Chapter 5

Leave and Vert-Rep

I got to know Dave by accident. I came home to my apartment, late one night after getting drunk, and spending all kinds of money on bar hogs at the "Red Light," "The Texan Motel", and "The California Club." My then roommate John, let Dave stay over my place that night, and he crashed on the floor. When I woke up in the middle of the night with hot pipes, I stepped on Dave. As time went on I stayed over at Dave's apartment, and I hung out there from then on. There I met Tom and Steve who were his roommates.

I'm sitting outside with a case of Budweiser looking down at Dave's apartment, and seeing three Italian Polizia cars with their flashers going and wondering what to do… You see I had the only dope, about ten grams of good hashish and I went about 20 minutes ago to the commissary for more beer.

A nice walk with a good buzz on can take a little time. Now the commissary is about a mile from Dave's apartment, where I have been kind of hanging out most of the time when I'm back at home port, Gaeta, Italy.

Anyway, I'm sitting at the top of a descending driveway, watching what was going on, and I decided that it was better to be here, than down there, so I split. I moved quickly down the street to my apartment. When I got there, there was a package sitting at the front door, a case of Chevas Regal that was mistakenly delivered to my apartment, bonus! I went in and saw all my black light posters had been moved around, and odd pieces of paper with sayings were taped to the walls. John had a new roommate, that I didn't know about, and they redecorated my apartment! I sat down, smoked a bowl, turned on some tunes, and lost all sense of time. I plugged my black light into the transformer, and gave myself worst electric shock of my life, my hair was straight up in the air, and current passed right through me! I shook off the cable off my hand, after what seemed a very long time, and collapsed on the couch.

I stayed away for over an hour before heading back to Dave's apartment. My apartment, I was told looked like a dope house by some of the guys from G-division, who came over once. They told Chief this and my problems with him started to get bad.

This is about the time I started to draw on my hand. I really wanted a tattoo but I didn't know what I wanted on my body forever, so I drew the word OM, later I would add some symbol, like an ankh, or an "eye", or the number of days I had left in the Navy. I got a lot of pissed off looks from Chief, which I liked as well. I was getting bored of the day to day life of shipboard life, so I hung out with guys in other divisions, and the marine detachment. I started to read a lot of books from the ship's library, where Dave worked at on the ship.

My place was a lower flat that became a black light environment, with day glow posters, whenever I was there. I didn't hang out there much, Dwayne always drank up my beer, always wanted me to get him high, and Ted had his disassembled motorcycle on the floor, which he said he was working on, but never did after it was taken apart. One of the few nights I actually stayed at my apartment, I was alone and someone blew hash smoke through the keyhole, and to this day I have no idea who in the hell it was. I had a cactus, that I stole from a graveyard,(more on the graveyard later), that was about 2 feet high. I never got attached to plants before, except this cactus, and I had it a long time. I stole a 3 ft candle from the cemetery as well. I mention these because on that fateful trip to Palma, both sort of died. I kept the candle lit when we heard the horn to get underway blast, and I like never watered that cactus. Well the story about them ends when we returned to Gaeta. The candle burned all the way to the plate and burnt out, and the cactus was all yellow, I assumed at the time that both were spent.

When I got back with the beer and smoke to Dave's place, everyone was puzzled as to where I was, and if I got busted. I told them that I saw the police in front of the apartment, and I ran over to my place. Turns out the Italian police left as soon as they came, because there was nothing to be found, I had the only smoke. Steve was kind of pissed off that I wasn't around and missed all the shit that went down.

At this time we used to anchor out about 12000 yards from the pier, and we had to take a liberty boat back and forth, and climb the forward or aft brow and present our military ID to the OD and request permission to come aboard.

Now Dave worked in the ship's library, Steve and Tom were what we called deck apes, and I was a Fire Technician Gun Seaman, quite a mouthful for a glorified deck ape. Such a large title for the new guy in the Division to either clean the head, or do mess hall duty. But most of time I was in the 37" Gun Director, or the 34" Gun Director performing greasing of zirk fittings or chipping and painting the deck around the gun directors.

Most of the time the first few months aboard the ship, I forever got lost looking for some place I was supposed to be, or trying to find someone I was ordered to find, but really did not want to be found. A couple of these shipmates, and I use the term loosely, were short-timers and were always trying to stay where they could not be found, until their enlistment was over. I plan I adopted later in my enlistment as well.

I always went back to drinking at the Red Light, and the Texan Motel bars for awhile after these short operation cruises. Being in the companionship of bar hogs was a pleasant distraction. I borrowed some money and blew it all on some Italian bar hog named Anna Maria Tramontano. The owners of the Texan Motel just newly renovated the bar with a constant display on cosmic swirls and new seating and I was anxious to see it. I spent the rest of my money in there on her that night, because we were getting underway in the morning for Villa France at 0800. "We all need somebody to lean on…"

The ship got underway at 0800 and I had one helluva hang-over. I was on the special sea-and-anchor detail, on the Mark 25 Radar. The console was in Plot, one deck below MarDet,(Marine Detachment).

