The Times They Are A-Changin'
By Paul Gryniewicz
|I joined the U.S. Navy in
September 1968. By the time I left four years later, both the Navy
and I had changed.
Looking back I can now see the
effects of the Vietnam War that caused the Navy and the USS Noxubee
to change. In early 1970 the Noxubee was typical of the Navy. Years
of hard service were taking their toll on the ship, and the Navy was
finding it difficult to find the money to cover repairs. Shortly
after returning to Pearl Harbor in February 1970, the Noxubee was
reassigned to the Atlantic Fleet. Since the Pacific Fleet in their
desire to save money did not authorize needed maintenance following
the Vietnam deployment, the attitude was that the Noxubee now
belonged to the Atlantic Fleet so they should pay for the
maintenance. As a result, while in transit to Little Creek,
Virginia, the Noxubee suffered a major engineering breakdown and
spent three days adrift in the Caribbean Sea while the crew
struggled to make repairs.
At the same time the nation came
to the realization that the war in Vietnam was hopeless and most of
what the government was telling its citizens it was a lie.
Newspapers reported government-issued body counts as if they were
reporting a ball game. Television for the first time was showing the
nation the reality of war with all of its suffering and corruption.
The U.S. was no longer seen as a kindly big brother. Instead it had
become the neighborhood bully as atrocities were plastered all over
the news. No wonder anti-military, anti-authority attitudes swept
By the early 70's, not only
were teen-aged hippies anti-establishment, but so were the majority
of middle-aged Americans. New people brought that attitude with them
into the Navy. Instead of just blindly following orders with an
"Aye, Aye Sir," enlisted men and junior officers and that
includes myself, began to ask why. The usual rumors and grumbling of
military life took on a new reality. "Official" statements
were often taken as distortions. You knew you could not trust what
you were told. No longer were people joining the Navy to escape
Vietnam. The draft was ending; the Navy had to transform itself into
a truly volunteer organization.
There were major race riots
aboard some ships. Drug and alcohol usage was rising to new levels.
Some no longer took pride in the Navy or their ships. At the same
time we were reluctant to wear their uniforms off the ship. We
preferred to blend into the civilian population and not stand apart
from it as we shared the anti-establishment feelings with the
civilian population. The age of the ships and reduced maintenance
began to show. Senior Officers, Chiefs and enlisted men who took
pride in their service felt threatened by what they saw as a lack of
discipline in the junior ranks and general deterioration of material
Then slowly conditions began to
change. The new CNO, Vice Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, began issuing his
famous Z-Grams. These were all Navy directives with the expressed
intention of improving the quality of life throughout the Navy. Some
of the changes were major and profound, like true racial equality
and women serving aboard ship. Many others corrected the small
inequalities that hindered day to day life.
It always seemed to me that the
Noxubee was a part of the Navy but never entirely in the Navy. The
ship operated independently and at a different pace than the
mainstream Navy. So while turmoil was rampant elsewhere, the Noxubee
was spared any major confrontations. Noxubee continued to be what it
always was, a hard-working ship with a good crew. Yet slowly life on
the Noxubee was changing with the times. With the CO's approval, an
underground newspaper called the "BLURP" published
anti-war and anti-establishment stories. "WAOG, Radio Free
Mapubee" piped music throughout the ship. One of the things I
first noticed was frequent pay increases. I could afford a car and
park it on base. For the first time we had civilian clothes on ship
and could wear them on liberty. But the Navy did not provide any
additional locker space. That did not stop us, and somehow we all
had civies. Longer hair, beards and sideburns were allowed.
Bob Dylan was right, "The
Times They Are A-Changin'." Were they good changes? I know what
I think, but I leave it up to you to decide for yourself.
Al Sabourin (left) and
Jim Van Sant (left) and
Cold War Ops
By Paul Gryniewicz
|Shortly after returning to
Pearl Harbor from West Pac in February, 1970, the Noxubee received
orders to her new homeport of Little Creek, Virginia. I guess the
war in Vietnam was winding down and AOG's were no longer needed
there so Noxubee was ordered back to the Atlantic. I was at Great
Lakes attending Gunners Mate "A" School at the time so I
missed the cruise to the East Coast via the Panama Canal. I always
thought that it be fun to go through the Canal. I was sorry I missed
my chance. But Noxubee never stayed in one place very long and on
December 28, 1970 we steamed out of Chesapeake Bay and set our
course due east to join the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean.
