O.K. Shipmates, grab a cup of coffee, a smoke if you got 'em as I am about to regale you with a true story of high seas daring-do aboard the DDG-32 in the late winter of ’70 off the coast of Okinawa. This story is as true as I can remember it and involved my ship’s-swimmer partner EM1 Vallderama and me.
We were escorting the USS Constellation down to the gun line on our first, and her final, mission of our respective WesPac deployments. On the way down we took time out for a torpedo shoot, which was part, if not the last, of our ASW qualification.
First, allow me to explain briefly how little I know about how a practice torpedo works. They are duds in that they do not have an explosive warhead. The warhead is instead replaced with a metal weight, a klaxon and a supply of shark dye. When the “fish” has run its course and exhausted its fuel, the metal weight is released making the torpedo semi-buoyant which allows it to rise to the surface and sit at an angle 90° to earth plane. Upon its arrival at the surface its upright attitude sets off the klaxon so the ping-jockeys can help find it in the dark and the shark-dye is released to provide a visual aid in the light of day (and to keep any uninvited sea creatures away from the ship’s swimmer).
Insomuch as I was the primary ship’s swimmer, I was informed shortly after reveille that we had fired and then found our practice torpedo (I guess the exercise was a success) and that I should don my wet-suit and stand by (I used to just love to stand by) to go in the drink and retrieve it.
When I got out on deck we were bobbing along starboard side
to this rattling device with propulsion steam bubbling up through the shark-dye
and the sea water. In I went and
attached the nose-cage to its forward section and a chain-loop around its
aft. All was going according to the
drill and turning into a piece-of-cake evolution until – oops – the nose cage
let loose and the torpedo fell yanking the after line out of the hands of the
torpedoman holding it. Back into the
ocean it went, disappearing beneath the waves.
Once again I thought I had cost the Navy a bazillion dollars and was
going to die an E-Zippo in the Portsmouth Brig (and the boatswain’s mates
started rigging for a hanging). But
no! Fortunately for me that sucker
resurfaced about twenty-five yards off our beam, klaxon, shark-dye, the whole
bit. Out I swam, beyond my life line
held by EM1 Vallderama, until I could wrap my arms and legs around it like we
had been taught in life-saver school at
Through what could only be described as a heroic effort of doing the one-armed back stroke, I managed to get us back to the ship where the torpedomen got that cussed thing back aboard and to safety.
Now by this time it was after1000 and I went below, did my morning S.S. & S., headed to sick-bay to see “The Doc” about my Brandy ration and on to the mess-decks for breakfast. HM1 Guest told me that the Captain had ordered that I be given a double brandy ration so I got two airplane bottles full of Connoisseur V.S.O.P. instead of the expected one. I’ve always had a warm spot in my heart for Captain Sebring for his forbearance that day.
On I went to the mess-decks with my double brandy ration tucked safely in my seafarers, thinking life in the South China Sea couldn’t get much better than this, when I was confronted with yet another pleasant surprise: The CS2 informed me that breakfast had been secured, and just as I was about to set up my usual energetic hullabaloo, he said however, I could have a couple eggs and, additionally, we were having steaks for lunch. There it was, shipmates: Steak medium-rare, eggs over easy and almost a half-pint of Doc’s finest to wash it all down. Hey! I was the ship’s swimmer for crying out loud!
Part way through that sumptuous repast, FTM1 Chuck Davis came through looking for me because I had missed morning muster and was not at my work station in the MK118 computer room (Missile Plot). When he sizes up what is going on, he sets up a howl about my “Special treatment” and all I had done to deserve it was to “Take a morning swim”. In fact he opined, I had looked like “A monkey (committing an unnatural act with) a football out there”. Well, I guess all the great ones are misunderstood in their own time.