I enlisted in the Navy when I was 16 and boarded the bus for boot camp in San Diego, California on my 17th birthday, January 3, 1955. The Korean G.I. bill came to an end Jan. 31, 1955 and I wanted to beat that deadline so I could qualify for Korean benefits. I was able to finish my education on the Korean G.I. bill and have bought two homes with G. I. loans.
After boots I was in transit North Island NAS, San Diego and after spending some time at Mess hall duty I got orders to report aboard USS Essex CVA9 at Bremerton, Washington. My orders gave me a week to get there, which was plenty of time to stop by home and tell my friends and family (brag actually) that I had been assigned to a carrier - not only a carrier, but the first of her class.
Although CVBs were bigger and Super carriers were in the weighs; At the time she was among the largest warships the Navy owned. She needed to be big to contain my ego - I was bust my buttons proud. That was soon to turn from a big ego, and self pride - to a pride of my ship, my service in that ship and a pride in my shipmates who were to become my extended family. I was to spend the remainder of my 4 year tour of duty in Essex.
Dockside in Bremerton, looking up at her was when I really saw how big a ship she was, I mean, you really had to tilt your head back to look up at her mast, and she was three football fields long. That's when I noticed a sound that I'll never forget. Even when tied to a dock you could hear the life of her - a study humming sound. Those who have heard it know what I'm talking about. She was never quiet.
It was all I could do to get from my living quarters to the mess deck, and my duty station without getting lost. It was a month or so after boarding that I could find my way around, and it took me a couple of good bangs on the shins to learn how to get through a water tight door, and how to get up and down ladders. Ladders to you landlocked folks - is Navy speak for stairs. It requires going up and down what seemed like hundreds of ladders and thousands of steps to get around. Of course we had regular ladders too. some that went down 7 - 8 decks, you could stand at the top and look all the way down - an adventure going up and down one...
When I got aboard my new home I was in company with a lot of other boots and transfers coming aboard. Essex was just coming out of the yard after modifications and was taking on more people to crew her. We all made it to the personnel office to be assigned. I have no idea how the being assigned process worked; whether it was by some kind of lottery or by the alphabet and they went by last names or what.
It worked out just fine as far as I was concerned. I couldn't have asked for a better assignment. I was placed in 4th division (the 3"50 Gunnery Division) just a taste of what being a gunnersmate was all about, and long enough to become a GM Seaman striker. After awhile there were some openings in G6 Div. and I applied and then was transferred to the Ships Armory. We were responsible for all the ammunition, rocket and bomb magazines, and the ship's small arms. Soon I took the test for gunnersmate third class. At the time, both the Bos'n mate and gunnersmate rates were 'frozen solid' meaning there were far more taking the test than there were billets for new deck force PO3s.
Lucky for me, I had been working as a small arms instructor so was pretty well up on anything about small arms. The gunnersmate test I took was mostly on small arms and I placed 3rd on the test of all that had taken it on my ship. That is how I got rated and I was lucky again. Only bad thing was - that big ego - boy! I could hardly wait to sew those crossed guns on my uniform. Just call me "Guns". People have been calling me guns ever since. After 44 years out of the Navy - I am still called guns... You know what I kind of' like it, and if you feel you want to refer to me that way - go right ahead. Back 'when' that's what a Navy ship was; just a gun platform to carry us gunnersmates around at sea.
3"50, Mount 31, on the Fantail
I came to love my ship. Only sailors who have been there can probably understand how you can really get attached to something that is, after all, just rivets and steel. I wont elaborate on it here - we may want to get off this page sometime today. I am not going to start telling sea stories here either. Suffice it to say; While in Essex, I crossed almost every line - from the Artic Circle to three Equator Crossings, Been on most all of the Oceans and Seas, steamed the Firth of Clyde in Scotland, went through the Suez Canal, and rounded both Cape Horn, So. America, and Cape Hope, So. Africa. She was a sea going ship. We got to calling her the 'Galloping Ghost of any Coast'
I can't tell many war stories either. During my time we were only involved in two short conflicts. One was during the Marine landings at Beirut, Lebanon during that conflict in the spring of 1958, and in the Taiwan Straits (then Formosa Straits) during the Red Chinese shelling of Quemoy and Matsu Islands in August-September of 1958. I earned the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for Lebanon, and the bronze star for the second AFE for Formosa. I also received the Taiwan 8-23 Badge of Honor Medal , and the US-ROC Mutual Defense Medal, that were presented to me by the kind folks of Taipei, Taiwan. Certainly no combat veteran but still proud of these awards, and a veteran none the less.
Condition One . Formosa Straits.
I mustered out in December 1958. After getting out I went to work in the Foundry, and stayed at that until my retirement.
Visiting ESSEX LHD2, San Diego, February, 2000.
Back in the 80's I made the Ballast pumps for the first six LHD Carriers, including the USS Essex LHD2. I keep track of LHD2 and her comings and goings, not just because she is named ESSEX, and has pumps I made installed in the depths of her hull, but because of the Essex tradition. She is not the CV, CVA , or CVS9 but she is doing just fine and is working on her own part of that tradition. Some 40 odd years from now she'll have crewmembers recalling the past as I do now.
When out at sea and when I was off duty, I would spend a lot of time up on the 7th level of the Island - (we called it Vultures Row or Buzzards Roost). I would go up to watch flight operations. Those pilots and crews put on a heck of a show. I guess you could say they were my heroes. In the last few years I have gotten to know several of the Airmen that flew off Essex during WW II.
I believe that they and the Essex should be remembered. They are such fine gentlemen and truly heroes, and she was such a lady of valor and honor, and that's the why of this website. A place to remember. In it's small way I hope it helps us to do that.
Enjoy visiting the pages on this website and return often. I will be adding new content as time goes by, The Essex story has many chapters.
Have a fine Navy day
Guns is now Deceased, 25 February 2006,
May he rest in Peace.
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