MY LIFE IN THE NAVY
you happen to stumble across this page not knowing to what else it is
connected, go to
now realize that I forgot to include, in my previous chapter about Gitmo,
three more observations. The
first happened more than once, so it likely recurred while we were on the
way home, too. Flying fish
were unfortunate enough to pick the wrong time and place to do their
flying and landed on our main deck. Stewards
(about whom I will have more to say in my next chapter) would eagerly
scoop them up and head back to their galley. It sure beat dangling a line
or a net over the side! I don’t know if they ever fed any to the officers in the
wardroom. The stewards
themselves were all Filipinos and, being from an island nation, were big
second observation involves the population at Gitmo.
Being that Gitmo is a US base inside a Communist country, it was
surrounded by a fence. Both
sides had guard towers; the Cubans watched us and we watched them.
Despite that, I guess we had given security clearances to at least
part of the Cuban population for, each day, several hundred natives would
come pouring through the gates to work for our Navy.
I met two of them one day when I took a taxi to either the Navy
exchange or the EM (Enlisted Men’s) club.
The driver said nothing to me but, along the way, picked up his
buddy who jumped into the front seat.
From the back seat, I overheard their conversation.
I consider myself quite the linguist but, for the life of me, I
simply couldn’t figure out what language they were speaking.
It certainly wasn’t Spanish or French, both of which I had
excelled at studying. Neither
did it resemble any of maybe four other languages in which I knew a few
phrases. All became clear
when one exclaimed “Holy sheet, mon!”.
It was ENGLISH! That
was my first exposure to the soft Caribbean accent.
with the idea that Cuba was a Communist country, even before our lookout
spotted a periscope just as we were leaving, we had one previous encounter
with Russians. Long before
the fall of the Soviet Union, in 1970 Russia was still a financial
mainstay for her Cuban satellite. From
time to time a Russian freighter would slowly wend its way up the
Guantanamo River past our piers, bearing, I suspect, sorely-needed machine
parts for the moribund Cuban economy.
On its way out, it’d carry sugar cane purchased at
higher-than-market prices to prop up their financially-ailing allies.
The freighters would observe military protocol, radioing for
permission to enter our port and it was always granted.
We, however, took precautions that they wouldn’t get too near our
piers and one of our ships was always sent to escort them.
In actuality, the Russians probably didn’t need to get THAT close
to our moored ships to sneak a peek at what goodies they contained.
Guantanamo Bay itself is quite large and Hammerberg was once
assigned the escort duty, slowly running circles around a freighter as she
had been right when he’d said “By the time we get back from Gitmo, you
WILL be able to stand your own watch”.
Being the leader of our QM gang, Smitty stood no watch of his own
but remained on standby 24/7 in case any of us four strikers needed him.
With 4-section duty, I would come off watch at say, 1600 hours (4
PM). Wolfe and Yarashas would
follow me from 1600 to 2000 and 2000 to 2400.
Coggins would have the “mid-watch” from 0000 (midnight) to 0400
and then I’d take over again from 4 AM to 8 AM.
It was a good rotation for, with it set up that way, each of us
stood watch partly in daylight and partly after dark.
We each got all-around-the-clock experience.
Some QM functions are carried on only on daylight, others at night,
while still others are performed regardless of time of day.
excuse me readers, if I now go on at length to explain exactly WHAT we did
on watch. If technical stuff
is boring to you, feel free to skip the next two thousand-or-so words. When navigating, three things are of utmost importance: where
you are, which way you’re going, of course, but also when you are.
we were at any given moment was determined by one of three means:
When we were a considerable distance from any land
mass, we used LORAN “A” (a\k\a LORAN Alpha). A machine down in our
chart house, just below the bridge, gave us a numerical readout of maybe
two or three figures. We’d
take those numbers back up to the bridge and lay them out them between
pre-printed lines on our chart. We’d use a compass (a type of drafting
tool shaped like a capital letter “A” with one sharp metal point on
one tip and a pencil on the other tip). A reading of, say 1,650, would be
a little over halfway between the “1,000” and “2,000” somewhat-longitudinal chart lines and we’d first lay the compass against
a ruler\legend on the side of the chart to spread the tips apart the
appropriate distance. We’d
then insert the sharp tip on the “1,000” line and swing an arc with
the pencil out from it, marking it on the chart.
