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  USS Noxubee AOG56

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Noxubee Crest

A New Ship


By Hank "Doc" Henderson

I seem to always be busy doing busy work and never seem to find time to get around to the important stuff like what life aboard the Noxubee was like. About time to saddle up and get off a few words again.

I keep reading the remberances of the other later crewmen and I frequently wonder what rust bucket they served aboard. My some 55 year old memories of the Noxubee just do not fit the same ship some of those guys are talking about.

Perhaps I had better explain a little of that. Just to make sure that some of the later crewmen don't get their feathers ruffled.

First off - 1942 - the Navy saw fit to send me wading ashore into the mosquito and Jap infested palm and lime jungles of Guadalcanal. Any ship in the Navy - even the oldest most worn out tub is better living aboard that the mud and heat and rain of the jungle.

So after introducing me into jungle life with the screeching parrots and banzi howling Japs the Navy next saw fit to invent a totally new kind of torture machine which was labeled "LCI". Now LCI's came in just about one size, but in all sorts of configurations. They hauled 180 combat loaded Marines into all sorts of hostile beaches. Some had many guns of all sorts of calibers mounted like spines on a porcupine all over any available deck space. Others had rocket launchers welded to every available deck space. And some had just about any innovative gear that fertile Navy Brass minds could dream up and we - the crews, frequently improvised additional weaponry and operational methods.

They were 153 feet long, 22 feet wide, and were built by welding a whole flock of sardine cans together - straight sides, absolutely flat bottom, and all exterior and interior spaces were crammed with any thing and everything which some brain (Or lack of ti) could dream up that might possibly make life for the Japanese more miserable. (To say nothing of the lack of comfort of the crew.

Depending on the more or less intended use of the individual vessel crew strength ranged from 25 to 60 or more. Compared to crew spaces on LARGE ships like the Noxubee we were very cramped even on the ships with a small crew of 25. The ships with 60 or more almost had to sleep in shifts.

Fresh water - we were totally dependant on shore facilities or large vessels with excess water making capacity to top off our very limited water tanks. The whole hull from the lower deck to the bottom was nothing except a whole bunch of rather small tanks. To extend the range of the vessels (Which were originally intended for short hauls from large transports into a beach head but quickly started traveling all over the world on their own bottoms) most tanks were used for fuel leaving a lot to be desired for fresh water. That was completely restricted to potable uses - drinking (From the one scuttlebutt on the ship) and galley use for cooking and making about the most undrinkable coffee in the world

All personal sanitation water was COLD salt water. Showers, tooth brushing shaving, clothes washing,or whatever. Salt water soap was a must - even though it was about as useless as those little red spots on the belly of a boar hog. Flush toilets - HA HA HA. Along the outer bulkhead of the crews head was a metal trough with some slabs of wood across it. Salt water ran continuously through the trough and over the side. One shower stall for the whole crew and one for the officers. One lavatory as well. Thirty of forty guys all getting ready to go ashore on liberty (A very rare happenstance) with one small wash bowl and one small mirror.

Some of the early models had no mess hall as such. The main deck house contained a small galley - and regardless of weather or sea conditions the crew squatted on deck with a tray of food (At least we called it food) and tried to get down as much as possible before a wave washing over the well deck cleaned your tray for you. The ship I was on was a later model and we did have a mess hall with four tables for the crew. What luxury. The problem there was that if the sea was at all rough you had to lock your legs around a table leg (If fortunate enough to get a seat on the table end where there was a leg,) hang onto your tray with one hand, and try to eat with the other. Of course that left the coffee ,mug unattended so many cups got smashed against the bulkhead at the far end of the table.

From the bridge looking forward or aft - when she came off of a wave you could see the bow or stern waving through an arc of several feet and when that flat bottom hit the trough of the wave you were in pretty good physical shape if you could keep your knees from buckling and slamming you on to the deck.