In the Med our mission was quite a bit different then it was in
Vietnam. Our primary task was to support the 6th Fleet Amphibious
Force, Task Force 61. in the early 1970's the Cold War was going
strong and the Marines on the amphibs would conduct joint landing
exercises with various NATO countries all around the Med. TF 61
would anchor in some remote bay in Spain or Greece for example and
the Marines would practice thier art of amphibious assault. While
this was going on Noxubee would tie up along side the amphibs and
top them off with fuel. We traveled back and forth from NATO bases
like Cagliaria, Sardinia and Suda Bay, Crete to take on our cargo of
fuel oil then go meet the amphibs at where ever they might be.
Occasionally we would meet up with a destroyer and refuel them while
underway. For the majority of the six months we were in the Med our
day-to-day operations were a routine of sea details, equipment
maintenance, drills and watches.
Every once in while we had some excitement, especially when we
got directly involved in the Cold War. One time in June, 1972 we
were enjoying liberty in Villafranche, on the French Riviera when
orders came down to head to the opposite side of the Med. Off we
went to the Gulf of Salum on the Libyan-Egyptian boarder. We were on
a one month's mission to keep an eye on the Soviet
Mediterranean Fleet . If they got underway we were to shadow them. I
always found this a little strange because here we were an old,
slow, small tanker trying to keep pace with cruisers, destroyers,
and frigates. The Soviets ships were the "A-team" armed
with surface to surface missiles, guns of all calibers and more than
capable of steaming at over 30 knots. Noxubee could only do 14 knots
on her best day and that was in a favorable sea. One time the
Soviets pulled up their anchors and steamed out of the Gulf in
formation at 30 knots. They knew we were there to shadow them so
they would steam off over the horizon out of visual site but close
enough so that we could still maintain radar contact. The Soviets
would then slow down and wait for us to catch up and repeated the
process over and over again as we all cruised about the Med. They
could shake us anytime they wanted to but they usually let us dog
them for a couple of days.
One memorable time the Soviets waited for us to come up from behind
and let us steam right through the middle of their formation. That
put us out in front of them. The CO got on the radio and in exchange
for a case or two of scotch whiskey persuaded the pilot of a
circling P3 Orion take our picture. At The same time he had the
signalmen raise the "follow me" pennant. There we were, in
all our nautical splendor, the Noxubee at the head of the USSR's
Mediterranean Fleet. I don't know if that photo still exists but it
would be fun to see it.
Ship of the Month, USS Noxubee AOG-56
By Paul Gryniewicz
|The following article appeared in Our Navy Magazine,
Our "Ship of the Month" for July is the USS
Noxubee (AOG-56), commanded by Lieutenant John
W.Stevenson, USN. She is presently deployed to the
Mediterranean with the Sixth Fleet, and was nominated
for Our Navy's 12th Annual Ship of the Year Award by
Vice Admiral G. E. Miller, USN, Commander Sixth Fleet.
In reply to Our Navy's letter of congratulations on
Nouxbee's nomination the executive officer wrote as
Thank you for your letter of 22 October 1971. We were
both surprised, inasmuch as this was our first
indication of the nomination, and extremely pleased. As
so often happens when recognition for a job well done
arrives, the majority of the officers (Commanding
Officer, Executive Officer, First Lieutenant, Supply
Officer) and crew (60+%) have been transferred to other
commands and the fleet reserve. With them, goes a wealth
of experience, information, and photographs. I hope the
information still available will do the ship justice.
Enclosed are a complete ship's history to date and a
recent change of command ceremony pamphlet. These cover
the high points of our last deployment and past
deployment periods. Extensive yard work especially in
the field of habitability emphasizes this commands past
concern for enlisted welfare.
The success of our deployment was emphasized by the
presentation of the Navy Achievement Medal to Lieutenant
Commander Cass. In addition. Lieutenant Hugh M. Flick,
Engineering Officer, and Lieutenant (Junior grade)
William L. Elder, Operations Officer, have been
nominated for the Navy Commendation and Achievement
Medal for their outstanding performance.
