A Tender Tale

Chapter 6:
Loose ends and Tale-end

Another hard learned lesson was that not everyone is a good guy. Most of the time - almost without exception - the people I worked for - and with - were competent, professional and "good people". You may not "like" everyone - nor does everyone like you - but the spirit of team and family is very strong. Most of the time. Then there was this one division officer we had. Wow! Once when we were out at sea - and trying to get in some target practice on the 20MM guns - all four guns had jammed - well - they should have been adjusted better - but things happen. The Captain wasn't real pleased - and needless to say - the gunner was feeling the heat. Then to pour salt in the wound - "our boss and example" wanders by the Captain and mumbles something to the effect that his ET's could even do better than this... Well the Captain wasn't ammused - we gained the opportunity to improve our weapon handling skills. Like we didn't already have enough to do - now our Division Officer has "volunteered" us to be gunnersmates as well!!!! While I'm not going to speculate on his motivations and problems - I can say that in my humble opinion - this was one miserable human being. I'll say this though - with him loose - there were few dull moments in the Navigation Repair Shop - some of the adventures he precipitated were dandies!

And if it's bad - don't let it get you down, you can take it;
And if it hurts - don't let them see you cry, you can make it!
Hold your head up! boy; Hold your head up! boy;
Hold your head up! boy; Hold your head High!...

One day - I was repairing some test equipment that had failed calibration for one reason or another. One piece of gear belonged to a boat - it was a sychro test device - a test generator for testing common compass repeaters. Without going into great detail - let's just say that I tried to get the thing apart - and since I could find no documentation on this device - and had never seen one apart - I didn't do to well. The problem was a "hub" that the indicator dial was mounted to needed to come off of the synchro's shaft - and inspite of locking it in a vise trying to unscrew it - pry it off, etc. - it wouldn't budge. Well, replacement was not very expensive - the major value being in the synchro itself - and this one was bad. So I rather than waste a bunch more time on it - I just threw a Not Worth Repair tag on it - and sent it back to the boat. Next thing I know - I'm being brought up on charges and am to stand a court-martial. No kidding. And guess who filed the charges? Yup - our division officer. And he has also contacted the payroll clerk to have the amount of the replacement unit deducted from my pay - though that request was shot down immediately - he had no authority to do that - but he certainly tried. I had been doing so well. Things were really smoothing out - and now this! That night was one of the longest nights in my life. The thing wasn't but a few dollars - and the only valuable part in it was broken - rejected by the calibration lab before I got ahold of it... The following morning - one of the chiefs met me before muster - and took me to a "meeting" - really - he just got me out of the shop - told me to stay out of site - and keep my mouth shut. I did. A couple of hours later - I heard it was all over.
Robert Dibben ETSC
with the troops building the tent city for the refugees from Viet Nam
The chiefs had won. What????? Seems the troops had come to my aid. Even though I didn't work directly for him - Chief Dibben had put his foot down - and put a stop to the fiasco. He had been in the Navigation Repair shop since before I reported aboard and - he and I had butted heads more than once - in fact - he was the major contributor to that less than stellar evaluation: that first one after making E6. He and I had a "dissagreement" - and he even cheerfully offered that I had every right to my position - but NOT the right to challenge him in front of the troops. Fair enough - I had learned - as my encounter with those Officers proved - I could do it right... But now - months later - I hear that he single-handedly took on this Division Officer. He - above all people - felt I could stand "straightening" out... but these "trumped up" charges weren't right - and he went to the line to stop it. And he did it by the book. Rather than getting in the Division Officer's face - and arguing about it - he took the tack of: fix the problem - no evidence - no case. He went down to the machine-shop and had a machinist use a miniature arbor press to get the (now scarred) hub off of the old synchro. Then the machinist chucked up the damaged part - and turned it - making it's surface perfect once again. The part was then painted black (as it originally was) - then pressed onto the new replacement synchro's shaft. The unit re-assembled - and up to the calibration lab - where it was calibrated and passed. The now repaired and calibrated unit was then put back on the Division Officer's desk. All in one night - It was like the cavalry coming over the hill. Needless to say - the Division Officer's case folded - and the complaint dissappeared. I'll never forget that incident - and the fact that the Chief put his butt on the line for me - inspite of whatever had happened in the past. The last I heard - that Division Officer was looking for a job. I hope he got help for his problems.

