will take the bloom off your dewy rose in the morn!”

From that point, I was lookin’ for the nearest door or hatch outta the place! I was sweat’n harder than a pedophile at Chuck E Cheese!! Besides, I would’ve done anything to get away from the inane, vapid, nuttiness inflicted by some of those low-wattage Troglodytes from down under the deck plates and in the pits!!! Some of those sons-a-bitches had real personality disorders…!!!

But really… The guys in the hole were funny, irreverent, caustic, and once you got in good with them dirty bastards, you made a friend for life! They made weirdness piled on improbability poured over the incomprehensible seem as ordinary as breakfast!! And that’s just how they rolled!!!

That was my first encounter with the Pit Snipe in his hollowed layer… and I never did get my ESWS onboard that ship! It took me two more tours before I took it seriously!! She was an old ship the Baglady was… Old, Stunk, and falling apart at the seams!! One of the Engineers told me it only had three leaks down there… Air, oil, & water… But they loved every minute of it!!!

But that was looong ago… so many ships and so many Westpac’s in this here Canoe Club! It was like an Ice Cream Cone… ‘Enjoy it before it melts’ so they say!!!

And to those old school snipes I met so many years ago? It’s said that Snipes are the first aboard and last ashore when liberty goes down… their job truly is never done!!!


“We Stand By You”

“We Stand By You”

An incident took place at sea on 14 September 2001, just a few days after the attacks on New York and Washington.

In the time leading up to 11 September 2001, the USS Winston S. Churchill was in port in Plymouth, England, where it was moored next to the SMS Lütjens of the German Navy.

During their time in port together, the officers and crews of the USS Churchill and the SMS Lütjens had combined for a number of events in the generous spirit of friendship and brotherhood.

After the attacks, however, the USS Churchill immediately got underway to perform a number of drills while waiting for further orders.

Onboard the USS Churchill an Officer (Ensign) sent an email to his dad and his dad in turn sent it to the local newspaper. Below is a portion of that email:

“Dear Dad,

Well, we are still out at sea, with little direction as to what our next priority is.

The remainder of our port visits, which were to be centered around max liberty and goodwill to the United Kingdom, have all but been canceled. We have spent every day since the attacks going back and forth within imaginary boxes drawn in the ocean, standing high-security watches, and trying to make the best of our time.

It hasn’t been that fun I must confess, and to be even more honest, a lot of people are frustrated at the fact that they either can’t be home, or we don’t have more direction right now.

We have seen the articles and the photographs, and they are sickening. Being isolated as we are, I don’t think we appreciate the full scope of what is happening back home, but we are definitely feeling the effects.

About two hours ago the junior officers were called to the bridge to conduct Shiphandling drills.

We were about to do a man overboard when we got a call from the LUTJENS D-185, a German warship that was moored ahead of us on the pier in Plymouth, England.

While in port, the USS WINSTON S CHURCHILL and the LUTJENS got together for a sports day/cookout on our fantail, and we made some pretty good friends.

Now at sea they called over on bridge-to-bridge, requesting to pass us close up on our port side, to say good-bye.

We prepared to render them honors on the bridge wing, and the Captain told the crew to come topside to wish them farewell.

As they were making their approach, our Conning Officer saw through her binoculars and announced that they were flying an American flag.

As they came even closer, we saw that it was flying at half-mast.

The bridge wing was crowded with people as the Boatswain’s Mate blew two whistles- Attention to Port- the ship came up alongside and we saw that the entire crew of the German ship was manning the rails, in their dress blues.

They had made up a sign that was displayed on the side that read “We Stand By You.”

Needless to say there was not a dry eye on the bridge as they stayed alongside us for a few minutes and we cut our salutes.

It was probably the most powerful thing I have seen in my entire life and more than a few of us fought to retain our composure.

It was a beautiful day outside today. We are no longer at liberty to divulge over unsecure e-mail our location, but we could not have asked for a finer day at sea.

The German Navy did an incredible thing for this crew, and it has truly been the highest point in the days since the attacks.

After the ship pulled away and we prepared to begin our man overboard drills the Officer of the Deck turned to me and said ‘I’m staying Navy.’”


Wunder Beach During the Battle of Hue

Wunder Beach During the Battle of Hue

By John Nesbit


These photos were all taken by me on May 24, 1972. I was an ET aboard USS St Louis (LKA-116). My Condition 1-Alpha station was aboard one of the Mike boats to service the PRC-45 radio aboard. Our Mike boat carried a bunch of young Navy UDT sailors to Wunder Beach. Their job, upon hitting the beach was to conduct sabotage, primarily wiping out the electrical grid.

