Thoughts, observations, sea stories and ideas from a former sailor and lifelong rancher
Wednesday, October 30, 2019
When you read a title like that you know a bullshit excuse is in the offing. This (or simply "a") post should have been scheduled to publish at 0300 local. But since there wasn't one to schedule, and since I didn't get one hammered out before sundown, this post will barely be a counter for October 30, 2019.
The last couple of days were pretty crappy weather-wise. Cold, snowy, blowy.
Today was colder but the skies were mostly clear and blue and there was lots of shine. It was a touch breezy but not too bad. All in all a very nice day.
I almost got creamed from behind several times yesterday and the day before. Dumb drivers who don't grok ice and visibility and stuff like that.
Nevertheless, those near misses put me in mind of a different near miss under similar conditions a couple of years ago. That one has an amusing story lurking inside, so I spent some time writing that today, instead of this. Go figure.
Yesterday I ventured over to the big city to see the doc about my nerve pain. His message was that it's time to bite the bullet and do surgery. So that'll be in the offing sooner rather than later, once the insurance people agree on an appropriate bribe.
In the meantime, I'll have more steroid injections, probably next week.
On the one hand all of this is quite a hassle and a major pain in the arse. On the other hand, I'm lucky enough to live in a time and be in a situation where modern medicine can do amazing stuff for me.
Today started with the usual unexpected problem. When I went to add water to the chickens heated waterer, the damme thing was frozen solid. Turns out that the switch on the power strip the waterer is plugged in to was turned On Full Force.
Now it was on when I shut the birds up last night, but off this morning. Mom had been in there earlier in the morning but she didn't turn it off. There were no unaccounted-for tracks in the snow. So the chickens did it, though I can't see how.
Or maybe aliens. Who knows. I told the chickens as I tucked them in tonight that if the waterer is switched off again in the morning someone (meaning some chicken, a message I'm sure they understood) is gonna get a boot in the ass. I mean the damme birds are living in a chicken mahal. Little consideration?
Finally, and just to share my misery, several of my brothers were whining about being all old and creaky and how they can't take the cold no mo'.
Oh, before I forget. Juvat asked the other day about keeping cattle watered when the tanks freeze over. There is another way.
Monday, October 28, 2019
So we've had and are having the first substantial cold event of the season.
Had about an inch of snow overnight as well.
Lots of people schlepping around moaning today.
I've got a goofy smile on my face. I'm not too crippled to shovel snow and do chores.
Even though cold, snow, and ice are tough to deal with and make this the season of hard living...
I try very hard (and sometimes succeed) to take Henry David Thoreau's advice to heart.
“Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
It's a bit like "suck it up and drive on."
I was forged in the fire of shitty days and ceaseless toil and frequent disappointment flavored with occasional bitter tears.
All part of the adventure.
For some astonishing reason my Dad is very close to me today. There's exactly zero doubt that he's walking with me.
Sunday, October 27, 2019
Before the storm and psychosis
Might as well get the second bit out of the way first. I've spent the entire day convinced that it's Sunday. Now as you read this, if you read it on the day I plan to schedule it for posting, it is indeed Sunday. As I write this, however, it's very much Saturday, has been all day, and will continue so to be until midnight.
Yeah, I don't know.
Frickin' clues everywhere too. That is to say, everywhere I looked there was stuff to tell me it's Saturday. One of the biggest clues was that my Mom was watching the Nebraska game, and those are almost exclusively on Saturday. Never on Sunday, because NFL. And of course the Huskers got beat by the Hosers. I mean Hoosiers. At home. Well, it took fifteen years to destroy the program, not even Scott Frost can fix that firetrucking train wreck in only two years.
Anyway, I'm either losing it, or I'm not. Doesn't matter either way, I'm sure I'll be very happy if I go full dane bamage.
Beautiful day today. Warm and sunny this morning, a bit breezy this afternoon. I got a good bit of work done; mended some fence mostly but other tinkering bits that needed doing.
I also did some vehicular ambush drills. No pics though, sorry 'bout that. When I'm ready for a drill -- as I am because I'm both the one running the drill and the one executing the drill -- I can uncase the M-4, load, and get aimed fire down in about 10 seconds. Which isn't very good, but at least I'm working the drills and slowly improving.
One interesting thing I noticed today was that when I'm firing the M-4 from inside the vehicle the muzzle blast blows trim off the side of the pickup. It's a good thing to know.
One thing I could use is someone to unexpectedly throw these ambush drills at me. Hey I know, I'll get a caddy! You know, someone to carry my rifles around for me and provide valuable tips and advice. A hot young chick caddy would be perfect. Maybe I'm not losing it after all.
