Category Archives: Sea Stories

Watch band to remember!

Letter to the Guys from the USS Conserver ARS-39

Monie,

I am so glad you saved all the stuff you did from the time on the Conserver. I have always admired your ability to remember things from the past.

Scott Gossler's watchband made in Subic Bay imageTo comment on your post, I think I might be the only one that has a watch band like yours, in fact I remember you and I going together to have them made. I have lost place of the fake Seiko watch that I got in Hong Kong. Wore it for years after the Navy. Still look at it almost every day.

I had the SCUBA tanks on it because even though I was not a Navy Diver (wanted to be) I admired all of them for their skills at such a dangerous task.

The “time in and around Danang Harbor” was also a an event I will never forget. I remember the RED tracer rounds flying on shore as we cruised the coast at night and thinking about the guys behind and in front of them and thinking how freaked out they must be.

When we stayed in port at the dock, the concussion grenades kept waking me up and I still hear them at times when I sleep. I also went ashore in Danang, don’t remember if it was in the party but I remember having to drive around in a pretty beat up old Ford pickup and wondering why the Vietnamese soldiers were driving new ones. The trip to China beach was a highlight of the cruise for some reason. Maybe because it was WAR going on and we were walking around on one of the most beautiful places on earth.

I don’t remember if it was this West PAC or one of the other cruises I was on while aboard the Conserver but I remember some big storms we road out and if i can find them I may have the pictures I took while standing behind the signal flag storage above the Bridge. I would watch the bow dive into blue water and took a picture just before the wave went over my head.

One memory that I have never told anyone is the time I was sitting inside the armory (remember the armory), it was maybe 8 foot square. Any way there were four or five of us sitting around on ammo cases etc. and the gunner was cleaning 45’s as we talked. Well, all of a sudden, BANG!!!!!, the 45 he was cleaning went off. We all froze as we looked around to see if anyone was dead and to our amazement, no one was hit and nothing else went off. Well the officer or maybe it was a Chief that was there (can’t remember who it was) instructed all of us to keep it to ourselves as there was no damage done. I can guarantee all of you that ever since then, whenever I handle a weapon, I FIRST check the chamber to see if it is loaded. Don’t know if anyone ever found the slug.

Scott Gossler phone made from scale imageRemember this Telephone I made out of a scale I recovered from the salvage yard in Pearl City? The dial was my first ever machine shop project that I did on the ship. The handset is from the ship and the cord is from an electric guitar. It still works but no one has a land line anymore.

These are some of the only remaining items that I have managed to save.

Scott Gossler's shell from dive in Mindoro Straights imageThe shells are from the time we all got a chance to dive in the Mindoro Strait. That was a stop I will NOT forget. One of the cooks knew how to cook these clams and we had then for a meal.

The matches in there are from allover from the 4 West Pac cruises I went on.

An Opportunity of a Lifetime – A dive on the Arizona

We had returned from our 1985 Westpac deployment and were in upkeep status at Pearl when the XO (Paul Bruno) got a call from CSR5. They wanted to know if we could supply some divers to work with the National Park Service 10 year survey of the USS Arizona. Of course the XO said yes and then asked me if I would like to go. Of course I said yes too! My memory is vague but I believe six or seven of the divers volunteered, including Master Diver Jimmy Johnson. Maybe someone out there can refresh my memory on who actually went on the project. But I regress.

USS Arizona overhead and elevation sketch of damageWe went to the memorial in the ship’s workboat and were briefed by the Park Service dive supervisor. Essentially, the Park Service had ran out of divers and needed the Navy’s services to continue the survey until their divers could return. The purpose of the survey, which the supervisor said were conducted every 10 years, was to determine if the wreck was stable or showed signs of movement. The Park Service had installed a grid system that covered the entire ship, which the surveyors used to make their measurements. Paul and I were assigned a small caliber (20 or 50 I believe) gun tub on the STBD side immediately below the memorial observation platform. But before we conducted our survey, we were given the opportunity to do an indoc dive of the entire ship. XO and LT Oswald, Conserver’s Operations Officer, and I suited up and entered the water.

The indoc dive consisted of navigating around the ship, beginning at the memorial’s small boat landing. It was one of the most interesting dives I’ve ever made. Just being so close to this piece of our history was an incredible feeling. Looking into a porthole, even though I couldn’t see what was inside, took me back to that fateful day that will “live in infamy” as President Roosevelt stated in his address to Congress on 8 Dec 1941. As I peered into the inside of the wreck, I wondered who may have been in that compartment back then and if he was still there, at his battle station, entombed forever.

