U.S.S. McKean Sea Stories

Seattle recently concluded its annual SEAFAIR event. The weeklong festival included parades, hydroplane races, the Blue Angels, the invasion of Alki by the Seafair Pirates and the visit to the Seattle waterfront of almost a dozen US & Canadian Naval vessels. These ships docked at the Coast Guard station at pier 36, the cruseliner terminal at Pier 69, the tourist attaction at pier 70 and the commericail facilities at piers 90 & 91.

SEAFAIR 97 was slightly different in that the Navy also sent as a visitor the Trident class ballistic submarine U.S.S. OHIO. (The OHIO was not open to tours, but her support submarine tender was.) Many citizens were in an uproar about the OHIO's visit; some called it the militarization of Seattle. GREENPEACE sent out their little boats to protest, the PHYSICIANS FOR SOCIAL RESPONCIBILITY were outraged and many letters of protest were written to the papers. Mention was made of nuclear armaggedon, wasteful miltary spending, US imperialism, man's inhumanity to man, etc.

However, an equal amount of press covered letters such as the one by Dick & Julia Couch of Bainbridge Island: "The OHIO played a major role in seeing us through the Cold War without a nuclear exchange. The sailors aboard the OHIO come from Indiana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and yes, the state of Washington. They stand on guard for us."

From 1976~1980, I was a sailor stationed onboard a ship that called Seattle it's homeport. The USS McKean DD 784 was part of a floatilla of WWII-vintage destroyers that were stationed out of San Francisco, Portland, Tacoma and Seattle. The navy leased space from the Port of Seattle for berths at Pier 90. That was my home for four years. Most every summer was spent operating in Southern California waters. Our winters were spent operating with the Canadians. (Yeah, I know. Normal people want to go south in the winter and north in the summer, but we weren't normal people, we were the United States Navy.)

Until 1979, we were never in Seattle during the summer-time. Except for my ship, DESRON 27 had all but ceased to exist. We were stuck at home with no one to play with. We thought that meant, for the first time, we can take part in SEAFAIR. Girls! Parades! Girls! Tours! Girls! Ceremonies! And a chance to meet girls! We were 160 sailors primed for the biggest party of the city. And then the word came down. SEAFAIR does't want us. We're a normal part of the Seattle waterfront. We're an old ship. We we wouldn't be interesting. They wanted new ships, different ships. We wanted revenge. Revenge against Seattle, against SEAFAIR and against the Navy.

One by one, the fleet pulled into Seattle's Elliot Bay. Moored behind us at Pier 90 were the USS TARAWA (an amphibious attack ship) and the USS BLUE RIDGE (an amphibious command ship) with each having close to a thousand sailors onboard. In droves, these new sailors, these outsiders, were leaving their ships, walking down our piers, getting into our taxis, going on liberty in our city, raising hell in our taverns, eating in our coffee shops and chasing our girls. (Not that we had any girls, but with all of these strange sailors in town, we knew that no girl in town would ever have anything to do with a sailor again.)

What to do? We had the liberty. We could of taken part of SEAFAIR as spectators but we were too mad to do that. About six of us were out on the quay-wall. We had a couple of six-packs of beer tethered to a shot-line dunked into the water. (Out of sight and keeping them cold too.) We were muttering such insights as, "This sucks." "Yeah." "Jerks." "This is a bunch of &%@)." "Yeah." We discussed ways to get some payback. Someone suggested we paint the hull of the TARAWA pink by swimming alongside with a 5 gallon can of red-lead primer and a roller on a long handle. That was a great idea that we did once before to our sister ship, the USS HIGBEE. But then we took a long hard look at the TARAWA. She displaced about 40,000 tons - about the same size as the TITIANIC. We didn't have enough red-lead onboard to make any kind of noticiable impression.

Someone else thought we might sneak aboard and toss their ship's steering wheel overboard - dash; that happened to our ship once. But we declined. It's a shootable offence if we were caught, and besides, it would keep them in our port that much longer.

It got to the point where some of our ideas for revenge were getting pretty dumb. And we were running out of beer. About then a DOMINO'S Pizza truck drove by. I flagged it down. "Hey", I yelled out to the driver. "Is that for the TARAWA?" The driver replied, "No, it's for the USS BLUE RIDGE." Someone else in my group said, "Yeah, that's us." Either the driver didn't notice that all of our ball caps said USS McKEAN or maybe he didn't know the difference. He handed us 4 boxes of large pizzas and said, "That will be $27.50" We dug into our wallets, fished out thirty-bucks and paid the driver. With our last beers, we sat on the quay-wall and ate someone else's pizza. The only way this SEAFAIR celebration could have been any better was if the pizzas were pre-paid and the pizza truck driver was a beautful babe (with lots of friends.)

It's said that revenge is a dish best served cold. Not true. It's best served piping hot with extra cheese, sausage, mushroom and olive.