And of course there's the threat of a big snow storm moving in.
Well, it's that time of the year.
Nice morning to be a very low-stress cow.
My farmer friend in Herefordshire is a bit depressed about all the rain they're having.
Here's what the river Wye on Hay looked like last year. (I always want to say "Wye on Rye.")
This lifted his spirits though. Looks like there are American-style dummies in Blighty, too!
I'm hoping that tomorrow, which will be Sunday and by all predictions will be nasty weather wise, will provide an opportunity for some writing.
Saturday, October 26, 2019
Yesterday I got hammered.
And no, not the fun kind of hammered.
Though truth be known, it's been well over 20 years since I've had a good time overindulging with adult beverages. And as I recall, it wasn't much fun back then.
So I'll have to say I prefer the alternative of getting hammered with unanticipated work.
There was a water tank to patch,
fence to mend, a metal roll-off to haul away, an ancient pickup truck to send to the bone yard, newly-fallen limbs to shift,
It was one of those days when my fitness watch, which is somehow cleverly connected to my
It's kind of strange, frightening, and weird all at once, that symbiosis between
There I was, deep in the bowels of the Bobcat, in the midst of changing oil. I'm actually underneath the thing, trying to turn the oil filter off, half-covered in hot, used motor oil, when the watch vibrates. I glance at the watch face, see the gist of the message and know I should respond immediately, so from under the bobcat I'm suddenly turning a filter wrench with one hand and texting through an only partially oily rag with the other. And it worked! So I'm proud of myself on the one hand, but fear for my soul on the other. The Zeitgeist of 2019 is nothing like I anticipated.
Possibly it's needless to say, but I did exactly zero writing yesterday. And today doesn't look much better, though we'll see. The weather guessers predict arrival of a horrific thing called a snow storm later in the day, so I'll be rather busy finally completing put-off preparations.
Still and all, some of you will perhaps get my message in an electronic bottle and know I'm thinking of you and hope you are all well.
Friday, October 25, 2019
Pretty day here today. Clear and sunny with no wind at all. Extremely nice as the last several days have been windy as hell. A tad cool with temps only touching 40, but that's lovely when the wind has gone missing.
Chickens weren't even trying to take turns laying eggs.
I think they liked the weather.
Here's a fun video of what happens when a chicken catches a mouse.
Yesterday I had a sudden increase in nerve pain. Don't know what the deal is. Doubt it's anything more than a painful inconvenience, but I had to spend several hours doctorin' today, as the oldsters 'round these parts say.
Which subtracted hours from my planned ritin' sked-yool. I'm presently in the middle of penning a minuscule magnum opus, which I've not yet finished and unfortunately, therefore, is not the post you are presently perusing.
The following, however, are a selection of unique audio-visual experiences which may get you in the mood for tomorrow's post. So to speak.
Just for fun, here's a video (poor quality) of a Sea King losing the tail rotor and crashing on the flight deck of a destroyer. Note how quickly the pig spins out of control. The pilot immediately dumps the collective to autorotate, just as we did in the mishap I wrote about the other day. In a very real sense we were fortunate we dumped it in the trees as they slowed and even stopped most of the spin. If the video description is correct all seven aboard this helo survived.
More jff, the kids of my Oceana SAR boyz! Oceana Air Show 2004. Twenty years before this (35 years ago in 2019) we not only hoisted the swimmer, we did a neat demo of how to simultaneously hoist a stokes liter and medical attendant, featuring the word's most handsomest and most(ly) fearless corpsman. Then while the crowd was watching Bob Hoover in his Shrike Commander we slung an old Opel Kadet. When Bob was done with his bit we dropped the car from 5,000 AGL, landed smack in the grass a few hundred yards in front of crowd center. Poof! What a show!
Be sure to tune in tomorrow. Same Bat-time, same Bat-blog.
Thursday, October 24, 2019
Cow pies that is. Greenish-brownish gold. Grasslands tea, uh, leaves. Yeah, that's it. Tea leaves.
A kind reader recently proposed that I write about real stuff in the real world rather than scyfye. Specifically, he mentioned cowpies. And since cowpies are actually quite a fascinating real world subject, here we go.
Cattle (cows henceforth, as I stipulate that while "cows" are female cattle, cattle themselves are commonly referred to in the aggregate as "cows," even by cattlemen) eat grass almost exclusively. Even when in confinement for feeding in preparation for slaughter, most of the cow diet is grass in the form of hay, with only a couple of percent of high energy input coming from, typically, corn. And corn itself is the seed of a grass. Yes, it's true, and a somewhat little known fact, corn (more commonly maize most places on the planet) is a grass. So are wheat, barley, rye, sorghum, millet, etc. Butt I digress.
