U.S.S. McKean Sea Stories

Before I actually enlisted in 75, I learned all I needed to know about the navy by reading CAPT. STORM comic books. Capt. Storm, you may remember, was the one-legged WWII PT boat skipper. In the very first episode, Capt. Storm notices that his new crew will refer to him as "sir" or as "captain" but not as "skipper." "Skipper" is term of respect and affection; it's not a title. A commanding officer must prove himself before his crew will refer to him as "skipper."

Cdr. Larry Smith was my skipper. He was a "hard-charging, damn the torpedoes, accomplish the mission, take care of the crew" warrior. He had a lot of pull and connections. Rumor was that he could have taken the command of any warship in the fleet but that he wanted to take command of the U.S.S. McKEAN DD784. He could have been the CO of a brand new, state of the art, SPRUANCE-class DD, but because the McKEAN was home-ported in Seattle, he selected that 30 + year-old veteran of WWII. I'm grateful that he made that choice.

He worked us hard. We spent days on end practicing NGFS;naval gunfire support, blasting away at any target he could get us. "The ship is called a destroyer, so damn it,we're going to destroy something." We would practice GQ drills over and over and over until we got it right and exceeded his standards. Every sailor on board knew his job, knew what was expected of him and damn well better have known a few other jobs too. If Capt. Smith wanted us to win the COMCRUDESGRU 5's ASW award, we better have some practice blowing up submarines. Capt. Smith had enough clout to obtain ASROC weapons when there weren't supposed to be any available and he could arrange for us to have a real submarine to shoot at. On one visit to San Diego, Capt. Smith learned that another destroyer was moored at Quay Wall #1. That was a very desirable spot due it's close proximity to the EM club. Capt. Smith determined that the CO of that destroyer was junior to him so he had it moved and we moored in it's spot.

We spent a great deal of time in SoCal (Southern California) waters. The area offered training and repair facilities we just couldn't get back home. In February 1978, we were in San Diego for a CSRT (Combat Systems Readiness Test - a very thorough going over of all the ship's weapons systems) and REF-TRE (Refresher Training, a grueling week long simulated battle problem.)

On 20 Feb, I returned to the ship after a weekend leave. It was after Lights Out and I kept trying to work the combination on my locker. I couldn't get it to open. I finally realized that it wasn't my lock that was on my locker. "WTF?" I was baffled at first. And then I developed a theory. We were expecting a new First Class Sonar Tech onboard soon. Why, that SOB must have reported onboard while I was on leave and he pulled rank and bounced me out of my locker. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made and the madder I got. The only appropriate thing I could think of doing, the perfect solution to this dilemma was for me to get even more pissed, summon all of my strength and then punch out my metal locker.

The locker won. I instantly knew that I had made a very unwise decision. The punch made a hell of a racket but my jumping up and down like an organ-grinder's monkey and my screaming, "@#&$( +@_*#*$$*%(#), that hurts!!!!!," woke up TM3 Mike Ring. Mike said, "Hey, welcome back. Right after you left, they couldn't find the ASROC magazine keys. The checked the log and you were the last one to sign out for them. So the day you left, the Master at Arms and the ASW officer cut the lock on your locker, found the ASROC keys and put a new lock on your locker for you." Mike handed me a piece of paper and added, "Here's the combination. Sure is good to have you back. Good night."

I should have felt really stupid but me left hand hurt too much. I crawled, carefully, into my third-level high rack and went to sleep.

Reveille was sounded about 5 hours later. I tried to hop out of my rack but my hand was now throbbing. I couldn't grab hold of the chain that supported my rack and crawl out, as I usually did. I had to devise a new technique to get down. I knew something was seriously wrong. The Navy legend of the sailor who caught a nasty sunburn and was written up for "Destruction of government property" came to mind and I realized that I needed a cover story to explain how I hurt my hand. At Sick Call, I explained to HMC Gruell that as I was coming onboard late at night, I accidentally closed a foreword weatherdeck hatch while my hand was still on the knife-edge. He seemed to buy accept the story and suggested that I soak the hand in cold water.

The next day, my hand hurt even worse and Doc Gruell handed me some aspirin and told me to continue to soak hand in cold water. The third day I got more aspirin and was told to switch to warm water. On day 4, I got an ACE bandage. I toughed it out for 6 more days but finally couldn't stand it anymore. Doc Gruell implied that I was being a wimp but he cut me a chit to go to the base dispensary where they could take a look at it.

