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Vietnam Ribbon Bar
Noxubee Crest

The Mud Brown Radio Shack


By Michael Border

 

I joined the crew of the Noxubee just as she returned from Vietnam. My naval reserve meetings had taught me to march poorly, and shine my shoes. What use would I be on a naval ship, I wondered as I requested permission to come aboard. What could I do if the officer on watch refused permission, I wondered?

I came aboard, presented my orders and instantly became a member of Deck Dept. Sandpaper and paint don't require a long learning curve. Apparently, I arrived just in the nick of time. The ship was in port for refitting before returning to the duty rotation, back to Vietnam. "Sand and paint everything that doesn't move." Over the next month we sanded and painted, marveled that Hotel Pier was so close to the U.S.S. Arizona Monument, and went on the beach in Honolulu.

Rumors about the upcoming inspection by a fleet admiral, part of Operational Readiness Inspection, traveled around the ship. ORI. A fleet admiral. The lifers said an inspection by a fleet admiral was a little like a personal visit from God, clearly an event to take seriously.

SN Border can read? Congratulations, SN Border, you're ship's librarian. Books go in alphabetic order, approximately. Don't forget to clean the library space before inspections.

SB Border can type? Congratulations, SN Border, you're going to be a radioman.

Promotions (?) came so fast it made me dizzy. After learning some of the finer points of nautical painting through the stern ministrations of Bosn'smates Barth and Wheeler, I was assigned to Operations Dept. to become a radioman. Claude "Bones" Plumlee, our softspoken E10 leader, introduced me to the patch panel and other high tech gadgets from WWI. Only the typewriter was familiar to me.

Time passed. Some shipmates became friends. ORI came closer. SN Paul Rioux from L.A. and several other crewmates suggested we rig a shipboard radio station. The Auxiliary Radio Shack, a closet-like space aft, opposite the Galley, hadn't been outfitted to serve that purpose since some time around WWI. It was possible to patch it in to a shipboard speaker channel. There was room for reel-to-reel tape recorder. Music of all types was blossoming in the early '70s. Everyone onboard had favorite music they wanted to hear. KNOX (the call letters I made up) was born.

The Auxiliary Radio Shack, as it presented itself then, would have been a great space to store wool Navy dress blues in mothballs. It was a dingy, washed-out pea green, not much larger than a phone booth.

Clinical psychologists studied the effects of various wall colors on human subjects. Neither Rioux, nor I, had read these studies, but we decided pea green wouldn't make it. We needed a color that said civilian. There was no Home Depot back then, so we haggled with a nameless friend in the ship's paint locker. We convinced him to experiment with the limited paint resources on hand to come up with a new color that would make a civilian statement.

The experiment was fast. Eureka! He invented Mud Brown. You may point out, quite accurately, that Mud Brown is not one of the more attractive colors in any spectrum. The sole appeal was that it was NOT an approved Navy color. Move over, Martha Stewart, Mud Brown it is! At this late date, with our beloved Noxubee pushing up coral reefs, it seems safe to report that painting any part of a U.S. Navy ship Mud Brown was the only enjoyable painting job of my life. It was an act of anti-G.I. interior decoration. I wasn't anti-Navy, or anti-Noxubee, or anything treasonous, just pro-Civilian. Painting high school slogans on a railroad bridge was never so fulfilling.

Fast forward. The paint dried. The tape player was installed. Shipmates from all departments began taping their favorite music. ORI began. By then, we were so busy preparing to head to Vietnam. We had been too busy scraping the underside of the Noxubee in drydock to even think about our risky decorating job. We shot at windsocks towed by airplanes. (I wondered if the Vietnamese military powers REALLY would come after us with windsocks. The Chinese invented gunpowder hundreds of years ago, and their cousins, the Vietnamese, hadn't heard about it?)

ET McComb tried in vain to requisition or re-invent ship's radar and sonar. Navigators in the time of Mark Twain knew more about the depth of the shallows than we did, I was told. No one thought about the Mud Brown Auxiliary Radio Shack until the fateful day when that fleet admiral finally did come aboard. I encountered him briefly and he seemed like a friendly fellow. We hoped he might find the little space aft to insignificant to review.

Still, all seemed well until word came down from Ensign Liberto that our little slice of civilian life had been duly noted and commented on by none other than the Admiral. He inspected everything, from stem to stern, but wasn't allowed to interrupt activities necessary to get underway for active duty. The departure from standard Naval colors was frowned upon. The Mud Brown paint hit the fan, sort of.

We departed for the San Bernardino Straits in the Philippines on our appointed date and time. As a reward for success in the ORI gunnery shoot (the windsock exercises) the ship provided a special mess, miniature Japanese lobsters, on the day we slipped lines from Hotel Piers and headed out of Pearl. I couldn't have imagined a more surprising treat aboard ship. Unfortunately, the idea didn't appeal to some who were most responsible for the successful gunnery mission. Emet Gosnell was one. It was during that shoot I developed considerable respect for Emet as he fearlessly slammed rounds into the breach at risk of losing a hand, caught the smoking expelled brass casings to toss them away which earned him more than one burn, and all surrounded by an ear-splitting roars and swirling smoke. I was grateful for the thought behind the lobster, but sorry more of my gutsier shipmates weren't as enthused as I was.

We had been at sea for a time and were approaching our first significant opportunity for liberty, Subic Bay, when the topic of the Mud Brown Auxiliary Radio Shack again reared its ugly head, this time in the possibility that maybe not everyone involved would be getting liberty. Ouch! We'd made our statement, and now we'd have to pay.

Fortunately for the guilty, Bones (who was innocent, himself, but who also enjoyed a good joke) was able to find a much-needed, missing radio message and we all made it to liberty as scheduled.

If they ever re-commission our U. S. S. Noxubee-AOG 56, I'll volunteer to re-paint the Mud Brown Auxiliary Radio Shack myself.