Now you and I and most other carnivores and omnivores can't eat grass almost exclusively. Not if we want to survive and not starve to death. Oh, we can eat grass and even derive a tiny bit of nutrition from it, but we can't derive anything approaching adequate nutrition from grass.
If you've ever chewed on a piece of green grass you've tasted a bit of sweetness. That sweetness comes from the liquid flowing through the grass plant and from the liquid contained in the cells which we've liberated via mastication. But that little touch of sweet is almost useless to us as a foodstuff. More than 99.999 percent of the nutrients in grass are locked up in plant cellulose, and we cannot digest cellulose. We can eat grass, and it'll pass through our gut just fine, but we'll get essentially zero nutrition from it.
Cows, on the other hand, can digest cellulose. Or more properly, cows and their symbiotic gut bacteria can digest cellulose, and as a team the cow and the bugs can then access and utilize the nutrients unlocked in the digestive process. Cool, huh?
And when the grass passes through the cow in the form of manure, the manure breaks down and returns to the soil a great many of the nutrients the cow "borrowed" from the soil to make more cow stuff.
There's a circle of life going on there, and it's not just cows, either. Pretty much all herbivores fertilize the soil. As do all carnivores and all omnivores, including humans. Yes, I know that we first-worlders rarely shit in the woods. That's only because we've outsourced the delivery to our municipal waste handling systems though.
|Good for rollin' in, too!|
Here's how the whole life on planet Earth thing works. It all needs energy to exist, and all of that energy comes from a star. Ninety-nine point nine-nine-nine (and many more nine-nine-nine's than that) percent of the planet's life gets the energy it needs from Sol -- the sun. A very tiny fraction of life, microbes living deep beneath the surface, seem likely to derive their energy from radioactive elements down there. All of those radioactive elements came from a star that exploded long before our own sun formed.
So all life on this planet gets the energy it needs to exist from stars, nearly all of it from the sun. That is THE basic fundamental of life.
On the landmass of earth, plants grow. They need building blocks to make plant stuff and they need energy. You know where the energy comes from. The plants convert sunlight into plant energy via photosynthesis. With that energy they can build and fuel plant cells by assembling building blocks. The building blocks are mostly hydrocarbons, assembled from the hydrogen in water (rain and snow) taken up from the soil and from carbon taken in from the air. The plants also need micro-nutrients, most of which are dissolved in the water the plants take up from the soil.
Herbivores eat the plants, and that's where herbivores -- be they mammal, reptile, bird, insect, or microbe -- get the energy they need to function as well as the building blocks and micro-nutrients they need.
Carnivores -- meat eaters -- kill and consume herbivores, and it is from the flesh of prey that they get all the energy and building block stuff they need to exist, grow, and reproduce.
Some life is omnivorous. Humans, for example. Omnivorous life derives energy and building blocks from both plants and animals.
The bottom line reality of life is that nearly every organism on the planet gets its energy directly or indirectly from the sun, and everything else, directly or indirectly, from water and air. The very few exceptions, so far as we can tell, get the energy they need from radioactives, which came from a different star, and everything else from water and air.
While we're on the topic, all of the non-energy stuff plants and animals require to function -- all the chemical building blocks including water and carbon and micro-nutrients -- every bit of that also came from long ago exploded stars.
This is also true for all life in the oceans.
All life on the planet is star stuff.
There are fundamental facts in this universe which do not change regardless of what humans do or say. Knowledge of this reality is important to think about and understand because it provides vital scale, context, and perspective.
Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Corpsman Chronicles XXVIII: My first medevac
Don't remember a thing.
Stop back tomorrow for more thrilling adventures.
|If you think that E-2 copilot looks like Doug Kirklass, you might be onto something.|
Well, of course that's not exactly true. Close though.
It was the first month of my first deployment and I was a complete noob. I hadn't even found the bowling alley on the boat. I could barely get to chow and back by myself. I was a trained swimmer and aircrewman -- I'd been to and successfully completed the schools -- but I was not yet rated. I was a hospital corpsman and an aviation medicine technician but I wasn't yet even an EMT. My initial medical department job was warming a chair in medical records. I had a lot of training, and it was good training. What I needed was experience, seasoning, more training, and a clue. I was going to get a heaping shitload of all four over the next eight months or so, but I was starting off pretty slow and at this point I knew fuck-all about anything.
I'd met and tried to talk to the HM1 who was the designated medevac dude for the department. He basically told me not to bother him, not to expect to get any medevacs, and not to expect any introductions to the Helo Bubbas.
