Tradition
Boarding or leaving ship
Some ship and flight deck announcements
Using one's head
Domiciling and General Quarters (Red Alert)
In search of Oscar
Pay day
Underway replenishments (unreps)

Tradition—

The Navy is nothing if not a vast system of rituals, regimens, regulations and evolutions. Nearly every course of action or conduct has a prescribed regimen that must be followed. Even announcements over the ship's address systems are seldom ad-libbed but come from a list of exact announcements requiring specific results.

Each step and its place in an evolution were learned at some point, and often at some cost, during hundreds of years of seafaring experience and affixed to a swelling number of naval traditions. Though some aspects have become archaic, for the most part these traditions could be said to be tried and true, part of a system of "ingrained common sense." Well defined and refined evolutions meant a taut, efficient ship with reduced chances of injury to personnel or damage to ship or planes.

On the lighter side, there is a story about Winston Churchill when he was First Lord of the British Admiralty. One of his admirals accused him of scuttling naval tradition by scrapping the fleet's dreadnoughts. Winston countered that the three traditions of the Navy were "rum, sodomy and the lash."

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Following are examples of some minor evolutions. I apologize for use of masculine pronouns. However, at the time I was on active duty, women did not serve onboard ships.


—Man coming aboard or going ashore—

If an officer leaves or board ship, he goes to the forward gangway. Enlisted men use the one aft. After choosing the proper ramp, the boarder walks across the gangway with military ID ready for inspection by the duty officer. Just before reaching the ship he stops, makes a half turn aft until facing the direction of the ship's ensign (US flag) and salutes. Finally, he faces the duty officer, salutes, presents military ID, and says "Request permission to come aboard, sir." Leaving the ship is basically the opposite. When leaving he presents military ID, says "Request permission to go ashore, sir," then stops at the top of the gangway, faces the direction of the ensign and salutes before continuing off the ship. In either case the duty officer has the authority to deny exit or entry, and even may detain a fellow for infractions of regulations, e.g., improper hair length, improper dress, etc.

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—Some 1MCC (ship) and 5MCC (flight deck)
address system announcements—

"U.S.S. Midway, departing" means the Captain is leaving ship. "U.S.S. Midway, arriving" means he is back. "Now here this. All arriving crew will stow their gear, police their cubicles or report to their department heads. If you do not know who your department head is, check with the Personnel Office." "All personal possessions must be stowed on or near your locker or under your bunk. Whatever does not fit must be off the ship by ________" (time). "For all duty section sweepers. Man your brooms to begin a clean sweep down of hangar deck from fore to aft." "The ship is underway."

These were just a few of the many formal announcements. Others included mail call, when each duty section's mail petty officer would obtain their department's mail bag from the ship's post office. "(A meal) is now being served on the (fore or aft) mess deck." "Church services are being held in the ship's chapel." "Tonight's movie is now being shown on the forward mess deck." Announcements also were made for departmental musters, colors (raising or lowering of ship's ensign done at sunrise and sunset, respectively), assorted drills and actual emergencies. Each announcement would be preceded by a whistle from a Boatswain's pipe to get our attention. There were a variety of toots used depending on the type of message to be conveyed.

I was a mail petty officer for Communications Department. After retrieving the mail bag I would take it to the berthing compartment and distribute there before taking the remainder up to Radio I. Something else that came in a bag was our return clothing from the ship's laundry plant. Laundry would be delivered to the plant, and later retrieved, by the duty laundry petty officer. Once retrieved, the duty section (and whoever else happened to be handy) would help distribute the clean, if dingy, gear to respective bunks. Just like in boot camp, our names were to be stenciled on every piece of military clothing. Non-stenciled gear became additions to our burgeoning collection of rags unless recognized and claimed by their owner.

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—Using one's head—

Hygienic evolutions were carried out in our "head." Achieving the nearest one to the Radiomen/Signalmen's berthing compartment required a sailor to climb the ladder out of our rabbit hole and then walk a few feet in the direction of ship's port side. A right tack, a short distance in the direction of ship's bow, then a left tack across the passageway, again to port, would gain entrance. (Be sure to be decently covered, at least with a towel, in case officers or civilians happen by. In 1972 we had a young fellow assigned to our division who formerly had been a Navy Seal. He was a nudist, and some of the men complained because he refused to wear clothes when in the berthing compartment. Eventually he compromised and wore skivvy shorts.)