B-52’s had softened Wunder Beach for us, as you can see in a couple of these photos. We got our UDT boys to the beach under enemy mortar fire. They ran up the beach and disappeared into the bush. I was a peacenik from California while in the Navy.

When they lowered our Mike boat over the side on the davit, our XO leaned over the side and hollered at me “Hey Nesbit? do you have a sidearm?” “No Sir,” I replied, and so he leans over and hands me a .45 caliber pistol. And my outlook on the war changed.

Mike boat from St Louis with bomb bursts on the beach in the background

Prepping for insertion

USS Newport News (CA-148) The last of the 8 inch gun WWII Heavy Cruisers


War Veterans

War Veterans

By Garland Davis

A few years ago, I had an appointment at the Internal Medicine Clinic at Tripler Army Medical Center. This was before I began to manifest the symptoms of my Parkinson’s disease. As I entered the elevator, an Army officer in a camo uniform rushed past me into the nearly full elevator. I noticed an elderly couple also nearing the elevator and stopped the door to hold the elevator for them.

As the couple entered the elevator, the officer groaned and said, “For Christ’s sake.”

The elderly couple told me they were going to the same floor I was. As the elevator reached our floor and opened the officer pushed his way to the front, upsetting the lady, who would have fallen if I hadn’t caught her. Her husband also clutched my arm to maintain his balance. I helped them from the elevator and asked where they were going. As it happened, they were also going to Internal Medicine. I took my time and assisted them with a couple of stops to rest.

Once we reached the clinic, I helped them to check-in and got them seated. As I completed my check-in, the rude Army officer came from the back and sat down in the waiting area.

I walked over to him and said, “Major, if you don’t mind I would like to talk to you outside.”

We went out into the foyer. I said, “Major you owe that old man and woman an apology. When you pushed them aside exiting that elevator, they both almost fell. I see you are wearing the Combat Infantry Badge which tells me you have seen combat. Did you notice that the old gentleman’s ball cap is embroidered with the Marine Corps device and the words Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa? There are also Gunnery Sergeant’s chevrons, as well as the ribbons for the Pacific Theater, the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.”

He stared at me for a minute, turned and reentered the waiting room, walked over to the couple, knelt and talked with them for about ten minutes. He shook their hands, stood and rendered a hand salute.

He walked to me and said, “Sir, may I ask, what is your rank?”

I told him, “I am a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer.”

He shook my hand, said, “I always heard that Chiefs were a bunch of Hard-asses.” He saluted me and walked to his seat.

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Piss’n in the Bottle Again

Forgive me Waylon

Piss’n in the Bottle Again

By Garland Davis

Well, I think or maybe know I’m in Subic

But I know you don’t really give a damn

It’ s hell of a mess that I’ve got me in

Piss’n in the bottle again

I can’t walk so where is home

No use to talk, she left me alone

Hurry, jeepney hurry, main gate or

I’ll be piss’n in the bottle again

Piss’n in the bottle again

It’s only San Miguel I swear

I hope she didn’t slip me nothin’

Piss’n the bottle again

I tried to quit the wildness for a time

Yeah, I tried to quit but changed my mind

Every now and then, they got me

Piss’n the bottle again


USS Mars Was There, Part four

USS Mars Was There Part four

April/May 1975

By Glenn Hendricks

May 1st now. Once the helicopter evacuation was over most people back in the States figured that was it. They were wrong.

While the chaos of the past week was behind us things still were crazy off Vung Tau. The carriers were loaded down with civilian refugees and tons of helicopters they’d not expected. While these large units headed back to the PI with their load much of the task group stayed behind. While those who could get to aircraft had made it out, there were tens of thousands still trying to getaway. Many of these people were escaping by boat.

I’ll confess that the timeline is mixed in my memory. While I think the following happened in the days after the helo evac it may have occurred before.

Off Vung Tau the Navy set up what was basically a floating corral. Vessels from small 15-foot-long boats to 150-foot-long coastal steamers were leaving the South in droves. They’d sail east looking for rescue and salvation. Most were grossly overloaded with people fleeing the south. Men, women, and children crushed together in ancient watercraft. We herded them into large areas patrolled by Destroyers. This corral was maybe 10 miles across. From the O3 level, you could just barely make out the other side. It was incredible.