No ship can function without the benefit of a highly
skilled crew and the NOXUBEE is no exception. Not only
are the men highly professional in their own rates, but
also highly proficient in second or third rates-a trait
necessary to keep a small ship running tautly.
Unfortunately, there have been no first term
reenlistments on board for over a year. However,
arrangements have been made for the first term
reenlistments of ETN2 Gabrisch, EM2 Huebner, and EM3
Gonzales. These quality petty officers represent 4% of
the NOXUBEE's enlisted allowance and 10% of those petty
officers eligible for first term reenlistment.
As with most proud Navy ships the NOXUBEE has a 100%
retention rate for career designated petty officers not
eligible for Fleet Reserve. We are proud to have two
qualified enlisted OOD's in RDI Eiennann and ENI
Prettyman and two likely candidates in QMC Rohr and EMI
Mize. ENI Prettyman and EMI Mize are currently Warrent
Officer candidates while ENCS Van Riper and QMC Rohr
have taken the test for E-9 and E-8 respectively.
Although brief, we hope this letter aids you in your
J. L. Benson
Noxubee (AOG-56) is a small fleet gasoline oiler
designed to transport and deliver clean petroleum
products as a unit of the mobile support group. In the
Sixth Fleet the AOG also provides limited underway
replenishment of complete petroleum products to the
fleet at sea.
During the ship's 1970-71 Mediterranean deployment
she not only fulfilled her basic mission but also added
new dimensions to the Sixth Fleet AOG operations. With
the deployment of two Patrol Gunboats (PC's), the
Surprise and Defiance, the requirement for a
"support" ship became a reality. This
requirement was handled in a most professional manner by
the officers and bluejackets of the USS Noxubee who
togeter with the crews of the PC's experimented with and
eventually devised the methods necessary in making this
gasoline oiler a flexible "mother" ship to the
highly mobile PG operations.
Additionally, USS Noxubee was pressed into service in
the role of a surveillance ship. Because of her small
size and limited speed capability fulfillment of this
assignment necessitated imaginative and resourceful
measures. However, the end results justified
COMSIXTHFLTs faith in this small 26 year old ship. When
she departed the Mediterranean in May 1971 she left an
unchallenged record for her size and class of auxiliary
to emulate. Noxubee performed as a watchdog in
practically every nook and corner of the Mediterranean
and filled the surveillance gap when all other Sixth
Fleet assets were otherwise committed.
The ship proved herself the equal of any Sixth Fleet
platform in professionalism, tenacity, enthusiasm,
flexibility, first rate reporting and endurance. Her
fuel state was particularly impressive. In short, she
was Sixth Fleet's secret weapon and proved herself equal
to any and all tasks.
The USS Noxubee
contributed generously to the furtherance of Sixth Fleet
people to people program by he highly laudable port
A perusal of Noxubee's recent history reveals the
28 December 1970, departed Little Creek, Va. for
13 January 1971, arrived on station Aranci Bay,
13-23 January 1971, POL support to task force sixty-
24 January 1971, departed Aranci Bay, Sardinia for
Souhda Bay, Crete enroute to Athens, Greece for Rest and
08 February 1971, returned to station replenishing task
force sixty-one at Navpiion, Greece and lifting fuel at
Souhda Bay, Crete.
06-20 March 1971, in port Naples, Italy for Tender
21-28 March 1971, returned to station replenishing task
force sixty-one at Carboneras, Spain and lifting fuel at
30 March-4 April 1971, in port Villefranche, France for
8 April 1971, eniroute Kithira, Greece to begin search
and surveillance mission of Russian fleet.
8 April-4 May 1971, surveillance of Russian fleet in
Aegean Sea and Gulf of Sollum, with supply support from
Soubda Bay, Crete.
10-12 May 1971, in port Rota, Spain to await relief by
USS Nespelen AOG-55.
12 May 1971, departed Rota, Spain for Little Greek,
24 May 1971, arrived Little Creek, Virginia for a
month's leave and upkeep.