The base's corpsmen X-rayed my hand and it plainly showed three broken bones. They put me on a fleet taxi and I was sent to Balboa Naval Hospital. The Navy doctors there saw that since it had been 10 days since the unfortunate "accident with that hatch," the break was already starting to heal, but healing incorrectly. Without warning, the doctor twisted my hand and re-broke all three fractures. He X-rayed me again and put a cast on my hand. I caught the next fleet taxi back to the base. As the taxi made its rounds, I got off at the Exchange to do some shopping.

So as not to be confused with all of the other bases in the San Diego area, Naval Station San Diego is more commonly called, "32nd Street." The base is on one side of 32nd Street and the Exchange, the Petty Officer's Club and the CPO club are on the other side. Naval regulations prohibited sailors from wearing dungarees off base, unless on official duty. The only exception was the Exchange. To the exchange, one could WALK out the main gate in dungarees to go but you could NOT drive out in a civilian car. Since I wore my dungarees to Balboa, I could walk back through the main gate onto the base and still be legal.

I purchased the items I thought a partial-cripple like me would need to survive on: the current editions of HOT ROD and PLAYBOY magazine, 2 cans of snuff, shaving cream and a Tanya Tucker cassette. My last stop before leaving the Exchange was the Baskins & Robbins ice cream parlor. At the front of the line was my skipper, Cdr. Larry Smith. WE exchanged greetings and he asked about my hand. I gave him the short version, broke on a hatch, X-ray at dispensary, cast at Balboa and fleet taxi ride to here. I obmitted that part of "Doc" Gruell's less then thorough diagnosis. ( I learned a long time ago never to piss of the PNs (they write your orders), DKs (they pay you), SHs (they cut your hair and do your laundry), MSs (they feed you) and HMs (they stick needles in your arm or strange objects up your wazoo - they can also toss your shot record over the side.)

Capt. Smith said that he had his rental car parked outside and he offered me a ride back to the ship. I couldn't say no. So with he in his khakis and I in my dungarees, we got into his Ford Fairmont and drove across 32nd Street straight for the main gate. (Ok, can you see where this story is going now? I've set the stage, I've introduced the characters, I've explained the background and now I can see your anxiety is building. Let's go straight to the conflict and the essence of this sea story.)

Manning the gate at Naval Station San Diego are honest to goodness United States Marines. No rent-a-cops at this fleet facility. As we approached the gate, Capt. Smith and I both displayed our military ID cards. Instead of waving us through as they did almost all of the time, the PFC motioned for Capt. Smith to halt. He saluted and asked, very politely, "May I examine you IDs please, sir?" He was handed both of out ID cards. He then asked, again very politely, "Sir, are you familiar with the rules regarding the wearing of dungarees while driving through this gate while wearing dungarees?"

Capt. Smith replied, "Private, I'm not wearing dungarees."

The PFC then said, "I realize that Sir. I was referring to your passenger." (i.e., Me.)

Capt. Smith was starting to get a little annoyed. Still seated in his Ford, he adjusted his posture so that the scrambled eggs on his combination cap were right at the marine's eye level. "Private," he said, "This is my petty officer. He broke his hand on my ship. I am returning him to my ship."

Well, I thought. That should resolve this matter.

Without missing a beat, the Marine gate guard said, "Yes Sir. However, it is against the rules for an enlisted man to wear dungarees while in a car crossing this gate."

I was about to suggest that I just get out and walk when Capt. Smith said, "Private, this is MY Petty Officer. He broke his hand on MY ship while carrying out MY orders!" I did? "I drove him to Balboa hospital where they put a cast on his hand and now I am driving him back to MY ship!" For emphasis, Capt. Smith grabbed my left wrist and yanked it towards the Marine so that he could plainly see the cast. It hurt like hell when he did that but I didn't think that was the time to say anything, much less "ouch!"

The PFC stepped back like he thought Capt. Smith was going to strike him with my cast. He regained his composer and said, "Yes Sir. Do you have any paperwork indicating that is what happened?"

Holy shit! I thought. This guy is dedicated but he's not too bright.

"PRIVATE", Capt. Smith said very loud and very slowly, "I'm telling you that's what happened."

Just to prove my opinion of him correct, the PFC said, "I understand that Sir, but I need to see some paperwork indicating that that is what happened."

