USS Noxubee AOG56

A Tribute To Those That Served

Thank a Veteran

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Noxubee Crest

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 the nation.

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 conditions.

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.


Paul with AL Sabourin
Al Sabourin (left) and me 1969

Jim Van Sant (left) and me 1971

Noxubee Crest

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.

Noxubee Underway 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 SovietSoviet Destroyer 1 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.

Soviet Destroyer 2 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.

Noxubee Crest

Ship of the Month, USS Noxubee AOG-56

By Paul Gryniewicz

The following article appeared in Our Navy Magazine, July 1972.

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 follows:

Dear Sir:

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 selection.

Very respectfully,

J. L. Benson
Executive Officer

The USS 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 visit record.

A perusal of Noxubee's recent history reveals the following:
28 December 1970, departed Little Creek, Va. for Mediterranean.
13 January 1971, arrived on station Aranci Bay, Sardinia.
13-23 January 1971, POL support to task force sixty- one.
24 January 1971, departed Aranci Bay, Sardinia for Souhda Bay, Crete enroute to Athens, Greece for Rest and Relaxation.
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 Availability.
21-28 March 1971, returned to station replenishing task force sixty-one at Carboneras, Spain and lifting fuel at Cartagen, Spain.
30 March-4 April 1971, in port Villefranche, France for R&R.
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, Virginia.
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 Achievement Award.

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 Crest

Noxubee's Tank Deck Band

By Paul Gryniewicz


Soviet Cruiser 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.

band 2 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.

band 1 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.

Noxubee Crest

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.

Roll AOG's were 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.

Storm 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 across.

Wet Tank Deck1 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 to cross.

Wet Tank Deck2

A Fair Wind and Wallowing Sea -- Paul

Noxubee Crest


by Paul Gryniewicz


Unrep3 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.

Unrep2 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.

Unrep1 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.

unrep 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.

DD 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.

Noxubee Crest

Flight Ops

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 helicopter.

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 supply ship.

By the way, the next load wasn't steak. But then we never went hungry either.

CH46 Coming In Stricking cago

Flight Ops Break

Handeling Cargo
Handing Off D. Piester Hovering