Handle With Care

By Mark Lovelace

Beirut, Lebanon, 1983. The USS Connole was on the gun line just off the coast of Beirut. We, along with other ships, were firing over the city into the mountain’s with our ships 5″ gun. At this point I was in the “bubble” (firecontrol dome on top of mount ) holding the dead man’s key (which stop operations if operator lets go of switch ) We were firing on a direct line with the downtown Holiday Inn!

To date, we had been out there for several days and had expended a bunch of ammunition, and now it was time to reload. We headed out to the rendezvous to meet with the AOE which is an auxiliary ship that carries ammunition and fuel oil  and do an unrep, which is when they transfer the supplies between ships while they are steaming next to each other at sea.

Fuel came first, and I got the envied task of “line handler” heaving that fuel soaked line, wearing a salt water soaked kapok and loving life at 0400 (that’s 4:00 AM, well before the sunrise). At daybreak they called away the ammo handling detail and we all headed up topside for the safety briefing.

We were familiarized with what most of us already knew, that is, Naval gun ammunition has three parts: the projectile, the powder canister, and the primer. We had to onload seven hundred of each of these. We had a long, hard day ahead us. At some point during the onload I heard a loud shout. “Silence on deck!”

I was stationed as a safety observer nearby so I quickly headed over there to see what was up. When I arrived I saw one of our cooks holding a rather large box, with such an anxious look on his face, I thought he might begin to cry in front of all the other guys on deck who were observing the situation in complete silence. The poor cook was trembling.

I slowly and quietly walked up to him and asked “What’s wrong Cook?”

His eyebrows raised a little more as he gestured toward the box with his chin.

The label on the box read:

5%22 AMMO 2014-01-31_2350

…1918?! I thought. Holy s**t!

Suddenly the Weapons Officer arrived to find us all standing around, still and in silence, staring at the cook who was grasping the box like his life depended on not dropping it, which it most likely did, as his knees were knocking. “What’s going on here?” The Weapon’s Officer demanded.

I pointed at the box. He looked at it and instantly yelped. “Holy s**t!”

All told, we had 3 boxes of those primers in the chain. We took some photos, then summarily threw the boxes over the side. I’ve still got the photo,  I just uploaded it to our Sea Stories Group, but, I really wish I had a photo of that cook, on the verge of tears, shaking like a dog sh**ing razor blades!

old ammo

Photo Credit: Mark Lovelace

Join Sea Stories Group 2014-01-26_2047

 

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