The Midway had been built, launched and commissioned within a two-year period during the heat of World War II mobilization. However, the Vietnam mobilization was far less furious, so it took four years just to modernize her. Newspapers reported of scandalous cost overruns. Yet the product of the rejuvenation was a totally modernized ship, including new, state-of-the-art equipment, humanized crew's living quarters, plus an enlarged flight deck having grown from 2.82 acres to 4.02 acres capable of launching and recovering modern aircraft under all possible conditions. Comparing the new crew's facilities to those of the original ship, we would be living like passengers on a cruise ship. Crew sleeping and recreation areas were more spacious, and many were air conditioned.
It was at the Midway's third commissioning since 1945, this time at Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard, that her twenty-fifth captain pronounced "The United States Ship Midway is in commission. I have assumed command and report for duty in Carrier Division Seven." However, the ship had not put to sea in years. It would take another fifteen months to cycle through builders' trials; shakedown cruises; plus testing and aligning ship's equipment, including radar and radio emissions. Most importantly, it would be a time of intensive training, including fleet training off the coast of San Diego with the Fleet Training Group. Then there were preparations for receiving Carrier Air Wing Five (CVW-5), the retaining of which was the ship's primary function, though they would not come aboard until early 1971.
I ceased working for the shipyard shortly after the recommissioning and reported aboard as a Radioman third class petty officer. As a member of the commissioning crew I was entitled to all the rights and privileges of a "Plank Owner." In the traditions of the sea, this meant I would be entitled to a piece of her if ever the Midway were scrapped. [Just what that piece might be, I haven't a notion.]
My date with destiny had finally arrived. It had not sneaked up on me. Yet the absolute realization dawned very slowly that I would be entrusting my next two and one-half years to the whims of a ship and its crew. It was going to be a new way of life, one for which I was technically, though not yet psychologically, prepared. I had tried, but it was difficult to prepare for something concerning which I had little personal experience. Over the early months following commissioning, constant training, drills, exercises, and frequent liberty distracted my attention, while exposure familiarized me with shipboard life. In this way I became accustomed to cohabitation with steel through a kind of osmosis, and in due course my sea legs developed and tendency toward seasickness abated.
Early on, the ship could be likened to a lump of modeling clay. All the substance was there, but everything (including the crew) had to be molded and remolded until everything (and everyone) worked properly together as a unit. The shipyard engineers were of enormous assistance in this process. They had everything to gain by the ship's efficient performance, especially the vindication of cost overruns. The Fleet Training Group was another positive factor. Their primary tasks were to give practical training in fighting every known class of material casualty and to advise regarding material deficiencies to be corrected before deployment. Also important, each department had to prove its professional and military knowledge and proficiency before its respective fleet trainers.
I was assigned to work in Facilities Control, or "Faccon," when I reported aboard. This was quite the feather in my cap, since from the beginning Faccon was comprised of the elite of radio communications. I could have been assigned to MPC, the Message Processing Center. Either the decision makers had seen me in action and had thought I would work out well in Faccon, or they figured I had done enough time working with message processing at the NAVCOMSTA.
Chief Johnson was Faccon's boss. He was a short fellow with a beer belly on an otherwise trim, if square, build. His physique was not the type that inspired fear. Yet he knew how to look at a person so that the object of the gaze would feel all of an inch tall. Chief Johnson, or just chief, expected nothing less than perfection in all we did. At first his staff tried using reasonable excuses for things not going right. Very soon, however, we realized that we were dealing with another kind of creature. He would just look at the offender with his soon-to-be-famous gaze. Then he would ask a short series of questions revealing reasons why the failure could and should have been turned into a success. We soon learned that the best possible action was to succeed in accomplishing all assigned feats. If failure overpowered, we discovered ways to go around failure and triumph through improvisation. You might say chief gave us plenty of necessity to mother invention. Yet chief had a reward, for those who succeeded, that offset his evil eye. Whenever a fellow smartly handled an especially difficult problem, he would beam a smile of approval that would make a sailor feel too tall to fit in an aircraft carrier. Through this punishment/reward system chief quickly had us trained like Pavlov's pups. He was also a good drinking buddy, and sometimes he and his wife invited us to their home.
Those days, Chief Johnson was definitely the most important source of authority in my life. However, there were other driving forces whose work helped make the Radio Communications Division what it soon became. Chief Wood was the one who had opened the on-base communications office. On ship he was the chief of Communications Department's administration and was very near retirement. Chief Little was in charge of MPC, and I never worked directly under him. He must have done his job well, since his people processed more than a million messages each time we deployed for a six-month Westpac cruise to Vietnam.