The forward 5 inch was removed by the Ship Repair Facility, Guam in 1974-75 - so that left the 5 inch magazine as an unusable space. An ammo magazine in a WWII vintage ship has all kinds of elevated storage racks welded to the ships bulkheads, deck and overhead. These are sized and designed to hold 5 inch rounds - which are sorta like storing bologna. Unless you are storing bologna - these magazines are pretty worthless for general storage. After having thwarted the division officer, the Chief's felt it was a good idea to keep me out of harms way. Apparently this Officer was making no bones about his intention to get me - the first, any infraction - and my butt was his. So the Chief's had an idea. Since I could weld - I could probably handle a cutting torch pretty well... So they turned me loose on the old 5 inch magazine. I spent the next couple of weeks turning the maze of brackets, braces, blocks and such into smooth - usable surfaces. I also cut out the hugely oversized sprinkler system - not needed in a cold storage room. I guess that was probably the wackiest job I had on the ship - cutting torch - and sledge hammer.

Shortly Chief Dibben got his orders back to the States - and a new chief came in - Chief King - I don't know exactly what happened - but after he arrived - that division officer was gone within days - he was still around the ship - but he was out of our lives.

One last pair of Sea Stories to Wrap Up Tender Tale. The funnyiest (we think)- and the most poignant - and both involving the US Marines.

When the Proteus was converted in 1959 to service the FBM submarines - the missile and other special weapons storage, handling and service areas were added in that 44 foot long - 500 ton "addition" that was spliced in. On the weather decks - there was little to the addition - mostly the crane - and a few shop spaces here and there. Below - the "addition" was for all practical purposes a sealed box. No access except for those who actually worked in those spaces. This was enforced two ways: 1) "normal" access to the area was through 1 security entry door - which had a security person on duty 24 hours a day. 2) every other door (even most internal doors) had an alarm sensor on it - opening a door without proper authorization and procedures would result in setting off the ship's special weapons security violation alarm. That had the effect of causing the Marines to immediately deploy - establishing immediate and total control of all security areas and their perimeter. There is one more detail to the "addition" - the Burma Passageway. I have no idea why it was named that - though some guesses can be made once you know about "the passage". As I noted - the addition was for all practical purposes a sealed box below the main deck - except for this one fore - aft passageway that started aft out of the aft-mess hall - proceeded about 30 feet aft - then made a 90 degree turn in-board - went several feet - then turned aft once again - and continued aft until it opened into the machine shop. This is the only fore-aft passage below the main deck - and the only fore-aft passage in this section not exposed to the weather. Needless to say - it is one busy passage. Accidents do happen - and occasionally someone would forget - crack a door - and here comes the marines - weapons first, of course! They would go from the Marine Detachment area (just behind the machine shop) through the machine shop - through Burma Passageway - and deploy through the after mess deck - and other security areas. When the Marines respond to a sercurity alarm - about a dozen respond as fast as they can run - with weapon - careening through the "twist" of Burma-passage way - clobbering any sailor foolish enough to still be in that passage way.

Herein is one of those "Sea Stories."

She looked at me with big brown eyes -
and said: "You ain't seen nothin' yet -
B- B- B- Baby you just ain't seen n- n- nothin' yet!
Here's somethin' that you never gonna forget -
B- B- B- Baby you just ain't seen n- n- nothin' yet!...
Bachman-Turner Overdrive

It was a usual duty night - chow call had gone down - so we'd gone through the mess line and gotten our usual great chow (no facetiousness here - the Proteus usually had outstanding chow!) - and was eating in the mess deck. In the overhaul - they had installed booths - like in a restaurant - it made a very comfortable eating place! Well - we had been eating for a while - when over the 1MC: "Security violation! Security violation! All hands stand fast! Away the Security Alert Team!" In - oh - about 10 seconds - we could here the pounding of feet coming up the Burma Passage - "Get out of the way! Get out of the way!" - They yelled that even if they didn't see anyone - because they were told to - and Marines are like that - tell them to do something - and they do it!. Well in a matter of seconds several had raced by - on to the main door into "the security area." Others were taking up their assigned stations around the perimeter. Everyone had gotten to his post - and was looking for "the bad guys" - when this Marine who's post was directly in front of our table - became aware of us. There was nothing the matter with us sitting there - that wasn't what bothered the young Marine. You see - they have to respond immediately regardless of what they are doing.... And when you are a Marine - immediately means out of the shower - grab your weapon (not a towel) and get to your assigned post. What this Marine had just noticed is that eathing dinner with me and a friend was Sherry and the friend's wife - and he was buck naked. True Marine he stood his post - he didn't move a muscle (well he did sorta try to cover his !!! with the butt of his weapon) - he did turn red from head to toe - but until secured by his sergeant, he stood his post as a proud Marine. Naturally Sherry and the other lady didn't embarass him by laughing - at least until he was relieved and on his way -- then all four of us busted loose...

