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Vietnam Ribbon Bar
Noxubee Crest

It's Really Fun To Be An Ensign


By Rik Kuhn

 

I was commissioned in September of 1965 from OCS then located in Newport, RI. I then went to several schools on the west coast, one of which was Petroleum School in San Pedro, CA, and then received orders to report to Portsmouth, VA for duty aboard USS NOXUBEE (AOG-56). I was to have reported between Christmas and New Years day but that didn't fit my schedule so I was able to get BUPERS to extend my leave and reported during the first week of January 1966. The first NOXUBEE person I met was Ensign, soon to be LTJG, Ray Smalley, a great guy even if he was a supply corps puke. The next individual was LTJG Bob "Woody" Varanko, a New York Maritime Academy graduate who was to be the 1st LT, Gunnery Officer and our first Navigator. Bob used to shoot a minimum of 5 stars when getting sights for our navigational fix. Whenever I did it, I'd be lucky to get two which doesn't give a real good idea where you are. LTJG Vic Cavanaugh, Operations Officer was talking to a taller Lieutenant, when you're 5'8" most are taller, who was our Prospective Commanding Officer and our Blue Ribbon Captain, Howard Lloyd "when I was at the Academy" Pabst, a very competent individual. Later in that first week came CWO-3 John Reames, the Main Propulsion Assistant, followed by our XO, David Leo "thumper" Ursprung which was frequently mispronounced as Upsprung, a former PN1 and, after I attained the lofty rank of LTJG, became a good guy because he quit yelling at me so much explaining "you're a JG now and should know what you need to do without my having to tell you EVERY DAY." A few months later, LTJG Dick Tudor who was my boss, reported as Engineer Officer. Dick was one of the funniest people I had met and always had a comment, sometimes to the great displeasure of either or both, the CO and XO. My job, and I could never figure out why an economics major in college with no interest or aptitude for anything mechanical, was to be Damage Control Assistant.

Shortly after arriving in Portsmouth, the contract for "fixing up" the ship was awarded to a firm in Baltimore, MD, so off we went, the officers and twenty or so of the crew. Initially Bob Varanko, Dave Ursprung and I lived in a row house in Dundalk area, a truly scuzzy but affordable section of Baltimore. As I recall, we received $16 per diem in addition to other pay and allowances. An Ensign made $290 per month and I had more than enough to buy a beat up '59 Ford and also enough left for Rolling Rock beer, also truly a scuzzy beer. I spent 10 weeks in Philadelphia at Damage Control School where I fell in with an evil lot: one LDO Coast Guard Ensign, one Coast Guard Warrant Officer and a depraved Navy Warrant Officer. I don't remember much about DC school but I do recall some pretty good times with those guys at least 3 or 4 nights a week. I think I would have needed a liver transplant if that school would have gone much longer. Upon my return to Baltimore, Dave Ursprung was in Norfolk and my new roommate was Dick Tudor who ably replaced my evil companions from Philadelphia.

After re-commissioning, several things stand out on our cruise to Pearl Harbor. First, a day or so out of the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal, the CO asked Bob Varanko when was our time at the breakwater and was told 0800. The "old man" replied that he had sailed these water many times and no way could we be at the breakwater at that time. I had the watch with Bob and at 0800 when we were passing the breakwater, Bob said "Captain, we're passing the breakwater at the time is 0800." The Captain never again questioned Bob's ability as Navigator.

The second thing of note: we CASREPED a scavenger pump for one of the main engines. On the Pacific side, we pulled in for some liberty but to mainly fix the scavenger pump. The shore Repair Facility maintenance officer came aboard and asked the question of the Engineer Officer, how long it would take to pull the pump. Dick Tudor looked at the ENCM, who said "3 days to pull it and 3 days to put it back." The look of extended liberty in his eye. The maintenance officer said "Chief, I asked you how long" and somehow the total of 6 days became 2 days. Some of you may remember the Master Chief, really a good guy on his twilight cruise looking for some extra liberty. The Master Chief could never pronounce my name correctly no matter how many times I told him the correct way. I got even by leaving off the "Master" when I called him Chief.

