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Noxubee Crest

An XO's Recollections


By Jim Van Sant

 
In 1969, I was ordered to Da Nang to report to USS NOXUBEE AOG-56 as Executive Officer.

One of my first recollections is of Lt (jg) Dick Bland. He was Officer of the Deck when I reported aboard NOXUBEE. He advised me at that time that it was a piss-poor idea for me to be smoking a cigarette on the tank deck of a gasoline tanker and of course he was right. I don't recall R.D. Bland ever being wrong about much of anything! I recall reporting to Captain D.E. CASS on the bridge. He welcomed me aboard NOXUBEE and advised me that he would not tolerate any disrespect. I am proud to have known him now for over 32 years, and I have always respected him as the finest Naval Officer I have ever known or had the pleasure to serve with. YN2 Gary Hall got my "paperwork" squared away and then we were underway for the Cua Viet River. This was after the limpet mine incident so we were rolling the dice and tossing anti-swimmer hand grenades all night while at anchor. I was impressed with the alertness and high state of readiness of the crew.

After returning to Pearl Harbor and delivering a tow to Long Beach we visited Acapulco, Mexico and transited the Panama Canal. The Pacific Fleet, knowing that NOXUBEE was going to be reassigned to the Atlantic Fleet did not choose to pay for much needed repairs and overhaul. So when she arrived in the Atlantic we encountered more engineering casualties than even outstanding snipes like EN1 Prettyman and J. Christenbury could handle. The result was the infamous "AOG under sail" adventure, drifting from off Cuba towards Yucatan, Mexico at 0.5 knots.

The Atlantic Fleet welcomed us to our new homeport in Little Creek ,VA with minimal repairs and then dispatched us to the Med. Something about "always on the go" NOXUBEE? I recall being greeted at the Straits of Gibraltar by a Soviet Navy Kashin Class destroyer at General Quarters with their rocket launchers trained on NOXUBEE and tracking. Meanwhile the crew of NOXUBEE was wearing cutoffs, drinking Coca Cola and listening to Aretha Franklin tapes.

Since the ship's distillation unit had been inoperable for the Atlantic transit, we were pleased to finally get a load of fresh water on arrival at Cagliari, Sardinia. Problem was the "Doc" had instructed more than one or two persons to add chlorine to sanitize the drinking water and all the Koolaid in the world wouldn't disguise that bad taste.

As an important part of my Executive Officer duties, some of the individuals I can recall my enjoying harassing the most were, not necessarily in any order, Loney, Willems, Himebach, James, Hahn, Vann, Proffit, Sabourin , Harris, Freddie Farington, Pedersen, Yancy, Lynch, Mize, Ahlersmeyer, Wofford, Theodis Elzie, Sapp, Willis, Boyden, Ron Saiki, Gary Hall ( and his XKE), and all the rest of the outstanding NOXUBEE tankermen whose names I will continue to recall. For example, I can't remember the name of the NOXUBEE man who got thrown into the brig on our last liberty night in Spain and got to fly home. I still don't know who threw the starboard side Captain's chair overboard, but I do know who "misplaced" the .45 from the ships armory.

I remember seeing the Mt . Etna volcano erupting at night from at sea off Sicily. I recall rendezvousing with a US Navy submarine and having a Soviet trawler show up at exactly the right location at the correct time in the fog to "observe" the event. I recall operating with two gas turbine patrol boats "very close" to the territorial waters of Egypt while monitoring the activities of the first Soviet aircraft carrier the MOSKVA. No, the pilot of the P3V Orion never did send Captain CASS the aerial photo of NOXUBEE shadowing the MOSKVA in the Gulf of Sollum and so he never did get the case of Scotch he was offered.

I would like very much to recall the names of the NOXUBEE men who helped me man the fire hose one dark and stormy night when we had a rip-roaring stack fire while departing Cagliari with a load of fuel. And whose Playboy magazine was it that caught fire from sitting on an overheated anchor windlass motor? Who were the lucky guys who missed ships movement in the French Riviera and had to spend all that time ashore when we got thrown out of port by our French allies because the Soviet Navy had priority there for liberty and we had to get underway?

Well after the Med cruise I was offered a choice between another tour of sea duty and leaving the Navy to spend more time with my family. I spent a year with my family while attending Graduate School in Oregon. I joined the local Naval Reserve Unit there and reapplied for active duty. I served another five years in the Navy on the West Coast and resigned my commission as a Lieutenant Commander in 1977. I received a Certificate of Retirement from the US Navy in 1991. I completed my Master's degree at the University of San Francisco and then worked for a semiconductor manufacturer. Later I started my own manufacturing company and ran it for thirteen years and then was fortunate enough to retire at age 50. In the years since then I have been growing grapes and making wine on a few acres in the country in Oakdale, California. Dudley Cass and I have been able to enjoy a few bottles of wine together with our wives over the past several years and tell sea stories about "the good old days" and recall the outstanding crewmen of the USS NOXUBEE. I would be pleased to hear from you'all anytime, anywhere. Respectfully, Jim Van Sant