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Sea Stories: Jerome


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In 1987, I was Operations Officer and Navigator of a Guided Missile Frigate.  This class of ship had two helicopter hangars forward of a full-width helo deck all the way aft, and a helo control booth overlooking the deck from high between the two hangars.  Helo decks have numerous colored lights which are dimmable and also have a loudspeaker system so that the Helo Control Officer (usually me) can issue directions to the deck crew even during noisy flight operations.

One of the new junior crew members on this ship was a very young sailor from inner city Detroit.  He had never been anywhere outside his neighborhood before joining the USN and had only recently completed boot camp and been assigned to the Deck Division on my ship.  Deck division performs deck seamanship tasks, handling mooring lines, anchoring, rigging refueling gear, and above all, painting the external areas of the ship.  They stand watches as lookouts and helmsmen.  This is where many non-technical sailors begin their shipboard training.    Somehow he let slip to his division mates that he was scared of ghosts.  Oops, bad idea.  The other sailors in his division began referring to “Jerome” in his presence.  When he asked who Jerome was, the other sailors told him that Jerome was a former crew member, who had died in his bunk during the last deployment, and had since been seen aboard the ship occasionally, haunting the passageways.  They also informed the young lad that he, in fact, was the new occupant of Jerome’s old bunk and locker.  Jerome was described as having been nasty-tempered and vindictive, and not too tolerant of new guys.  This went on for some weeks.

When at sea, Navy ships are required to keep a visual watch at all times, pursuant to the International Rules for Prevention of Collisions at Sea (COLREGS).  There are three lookouts; one on each bridge wing forward (port and starboard) and one all the way aft on the fantail.  They are connected to the bridge by sound powered telephones, and are tasked to report any relevant sightings of other ships, aircraft, weather, etc.  The After Lookout is especially important, as part of his job is to listen and watch for any man overboard.  If he doesn’t see or hear a man overboard, the swimmer is likely to drown before recovery.  A fundamental tenet of service is that NO ONE quits his post as a lookout without being relieved.  NEVER. 

One exceptionally dark night in the middle of the near-calm Pacific Ocean, I was standing a slow, uneventful midwatch as Officer of the Deck.  The ship is at slow speed.  The Bridge was pitch black, except for a few dim display lights needed for ship’s control.  I heard the Boatswains Mate standing Bridge phone talker watch call each lookout in turn for an hourly phone check.  “Starboard Lookout, Bridge”…”Starboard Lookout , aye”.  Etc.    Except this time, it was “After Lookout, Bridge….After Lookout, Bridge….After Lookout, BRIDGE!”  with no response.  Young Seaman Apprentice Detroit is not answering the call.  The Boatswains Mate of the Watch sends a messenger to the fantail…who reports via the Sound Powered telephone that the after lookout is missing…he found the phones on deck, unattended.  This is now a VBD (Very Big Deal.)  Suddenly we realize that Seaman Apprentice Detroit is there, on the bridge, wedged into a gap between the chart table and the bulkhead, his back to the bulkhead, eyes wide, face ashen.  When he is asked what he is doing there, instead of standing his watch on the fantail, he claimed to have been relieved at his post.  By whom, we ask.  "Seaman Umptyfratz", he replies.  "Bull Sh%$!," cries the Helmsman, none other than Seaman Umptyfratz!

So, what has happened is this:  Seaman Apprentice Detroit had been standing watch all alone, on the fantail in pitch darkness in mid-ocean.  One of the Boatswains Mates has sneaked into the darkened helo control booth, brought up some dim red deck lighting and turned on the fantail loudspeaker with the volume low.  He begins pulsing the red deck lights using a rheostat control, giving a faint red glow which comes and goes, while whispering “Jerooooooooooome……..Jerooooooooome….” over the loudspeaker.  Another sailor has donned a dark OD green rain poncho and is slowly walking back and forth across the tops of the helo hangars, barely visible as a spectral shape in the dim red intermittent light.

The Boatswains Mate swore that the kid was clear of the flight deck before the phones from his ears hit the steel of the deck…….

Edited by Gunboat1
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Was on our way to Vietnam from Hunters Point on the CVA 61 Ranger, and the Helo enlisted flightdeck crew was improvising replenishments of comfort for the crew room that was just under the angle deck off of the forward angle catwalk.  

It was decided a couch was needed so we went scouring for one on the lower decks to steal, err I mean borrow.  Well we found one in the hangar bay that belonged to the purple shirts, but we knew there was no way we could get it up to our shack through the twist and turns and ladders leading up there.

Of course the easy way would to be put it on the elevator for the next aircraft left to the flightdeck, but that would be pretty obvious to the purple shirts and others that we were up to no good.

This was late in the dark of night of course, and it was decided that we would have a crew with a long line and grappling hook swing it out from the catwalk down the side of the ship into an opening in the hangar bay, and the crew below would tie the line to the sofa and pitch it overboard then the crew topside would haul it up.  This took a lot of mathmatical calculations to figure length of rope, and where the hell the opening was in the hangar bay to be able to accomplish such a feat.

Well that's what we did, and if you can imagine the picture of a sofa swinging on the side of an aircraft carrier doing around 30 kts. it was definately one for the books, and a sight to see for sure.

Al least we now had a nice old dirty couch to sit on for our WestPac deployment.  Now for the refrigerator.......

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