As we circumnavigated the ship, we stopped near the bow and the only remaining 14-inch turret still relatively intact. The barrels were still there and were depressed almost to the deck. The deck forward of the turret was littered with line, chain, and other unidentifiable parts and pieces of debris. The bow was totally destroyed; jagged metal pointing upward was proof of the fact that a major explosion had occurred in one or all of the forward magazines. Paul and I swam between the turret’s barrels and LT Oswald, who had an underwater camera, took a photo of us there. Then we proceeded up the port side to the boat landing, surfaced and got ready to go to work.

The actual survey was fairly simple. Paul and I measured the distance between designated structural points in the gun tub to one of the grid lines, and recorded the distance on a slate board. The whole thing took about an hour and a half, then we proceeded to the memorial and delivered our data to the Park Service rep.

The measurements were used by a Park Service artist to create a sketch of the wreck and the bottom extending a short distance from  either side. We watched him working on the drawing, which if my memory serves me correctly, was about 50% complete. It was fascinating to watch. You can see a large size version of that drawing if you visit the Arizona Memorial Museum at Pearl. Click this link to view the USS Arizona wreck online.

From what I discovered a few  years later, the survey did detect movement of the wreck. It was spreading from the keel outward. The movement wasn’t large, but enough to convince the Park Service that something needed to be done to prevent further movement. I was told that they decided to deposit parts of the superstructure that were removed during the salvage operation back in 41 and 42. I think most of us were unaware that the Navy had saved the superstructure parts on government property at Pearl. So it was a relatively simple matter to move it over and place it alongside the wreck. The thought was that the superstructure pieces would help prevent the wreck from opening up further, thus preventing or delaying a catastrophic fuel leak of the bunker oil still contained in the wreck’s fuel tanks. I’m not sure if this actually happened, but I got the info from a reputable source. I haven’t been back to the memorial since that day in 85 to check it out.

I’ve also learned that the Navy has developed a way to extract bunker fuel oil from wrecks, so we may one day see them removing the Arizona’s bunker, some 2000 barrels of it.

When everyone was finished, we took departure and headed back to the ship. As I recall, we were all pretty excited about what we had just seen and done.  While we were on the way back, and in his inevitable style, the XO approached me and, being very secretive, told me he had removed something from the wreck as a keepsake. “Oh God”, I thought, “we are in big trouble now! Just wait until the Park Service discovers the missing piece”. Then with that ever present twinkle in his eye, Paul produced his “keepsake” for me to see. It was an inexpensive plastic camera, made in Japan, that someone visiting the memorial had probably accidently lost over the side. We both had a good laugh!

Somewhere in my cluttered archives lies that photograph of Paul Bruno and me kneeling between those gun barrels. I’ll try to find it and  post it here and on Facebook.

Cruise Memorabilia and Memories of Danang

I wrote this for the first version of the USS Conserver website over 12 years ago.

Do you own a collection of Navy memorabilia? Do you sometimes wonder why the heck you held onto it for all these years? My wife, bless her heart, has been on my case for 21 years to dispose of the uniforms, white hats, belts (a good 6 inches too short to fit around my 48 year-old waist), and a variety of shipboard paperwork and Westpac souvenirs.

S A Bar Card KeelungI didn’t know until recently that saving this junk would pay off in a big way. You may or may not agree that seeing some of this stuff on this website is fun and brings back fond memories. I may be providing a small degree of enjoyment for my visitors. Regardless, if I’m the only one who gets a charge of seeing scans of special request chits and bar cards from liberty ports, keeping this stuff on hand for all these years is justified.

How many of you bought one of those custom-made stainless steel watch bands in Subic? How many of you still wear it? I am still wearing mine. I’ve worn it every day since I got it back in 1973, except for maybe a year or two when I was between watches that would fit it. I don’t remember seeing any quite like mine. I chose to not have my rating or any other insignia applied to the band because I just preferred the look. And I guess I was looking ahead to when I was out of the Navy and might have to explain to a perfect stranger what the Engineman’s cog on my watch band meant. Besides, I never was excited about being an Engineman, even though I seemed to enjoy operating and maintaining those big Caterpillar D-399s.

One of the subjects I think about now and then is our time in and around Danang Harbor in the summer of 1972. I remember entering the harbor early in the morning and seeing that waterfall high on the hill off to the starbord side as we steamed into port. We anchored in the harbor by day and got underway every evening after dinner to steam up and down the coast as part of Operation Market Time, trying to intercept gun runners.

