US Navy


 

 

USS Mispillion AO-105

From 1960 to 1963 I was stationed aboard the USS Mispillion AO-105, a Cimarron class oiler in the Pacific Fleet home-ported in Long Beach, CA.   The sailors stationed aboard called her the ‘Pissamillion’ since she carried several million gallons of fuel.  It was probably the most interesting and exciting time of my life.  I made two trips to WestPac (Western Pacific) during this time but the most interesting one was when we got a new captain, Capt. Dose, a very senior 4 striper that the navy was grooming for admiral or at least a carrier command.  The Mispillion was a large ship and good training for taking over a carrier.  Capt. Dose was an ex-fighter pilot and looked like he just stepped off a Hollywood set with his leather jacket and aviator glasses.  We got a tribute once from an aircraft carrier that he was once Flight Commander on in the form of a fighter flyover by a formation of F-4 Phantoms.  Anyway, since he was so senior, we got to go places and do things we might not have been able to do. 

 

On the trip over to WestPac we stopped to watch a whale that was being ravaged by barracuda, we chased waterspouts and came very close to a couple and we stopped for swim call in the middle of the Pacific.  The closest land was 5 miles straight down and we put netting and jacob’s ladders over the side, posted shark watches with M-1 carbines and jumped into the ocean.  Although it was calm, the swells were pretty big and I remember getting exhausted and trying to grab the netting only to have it 3 or 4 feet over my head due to a swell.  Some guys did get in trouble and had to be helped back aboard.  About that same time, the reefer went out and we all gathered on the fantail and ate all the ice-cream we had aboard.     I guess the point of this is, we had fun on this trip and were up for anything.

 

We generally went to Sasebo or Yokosuka Japan and then joined fleet activities from there.  In our case, that meant refueling Task Groups that were engaged in exercises somewhere in the Pacific.  A Task Group typically included an aircraft carrier and several destroyers and maybe a cruiser.  We would steam along at about 12 knots into the wind with an aircraft carrier conducting flight ops on one side and a destroyer on the other with another destroyer about 1,000 yards behind us in a lifeguard position.  We frequently lost people overboard during these operations and the lifeguard destroyer would pick them up (usually). 

 

On this trip, we had an unusually flexible and diverse schedule which included a trip around Borneo and then we sailed north to Subic Bay in the Philippines.  We spent a few days there where one of my jobs was to update our charts and I went on base and over to Clark AFB to get new charts.  We had a White Hat club there on the navy base and that’s the first time I heard Ray Charles singing ‘Hit the road, Jack’.  There was also a wide open town called Olongapoo not far from the base where sailors and marines were the primary business. 

 

We spent some time there and then went further north to Taiwan.  I think we put in at Kaohsiung but whatever the name of the place it was an ominous town and I didn’t like it at all.  You entered the harbor with jagged, jungle covered mountains on either side.  It was narrow with a submarine net across it and, as you navigated through the town, there were buildings with machine guns and AA guns on either side.  It was a time of high tension between the Nationalists and Mainland China and the people were understandably paranoid.  Or, it appeared that way to me. 

 

 

Duncan and me Stonecutter’s Island

Our next port of call was Hong Kong and that is the most memorable part of the trip.  We were met on our way to our anchorage off Stonecutter’s Island by several junks owned by Hong Kong Mary (at least that’s what we called her).  Her business was painting ships and we negotiated a price that all of us sailors readily agreed to since this was a never-ending chore aboard ship. Prior to her painting the ship, we had to have a fresh-water washdown to remove the salt from the ship.  I had the Operations crew which was composed of Radarmen, Radiomen, Signalmen, Electronics Technicians  and Quartermasters and we had a firehose to washdown the bridge’s O2 and O3 levels.  We were squirted by a firehose manned by the deckapes (Bosuns) under Jones, a big and very fit black BM2.  My crew turned our hose on his crew just as he stepped out of a hatch and he got it full-on.  He looked up and saw me and took out after me.  I didn’t wait around and as I was running around the O2 level I almost ran into Capt. Dose who was using the urinal behind the bridge.  Capt. Dose nailed me with his eyes and I stopped short and Jonesy slammed into me and almost knocked me into the captain.  I was always in trouble with Capt. Dose.  If I had ever had a Captain’s Mast under him I’m sure I would still be in the brig.  Anyway, Mary’s people swarmed aboard and we furnished the paint and they painted the whole ship using rags instead of paint brushes in just a few days!  

 That freed us up for a lot of Liberty Call on the beach.  The navy had people stationed there to provide shuttle service to shore for the ships in the harbor and they delivered us to shore leave.  Three friends and I hit the beach together and we rented a car and driver to show us around.  It turned out to be a very smart move as we seen things and went places that we would never have found on our own.  I remember Aberdeen Bay where the junks were packed in so tight you could walk all the way across the bay and not get your feet wet.  I’m sure some of those junks had been in the same place for many years.  We saw a hillside covered with a shanty town of thousands right next to the opulence of high-rises and residential buildings.  We went to Repulse Bay, a resort with a restaurant and beach and a shark net across the bay so you could go swimming.  I tried swimming to a platform in the middle of the bay and was exhausted by the time I got there, seems I’m always overestimating my swimming ability.  We finished up the day in downtown Hong Kong at a fancy restaurant where I had Baked Alaska for the first time and last time of my life.  By this time the word was out that there was a typhoon heading in and the signal flag,’ Hotel’, was flying from every ship in the harbor meaning ‘Return to Ship’.  Well, we didn’t want to, so we hung out until it became uncomfortable since everyone knew we were supposed to go back to our ship.  We figured the ship had surely sailed by now so we checked into the British Navy’s China Fleet Club and got cots for the night.

 
 

 

China Fleet Club

We had no more got to sleep than a chief from the ship came in and roused us.  Seems they checked with the China Fleet Club or maybe the club ratted us out, I don’t know which.  Anyway, we made it across the harbor in the midst of the typhoon in a flat-bottomed landing craft and, as punishment, I was assigned visual watch on the bridge all night taking bearings to make sure we didn’t drag anchor.  Well, we did drag anchor, we had anchors for and aft, but didn’t get close enough to Stonecutter’s Island to pose a danger.  I was soaked from the first minute and spent the whole night taking sightings on beacons to keep track of where we were.  I don’t know why the ship didn’t put out to sea like it should have during a typhoon. 

Anyway, that was the most eventful trip I made to WestPac.  We were scheduled to go into drydock at Todd Shipyards in China Basin in San Francisco and we eventually set sail for home.  On the way across, which took us quite awhile since our normal speed was something less than 15 knots, a couple friends and I were staring at the ocean from the bridge after the evening meal and saw a periscope not far away and tracking along at about our course and speed.  We reported it to the Officer of the Deck and all hell broke loose.  He reported it to the captain who notified the Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet (CincPacFlt)  and we were instructed to sit on the submarine until a task group could reach us from near San Diego.  That was somewhat ridiculous since the only sonar we had was a fathometer to tell us the depth of the ocean.  But we spent a couple of days steaming around in circles from where we saw the periscope until the task group got there.  No, they didn’t find anything and I think that just illustrates that there are many different levels of proficiency in the military.  The common denominator is pretty low. 

 

The three years I spent in the navy and on the Mispillion I would not trade for anything and I think it was the best decision I could have made at the time.  My father-in-law Joe spent less than three years in the Army at the end of WWII and to hear him talk, it was the most interesting and exciting time of his life.  Well, I can understand that.

 

 

Aberdeen harbor

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