Radioman First Class Petty Officer Wilson was a tremendous Navy regulations force. He knew them inside and out. He lacked almost any semblance of tact, though, when it came to ensuring we all maintained military discipline and standards of every kind. Whereas other of our leaders often took extenuating circumstances into account, RM1 Wilson watched everyone like a hawk. You always knew you were acceptably presenting yourself and your activities when Wilson was around and only scowled at you. (His scowling wasn't so much intentional as it was necessary, as suggested by his thick glasses.) He later became "Chief" Wilson and seemed to loosen up a stitch or two after that. Only a stitch or two. It was a humorous thing, too, the power he exerted over us all, because his area of governance was the smallest of any of the chiefs. He was over the Teletype machine repair facility, and the largest number of men that ever worked directly for him was two.
Lastly, besides their MPC and Faccon duties, RM1 Dederscheck, or "Deder," and RM1 "Doc" Dyer were in charge of all external radio equipment, meaning all antennas and their platforms. Deder could be tactless and Navy regulation, too, but also he could be good-natured upon occasion. "Doc" conjured in me the image of a shaggy-bearded hippie who, somehow, had been shanghaied into the Navy. He was extremely easy going, yet the men who worked for and with him always did their best. I think we realized what a treat it was working for someone who could set aside military tensions and simply work toward completing whatever needed to be done.
Immediately I had to become intimately acquainted with the diverse locations of all the radio spaces, also other places where our radio equipment could be found. Radio I was the primary location, and it was here one could find Faccon, the cryptographic room, MPC, and TTY (Teletype) Repair. Faccon, itself, was confined to a very small space, especially considering the amount of activity normally taking place at any time. Its many consoles, tall ones bolted to the deck and shorter ones attached to the bulkheads, were crammed with radio receivers, connection patch panels, signal converters, oscilloscopes for signal testing, radio receiver and transmitter antenna couplers and switching panels. It was up to each of us to find room enough when carrying out our activities.
Faccon had two side-by-side CW (carrier wave) positions. The two small, specialized desks each had a CW key for transmitting Morse code, two jacks into which headsets could be plugged for receiving same, and a typewriter to record incoming and outgoing network traffic and formal messages. Overhead were three speakers. One speaker was for monitoring hi-com (high command voice communications network). Another was for monitoring the LF (low frequency) international distress frequency required on every ship since the sinking of the H.M.S. Titanic. The other was for listening in on the VLF (very low frequency) submarine distress frequency.
We also had two Teletype machines. One of these was for receiving UPI (United Press International) news broadcasts. Alternately, it was used for ship-to-ship communications during our frequent unreps (underway replenishments). We used the other TTY exclusively for maintaining communications with the Facilities Control at the other, or shore end of our multichannel, continuous Teletype transmissions (otherwise called "traffic channels"). The "terminating" station would change as the ship moved from one area of the Pacific to another due to limitations of transmission and reception ranges. It seemed that we were always moving our termination from one station to another, requiring close coordination to limit traffic channel "down time."
Next to the circuit maintenance TTY was a small table used to hold the watch log and assorted other logs and papers. A bank of intercoms was attached to the bulkhead just above this table. We used these to communicate with the many on board subscribers to our circuits and systems. Some of these were the Captain, Air Ops (Air Operations), Pri-Fly (Primary Flight Control), and the Message Processing Center (MPC) next door. You can believe Faccon was always both busy and noisy, even during normal operations.
My working area may have been hectic and noisy, but it in no way compared to the din that exploded from MPC when in full operation. That area was more than twice the size of Faccon. It, too, was crammed full of equipment. It also had five times as many sailors working at any time. Their greatest noisemakers were the banks of Teletype machines that constantly rattled off incoming messages or made hard copies of outgoing ones being sent via message tape distributors (TDs). Narrow, yellow paper tapes were continually being cut (more accurately, punched) with messages to be sent later. That process added to the general roar as did MPC's bank of intercoms (usually called "squawk boxes"). Meantime, pneumatic message tubes connecting the ship's vital nerve centers hissed and thumped with message traffic. The message pickup window bell frequently rang. The electronic combination lock, controlling access to Radio I, buzzed as arriving Radiomen pressed the magic buttons to gain entrance. Then there was the interminable thump-thump-thumping of the ditto machines making copies of messages for distribution. Adding to the cacophony were the sounds of talking and yelling that wedged their way into the damaging audio levels.
Compared to Faccon and MPC, the compartments housing Teletype Repair and cryptographic were havens of peace and tranquility. Lucky for me, during Battle Condition I, otherwise known as general quarters (or Red Alert, if one were on the United Federation Star Ship Enterprise), my duty station was crypto.
