Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard and San Francisco—

Orders were cut on July 10, 1969, for me to be transferred from the Navy's San Diego Service School Command to the San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard, on Hunter's Point. Although my ultimate duty station would be the U.S.S. Midway, initially I would be assigned TAD (Temporary Additional Duty) to the shipyard. The Midway had been decommissioned at Hunter's Point in February of 1966 and for the past three years had been undergoing an extensive overhaul.

I returned to Michigan for a three week leave. Then it was back to the west coast, arriving at the San Francisco airport around midnight Saturday, July 26. I treated myself to a night at the airport Hilton for a cash outlay of ten dollars, sleeping in until 11:00 AM Sunday morning. From there I took a cab to my new duty station and reported aboard the shipyard in early afternoon.

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The following is from a letter to Mom dated August 1:


"You should see my ship. It's all covered with cables and ropes and tools and is almost buried. A sign near the ship says the Midway won't be done until June of 1970. According to our captain the ship will be commissioned in January, 1970, and we'll move aboard her in February. It will be almost a year after the June completion date before the ship will be completely ready for fleet operations. During the last months of that year we'll be going on shakedown cruises to iron out any bugs in the newly installed equipment. Almost all the equipment on the Midway will be factory fresh.


"Only about twenty-four crew members have arrived so far, and it won't be for another six months that the entire crew is assembled. The men that will be coming in will be sent first to specialization schools. I'm part of what is called the `nucleus crew.' The rest will filter in and supplement us through August, September, October and November. So far I haven't done anything that would be expected of a Radioman. Some of us are cleaning out office spaces for ship's officers soon to be arriving.


"I have made several friends now, men who are also TAD to the shipyard yet future Midway crew. Working with them is fun, since all have a sense of humor. Roberts is a Radarman seaman; Evans, an Electronics Technician second class petty officer; Johnson, a Radarman second class; Gebhardt, a second class; Kinschi, a Gunner's Mate second class who had been in the Army eight years and in the Navy ten; Robertson, a petty officer first class, and Curri, a Gunner's Mate first class. Westfield, my friend from the Naval Training Center, should be checking in sometime this weekend. He should fit in well with our group.


"Tomorrow I'll be taking my written and road government driving test involving California DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) laws. The Captain took his test yesterday and passed. Whether I pass, the Captain, another fellow and I will be taking twenty hours of defensive driving instruction at the Treasure Island Naval Station next week. The Captain needs drivers badly. A vast amount of shuttling will need to be done as more and more men report aboard with their sea bags and other gear."

I was the second Radioman to come aboard. The first by a short time was Radioman Third Class Till, an acquaintance from Radioman "A" School. Till was in the Reserves, i.e., in for two years Active Duty followed by four years of Active Reserves. Till was extremely sharp, quick to learn new things, could apply immediately what he learned, and provided a much needed talent for problem solving. Unfortunately (for us) he would be with the Midway only until mid-1970 before reverting to his Active Reserve status and leaving ship.

The next Radioman to come aboard was Senior Chief (RMCS) Wood, who reported and set up an office on base to be Midway's first communications facility. This office would be the liaison between the ship and NAVCOMSTA (Naval Communications Station) Hunter's Point. Shortly after Chief Wood had things going (with Till's and my help, of course), RM2 (Radioman Second Class) Freeman reported aboard followed closely by RMC (Radioman Chief) Johnson.

Our captain, PCO Captain Eugene J. Carroll Jr., arrived on July 28. Before this he had commanded the U.S.S. Ogden (LPD-5), an amphibious transport dock. As commander of the Ogden he had participated in 1968 and 1969 Vietnam combat landings. Captain Carroll was just about the most even-tempered person I had ever met. Trained as a pilot, and with ample experience commanding ships, his qualifications for managing an aircraft carrier were perfect. "PCO" stood for Prospective Commanding Officer, a title given to the captain of a ship not yet commissioned.

The Captain and I were somewhat informal in our dealings with each other during the weeks immediately following his arrival. He and I attended several of the same classes and meetings. Also, before his personal staff checked in, it was up to the existing crew members to do his bidding.

One day in particular a small yet especially memorable thing occurred while doing such a bidding. The Captain requested that I pick him up at his shipyard headquarters and drop him off at the motor pool. His staff car had been serviced and now was waiting to be reclaimed. As we proceeded he noticed that the truck was running poorly, so while at the pool he said to leave it off for a tune-up. Soon it was time to go. I instinctively began climbing into the staff car's driver's seat to chauffeur him back. To my uncertain surprise, the Captain said to slide over. He would drive. I felt highly honored and have always thought the incident had less to do with criticism of my driving skills than with his immense, personal magnanimity and sense of humanity.