I remember long hot days anchored there in that big harbor. I was a mess cook at the time and had a lot of free time during the day between meals. I was fascinated by the jellyfish that drifted by, so much so that I tried to catch them with a makeshift sein. I took a number 10 tin can from the galley trash and punched holes in it with a marlin spike. Then I strung a piece of that orange line used to shoot a mooring line to the pier to the top of the can. Then I’d lower the can over the fantail and pull it up just when a jellyfish floated over it. I remember catching a few of the slimy critters, but even though comissaryman Diego told me jellyfish stew was a Filipino delicacy, I just threw them back into the harbor.

FA Davis on Repel Swimmer Watch in DanangAnother recollection I have of Vietnam was the watch we had posted on the weather decks for hostile swimmers. Someone from deck force was assigned the watch to roam the deck with an M-16 looking for saboteurs carrying explosive charges to attach to the hull. None were ever sighted, but I remember some of the watches firing at floating debris. The CO eventually put a stop to that.

On a couple of occasions we tied up to a pier in Danang to take on stores and water. Durning those short periods of time, concussion grenades were dropped over the side every 20 or 30 minutes to discourage swimmers who might wish to put Conserver on the bottom. I remember being in the engine room and being showered with pieces of rust when those concussion grenades were detonated.

I went ashore twice, as I remember. The first time was in Danang to get food stores. Gunner Ralston and some of the divers lead the working party, wearing their greens and carrying 45s or M-16 for protection. To this day I have this strange sense that I could hear projectiles whizzing past my head as if snipers were trying to pick us off.

In the workboat to China Beach image
Kitchen, Beach, Rickard, Davis Knutson
The other time I went ashore there was at China Beach, outside the harbor, for a little bit of liberty. The work boat took us in and dropped us in jellyfish infested water. I remember being with EN3 Kitchen on the beach for maybe an hour or so. Then we caught a ride to the exchange or possibly just for a drive around the base. While I was riding in the back of this pickup truck, a motorcycle pulled up along side between us and the curb. The passenger on the bike grabbed my watch band and tried to rip it off. I pulled my arm back and the riders immediately went down a narrow alley. It’s strange that I don’t remember if they got my watch or not. I think they did.

After the ride, and it’s funny that I don’t remember where we went or who was driving, we returned to China Beach to meet the work boat for our ride back to the ship. We stopped at a pier on the way and got off the boat for some reason. Later that evening, as we were weighing anchor and getting underway, I was preparing to drag a swab. Unfortunately, I was playing out the line as the Pilot house issued an all back full to the Master Control. The swab and line got caught in the screw and was pulled under. It was a good thing my foot was not fouled in the line or I would have gone under, too.

One of the few times we tied up to the pier in Danang, we got a call to get underway immediately to assist the USS Lang which was dead in the water in the Gulf of Tonkin. It was mid-afternoon when we got underway. The next morning at sunrise I went to the fantail to see what seemed like a hundred ships there. I was over-come with amazement by the sight of the force those ships represented. I was impressed to see so many ships, not only in one place, but underway and operating together. I would love to have been part of such a task force. Meanwhile, the Lang, underway on one engine, beat us into Subic by a half a day.

Cars

Skip Lash and I were swapping sea stories last May. We were talking about our cars my Isuzu which I got from Roy and Skips blue Honda. The Isuzu was used as an ice chest and his Honda was the stereo. I sold it to “Squirrel” I think his last name was Wilson.

I Remember

I remember patching up and sewing many in the 4 years in Conserver. The most memorable was when Roy cut his head open but thought it was a scratch. BMSN Benson had the fuel drum on starboard O-1 level bounce off his head while painting the side. He got shorter and went to Tripler.

Short Timers

Romondo Davis short timer imageI was flipping trough my Navy photos when I came across this gem — that of the unshaven face of a serious short timer. I’m posing showing the open door of my locker in the engine shop where I kept my tools, geedunks, audio cassettes, etc.

On the inside of the locker door, along with a full page magazine ad for my dream car— a British racing green Triumph Spitfire — was the face of a discarded oil pressure gauge that I had repurposed and labeled with a dymo gun as, “Davis’ Handy-Dandy Short Timers Gauge.” Each day I would decrement the red gauge hand one day closer to my discharge, and then taunt my buddies with it.

Assuming most of us were as anxious to move on as I was, I open up discussion here for stories of how we counted down the days to departure or discharge. Let the fun begin.

