A Short Story
Contributed by: Mark Chavez – RD2
I was assigned to the USS Johnston out of radar school in Great Lakes, Illinois. After some initial delay (my wife delivered our first child), I was flown to the Med. to catch up with the ship. She left Naples, Italy just hours before I had arrived. The dock workers were still rolling up cables when my taxi roared up. Later that day I reported to fleet headquarters, and then waited in Naples for a month waiting news of the next port of call of the elusive DD821. Also waiting in Naples was Sweazy RD3. who had left the ship for some reason, toothache maybe.
We flew to Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf, where we joined up. Hot and dry, blazing cloudless sky, and thank God, the radar spaces were air conditioned. Many slept there rather than the confined sleeping spaces below decks, by the aft 6 inch gun mount. I believe there was some sort of air conditioning below decks as well, but not as efficient. The humidity left behind four or five inches of water in the compartment, and sloshed everyone’s shoes around. I remember mopping up every morning to clear this water, left from the cooling air.
Every division had to volunteer a man for mess deck duty, and as junior man, that was me. It was supposed to be for a month, but I remember it being longer. Eventually I got to practice my rating, and stood watches with the others in C.I.C.
I remember some damage to the port side of the ship, and was told the Captain had let the executive officer bring her along pier side when docking up in Bahrain. It was mostly paint work, and he certainly needed the practice.
I remember standing in line for chow, at sea, on the port side by the potato bin. To pass the time, we threw potatoes to the sea gulls that glided beside us in the wind. There was grace in their ability to catch potato chunks in the air, and ,naturally, every once in a while someone would throw a piece of iron, to the disaster for the seagull that caught it. Funny at the time, it makes me cringe now.
The return home had some shaky moments. Stopped at the horn of Africa, at Assab in Ethiopia. Very primitive. One big hotel, full of Russians running the oil refinery built by Americans. They kept to themselves. While drunk, I bought and smuggled aboard the hacked off nose of a saw tooth shark. About four feet long with sharp fang teeth all
around the edge. Still fresh when I got it.
On the way back through the Med, we visited Beirut, Lebanon when it was prosperous and beautiful. There was a casino built half way up the snow topped mountain just behind the city. Run by an American from Vegas. Now why doesn’t that surprise me? Anyhow he bought about ten of us big drinks, and we could play the games, eat, or drink more. Very patriotic guy. Naturally, some asshole had to screw this up. I forget his name, but he was a sonarman. Climbed into the overhead air ducts and fell through into the ladies room. They banned us after that.
Went through the straits of Medina, a narrow passage between Sicily and the rest of Italy, then on to Malta. Valetta has a deepwater harbor, but the town is high above on the cliffs. Luckily there was an elevator. I think it cost thrupence (3 pence). Very interesting city. One street was full of bars and associated businesses. Lots of pastel yellow sandstone buildings, and there were supposed to be catacombs. A rubble filled lot was shown us, and the story went that a leaky gas fitting took the whole building and a few patrons as well. Not much you can do or say about that. Some of us rented bikes and pedaled over to Saint Georges bay. Supposed to be full of British nurses. There was a bar/hotel, very beautiful, right by the sea, and surprise, a scattering of nurses. They ignored us, and we left soon after.
We nearly ran out of food, and ate mostly bacon sandwiches until we got to Gibraltar. Fresh milk tasted wonderful.
I have probably forgotten lots of stuff. I hope someone else can fill in the blanks.