Going up or down ladders was a thrill though. Going up - just reach as high as possible and get a firm grip on the hand rail - let the ship drop out from under you and land with your feet on the upper deck. Going down was just the reverse. Just step off and let the ship come up under you.Sleeping was good exercise. Lie flat on your back, get a firm grip on the side rails of the pipe berth, and hang on while your body rose off the bunk and slammed back down. Food! Like one fellow who served on LCI 3 - one of the very earliest most primitive boats in the South Pacific in late '42 - the cook (So called) should have been keel hauled for sabotage. Of course all he had to work with was the supplies furnished him and the very limited facilities plus his diploma from truck driver's school.

We rode our little gem through two typhoons in the far western Pacific in 1945 - sailed her from Portland Oregon to San Diego to Hawaii to Guadacanal to Okinawa, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and China. The crowning cruise was 54 days at sea from Chingwangtao, China to San Diego. We had a convoy of six little beasts. When we pulled into San Diego our ship - the convoy command, was towing all of the five other ships - out of fuel and broke down. Just as we reached the docks at the San Diego Sub Base our engines all quit. Out of fuel. We were also out of fresh water, food supplies, and patience. We chandled and bunkered, a few days of liberty in San Diego, then through the Panama Canal to New Orleans thence Houston for decommissioning after 23 months of coaxing that little jewel to stay alive and bring us home.

Houston was my home port - and the Navy insisted that I take 60 days leave. At the end of that I almost felt like a civilian again.

Then back to Galveston and as I received my orders I saw a shiny brand new AOG standing out to sea. She was all of eight months old and shiny as a new penny. The problem was that she was standing out to sea and I would have to chase her. My orders read "Argentina" as the Officer of the Day at Treasure Island understood that the ship was headed there. However when I managed to arrive in Argentina I learned that the ship had actually gone to Argentina, New Foundland - half way around the world - so back to the chase. For the next two months I chased her all over the Atlantic ocean and Eastern seaboard. Finally caught up with her just before she sailed from Norfolk for Goose Bay Labrador with a load of Av Gas. That was all we were hauling at the time.

Something strange for a Navy vessel. She was commissioned in October 1945 - the war had been over for two months, and the Navy saved some money and time in commissioning - there was not a gun showing on the decks of the Noxubee.

But for an old seasoned Fleet Marine Corps medic and an independent duty Corpsman from an LCI that ship was a palace. I actually had a compartment all my own for a sick bay - including a bunk that was a little more than a pipe berth. It folded down from the forward bulkhead and actually had a real mattress. Also - a private head. It was aft below decks across the passageway from the reefer (Where the Chiefs kept their supply of beer) So that I could inspect the ship for sanitation, the food supplies, including the reefers, etc., I had keys to all spaces - including the Chief's private stash of beer.

Incidentally my medical supplies included a QUART of bonded whiskey (For medicinal purposed only) Eventually however, that bottle locked in my little safe was probably several different brands because I managed to keep the bottle filled for each trip)

Just inside of the sick bay door was a small writing table attached to the bulkhead - supposedly for logging in patients at sick call. One day after making an inspection of the contents of the reefer across the passage way I was sitting at the writing table enjoying a bottle of the Chief' beer. I heard a key slip into the lock -. Trouble. Mr Bednarz, the engineering officer also had keys to all spaces and made at least as many inspections of the ship as I did. It had to be him - and here I sit just inside the door with a can of beer in my hand (We ,of course, were steaming along somewhere north of the Artic Circle at the time) I had a jacket thrown over my shoulders. As the door opened I flipped the beer can up under my left arm pit and just sat there innocent as a lamb. Of course Mr. Bednarze could smell beer all over the place - but none evident. He took a turn around the compartment - looked in, under, and over everything.

I asked. "Can I help you. Are you looking for something?"

"Just checking" he replied.

Finally, apparently satisfied that either his nose was wrong, or I had beat him again at the game, he started out. I said "I haven't completed my daily inspection yet so I will go with you."

