Pass Me the Rice

Pass Me the Rice

by Robert G Kay
Pass Me the Rice

Pass Me the Rice

by Robert G Kay

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781463401535
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 05/18/2011
Pages: 568
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.15(d)

Read an Excerpt

PASS ME THE RICE


By ROBERT G. KAY

AuthorHouse

Copyright © 2011 Robert G. Kay
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4634-0153-5


Chapter One

NEWPORT NAVAL STATION, RHODE ISLAND

The sky was somber and completely blanketed by ugly dark gray-green clouds that were typical of a winter's day in Newport, Rhode Island. A damp, cold brisk wind was driving sleet in from Narragansett Bay and the two largest piers of the Naval Station were slowly being covered by a thin sheet of ice.

The USS Wilkinson (DL-5) was the only ship at Pier One and was moored on the port side, occupying a little over five hundred feet of pier space. She was a sleek haze gray warship designated by the Navy as a Destroyer Leader, which placed her size-wise somewhere between a standard destroyer and a light cruiser.

Wilkinson was one of two Test and Evaluation ships for the experimental AN-SQS-26X Sonar system and the last in a class of five ships. She was the test platform for the aluminum covered bow mounted sonar dome, while her sister ship, the USS Willis A. Lee (DL-4), had a rubber coated dome. Wilkinson had just returned to her homeport of Newport after three weeks of intensive refresher training in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The training at Gitmo was standard procedure for any ship returning to duty after a stint in a Naval Shipyard for major repairs in an Extended Overhaul. We had spent seventeen months in the Boston Naval Shipyard where new modifications had been retrofitted into our Sonar equipment and the yard workers started referring to us as "Building 5" since that was our hull number. On this particular morning, a steady stream of sailors in foul weather gear were lethargically carrying stores aboard from one of two big tractor trailers positioned side by side at the foot of the brow. Working parties such as this were common in the navy and were made up of personnel selected by the leading petty officers of each division assigned to the evolution. The number of people required was predetermined by the particular task at hand, and today's working party consisted of people from Engineering, Operations and the Weapons Departments. Since this one involved dry stores and provisions, the Supply Department only required one Storekeeper on the trailer to check off each item, one in the storeroom and one on the reefer deck to validate receipt of the foodstuff. These checks and balances were necessary because certain items had a way of mysteriously vanishing aboard ship somewhere between point A and point B.

Case in point aboard this ship happened last summer. Twenty watermelons were off-loaded from the truck but only nineteen made it to the reefer deck. When the final tally was made and the disappearance was noted, the Senior Chief Commissaryman went ballistic. He and his cooks proceeded to scour the entire ship for the wayward melon. After about an hour of intensive searching, the missing melon was discovered in the "B" Division's berthing compartment stuffed inside their dirty laundry bag.

Those of you familiar with navy ships know that "B" Division's living spaces are among the grungiest onboard compared to the other divisions. For some reason, Boilertenders seem to naturally prefer this grease and oil inundated lifestyle, much to the dismay of the Executive Officer whenever he conducted his periodic Zone Inspections. The liberated fruit was ultimately returned safely to the reefer and reunited with the other melons.

Performing this or any other type of manual, drone-like labor is not the high point of a sailor's idea of shipboard adventure. Considering the present inclement weather, this working party most definitely qualified as a genuine shit detail.

The current loading of stores was in preparation for the ship being scheduled to participate in a UNITAS cruise which would take them to the warm waters of South America. Navy ships from several South American countries join in annually for the multilateral naval and amphibious operations. These include at-sea exercises and inport activities among each other to increase operability and mutual understanding. Above all else however, most sailors looked forward to the various port visits in places where they up to now had only read about in books. With the exception of one person.... me!

I was a Lieutenant Junior Grade and one of four officers in the Weapons Department including, the Department Head. My official title was First Lieutenant and I was in charge of the 1st Division, which in reality made me the ship's Head Janitor.

My responsibilities included the physical maintenance and materiel upkeep of the main deck, the 0-1 level, which is the next deck above the main deck, all their bulkheads, the outer hull and both anchors and chains. When I initially reported aboard, I quickly observed that there was a lot to be desired with the outward appearance of the ship.

During the months in the Boston Naval Shipyard, a considerable amount of cosmetic work was performed by my people. As time went on, the crew began taking more pride and exerted a significant effort into getting the old girl into looking exceptionally good.