The second LORAN reading would also be used in a similar fashion to
swing another arc, using a different reading, from pre-printed lines that
were more latitudinally-oriented and had values like “20,000” or
“30,000”. Where the two
arcs intersected was our exact location for, a nowhere else on earth would
you be exactly that precise distance between the longitudinal “1,000”
and “2,000” lines while, at that same time be just that precise
distance between latitudinal “20,000” and “30,000”. Three LORAN readings would make it even more precise.
We would plot those positions once an hour.
Within, say, 20 miles of land, the process was
similar but we used a radar
With land very close at hand and many more things
to run into, more constant
WAY we were headed was always of great importance.
Our gyrocompass, spinning at great speed down in our keel
somewhere, was our mainstay in guiding the helmsman to steer a prescribed
course. From time to time, it
would break down but, generally, our IC’s (Interior Communications) men
could get it back up and running before its absence became critical.
Should it ever become irreparably out of whack, we always had our
“mag” (magnetic) compass to fall back on.
As you may have heard, Earth’s Magnetic North Pole is constantly
shifting and lines showing how its fluctuations vary are printed on each
chart. Ships would only order
new charts even five years or so, but further magnetic deviations were
printed annually in books. Should
we ever lose our mag compass at the same time as we lost the gyro, QM’s
__COULD__ use those lines to give a fairly-close reading as to our heading
but still we had even more backup. Once
each watch, I’d stand next to the helmsman and, while he watched his
gyro, I’d keep an eye on the mag compass.
I tell him “Give me a ‘MARK!’ when you’re exactly on
course”. If he were
steering, for example, true north at 090 degrees, the mag might be reading
105 for a variance of plus15 degrees.
I’d mark that in the ship’s log.
If, 3 hours later, the gyro went down when he was supposed to be
steering 127, I’d tell him “Bring her right to 142” and we’d be
headed just about where we should be.
With every QMSN doing this on his watch, it was never more than 4
hours since the latest comparison.
we were was the third essential element in navigation.
To get to where we wanted to be within a reasonable time period
meant we had to make course changes at specific times.
Then, too, were we ever traveling in a convoy, all ships needed to
make the change at the exact same time lest they collide. As I described back at Chapter-2,
the most accurate time was obtained from the National Bureau of
Standards’ time-tick on WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado.
(WWV always knew the precise Greenwich Mean Time, based on atomic
clocks at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.). We had backups in
case of loss of radio contact in the form of three wind-up chronometers,
which were “exceedingly accurate” timepieces down in our chart house.
I use parentheses around “exceedingly accurate” because, to a
layman, they would seem to be exceedingly INaccurate.
They were housed down inside a table and mounted on gimbals to
offset the rolling and pitching of the ship.
They could only be overhauled (i.e. cleaned, oiled, and adjusted
back to exact time) maybe once every 5 years and said overhaul could be
accomplished only in a shipyard. Not
even a destroyer tender had the craftsmen needed to do that job.
I don’t known when Hammerberg’s chronometers had last been
overhauled. All I knew was
that, since then, they had gotten all out of whack.
One might be an hour and twenty minutes fast, the second one only
23 minutes fast, and the third might be 2 hours slow.
All of that mattered not much.
What counted were the RATES at which they were speeding up or
slowing down. Each morning,
at 1000 I believe, it was the duty QM’s job to “compare
chronometers”. You would take a stopwatch to the radio shack, get a WWV
time tick, and start the watch. Back
in the chart hose, you’d compare the real time to what each chronometer
was showing and make note of it in a 3-column log book.
