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Sea Stories: Worth It.


Gunboat1
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Sea Stories:  Worth It.

In 1985, my Guided Missile Cruiser was deployed to the Indian Ocean.  As we began our journey home, we were granted the holy grail of a Pacific sailor’s port visits:  Australia.  While most of the battle group including the carrier visited Perth, my ship and a smaller Knox-class frigate made port in Geraldton, a smallish west coast city of about 30,000 located 260 miles north of there.

Aussies are extremely hospitable, friendly, and fun-loving.  It is a totally unique landscape and culture.   And while the younger generation of Australians have been infected with the socialist, politically correct claptrap of anti-freedom social justice warriors, the older Australians are very pro-American.  They remember, first and foremost, the Battle of the Coral Sea, and how America kept the Japanese from invading their vast and unprepared country.  They fought alongside us in Vietnam and are the best international friends we have as a nation.  Plus, they love their “beeah.”  My personal favorite was a local brew called Emu Export Lager.  Delicious.

We were there over ANZAC Day, their version of our Memorial Day.  It is a heartfelt remembrance of their staggering losses across two centuries supporting the military missions of the British Empire.  They, quite rightly, take it seriously. 

“They went with songs to the battle, they were young,

Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.

They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,

They fell with their faces to the foe.

 

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.”

from For the Fallen, by Robert Lawrence Binyon

I was proud to march, sword in hand, as Officer-In-Charge at the head of our ship’s parade detachment, which was given a prominent place of respect in their town’s memorial parade.  And unexpectedly, for the rest of the port visit, I couldn’t buy my own beer.  I was treated with great hospitality.

One indication of how welcoming our Aussie “mates” were is the Dial-a-Sailor line.  The phone company installed a telephone line on our ship’s quarterdeck, and the area radio and TV stations publicized the number as widely as possible.  A local wanting to host a visiting sailor merely had to dial the number.  (Aussie accent) “Hiya, this is Sheila.  My mate Cassie and I would like to meet two sailors!  We’ll be there about 6PM tonight, and we have a car…would that be all right?”  Two lucky sailors’ names would be assigned, and a date set.  And then the phone would ring again…..  Yes, the crew was pretty much in heaven. 

One of the junior sailors of my department was a young Operations Specialist Seaman (E-3).  OS’s man the ship’s Combat Information Center, or CIC.  They operate radars, perform chart navigation and maintain displays of relevant battlespace data.  The CIC is where a modern warship is fought from, not the bridge.  This kid was excellent. He was tall, fit, good looking, maybe 19 years old.  He had shown sufficient aptitude that he was already rated as an OS as an E-3.  He was always on time, cheerful, diligent and smartly uniformed.   He’s the kind of kid you wish you had a dozen of.  Early in the port visit, he had somehow hooked up with a stunning local girl.  Petite, blonde, blue eyed, with a beautiful smile, a punky little gel-spiked hairdo, multiple pierced earlobes, and a smoking hot body.   All coupled with that gorgeous Aussie accent.  He was the envy of every shipmate.  And we didn’t see much of him whenever he was not on duty.

The sad day came when we had to depart.  Liberty expired (that means the sailors were all required to return to the ship and resume duties) before sunrise, about 0500.  The ship was scheduled to get underway at 0800.  I happened to have the watch as Officer of the Deck on the Quarterdeck.    And not long after, the Operations Division Senior Chief Petty Officer came to the Quarterdeck and informed me that the kid was missing.  He had not returned to the ship and was now unauthorizedly absent.  This is a punishable offense.  It was also most unlike him.  The ship began its detailed preparations for getting underway.  This is a long series of actions and systems tests ensuring that all is ready, and then the actual procedures of undocking and driving away occur.

Time wore on.  There was still no sign of the kid.  This was becoming serious.  It wouldn’t be the first time that a young sailor had fallen in love and decided to desert the Navy and marry the girl of his dreams. (It never ends well.  Sooner or later, one is apprehended and brought to account.  I once saw a man in civilian clothes, in his late 40’s returned to our ship.  He had deserted from her over twenty years earlier, and had recently been arrested for something, and his outstanding warrant had come to light.  We held him for a few hours until he could be transferred ashore and a court-martial arranged.)  And if this desertion happens overseas, the man is at the same time instantly an illegal alien in the country where he has deserted.  Everybody wants him, and not in a good way.  He’s in a heap of trouble.  A court-martial conviction for desertion is a federal offense, never to be blotted from a man’s record.  And we genuinely hated to see this good kid go down that road to ignominy.