Eventually we ended up on the weather deck at the side of the after deck house - just leaning on the rail and talking. I still had the beer can clasped tightly under my left arm pit under my jacket. It was practically under his nose. As we leaned there on the rail Mr. Bednarz glanced up for a moment - I released the can, and just before it hit the water he saw it. Like a flash he was up the ladder to the boat deck above - He was sure that he had caught the culprit. Not a thing in sight on the boat deck.

I just held my ground. When he finally returned, he again rested his elbows on the rail and just stood there staring at the passing water. He knew that I had that can all of the time but just couldn't figure out where or how I dropped it right in front of him.

Hey - we had good chow - and a comfortable mess hall to eat it in.

Comfort is a relative thing. Later, as the ship aged, and crew reported aboard from larger ships, or from civilian life, or whatever, it must have seemed cramped and uncomfortable, but looking back at my living conditions for most of the past five years - it was a paradise and all new and shiny to boot. lots of room. Good food, and when it moved around in a seaway you could actually walk around - most of the time. I will admit that there were times when it took some expert timing to make it across the catwalk between waves without getting your hair wet.

The one thing that I took some time to get used to was the roll of a loaded tanker. Most ships roll one way, stop (momentarily (Maybe) then roll back the other way. An easy motion to accomodate like sitting the saddle of a trotting horse. But tankers - now that is different. The ship would roll - as it reached the depth of the roll I would start to roll back with her, but no. The cargo would then shift and the ship would take a sudden lurch then start to roll back in the opposite direction. The first storm she nearly threw me a few times when I would forget the lurch and start to roll back prematurely. But - like everything about the Navy - I finally learned to lurch along with the ship. It is going to do what it is going to do and you just better learn to live in harmony with its strange and unusual ways of living.

For me and my year aboard, she was a good ship with a good crew. After five years plus of war time conditions afloat and ashore, she seemed like a palace And all new.

Semper FI

Hank Henderson


Noxubee Crest

We Set The Tone


By Hank "Doc" Henderson.

In reading some of the sea tales, and shore tales of the various crews of the Noxubee over her some thirty years of life it would seem that those of us early aboard when she was new and shiny set the tone for the following crews over her long life span. Would I be referring to my tale of "A mug of whiskey" at Goose Bay and such wild goings when the old girl was still in diapers. It would seem that each successive batch of sailors were trying to out do their predecessors with their wild escapades. "The Water Fight" reminded me of the first time we hit the Azores Islands. Champagne was cheap - I think about forty five cents a bottle. The first day ashore the liberty party gradually escalated activities into a champagne fight in the middle of the street. The locals, safely behind their windows, cheered on both teams and seemed to enjoy the fiasco as much as the crew. As I remember there were no official reprimand after that battle.

Another time we were docked in Norfolk and the Captain went on a few days leave. He left orders for the Chief Bos'ns Mate to re paint the free board. Now the Chief was an old salt from away back sometime in the dirty thirties. For all of the years since at least back to about 1939 or earlier he had been sailing on ships painted the traditional drab dull battleship grey. He happened to find a few gallons of varnish in the paint locker. I think that (Possibly as usual) he was slightly in his cups. At any rate he decided to brighten up our little dull grey world. He mixed the varnish with the dull wartime grey. The result we all agreed was beautiful. A bright shiny grey from the waterline skyward. Standing on the dock you could see your reflection in that slick surface.

Then came the end of the Captain's leave. He exited a taxi at the end of the wharf, collected his bags, and started for the ship. After a few steps he froze in place, his mouth a wide gaping hole, his eyes bugging out in disbelief.

You could hear his scream of agony all through the ship "What in the Hell happened to my ship?"

Needless to say immediately the Chief had the deck hands over the side chipping and scraping. The Captain was very weight conscious. In fact once he informed me exactly how many pounds a coat of paint added to the ship and how deep that settled her into the water - thus reducing her cargo capacity by I forget how many barrels. So all of the beautiful bright shiny finish had to be removed and replaced by one coat of dull battleship wartime grey. We were rather surprised that he did not require a camoflouge job.