Radio rooms II, III and IV, usually called Transmitter I, II and III, were quieter places disturbed only by the sounds produced by the ship's air conditioning equipment and the whirring of each radio transmitter's cooling fan. Transmitter I was the nearest to Radio I of the three transmitter spaces. It held several transmitters and transceivers plus an advanced antenna switching/tuning matrix designed to automatically choose and keep tuned the antenna for most of that compartment's transmitters.
Transmitter II was the greatest horizontal distance from Radio I. It held several transmitters plus one receiver. Finally, Transmitter III, traditionally called "UHF," held most of our transceivers.
UHF transceivers were strictly used for line-of-sight communications, mainly to talk with our pilots during flight operations and to send radio homing beacons for their use in locating the ship. They also were used for talking with ships arriving to carry out unreps (underway replenishments) with us. When flight ops were going on we usually had someone stay in UHF for the duration. We normally did not man the other transmitter compartments but would send someone if needed for setting up a transmitter, taking one off line, or retuning an antenna coupler. When things got abnormally busy we would sometimes have one man be the "gopher" to travel between the transmitter compartments as needed. I liked being the gopher when it came to be my turn. It was a welcome chance to get away from the noise and bedlam of Radio I.
There were times when I would be the gopher and spend nearly the entire watch in one or another of the transmitter spaces. Each space had a Navy regulation typewriter (meaning it had only upper-case letters), and I could work on my many writing projects. I also read a lot in these spaces whiling away the hours. My only two complaints with gophering were these. First, the transmitter compartments were so cold that a fellow would have to wear his jacket while there for any length of time. Yet getting to the compartment he would walk through a sometimes hot, humid ship, building up a layer of perspiration that figuratively turned to ice upon entering the air conditioned chamber.
Second, one ET (Electronics Technician) that worked in UHF was a Carpenters fanatic that just happened to own a reel-to-reel tape player. It cycled through an endless stream of Carpenters' albums. Don't get me wrong. It wasn't that I had anything against the Carpenters' music. It was just a matter of too much of a good thing. Even today I cannot hear a Carpenters' song without remembering those many hours of forced listening.
We had a few other UHF transceivers scattered about. CATCC (Carrier Air Traffic Control Center, pronounced "Catsee") had some, as did the Admiral's Conning (also called "Admiral's Bridge," or just "Flag"). Flag became my favorite place aboard ship. Usually, when I was there to do preventive maintenance on, or to set up, the admiral's UHF transceiver, the admiral and his staff were not present. I would have the run of the place. It was roomy and, though more ornamental, similar in many ways to the Captain's Bridge. My imagination would run wild as I gazed out through the forward observation windows toward the flight deck and beyond, over the expanse of ocean stretching to the horizon. Untouched, yet at my fingertips, were the ship's auxiliary controls.
It took me quite a while to get used to finding my way around the ship and learning what was where. Many were the times I lost my bearings during that first year. The ship's general shape of going from narrow to wide to narrow lengthwise, and narrowest at the keel to widest at the flight deck superstructure, helped magnify the problem of getting around. A crew member could be heading along a passageway and then have it end abruptly before he reached his destination. Then he would have to fish around looking for another route to continue his journey. This search could take him some distance in the opposite direction, even force him to choose a different deck. The same phenomenon also would occur going up and down ladders when attempting to travel between several decks. Eventually we learned which ladders and passageways were the most direct for our travels and which to avoid.
The fastest, least encumbered way to get from side to side or one end of the ship to the other was across the flight deck during good weather and there was a stand down (flight operations were suspended). The second fastest way, and far more likely to be available, was via the hangar deck's hangar bay. This wide, usually cluttered but passable stretch of deck ran from just ahead of the forward plane elevator aft almost to the fantail. When the full complement of planes was aboard, many of them were stored, and all repairs were done, on the hangar deck. This made passage hazardous and constricted.
The third fastest method of traveling was on the second level, the deck just below the hangar bay. You could go almost the entire length and breadth of the ship on or from the passageway closest to the ship's beam. As with all inner ship passageways, a fellow soon got ample practice stepping over hurdles and dodging his head simultaneously when passing through compartmental-integrity barriers, sometimes every few feet. Aerobically this was great exercise but could be rough on the uncoordinated.