This episode became even more poignant the longer I stayed in the Navy and had to contend with the far more typical "officers-as-prima-donnas." Small and insignificant as this incident was in the scheme of things, it proved to be a microcosm of how he would treat the men of the Midway during his captaincy.


The Midway had a change of command on July 10, 1971, while still in the Western Pacific (Westpac). Captain W. L. Harris Jr. assumed command, and Captain Carroll moved on to bigger things. His next assignment was Assistant Chief of Staff (Operations) for Commander U.S. Naval Forces in London, England, and while in that position he became a RADM (Rear Admiral). I next saw (retired) Admiral Carroll during a 1989 interview on TV news regarding the shooting down of an Iranian passenger jetliner by the U.S.S. Vincennes. I have seen him a number of times since, also being interviewed by the news media.

Hunter's Point is a mostly low, flat peninsula jutting out into San Francisco Bay from San Francisco's southeast corner. Candlestick Point is another, similar peninsula a small distance to the southwest, separated from Hunter's Point only by a water inlet called the South Basin. The latter Point holds Candlestick Park and stadium. Hunter's, like Candlestick, points toward the southeast. At Hunter's Point's northwestern extreme the land elevates steeply. From the shipyard several low income, government subsidized housing projects could be seen dotting the hillsides. They lay, like gauntlets, between Third Street and us, the route our bus took to and from downtown San Francisco.

I say gauntlets because occasionally someone would take a potshot at a bus, or at the shipyard, from the higher advantage. Shootings at the yard were most apparent at the isolated Crisp Avenue entrance as evidenced by several bullet holes in the Marine Guards' shelter. It was strictly forbidden for us to leave the shipyard on foot, and I soon felt under siege. At all gates accessed by city buses the Marine's would come aboard each bus trying to leave or enter and check passengers for military ID before allowing passage. Despite these precautions there were occasional shootings and stabbings by "unfriendly" people gaining access to the yard. "Hunter's Point" was a most appropriate name for the place.

The shipyard, itself, was a sterile-looking place consisting primarily of warehouses, storage yards, several unused barracks, scattered administrative and military buildings, repair shops, and so on. Still there were a few things for a fellow to do on base during his off hours. On the south side, reserved for the yard's military inhabitants, there was a small library and a tiny recreational center. The center consisted of a cafeteria-with-television (a very crowded place whenever the TV show Star Trek was on), a couple of tennis courts, a sauna, etc. There was another, larger cafeteria on the north side of the yard established for catering to the many yardbirds (civilian shipyard workers), though the cafeteria didn't refuse service to the occasional, and always less lucrative, swabbies. There was also an on-base enlisted men's club, near the northern-most gate. It was open evenings, though such a long walk from my barrack that I seldom went there unless on SP (Shore Patrol) duty. It was a much shorter walk to Spear Avenue, where I could catch a bus for downtown and real entertainment. Finally, the barrack used for shipyard and both Navy and Marine TAD crew (building 508) had a recreation room. It was complete with overstuffed chairs, couches, tables for playing cards, etc. Soon we even had a color television, rented for our use by the Midway's Executive Officer. I liked this barrack since compartments were semi-private. Later, the Midway crew, except those remaining TAD, would all move into the dormitory-style barracks assigned to the ship.

The chow hall, used to feed on-base personnel, at first was not crowded at meal times. During the first weeks of my arrival there was never a line. This changed as increasing numbers of Midway men reported aboard and began using the facility. Eventually, the lines became enormous and it was necessary to assign color-coded chow hall passes that were only good for specified times. As they came aboard, prospective Midway cooks were assigned TAD to the shipyard. In this capacity they helped feed the growing shipyard military population. It wasn't until February of 1970 that the Midway fired up its sculleries and begin feeding its own.

My first job as TAD member of the shipyard was truck driver. I would run errands for the shipyard's command center. The center stood on a rise at the northwestern end of the yard facing out over the northeastern side where the yardbirds did most of their work. The shipyard Commander and Harbor Master were in this building as were other administrative officers. I would act as chauffeur, deliver or retrieve messages from the NAVCOMSTA, pick up and deliver supplies that were always arriving in preparation for the growing Midway crew, and just be wherever needed. I was on duty the day Westfield arrived, so I picked him up at the commander's building and drove him to the barrack. Soon, though, I was replaced as truck driver by a man of higher rank, leaving me to help with more of the heavy work. New bunk beds were coming in daily and had to be unloaded and set up in the once-empty barracks.


