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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.

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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.

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Unofficial 1972 Westpac cruise log

I kept this log on my first Westpac cruise. The last several dates who question marks because I left the ship in Subic to fly home on leave.

Month Date Time Entry
April
22
1000 Left Pearl Harbor for Guam
May
5
0700 Arrived Guam
 
7
0800 Left Guam for Subic Bay
 
12
1330 Arrived Subic Bay
 
26
1600 Left Subic for Mindoro Straits job
 
27
0900 On station – Mindoro Straits
 
28
1900 Underway for Subic
 
30
0800 Arrived Subic Bay
June
8
1510 Underway for Danang
 
9
2100 Changed course for burning ship – V/M Galinda
 
10
1600 Arrived on scene V/M Galinda – 10 dead, 38 rescued by ?
 
11
0200 Left Galinda for Danang
 
13
0830 Anchored Danang Harbor
 
30
0800 Left Danang for Triton Island for salvage job on beached ship
July
1
2200 Arrived Triton Island – Falcon Lady
 
3
1700 Left Triton Island – Reclaimer pulled her off
 
6
1000 Arrived Kaoshiung, Taiwan
 
10
0800 Left Kaoshiung for Hong Kong
 
10-13
  Rode out Typhoon Susan.
 
14
1600 Moored to buoy in Hong Kong Harbor
 
18
0800 Left Hong Kong for Subic Bay
 
20
0800 Arrived Subic Bay
August
3
0900 Left Subic Bay for Danang
 
4
2340 Class "C" fire on #4 Main Engine – no casualties
 
6
0800 Anchored off Tan My – LST aground up river
 
7
0900 Second LST ran aground
 
10
1600 Both LSTs are free
 
1900 Underway for Danang
 
11
0800 Anchored Danang
 
26
1130

Left Danang for Gulf of Tonkin to take USS Lang DE-1060 under tow.

 
2200 Arrived at Lang – underway under own power. Followed her to
Subic.
 
29
0830 Arrived Subic Bay
September
1
0800 Left Subic Bay for Singapore
 
6
0900 Arrived Singapore
 
14
0800 Left Singapore for Bangkok via equator
 
15
1800 Crossed equator going south
 
16
1000 Crossed equator going north
 
18
1300 Arrived Bangkok – anchored in river
 
23
0900 Left Bangkok for Danang
 
27
0800 Arrived Danang
October
1
1800 Underway for Kaoshiung
 
5
2000 150 miles away from Kaoshiung, rerouted to Subic Bay
 
7
1740 Arrived Subic Bay
 
23
0800
Left Subic Bay for Midway
 
?
  Arrived Midway after riding heavy seas
 
?
  Underway for Pearl Harbor
November
12
1000 Arrived Pearl Harbor
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Familygrams from 1974 and 1975

Shipmate Bill Gabriel has saved for all there years several historical documents of interest, at least to those who were on board at that time. Written by Commanding Officer, Lt Cdr C.A. Weegar.

USS Conserver Familygram June to September 1974

USS Conserver Familygram from March, 1975

Download both as Zip files

We encourage anyone who has any similar documents to share them on this website.

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Short Timer comment for Romondo

I found my short timer calendar from late 1973. At the time I was assigned to Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Illinois. I spent just over one year in a pilot program that brought senior second class petty officers from the fleet to serve as Assistant Company Commanders. During that year I worked for 14 different Company Commanders helping them train recruits during their first 2-3 weeks of boot camp. There were about a dozen of us Assistant Company Commanders out there on the streets and grinders and in the barracks and classrooms of RTC. We all became well versed in all phases of training (folding clothes, locker stowage, marching , the 96 count manual of arms, the 16 count manual of arms, etc). We were a Godsends to new company commanders pushing their first company. Our presence with a company also gave the old salts with four or five companies under their belts more regular hours during the first weeks with a company, the most time consuming part.

The photos are of my “wheel book” during that time. It became my short timer calendar. As the day of my discharge grew closer I must have lost interest in the countdown

because the X’s stopped on November 18, 1973 and IMG_0160 never started again. I was discharged on December 10, 1973. It didn’t last long. I reenlisted three months later, got married and swept my school teacher bride off to

Hawaii to begin my tour on Conserver and her new role as a Navy wife.IMG_0158IMG_0159

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Conserver T-shirt

Here’s a blast from the past that I discovered in the bottom of a dresser drawer.  MRC(DV) Thoenes had me do the artwork for a T-shirt that he had made for the divers onboard.  I rarely wore the shirt given that I wasn’t a Navy Diver and didn’t feel I rated it but MRC(DV) Thoenes gave me one for doing the artwork. Consequently it has weathered the past forty years quite well. It was produced sometime between May 74 and May 77.  It may well be the only  one that has survived.

Diver T 1Diver T 3Diver T 2Diver T 4

 

 

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The Clock is Ticking

The clock starts now to tell us what you think of the reunion committee idea or throw your name in the hat for the committee. Those of you who have already volunteered don’t need to do it again; we have your name in the hat already!

The deadline for comments is Saturday, 27 July. If the consensus for the committee is favorable (and so far it has been), we will publish the list of nominees/volunteers and conduct the election on the ussconserver.org website. If you haven’t registered on the site, now would be a great time to do so.

This should be our first step towards getting the “2nd Annual Reunion of Conserver Sailors” rolling!