This "head" contained the usual sinks with mirrors, toilets, urinals and showers. Though all showers had curtains, toilets were rooms with a view. The showers were provided lavishly with fresh hot and cold water from the ship's salt water distillation plants. Daily they produced 120,000 gallons. Pipefitters were kept busy unclogging drains, especially whenever the sewage system backed up.

"Heads" were inspected very closely and frequently by departmental officers for reasons of sanitation and morale, so they became a sore spot in the crew's interpersonal relations. PPOs (police petty officers) practically had to stand guard so as to monitor activities of "guests" from other departments. They also watched their own people to ensure unnecessary messes were not left. Besides, guarding protected against vandalism. Some departments even went so far as to refuse admittance by personnel from other departments.

Everyday each "head" was secured (removed from use) for cleaning. Of course, not all of them were secured at once. Each "head" had its own cleaning schedule. Still, there were times when a fellow might have to look in all directions for an unsecured "head." Understandably, "head anxiety" became a common neurosis and led some men to stopping at every open "head" on their route similar to dogs stopping at every fire plug.

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—Domiciling and General Quarters—

Domiciling was done in our respective cubicles or bunks. A cubicle was a semi-enclosed area consisting of two sets of bunks, each three levels high, which were parallel with each other at a distance of about four feet. There were lockers at the bulkhead end. The other end was open to the rest of the compartment. The bunks in the middle of the compartment were attached to each other end to end in a row, an arrangement that made for much less privacy.

Each set of bunks consisted of three racks. The bottom one practically rested on the deck, hinged on one side to allow for propping up when swabbing. Access to it was not easy, but it afforded the greatest privacy. The middle rack had easiest access and convenience. The upper rack was the least desirable of the three. It was the most difficult to access and provided slight privacy. Each had a small, built-in reading lamp plus curtains that could be drawn to increase privacy. Mine was a lower bunk in a cubicle.

Besides a small, upright locker we had a larger-capacity one directly under, and built-in as part of our bunk unit. Access to this locker was gained by removing a padlock and lifting the hinged tray holding the approximately four-inch high mattress. This locker was somewhat shallow, but its length and width were those of the mattress tray. The interior divided into sections, and a drawer was accessible, without necessarily lifting the tray/lid, by sliding it out from the locker's side after removing the lock. Otherwise, the entire content of the drawer was visible with the lid open. Although the cubicles and bunks were efficiently designed, all hell would break loose if everybody had to move at once. This happened during general quarters and man overboard evolutions/drills.

When general quarters sounded, every man who was assigned to be in Faccon, MPC, TTY, or a transmitter room according to the posted "Watch Quarter and Station Bill" would rapidly walk (not run) to their respective station even if they had just gotten off watch. A fellow only had a few minutes in which to move through passageways and up or down ladders unencumbered except by the flow of humanity. The rule was that a sailor moved forward and up only on the starboard side, aft and down only on the port side. This rule or tradition assisted the movement of personnel, eliminating most unnecessary counter-flow.

Both exits from Communications enlisted men's berthing compartment would be sealed within minutes. Each exit had two hatches. The larger one allowed for unrestricted passage and remained open during all battle conditions except GQ. A smaller, circular hatch was cut into the center of the larger, rectangular one and allowed more grudging passage. To get out, a fellow finding himself in the compartment a few minutes after GQ sounded would find the larger hatch dogged down and would have to squeeze through the smaller hatch opening. He also would find other barriers between his location and where he needed to go. If he were even later, the small hatch would be dogged, and special permission would be required for him to proceed anywhere.

For clarification, "dogs" were metal levers located around the inside perimeters of "hatches," or doors used to ensure the watertight integrity of compartments. Most dogs attached to their hatch on a pivoting axis. Such dogs were secured by turning them on their axis against a tapered wedge extending out from the adjacent bulkhead. They were adjusted until each section of the hatch perimeter was tight against the bulkhead's metal frame. Only then was the hatch considered watertight. On some hatches, all dogs were secured simultaneously by using a single lever or wheel mechanism. Most required each dog to be secured individually using a steel pipe located nearby on the bulkhead. The pipe was slid onto the grip end of a dog to extend, and thus increase, the leverage enough to properly dog the hatch.

I believe we all had a terror of being caught in the shower when GQ sounded. Fortunately, they normally did not last more than an hour or two. Afterward we would stand down, and the duty watch section would again take over. Also, all but one general quarters were drills. In that one exception a MIG-17 had flown into our radar perimeter and disappeared late one evening. However, neither it nor its radar blip was seen by us again. The ship didn't relax the battle condition for a couple of hours just in case.