I spent most of my time on the USS Springfield down there, either on the Stable Element, shooting the 5"38 gun turret from remotely from Plot, or on the Mark 8 Analog computer, trying to compute where the target would be in the event of General Quarters. Now the Mark 8 was a true marvel of the 20th century! We opened the side panel one day to calibrate it, and it looked like a gigantic toy! One gear turning another gear, turning another gear. The computer was a Sperry-Rand nightmare. I heard tell that the man who designed it was in an asylum, and I could just imagine that inventor flipping around in straightjacket. The Stable Element was a gyroscope that was used to stablilize the gun barrels of the 5"38 gun turret. There was another stable element for the 6"46 gun turret in the other room in Plot. Now in the other section of plot was where the Mark 25 radar was at, were two other analog computers, that I never understood at all, but I ran daily, weekly, and monthly tests, on them. There were these damn switchboards in both sections of plot that had to be turned on everyday to activate all of these instruments, and had to be shut down everyday before 1600 as well. Plot became the place where I slept every morning before inspection on the O-3 Missile House, followed by POD, also know as, the Plan of the Day. We always had one of the Gunner's mate petty-officers, Chief or First Class perform that duty, which almost always sucked for me, one way or another. Clean the Head, report to the Mess Decks, or chip and paint. Such as life with the straight red neck lifers of the G-Division. Later on as my military career went on, Plot became the place I'd hang out, drink coffee that I had to make almost every morning, or much later record music onto cassettes from the albums I bought in the ship's store, or borrowed from my friends. I used to sleep every morning after chow in Plot before colors, and the POD, Plan of the Day.

After personnel inspections I usually was hit for a hair-cut or shave. The Executive Officer, who sounded like a parrot when he talked, had another all important duty, inspect all the living and eating spaces every day. This included the G-Division Head which I felt was a second home. My third home was the mess decks where I was TAD, temporary of duty, for 2, 3 month stints. I had to clean the compartment a few times as well, but mostly the Head and the mess decks. This only made me dislike my situation with the department, and the Chief Petty Officer who, I believe had a personal vendetta with me. Chief Kagel was 37 or so when I met him, he seemed like a really nice guy, until he changed. Maybe because I never hung out with the guys in G-Division, or because he thought I was on drugs, which he hated, I'm not sure, but as time progressed on board the ship, he started calling me, dipshit.

I headed back to the ship from Dave's apartment on Sunday night, I needed to sleep aboard the ship, because Monday was payday and vert-rep also known as vertical replenishment.

Vertical replenishment is an "All Hands" evolution, when the ship takes on stores of goods for storage, food and other supplies, and it is delivered by the helicopter to the fantail where the boxes, are lowered by hand to hand below decks to us, for storage in a secure manner. All ship's work stops at this point in time, and we are all deployed to different areas of the ship for duty, until the mission is over.

I spent the rest of the day hunched over different size and weight boxes, without any breaks at all, not even time for a smoke or a drink of coffee. These vert-reps stock about three months of supplies, and at the end of day, exhaustion is the least of problem. My body always killed me, for a couple of days after this ordeal. The morale of the ship would always deteriorate before and after vert-rep, and there was of course, no one to talk to about, how you felt.

When this ordeal was over, and I felt like death warmed over, I headed down to the showers to get out of these sweaty clothes and get the chow line. The line was all the way up topside by now, and I was starving. I finally get called down the ladder, three at a time, and see that chow was pretty good, chicken and potatoes, vegetables and some pork and beans. I fought my way to the line and found a seat by a few of my friends. We were shooting the shit about just about everything that could and did go wrong at vert-rep, when the 1-MC pipes in…"Flight Quarters, flight quarters, all hands concerned, man your flight quarter stations, to LAUNCH!" Damn it to Hell! I rushed up topside to the missile house to my duty station, wondering, where in the hell is the Captain going now?

I just wish that I could get on that fucking helo, and get the sam hell off of this ship! I grabbed a POD, Plan of the Day from the office on the missile house, that prints these things every day, to find out what is going on. After the helo ascended and flew away, I read the POD, and found out that we were headed for Toulon, France, today. Today? In about 30 minutes time, the 1 MC pipes in… UNDERWAY, for Toulon, France, commencing at this time, man your duty stations, for the special Sea and Anchor detail. So that's why all those lifers were scurrying off the ship so fast, I thought.

I headed down to Plot to man the Mark-25 radar console, to navigate the ship out of the channel, I really hated them damn sound powered phone headsets that I had to wear, whenever I was duty, they always made me talk to some officer, lifer, on the other end giving position, and they made my ears throb.

I have the best luck, I got Dec 1st until Dec 31st off on leave, approved! My birthday is on the 4th of December, so I get to spend my birthday and Christmas with my family back in, "the world".

So much to do and see again in Michigan, like Paul Simon sings, "Michigan seems like a dream to me now…"

I'll have to catch a taxi to Formia, take the train to Rome, and another taxi to the airport, it's a long trip even before the flight. I get to the airport and my flight got cancelled, go figure. I sat all day and all night in my dress blues in an airport seat, trying to stay awake, to catch the next flight in the morning. All I could think about was, I got places to go, and promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.