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Went to Norfolk Virginia First

While I was at the Brooklyn Navy Yard I received orders to report to the Naval base at Norfolk Virginia for assignment to the USS Nitro. I think I was one of about 15 that were from my Naval Reserve Unit that was assigned to the Nitro. I had 48 hours to report to the base in Norfolk so of course the first thing I did was return to Hurley NY to be with my wife and son. Did I mention that I received orders for active duty the day my son was born. "Bummer" I would of much rather spend my time with my wife and new born son. The next day I packed up my wife and son in the Corvette and we all headed off to Norfolk Virginia. When we got to Norfolk I rented a motel room for the weekend and my wife dropped me off at the Norfolk Navy base. I had no idea when I would see my wife and son again. My wife did not have her drivers license yet but she was able to drive the Corvette without any problems. She left me off and went back to the motel. All new personnel coming into the Norfolk Naval base are to report to barracks F. I reported there and I was told that nothing will happen to Monday. I called my wife at the motel and told her I would not know anything until Monday. I made friends with the officer of the day for the barracks. He put me on duty that night so I was able to have the rest of the weekend off. That weekend we moved in with him his wife and 2 children. That was probably not the smartest thing for us to do. Those people were crazy.

How I became a Radar Man

Monday at the base I reported to the Nitro Operations staff. I was told that with my background at IBM and having a First Class FCC license with a Radar Endorsement that I would become an Electronic Technician (ET) and they signed me up for Class C LORAN school. Class C schools teach about specific equipment. Two days later I was told I was a Radar Man and not an ET. When I questioned them they said that they picked someone that had more experience. They said he fixed TV's in his basement. I told them that the First Class FCC license with a Radar Endorsement stated that the government certified that I can repair radio and TV transmitters and receivers and Radar transmitters and receivers. I figured that would hold more weight than saying that I fixed TV's in my basement. They told me that they already told the other person but did not want to loose me so they made me a radar man. "Typical Navy".

So I started to train as a Radar Man. The training was actually quite impressive. They had a mockup of the Combat Information Center (CIC) with all the equipment and simulators to run just about any scenario. I actually enjoyed the training. It did help that I was able to go home just about every night to be with my wife and son.

In the middle of my radar training I was informed that I was still to go to the Class C LORAN school. That turned out to be real interesting. First day of class they went around and everyone introduced themselves. That is how I got to meet the ET's of the NITRO including the one that said he fixed TV's in his basement. Other than that he had no training. The other ET had spent 6 months in class A school at the Great Lakes Naval center. Both of them were younger than me. When I introduced myself I made a big deal about me being a Radar Man and not an ET and did not know why I was there. I stated that I had no formal Navy ET training. The instructor was quick to tell me he would find out and he would get rid of me in his class. He came back later to tell me that because of my outside background they would keep me in the class but he would watch me and get rid of me as soon as I could not hold my own. Gotta love the Navy attitude. As it turned out at the end of the class the person who fixed TV's in his basement flunked. The other ET that had Class A school flunked also and I had a perfect score. The class was real easy compared to what you had to learn to get a first class FCC license. I was sure to tell everyone in the Operations staff what had happened.

On board the ship in Baltimore

The ship was in Baltimore at the Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. It was being recommissioned with FAST gear and a Helo deck. After our training in Norfolk we reported to the ship. I moved my wife and son to Brooklyn Maryland. We rented an apartment for the month since that was all the time that we were supposed to be there. The land lady told my wife that if anybody bothers her she should just stick a knife thru the cracks in the door and tell them to go away. "Scary".

First day on the ship I visited the ET shack and talked with the two ETs that I met at school. The head ET came in and kicked me out. He said he did not want any stinking Radarman in his ET Shack. I told him there would be a time that he would want my help and he would need to send the Captain to ask for my help. I knew how to fix the equipment that his men flunked on. Boy was I ever arrogant then.

I volunteered for Kitchen Patrol (KP) for the month figuring I would get home every night. What a big mistake that was. Probably the earliest that I got home was around 7pm and had to be back at the ship at 4am. Most of the time it was around midnight when I got home. I still had to be back at the ship at 4am. I finished my KP duty while we were at Baltimore.

First time out

We left Baltimore and went down the Chesapeake River to Norfolk VA. Not everything was working right in CIC. It appears that the Dead Reckoning Tracer (DRT) was not connected correctly and was not moving. Because it was not moving it appeared that stationary objects were moving. I remember one contact that we kept saying was on a collision course with us. The Captain came in and grabbed the head Radarman and took him out on the bridge and showed him an island and he said that was our contact. Besides the DRT not working right my head was not used to the motion and I got seasick in the Chesapeake River. At least that was the last time I got seasick on that ship.

Took my car most places

If you look at the picture of the Nitro you will see that there are cars on the deck of the ship. Remember that the Nitro is over 500 feet long, plenty of room to carry cars. Since I was in the operations group I was allowed to take my car onboard the ship most places that we went. I had my car in Charleston South Carolina, Norfolk Virginia. Miami Florida, Bayone New Jersey, Boston Massachusetts, Davisville Road Island and Halifax Nova Scotia. It was hard to figure if you should take your car or not. I had to sign a release so if anything happened to my car the Navy would not be held responsible. You know like if we were out at sea and a storm came up and they needed to lighten the ship they could dump my car in the ocean. Then there were times when we left port and were not sure where we were going. At those times it was best to leave the car in long term parking.