The last episode is the tail end of the hurricane and an event leading up to it. The Captain asked Dick Tudor, a West Pac sailor, about the weather in the Pacific and was told "Captain, the Pacific will be as smooth as glass." Two days later, the weather starts to deteriorate and during the second dog watch, the ship starts to pitch and the Captain starts to turn green and goes to his stateroom. The XO doesn't look too good either. I was too stupid to figure out what may be coming. Sometime during either the evening or the mid watch, the ship takes a very pronounced roll followed by two more of an increasing magnitude. During the first roll, Bob Varanko's in/out basket on his desk slid off and hit him in the snot locker. The second roll had him out of his bunk and into his pants and shoes. The third roll had him up the ladder to the wheel house where he sees Vic Cavanaugh hanging on to a stanchion whereby Woody says "come right 30 degrees." I have the morning watch with Woody and for the first time see waves much taller than the ship. Woody then says "this ship is not going to Acapulco but to Pearl Harbor." The Captain had been talking about 3 days liberty in Acapulco since before we were commissioned. Needless to say, we went to Pearl Harbor since the waves and sea state would not allow a heading to Acapulco.


Noxubee Crest

REFRESHER TRAINING THE FIRST TIME THROUGH


By Rik Kuhn

During the month of February, 1966, I went to Philadelphia for a 10 week course in damage control so I might be somewhat competent in my billet as Damage Control Assistant. The only thing I knew about damage control was what was taught at OCS taking about 6 hours total. The first 4 weeks was basic damage control followed by another 4 weeks of what was then called NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) and finishing with one week of fire fighting. The Damage Control School was geared toward refresher training administered by Fleet Training Group at Guantanamo, Cuba, the evil and to be feared, career wrecking, gut wrenching, six weeks of no sleep of pure hell and harassment by the infamous FLTRAGRU GITMO. The way the instructors talked about it, and they were mostly LDO Lieutenants talking to a bunch of new nitwit Ensigns, I actually believed what they said. My only thought of salvation was that maybe the FLTRAGRU PEARL would not be so fearsome AND that my fellow officers would know how it really was and give me a little help.

We survived the transit from Norfolk to Pearl Harbor and immediately went to the shipyard for upkeep for a period of about six weeks before we were to be first, inspected by SERVRON FIVE and second, commence refresher training. As an Ensign, I was "selected to assist" other officers in their preparation for the upcoming events. In more distinct terms, I was the GOFER for the CO and XO with a little left over for the Engineer Officer. I also managed to weasel some leave to go home, get married and return having heard from the CO as he was signing my leave request, "17 days is a lot of leave for an Ensign." As I had about 28 days on the books, I didn't see where being an Ensign had much to do with taking a bit less.

My return to the ship revealed that a number of changes had taken place in the 17 day absence. First, the CO and XO had more jobs for me to complete by yesterday. Secondly, the married watch standing officers were not happy that I got married since that would mean that I probably would not wish to standby for them when they had the duty. Third, CWO-3 Reams, the MPA had been transferred and now prancing aboard was one Mr. WO-1 Richard Bland, an exceptional person of competence, from Ohio. Lastly, I found that my repair parties were now manned at about 6 people each as the Operations Officer, 1st Lt/Gunnery and Engineer Officers had redone the watch bill this was to ensure they each had more backup and messengers to run into each other during GQ. One of the department heads said, when I asked how he expected the undermanned repair parties to put out a fire, "we'll call for help." I wasn't sure if this was a refreshing new approach or an arrogant blunder. I still didn't get any increase. But, help from an unexpected source was on the way and so much for help from my fellow officers. (they really were good guys and I was only an Ensign).