Just before we were to leave Boston, the Deck Force had managed to transform the Wilkinson into a genuine showboat. My sailors had slapped paint on every vertical and horizontal surface assigned to us, applied non-skid overlay to every deck area that required sure footing by the crew, stenciled white stars on every mooring bitt on deck and completely outfitted our three rows of lifelines with diamond-shaped black double braided hollow nylon polypropylene line. The acquisition of the latter was due solely to our highly resourceful Supply Officer who somehow found the way to fund its purchase for me. When we were finished, we looked so good that our Squadron Commander insisted on having his Change of Command ceremony on the fantail of our ship after we returned to our homeport of Newport.

In preparation for that occasion, we ran a long sound-powered phone line from the ship to the head of the pier where it was manned by one of my brighter First Division people. His job was to ask the driver of the incoming dignitary's car to identify his passenger and pass the word back to the Quarterdeck. As the distinguished person set foot upon the ship's brow, the Boatswain's Mate of the Watch rang the appropriate number of bells and announced over the ship's public address system the title of the individual, i.e. "COMSURFLANT, arriving." Once the visitor stepped aboard, the messenger of the watch would snap his picture with a Polaroid camera and note his title on the bottom. In this way, we were prepared to properly identify and "Bong off" each individual correctly upon their departure.

Under Navy protocol, Admirals rated 4 bells rang in a sequence of two, where Captains and below only rated two bells. A Captain of a ship would be announced with two bells and the name of his ship, i.e. "Bong-Bong, Wilkinson arriving."

With the ceremony well underway on the fantail, a late arrival pulled up to the brow. Since it had bypassed the phone talker at the head of the pier who had already secured, the Quarterdeck watch was taken by surprise. The startled Boatswain's Mate, upon seeing a Flag Officer approach the brow, quickly went to the PA system and announced tremulously, "Bong-Bong, Bong-Bong, another Admiral arriving," without actually ringing the bell. That's when time literally stood still aboard the ship. After a slight pause, smiles appeared on the faces of the guests at the procedural gaff, with exception of course of my Captain. His laser-like glare quickly found me standing just forward of the fantail and sent an unspoken message of "Give your soul to Jesus because your ass belongs to me!"

Fortunately, the breakdown in protocol was diminished because the tardy Admiral had later remarked to my Captain that it was the first time he was ever bonged vocally aboard a ship and thought it was hilarious. "Besides," he said, "I probably deserved it for being late."

The Captain, upon later hearing my explanation, simply stated that "Shit happens, but it had better not happen again."

Naturally, for some time to come I would be greeted with "Bong-Bong, Janitor arriving," whenever I entered the Ward Room.

Had it not been for the long and arduous hours of hard work that went into setting us apart from the rest of the ships in the Squadron, I'm sure the Captain would have insisted that I and my Division never set foot on dry land again. But being a highly professional officer, he praised us for our accomplishments despite the one goof-up during the ceremony.

ANCHOR'S AWAY

However, I was still not a contented individual. That's why on that cold blustery morning in November of 1966, I was huddled inside a wind and rain buffeted phone booth on the pier calling my Detailer in Washington. The Detailers in the Navy Bureau of Personnel are the men who make the duty assignments for officers by grade. Lieutenant Mike Kaleres was my detailer and would eventually rise to Flag Rank later in his career.

"Lieutenant's Detail Desk, Kaleres speaking," he said very businesslike.

"This is Robert Kay calling from the Wilkinson, DL-5 in Newport."

"What can I do for you Mr. Kay?"

"Being a fellow Greek, I thought you could help me volunteer for duty in Vietnam as an Advisor."

Without so much as a why would you want to do that, he replied, "Hang on a second while I look up your record." What seemed only a few moments later he announced, "OK, you've got it; I'll get the orders cut right away ... and good luck, Patrioti."

From that short conversation, it was evident that the Navy must have been looking for Vietnam volunteers rather than having to arbitrarily assign some officer who had no such desires. That would explain the unbelievable ease with which my request was granted.

That afternoon just before lunch was served in the Ward Room, the officers stood at their respective places around the two tables awaiting the arrival of the Captain. A few of the younger officers, who for some reason always seemed to be hungry, were surreptitiously eating saltine crackers smeared with butter. The senior officers, on the other hand, showed maturity, patience and restraint lest the "old man" enters and catches them munching away like a bunch of food deprived squirrels.

The two tables were set up for the noon meal, with crisp white table linen, the ship's dinnerware and each officer's individual napkin ring holding equally white napkins flanking each place setting. The smaller of the two tables was for the Captain, the Executive Officer and the four Department Heads. The second and larger table was designated for the junior officers and had room to accommodate 18 people. Everyone took their seat once the Captain entered and assumed his place at the head of his table.

Once the meal was finished, dishes were cleared and coffee was served. The Captain looked over in my direction and said, "Bob, I want you to ensure that the paint locker has enough supplies aboard to last us through the cruise next month." Normally, he would have addressed this to my boss, the Weapons Department Head, but he was the Command Duty Officer today and was not present for lunch.

