Recently I warned you that I would be telling sea stories, regarding my time in the Navy. I also warned you that any good sea story was based on some level of truth, and they always started “AND THIS AIN’T NO SHIT!!! Well I am now going to share some of my stories about when I was in the Navy, will talk a bit about being a sailor, the living conditions, food, work, and the fun. Most of what I say is about 98 percent factual, the other 2 percent is bullshit to make it more fun. I’ll let you decide which part is the 2 percent.
Fact: I joined the Navy in April 1969 because I was a bad boy, I had been arrested for DUI, and a few months later had another unpleasant encounter with the law. The judge gave me 2 options. Option 1: join the military, option 2: go to jail for minimum of six months. Having spent a single night in jail, I immediately chose option 1. Four days after choosing option 1, I was on my way to boot camp in San Diego CA. On May 2nd of this year I wrote a post about my boot camp experience, so I am not even going to address it further, if you want you can go back and read “My Boot Camp Experiences ….. or the beginning of Manhood.”
After boot camp, I went to Radioman “A” school there in San Diego, it was another stellar performance in the world of education for me, I barely got out of “A” school, but just when it seemed I was destined to become a boatswain’s mate, I got my shit together and managed to meet all the requirements, pass all the tests, and even excelled in an area, in a timely enough manner to become a radioman. I did graduate from Radioman “A” school on time, again much like high school I was towards the bottom of the class, but I made it. Life at “A” school was great, we lived in the barracks, 4 men to a room, with a door that locked. Food was at the chow hall, and most the entertainment was free. Being in the military meant you could drink on base before reaching the age of 21, and Tijuana Mexico was only 40 minutes away by bus. Trust me I made that trip many a Friday night while in “A” school. I began to refined my art of playing hard here, and to be honest I killed off a lot of grey matter in Tijuana.
After graduation from “A” school, my 1st Navy duty station was the Communications Station at Guantanamo Naval Base (GITMO for short), Cuba. Here is where I started my sailor life. I was an E2 Radioman, fresh out of “A” school, and didn’t know squat about being a Radioman or Sailor. As a sailor I had no real expenses. I had to pay for my booze and smokes. After that pretty much everything else came with the job. Food, housing, laundry, and entertainment all came at no or very little cost to a single sailor, living in the barracks. Now for the 1st of the sea stories this post is all about…. “And this ain’t no shit!” When I 1st arrived in GITMO I was owned a month’s back pay. After collecting my pay, I was quickly sucked into a poker game with 3 guys from the barracks, and promptly lost most of my money. Later I overheard them bragging about taking the sucker’s money. Over the next several months I played poker and other games of chance with each of them, separately, I got all my money back, with interest and then some. It was a great learning experience, and one I never forgot. Another example of my early days in the Navy was listening to sports on AAFRT’s (American Armed Forces Radio and TV). I, at the time, didn’t realize that the games were rebroadcasts. Being from Kentucky and being a fan of Louisville, one of Louisville’s games was being broadcasted. The Chief saw how intently I was listening to the game, and bet me that the team playing Louisville, would in fact beat Louisville by X amount of points. I quickly jumped to Louisville’s defense and offered a bet to the chief, which he promptly took. Later as Louisville’s lead vanished, and the lost by the extract amount the chief said they would, I dejectedly walked up to the chief payment in hand. The chief smiled and said “Ham, you didn’t know that game had been played already, but I did. Keep your money, and learn from this!” I did. “And that ain’t no shit.”
There were 3 main activities to do when you were single and not working. You could drink, swim, play golf, and if you knew someone maybe bowl. Of the 3 main activities, I didn’t chose swimming because the only time I swam at GITMO I had a semi close encounter with a shark. Semi-close equals 200 yards. Never got in the water again at GITMO after that incident. But GITMO is where my love for golf started. It began in February 1970. And it’s a love I have had since. The other hobby I chose while in GITMO was drinking, and I excelled at that, and it was an activity that I maintained a close contact with throughout my Navy career and for several years after I got out of the Navy. I have since finally matured, and my drinking habits have matured as well.
After spending 7 months in Cuba, I was transferred to the USS Claude V Ricketts, DDG-5, where I would spend the next 2 years. The Ricketts was an interesting change from shore duty. And shore duty was not a place to gain a lot of knowledge about the workings of a ship. The berthing where I lived onboard the Ricketts, was an area about 200 square feet, in that space 18 of us had “racks” and lockers. All of our worldly and unworldly belonging had to fit in our locker. The locker was approximately 6 foot long 30 inches high and 10 inches deep with a shelf in the center. In my locker I had the following clothing; 12 complete sets of under wear, 15 pairs of black socks, 9 denim jeans, and 9 denim shirts (working uniform), I had 2 sets of undress blue uniforms, and 5 sets of dress whites, 4 sailor hats, 3 belts (2 white), my working jacket was stored here, as well as my ball cap. Also in this space I had all my toilet items, and all of my personal belongings including several books, writing material, pens, pencils and what not. I also shared a standup locker with another sailor, in here was stored my dress blue uniform, my peacoat, dress shoes, and raincoat. A few years later I was stationed onboard the USS Independence CV 62, the locker and storage arrangements were almost identical, but there were only 6 of us sleeping (and living) in area 110 inches wide, 80 inches deep, and 110 tall. “And this ain’t no shit!”
Life on board the Ricketts was a unique experience, you either worked or you slept. The space for communications onboard a tincan (navy jargon for Destroyer class ship) was a total of about 400 square feet. At any one time there could be as many as 6 guys working in the space. In the communications space were all the transmitters, the receivers, and crypto gear, also there were 4 teletype machines and several stand alone printers. I only remember one meal onboard the Ricketts, that meal was served the 1st time the ship got underway after an extended overhaul. The meal included; beans and franks, sauerkraut, and other items equally greasy and unappealing. I got sea sick on that cruise, and I got sea sick on every cruise after that, it was just a matter of degree of sea sick. There was a lot of smoking of illegal substances on board, and that’s where I learned I didn’t need that bad habit as well. So I stayed with drinking. “And that ain’t no Shit!” Most social activities took place on the mess deck (chow hall on land), movies where shown here, card and board games played here, and pay was handed out here. On payday, you stood in line at your appointed time, signed the book and were paid in cash. If shots were required you had to get your shot before you could draw your pay. I hated shots, and one way to avoid getting a shot was to not get paid. BTW you were allowed to keep money on the books and only take what you wanted. I avoided one shot for 6 weeks, but finally I was summoned to the ships med office where I was given the shot. After that I didn’t try to avoid any other shots. And that my friends, “ain’t no shit!”
One of the most memorable events that took place in 1971 was that the Ricketts was accused of being a “Spy” ship for the navy, we were a Navy Ship, we were in the Med, and we were doing our job. On one occasion, there were several Russia ships at anchorage in two neat rows, and the Ricketts did steam down the rows. Gestures were shared from ship to ship, as we Americans greeted our Russia counterparts. Many a one finger salute was shared that day. This event was made mention in Time Magazine dated June 28, 1971, and also in an AP story.
Okay folks, this is already getting out of hand. I have cruise books from both the Ricketts and the Independence to draw from, so you can see this could be lengthy. So I will stop it here, and let you digest this. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to ask them. Also if you want me to continue along this post line let me know. Please take care, Bill