Upon loss of radio contact, you would calculate and average gain or
loss for each time piece over, say, a month-long period and then do some
math. You’d end up with,
maybe, “A” gaining 2.2 seconds every 24 hours, while “B” and
“C” had different rates of gain or loss. Then, knowing how much time had elapsed since your last 1000
comparison, you could average the three and end up with danged close to
precise time. While comparing
the chronometers, you also re-wound them and then reported to the bridge
(or the quarterdeck if in port) “Sir, chronometers have been wound and
compared” and a note of such was duly made in the ship’s log.
On the way home from Gitmo, I happened to have a mid-watch
(midnight to 4 AM) and a course change around an island happened during
that time. The ship’s XO
was the official Navigator and we QM’s were merely his helpers.
I got a real kick out of picking up a phone on the bridge to ring
the heck out of the XO and waking him up at 2:35 AM.
He couldn’t get mad at me for, after all, it was my OFFICIAL duty
to report that the course change had been made.
I would have been in official trouble had I NOT made the call. LOL
The WWV time tick was also useful when, during one overnight watch, I
helped Smitty do another thing that QM1’s do to keep their
qualifications up to date: “shoot the stars”. I brought the exact time
on a stopwatch out to the starboard bridge wing and then made note of what
time it was when he observed the angle to various stars using a sextant.
He then retreated to our chart house and spent about an hour with
the nautical almanac doing math to figure our position.
underway duty of a QM was to be the ship’s weatherman.
On the signal bridge was a hygrometer, consisting of two
side-by-side thermometers. The
bottom of one was covered by a piece of cloth-like material that resembled
the wick of a kerosene-fed hurricane lamp.
The lower part of that material was kept immersed in a container of
water and the water leached upward through the cloth, thereby making the
instrument a “wet-bulb” thermometer.
Since evaporation is a cooling process, the reading from this
“wet-bulb” thermometer was always lower than the reading from the
“dry bulb” one. Comparing
the two readings would give you the relative humidity for, the drier the
air, the faster the evaporation would occur.
One would guess that, on the sea completely surrounded by water,
the relative humidity would always be 100%.
After all, about 95% of the time, Hammerberg carried a rainbow
along with it, in the spray thrown up by our bow wave.
That guess would be wrong, though, and we measured the relative
humidity once per watch.
barometer was also an important instrument. We were under a standing order
to report if it fell more than a certain amount over a certain time
period, for that meant we were headed into bad weather.
also made two observations of the waves as we sailed along.
The height of the swells would be noted. We’d also note the breaking at the top of the swells, for
we could judge the wind direction from the way the spray was blowing
relative to our course. For
example, if we were headed due North and the spray was coming directly
toward our starboard beam, that would indicate an easterly wind.
were also observed, as we had been taught the various types of clouds back
in “A” school. Cumulus
clouds were big, puffy white ones found at about 10,000 feet while cirrus
were stringy ones at a much higher altitude.
entire body of our weather observations would be reduced to a series of
numbers and then reported to the duty RM down in the radio shack.
The entire idea was that somewhere (at “Navy central”) weather
reports were being constantly received from all ships underway and used by
meteorologists to develop forecasts.
It must have been boring as all get-out for an RM to sit and send
nothing but a long string of numbers and we QM’s weren’t very welcome.
I began to seriously doubt if they ever sent our reports more than
50% of the time. One silly
factor was the reporting on clouds. On
an overnight watch how WAS I supposed to know what type of clouds were
overhead? It was DARK! I
would just continue whatever the last daytime watch had reported and
nobody was the wiser.
in Chapter 6 I mentioned that our nasty captain had been replaced by a
much nicer man sometime during our Cuban adventure.
While we were quite busy on the bridge during that period, things
calmed down quite a bit as we headed home.
I had forgotten his name over the years but, in researching some
parts of this story, I came across a partial list of Hammerbergers at http://newportdealeys.com/DE1015/DE1015-CrewsList.htm.
It now appears that he was Lawrence Anderson, for his time of
service begin in 1970, when I also served on her.
I’m now seeking to contact him.
I know it’s very unlikely that he’ll remember me because I
served under him for only three months but I certainly recall him.