Oh, he shouldn't have said that. It's going to get really ugly.

"PRIVATE, I am a full $&%(*^+ Commander and the $&%(*^+ Commanding Officer of the $&%(*^+ USS McKEAN and I am $&%(*^+ telling you that is what happened and if you want to see any $&%(*^+ paperwork you can get your $&%(*^+ ass down to $&%(*^+ Quay wall one (he really did like to moor there) and I will have you escorted up to my $&%(*^+ stateroom where I will show you all the $&%(*^+ paperwork you are ever going to want to $&%(*^+ see!"

Oh, $&%(, this isn't going well.

"Yes Sir. Perhaps if you were to drive over to the OOD shack and explain it to the OOD, he might issue a pass."

Oh, $&%(.

"I'll $&%(*^+ just do that PRIVATE and you better be there too."

"I'm sorry Sir but I'm on duty and I cannot leave my post."


With that, Capt. Smith dropped it into gear and left skid marks straight for the OOD shack. I turned around and could see our gate guard inside his shack frantically trying to dial anybody on his telephone. Capt. Smith screeched to a stop in front of the OOD shack and said to me, "Hood, stay in the car." I did what that marine should have done. I said, "Aye, aye, sir."

Now I couldn't hear what was said inside the OOD office, but form where the car was parked I could see into the office perfectly. I could tell quite plainly what was being said inside. Let me describe it. Capt. Smith stepped inside. The first person inside was a Marine 2nd Lt. Who was seated at a desk busy writing something. He barely glanced at Capt. Smith and, concentrating at his work, asked, "Can I help you?"

Capt. Smith yelled out, "Yes. You can get on your $&%(*^+ feet when addressing a superior officer.!"

Oh, this just got worse. Somehow, this is all going to be my fault.

The 2nd Louie popped tall and shouted, "Sir. Sorry Sir." And then Capt. Smith unloaded on him. "What kind of $*%&%# Mickey Mouse, insubordinate, #@U$&$^@$, outfit are you running here? Don't you teach your (#$*%& gate guards to #@)_$&% any $&%(*^+ smarts? What the $&%( is wrong with you people anyway?"

That was a really poor moment for our PFC to walk into the OOD shack. Capt. Smith started thumping the PFC in the chest with his finger and then started thumping the 2nd Louie in the chest also. He didn't skip a beat going on about " #&$*%#&#^$#*$)%_%|%+@!~(~"{

I'm screwed.

The Admiral had this WTF? look on his face. He first saw the two terrified marines standing at attention, sweat pouring down their faces. I was worried that he would activate a secret panic-button that would summon the entire base security force. Instead, he looked over towards the source of this turmoil and stared straight at my skipper.

"Larry!", the admiral exclaimed.


Bob? He called an Admiral, "Bob"?

"I didn't know you were in San Diego?"

" Pulled in two weeks ago."

"You didn't call. Janet would love to have you over for dinner."

" I've been meaning to but I wanted to get CSRT & REF-TRE over with first."

"Ah, that will keep you busy. Let's have lunch ASAP. Now, Larry, what the hell is all of this about?"

"Glad you asked. This $#)$?%>.{#_#$)%)#_ paperwork(#*$&%^#$,.{}+@)# broken hand) #)#)_+2` _#( dungarees)$+%+%$+%(%&@/"].!"

"He did?"

"And then when I came in here, this #($_${:"@(#67@^@*$_)>sitting at his desk!"

"He didn't?"

And then like that scene in the movie PATTON where George C Scott whacks the shell-shocked soldier, the Admiral started thumping his finger on the chest of the 2nd Lt and cursing even worse then my skipper had been.

I'm going to make it through this OK.

With that, the Admiral and my Capt. Smith shook hands, exchanged phone numbers and Capt. Smith drove me straight back to the ship. He didn't say a word. I spent the rest of the work day hiding in the ASROC weapons magazine where no one could have found me.

For the next few days, the officers on the ship looked at me kind of funny but they didn't say anything either. Everytime I walked through the 32nd Street gate, I kept looking for that same PFC but I never saw him again. Iran was heating up then. They probably needed dedicated marines at our embassy in Tehran.

OPNAVIST 3120.32 sec 520.47 "No person shall use profane, obscene or vulgar words or gestures onboard a naval unit."