Noxubee Crest

A Mug of Whiskey


By Hank "Doc" Henderson
I was the pharmacist mate so being the whole medical dept. anyone who was aboard during my year, 1946-1947 would probably remember me.

I remember a young seaman who I caught coming across the tank deck cat walk one night - he had large steel taps on heels and toes of his shoes - av gas fumes all over the place and at each step those steel taps on the steel catwalk struck fire for about a foot. I grabbed him, removed his shoes, and threw them into the dark North Atlantic. He ran in and woke the Captain - complaining loudly about me tossing his shoes over the side. When the Skipper heard my side of it the kid was lucky to avoid 20 years in Portsmouth.

We hit Goose Bay, Labrador the day that the Services opened the enlisted men's clubs to hard liquor. All hands except the watch hit the EM club. The bar was set up and equipped for only serving beer - large beer mugs and such. The bartenders said that the posted price was twenty five cents a shot. The only shot glasses they had were beer steins. Two bits for a beer mug full of whisky. Shortly our crew took over the bar - threw the local soldiers out and barred the door.

When we were ready to return to the ship I went across the street to the motor pool - did a real snow job on the Corporal on duty - and checked out a bus. The whole crew poured (I mean poured) them selves into the bus. Shortly a command car loaded with base MPs came alongside and tried to get us to stop. Now it is not the practice of a bunch of Navy guys who had just taken over the army base EM club to surrender meekly to a couple of MPs. The bus was considerable larger and heavier than the command car. In fact we hardly felt it when I eased the bus over a little and pushed them into a deep ditch. As soon as we arrived at the dock the crew quickly reported aboard and everyone dashed for their quarters and jumped in the sack like we had been good little boys asleep since taps. Shortly a whole bunch of MPs and Army brass showed up at the gangway - the OD broke out the skipper - who was informed by the Army brass that the whole crew was confined to ship including him for the duration of that and any subsequent stays in port.

For the rest of our visits to Goose Bay every time the Captain had to go ashore, even on official business, he had to call the base and they would send a car with an MP escort. He was just livid about that; but no serious retaliation to the crew though. The Captain got us on the Iceland and Azores run shortly after that. Much better...

We had a good ship and a good crew. Another time remind me to tell you about Mr. Bednarz and the can of beer. Good story!

Greenland
Pumping Cargo Ashore Greenland 1946
  Ice
North Atlantic Ice

The Cribbage Board


By Hank "Doc" Henderson
Away back in 1946 when I returned from China and decommissioned the LCI(R)765 I was assigned to the U.S.S. Noxubee AOG 56, a small oiler. At that time we were only hauling aviation gasoline but later in her some 30 year career she carried Jet A and diesel as well.

I was at the Galveston, Texas, receiving station when I received my orders to the ship. As the ensign was handing me the orders I could see the Noxubee through the Treasure Island Receiving Station window. She had been on a run between Houston (My home town) and Guantanamo, Cube. That sounded like a dream after some five years of almost continuous sea and foreign shore duty. Home at least every week. What a dream!

It was a dream all right. The ensign informed me that she was en route to Argentina and my orders were for transportation to Argentina to meet her. Meet her - that was before the days of flying everyone every place. Almost all surface and ground transportation. Unless she was going to tie up in Argentina for a long stay I knew that I was in for an extended stern chase.

So hello Argentina. No one there had ever heard of the U.S.S. Noxubee AOG 56. A little sitting around while the Navy Attache did some checking. The Noxubee had sailed from Galveston to Argentia, New Foundland. Now for you children who think that learning to spell is not important - I was half way around the world from my ship. So - transport to Argentia, New Foundland. Now tankers do not sit in port very long. At least not small ones that can discharge or take on a fuel load of cargo in some eighteen hours. It was any body's guess where that ship would be when I got to Argentia from Argentina.

To make a long story longer, I chased that ship for two months up and down the Atlantic Ocean. One day I arrived in Norfolk, for about the third time during this hopeless chase and GLORY BE! There was the Noxubee riding at anchor.