We were sailing independently when we came across one of the coastal freighters. It had a high bow sweeping down to the holding area and a superstructure aft. These were as common as flies in SE Asia and defined the term ‘rust bucket’. The deck was completely covered by refugees. They had no room to sit or rest, they were crowded together in a way I’d never seen before.

The refugees started waving at some distance and the freighter turned to intercept us. Apparently, the bridge and signalmen tried multiple ways to contact the ship but they didn’t respond to the radio, signal lights or flags. We continued on course toward the corral and the freighter followed us, just off our starboard quarter. I was on the fantail watching this going on, I probably had dumped trash over the side and was taking a smoke when all this started.

The freighter was about 200 yards away when they suddenly sped up and turned directly toward us. They were making a beeline toward the fantail and it appeared that they were going to try to tie off. I felt the screw bite deep below me and water churned beneath the stern as the throttleman responded to urgent bells from the bridge.

We dug away from them, opening a gap of a couple of hundred yards. The OOD then slowed the ship again and allowed the freighter to move closer. The signalmen and radiomen were still trying to get them to follow us to the corral, but they mistook the signals as permission to come alongside. We pulled away again. I think this happened a couple of times before they got the message and took up station off our stern. I know it happened at least twice while I stood there. I headed back to the hole.

Later that day and for a couple of days we sailed near the corral of refugees. Slowly they were transferred from the smaller boats to something more robust. We returned to Subic once our supplies had all be unreped.

In Subic, Grande Island recreation area was turned into a refugee camp. There were thousands of people camping there. The base had patrol boats constantly on station around the island to keep the Vietnamese on and to keep everyone else away. We spent some time in port waiting for our next orders.

On May 7th, President Ford announced that the Vietnam War was officially over. “The period beginning on February 28, 1961, and ending on May 7, 1975, in the case of a veteran who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period.”

For the refugees and for some of us cleaning up after the war would continue for several weeks. For others, the war has never ended.

We were given orders to find a spot 1/3 of the way between Subic and Guam and start sailing in circles. We were serving as lifeguard for ships loaded with refugees on their way to the States. Over what I remember as being the next ten or twelve days we’d steam in circles as ships crowded with people would pass by. They never needed anything from us so we’d watch them cross the horizon from the west, sail past and then off toward the east.

After the last ship passed we turned north to Sasebo. I don’t remember when we got home, I do remember that the pier was lined with families.

Coda: My sister’s dentist was one of those boat people. As a small child, he was in the evacuation. She mentioned in passing that I’d been in the fleet and he told her “I thank God for the US Navy. Without them, I would not be here today”

We done good shipmates. We done good.


USS Mars Was There, Part Three

USS Mars Was There, Part Three

April 29/30 1975

Glenn Hendricks

We were steaming as part of a carrier group for the next couple of days. We had unreped most of the group and were standing by to deliver more supplies as needed. I recall we were with the Enterprise (but I could be wrong on which carrier) with the carrier on our starboard side. We were all moving at about 16 knots when the first of the helos showed up. The first batch was mostly heavy-lift Sikorsky C-53s. We usually didn’t see many of these in normal circumstances. We didn’t know it at the time but they were bringing in people from the embassy in Saigon. Everything was falling apart.

As we watched the helos came on in normal order, they’d approach the carrier from the stern and fit into the arrival pattern. They’d unload, fuel and take back off heading west. This was in no way a precursor to the chaos of the later afternoon.

The CO had the Airedales and SKs clutter the helo pad with cargo and gear. We didn’t know it at the time, but his decision would make sure we had a viable landing area for the next week.

M division was on three-section duty and my watch was on the 4-8s. MM1 Rosy Beckett was top watch, MM3 Cliff Farsje was lower level, I had the throttles and FN Ed Amato was the messenger. We had breakfast after watch and turned to in the hole. Somehow we always seemed to find a reasonable reason to make our way to the main deck for a while to see what was going on. It was incredible to watch.

We were maybe a mile away from the carrier and just abeam of them. The initial helo landing started changing as the Sikorsky’s were replaced with Hueys with ARVN markings. The normal routine flight operations of the morning transitioned to a swarm of helos around the carrier. I counted 4 or 5 at one time with more coming in from the west. You could see them as far as you could look, small specs heading toward salvation.