8 July 1971, entered Brambleton Branch Norfolk
Shipbuilding and Drydock Corp. for regular overhaul.
8 Oct. 19th, Lt. John W. Stevenson relieved LCDR D. E.
Cass as commanding officer. LCDR Cass receives Navy
Following her overhaul, Noxubee returned to the
Mediterranean where she again is operating with the
Sixth Fleet. Our Navy's congratulations to this fine
ship and crew.
Noxubee's Tank Deck Band
By Paul Gryniewicz
During our first cruise to the Med in 1971 Noxubee was given the
assignment of keeping the Russian Navy under surveillance. So in
April, 1971 we were steaming in circles in the Gulf of Salum with
the USSR's Mediterranean Fleet at anchor and under our watchful eye.
Every day at sunset the flagship, the Sevodva, would hold evening
colors on the fantail. The lowering of the Russian flag was done
with exact military precision complete with a band in full dress
uniform playing the Soviet national anthem.
Well we were not to be outdone. Within days the Noxubee "Tank
Deck Band" made its debut. From somewhere deep in the cargo
hold a set of brass instruments including a tuba, a trumpet, and a
trombone appeared. Added to that was a guitar, a banjo and a couple
of buckets for a drum set and we had a band that was unmatched in
the annals of the Cold War. All that was lacking was sheet music.
Band members both officers and enlisted in the best "can
do" spirit of the Navy stepped up to the challenge and took up
an instrument and began to play. Now this was defiantly a mixed bag
of musical talent. A few were accomplished musicians and played
drums, banjo and the guitar on a regular basis. Most however, were a
scratch team of former high school and collage marching band members
who had not touched an instrument in years. Without music they had
to play by memory. But details like that could not stop them.
Each evening at sunset we would steam as near as we dared to the
Russian Flagship and strike up the Noxubee band. It was a concert
reminiscent of my son's seventh grade band recitals. I don't recall
what the "Tank Deck Band" played but since they had no
sheet music it probably was a combination of country western, rock
and roll, and Suza marches. I know the Russian Commander had to have
been impressed with the musical talent the band displayed.
Unfortunately, after just two or three days of our band's
performances the Russians decided that their band could not compete
with ours and got underway. That put an end to the evening concerts.
Sadly, as quickly as it started the 'Tank Deck Band" broke up.
They never to performed for a Soviet audience again.
Life Aboard an AOG
by Paul Gryniewicz
|Life aboard an AOG meant that
you had to get your sea leg quickly. If you didn't you soon found
yourself in deep trouble.
wide flat-bottomed vessels and tended to roll in almost any kind of
sea, If it was not dead calm an AOG just rolled and rolled. Full or
empty it did not make much difference. Often the ship rolled even if
we were anchored in a harbor that was not to well protected from the
wind and sea. It seemed there was no escape from rolling. A soon as
the seas picked up a little bit walking became a chore. I remember
how my arms and shoulders ached from bouncing off the bulkheads as I
made my way around the ship. Sleeping was often difficult because it
was hard just to stay in my bunk and not roll out Eating was next to
impossible as you, your food and anything else that was loose slid
back and forth. It seemed that I could never completely relax. You
always had make sure you braced yourself.
Then there was the constant soaking. There was no way to travel the
length of the ship below decks. To get around you always had to
cross the open tank deck catwalk. That meant that even in port if
you wanted to get forward or aft and it was raining you got wet.
Underway in a heavy sea you had to time your dash across the tank
deck so as not to get soaked by a crashing wave. In very bad weather
a lifeline had to be rigged so you had something to hold on to while
crossing the tank deck. I know of more than one member of the
Operations Dept. (their berthing and work areas were forward) who
lived on candy bars and soda pop during foul weather just so they
could stay dry by not having to make the trip aft to the mess decks.
Just for fun many of us would stand on the 01 deck out of the
weather and make bets on who would get soaked the most coming
With a full load aboard the tank deck was only 30 to 36 inches above
the waterline. In any kind of a sea even a slight roll would cause
water to flood the main tank deck and run aft and crash into the
bulkhead. I learned quickly that fueling hoses and other gear had to
be securely lashed down to keep it from being washed over the side.
