I’m writing this on the “Day of Infamy” as December 7th was the day the imperial Japanese made a devastating attack on the US Navy Base of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. There in the mist of morning, thousands of sailors and others were killed by kamikazes and bombs. Many ships were sunk, including those full staffed. Have you seen the memorial at Pearl Harbor, like the boat that takes visitors to the sunken USS Arizona? As a former US Navy Sailor whose ship anchored at Pearl, I felt so broken hearted for the sailors, their families, my own family losses, and the resulting war that culminated with atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I have learned over the years that the way to address such an attach is not to kill more of them than they killed of us. True, the US forced Japan to surrender and the Pacific war ended. It was true that our bombing was celebrated in the US, movies portraying related actions heroically. The world feared us and our pride soared. Other countries got atomic weapons. We dug survival bunkers.
When we retaliate, we share the aggressor’s evil and wrong. Yes, we needed to respond. It is not clear how this event was built; had we opportunities to prevent the attack? Many investigative reports say we probably could have avoided the event altogether. Did we let it happen because of our fixation on the war against the Devil Hitler? Did our hubris in finally, belatedly going over to rescue beleaguered Britain and France, our acting as saviors, reveal how our ignoring the threat of Hirohito may have happened?
I am not trying the make the US seem as the secret instigator of all this, nor do I follow any other conspiracy. I am an honorable veteran. I am hoping we will think about these circumstances, how working with Japan earlier, how helping Europe fortify against Hitler earlier, how being aware of the brewing unrest and hate and acting with tolerance and forgiveness early on may have gutted this most horrible of worldwide wars. Can we prevent war when Russia tries to overtake the Ukraine? I think many are attempting to do just that.
Tolerance, peace and forgiveness are components of Love and Light, a subject that makes me think of flowers. I have also been to the Netherlands and Belgium. And have placed flowers at some tombstones erected in the massive international military graveyard near their borders.
The Lieutenant briefed the team and put me in charge. HooYAH! The job entailed performing a solidification of a submarine’s radioactive filtration resin while at sea. It seems the shore solidifiers could not keep up with the drums and drums of the radioactive resin such that warehouses were filling with them and the resins were partially caking up to make pouring it into the solidification drum would be very tough.
They set up the area at the lowest HP deck, worried about a spill? The method included having the dented resin drum on a holder rack that could tilt it up so it could pour into the new drum that had a stir bar in it. As the resin stirred, concrete powder would be sifted in via a PCV pipe with a steel bar twisted like a screw to move it in evenly.
The first trial! We checked all the parts twice and then once more. Commence! The resin poured in well. The concrete did not. Then the pipe broke, the steel had knotted up. The photo is the actual steel screw that was removed, decontaminated and painted black. Ahhh, the Dixon Auger Eaters!
We soon worked it out, got it done with a metal pipe at a better feed angle, did a few more, reported it and went about our business. About a month later I was called to the Captain’s office with officers all about the place watching.
As I stood at attention, the Captain stood to tell me to expect a ceremony in the morning at 1000 hours. I needed to get a clean and spiffy dress uniform ready as I would be present. Dismissed.
Yikes, where had my bravery run off to? A ceremony? Why tell only me and not everybody? Quit worrying and get the danged uniform ready and the shoes shined! While I busily buffed, the word did come over for all to hear.
The entire crew not on duty stood on the main deck in various formations to suit the equipment that could not be moved. All the officers certainly appeared clean and spiffy. I went to line up with my department. The Master Chief pointed forward and walked me to the center area where two older crewmen stood. They said nothing as a helicopter landed at the pier and an entourage boarded the ship. The Captain greeted them and they all arranged themselves in from of us.
One guy was called up for 30 years of service or some such, I admit to being more than a bit nervous. The Captain congratulated him and shook his hand. The other guy, the same. Then the Captain stepped back and the visitor fellow with tons of decorations on his uniform took the spot. He called my name. I forced myself not to shame the entire crew! I strode up and saluted perfectly. He saluted back. Being thin and tall, I didn’t mind standing at attention as long as I didn’t lock my knees.