Originally from Asheville, North Carolina, Westfield had as his main hobby playing a flute, on which he practiced from time to time. He would begin laughing if anyone happened to listen, and the practice session would come to a quick end. Westfield and I remained good friends until he left the Midway in 1972. By then he had become a second class petty officer and re-enlisted for two more years under the condition that he would be assigned to NAVCOMSTA Washington, D.C.. Unfortunately, he would arrive in the Capitol just in time to have his car damaged in a flood. I last heard from him in 1973 when he was stationed in Napoli (Naples), Italy.

RM3 Till was the Radioman assigned TAD to the NAVCOMSTA. This was an envied job. I quickly completed my BMR, or Basic Military Requirements, a check list of military knowledge and skills with their practical demonstration. I also did the necessary proficiency practical factors, a check list of professional, i.e., Radioman-related, knowledge and skills with (again) their practical demonstration. These prerequisites prepared me for the qualifying exam, held at the shipyard's command center on August 7. As of that day I became a Radioman seaman, up one step from Radioman seaman apprentice.

The pay grades available to me as an enlisted man were: E-1, seaman recruit; E-2, seaman apprentice; E-3, seaman; E-4, third class petty officer; E-5, second class petty officer; E-6, first class petty officer; E-7, chief petty officer; E-8, senior chief petty officer; E-9, master chief petty officer. The higher one got in their rating the more difficult it became to go the next step up. This was due to constricting quotas set for how many billets there could be at each level. In ratings that were filled to capacity a sailor might never get a next promotion. Both Chief Wood and Chief Johnson were pressuring me to move up in rank quickly. With this encouragement, plus the knowledge that being a third class petty officer would increase my chances of going TAD to the NAVCOMSTA, I immediately began working on the BMRs and practical factors in preparation for the next exam and another advancement.

All was not work, to be sure. After all, the shipyard was only about a twenty-minute bus ride from downtown San Francisco. Soon the city by the bay replaced San Diego as my ideal California city. Whereas San Diego had been exciting as a sunny, open, warm, desert community, San Francisco was delightful in a more subtle, obscure, cool, and spiritual sense.

The following is from the August 1 letter to Mom:


"Yesterday (Wednesday, July 29) Evans and I went on a bus tour of Chinatown and a few other areas of San Francisco. The tour consisted of the bus driving up and down the wild, vertical streets and seeing all the sights to and from Chinatown. When in Chinatown we got off the bus and went on a walking tour of the shops, etc. Our guide was genuine Chinese, and he lived there. We learned many interesting things about his people and their customs. Everywhere dragons and other oriental symbols seemed to decorate the shops and displays, and the architecture was beyond description.


"After a walking tour we climbed back onto the bus and continued on to Fisherman's Wharf. This carnival-like place had many, many things to see and do, but our guide gave us only fifteen minutes in which to do them. So Evans and I went into the Ripley's `Believe It or Not' Museum. Though we didn't have time to see even half what was there, what we did see was wondrous. We also passed by many other interesting places, including Frank Sinatra's penthouse, the Purple Onion (where Phyllis Diller and the Smothers Brothers got their starts), and Mr. D's (where current entertainers were Pat Paulsen, Tony Bennett and others).


"Thursday night (July 30), after a hard day working at building 511, Evans and I caught a bus downtown in the late afternoon. We had a blast, hoofing it most of the time. We just took all the time in the world. We walked to and through Chinatown, then we suddenly found ourselves at the cable car terminal. We wandered around looking at the parked and stored cable cars, some of them being quite vintage, and we read plaques telling about how the cable system and cars work.


"Next we returned to Fisherman's Wharf and were soon gazing into the many tourist stores and prowling the many fish markets that touted live and boiled lobsters, clams, shrimp, and San Francisco sourdough bread. While there we toured a floating museum, called the Star of Alaska (originally named Balcalutha), which was an old, iron-clad ship nearly a century old. We could see how the ship's crew passed their time in the olden days. Besides antiques originally belonging to the Star of Alaska there was equipage from several other ships. Written accounts of the ship and the various artifacts on display gave their histories.


"We spent an hour at the Star before pulling ourselves away. Then we found pay telescopes to provide a view of the prison island of Alcatraz out in the bay. I was surprised that Alcatraz didn't look as impressive as the one existing in my imagination. Now it was on to a flick, where we saw a spectacular film chronicling the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. We then walked through the wax museum, where we saw authentic-looking replicas of people, monsters and fairy tale characters.