So I was surprised when the flight surgeon yanked me out of medical records one morning and told me to head up to the helo squadron paraloft to draw some flight gear because there'd be a medevac in a couple of hours and I was it.
I didn't have the faintest idea where the paraloft might be. I still needed an escort to lead me by the hand to my squadron spaces. I fessed up and the flight surgeon took pity on me. He delivered me to the helo squadron ready room and the Crew Chief who would be flying the medevac showed me where the paraloft was, greased the skids for me, and ended up taking me under his wing a bit. He was an ADC -- a Chief Petty Officer -- and a Vietnam guy who'd really been there and done that.
The first thing I found out that day was that I liked the helo squadron a hell of a lot more than medical!
Anyway, We were operating east of Sicily and were quite far out, just about as far as a
Sea King could fly without refueling. The boat was heading that way at a good clip, so after we dropped the patient and refueled returning to the boat would would take 90 minutes less than the trip to Sig -- NAS Sigonella, near Catania.
I don't remember much about the patient, except that he was enlisted and ambulatory, and it seems like he was going to have some kind of surgery that they didn't want to do on the boat. I was really just a hand-holder and paperwork carrier.
The mission itself was pure delight. The whole crew was friendly and welcoming. They started me off on the right foot with my fleet helo training. I learned a hell of a lot that day. I'm afraid I neglected the shit out of the patient.
We landed at Sig and it seems like we left the patient at Air Ops waiting for a ride to show up from the Naval Hospital. As a crew we hit the Air Ops Cafe for real (non-aircraft carrier) cheeseburgers. I hadn't thought to bring money but the Chief paid for my meal. "The first rule of naval aviation," he said, "is always have plenty of cash." I took the lesson to heart and I don't think I ever flew again without at least a c-note in my billfold.
I was starting to get sleepy as we finished our burgers and the Chief recommended (and bought for me) a thing called espresso. A triple espresso to be exact. It was apparently a Sicilian beverage, highly valued by the locals and by the Chief himself. "It'll wake you right up," he said,"and it won't make you piss." The Chief wasn't sleepy, otherwise he'd have ordered one for himself. Or that was the impression I got, although I'm not sure he ever actually said those words.
So the espresso was like hot, burnt mud. I liked coffee, but this was nuclear coffee. It was horrible! But of course I couldn't appear to be ungrateful, or even worse look like a pussy, so I downed it in a couple of swallows. Five minutes later I realized that I really liked the stuff. My eyes were still watering from the incredibly strong taste, but sleepy was a thing of the distant past. I was wired, baby!
When we landed back aboard I was a very different sailor. I'd accomplished some good stuff, met some great folks and learned a lot, and had begun to grow some serious confidence, which was something I'd been struggling to find since reporting aboard. I was still a noob and I knew it, but the day's festivities had opened my eyes and made me realize that I'd be able to hack this fleet shit. As long as I was willing to work hard and persevere. And it wouldn't hurt if there was espresso from time to time.
I was absolutely unable to sleep that night though.
The thing that prompted this post was sharing a triple shot of espresso today with a fellow veteran. Although he was Air Force, the fellow knows his way around the ol' eye-talian coffee, too.
It was a good day.
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
Corpsman Chronicles XXVII: With eight lives left the Phrog looks good!
The new pilot was a real eager beaver. Ensign, just up from Pensacola. He seemed like a happy guy, curious and interested in everything.
But he was one of those cats who is just too eager. From across the flight line you could see him vibrating like banjo string.
He tried hard. He really did. But he tried too hard. Everything he touched turned instantly to shit. We said he had the feces touch.
Today he was having a bad day. Had to make a head call as we were manning up. He sprinted out to the aircraft after we'd fired up and engaged the rotors.
Wasn't wearing his LPA/SV2 (survival vest). Had his helmet on though. Good thinking. Had to go fetch his vest from the hangar. He disappeared from sight. Surely he hadn't...
WHACK! The aircraft jerked and shuddered and began shaking like a dog shittin' peach pits.
Directly behind the aircraft, laying face up in a pool of blood, you know who.
Shut it down. "Go check him Doc." Firetruck. Got a hangover, I'll puke for sure.
YGTBSM. Little fucker is still alive! Hell of a scalp gash though.
He went somewhere else after he recovered. CH-46's I think. No tail rotor.
Monday, October 21, 2019
Corpsman Chronicles XXVI: The Battle of Blogger Dank
Once upon a time in the west (several meanings of west here) I had an interesting conversation about World War One naval battles. The title of this post is obviously a play on words regarding the name of one of those battles, the Battle of Dogger Bank, though as I recall the conversation revolved specifically around the Battle of Jutland. But perhaps you see what I did and why.