While undergoing upkeep, the main engines were PM'd and unfortunately, a piston in one of the engines was not keyed resulting in a badly scored crank shaft which further resulted in a CASREP which made our Engineering Department UNSAT before we even started refresher training. YEA ! This meant we would have to fix the problem before we completed refresher training. HOWEVER, we had to go through the first week as is. As I recall, we were inspected by SERVRON in the morning, we passed, and as they were departing, here comes FLTRAGRU PEARL. We flunked, at least the inspection part. As we returned to Hotel Pier from a few hours at sea with the inspectors, we heard "all officer assemble in the wardroom." The CO did not yell, scream or threaten but simply went down the list of deficiencies and "fixed them" meaning the backups and messengers returned to the repair parties. It was also very quiet in the ward room.

The blessed CASREP on the crank shaft sent us to a civilian repair yard for a few weeks and allowed the repair parties to train and time to buy missing items required for the DC lockers. Actually I believe we stole many of the items from the other departments. By the time we restarted refresher training, we were functioning much better and the inspectors were duly impressed with the effort. Dick Bland was in charge of one of the repair parties and SFC Wolfe running another. I got to sit in the log room and sweat a lot. Here comes the final battle problem which mirrored what the inspectors had been helping us do. We passed all elements. The senior damage control inspector, an LDO lieutenant, said the CO of FLTRAGRU had told them to be especially hard on those ships which had been re-commissioned recently. They were indeed hard on us,

A few weeks later we were loaded with "clean petroleum products for the fleet" and on our way to Vietnam, Republic of. On March 17th I also promoted myself to LTJG, but that's another story for another time.


Noxubee Crest

BITS AND PIECES


By Rik Kuhn
NOXUBEE was towed from Baltimore to Norfolk after completion of her reactivation overhaul. I and several others rode her on that trip. There was no power and we probably ate boxed food. I do remember taking a very brief and very cold shower in the morning before we arrived in Norfolk. One of my "shipmates" was a crusty CWO-4 who was attached to the Ships Superintendents Office and he was required to make the ride down. He had joined the Navy in 1935 and was not happy at being forced to retire in a few months. He had seen action in both the Atlantic and Pacific during WWII and also in Korea and wanted to go to Vietnam for his twilight cruise. He was born in Orange, Texas and his name was Orange Jerry Moore. He said to call him Jerry and I told him he could take my place if he really wanted to go to Vietnam that badly.

The XO put me in charge of the Honor Guard for the commissioning ceremony. This was a job I knew from nothing. There was a book called the Marine Corps Landing Party Manual that was supposed to tell me what to do, how to do it and what we were to wear. All well and good except the ship didn't have what we needed and I had to scrounge for leggings, chrome helmets and rifles. Between the local Marine detachment and Navy Honor Guard detail, we were able to come up with an abbreviated version of what was needed. I think we were supposed to have 12 people and could only come up with equipment for 8 or so and made do with that. Thankfully, the Navy Honor Guard didn't have a funeral to attend or NOXUBEE Honor Guard could have been one Ensign with his sword which I'm sure would have pleased the CO and XO to no end along with the two Rear Admirals also attending the ceremony. I remember thinking that if I were the only one, it wouldn't take the Admiral too long to inspect the Honor Ensign.

We were allowed to take our cars on board for the trip to Pearl Harbor and since I had sold my '59 Ford to a crew member not making the trip, I must run out an buy another. Never mind that I had a new Buick in Seattle. I had gone with Bob Varanko one evening while he took his Triumph in for servicing, saw a 1965 Triumph Spitfire on the lot and bought it. That's what happens when you draw per diem for six months and don't spend much. The shipfitters welded the necessary eye pads to the deck of one of the cargo holds, the deck department loaded and secured the cars and we were all set. Whomever secured the cars did a great job because the bad weather we went through on the Pacific side didn't cause any damage. The only damage occurred (to my car) was done by Bob when he backed another into mine while unloading. That's what happens when you don't learn to drive until you're 22.

Dick Tudor had assured the CO that the Pacific ocean would be like a lake compared with the Atlantic. After going through the tail end of a hurricane the CO was not impressed with Dick's weather predictions. To show there was no hard feelings on the part of the CO, he asked for the shipfitters to make a metal cutout of a turkey and mount it on a piece of wood. The stewards painted it a colorful way and the CO presented Dick with the first "Turkey of the Boat" award. Later, Ensign Andy Baravik earned the award with 3 hashmarks.