I don’t recall all he said. His talk included hard work, ingenuity, teamwork, professionalism, saving the Navy millions of dollars and such. The solidification process we altered, tested and reported was transmitted across the Navy! His aide approached with a small box. He opened it a removed a medal suspended from a colorfully striped ribbon. Loudly he stated that I had earned the Navy Achievement Medal and the whole ship should be proud of me. Then he whispered, “I can’t reach into your shirt to pin it on. Here, you do it.” I did. The crew and visitors saluted me and I returned the honor. Without collapsing. I smiled at the Secretary of the Navy and got back in line with the 30 year guys. Lesson: I can stand up to anything!
Heartfelt thanks to all the veterans who have serve this wonderful United States of America. None of us are perfect, but when we need to, we shine! That includes many in my family, including my Sailor father who served on a minesweeper he called the Ellie Mae during the Korean Conflict and my Sailor uncle who served at Pearl Harbor and went on leave the day before the Japanese attack that started the Pacific’s WWII.
After folly and fun in Australia, we yet had one more destination: Diego García, British Indian Ocean Territory, the most southern isle of the Chagos Archipelago off India’s southern tip, quite near the equator. We went to that horseshoe shaped coral atoll as it is strategically close to the Middle East; we were to service the ships. No storms, sunshine and glistening beaches, so all good? How about being stuck there for two solid months!
When we arrived, they had no dock could handle a ship our size. We set up a small boat to ferry those wanting to go ashore there and back, the last one back being at 1900 hours. Naturally I had to go see all I could! That’s when I found that half the coral atoll was off-limits as there one lived a community of natives that were chased off – an empty town. The Brits made the rules here and we had to follow them.
Our job there gave us new duties. We repaired subs that pulled up as well as ships, in fact many more ships than boats. Their reactor compartments were much larger and not a compacted as on a sub. Lots more room one them for sure. When I was not on duty, I checked out everything where I had been allowed. For example, watching a gigantic supply plane land on a thin strip of the island and needed special aid in stopping before running into the water!
I got the attention of a Brit officer who asked lots of questions about how I got to be where I was and didn’t I find it broiling hot here and all in between. A couple days later when I could return, I went to the beach seeking the Great White Sharks that were supposed to be thick as fleas here. That Brit walked up and I asked him why I saw none. Because I searched the inside of the atoll, they swarmed the perimeter! He offered to take me over to the north eastern side to enjoy the most pristine beach anywhere, sharks and tunes as he had Roxy Music to play, a new album I hadn’t heard!
As soon as I agreed, I smacked myself for running off to a remote location with a stranger, so far nobody could hear me scream. As we got in his Rover and headed out, told him about the karate lessons I’d been taking on the ship, a yellow belt achieved! We soon passed through part of the abandoned town and it felt haunted. In only about 20 or 30 minutes we arrived at the gorgeous white sand beach and he pulled out a basket with sandwiches in it. I’d forgotten about lunch! We did spot shark fins and distant sailboats and little crabs.
He put on the new Roxy Music album called Flesh and Blood which I bought as soon as I returned to the US. He told me about where he hailed from and then I had my turn at it. He said we had horse racing in common and laughed. The last song played and he put on something else. The name of that group slips my mind because soon after he pointed to the horizon and sternly said, “We must hurry back. That storm will be on us in no time at all!
We packed up all and when we got into the Rover, we turned to see the storm much closer. He gunned the engine, roaring up the barely visible path. In a few minutes, it began raining hammer-hard, the sky darkening ominously. A vicious stroke of lightening zapped a tree directly in front of us. We jumped, it fell, he rammed into it. He went out to check on damage and frowned; the front axle had broken. He strode over to the trees and chopped two long, sturdy sticks off. He handed me one. Had I heard of Coconut Crabs? Yes, they could crack a person’s skull open. They’re three feet side, weigh about 9 pounds, the largest crustations on the planet!
