Friday, July 7, 2017

Underway, shift colors

Just after midnight, moon waxing gibbous, chart says 99% full, 

reflection dancing on the Bay surface at my feet seven floors down. Why I’m up, who knows; I don’t know whether I dozed off and on for those two or three hours after going to bed, my grandfather called it “turning in,” or awake the whole time. I thought I was awake throughout, but there came a point when I had the feeling of just waking up. 

What’s going through mind? That after Mom died in January 1947, Pop and Ann moved in with us for a spell during which Pop renovated his workshop over the garage out back at 1040 E. Caroline Boulevard, into what was thereafter called “the apartment" -- a living room, two bedrooms, bathroom, for him and Ann. Growing up, Ann was daughter/granddaughter same as Kristen is my daughter/granddaughter. Pop had adopted Ann same as I adopted my Kristen. But that jumps ahead of my remembrance, doesn’t it. The memory was that when they moved in with us, my parents bought Pop a living room chair exactly like my father’s blue chair, a long, comfortable recliner and matching footstool with a compartment to hold books &c. You did not sit in my father's chair. Never. Seems to me Pop’s chair was a dark red upholstery. The last time I visited with Pop just before we moved away to Japan summer 1963, he was sitting in that chair in the apartment. Ann was gone then, married and living in Cincinnati as I recall. That may have been the visit when Pop mused about the first sweetheart he had kissed that snowy winter so long ago, while he was visiting his brother, an Episcopal priest in Wisconsin. Stopped the sleigh and kissed her. His first time kissing a girl.

Why do these things come to mind. Because it’s after midnight and the moon is 99% full is the only reason I know. In my office in Yokosuka, Japan the following June, I received a letter from my mother, marked “open in private” telling me that Pop had died. February 1872 to June 1964, he was ninety-two. Do I have any regrets? Sure. Of course. Another time, perhaps, for another blogpost. Maybe.

My Navy career was well underway by then, they’d taken me seriously: a destroyer officer promoted to lieutenant (O3) from “below the zone,” jumping over hundreds of other officers according to the Navy register. I don’t think it’s possible today, I think the Navy long ago ruled out early promotions from O2 to O3. Why did I get it? Along with our Ops officer, George Fitzgibbons, I was clearly the captain’s wardroom favorite. There are a couple short stories here from USS Corry (DDR 817). LTJG Fitzgibbons’ next tour of duty took him on a TDY assignment in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to help with their Navy in some way. When the TDY was completed, he left Brazil on a Navy transport plane that also was carrying the Navy Band. Taking off, above Rio Harbor, the plane George was riding collided with another plane. I read about in, I think, Time magazine at the time. One of just a few survivors, George was riding in the very tail of the aircraft, the seats facing backwards as they did in those days, I don’t remember why. George said there was a loud whump, then total silence. He raised up in his seat and looked back toward the front of the plane, only to see nothing but empty space as the small tail section floated back and forth like a falling leaf, into Rio Bay, where he managed to get out before the tail sank.

Another story was that our ship’s captain, Commander Charles Ward, was not a Naval Academy graduate. In fact, we had only one USNA graduate, an ensign named Bill E. who came to us directly from Annapolis. Regular Navy therefore, he was an arrogant Essobee ring-knocker who held the captain, and the rest of the wardroom officers, in fact, in contempt as amateur know nothings; and he made no secret of it. 

One short story about Ensign E. is the night the ship left the yard to return to the Destroyer-Submarine piers. Some officers went with the ship, some of us were allowed to drive the cars over. Bill E. gave me the keys to drive his brand new 1958 Chevrolet Impala hardtop 

(why he ordered it without power steering IDK, he was an idiot) from Portsmouth, VA back to the ship piers in Norfolk, and I let another officer drive it so I could drive still another officer’s brand new racing green Triumph TR3 instead, and Bill E was enraged at me. Well, what the hell, which would you have driven?