Besides going through bad weather, those making the transit will likely remember "water hours" meaning only the food handlers could wash for most of the trip as the boiler or evaporator (or both) didn't put out sufficient water. The CO said okay not to shave and we chased a few squalls in order to at least try to get some of the stink off us. Somehow standing naked on the fantail with 30 other people reminded me more of a college fraternity initiation rather than being in the Navy. I chose to continue to stink.

When NOXUBEE was undergoing reactivation overhaul, Bob Varanko had requested a brow be part of the contract specifications. Apparently neither the government nor the contractor cared if we received a brow so we did not get one. This meant we always had to ask for a brow in our logistics request (LOGREQ) when coming into a port. Coming into Pearl Harbor for the first time, we went directly to the shipyard for upkeep. As we were tying up, the shipyard boarding officer yelled to us that we could only have "his" brow for a few days. Bob Varanko yelled back that we didn't have a brow. The reply from the pier was "well you had better get one." Standing on the tank deck I heard myself reply to the boarding officer "that's an outstanding idea lieutenant, I wonder why no one on the ship didn't think of that." My career as a disrespectful smartass was underway. I actually lay blame on Dick Tudor as my mentor in smartassery.

The day prior to getting underway for Vietnam, we loaded out our first liquid cargo. The CO asked Dick and me who is in charge of loading. As the Liquid Cargo Officer, I should have been but, thankfully, Dick said he was in charge. The CO's parting words were "don't screw it up." I thought, yes sir, thank you for the briefing. It also occurred to me those "things with wheels on top on the tank deck" had something to do with loading the liquid cargo. We turned off the smoking lamp, put on our cargo handling overalls including slippers, broke out the non sparking tools and very slowly loaded diesel, JP-4, mogas and avgas. Since we didn't explode or have a spill, I guess we did it right.

After being on line in Vietnam for a few months, NOXUBEE was given a few days in Hong Kong before going to Subic Bay for upkeep. The CO told me that he wanted the ship to be "gas free" so we could have a pier in Hong Kong rather than having to anchor out. To be truly gas free meant we would have to empty, ventilate and scrub all the cargo tanks, not an easy task to do while underway and also do it in 3 days. Someone suggested we simply overflow the tanks and all would be wonderful and gas free. The CO said to do it (never mind the Fleet Oiler Manual instruction which says NEVER overflow the cargo tanks). So, we overflowed the cargo tanks and in the process, sent avgas fumes into much of the after crew quarters and also the Chief's quarters. Thankfully no one decided to smoke until the fumes went away. I reported to the CO that we were gas free as we were steaming in to Hong Kong harbor. No matter, the policy was all tankers had to anchor out. SKC Wolfe and I were delighted after staying up for over 24 hours becoming gas free.

I had just relieved Dick Tudor and Engineer Officer prior to arriving in Subic Bay for 10 days upkeep. I went ashore, in really nasty weather, to check on the status of our maintenance requests. Returning to the ship, the boat crew informed me that the "cease all small boating activity" flag had just raised. Command decision, go forward or go back. On we went. Arriving on board, all was quiet and strange looks were on several faces. What had happened ?? Was Ho Chi Minh due to arrive ? Nothing so spectacular. It seems only that the engine room was flooding but they stopped it. Why ? How ? I'm the Engineer Officer for about 3 days and the engine room floods. I envision standing before a long green table trying to explain what happened only I don't know what happened. I never learned exactly what happened and Dick Bland, the MPA only said not to worry about it. No harm no foul.

The highlight of a cruise is going home. To make it better is when the watch section goes to 1 in 6 or 7 instead of 1 in 4, or worse, 1 in 3. God bless the CO for qualifying some of the senior enlisted people to stand OOD. I'm not sure how far down the list we got but I believe we did have some 1st class standing watch in addition to some Chiefs.