A quiet sort, he nonetheless kept a sharp eye on things and I
believe he took a liking to me. Most
memorable was the time he said “Hontz, radar is reporting an unknown
surface contact about 10 miles off the starboard bow.
Any idea what that might be?”
I responded with “Let me check, sir” and went off to study my
latest Notice To Mariners publication.
I returned a few minutes later to report "My best guess, sir,
is that it’s that weather buoy that was reportedly on the loose in this
area a couple of months ago”. The sonuvagun knew that all along to be
the right answer and he responded with a wry smile and “Not bad for a
college boy”. He then
ordered a course change to come alongside the buoy and spent maybe 15
minutes taking pot shots at it with his GI-issue .45.
17, 1970 has remained in my memory for nearly 38 years as this is written,
for it was a day when I traveled by sea,
land, and air all on the same day. Hammerberg
pulled into Newport that day. The
other three QMSN’s may have been on leave shortly before she left in
January, for they had been aware of her planned deployment to Gitmo.
As I have told, I joined her only the night before we left, coming
from my restriction in Philly. Smitty
granted my leave request and I was one of the first ones off the ship.
I took a bus to the Providence airport . All the radios in the
waiting area were tuned into news broadcasts as we hoped that Apollo 13
would make it home. It had landed safely by the time my plane took me back
to Wilkes-Barre. I guess I
had written a few letters to Dad from Gitmo but only after I got home did
I get to tell him everything about my AWOL adventures the previous summer.
I stayed with him for about a week and then returned to Newport.
guessing here, but I’d say Hammerberg spent the remainder of April in
Newport and that maybe, around mid-May or so, we headed north to Boston. The Navy obviously had plans in store for Hammerberg but said
plans were not relayed down to us mere enlisted men. We just knew we were going into a shipyard for some
“work”. Now, 38 years
later, without too much effort Googling, I find that all I had needed to
do was ask fellow sailors aboard another of the “Newport Dealeys”.
[Navy ships are assigned classifications that are named after the first of
a new type of ship. The USS Dealey (DE 1006) had been launched on November
8, 1953 by Bath Iron Works Corp., Bath, Maine, just 9 months before the
same yard launched Hammerberg (DE 1015).]
The USS Van Voorhis (DE 1028) was even newer than Hammerberg and
often moored next to us. At http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/v1/van_voorhis.htm
one can read how she beat us to Boston, arriving there in January, 1970.
the Van Voorhis, Hammerberg was essentially being recognized as no longer
a “man of war”. At the
Bethlehem Steel Shipyards in East Boston we, too, had our DASH weapon and
its helipad removed . In its
place, the “yard birds” (civilian ship workers), installed a system
which I now know was called ITASS (Interim Towed Array Surveillance
System). All we enlisted knew
it that a new working space was built on the fantail where the helipad had
stood and that some new crewmates came aboard.
They were berthed in the former DASH hangar.
We were never told exactly what equipment went into the new working
space and it was all quite hush-hush.
We weren’t even supposed to talk much to the new crewmates, who
were some kind of techies. A couple of pieces of equipment, however,
simply couldn’t be hidden. An immense spool of rubberized “hose”,
with a diameter of perhaps 3 inches, contained electronic wiring.
At the end of the hose was an item they called a “pig” with God
knows what else inside it. The new guys were to toss the pig off the fantail and then,
by playing out the maybe-mile-long hose, drag it along below the surface
behind us. When it finished
its work it’d be winched back onto its spool.
The only thing I could guess it that it must have been something
really IMPORTANT because one yard bird accidentally stepped on one section
and it reportedly cost thousands of dollars to replace it.
The scuttlebutt was that Hammerberg was to make a “Med cruise”
and use the new ITASS to map the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. ITASS would also measure all sorts of neat things like water
temperature and salinity. The
reality was that Hammerberg was going to track Russian subs but we
weren’t inside the need-to-know circle.
As can see seen at the above-cited web site, Van Voorhis departed
Newport for the Med on August 26, 1970.
That pretty well coincides with the date I recall Hammerberg
leaving and it’s darned near a lead pipe cinch that the two
“Dealeys” convoyed across the pond together.
