Tuesday, August 22, 2006

3 November 1955

Dear Folks

Permit me to introduce myself; my name is….I won’t say I’m sorry for the delay—that line’s a little stale by now anyhow. I plan to take Mom’s suggestion & write a journal of my trip; it may not be Samuel Pepys (pronounced "peeps") but it will do.

Tomorrow we return to Mayport for the last time. Sometime Friday morning we shove off for the Med. At sea for ten days, & arrive at Gibraltar on the 14th, as a special birthday treat for yours truly. Our stay there will be very short, though, for on the 16th we again put to sea to relieve the carrier Intrepid, one of the Ti’s sister ships. On the 22nd of this month, the ship will anchor off Cannes, France, where it will remain until the 30th, when we again put to sea. That is as far as our schedule goes up to now.

One of our biggest problems will be that we will be unable to actually enter a port, since only Naples has a pier large enough for us. So, we must anchor out & stand in endless lines waiting for the liberty boats to take us ashore.

Mom, I don’t know if you’ll be getting a birthday card or not—I got you a nice one in Jacksonville & lost it in a movie. If I can find another one just like it, I’ll send it.

Met one of my ex-NavCad buddies in Jax—he’s getting married in Feb. to a swell girl whose father runs the U.S.O.

At sea we play games—I’ve mentioned them before; they’re interesting & all, but have an un-pretend purpose. It’s really exciting, sort of; just like the movies—gongs clang wildly with a monotonous urgency, men running all over, feet racing up ladders. The only difference between it a & the movies is that the "camera" is more or less restricted; it is incapable of flashing from the scurrying feet to the Captain’s anxious face; from the swinging guns to the flights of enemy planes & the sneering profile of an enemy pilot as he prepares to drop his bombs.

Instead, our little anchored camera swoops up a ladder, down several passageways, & through several compartments, shutting valves & closing hatches, which clang shut with a sound not unlike a slamming car door & a refrigerator door. Then suddenly there are no more running feet, no more clanking hatches, & the whole ship is still—not completely silent, but more as if you can hear & feel her holding her breath. It’s a weird sensation, & you feel locked in. Everywhere you look are the closed hatches, secured with a dozen "dogs"—double levers. Along the bulkheads are banks of dials, slender white needles indicating the water level in various compartments, resting reassuringly on "empty." Some dials glow a soft red, showing that certain valves are closed. You go to the scuttlebutt (water fountain) for a drink—step on the activator, & nothing happens. You’d be surprised how thirsty you get when you know there is no water.

When you look around, you feel closed in—but when you look up, you feel trapped. The ladders leading to the hanger deck lead up to five inches of solid steel! On all decks below the hanger deck, the inner-deck hatches all have scuttles—small round openings in the hatches which can be unscrewed & allow one man at a time to escape in an emergency. But there are no scuttles on the hanger deck—all the hatches are solid steel, & there is no way out.

I’ve told you that in 1945 the Ti was hit by a kamikaze & almost sunk—that 345 were killed. I’m still surprised it wasn’t more.

Imagine an all-metal ship which in a fire would heat like a frying pan—all enclosed, so that the least smoke seeps through the ship & lingers, even with the blowers & vents on.

I was taught to use a rescue breathing apparatus, which is quite complex & would be completely useless to anyone who did not know how to operate it properly. It also takes some time to adjust & get working correctly; time in which you could die most unpleasantly. (For one thing, if you had the mask on too tight before it began working, you could suffocate.)

And then there is the canister of chemicals which, when mixed with carbon dioxide from the lungs, produces more oxygen, but if mixed with water has the explosive force of three pounds of TNT.

And so life goes aboard the good ship Ticonderoga. I’d write more, only we’re shaking so (which always happens—the convulsions being in direct proportion to the speed) that I can hardly read it myself. So, if you will excuse me, I will close with



Ken Beemer said...

That sound scary! I'm glad you made it out of the Navy alive!

Eric said...

Not only do you know Pepys, but actually know how his name is pronounced. Impressed.