Along its route the second level passageway traveled through both the aft and forward mess decks. The Communication Department's enlisted men's berthing compartment was on three deck just below the forward mess deck. There were only two entrances to the compartment, both down ladders from the mess deck. So our area could be likened to a rabbit or gopher hole. This arrangement afforded us extra privacy, since nobody would have any reason to pass through our compartment on their way to somewhere else. Also, it was ideal for trapping the coolness from air conditioning. Still another excellent advantage was our location amidships. Heavy seas affected us the least when the ship began to roll and pitch.
Berthing for the Electronics Technicians was forward of us about fifty feet, and they were on the same level as the mess decks. Their area could not be adequately air conditioned, plus it was not very private. Not helping matters was the fact that the forward ship's store was right next to them, drawing sundries-seekers from throughout the ship.
The aft mess deck was always the one open when we were at sea. The munitions elevator was next to the forward mess deck. When we were on Yankee Station that area was used for storing bombs waiting to be carried on sorties. Going further aft, on the same level, were the tiny crew's library and the moderate-sized crew's lounge. In the same general area, though down another deck, was the easily air conditioned crew's chapel. It, too, was very small and not designed to hold more than about twenty people. Whenever a special service was necessary, such as for a funeral or major religious observance, it would be held on the hangar deck.
All the way aft on the hangar deck was the fantail. It provided a great view of the ocean and the white turbulence spewed out by the ship's four, multi-ton, mammoth screws. This was also where repaired jet engines were affixed to a harness and fired up, exhaust end facing outward, for testing before reinstallation in planes. Another, and controversial, function of the fantail was to provide a launching place for the ship's non-classified rubbish and garbage. Announcements were made whenever the fantail was accessible or inaccessible to ship's crew.
During the first few months after commissioning I was stationed in secondary conning during times of general quarters. In other words, I was seccon's Radioman. Later, after showing a particular penchant for operating cryptographic equipment, I was listed on the ship's "Watch Quarter and Station Bill" as assigned to the cryptographic compartment for that degree of battle readiness. Also shown on the "Bill" was the fact that I would be part of the "prize crew" should we take over an enemy vessel. I experienced a touch of anxiety whenever contemplating the possibility of having to figure out radio equipment on a ship where everything was in a foreign language.
The flight deck was off limits during flight ops to everyone except the flight deck crew, i.e., Airmen and pilots. However, when we were standing down it was a place where we might stand a Captain's or Admiral's inspection, play football or other sports, sunbathe, or just get a superb view of the ocean. Warning! The texture of the flight deck's no-skid surface could be likened to that of lava pumice. It could be very destructive to both clothing and skin if you fell on it, especially if sliding.
The island extended up from the starboard side. When the flight deck was off limits, the island usually was still accessible for limited sunbathing, ocean viewing, or for spectating an unrep or the noisy yet exciting processes of flight ops, with often-simultaneous launch and recovery evolutions. The island contained the Captain's and Admiral's bridges, CATCC, Pri-Fly and other important command posts, and flight deck storage spaces. It also was the platform that supported many transmit and receive antennas plus a towering, radar-festooned mast and the ship's stack.
February and March, 1970, brought a series of "fast cruises," some lasting only a few hours, during which a multitude of tests were conducted. It was not until March 26 that we were underway. Amid a fury of training, drills and exercises we meandered down the coast until arriving at San Diego in April. There we picked up the Fleet Training Group, and they were aboard until late August.
The following is from a letter to Mom dated August 20:
"How was the Barnes family reunion this year? I suppose I won't be to another one until I get out of the Navy. I am planning to come home in October, however.
"Well, we're still here in sunny San Diego and won't be heading back to San Francisco until early-to-mid-September. After we get back, the ship will commence readying for the Westpac cruise we start next April or May. It's really going to be a busy time, and I imagine a lot is going to happen while I'm away.
"It's taken two years, but I've finally gotten to the point where I feel I benefit the Navy. I know my professional job well enough so that I'm more in the working stage than the learning one. I have no plans at all of staying in, though, and am looking forward to my freedom like a camel awaits an oasis."
The Final Battle Problem was resolved in late August, with the Midway receiving a high total score. During our stay in the area the ship had been used as a practice vehicle for Carrier Quals (Qualifications). "Quals" allowed new pilots to log many hours taking off from, and landing on a carrier's flight deck both in daylight and at night. At the same time the process gave the ship large doses of much needed experience in handling those situations and requirements to be expected having an air wing aboard. Then we were released by the Training Group and COMNAVAIRPAC (Commander Naval Air Pacific). We returned to Hunter's Point for four months of additional work on the ship before receiving our air wing. I left for Michigan in latter October.
