By Craig Johnson
It was hot afternoon in the summer of 1969, on the Diamond TWR-1. We had been sent to Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico to wait for our next assignment. I remember that we wore swimsuits as our uniform of the day. Two piers down was the Submarine Rescue Ship Kittiwake.
Young sailors today will not appreciate that in the pre Z-Gram Navy the CO of the Kittiwake had ordered that anyone topside had to wear undress whites with jumper and white hat; you did not wear ribbons or neckerchief with undress whites.
Our Skipper was sitting on the 0-1 deck, between the smokestacks, in his reclining lawn chair, with his straw hat, Hawaiian shirt, a book in one hand and a rum-Coke in the other.
If questioned, our Skipper used to say, with unapologetic authority: “My Great Uncle was Josephus Daniels, the Secretary on the Navy. He took rum rations off of Navy ships. If my Uncle can take it off, then I can put it back on!”
The Skipper went to refill his drink and found out we were out of Coke. The crew was having swim call off of the stern, hence the bathing suits and undress whites as the uniform of the day. Upon his unsettling discovery, the Skipper called out. “Who has the watch?!”
I responded, “I do Chief!” as I treaded water from below.
“Come up here! You have to go over to the Kittiwake and get some Coke.” He said, giving me my orders.
You see, while in port, my watch consisted of nothing more than assuring that the boat was still tied up to the pier. So I climbed back aboard and went to see the Skipper. He handed me a bank-roll of nickels and said, “go find the Coke machine on that vessel, and bring back as many as this roll of nickels will buy you.”
“Aye Chief!” Small boats like the Diamond TWR-1 do not usually have Officers assigned, they are skippered by qualified Chief Petty Officers. I liked this Chief-Skipper.
I went down below and grabbed a white hat and threw on some sneakers. I came back topside, and put the watch belt on. Thinking ahead, I even rustled up a big laundry bag to carry the Cokes. The tide was out so I had to climb on top of the pilot house and then jump up to the pier, where I adjusted my cover (white sailor hat) to the proper angle, straightened the guard belt, and then headed two piers over where the Kittiwake was tied up.
I got to the top of the brow of the Kittiwake, gave the ensign (flag) a snappy salute, and requested permission to come aboard. The Officer of the Deck waved me aboard as his jaw hung down to his highly polished, black dress shoes. I asked him where the Coke machines were and the SN (seaman) said, “come on! I’ll show you.”
So off we went to the Coke machines. In that day, I was able to get a Coke for every nickel in my roll. After plugging in my entire roll of nickels, and throwing the heavy sack of Cokes over my shoulder, I headed for the quarterdeck of our neighboring ship to find a Lieutenant Commander standing there. He stopped me, quite abruptly.
He was a little purple in the face. He demanded to know where I was from. I pointed to the mast bobbing above the pier, two piers over. I had no idea that he was the Commanding Officer of the Kittiwake. Mind you, this was my first Navy vessel. At this time I believed that Captains of big ships were Captains.
He looked me up, then looked me down, then exclaimed “Sailor, what the f**k are you wearing?!”
“The uniform of the day, Sir.” I answered
Gesturing at my belt, he asked “Why are you wearing a watch belt?”
I very innocently responded. “Because I have the watch, Sir.”
“Are you the Messenger of the Watch?”
I responded, “No Sir. I am the Duty Officer.”
“If you are the Duty Officer on the Diamond, what the hell are you doing on my ship?”
Still maintaining complete composure in the presence of this highly pissed-off officer, I calmly replied “Sir, we ran out of Coke for the rum-Cokes.”
There was an almost audible explosion somewhere between this Skipper’s ears, as he was so livid he couldn’t even bring himself to yell again at this point. “Come on! I am going over there with you.”
We got to the Diamond, and I helped him down to the deck after I passed the Cokes over to one of my shipmates. “Who’s in charge here?!” The LCDR boomed.
The Chief-Skipper, without getting up from his recliner, replied “I am.”
The LCDR began to yell at our Skipper. Interrupting his rant, Chief-Skipper, asked him who he was. “I am the Commanding Officer of Kittywake.” He responded.
“Well Sir, I am the Commanding Officer of the Diamond, and you need to leave.” The LCDR was beside himself, and continued his protest, sputtering and stuttering, with a lot more to say. Our Skipper didn’t give him the opportunity. He looked at me and my shipmate, and ordered us to help the LCDR onto the pier.
We picked him up under the arms, and hoisted him onto the pier above. We got underway later that evening, and I never heard if anything was ever said to the Chief. He stayed in Command.