The catwalk was 8 feet above the main deck and spray from the water
crashing about both sides of the tank deck would soak anyone trying
A Fair Wind and Wallowing Sea -- Paul
by Paul Gryniewicz
I securely tie on my life jacket making certain no straps are
hanging loose. Next I put on my red helmet and take my station on
the focsle inside the gun tub of Mount 31. I double-check my gun to
see that it is loaded and ready. Then I standby, awaiting my orders
from the First Lieutenant. Looking around, I see everyone else on
deck in wearing life jackets and colored helmets -- green for the
signalman, blue for line handlers, brown for winch operators, yellow
for the rig captain, and white for the Chief Boatswain Mate and
First Lieutenant. Standing next to me is "Doc," with his
white helmet with a red cross. The "burtoning" rig is set
with fuel hoses and is ready to go. Each crewman on the focsle is at
his assigned station. The Chief gives everything and everyone one
last check. He clearly and loudly "coaches" his deck gang,
"OK guys heads up! Just don't stand there with your head up
your ass. Stand clear of the @#$% riggin'. When I say move you
better @#$% move." The First Lieutenant reports to the
bridge that all is ready.
A destroyer, USS Damato, slowly comes up from astern along our
starboard side. She takes station less then 100 feet from us with
her ASROC deck abeam our focsle. The Med between the two ships
begins to boil up. A wave smacks the destroyer amidships and soaks
some of her line handlers. As soon as she is in position, I get the
signal from the First Lieutenant. I give a long, loud blast on my
whistle. The Damato's crew takes cover and replies with two whistle
blasts. I raise my line-throwing gun and take aim, pull the trigger
and fire a rubber tipped plunger-like projectile. Attached to the
projectile is a bright orange nylon line. The line streaks out of
its holder as the line sails over the Damato's ASROC deck. Her crew
quickly recovers the line and begins to haul away. At the same time,
our deck crew takes the shot line and attaches it to a messenger
line. Our signalman raises his paddles and begins to
"talk" to the Damato. Soon a fueling rig from Noxubee is
attached to the destroyer. (I'll leave it to a Boatswain Mate to
describe the details of this rig and its operation.) Bravo pennants
are hoisted on both ships and Navy Special Fuel Oil begins to flow.
While the rig is being transferred, I carefully make my way off the
focsle, staying clear of the rigging and gear about the deck. Once
safely inside the Ops Compartment, I take off my helmet and life
jacket and make my way up to the bridge. It is crowded and, unlike
most other times underway, the atmosphere is tense. The CO is not
sitting in his captain's chair. Instead he has himself anchored next
to the pelorus on the starboard wing of the bridge. He keeps a close
eye on the distance between the two ships, the fuel rig, and the
weather. Nothing escapes his attention. The XO is standing by the
radio, ready to talk to the Damato. The OOD is constantly on the
move between the CO on the bridge wing and the pilot house, checking
course and speed. The Quartermaster is busily at work at the chart
table, plotting our course and keeping the log. The leehelmsman is
at the EOT standing by to signal speed changes to the engine room. A
talker who is wearing sound-powered phones is standing out on the
brige wing, relaying messages to and from the CO and OOD. The
Boatswain Mate of the Watch is doing is best trying to stay out of
the way. No one is talking unless it's necessary to carry out his
job. I approach the OOD and ask, "Permission to relieve the
helm, sir?" "Very well" is his response.
I take my
position behind the helmsman and observe the course, amount of
rudder he is using, and how he is handling the wheel. When I am
ready I say, "I am ready to relieve you," the
helmsman answers, "Steering course 265 using 2 degrees left
rudder." I repeat back, "Steering course 265 using
2 degrees left rudder." He moves away and I take my place
at the wheel. I sing out, "Polack has the helm." I
don't look at anything but the gyro repeater in front of me. I keep
the lubber's line on 265, using only enough rudder to stay on
course. My sole objective is to stay on 265. No clicks of the
repeater left or right. Noxubee and the destroyer are doing 12
knots. Fast for us and slow for them, but even at that speed that
means a swing of 20 feet per minute for every degree off course. At
that rate more than a couple of degrees to starboard and we bounce
off the side of the Damato. A swing to port and the fuel rig parts
and lines go flying around both ships. In either case, damage to the
ships and injury and death to crew members is a likely result. But
today is another good day. The Med is calm and the winds are light.