Soon those humungous tangerine-colored giant crabs gathered onto the path, blocking our way. We kept swinging those rods, knocking/shoving them right and left as fast as we could. It seemed we were taking a shortcut, however my big concern (other than the killer crabs) remained: I had to make that last ferry run or be in dire trouble. Soaked and worn to shreds, we made it to a heavily fenced and barbed wired facility bristling with antennae he called a weather station midway where a fellow was just about to leave. They spoke together a bit, then he gave us a ride all the way to the ferry boat that had held off leaving, hoping I’d be back. The driver left with the Brit quickly without speaking a word to me or even looking my way.
The Brit got in trouble for violating security regulations, I did not; my secret clearance maybe? I’ll always be thankful we could work together to not fall prey to those monster crabs! Since those days, Diego García has become an even more important base for the US, with new ship facilities, another airstrip and even submarine facilities plus who know what. Strategic place it is! I think I’ll play some Roxy Music…
We went from Hawaii to Olongapo Phillipines and then headed to Sydney, Australia and everyone looked forward to that and made grand plans. This is until we felt the ship rocking in all directions more and more. Then the jarring, nauseating slamming. Some guys puked across the floor which made others feel sicker too.
Battle-ready ships have a sharp keel to stay steady when aiming their weapons. A repair ship has a rounded hull to be able to carry more tools and supplies, thus the sickening WHAMs. I forced a hatch open to see what the storm at sea looked like. Fascinating! I clutched the rail as the winds were very strong and got soaked quickly as I edged aft. The waves spewed like horizontal waterfalls and splashed wickedly each time was were lifted up a giant swell and then drop like tons of bricks after it passed.
I loved it! What an adventure! Looking to the portside I was worse turbulence, red skies and lots of lightening. I made it to the starboard. I nearly swooned at the glorious sunshine and neon affects off into the distance. A swell of inky, angry se then reared so high I could not see over or past it. I went to my knees and grabbed the rai as hard as I could. It crashed into the ship and tilted it sideways. Then I us running into one at least as huge, going to hit the prow yet coming from the starboard. The ship nearly turned sideways; I kept my grip as my body flew out behind me. As it leveled back, I forced my legs back under me so they would not slam onto the deck. It worked, seconds before the weird slam.
WOW! DOUBLE WOW! Still, it seemed a smart time to go back inside. Right inside the hatch stood the gedunk machine; now I knew why they’d bolted it to the bulkhead! I got a Zagnut bar and made my way carefully down a couple decks where most of the guys had gathered. When they saw me with a candy bar, I bet at least 50 of them puked on each other. I walked on, trying to keep balanced. How exhilarating! In the morning we discovered the storm had busted a rusted part of the hull through and we were sinking.
I roamed the ship as the crew patched the hole with sharpshooters around to repel the sharks. I thought of when the multistate hoard of tornadoes hit my hometown of Louisville Kentucky when I was yet in my early teens. I stood on the front concrete step of our rickety house and watched the tornado wrecking part of the Fairgrounds and whizzing further across the terrain with debris being flung all around. I noted one beginning to form very nearby, a sharp pointy, twisting tip and went into the front yard for a better view, entranced and nearly disappointed when the yellow, clouded sky took it back into its bosom. All that time, the radio blasted warnings and Mama screamed at me to crawl under the kitchen table with my bawling little sisters.
The proximity of that near tornado busted the balloon-diaphragm of my syrup bottle barometer I made for upcoming science fair. Lesson? I naturally do not fear even excess danger as anything but true excitement. By the way, I won that science fair.