And that brings us to the "final" Sea Story... and the point of TenderTale.

Take a walk on the Wild Side...  ....Lou Reed

After "inheriting" the responsibility for the weapons (guns) on board - four of us wound up standing watches as the Duty Gunner (ETs??!!!!). I was "volunteered" partially because I knew a fair amount about weapons - and could shoot fairly well --plus I wasn't on a repair party anymore - so was available. We (whoever was the duty gunner) were required to have the keys to the armory on us at all times. This led to some interesting side trips. As the duty gunner (again whomever had the duty) - we were required to check every ammo magazine on the ship - including recording the temperature in each. Since we had the keys to all of the Marines weapons except their few "ready response" weapons - no matter where we were - if the security alarm went off - we had to get to and unlock the amory very fast. And of course - during a security alert - sailors aren't supposed to be moving - it upsets the Marines. To avoid any unfortunate mis-understandings - we got to know the Marines in the Marine Detachment pretty well -- or should I say we made darn sure they knew who WE were!

Since we were already carrying the armory keys - someone came up with the idea of "letting" us carry the "special weapons security panel key" i.e. the "second" key to the "special weapons" spaces alarm system. Seems because of the security clearances required - and the pain in the butt paper work - and high level approvals required - there were only four people authorized to carry the key at any given time. Since there were only four - the four chiefs that were "key" persons - had to stand duty one day out of four - while the rest of the chiefs stood duty one day out of ten. Hence the motivation to get us to carry it - since E6's and below all stood duty one day in four anyway. So it happned. Being we four already had super security clearances - we were approved and put on the "key" list early in 1975. I, and the other three, had been carrying "the key" for several months. We had gotten to know the Marines pretty well - and in fact had actually gotten pretty friendly. Up 'til now - the relationship between sailors and the Marines had been - well - not hostile - but certainly not friendly. I had gotten to like several of the Marines - some of them weren't real together - but a few were really on top of things. Along came November - and every Marine knows that November 8 is Corp. Birthday time - and the Marine Corps Ball - and this being 1975 - this was no ordinary birthday - it was the Corps 200th. I had an idea. What if the three of us who didn't have duty - were to stand three eight -hour watches on the panel for the Marines - so all of them could go to the Marines Corps 200th Birthday Party. To actually relieve the Marines for 24 hours. I talked to my three counter-parts - they thought it was a good idea - so I took it to my chief. He was a little less enthusiastic - the Security Panel Watch was one thing - what about the Security Response teams in case of a security alarm / violation??? Ooops hadn't thought of that. Even with his reservations - he thought it a good enough idea to take it on up. The Brass thought it was a good idea too. So good that they were willing to do a couple of things: they would have to get permission from higher ups (Way up - like the Pentagon or some such-); and they would see if the auxillary security force (that was a bunch of us sailors from the ship's company with clubs in our hands!) - could stand-by for the Marine's Security Response Team. Well - it all came together - I and two others stood the "Marines" watch - and thankfully - there were no security alarms - or other problems nor incidents. Well - almost no problems - incidents?
This is me - remember - trouble on two feet. I just couldn't resist. First - the Marines are always looking for a few "good men" - well one of the guys in our shop drew up a poster - they had found their "good men" the sailors of the Proteus. Second - I couldn't leave it at that - yes - it was my idea - and yes I put in a lot of extra time and effort to make it happen - So just when did the BRIGHT RED door with the Brass MARINE SHIELD get stolen? (are we talking about a 200 pound standard ships door???? - yup). When the Marines started coming back that night after the party - almost all of them noticed the poster - and most thought it pretty funny - a couple wanted to tear it up - but most were good sports about it. The weird thing was that none of them noticed their door was gone !!! oh there was a door in the hole - a normal "gray" door.
No emblem. Not red. I kept waiting for one of them to notice - but no one did... Since this whole deal was my idea in the first place, I had taken the final watch - and they were to relieve me at 0800. About 0745 the door opened... then shut - then opened then SLAMMED shut "Where the ____ is my door?!!!" "Muster - on your feet!" "But gunny - it's not 0800 yet." "I don't care - where is my door?" "What are you talking about???" "The door is gone - and none of you noticed??? how could you miss???" I'd been wondering that myself. He ran back up the ladder to the door (we were on the second deck - the door was up a ladder on to the main deck) and looked it over real careful. Nope no wet paint here. Bone dry - been gray forever. "Get your butts out and find my door!" I was supprised - he was pretty steamed. I quiety pulled the poster down - I'm no fool - these guys are all hand-to-hand experts - and he was clearly upset. And I couldn't believe it - the door we had exchanged his with was only about 20 feet foreward... it opened into the machine shop- but it was partially hidden - at least from an aft view - by a large air duct. But that thing is huge - and did I mention RED?! I was relieved on time - the Marines still in the area all went out of their way to thank me for letting them all go to the party - and ask that I pass it on to the others. I zipped up two decks and cruised into our shop. Chief King was just hanging up the phone - and when he saw me - he pointed and said "now you've done it - the old man said for you to get that damn door back from wherever it is to the Marines immediately." Uh-oh... A quick motion to my two co-conspiritors from the night before - they knew what that meant - we had the doors exchanged in about five minutes. Actually I expected some fallout from that door thing - never heard about it again. Even the Gunny cooled of quickly - now that his door was back - he got over it. We remained on good, friendly terms.