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—In search of Oscar—

The Executive Officer might pull a fellow out of a passageway at almost any time and have him stay hidden while the ship conducted a "man overboard" drill. Then Oscar, a real dummy, would be thrown over the side. An announcement would be made over the address systems something like this: [Boatswain's pipe toots] "This is a drill, this is a drill. Man overboard. Man overboard (starboard or port) side. Muster all hands . . . ," etc.

The Executive Officer's stopwatch would begin timing from the moment of announcement until Oscar was located and retrieved. Every man who was not standing watch would go immediately to a pre-assigned area for his department's muster. Our area was on the hangar deck directly above our berthing compartment. Men on watch would muster at a pre-arranged location within their watch area. Department heads then sent muster reports to the Executive Officer. He decided whether Oscar's identity was accurately discovered. Meanwhile, a helicopter would be launched and a rescue boat readied for launch if needed. Once Oscar was sighted the helicopter and/or boat would attempt rescue.

Usually by the time Oscar was brought in the Executive Officer had received confirmation as to the identity of the missing shipmate. Occasionally, a real man overboard exercise took place when a fellow failed to show up at a regular daily muster. Woe was heaped on him when he wandered out, sleepy from a nap in a gear locker or such, woke by the ship's alarm and wondering what the fuss was about. Fortunately, all of our man overboard evolutions were either drills or false alarms.

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—$Pay day$—

One thing we looked forward to almost as much as liberty was the day we collected our thirty pieces of silver. It arrived every two weeks. Paymasters set up in a variety of locations that were announced in advanced. The ship experimented with several systems, but generally a sailor would get in the pay line handling the alphabetical range that included his last name. The lines would get quite long, snaking through passageways, up and down ladders, and across the hangar deck. Fortunately, the lines moved rapidly.

A fellow would present his military picture ID when he finally reached the beginning of his respective line. The disbursing officer would locate the name on his list and find the amount to be paid. Then he would count out usually new bills for the sailor to re-count and sign for receipt. If a fellow were smart he would take a good portion of this money, go down to the ship's post office and buy mail orders to pay bills, send home or send to a savings account stateside. Enough for Savings Bonds came out of my pay before I ever saw it. The money from their sale came in very handy shortly after I left the service.

The ship disbursed more than $1 million per month during the 1971 cruise alone. Of this, the ship's stores reeled in approximately $300,000 per month. No telling how much was spent on liberties, stereo equipment (my weakness), civilian clothes, and gambling debts. Whenever we were in the war zone our pay was augmented by "hazardous duty pay." Pilots also received "combat pay" for their missions over Vietnam. Every perquisite helped!

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—Unreps—

Underway replenishment evolutions were interesting to watch. Ideally, we should have been able to be completely stocked and self sufficient. However, the mere fact that we had twelve engine boilers to heat using conventional fuel meant in the least we had to receive regular fuel supplies. Once on line at Yankee Station, unreps also allowed for the replenishment of bombs dropped, plus delivery of replacement parts for ship/planes and reasonably fresh food.

The ship with which we were scheduled to unrep would send a message in advance notifying us of their ETA. When they were within line of sight range we would establish visual communications through our Signalmen. Faccon would set up UHF radio and Teletype communications for Message Processing Center. With the supply ship steaming ahead just fast enough to remain stable in the water, the Midway would come in from behind and pull up alongside, parallel and about fifty or sixty feet away. In preparation the Midway would have lowered its forward starboard elevator Number One and its aft starboard elevator Number Two to be used as cargo platforms. Number Three port side remained at flight deck level to receive cargo set down by helicopters.

Ship's rigging crew would shoot small lines from the Midway to the supply ship using a special gun, with more than one attempt sometimes necessary. When someone on the other ship retrieved a line, he and fellow crew members would begin pulling until the heavy, attached hawser extended across the expanse between the two vessels. The hawsers then became tracks across which the hanging cargo or flexible, fuel transfer tubing would be maneuvered tram-like. Working parties on both ships either brought supplies to be transported or carried away those received.

Pictures of a 1971 unrep

While the productive aspect of an unrep venture sweated away, the aesthetic side was something to behold. Especially magnificent was the turbulence stirred up between the two vessels caused by their continuous forward motions and the colliding interaction of the white-water wakes they created. Upon the unrep's completion the hawsers were pulled back to the Midway by her rigging crew. The frigate or oiler then would pull forward and veer away as it headed for its next rendezvous.

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Copyright 1992, 1998 Charles W. Paige

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Last modified: Sunday December 7, 2003

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