Over the Side
First Posted to Mitch on 08/16/2001. Added to and repeated here for those who remember the incident and for those who simply love the power and fickleness of the sea.
I believe it was October 1963. The liberty dress was Dress Blues so it was late in the year. Late for hurricanes on the east coast but those were hurricane conditions.
We were out of sight of land off Cape Hatteras and taking green water over the flying bridge. The main deck had not been secured. At 1600 hours I was to relieve the fantail lookout. I was about 10 minutes early. I came out of the first passage way on the port side forward, behind the bulkhead, and started aft. When the ship started down into a trough. I guess the helmsman lost it a little to starboard. I felt the ship slip and then heard something like the sound of a freight train coming at me. I looked back and saw a hugh wall of water coming at me. I only had time to grab the life line with my right hand. It was yanked out of my hand and my arm was pulled from the shoulder socket. After I hit the bulkhead, the ship rolled and I went over the top life line between the lifeboat davits. The next thing I recall, I was looking back at the ship from 10 feet or so away like I was on the pier at high tide. The ship was still rolling and the main deck was now about 25 feet above me and moving away from me. I tried swimming toward the ship.
Difficult to do with a hurt arm but adrenaline and self preservation are amazing things. From the time the sea hit me until the end of the action everything is still in my mind like a bad slow motion movie. Frame by frame the action advanced. I tell people now that it is difficult to swim in the fetal position with a hurt arm. When they ask why the fetal position I tell them that I was trying to kiss my a.. goodbye.
As I was trying to catch the ship it started to heal over toward me. I saw the side of the ship coming at me and I had to swim away or be driven under. Suddenly I was on top of the swell and went back on board between the top and middle life lines. When the ship again rolled to starboard the snaking between the middle and bottom lines caught me like a fish in a net and kept me from going over again. There was still about 12 to 18 inches of water on the deck and I was now being swept toward the fantail and grabbing everything in sight. I managed to get myself sideways just in time to smash the muscles in my left thigh into the stanchion holding up the 01 level at the port quarter deck. I embraced that stanchion like a long lost lover and yelled for Forsee, the fantail lookout. He didn't answer right away and for a moment I thought he had been washed over. After I yelled again, he heard me and stuck his head out of the fan locker just forward of the missile drum. He yelled something about me relieving him early. I yelled back and told him to get me some help, I was hurt and had been over the side. I am sure he thought I was kidding and said something I don't remember. What ever he said, it was not about helping me. It was then that I really began to hurt and shake from the adrenaline surge. I know I called him everything but a shipmate so he realized I wasn't joking and called the bridge for help.
Help arrived and they put me on a stretcher to take me to sick bay. The X.O. had come back and once I was on the stretcher he decided to go up the main deck to enter officer country. Someone told him to be careful but before he could get inside another wave came down the side. The X.O. grabbed the ladder going to the 01 level and the wave took his legs out from under him. When he came down he smashed his knees into the ladder. After that wave passed was when I was removed to sickbay. By the time I got to sickbay they had to cut my pants off me. My thigh had already swollen so it looked like I was hiding a softball under the skin. That evening I was black, not black and blue but black from knee to hip and from the front of the leg to the back.
The reason that most of the crew didn't hear about it was because I was not laid up for weeks like you might expect. We were pulling into Charleston in three days after months at sea. I had a 72 hour liberty due to start when we docked. I had not seen the girl I was going with in months and she was going to American University in Washington D.C. Just a little out of bounds for a 72 but as long as you made it back in time who was ever the wiser?
Bosun' Collins told me that if I expected to go on liberty then I had to be up and doing at least limited duty when we docked otherwise I was on sick call and restricted to the ship and my bunk. I was up the second day with tears of pain rolling down my cheeks I walked the passageways and did no duty. I did light duty on arrival (stood by the lines) and was allowed to go on liberty. I hitchhiked to Washington, DC saw my girl and hitched back. When I got back I asked Collins for light duty because I was in so much pain I couldn't hardly stand. His answer? "You were well enough to go on liberty, your well enough to work".
Nothing like the love of a good woman to make you do things that should be impossible. And the wisdom of an old Bosun' to make you work through the injury. I believe that because I was not allowed to baby the injuries is why I am not crippled today. But I tell you, they always let me know when the weather is about to change.
Amazing story, Dean. We are luck you made it. I wonder if anybody
remembers the trip over to England when we damaged the sonar dome in a
storm and had to spend time in drydock at Rosyth Naval Shipyard in
Scotland? I remember well because I was supposed to get married when
we got back from the deployment. I still have an image of Ens. Speight
Byrd holding onto the overhead on the bridge and stretched out
horizontally while everybody else, including me, the captain, the
quartermaster, the helmsman and lee-helmsman, the pallets they stood
on, coffee cups, coffee, charts, binoculars...everything except
Speight ended up against the port bulkhead. I can also still hear the
roaring of dishes breaking and stuff shifting down below.
Great recollections Jack! My notes serve me better than my memory on
some of these things, however. My records indicate that we went to
Portsmouth, England around Oct 3rd, 1964. Some of our crew went to see
the H.M.S. Victory in dry dock. Some also took the train to London and
enjoyed the sights there. (It seems they had their toilet paper
printed "Property of..." also.) The ships crew were allowed to grow
beards for the 28 days at sea before arriving in England. We were
inspected, and anyone that had "peach fuzz" like me, had to shave it
off. There were a few that had nice beards, and a few gorillas that
had more hair on their back than they did on there face and head!
The visit to Edinboro was great and the sites where like being in a fairytale. I remember going out to eat with a group of guys and we all ordered the largest thing on the menu, 'Delmonico steak for 2' . This really confused the waitress, and amazed the patrons who where setting around us. A real nice old couple who explained all the coins that we had said we had enough meat on our table to feed a small town for a week. I'm sure you all remember the great food England/ Scotland had to offer back then. I guess being a sailor all we ever got to see was pub food and great beer. My son was stationed fat Edzel, Scotland for a while and my wife and myself got to visit Scotland and tour the countryside, it's still one of the nicest places I have visited.