Once the Hueys landed most often everyone bailed out, including the pilot. They were loaded with men, women, and children. Civilian families of the pilots, friends, and hangers-on. It seemed like every helicopter ever flown in Vietnam was heading our way.

A couple passed over us, but the decision to block the pad kept them off. We would need that helo deck in the days to come.

Our watch gathered at the starboard rail around 1520 or so. We’d taken a break and catching a smoke before we had to go back for the watch. The starboard side of the ship was lined with people watching the show. The carrier had started pushing Hueys over the side to make room for the next incoming group. You’ve seen the video and the photos, but I have got to tell you, the impact of watching those aircraft going over the side and hitting the water was amazing. It will stick with me for the rest of my life. One after another they pushed them over.

I stood there with a Winston, watching history. I knew I was seeing history being made in front of my eyes and that I was fortunate to be able to watch it rather than being in one of those choppers trying frantically to escape the unknown future in the hands of a generational enemy.

Then I tossed the butt into the sea and we went down to the hole for the 1600-2000 watch.


USS Mars Was There, Part Two

USS Mars Was There, Part Two

April 75

By Glenn Hendricks

Late March, sailing west into the Tonkin Gulf from the PI, loaded to the gunwales with supplies for the Task Groups off Vietnam. This was the same route US Navy ships had been traveling since the mid-1960s. Yankee Station was up north, where the carriers and their escorts loitered while sending strike missions north. Yankee Station was where the Forrestal caught fire, where ships had been going for nearly a decade.

We were heading toward the South, the Operation Market Time waters. Waters where coastal interdiction patrols and shore bombardment missions took place. We caught up with the various Task Groups a couple of days out of Subic.

As a supply ship, our job was pretty straight forward. Give groceries to the fleet, return and pick up more, rinse and repeat. We always were doing our mission when we were underway. While the cans and carriers were training, we were delivering. We unreped everything we needed to get off to the ships, then turned back to Subic to pick up another load. I can’t remember how long we were out this time, might have been a week, maybe 10 days. You know how the days blend together at sea.

Return to Subic we did, another load out and back out to the fleet. We still didn’t have any idea about what was going to happen. We started seeing a lot of Amphibs loaded up with Marines in Subic (which screwed up the liberty the way Marines always do). It still seemed like we were rattling the saber, warning the North to back off. Many of us really thought that if they didn’t back off we’d be in a hot war within weeks if not days. We were all kind of tense.

One of the things that came up was that we were now in a combat zone. Free mail (you’d just write ‘free’ where a stamp would go) and TAX-FREE PAY. Now for most of us, this was something we’d never seen before. Our pay jumped pretty dramatically, at least dramatically for an E3 making $420 a month. All of a sudden we had extra cash and nowhere to spend it. Naturally, this led to some poor choices.

The engineering department had a poker book going. We played cards for money, but nothing on the table. The book was kept by a 2nd class and card games going on at all hours of the night. It ebbed and flowed but there was nearly always a game on the mess decks. Get off watch, play for an hour and hit your rack. Get up early, play for a bit and go on watch. There was some serious money in the book and a couple of people got way deep into it. As in a couple of month’s pay. I knew a couple of guys who got in fairly deep and stopped playing. They started taking other people’s watches for cash. The guys who bought out of their watch either slept or played cards. It was a strange time.

This lasted for maybe 2 or 3 weeks until one FA was busted for sleeping on watch in shaft alley. He was a dirt dragger and ended up getting a BCD (which is another story) but he was into the book for around $350. He whined to the MPA that he only fell asleep because he’d been playing cards trying to catch back up.

Mr. Waterford was a CWO3 and wasn’t amused. He knew what was happening, but he didn’t “Know” what was happening. Now it was in his face and he had to take action. I don’t know all the details but the 2nd class had a meeting with Mr. Waterford, the book was closed (although everyone but the FA paid up) and if you had a deck of cards out you damn sure better be playing spades. There never was any formal action taken. Mr. Waterford didn’t need to bother the formal system. He didn’t need to.

This back and forth from Subic to the fleet went on from late March to mid-April. By the middle of the month, things changed. We were sailing further to catch up with the Task Group, they were closer and closer to Vung Tau. The situation on land was rapidly deteriorating as the NVA pushed further south with armored columns. We still expected to see airstrikes from the carriers, expected to see the Marines load up on landing craft and moving toward the shore. We didn’t know what the hell was going on.

Then the helicopters began arriving.