I hold on 265 as if the lubber's line is glued to it. Noxubee's wake
is as straight as Interstate 80 through Nebraska.
The Damato reports
she is topped off. The CO gives the command to secure pumping, the
bravo pennants come down on both ships, and the deck crew hauls the
fuel rig back aboard. You can hear the rumble of the Damato
increasing speed, and she pulls away, turning to starboard and heads
off on her mission. We maintain our course and speed. You could
almost feel the tension on the bridge dissipate as the CO gives the
word to secure. The Boatswain Mate of the Watch gets on the 1MC and
announces, "Now secure the underway replenishment detail on
deck Watch Section 2." Shortly I pass control of the helm
to my relief and go back down to the focsle and collect my gear.
Just another job done on just another cruise.
By Paul Gryniewicz
|The CO called down from the
bridge "Hey Polack, check the next load. If it's ham dump it
over the side!" For awhile during the '72 Med Cruise just
about the only re-supply we were getting was canned ham of Korean
War vintage. We ate ham for breakfast, ham for lunch, ham for dinner
and ham for mid-rats for weeks on end. I picked up my paddles and
began to signal the approaching CH-46 and directed it to place the
cargo net of provisions right in the middle of Noxubee's flight
deck. Maybe we would get lucky and this load would be steak.
Now you might be saying what flight deck? After all Noxubee was
built long before helicopters began wide spread operations. There
were no large flat open spaces anywhere on the ship. Our flight deck
was a wide spot on the focsle between the lifelines and anchor
windlass and Mount 31. The confined area surrounded by the gun
mount, ready service lockers, anchor chain and windlass made for
challenging working conditions for a LSE.
A LSE 's job was to "park" a helicopter in flight,
usually a CH-46, just over the flight deck by directing its approach
and position so that cargo or personnel could be transferred. An LSE
has to know when it is safe to pick up or let down a load, or when
to tell the pilot to go around and try again. A bad call by the LSE
could cause grave harm to himself, the helicopter, and ship. On the
Noxubee this was especially true because of the small cluttered
space we called a flight deck. The space was just barley wide enough
for two pallets. A few inches one way and the cargo would miss the
deck and go over the side. A few inches the other way and the cargo
would smash into Mount 31.
In September 1971, Ens. Bill Airo, DC3 Dennis Piester, SN Boyd
Driggers, SN John Seaman, SN Harry Robertson and myself received
orders to Flight Ops training with Helicopter Support Squadron Six
at the Norfolk Air Station. It was an intensive four days of
helicopters and their operations. Most of my time was spent learning
to direct helicopter for day and night launches and recoveries. We
also trained in personnel transfers to and from a hovering
helicopter. Each of us had the chance to be the transferee while a
classmate directed the helicopter. We experienced first hand the
thrill of dangling on the end of a cable, in mid-air under the
On the following Med cruise we put our newly learned skills into
practice. Frequently, we were re-supplied by helicopter, a vertrep.
Usually it took place when we were anchored with the amphibs and the
USS Slyvania or other ship from the 6th Fleet would meet us to
re-supply the task force.
The focsle would be cleared of all personnel except the six of
us. Dennis Piester was in his fire-fighting gear ready for a crash.
The rest of us worked with the CH-46. I directed the helicopter with
hand paddles to the best spot above the "flight deck" and
signaled it to clear the lifelines and to gently place the cargo net
slung underneath the helicopter on deck. Once over the ship, I did
not signal the pilot directly. He could not see me so I signaled to
a crewman who was laying on his stomach looking out a small hatch in
the deck. He in turn relayed my directions to the pilot. After the
cargo was placed on deck I signaled the crewman to release the net
and waved the CH-46 off to get another load. The rest of the flight
deck crew unrigged the cargo net and a working party came up from
below and man-handled the cargo off the focsle. The process was
repeated several times until all the cargo was aboard. Our flight
deck crew would bundle up the cargo nets and pallets and while the
helicopter hovered hook them up so they could be returned to the
By the way, the next load wasn't steak. But then we never went