My time at the Boston Navy Yard

We left Norfolk VA. and went to the Boston Navy Yard for a couple of weeks. There was some hardware that had to be fixed on the FAST gear. I don't remember much about what we did in Boston but I remember bringing my wife and son up for the weekend. We stayed at a motel in Charleston. I remember going to the drive in but it was winter and very cold. We were able to get an in car heater at the concession stand but we were still cold. I remember the 3 of us being bundled up in covers that we brought from the motel. I don't remember the name of the movie that we saw. It must have been a good one for us to brave the cold like that. I hate cold!

Our trip to Nova Scotia

We pulled out of the Boston Navy yard and headed for Nova Scotia with my car on board as usual. When we got to Halifax we continued on and they had us dock about 20 miles outside of the city. Halifax is the city that a munitions ship blew up during world war I. Of course after the munitions ship blew up I do not blame them for mooring us so far away. At that time we were not carrying any munitions, bet it was a psychological thing with them. It is a good thing that I had my car or I never would have been able to visit Halifax.

Our experiences in Cuba

After the recommision and outfitting with a new crew the Nitro headed off to Guantamo Cuba for training. While we were there we took part in many war games and pulled duty just like any other ship.

One of the duties was to patrol the mouth of the harbor for Guantamo Bay. We patrolled 2.5 miles each side of the harbor. We ran into a little trouble one day. We were 2.5 miles west of the harbor when I realized that we were going off course and were dangerously close to land. We were just recommending to the bridge that we use hard left rudder to get out of the situation when we ran a ground. It appears that the helmsman lost control and did not realize it. We also only had one boiler online because we were repairing the others. So when the bridge realized what happened they issued all back emergency and we did not have any power to do that and the engines came to all stop and we coasted aground in Cuban territory. I cannot verify this because I was in CIC but I was told that there were shots fired toward us from the land. We were real close. The Navy sent a sea going tug from the Coast Guard out to pull us off the ocean bottom but they were unable to free us. Finally the ship got the rest of the boilers up and online. That combined with the tug pulling us we were able to get free from the ocean bottom. That caused us to spend the next 5 days in port during the investigation.

There was another time when we were patrolling the harbor when I noticed a very small boat crossing the mouth of the harbor. It was all ahead full going towards that small boat. It must have been a scary sight, it appeared that we were going to run them down. Once we reached them it was "emergency stop" that was all back full and drop the anchor. That's the fastest a ship can stop. We picked up 3 refugees that night and took them to the base.

Every time we came into port we received a Pilot and tugs to navigate to the piers. Once the Pilot decided he did not need the tugs to bring us in. Ever since that day the concrete pier "l" is 1/2 the size that it used to be. We spent another 5 days in port for another investigation. Even though the pilot did the damage the Captain was still responsible.

It was just about every day that we went out and had war games. There were many ships and planes in the games and CIC had to keep track of them all, friend and foe. It was hard to do since the radar equipment was not up to part. The results were that CIC flunked the training at Guantamo.

Return to Davisville

On our way back to Davisville RI. the ETs finally fixed the radar. It was amazing what we could see now with the radar. Boy our ETs were good, too bad they were 12 weeks late in getting the radar fixed. You know how I feel about the ETs. If the radar was fixed before or while we were in Cuba the result would have been quite different. When we got to Davisville, Narragansett Bay was socked in with fog. Visibility was zero. We were able to navigate the ship into port and to the pier without any problems. The Captain came into CIC to congratulate us and said he thought the people at Guantamo we crazy and he felt he could depend on us to get the ship into port at any time after that day.

Following a Russian Fishing Trawler (Spy Ship)

We were out in the Atlantic Ocean replenishing an Aircraft Carrier on the starboard side and we were refueling from an oiler on the port side when we came across one of those famous Russian Fishing Trawlers with a lot of radio antennas. You could tell it was a Spy Ship by all the antennas. Lets say we were headed North and the trawler was headed South. We actually turned all 3 ships around 10 degrees at a time and followed the Russian Trawler for hours. Who would think that you could turn a 1000 foot Aircraft Carrier, a 550 foot Ammo Ship and a 500 foot Oiler that were tied together 20 feet apart around like that without hitting each other. We must have been good! The trawler never dropped any of their nets into the ocean to fish.

Revenge is sweet

My day finally came. We were out at sea, I don't remember where we were going but the LORAN was out. It was out for  3 days. The Captain did not ask me nor the head ET but the head Radarman asked me to look at it. I complained a little and then went to help the ET that went to Class A school. 15 minutes later I had the LORAN up and running. I figured I got my revenge. Now looking back at it I am not sure. It appears that the Navy got the LORAN fixed, I still was a Radarman, I was not an ET, They had their ET that fixed TVs and everything was still the same. Guess I did not win after all. One consulation was the head ET came up and thanked me and the Captain also thanked me for a job well done.

Making rate and moving on

All this time I was still a Seaman (Rate E3). I took the test for 3rd class Radarman (Rate E4) and passed. Because I and several others made Rate E4 and the Nitro was only allotted so many E4s I received orders in March to report to the USS Papago in Little Creek Virginia. That was probably good thing since the Nitro itself received orders to go to the Mediterranean Sea in support of the Vietnam war.

Comments and suggestions to Cal