I’m posting four short and very true stories from today through Sunday about my life-changing years in the US Navy. I was the only Nuclear-Grade Machinist Mate woman that made it through boot camp in Orlando, MM A School in Waukegan, Nuke Power school part one back in Orlando and part two in Ballston Spa New York, then onto a ship – namely the USS Dixon AS-37.
You see, I could not be assigned to a war ship or boat as a female, however I got to see lots of submarine interiors as I worked with the guys on nuke system repairs! That was in Ballast Point, near San Diego. I left upstate New York to meet the Dixon in Pearl Harbor as it had already broken away from the dock after ten years simply floating there in Ballast Point to go on WestPac! So, I didn’t actually see the big Navy bases, ships and subs, until five months later.
The crew had been kept onboard for a day and a half, then as an angel bringing deliverance they got to go ashore just as I reported in for my HP duty, sort of like a quality assurance cake with radiation-laced icing on top. Some of the guys in the Heath Physics department invited me to go along with them to see what Pearl Harbor looked and sounded like that evening. I eagerly went! At Trader Vic’s I got my first ever alcoholic beverage, a Tiki Liki, and I still have that neato clay cup.
The next day we all set out early and they rented a car. It had rained but the sunlight that morning shined brilliantly. We crossed Oahu between volcanos and I saw the only triple rainbow I’ve ever witnessed. The brightest on top, the other two in parallel arcs below it. We pulled aside just to admire it. I took a picture but crapola, I can’t find it. We ended up on Waimea Bay and they went skinny dipping. No, I elected not to join them with that! I did move all their clothes way up the shoreline and then went exploring. They did find their clothes and me before leaving!
We drove all the way back around and opted for a supper club. Lucky us, we got a side front table by the stage where the band had already started talking to the crowd. We got the beers we ordered and sat back to listen to the Three Dog Night-ish band singing away. About halfway through my brew I needed to sneak off to the head…I mean ladies’ room.
I got partly there when the band stopped and stared at me. I hurried on and back, embarrassed by the folks all looking at me intently. I sat. The lead singer said, All right, then!” They resumed and for the rest of the time there I held it in! We had a few more beers, a great dinner that I do not remember (only that it was good) and then caught the last boat back to the ship. This is what life should be like?
The other day I saw a coworker bring in a tater-sack sized bag of cheese puffs. Good Gravy! That was enough gedunk to last a whole year!
Gedunk: Snacks. I my experience, there was a vending machine amidships that typically only had licorice coins and Near Beer left by the time I got there. By the end of the cruise, even that was gone. I’m not big on gedunk, never have been. At least not since I was a kid and got excited over Cracker Jacks. They have a sailor on the logo, you know, in his uniform with the Dixie Cup hat. That spiffy outfit is called Cracker Jacks. Which came first?
I needed to ask a technical Manager something. She was out for a week. I went to her next-in-command. Not around. They had travelled to Europe for training. Now, I do most of my training online. However I learned their trip would coincide with a City Fair. Our company has a facility there, so our folks would not party alone. Good times had by all, no doubt.
Boondoggle: A trip taken ostensibly for a good and righteous reason, but sure to be filled with music and beer on the side. An expert Boondoggler returns with a Certificate for whatever he went for and brags that all he did was take an open book test on the first morning. He has bloodshot eyes, eats Tylenol and scratches himself frequently.
I sometimes need to check a large piece of storage equipment for sanitary conditions. Part of this check is climbing inside and using special swabs to test for leftover organic material. On occasion, I find there is no reason to waste to pricey swabs. Sometimes the equipment needs a really good Navy swabbing to get up the kaka and standing water inside.
Swab: To mop, or at least move a mop side to side artistically as one walks, taking one’s sweet time. This a commonly seen person on the ship as the Swabbie roams from Fore to Aft on all of the outside decks.
The other night I worked diligently on my studio cleaning and organizing project. This included moving many heavy items more than twice…had to get it all in the right spot. I banged my noggin on one of the steel rail industrial shelves I use as bookshelves. I thought, “I hit the rack!”