Another story about Ensign E is the night he drove that Chevrolet through the gate, the Marine sentry saluted and said, “Good evening, Sir,” and Bill E in semi-sobriety saluted back and said, “Good evening, effing jarhead.” TWEEEET. TWEEEEEEEEEEETTTT. The Marine stopped him, gave him a citation, as I recall made him leave his car there and the Marine had him driven to the ship. The next morning, our ship’s captain was summoned to present himself forthwith and immediately to the admiral who was the naval base commander.

My last story in this stream is that Ensign Bill E., USN, United States Naval Academy, what 1958, is the only officer I’ve ever known who was not promoted to LTJG. It was hard to miss that first promotion, which at the time was automatic at eighteen months.

The moon looks to me like it’s about 99.3% full now, but I’m going on with my reminiscing. 

Except for Ensign E., USS Corry had a great wardroom at the time, all close and all friends to some extent. My roommate at the end of my tour, Don Senese, a Bostonian, was a Harvard graduate in Russian language and history, who hated being in the Navy and was headed back to Harvard to resume his studies. When Corry was in Guantanamo Bay for refresher training with the rest of our DesDiv, Don and I spent all day the Saturdays sailing on the bay sustained by an iced washtub of Heineken. 

That would have been January, February, maybe March 1959.

Don was disappointed unto disgust and dismay when I told him that I loved the destroyer duty so much that I’d applied to transfer (the Navy’s word is augment) from Naval Reserve to Regular Navy. I remember him saying, “Tom, you can do much better than this with your life.” 

We bought liquor at the package store in GTMO, that golden rum Bacardi Añejo, at seventy cents a fifth, having taken a liking to sipping Añejo and Soda in the Cuban sunshine. A couple years later, after Don had done his three years and he and his wife Pam moved back to Boston, and Linda, Malinda and I on to our next duty station, Mayport, Florida, Don wrote me that he’d lost his taste for the Añejo, that it no longer had the sunshine.

These are Corry memories. One morning I reported aboard from our home in Norfolk, into the then horror that one of our wardroom officers, LTJG Chuck B., had been arrested and taken off the ship by ONI, the Office of Naval Intelligence, for engaging in homosexuality. Chuck had taken one of the young teenage sailors out to a drive-in or some such, and seduced him. He was gone. Gone. The young sailor was found innocent and returned to the ship, but we never saw Chuck again.

We had several Ivy League NROTC officers in our wardroom, I don’t recall any other names except the XO, whom I recently remembered here. I do remember the Saturday in Norfolk when five or six of us wardroom officers drove downtown to the Peugeot dealership. We so admired the 403 that the salesman handed me a key so we could crowd in and drive it, as he thought, around the block. 

We squeezed in, there was no room for the salesman, and took off for the Atlantic shore miles away. When we returned the car to the dealership about dusk, the salesman was frantic that a pack of naval officers had stolen one of their demonstrators. But it was a super car. Four on the tree, not peppy in American terms, but a solid French automobile that we owned for a day.

In chief’s quarters on USS Corry with me was Chief Joe Bazzel, one of the senior CPOs on board. We got to be friends because Joe was from Panama City, Florida too, and his wife Dorothy went to Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, knew my parents, and for some years was a teacher at Cove School. So, Joe and I made friends. About the same time I was transferred from USS Corry to Naval Station, Mayport, Chief Joe Bazzel was transferred from USS Corry to a destroyer homeported at Mayport, and we picked up the friendship. At some point, Joe’s destroyer was about to deploy to the Mediterranean, and he brought me the keys to his new Ford station wagon and asked me to keep it and drive it for him. Which then gave us two cars for a while. After a few months, his wife needed it, and my mother rode Greyhound or Trailways bus from Panama City to get Joe’s Ford and also to take Malinda home to visit with her grandparents, my parents and Linda’s parents all in Panama City. Joe Bazzel was a cousin or uncle of our later clerk of court Harold Bazzel, and apparently actually raised Harold. After Joe’s wife died, he bought a fishing camp on a river near here, Apalachicola or Chipola, I think. And he came by once to visit us at the rectory in Apalachicola. No naval officer ever did, and Chief Joe Bazzel was the only enlisted man ever to call me "Carroll," which proofed our Panama City solidity.