The checklist of preparations continued.  One item required to be tested is the ship’s whistle, a loud horn which conveys maneuvering signals to other ships in the event of fog or risk of collision.  In our case, this was a deep, stentorian, steam-powered behemoth.  It was, by design EXTREMELY LOUD. 

BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRP!  went the whistle.  And at the far edge of the parking lot next to the ship, there was an explosion of activity in the back seat of a parked car.  Out popped the missing kid, pulling on his shirt and hopping into his shoes, hotfooting it to get aboard before we pulled the brow and left him behind.  The little Aussie girl was hanging on him, tears flowing.  One more goodbye kiss, and he flew up the brow into the waiting arms and stern expression of his Senior Chief.  He was asked what had happened, and explained that he had wanted to make absolutely sure that he was on time, so he had asked the girl to drive him to the ship by 0430 – half an hour early.  A goodbye hug and kiss had gotten steamy….and turned into one last interaction in the back seat of her car, where both had apparently fallen asleep in rapturous entanglement.  And only the ship’s whistle had waked them up, moments before. 

The Senior Chief gave him a preliminary chewing out (as only a CPO can do!) , making sure he knew that his very life was in jeopardy, and that at the very least he would be performing extra duties for the rest of his Navy career.  He might even be keelhauled, if the Senior Chief continued in his bad mood for a day or two!.  The kid’s head hung progressively lower and lower.  Finally, the Senior Chief looked him over, and said “I just have one question…..was she worth it?”

The young sailor's head came up, and a beatific smile came instantly to his face.  In a voice of pure, honest elation he replied “Oh, YES, Senior Chief!”  He was curtly dismissed and sent below to don his dress whites preparatory to manning the rail as we departed.

And the Senior Chief and I managed to keep straight faces and not explode into laughter until he was out of earshot.

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Edited by Gunboat1
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We pulled into Fremantle/Perth in 1983 and 1984... awesome liberty.

My favorite liberty port in the Far East was Hong Kong, one of the world’s great cities. The British still governed it then.

Our “home away from home” on deployment, though, was Subic Bay.  Tales about liberty there remain, uh... classified.

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That is hilarious.

First trip to Perth was in 1975 onboard the Coral Sea right after dealing with the Mayaguez in Cambodia. It was 33 yrs after the Battle of the Coral Sea and people still remembered.

45 yrs ago and I still fondly remember that visit.

Every time we went we left someone behind and, as you said, they always came back. Not as good as yours but the funniest to me was a young SMSN hooked up and stayed behind in 1986. About a month later his Dad, a retired USAF Colonel, brought him back to us in Guam.

As to TXUSMC's Subic comment. Yep. It was a lot funner when the entire country had a midnight curfew. Bars closed at 2330. That  30 minutes was a blast.

 

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My first visit to Australia was to Fremantle in 1986.  Since it was to be a max liberty port, A MWR rep flew out to the ship to take hotel reservations.  Most of the hotels were in Perth and Fremantle, but I noticed the cheapest one (it being July and the middle of the winter there) was in a place called Scarborough Beach.  So a shipmate and I made reservations there.  It turned out that we were the only sailors who made reservations there.  It was windy, cold and miserable there and a lot of things were closed for the season.  The hotel had its own bar and restaurant.   After we checked in, we hit the restaurant, still in our dress blues.  Let me tell you, our money was no good at all!  Huge meal, serving carts of drinks kept showing up at our table. After the meal we staggered into the bar, where everyone crowded around us.  When the bar closed, we stayed, partying with the staff.  The bartenders and waitresses adopted us for the rest of our stay.  They gave us a personal tour of Perth and the surrounding area, and when it was time for us to return to the ship they paid the hotel bill and gave us a ride to the ship.  It was a great experience. 

When I made it back to Australia in 1992 things had started to change.  After 20 years in the navy, 4 Westpacs, 2 Med cruises and a North Atlantic cruise, Sydney Australia was the only place where I was called a baby killer. 

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Many Australians, especially men, are big into DIY including machining. And as mentioned they like their cold beer. 

One guy combined the two hobbies. He machined a small jet (turbine) engine which could be run with propane. When propane is drawn rapidly from the tank it cools the tank, often enough to stop the flow of propane. This ingenious person put the propane tank in a tub of water. Then put the beer cans in the tub. After lighting off the jet, soon enough the beer was properly chilled. 

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