Listening to my brother-in-law relating "war stories" of
his Navy days in Vietnam revived memories of my own Navy days that had
sunk into my mind's forgetful recesses over the past 40 or so years of
non-military life. I remembered that while in the Navy, two favorite
phrases of myself and my shipmates were: "Before I joined the Navy," and
"When I get out of the Navy."
Because I was discharged while a Semmes crew member (in 1964), memories of being aboard the Semmes became the most vivid, though still dimmed somewhat by the onerous passage of time. Names, especially, elude being matched with still-remembered faces, though I do remember Ron Gervais, Eugene Hopper, David Houtzell, Terry Devilling, Don Phillips, and D.J. Johnson. Other faces or names flit occasionally into my memories.
Anyway, after my conversation with my brother-in-law, I researched the Semmes on the Internet and found the Association. Reading some of the crew's biographies refreshed my memories of two years aboard the Semmes after serving my first two years in Norfolk, San Juan (Purerto Rico), and aboard the USS Stickell DDR-888.
With the Stickell going into the Norfolk Navy Yard for refurbishing after completing a Mediterranean cruise, I was assigned to the Semmes detail in Newport, Rhode Island. I took a few days leave at home, then left Florida in September when the temperature was in the 80s and arrived in Newport the same day to encounter temperatures in the 60s.
My best memories of those days were wearing that round gold name tag that identified me as a Semmes crewmember. After a couple of weeks, I replaced my name in the tag with "Ditty-Bopper." Chief Radioman Soska laughed when he saw it, but didn't have me remove it. I wore the Ditty-Bopper tag even after going aboard the ship in December.
After several weeks in Newport, I was sent to Charleston as a member of the contingent assigned to assemble supplies needed to put the ship into operation (paper, forms, mattresses, etc.) and stencil the Semmes name and hull number on them. Upon arrival, however, the Navy seemed to have no inkling of the importance of my mission! I was assigned to the Transient Barracks, where I met other Semmes sailors, but we had no duties. We mustered each morning and afternoon, but otherwise only were allowed to roam the base aimlessly.
Eventually, other Semmes personnel arrived from Newport. They had many more years of experience in the Navy and took immediate action. We pooled our pocket change, a Boatswain Mate whose name I cannot remember telephoned Newport and explained our plight. Suddenly, we all were persona non gratis in the Transient Barracks. We were assigned to a barracks of our own and began requisitioning, collecting, and stenciling supplies.
The Semmes arrived after dark and we were on the pier to meet it. We immediately noted the battering it had received from storms encountered on its journey from New Orleans to Charleston. The damages were repaired, we participated in the commissioning ceremonies, and immediately began operations. Cruises to the Caribbean, through the U.S. Intracoastal waterway, down the Atlantic seacoast to Key West, and to the Mediterranean meant we did a lot of steaming during my 1962-1964 stint.
When the Gulf of Tonkin Incident occurred in August, 1964 I was sweating out being extended past my separation date, but I was separated the end of that month to enter college at home. That was a proud day for me, when I walked down the gangway that last time, relishing the thrill of feeling the gaze of my shipmates and sailors aboard nearby vessels watching me walk the pier with my seabag over one shoulder and my separation orders under my other arm.
I entered the original class of a newly-established community college in my home town and later, after marrying my current wife of nearly 40 years and having the first of my two children, transferred to the University of Florida to earn my degree under the G.I. Bill. Later, I earned my Master's degree in Public Administration at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
Through the years, I have gained two grandchildren, published numerous magazine articles and several short stories, published three books and am nearing completion of a fourth, and retired as Human Resources Director of the local Sheriff's Office after working in New Jersey and Delaware for RCA and Hercules, Inc. and for an engineering company.
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