- Gary Hooper -
|Gary Hooper||9/24/2008||Reminiscences of USNS Bowditch, 1963-1964|
|Gary Hooper||9/24/2008||Reminiscences of USNS Bowditch, 1967-1968|
|Reminiscences of USNS Bowditch, 1963-1964|
In July 1963 I completed ETB School, Treasure Island
CA, and received orders to GMS DNECK to attend an 4-week introduction to
computers course starting in August. I was newly married; but we agreed she
would stay in San Francisco with her family and friends. So I went off to VA
by my lonesome just as I had done in my single days.
I enjoyed my first tour on the Bowditch so much that I requested a second
TAGS tour at the end of my tour at NAS Pensacola in 1967. The detailer
granted my request; so once again I reported to the Brooklyn Naval Receiving
Station for further transfer to the Bowditch. I was informed I would be
enjoying their hospitality for at least a month.
At the Receiving Station I met two other sailors headed for Bowditch, Chief John Grewe and ST2 Magee. When the appointed day arrived, we flew to Heathrow then traveled by train across the English countryside to Swansea. Most of the crew were already enjoying the hospitality of the local pubs, and we were soon on our way to join them.
John made a mistake sailors are warned about – he packed his personnel and medical records in his seabag, which got lost in transit for several months. He had to live on a small stipend and the kindness of others until his seabag and records arrived. Later, John and I ended up at GMS DNECK as Instructors in the A School; and we both worked for Sperry after we retired.
And yes it was that same Magee who came back to the ship one night - drunk and upset. He kicked open the Commander’s door and sat down by his bunk for a midnight tete-a-tete. Only on Bowditch could he have gotten away with a dressing-down and a warning not to do it again.
From Swansea we traveled to Malta for a shipyard period, with intervening stops in Rota and Naples. The Maltese treated us kindly – one bar near the shipyard bought a refrigerator to chill beer for us Yanks. Five of us rented a flat near the Casino – how convenient. That Greek temple reminded me of a set out of a James Bond movie. Those prone to gamble played alongside high rollers betting 100 pound chips as if they were the minimum-bet 50 pence chips.
Our flat, which was approved for up to six persons, had a water supply of 85 gallons per day. The amount was controlled by the State. Once you used your daily allowance, you were out of water until the tank on the roof was refilled at night. The good part was that the water was undrinkable due to the foul smell and taste given it by the sandstone cisterns which collected rain water, the only source of water on the island. Fortunately, the wine was very potable. A tanker truck filled with wine came to our neighborhood so residents could fill their bottles and jugs. It was sort of an adult version of the ice cream truck without the music playing.
The shipyard period was an overwhelming failure – the workers were unaccustomed to the US work ethic and military standards. They had tea mid-morning, broke at 11 for a two hour lunch, took afternoon tea, and stopped work around 4 PM. Most of the work they did had to be redone - some on an emergency basis. The new steam lines they installed blew out as soon as they were pressurized. They did not use any sealant or solder – just butted metal to metal.
New Year’s in Barcelona is only a vague memory. I recall eating 12 grapes at midnight, but the rest is a blank – no doubt due to the several bottles of sherry I drank that evening. There was one negative incident to mar the festivities. Our yeoman was accosted by a couple of Spanish thugs who forced him up a dark alley, roughed him up, and relieved him of his wallet. He said he thought he was a dead man until he heard voices calling to him. When he opened his eyes, he saw two Gardia Civil with the culprits in tow. They never made it out of the alley. The Gardia returned his wallet intact and asked him to identify the thieves. Case closed. There’s something to be said about law and order in Franco’s police state.
Another incident involving police authority occurred during our February stay in Barcelona. Several OCDET members went skiing in Andorra. John Prough bought some scuba gear that was on sale. When he tried to re-enter Spain he learned the spear gun he purchased was contraband. After some negotiation, John was placed into police custody and driven from the border to the Bowditch. They released John into the custody of the ship’s officers with the understanding that the spear gun was not to leave the ship. To insure this arrangement was carried out to their satisfaction, armed police were stationed near our brow until we departed. The spear gun came in handy during our search for the Scorpion. John used it to retrieve interesting flotsam, such as a styrofoam cooler cover.