In Chapter 8 I’ll tell how I came to not go with Hammerberg.
adding the new sonar equipment to the fantail, Hammerberg also took on a
new piece of navigation gear. LORAN
C (\ak\a “Loran Charlie”) was a replacement for our old LORAN A.
It was a really heavy piece of electronic equipment weighing, I’d
guess, maybe 150 pounds. It was also very sensitive and it would hardly do to bring it
on board using a crane-and-pallet lest it be banged up and broken.
Joe Yarashas and I were the swarthiest of the 4 QMSN’s so we got
the job of handling it. We
initially tried bringing it up through the ship’s interior but found
that it was too bulky to fit through the width of some of the ladders.
We ended up bringing it up outside the ship’s “skin” on a
nice sunny day. The path took
us all the way up to the bridge wings, then inside the bridge and down one
ladder to our chart room. I
think Joe got the easier half of the load, climbing slowly backward up
ladders, while I hefted the lower end.
We had to be SO careful and move slowly.
I guess it took us over an hour to finally get it into position on
the chart table in the chart room. From
there, the ET’s (Electronics Technicians) took over to complete the
installation. I don’t
recall any actual sharp back pain resulting from this strenuous effort
but, from what we will see later, it certainly didn’t do me any good.
The ET’s never did manage to get LORAN C working correctly for,
even while pier side in Boston, it’d show us sitting in Long Island
made two other observations while Hammerberg was in Boston.
The most obvious was the huge difference between high and low tides
(the tidal range) compared to Newport.
Back in our home port I never even noticed the tide changing.
In Boston, the range was much greater.
At one time you’d walk uphill on the ship’s “brow”
(gangplank) to come aboard and the next time would find you walking
downhill. You can read all
about tides at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tide.
My far-less-than-scientific guesstimate would be that, since Boston
was closer to the Bay Of Fundy, Nova
Scotia, than Newport was, perhaps latitude made the difference.
I guess I’m wrong about that, since there seem to be other
variables at work, too. Just
take my word that, in May of 1970, there was a SIGNIFICANT difference.
hadn’t noticed while we were pier side in Gitmo but it became abundantly
clear in Boston that Hammerberg was discharging raw sewage into the water.
As a test, I purposely dropped something unusual (I forget what
exactly) into a commode. About an hour later, there it came, out a hole in
Hammerberg’s side, and dropped on a “camel”, which was a floating
wooden platform that kept us from banging against the pier.
The deck apes would, maybe twice a day, get out their fire fighting
hoses and wash it directly into the Charles River. I saw little kids
swimming in that same river just a few piers away from us and was reminded
of the lyrics of The Standells’ 1966 #11 hit record, “Dirty Water”:
“Well I love that dirty water, oh, Boston, you're my home”.
Back In Newport we were once ordered to attend a program where some
sort of admiral would take questions from the enlisted men.
Assured that no reprimand would be forthcoming, I asked him
point-blank about this pollution. Ever
the diplomat, he assured me that the Navy WAS working on installing
onboard sewage treatment plants. Only
thirty years later did I come up with what WOULD have been a workable
solution back in 1970. Recreational
vehicles (RVs) are able to discharge the contents of their sewage tanks
into treatment tanks at campgrounds.
The Navy COULD have invented a PDR (Poop Disposal Rig) to be
floated aside ships much as were the extant ODR’s (Oil Disposal Rigs)
which I will mention in Chapter 8.
left Boston sometime in May,1970 and headed back south to Newport.
Along the way, somewhere near the Cape Cod Canal, we proceeded
though a degaussing range. One
can read all about degaussing at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degaussing
but I’ll give you a shorthand explanation here. (I give kudos to my pal, Theron “Clock Doc” Jeffery here,
for he is much more scientifically-oriented than I.)
I have previously mentioned the Earth’s magnetic fields and, per
Clock Doc, a steel ship passing through them will build up, over a period
of years, a certain magnetic charge.
