Memories of being at sea

November 11, 2012

I served in the U.S. Navy from 1956 to 1980 as a signalman retiring honorably. I served in the 1st, 2nd and 6th fleets throughout the world. I just celebrated by 74th birthday on Oct. 15. I grew up in Lima across from Schoonover Park but currently reside in Bowling Green.

I was in the Navy for more than 20 years. I really enjoyed going to sea. I liked being able to see flying fish, whales, gigantic turtles, man of war jellyfish, porpoises and sea lions. At one time off the port side of the ship, I saw a gigantic sea turtle six feet across its back, just swimming along in the sea. We were often accompanied by a school of porpoises and it is fascinating to watch them dive under the ship and come up again in and around the screw (the propeller, for your landlubbers.)

Perhaps one of the highlights in my career was participating in a crossing of the line ceremony. That is what happens when you cross the equator and enter the domain of Neptunus Rex and appear at the court of Davy Jones for sentencing. We noticed that as we crossed and were performing the ceremony, there was a Russian Man of War and they were also having a crossing of the line ceremony on their ship. This notable event, as frivolous as it may seem, is important enough to have an official entry in one’s service record, that they participated (or declined) in a crossing of the line ceremony and are now an honored shellback. It is all good fun. I received a certificate stating I am an honored shellback forever.

I visited many foreign countries: Australia, Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Turkey, Greece, Guam, Samoa, Phillippines, Korea, Japan, Lebanon, Africa, Tasmania, New Zealand, Nova Scotia, Greenland, England, Ireland, Singapore, Taiwan. It was fascinating to see the people and learn that although they may speak a different langugae they are just like us. They too have a desire for freedom and long to pursue a life of happiness. There were so many different cultures and foods to savor.

Sometimes the night at sea was a pure delight. The stars were so bright and seemed crisp and clear. You could see them uninhibited by any artificial lights. The panoramic views from ship were amazing. Then there were the nights that were oh so dark. Some nights we ran without lights, called darkened ship, which only enhanced the crystal sharpness of the heavenly bodies. On those nights when there was no moon or stars, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, it was so dark.

One time I remember we went through the straits in the Red Sea. We were patrolling up and down for three months at 5 knots. That left next to no wake in the water. It nearly drove us crazy. The weather was so hot, and we painted all the top side surfaces white to reflect the heat of the sun. It had little effect because the normal temperature daily was 110 degrees. Our post World War II destroyer’s ventilation system could not keep up with the heat of the day. We felt like we were in a sauna. The entire three months, the seas were absolutely still. The water was a deep blue and so translucent as to see into the very depths of the sea, slick as glass. You could drop a 50-cent piece off the deck and watch it float down in the water for what seemed like hours. That is how transparent the water was. The sunlight would radiate off the coin, enabling us to watch it gently float away into the depths of the sea. There was little else to occupy our time. It was too hot to go below to watch movies or any other distractions.

One day we would be underway and the waves would come at us, high as a wall. Experiencing these heavy seas was not as enjoyable but was breathtaking at times. Occasionally the seas would be so heavy that the cooks could not prepare food. At best, we could have cold cuts for our meal. That is, if we were up to eating. Even those heavy seas were more tolerable than the days of dense fog where you could see nothing but fog. The ship’s foghorn sounded every 2 minutes and the sound reverbrated throughout the ship 24/7. There was little sleep but we soon learned to shut things out. I got to a point where I even fell asleep standing up. And all this made the calm days an enjoyable paradise free from the smog-ridden cities.

We went through a hurricane once, and that was a time not to be forgotten. The destroyer had twin 5-inch gun turrets on the bow. After traversing the storm, we noticed the waves had bent the forward gun barrels at an outward angle. They both had to be replaced. Many of the stanchions on the starboard side of the ship were ripped out of the bulkhead and some of the lifeboats were lost. The boat davit was destroyed. The motor whale boat was lost. We took a 67-degree roll for what seemed like an eternity. The ship hung in suspension until the ship finally plunged into the sea and righted itself. It was terrifying and yet exhilarating at the same time. Definitely something I don’t want to go through again.

I served as a Navy recruiter for five years and was in the top 10 recruiters nationally consecutively each of those years. Quite often I was called upon to make appearances and speak at high schools, civic clubs and government groups such as Model Cities Programs. This has helped me in my professional career when called upon to make group presentations.

My naval service helped build my self confidence and develop an “I can do it” spirit that spoke courage, steady as she goes, maintain course and speed when the trials of life seem to shout you can’t this, you can’t succeed, you’re failing. And I will always miss going out to sea — the camaraderie of my shipmates and the peace and oneness with nature of the open sea.