I’ll digress for a moment to give other examples of Spanish justice. In the 1970s, I was on a sub which operated out of Rota until Spain threw us out. The road between the main base and the piers was long and winding. A shortcut via railroad tracks was !OFF LIMITS! because they ran past the Spanish admiral’s house. One night two sailors coming from the club decided to take the shortcut. They were shot - dead. A radioman off my boat got into a brawl in Rota and slugged the Chief of Police. He was held in the local prison for six months until his case came up before a judge. He lived in a small cell with a stone platform to sleep on. The only facilities were a water pipe hanging from the ceiling over a hole in the floor. The Navy provided him food, bedding, etc. The judge released him to US authorities IAW agreements, but he had to leave Spanish soil. Maybe the justice wasn’t always swift, but it was certain.
Lisbon was a terrific port call. Remember the Manila Hotel? The boat that ferried us from our anchorage in the Tagus to the shore also provided chilled beer for those who had to stay on board for some reason. It was liberty at the foot of the ladder. A highlight for me was to be invited to dinner by Jack Barrone, the senior tech rep. It was considered quite a privilege. I also enjoyed a day-long tour of the surrounding area, including a visit to the summer palace, a trip across the Tagus to a ruined castle, and an evening of food, drink, and merriment in Estoril. I later learned I was out of bounds under the Nato agreement with Portugal. My military ID was valid only in Lisbon. I needed a passport to travel to those other places. I was relieved justice wasn’t as swift and certain as in Spain.
Bremerhaven was a bonanza for buying German-made products. A representative of Wollensack set up shop on the ship and sold many crew members electronics equipment. The quality of the equipment was far superior to Japanese-made equipment of the day in sound and appearance. When we arrived in Amsterdam, the rep was waiting on the pier. The company flew him there to correct a design flaw in a tape recorder he had sold to several crew members. He used our workshop to replace the faulty transistor in each unit. That’s standing behind your product.
Food plays an important role in my memories of the port calls we made. I can still taste those sautéed veal cutlets which were always served on a wood board with tomatoes and French fries stacked like cordwood – a basic menu item in many restaurants. I also remember those Dutch hamburgers - large patties of uncooked ground beef with a raw egg broken in an indentation on top. You had to order an American burger to get it cooked . A group of us went for a 40-course Indonesian feast in Amsterdam. That was a meal to remember.
And the fresh fish in Spain and Portugal. Most restaurants had elaborate displays of their catch of the day. In La Coruna, where we made the unscheduled stop when a MSTS crewman had a heart attack, one small bodega had only a large octopus in its window. I wonder if it became calamari? I never tried a sea urchin. The lunch bunch at the Quo Vadis restaurant in Barcelona seemed to enjoy this spiny delicacy.
Ah Barcelona! Fresh strawberries from the Montserrat monastery in February, the rotisserie chickens cooking on the street in the alley, and the calamari tapas served with those little black pots of boiling oil at The Black Cat.
Speaking of The Black Cat, on our last night in Barcelona a group of us leaving there caught a taxi to go back to the ship. A MSTS sailor remembered he had unfinished business, so we took a detour to a house of questionable repute in the gutt across The Ramblas. We waited outside while he took care of business. A nearby condom shop displayed their wares on appropriately sized and shaped forms in the window. What a surprise in Catholic Spain.
Alas, all good things must end. My expenses-paid European holiday courtesy of my wealthy Uncle Sam ended upon arrival in Belfast. After I left, I tried to finagle another TAGS tour, but the detailer had other plans for me. My final sea duty assignment was SSBN, not TAGS.
I treasure the time I spent aboard Bowditch – the best sea duty a sailor could have. But, you know what they say: As you grow older, you forget the bad and remember only the good.