Thank You, America!

Autobiography of a Naval Career

New Stories

The following stories were written following publication of my book, but I wanted to share them with you. If I ever publish a revision, these and other new stories will be included. I will change them periodically.

Admiral - Full Dress - NOT

In 1968, I was attached to VA-65 at NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia. We deployed to WestPac on the USS Kitty Hawk. I was a Chief Petty Officer then and so I worked many hours greater than a 12 hour shift even though my split crew of Aviation Electronics Technicians worked two shifts – 12 on, 12 off. It was not unusual for me to be up and about at one, two, three in the morning. The Chief’s Mess was closed and I would have a hankering for a little pogey bait (snacks like a candy bar or bag of chips). When we were at sea, the geedunk (like a miniature 7-11) was open 24/7.

One night, about 0300, I walked up to the 03 (oh-three) level geedunk and a guy was in front of me wearing flip-flops, white skivvy shorts, and a non-regulation strap style skivvy shirt. He was rather short and almost completely bald and certainly older than me. He was chatting with the Ships Serviceman (SH rating) that was running the geedunk. Routine stuff like: how is your family doing, how’s business, how’s chow? Just regular chatter between shipmates! Finally, the guy realized I was standing behind him waiting to make a purchase. He had already purchased a can of soda and a candy bar and looked at me and said, “Sorry Chief for holding you up.” Then he turned back to the kid running the geedunk and said, “See ya’ tomorrow night Tommy.” The kid spoke up and said, “Okay Admiral, I’ll be here.” With that the older gentleman left. I walked up to the counter. “Did you say Admiral,” I asked. The kid smiled and said, “That is Admiral Smith (not his real name) and he is the Task Force Commander. He comes here every night about this time when we are at sea.”

I will have to say I was a little shocked and that was the first time I ever saw an admiral in full dress skivvies.

Fair winds and smooth seas!

Navy Ensigns - Not always the sharpest nail in the bucket.

From September 1975 until I retired on July 31, 1979, I was attached to RVAW-120 at Norfolk Naval Air Station, VA. RVAW-120 is the training squadron for pilots and aircrew for the VAW squadrons that go aboard aircraft carriers with the E-2C aircraft which provides the eyes and ears for the carrier task force.

The squadron had a make shift Ward Room on the second deck of the hangar where I frequently ate my lunch that my faithful wife usually prepared daily for me while on shore duty. I was a brown bagger which is a Navy term for a sailor that brings his lunch in from home rather than go to the shore based chow hall or in my case, the Commissioned Officers Mess on the Naval Station.

One of my favorite things to do when living ashore was to garden. I loved to grow vegetables and fruits. One of the veggies I like growing is cayenne peppers. These long, slender peppers can be eaten green or if you let them mature a little longer, they will turn red. They are delicious both ways. My wife would pack one or two for me to nibble on when I ate my sandwich. A very small bite goes a long way as some of you may know.

One day in the Ward Room, I was enjoying my lunch when a young Ensign popped in. Most young Naval officers aren’t married so they grab a bite at the Officer’s Club or at fast food joint. There were several other officers in the ward room at the time and they saw the Ensign approach me. He said, “Hey Gunner, what ya’ got there?” I replied that I was having a ham sandwich and a bite of fresh garden pepper. He said he loved peppers and asked if he could have one? I said sure, looking around at the other officers as they began to watch with interest. The youngster picked up a green pepper and took a big bite and chewed it for about two seconds. You could immediately see the color in his face change as he let out a yelp and screamed for water. We all broke into laughter as the young Ensign flew out of the Ward Room looking for the nearest scuttlebutt (water fountain). Naval Officers are generally very smart, but nobody every said that a young Naval officer had to have any common sense! I love it when a good plan comes together.

Fair winds and smooth seas!

Ordnance Tape - Yes!

From September 1975 until I retired on July 31, 1979, I was attached to RVAW-120 at Norfolk Naval Air Station, VA. RVAW-120 is the training squadron for pilots and aircrew for the VAW squadrons that go aboard aircraft carriers with the E-2C aircraft, which provides the eyes and ears for the carrier task force. One of the key locations for pilots to practice carrier landings without being at sea is the Naval Auxiliary Landing Field (NALF) Fentress. It is located approximately 7 miles southwest of NAS Oceana, Virginia Beach, VA. It was established in 1940 and comprises 2,560 acres. NALF Fentress has one 8,000 foot runway equipped to simulate an aircraft carrier flight deck including arresting gear cables. It is used by squadrons stationed at NAS Oceana and NAS Norfolk for Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) operations. These operations are intended to familiarize the pilot with carrier landings and must be conducted under both daytime and nighttime operational conditions. Prior to deployments, the local community may experience increased operations, as pilots complete training exercises. Pilots perform approximately 140,000 operations at NALF Fentress annually.