Noxubee Crest

A FEW MORE BITS AND PIECES


By Rik Kuhn
Operations in Vietnam, while never quite routine, became at least somewhat predictable on the first cruise in 1966. In Danang, NOXUBEE would usually go alongside a USNS tanker, frequently USNS SAUMICO, to load POL, we would then go anchor for 2 to 3 days before sailing. Usually our destination would be Cua Viet where we would anchor and pump through a floating hose tied to a buoy. One benefit of being the Liquid Cargo Officer was being invited aboard SAUMICO by the Chief Mate to have a beer. Please remember, there are two kinds of beer: good beer and great beer. Great beer is cold beer. This was especially so in Vietnam, Republic of . I also recall that most of the Wardroom was sometimes invited over and also the Chief's Mess. I distinctly remember carrying back a ditty bag of great beer on a few occasions and giving most of it to the Chief's Mess where it would do the most good.

On one occasion NOXUBEE came back to Danang to find there was no SAUMICO but there was a large Shell Oil tanker to which we were directed to receive POL. This tanker was manned by a Dutch crew, what a surprise a Royal Dutch Shell tanker manned by people from their own country call me crazy, almost none of whom could speak much more than very simple English. As we were ready to depart from this tanker, our Chief Storekeeper needed to know how much POL we took aboard in order for the U.S. Government to pay the Royal Dutch Shell Company. We yelled over to a group of highly amused looking Dutch officers having just finished their seven course dinner with cocktails, in their very white and very starched uniforms looking at us in our sweat stained and grimmy uniforms. Finally, they understood what we wanted and one yelled back - "4500 lawntongs" or 4500 "lingtins" or 4500 "lungtens". Eventually, a more educated member of the rest of us standing on deck looking totally bewildered at him and having the benefit of a degree in the sciences, finally yelled to them "do you mean LONG TONS ?" and they did in fact mean long tons. I have often wondered if they ever got paid and if so, how long did it take.

The military used to have what were "Registered Publications" and had a long and involved process to manage and account for these publications. At that time Being "the Ensign" I was assigned as assistant Registered Publications Custodian (RPS Custodian) and went to a 3 day school to learn the job. What I learned most from the school was that at Portsmouth Naval Prison there was the annual softball game between the RPS Custodian inmates and the Disbursing Officer inmates usually won by the RPS team since the rules required the Supply Corps Officers to take off their glasses. You could get in big trouble if you didn't destroy superceded publications on time and completely and you also had "to draw publications" on time. There was also one other pleasant task that went with the job - you had to page check and initial each new draw. I spent many a wonderful hour sitting in the secure vault pretending to page check several hundred publications at a time and mostly using someone else's initials just in case there turned out to be a missing page.

But, the real fun thing was to go on the burn run, especially in Vietnam. Most ships have a place where you can actually burn the superseded pubs but an AOG isn't one of them. What this meant was that as the assistant RPS custodian, I had to go with the RPS Custodian to witness the destruction and make the draw of new pubs. LTJG Dick Tudor was the RPS Custodian and a system was invented to allow us to make the burn, some few miles out of Danang. We had to take the boat ashore, walk to the main road, hitchhike carrying burn bags with our .45s strapped to our sides, make the burn and clean up the facility, hitchhike back to Danang, go to a transient officers club, drink warm (which is still good beer only not great beer) beer, relatively sober up, make the new draw, find our way to the Ops building to call the ship to send the boat to pick us up, perhaps have another beer at the Marine O Club across the Danang river, back to where the boat was to pick us up, go back to NOXUBEE, go to the secure vault, page check, yeah right, sign the necessary paper and go back to work. All this before lunch.

So, the time for my relief came and I have orders for shore duty in my home town. A year and a half later I actually got to use those orders but that's another very long story. Suffice to say, I pack up my gear and say "Hasta luego" to my shipmates, pick up my orders which said "Priority 2", took the boat to Danang and cajoled someone to take me to the airport with dreams of being back in Hawaii to be with my wife and daughter shortly thence on to Seattle after a short time in San Diego for school.