I practically ran to the Officer of the Day's office, tossed my orders on his desk and fled the scene. When I arrived at the small boat dock - all out of breath - I finally got lucky. The Noxubee's motor whale boat was just shoving off to return to the coxswain's attention and he returned to the dock. When I told him who I was he told me there was one fellow aboard who would be one happy sailor to see me. The Pharmacist Mate who I was relieving was some two months over his discharge date and he wanted to go home.

A Corpsman on independent duty at that time was considered essential personnel and could not be transferred off - even for discharge - until relieved by another Corpsman. So I reported aboard - my orders still ashore and must be PROPERLY processed by ribbon clerks who had not a care in the world for a guy over time who wanted to go home and another who was tired running all over the Atlantic Ocean hunting a ship.

Enter an old Navy red tape cutter! The Captain was a lifer who had been promoted from Chief to Ensign to Lieutenant (JG) to full Lieutenant and given command of the Zoobie when she was commissioned in October 1945 - and a First Class Pharmacist Mate who had been cutting red tape (Polite way of saying "Scrounger") all during the war to have the essentials to keep his crew alive. The Captain sent a hand written note to the Base OD stating that I had reported aboard, the base would process my records, and forward the records and my personal gear the U.S.S. Noxubee AOG 56 forthwith. The note mentioned something about my being the sole medical department personnel aboard (The guy I relieved had departed within five minutes after my arrival) and that regulations prevented me leaving the ship without proper and qualified relief. There were a few communications between the ship and the base but the Captain won and I stayed aboard.

And ladies and gentlemen that is the story of how I happened to be on board the U.S.S. Noxubee AOG56 when she arrived at Goose Bay Labrador on the exact same day that the Navy lifted the restriction on the enlisted clubs serving hard liquor. (See "A Mug of Whiskey" for that tale).

It is also how I happened to be aboard a short while later when we were scheduled to meet a large tanker offshore of Argentia, New Foundland. We would take on a load of avgas from a large tanker lying off shore, then make the run up the shallow river to the base at Goose Bay. On this particular occasion the tanker we were to meet was delayed several days by one of those infamous North Atlanticc winter storms so we laid into Argentia to wait. Nice duty.

It so happened that several aboard played cribbage but there was no cribbage board. The owner of the cribbage board had been transferred and took his board with him. Having had some little experience in scrounging - when I learned that there were no cribbage boards for sale in Argentia I proceeded to Sailors Hall. I think that was the New Foundland equivilent of the USO. I asked the young lady who checked out games about a cribbage board. Yes they had ONE! Could I check it out. Certainly. Then she noticed that I was alone and there happened to be no other sailors in the hall. She asked whom I intended to play cribbage with. I explained that I did not intend to play at the moment and proceeded to explain the problem of my crew - cribbage players and no board and we were going to make the run up to Goose Bay with no cribbage board. The young lady finally agreed to check out the board for the duration of the cruise to Goose Bay. Just to ensure that I did not forget where the board came from and where it was to be returned to she wrote on the back of the board:

To the crew of
the USS Noxubee,
Especially
"Doc"
"Screws" and
"Guns"
Return this
board to
Sailors' Hall on
your return
trip (??)

Mary Daniels
National Sailors' Hall"

Everything is fine so far - except that our Captain was politicking for a different run to get away from the embarrassment of having to be escorted by Army Military Policemen all of the time that he was ashore at Goose Bay

You guessed it - the Zoobee never returned to Argentia, New Foundland during my tenure aboard. I still have that cribbage board and it is one of my prize possessions. I had fully intended to return the board - and maybe see the nice young lady again - but fate has forever kept us apart. That cribbage board was one of the very few possessions of mine which survived hurricane Carla at Galveston in September of 1961. I suppose what helped is that it is made of wood so when the Gulf of Mexico invaded my home for a week or so the board just happily floated around in the debris - bottom side up - which helped to preserve the inscription. The ink written inscription on the back is water streaked but still readable. I suppose that it will become a family heir loom some day. THIRTY on this tale.