One afternoon, one of our aircraft was at Fentress and the starboard landing gear door was damaged after a hard landing. I was tasked to gather up a small maintenance crew and drive to Fentress to assess the damage. Aviation Metalsmith First Class Jim Braund was the senior enlisted man on the small crew. We looked at the damage and determined that we didn’t have the necessary tools to remove the door. We had only brought along a small tool box and a fresh roll of ordnance tape (very similar to duct tape but ten times stronger). Jim came to me and said we can’t fix it here, but he could tape it in place. The pilot would have to fly back to Norfolk with the landing gear down and at a slow, but safe speed. The pilot agreed with the assessment and Jim started flinging that strong red tape. I inspected it and gave the pilot a “thumbs up.” The pilot took off as we watched and nothing fell off. We jumped into the truck and headed back to base. Of course, the aircraft arrived before we did. We quickly ran to the aircraft and that landing gear door hadn’t budged. Thank ya’ Lord for ordnance tape!

Fair winds and smooth seas!

A True Gentleman

In 1961, I was stationed with VW-13 at Naval Station Argentia, Newfoundland and it was very close to Christmas time. The USO had scheduled the Bob Hope tour to visit “ARG” and all of the military and their families were anxiously awaiting his arrival and the show.

My wife and I lived off of the base in a little town/fishing village called Jerseyside. We knew when the USO troop was scheduled to arrive at the Air Station so we decided to be there and hopefully get a glimpse of some of the celebrities. They arrived in the evening (I don’t recall the exact day and time) and got off of a four engine MATS (Military Airlift Transport Service) aircraft and walked through the small terminal building. There was a long string of Navy vehicles standing by to take all of the cast and crew to the BOQ (Bachelor Officer Quarters) to rest and spend the night in preparation for the show the following day. One of the first people through the terminal building was Bob Hope followed by Jerry Colonna, Anita Bryant, Jayne Mansfield, Miss World-1961, Les Brown and his “band of renown” and the rest of the staff and crew of the show.

As they approached the cars, they were being directed by the local Navy Public Affairs Officers to specific cars. They all stopped long enough to chat with the many people that were waving and cheering their arrival. The thing that was most impressive of the whole event was the one gentleman that stood out in the group. Mr. Bob Hope was one of the last to get into a car because he was making sure that every single person in his group had transportation. We were so impressed by this act of gallantry. Here was a man of significant popularity and could have easily and quickly been chauffeured away to the BOQ, but instead, he stood his ground to ensure that everybody was taken care of before the vehicles departed. What a great American and the epitome of a fine gentleman.

Fair winds and smooth seas!

Pig Farmer to Sailor

In 1968, I was attached to VA-65 at NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia. We deployed to Westpac on the USS Kitty Hawk. I had mostly younger non-petty officers working for me, but a few of them had already become E-4s or E-5s. I had one second class (E-5) by the name of Ivan T. Mayfield. He had grown up on a pig farm in the Midwest. This story is no reflection on folks that raise pigs; however, Ivan was unique in that he had a speech impediment. His impediment was unique, because every other word out of his mouth was a curse word. As his Chief Petty Officer, I had great difficulty in sometimes understanding what he was trying to tell me. Many times I had to slow him down to be able to get a complete sentence out of him, minus the curse words.

As an example, if we had a defective antenna on the starboard wing of aircraft 506, he would discuss it like this. "Chief, you know, that mother-blanker on 506’s mother-blanking starboard mother-blanking wing tip. It has a mother-blanking crack in the mother-blanking outboard blanking tip. I don’t blanking think I can mother-blanking fix the mother-blanker because the mother-blanking crack is too mother-blanking big. I think the mother-blanker will have to be mother-blanking replaced with a new mother-blanking mother-blanker.” Now how was I supposed to know what he had said? I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what the “blank” stands for?

Here was a hard working, honest, dedicated mid-west kid that had somehow grown up in that kind of a verbal environment that he and others around him on the farm knew exactly what he was talking about. But for a highly complex military aircraft, you had to be a little more specific then just calling it a mother-blanking airplane.

Fair winds and smooth seas!

Revised: 4/18/12