"I've already taken care of that sir, we're in good shape," I replied. "By the way Captain, I won't be making the cruise because I've just volunteered for duty in Vietnam. My orders should be on their way even as we speak."

A cold silence immediately fell over the wardroom and I got the distinct impression that everyone in the Mess must have considered me some kind of lunatic. After all, who would give up this choice sea-duty for a one year fun-filled tour in the rice paddies, jungles and polluted waters of Southeast Asia? Once again ... me, that's who!

Pushing away from the table and slowly getting to his feet, the Captain said, "I'd like to see you in my cabin for a few minutes after we're through here Bob."

"Aye sir," I replied, thinking that he was going to give me hell for having blind-sided him in front of the other officers, especially since it was just before a major deployment. It definitely was not the right time or place to drop that bombshell on the CO because he didn't deserve that from me. I guess my elation of finally getting something I really wanted out of the Navy made me blurt it out for all to hear. Damn, what a stupid thing for me to do.

However, when I reported to his cabin, I found the XO and the CO sitting at the small round table in the corner of the room. I was surprised when the skipper calmly invited me to sit down and asked how I had come about my decision to go to Vietnam. It took me by surprise because I fully expected him to launch a tirade at me for my ill-timed proclamation. Make no mistake, once an officer attains command of his own ship or group, his ability to browbeat a junior officer verbally indicates that he had successfully completed the well-known Navy "ass-chewing" course. Fortunately for me, this did not turn out to be one of those times.

I explained that since I still had about another year to go before being rotated from the ship and because of my pending divorce, I found it difficult to remain focused on my job aboard ship. The fact that I was about seven years behind my age-grade because of the time it took me to complete college and attend Officer Candidate School, made it obvious that I had to do something to make up lost ground. I figured by getting my ticket punched for duty in a combat zone, it would definitely give me that opportunity. "Besides," I continued, "My ancestors came from Sparta, the home of Greece's fiercest warriors and felt that I was naturally driven in that direction."

The Captain nodded thoughtfully and said, "I would think it was more your domestic situation rather than laying it at the feet of your ancestors, but in either case, it's your decision. Best of luck," he said, dismissing me as the XO nodded in turn.

True to my Detailer's word, my orders arrived the next day. I was to be transferred to the Amphibious Base in Coronado, California for temporary duty at the Navy's Counter-Insurgency School. Thirty days leave was authorized for me to wrap up my personal affairs and it was to commence immediately.

It took me most of the morning to pack my gear and make the rounds of the ship, bidding enlisted men and brother officers alike, goodbye. Traditionally, I left seeing the CO and XO for last. Fortunately, the two men were together again in the Captain's cabin pouring over some navigational charts. The XO looked up and informed me that the Bureau had already assigned a relief for me and that he'd be aboard sometime next week. In addition he went on; there would be a "Hail and Farewell" party for you in the Officers Club on Saturday night at 1900 hours.

I shook hands with both men and said that it had been a distinct privilege to have served with them and hoped that our paths would again cross in the future.

With that out of the way, I went aft to my stateroom to get my bag and briefcase and was told that one of the Boatswain's Mates had already taken them up to the Quarterdeck for me. This was just another indication of the mutual respect the men in my division and I had for each other. Reaching the Quarterdeck, I found the seaman standing there still holding my bags.

"I'll give you a hand with these, Lieutenant," he said.

"I appreciate it Boats, thanks."

I turned and saluted Ensign Hanson, who was the Officer of the Deck and said, "Request permission to leave the ship."

"Permission granted," he replied returning my salute smartly.

I stepped onto the brow, turned and threw another salute towards the colors aft as the ship's bell "bonged me off." The words "Officer departing" echoed from the PA system and out over the snow covered pier.

HAIL AND FAREWELL

The party was typical of all the O-club's going away bashes. The married officers brought their wives; the bachelors brought dates or came solo hoping to cut a stray out of the herd. There was always the possibility that a lone female would be at the club, especially one whose spouse might be at sea or have the duty. But on that account, loners' chances increased exponentially if they were in the larger fleet ports such as San Diego, Norfolk or Charleston.

Prior to coming back into the Navy, I was married and had three young daughters who were the light of my life. But after seven years of marriage, we separated because my wife couldn't adapt to Navy life and the separations caused by sea duty. She had been extremely jealous of the Navy for taking up so much of my time and eventually found ways to occupy her lonely hours. In a Navy town, that wasn't too difficult.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from PASS ME THE RICE by ROBERT G. KAY Copyright © 2011 by Robert G. Kay. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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