The year after our post-overhaul refresher training, either the whole eight ship DesRon or the four ship DesDiv again went south for a couple of months. I don’t want to mix the two voyages in my mind and on paper, but that time we had naval exercises in the Atlantic and/or Caribbean, and visited Port au Prince, Haiti and San Juan, Puerto Rico. What I recall is that, as crypto officer when we were underway, I found the exercises so busy at night, being wakened in my bunk and summoned to the crypto-shack repeatedly to decode classified messages, that the second night and the rest of that week of night ops I took my pillow and a blanket and slept on the table in the crypto-shack. Facing the crypto machine, the table was about four feet long by about twelve inches wide, but in those days I could scrunch up and doze, waiting. I was trying to remember why I took the blanket, was the space air conditioned? It must have been, because my recollection is my space there opened into either CIC and/or Communications Center, which even in those days would have been air conditioned.

The story surely attaches to what happened to me the end of that year, Christmas 1960, when Linda and I, Malinda and newborn son Jody, Joe, were home on leave and I was summoned urgently to the telephone for a long distance call from my new boss, Commander Martin, at Naval Station, Mayport to be told that my name was at the bottom of the just released list of officers selected for promotion to lieutenant. At the bottom because I was the most junior LTJG on the list. Commander Martin told me that he had no idea I was up for consideration, that he’d opened the naval register to find my name and had gone down a column, and another column, and another column, and turned the page, and gone down column, column column, and turned the page again and gone down the column until he came to my name. He was so impressed, and so excited and pleased with calling me, that I never told him that most of those other officers, not all but most, that the selection board had passed over to reach me, actually had finished their three year obligation and returned to civilian life. But the story is still to savor anyway, nearly sixty years later.

Why me? Besides being the skipper’s favorite in the wardroom, it was how impressed he was that I slept in the crypto-shack during those night operations at sea. In particular, one message had come in in the wee hours, was handed to me, I decrypted it within a couple minutes, and sent it to the captain on the bridge. It was an op-order from the commodore, something to be executed at a specific time about an hour later. Of the four or eight destroyers working the sea exercise that night, only the USS Corry executed the order, and promptly on time. The commodore blasted the skippers of the other ships, held Corry up as the shining example of readiness, and commended our skipper. All because, which the commodore didn’t know, Ensign Weller was camping in Corry’s crypto-shack. 

At the end of my eighteen month tour in USS Corry, Linda and the children had gone on ahead to Florida, and I drove down alone from Norfolk. Leaving the ship, I went by the captain’s house to tell him and his wife goodbye. I visited a few minutes, including our recalling the time nearly a year and a half earlier when I’d had a sharp run in with the skipper about something involving the officers’ wives club, and which I’d won. Nevermind what it was, doesn’t matter. That morning he’d summoned me to his cabin to have a piece of me. As soon as he started chewing, from the start I’d talked over him and louder. When he arrived home that evening, his wife asked if he had talked with me, and if I’d understood. Word came back later that his response to her was, “I don’t know. Tom wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise.” As I left their house he told me, “You will be Mr. BuSandA someday” at the time a rear admiral’s billet, which ignited my flag hopes, and a superior’s confidence and view of me that showed up solid in my early promotion to Navy lieutenant.  

Commander Ward next went to a fleet CinC staff and was promoted to captain. He’s long dead. We helped each other, and I liked and enjoyed him thoroughly. He liked to throw a big curry dinner in the wardroom, which was my introduction to Indian curry and all the little sprinkle-on dishes including Major Grey’s Chutney. Captain Ward and his wife both drove Borgward Isabella cars, one a sedan, one a station wagon.

Their second marriage, his very present, buxom wife was a character who, when she came to visit the ship would — as she started up the ship’s ladder from the wardroom to the deck where the captain’s cabin was located — would giggle and shriek sufficient for every sailor onboard to hear, “Oh no! I have to hold my skirt down. I never wear panties, you know!”

Underway, shift colors.

DThos+ somewhere late in +Time+

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