Adventures in Chin Hae, South Korea 1974

Just a day or so before Conserver pulled into Chin Hae, ETN2 John Peterson and I were called to Radio Central to investigate problems with both high powered radio transmitters. They were down hard which severely curtailed our long range communications. I recall John and I worked a good many hours getting one back on line. The second one would have to wait. We knew the problem but the five 17 cent diodes that we needed to repair it were not in stock down in supply.

Shortly after we pulled in it was decided that I should try to get the diodes from a Korean ship. In short order the mess decks were filled with Korean vendors. I wrote down a introductory greeting and a description of the parts and had one of the vendors trnslate it into Korean for me. Off I went, note in hand, searching for the parts.

The first ship I went aboard was an old WWII LST. The translated greeting worked well and before too long I was on the bridge waiting to talk with the ET onboard. Maybe not so much talking more pointing and gesturing. He figured out what I needed and was off to his supply office to see if they had the diodes. Not 20 seconds after he left me, general quarters sounded. Sailors were battening down hatches, stuffing their pant legs in their socks, and donning helmets. I learned later that the Korean Navy has drills daily due to the proximity of North Korea. Fortunately things settled down quickly and the all clear was sounded. My Korean ET came back. Sadly, they had no diodes in stock. I was off to another ship.

This time I ended up on the quarterdeck of a destroyer. The Korean ETC had gone to electronics school in San Diego which solved my communication issue. He was about to head to supply in search of the parts when the word was passed that the ship was breasting out. Rather than send me pierside to wait, he parked me in the ET shop and off he went. No luck in his search but he did tell me he might be able to get them from supply in Chin Hae.

I don’t recall if I ever got the diodes from the Korean Navy supply depot or not. Perhaps SKC Holstein or SK2 Witala had to get involved, maybe not. My memory zeroes in on the adventure of the search.

Those transmitters continued to be a royal pain throughout the remainder of the WestPac. Back in Hawaii, John and I had the pleasure of hauling them off the ship for a complete overhaul when Conserver went to Dillingham for drydock.

Seasick Sea Stories

Stand by for heavy rolls!

I was probably more prone to sea-sickness than the average sailor. In my early days aboard Conserver I dreaded getting underway, especially if I knew the seas would be choppy. I know heavy seas affected Conserver more than more streamlined ships like destroyers and larger ships like carriers. Being made for torque, not for speed, Conserver’s breadth and shallow draft created the perfect storm for the equilibrium-challenged.

I remember my first day-trip aboard out of Pearl was for reftra in preparation for our May 1972 Westpac cruise. What I had hoped would be a very pleasant experience — having never been on any substantial floating vessel besides the SS Admiral on the Mississippi River at St. Louis — turned out to be a nightmare. As soon as we hit the moderate seas off Honolulu, I got sick. I had the very uneasy feeling that every underway minute would be like that. I was very pleased to find out later that seas can be calm enough to make underway time quite pleasant indeed.

The absolute worst time I had at sea was on my first Westpac. Were had been in Kaohsiung, Taiwan for a port visit and were getting underway for Hong Kong. I was serving out my mess cooking obligation at the time so I as not standing my usual sea and anchor detail station as B1 Oiler. Instead, that day I was on the fantail enjoying the hustle and bustle of getting underway without any real responsibility.

I don’t remember having knowledge that we were pulling out of port into the middle of a full-fledged typhoon, but that fact could have been transmitted to the entire crew that morning at muster. My first realization that this wouldn’t be a leisurely two-day transit to Hong Kong were the walls of water breaking on the sea wall that protects the harbor. As we approached it, seas got a little rougher, but the instant we cleared the sea wall, the bow shot way up, the fantail dropped way down and my stomach began to churn. When water began to crest the gunnel, I headed for the engine shop.

As I stepped into the shelter of the shop I had to dodge tools and parts that had not been properly stowed. As soon as I stepped on to the mess decks, the stainless steel locker for the trays, cups and eating utensils tipped aft spilling flatware all over the deck. I remember the contents of bug juice machine sloshing back and forth with every roll.

My strongest recollection past that was being confined to my rack with doc coming by and giving me a shot of tranquilizer in the butt. When it was necessary to visit the head, I remember the passageway’s deck slick with puke and having to hold on to anything on the bulkheads just to get from one place to the other.

In calmer seas I do remember standing watch in B1 and throwing up every hour on the hour, often times going to the starboard fantail to throw up over the side and getting a face-full of salt spray. We used to call it, “feeding the fish.”

That trip to Hong Kong took twice as long as a normal transit due to the ship having to take evasive action. Our arrival in that great liberty port was especially sweet after suffering through my first typhoon.

Information on the 1972 typhoon season.