Said charge, I knew, made us way too attractive to some mines and
Clock Doc adds that it makes us quite attractive to lightning, too.
It is therefore quite advisable that every ship be “degaussed”
every few years to rid it of that charge.
It was a simple procedure whereby we merely sailed between two
points and were subjected to some sort of what I’ll loosely term
“X-rays”. Unlike what
happens in the movie “The Philadelphia Experiment” where modern-day
sailors get transported back in time and given the chance to avert the
attack on Pearl Harbor, we Hammerbergers felt nothing at all.
in Newport, shipboard life settled down into a ho-hum existence.
We did run a few sea trials outside Block Island testing the new
sonar gear and allowing the ET’s to mess with LORAN C but, other than
that, the daily routine was quite boring.
a week I’d perform another QM duty, winding every clock on the ship.
With my trusty key, I ventured into every space aboard Hammerberg
that had a clock, from the captain’s cabin to the galley to the realm of
the snipes (engine men) below decks.
The snipes delighted in pulling tricks on us topside
“white-collar workers”. Engineering
spaces had voice tubes leading from one level to the next to allow
communication over the engine noise.
“Yo, Hontz”, they once yelled, “Jones wants to tell you
something”. No sooner had I
placed my ear to the voice tube than Jones poured a bucket of water down
was quite talented in carpentry and took advantage of our down time to
build a false floor for the bridge. All
the time we were in Gitmo, water would wash into the bridge through an
open window or door. Although
it would quickly drain out and be sent to lower decks outside the ship’s
skin thorough “scuppers” (drains), anyone on the bridge would have wet
feet. Smitty’s false floor
was built of sturdy wood, chiefly 2-by-4’s, in a latticework pattern
through which any incoming water would immediately sink to the metal floor
below. With our feet thereby
raised maybe 8 inches above the original deck, they got no more than a
passing splashing. Building
it was quite the project. We
QMSN’s helped Smitty bring the lumber aboard and assisted him in the
measuring, cutting, and nailing. We
then stained it to a dark, mahogany hue and added several coats of varnish
to make it impervious to salt water.
The captain was very pleased with our project and saw to it that we
got some extra liberty as payback.
from that major project, Smitty and our QM gang pretty much just lolled
about on the bridge, high out of view of the rest of the ship. I lucked
out with respect to any more mess cooking duty such as I’d had to endure
back on the Conyngham. Apparently
enough new hands to fulfill that need had come aboard since our return
from Gitmo. A commonplace Navy term is a “nooner” which was a nap
taken in lieu of going to lunchtime chow on the mess deck.
We invented our own new term, a “morner”, which was a
“nooner, only sooner”. Smitty had, despite his initial reservations,
taken a liking to me and, when not engaged in morners or nooners, we just
BS’d or engaged in “grab-ass” games. We skated out of the most of
the “Charlie working parties” (all hands below E-4) by claiming that
our speaker wasn’t working and that we hadn’t heard the announcement.
or twice I did get caught on the main deck and ended up carrying huge
crates of foodstuffs aboard. The
cases of frozen meat must have weighed a hundred pounds each.
The entire process was so silly.
Hammerberg would typically be moored as the third ship outboard of
the USS Puget Sound, our tender which was pier side. Puget Sound had, on her main deck, huge cranes that COULD
have lifted entire pallets of cases up and over her main deck and then set
them down on Hammerberg or the ship next to her.
Nope, we peons had to carry them all the way: up maybe 3 stories to
Puget Sound’s main deck, across her main deck, down three more stories,
and then across the two other ships!
Once aboard Hammerberg, we’d haul them all the way to the bow and
then hand them down through a hatch, for our frozen lockers lie directly
beneath. Then we’d turn
around and make the entire trip again.
This work, combined with the effort I’d expended bringing LORAN C
aboard in Boston, caused considerable damage to my back, damage that
reached its inevitable conclusion in mid-July.
up: :Navy 8: Hospital”
in January, 2008 by
Ronald E. Hontz
33 Whitcraft Lane
Shrewsbury PA 17361
cell phone (717) 309-1402