"We started back by way of Chinatown, which, at night, is a groovy and active place to be, and walked all the way to the bus terminal. Unfortunately, the buses didn't go out to Hunter's Point after midnight, and we didn't find this out until 1:30 AM. Half an hour later we caught a cab.


"I thought I'd be tired today, but I'm not in the least. Now I am Master At Arms (MAA) here at barrack 502 and will be until 11:00 o'clock tonight. I assumed the post at 3:30 PM, and it's my first time ever as MAA."

I was in my mid-teens in Michigan when I first heard and saw reports about Haight-Ashbury and of the "hippie" movement then in full swing, or should I say full flower. The "summer of love" media coverage fascinated me. It was a special time, when the hippies came together in San Francisco to show that people could be happy together with love, in harmony and without strife. That was 1966. The following year a girl by the name of Susan appeared in my high school homeroom and sat next to me. She was the image of an authentic flower child, with a flower in her hair, a flowered muumuu, sandals on her feet, and wide, laughing eyes. Her family had moved to Jackson from the San Francisco Bay area. Once, when I visited her home, Susan played an English recorder. It was from her that I first picked up the interest in playing that particular type of musical instrument.

Compared to the girls I had known, Susan was a more brilliant star. She was always unusual, with different responses, interests and sense of humor. She was bemused by us bumpkins, and I am afraid none of us measured up to the people she was accustomed to being around. Yet for the year she remained in Jackson we had fun together. Then she and her family disappeared as suddenly as they had appeared.

The fruits of the "summer of love" took seed on the other end of the continent in August of 1969. The "Spirit of Woodstock" was born out of the good will and joyous spirit evident at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair held near the Catskill Mountain village of Bethel, New York. More than 300,000 young people came together to take part in an all-out and no-holds-barred celebration of the lifestyle they so admired. The Spirit of Woodstock, in important ways grandchild of the old beatnik movement, was in all ways antipathetic to the Southeast Asian affair. As a person adopted the bohemian lifestyle, he or she also automatically assumed a hatred of all things military, representing government, even parental. Whatever or whoever pretended to be in Authority were lumped together as the "Establishment" or simply as "Them."

I had arrived on the scene too late. Shortly after my Navy friend Westfield arrived, he and I went on a walking tour of the Haight-Ashbury District, once center pin in the flower subculture. By now most of the genuine hippies had fled. In their stead was a growing and increasingly violent drug subculture that was busily treading on fading dreams of love, brother/sisterhood, and going back to nature. The stores and houses in the area were still painted luminously, with strong colors depicting Aquarian Age, psychedelic symbols and designs. Yet the District, still peopled with characters wearing hippie-style clothing, was a mere ghost town when compared to the images of massive throngs I had conjured and eagerly anticipated. Only a few remaining people seemed to possess a residual spirit of the flower child.

Westfield and I both were busily taking pictures when we were approached by a fellow dressed in hippie-style clothes and restraining two large German shepherd dogs. We were in uniform, and at first I thought (naively) that he was coming to welcome us (not uncommon in San Diego). Instead, he accused us of being narks and said if we didn't stop taking pictures he'd sic the dogs on us. I suddenly realized that the small collection of people gathered next to an old Volkswagen bug across the street, now slowly disbursing in all directions, had not been just passing around love. Caught totally off guard, Westfield and I continued on a couple of blocks before resuming our picture taking. This was one of the last times I wore my uniform on liberty.


Wearing civvies when on liberty presented its own set of problems. Long before, and during the first two and one-half years I was in the service, lower ranking sailors were not authorized to keep civilian clothes on board ship. At Service School Command, and at the shipyard, civvies not only could be kept on base but could be worn on and off the grounds with no hassle. Things changed, though, when we moved onto the Midway. Most of us still kept civvies, but they had to be sneaked on and off the ship in such as a tote bag. The clothes were always wrinkled.


Many sailors got around the need to smuggle by renting lockers. My locker was upstairs at a clothing store in downtown San Francisco. The shop catered mainly to military personnel and was just across the street from the main bus terminal. I would wear my uniform off the ship and into town, walk over to the shop and show a salesman my monthly rental receipt. He would let me into the back room, where rickety stairs led to the lockers. This routine worked well until the ship would venture down to San Diego. Then it was back to smuggling.


Short hair and clean-shaven faces were also mandatory besides restrictions on civvies. Mustaches, neatly trimmed, were sometimes grudgingly permitted, but a fellow sporting one would never get 4-0 at inspection. Some men got around the short hair by purchasing wigs to be worn on liberty. There was always the smattering of non-career-oriented swabbies who dared mustaches out of sheer cussedness.