"Some try to tell me, thoughts they can't defend;
Just what you want to be, you'll be in the end!...
  ....The Moody Blues

My orders came in -- we were ordered to the east coast of CONUS - just in time to be home for Christmas. We packed out in late November - just as a mild typhoon hit the island - it seemed strange - after three years - the Proteus went to sea without me. One of the people I had trained took over CIC - test equipment pool went to another - life went on - boats were serviced - refits accomplished. My last official act aboard Proteus was the formal process of checking out. I remember talking to the XO - he thumbed through my papers - and my departure evaluation caught his eye - "Wow - looks like we're going to miss you." he observed. In one last smart-mouthed shot - I observed - "Yeah - too bad it's not good enough for a Proteus Plaque." Proteus Plaques were awarded to those individuals departing the ship who have made some significant contribution to the ship and / or the ship's mission. I had - according to this evaluation - accomplished that several times over - and then some as attested by three letters of Individual Commendation and several division and ship's commendations. But there was another rule on Proteus Plaques - no evaluation mark below a certain level during the tour. - Well - that "wake-up" call I had gotten back in 74 had done that in... I had exactly one mark below the standard. Several people had offered to intercede - now including the XO - most people felt that for someone like me who had spent the bulk of their carrer at this one command - that one slip shouldn't penalize the whole record. But I turned it down... If I had learned nothing else - it's that there are prices to pay - sooner or later - that you are repsonsibile for your actions - and that accepting a Proteus Plaque under an "exception" would be the same as cheating. I knew the rules. I had learned to live by them. I wasn't going to screw that up again. No. That last evaluation meant more than any Proteus Plaque. Several of us had talked about it already - I had come to peace with my decision - and I have never regretted it. As the day wound down - I had gathered all of the signatures required - the only thing left was to sign out at the Quarter Deck. I noticed when I went back through our shop for the last time - it seemed rather empty - but I figured with a boat just coming in - that's where they were. When I got back to the fan tail - I took my papers over to the Quarter Master's shelf - and got signed out on the deck log. When I turned around - I noticed several Marines had gathered at the Main Gangway - apparently to escort some arriving Brass. I started to head for the enlisted gangway - when a line of Officers and men -- a bunch from my division - rounded the corner and formed up between the anchor winch and the Main gangway - I know I'm sometimes pre-occupied - but it finally hit me - this assembly was for me. Talk about stunned. I turned and walked back to the center of the Quarter Deck - where several of the Marines stepped up to me - held out an American Flag - not just any Flag - this was our -at-sea Ensign that had flown from the Proteus' mast while at sea since Mare Island - folded in the traditional triangle. As he handed it to me he said: "In appreciation of your friendship, your dedication to your ship and your fellow servicemen - I present you with this symbol of our nation and our union. Semper Fi." I had once commented - how much that Ensign had meant to me - and here it is - in my hands. I did manage to get out a thank you - though I really don't mind telling - I was well-passed choked up. I saluted the Officer of the Deck - requested permission to leave the ship -I turned and saluted The Marine Detachment; the men from my division, the Ensign flying from the fantale - and made my trip down the gangway the last time. It had been 51 months since I first came aboard. In this tribute from peers, friends and comrades-in-arms - I now knew - in 51 months -- I had grown up.

Table of Contents

© 1997 Common Cents Computers