Two things happened when I first checked into the passenger desk at Danang airport operated by our friends of the U.S. Air Force. First, I was priority 2 which meant that everyone got priority over me and secondly, my orders said to report to a school in San Diego not about stopping off in Hawaii to pack up my family. Some 12 hours later, I am still at the airport having smoked at least 4 packs of Camels when the Air Force Captain in charge of passenger service takes pity on me an invites me into to his AIR CONDITIONED office where I tell him my tale of woe. About that time the general alarm, or whatever the Air Force call it, goes off and my new best friend and I are running for a bunker because Victor Charles decides to send a few rockets at us. I remember thinking, 'HERE LIES LTJG KUHN WHO GOT HIS ASS BLOWN UP ON HIS LAST NIGHT IN VIETNAM BY SOME FARMER FROM SOME HAMLET THAT NO ONE EVER HEARD OF WHO GOT A LUCKY HIT ON AN AIR FORCE BUNKER IN DANANG."

But I didn't get blown up and the Air Force Captain tells me to get on a C 141 that is supposed to go to Hickham AFB in Honolulu after a stop at Okinawa and its leaving in about two hours. The Captain escorts me to the plane to ensure they allow me to board but not before a Marine Corps Colonel feels that it his DUTY to say a few words about my appearance: about 24 hours of whiskers, rumpled and stained improper uniform (work khaki), foul smell (remember this is before they invented Mitchum deodorant) and scuffed shoes and the fact I didn't brace and salute when I saw him. I was well on my way as a career smartass but quickly calculated that Marine Corps Colonels do not take kindly to that especially from a SQUID LTJG and for once since being inducted into the smartass fraternity, kept my mouth in check and only said "AYE AYE SIR", then I got on the airplane and went home.


Noxubee Crest

REFRESHER TRAINING THE SECOND TIME AROUND


By Rik Kuhn
About a year after surviving the first episode of refresher training, we got to do it again. This time, I am a lofty LTJG, Engineer Officer, Damage Control Officer and Senior Watch Officer. All is right with the world. NOXUBEE had a new CO, J.R. McCall, a great CO, Dave Ursprung was still XO and Dick Bland was now CWO-2 and the MPA. Dick and I worked out that he would run the engine room and the repair party there and I would run DC central and SKC Wolfe and now EMC Rowe in charge of the other repair parties. To make it even better, there had been little change in the crew from the previous refresher training and many of the new people were experienced petty officers.

Still, you are never sure what will happen when the FLTRAGRU people come aboard. However, NOXUBEE karma must have been good because the senior inspector was the senior damage control inspector from the previous year. Were those beers I bought for him at the O club going to pay off ? Does a duck walk flat footed on the beach ?

Day one. FLTRAGRU inspects. Both the engine room and damage control pass with flying colors. Time passes on with the training and battle problems. The only concern we have is the NBC part as DC central and both repair parties have to calculate the "nuclear" readings in case DC central suffers a stroke or some other heinous situation. Remember, it is likely the lights will be out where the repair parties are located and trying to calculate by battle lantern is not easy. But, I have a plan.

On an AOG there are really only so many places the inspectors are going to have a fire, hole in the hull, flooding, etc. As we practice, the inspectors rotate among the various spaces but the repair parties have it wired. During the "nuclear" phase, the inspectors keep putting the "hot spots" in the same general areas. Again, the repair parties really perform. Still, as the final battle problem approaches, the NBC calculations could cause us a problem. Not really.

During the previous refresher training, the inspectors had left, accidentally, a sheet of paper with the "nuclear" readings they used for the final battle problem. I figure that they, like most of us, don't like change for the sake of change and would not use different figures. So, I, with the repair party leaders, did a "pre-calculation" of the readings so that when the third figure was passed over the 1 MC, we would know what was going to happen and when. They didn't change the numbers and about half way through the "nuclear" part of the battle problem, the senior inspector walks into the log room and say to pass the word to the bridge to secure from the battle problem as we are at about a 98 % grade. Overall, the Engineering Department/Damage Control did well over 90 %.

However, there was a little payback to me. Dick Bland and I had to shoot an officers string on the forward muzzle loader during the gunnery part of refresher training. I believe we did well but I couldn't hear well for a few days.