It was getting downright dangerous to be recognized as in the military by the end of 1970. Especially repressed were those dwindling numbers of men and women still willing to be seen publicly in uniform. Such provocation could land one in the hospital or, at minimum, would get one ostracized or browbeaten. Usually, if a person was in the military but didn't show any signs of the fact in clothing or attitude, he or she would be allowed to participate freely in activities with civilians. It was well understood that most of us were in the service only because we had little choice.


The beginning of 1971 saw military and civilian interaction deteriorating on a precipitous curve. This trend was helped along by the shooting of some Kent State University students by National Guardsmen in 1970. Also there were revelations concerning the 1968 Mylai massacre by US soldiers. Details filled the news media during the military trials of participants. The proceedings began in 1970 and continued into the next year. In response, President Nixon chose Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr. as the new Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) over the heads of more senior, and much more conservative, officers.


Suddenly the prior, stringent regulations on sailors eased. We could not be penalized any longer for wearing well-tended beards or mustaches. Hair length and fullness was allowed to increase if it did not extend all the way down to the jersey collar, was trim and neat, and the sides did not hang over the tops of the ears. Not only were we allowed to keep civilian clothes on board ship, but it was strongly advised that we wear civvies when on liberty. This was all part of Zumwalt's "People Navy" program to raise our flagging morale and relieve some civil tension. Though he received tremendous criticism for his efforts from his peers, the new CNO stuck by his guns. Now we could melt, more than ever, into the surrounding civilian lifestyles.

All told, most of my experiences in San Francisco were pleasant. It was here that I opened my first charge account (at Roos/Atkins clothing store on Market Street). I saw the movies Fiddler on the Roof, compliments of the USO, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, both at the Golden Gate Theater. [This was back when the Golden Gate was still used as a movie theater. Years later it hosted plays.]

It was in San Francisco that I saw an unforgettable theatrical presentation of the musical Hair at the Orpheum Theater. It was complete with the nude cast scene at the end. I loved helping turn the cable cars at the foot of Powell Street. Like all other Market Street travelers, I was often inconvenienced by the diggings, derricks, and equipment attendant to the creating of BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and the Muni (municipal) subway systems. My most frequented coffeehouse was a small, soul-filled place called the Orion, down an obscure little alley. Here they made great espresso, and the tables were old cable spools laid on their side. My favorite sandwich here was a concoction of sliced bananas and homemade peanut butter between two pieces of dark bread, covered with honey and sesame seeds. Up on the mezzanine performers would entertain. In the cool evenings the fireplace was ablaze.

Today, my previous points of orientation in San Francisco have been refaced, renamed, torn down, or have disappeared somewhere in the maze of new construction. Once easily walked distances have stretched to double or triple their original lengths. Yet back then I grew to know and travel the city and its Golden Gate Park like it was my home town.

Things change, yet something that has not changed since the 1960s, and probably not for many years before, is the all-encompassing, all-pervasive, spiritual aura that engulfs the city. In ancient days there probably would have been an oracle set up nearby. San Francisco both draws and ignites creative genius. Few US cities, among them Greenwich Village in New York, provide such a climate for artists, thinkers, lovers, and individualists who find great value in being themselves and doing their own thing. Whether a person wants to flower constructively, exist discretely, or simply go mad quietly, the city, like a patron saint, veils each subject from the constricting judgments of others.

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The year 1969 was, for me, a time of spiritual change and awakening. Back in Michigan I never felt the need to question things of the spirit. Everything spiritual was completely explained during Sunday services, Sunday School or at MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship) meetings. Now, removed from those pervasive and tightly structured influences, I began re-evaluating Man's relationship to God. Consequently, I started a quest for something that would enhance my sorely lacking spiritual self.

Early, the search centered on reading books about the famous psychic Edgar Cayce, who had subconscious access to an other-dimensional account of the history of the universe called the "akashic records." Then it branched out into several metaphysical vehicles. There was studying the multi-layered significance of, and reading the fortune-telling meanings of, tarot cards. Also, I tried seeing human auras, working to increase my sensory perception of the energy flows extending from the tips of my fingers, even reading palms. San Francisco was a Mecca for these types of study. I found several metaphysical bookstores that had evening classes of instruction and lectures.

I finally settled on studying the works of L. Ron Hubbard, which answered far more questions than they asked. Meanwhile, I was earning a well deserved reputation with my fellow shipmates and friends of being a nonconformist. On the other hand, to me, being considered different was always a compliment of the highest order.

Copyright 1992, 1998 Charles W. Paige

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