- - - - - -
The death, destruction, expense and civil protest surrounding the Vietnam conflict spurred the US Senate to repeal the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution. This occurred on June 24, 1970, after doubts arose as to the accuracy and authenticity of reports upon which the resolution had been based. From this date forward our presence in Vietnam was not legitimized, and it became a matter of necessity that we get out. Suddenly the term "vietnamization" became the byword, and we started a slow and painful process of withdrawal while hoping for "peace with honor."
Unfortunately, the death, destruction, expense and civil protest did not end on June 24. US military endeavors were growing toward a crescendo that would take two more years to achieve. We would force North Vietnam to the bargaining table if we had to kill every one of its people and destroy every inch of its land in so doing.
Contrasting with world and domestic tensions were the memories of home life from, it seemed, a million years ago, that quietly rested in the back of my mind. The large block of recollections created a safe place to which I could escape when things in my immediate environment got out of hand. It was difficult to reckon with the long-term withdrawal from family.
Throughout the first nineteen years of my life the family had always come first. There had been non-related friends, of course, but not many. I had not felt the need to develop new friendships. Members of the families on Mom's side, the Bliss and Barnes clans, were many and close, socially and in proximity to each other.
Every year for more than forty years there had been a Barnes reunion, several of these held at a picnic area at the Mill Pond in Horton, Michigan. Generations of Mom's family had lived in or near Horton, a tiny town about ten miles south of my home town, Jackson, Michigan. An early ancestor was my great-grandfather David Barnes, who bought a two hundred acre farm near Horton in 1874.
I had attended the reunion nearly every year of my life, interacting with kin and kids from all over southern Michigan. Between reunions my immediate family, especially Mom and we kids, spent many hours visiting with members of the exceedingly gregarious clans. Especially notable of these were Mom's siblings, including her brother Tom and his Finnish-American wife Hilma, at whose house in the country I logged many hours as a youth. Then there was Mom's brother Chuck and his wife Esther, whose ancient and paintless country home, complete with outhouse and large, busy yard were a constant source of interest and novelty to me. Finally, there was Mom's sister Helen and her husband Clyfford, whose home at Horton was just across the road from the Mill Pond and not far from the picnic area. Until recently (1970) they had lived in the very house that great-grandparents David and Mary Barnes had bought as their retirement home in 1889. Now they lived in a new one they had built. Everywhere there could be found tradition, history and relatives.
David Barnes had moved to Jackson County in 1843 with his parents and many siblings. He was a Keeper at Jackson's newly constructed State Prison of Southern Michigan, today said to be the largest walled prison in the world, when the following event took place (taken from a Michigan Historic Site marker near the corners of West Franklin and Second streets).
"UNDER THE OAKS On July 6, 1854, a state convention of anti-slavery men was held in Jackson to found a new political party. Uncle Tom's Cabin had been published two years earlier, causing increased resentment against slavery, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of May, 1854, threatened to make slave states out of previously free territories. Since the convention day was hot, and the huge crowd could not be accommodated in the hall, the meeting adjourned to an oak grove on `Morgan's Forty' on the outskirts of the town. Here a state-wide slate of candidates was selected, and the Republican party was born. Winning an overwhelming victory in the elections of 1854, the Republican party went on to dominate national politics throughout the nineteenth century."
Most of my immediate family already were married and living away from Jackson when I joined the service. Dad (Howard) and his second wife (Marilee) lived on the 100-acre farm we had bought in the early 1960s, ten miles northeast of Jackson. My brother Bud and his wife Elaine lived in Saginaw, where they had built a house in the mid-1950s. My sister Charlene and her husband Bob, mentioned earlier, had just moved to Port Austin, a resort community at the tip of Michigan's thumb, where Bob served three churches as Methodist minister. Margaret, my sister born with Down's syndrome, lived at the Fort Custer State Home in Battle Creek, where she had been placed just before my parents' divorce. My sister Mary and her husband Rob, also mentioned before, were in Kalamazoo, where they had graduated from Western University. Mom (Jennie) was living in a small house in Jackson, the nineteenth place she had called home in her lifetime.
I was stationed out of California now, more than two thousand miles from home and family. A cousin and his family (Harold and Madelyn) lived in San Raphael, just north of San Francisco. Yet my occasional visits with them did not fully satisfy my need to be around family. So at times I resorted to reminiscing, and every year I spent my entire leave in Michigan.
A part of me always pined to be near crowds of family again, yet another, growing part reveled in the new experience of building up a circle of friends. I realized a freedom that I had not known before, unshackled, as it were, from preferring kinship. Consequently, friendship gradually took its rightful and more balanced place in my life.
Copyright 1992, 1998, 2003Charles W. Paige
Last modified: Saturday May 10, 2003
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