Hit the Rack: One of the cots stacked three high and four across in a berthing (sleeping) space, with a tiny pillow and a rough wool blanket, is your rack. Each cot lifts on a backside hinge to reveal personal item storage space. To get out of the cot and prop it up for inspection is called tricing up and may require balancing on a vertical ladder or waiting for the slowpoke below. When you hear “Reveille, reveille! Heave out and trice up! Reveille!” you’d better get moving for quarters (not money, it’s the morning meeting where you get to stand at attention and sweat over whether you put your shirt on right side out). Gently rubbing my bumped forehead, I simply noted the very late time (late-thirty) and decided to hit my own rack, much more comfortable than the cots of yore.
We have lots of Dutch genes in our family and I always wanted to go to Holland. My Sci-Fi series stars Elise t’Hoot, a Dutch girl escaping from calamity that destroyed her family, then winds up with a relative in rural Kentucky. Frustrated with college problems, she signs onto a military colony ship…headed to check on colony planets. Memories of her Dutch home sustain her through many tribulations and razor-close calls. So you see, I’ve had the Netherlands on my mind for quite a while.
Elise’s Mother was a renowned horticulturist:
Elise’s Father worked at the huge sea gates that protected lowland Holland from the wrath of the stormy ocean:
We had a wonderful trip, three glorious weeks! One cannot go there without visiting the iconic windmills…they don’t figure in my stories but how can I show Dutch photos without them?
I happened to see a post about a sailor from my old ship saying the USS Dixon had a severe corrosion issue. No kidding! I remember the ship being caught in Pacific storm that busted a hole in the hull.
We were on a Western Pacific 6 month cruise out of San Diego California. I had met the ship in Honolulu, the first port of call. I was directly out of Nuclear Power School and had never been on a ship before…what an experience. Not being at sea, but being on a ship full of crazed sailors! Command wouldn’t let them off the ship the first day, so when I arrived they were in a frenzy. I heard that ‘the ship was welded to the pier’ ‘We would never go on Westpac’ so many times, but somebody must have changed his mind because I met it in Hawaii, already underway.
I toured Oahu with some of the guys from my Division and they treated me to my first hard liquor, a Tiki Liki (souvenir cup in the header) from Trader Vic’s…Gee Wiz, enough of that!
The Dixon had a rounded hull, as it was a repair ship and we needed all available space for machinery and supplies for fixing up the submarines at sea. After Hawaii, we went to the Philippines, a whole book in itself. From there we had to cross the mighty South Pacific to reach Australia, passing through the Straits of Malacca at night to see the lights of Singapore. Far from any island, we rammed smack into a vicious storm, with swells so high all you could see was a midnight blue wall of water all around, electrified with thick and close lightening bolts; could be terrifying unless you were brave and stalwart like me.
We would ride a swell up, the entire ship would rise from the water and shudder (yes, actually shudder) from prow to stern, then whammo ! We bammed down, over and over. Then suddenly it felt like a detonation. All our guts fell to our boondockers (boots). Alarms! Flashing lights! All hands shut those watertight hatches! Run Dammit! The ship was sinking! Honestly, I never found myself worrying. There was only one other person I knew on the ship of 1300 that wasn’t barfo seasick, and we went around with forks asking green sailors for the big chunks. We passed the word around the Psychic Jean Dixon had predicted a ship with her name on it would sink. It’s a wonder one of them didn’t throw us overboard.
Right after the storm they put divers over the side to keep us from actually sinking, with guys aiming rifles at them, ready to kill the hungry Great Whites. They put an emergency patch over the gaping rusted hole so we could carry on.
The ship laid on it’s side all the way to Sydney, where they wouldn’t let us dock close because we couldn’t confirm or deny the presence of nukes. I loved Rushcutter Bay where I had fish and chips for the first time. Maybe I should write a book on all this?