First the strenger Vortrag, or argumentum ad intellectum pertinens poneretur. You needn't peruse the lecture; you may safely skip down to the next row of octotherps (crosshatches). No I will not call them by that other name.
Only at your peril may you trust the message of any particular human making authoritative pronouncements. Particularly if they throw out a bunch of high-sounding foreign phrases or big scientifical-sounding words. Do not trust the message on the strength of your perception of the speaker's authority or expertise!
"Well of course," the generic reader might say. "Common sense. I never do that."
Yet the majority of first-world humans do exactly that, almost all the time.
If you dig into the literature and carefully read sound, science-based papers on human behavior, you'll find that the evidence shows most first-world humans are convinced they are smart enough to assess the validity of a verbal pronouncement based solely on the base pronouncement and without assessing the actual evidence backing the argument.
All humans who are not fundamentally cognitively flawed have an enormous capacity to be smart. Almost all first-world humans spend almost all of their thinking time in the mode of the good subjects of the naked emperor.
None of this makes first-world humans bad. Nevertheless, most first-world humans have trained themselves to -- when it comes to thinking (and to steal a phrase from the greatest president of all time) -- behave stupidly.
In the first world, where two or more millennia of Western thought provide the basis for civilization, the burden of maintaining society falls directly upon the individual. Today most first-worlders believe this not at all. "I am so small and civilization is so large..." To modern thought the proposition seems absurdly paradoxical. Nevertheless, the alternative is a state of being which is fundamentally and profoundly paradoxical.
How to fix the world then? To put it bluntly and in good old sailor talk, fuck the world. Unfuck yourself before you fix the world. That's the only way you can understand the problem and formulate a strategy which is helpful rather than harmful.
It's a lot of work though. And we first-worlders really aren't into that whole work thing.
Now why would anyone trust this argument?
On with the show.
Summer of 1986. And into the fall of 1986. USS Boat and the Boat Battlegroup had ventured across the pond to firetruck with the Soviets in a NATO exercise called Northern Wedding. It was kind of a big deal, and from my perspective I was getting full measure of that sailor stuff I so enjoyed.
Before the deployment had even really begun, I drew a medevac which I wrote about previously.
Northern Wedding was a great deal of fun as far as I was concerned. It was also a great deal of work. I did a lot of flying and got to learn and practice more ASW than I'd done in the previous six years combined. I continued to work mostly nights on the roof, and it was sometimes quite unpleasant up there what with steaming around north of the Arctic Circle. It seemed I was always either in a wet suit for flyin' or foul weather gear for roof-rattin'. The pace of operations kept most of the crew busy as hell, and that's the kind of busy that can really blow the cobs out. It was great.
Now the thing that prompted this edition of a self-indulgent trip down memory lane is that when I checked over at Sarge's place the other day, there was a big, beautiful picture of SMS Seydlitz, just beat to shit and in some peril of sinking at the pier following the Battle of Jutland 103 years ago (can that be right?).
|Source: Sarge's Place.|
The image snapped me instantly back to Northern Wedding and the port of Wilhelmshaven, which was then located in West Germany. I understand they've since relocated the place and I've no idea what country it's parked in these days. Anyway, I stood on that very pier away back in 1986, and believe it or not, looking at that very image.
Before I get to that, let me do this.
I flew another medevac on the first or second day of the exercise. I remember exactly zero details of the patient I transported or of his malady or injury. Given that fact I suppose it was relatively minor, though I'm sure it was a big deal to the patient. Anyway, I offloaded said patient at the Royal Norwegian Air Force Base at Stavanger.
Even then it was a joint-use facility, a fighter/recon/maritime patrol base which also hosted rotating NATO air assets (99.9 percent U.S. and U.K.), as well as a modern civilian international(ish) airport. And mostly because Norway, RNAFB Stavanger was actually located at Sola, 10-15 miles from Stavanger. Foreigners. Hmmph.
No, actually I jest. It was only a curiosity in the Land Where No One Is Named Quisling Evermore, and it didn't matter where we deposited the medevac patient, so long as it was the "right" place. And it must have been that place because to the best of my recollection I never got rang up for misplacing the fellow.
However I do remember that the weather, which was a little not so bad when we launched in the early evening, was absolute dogshit by the time we landed. It was such a howling gale they stuffed us in a hangar rather than risk losing a dozen ramp rats trying to tie the big Sea King down on the transient line. Which meant we'd have to RON!
The next morning we hit the Norwegian Officers Mess for breakfast. As far as they knew we were five Flaggoffiserer, or at least a handful of korporaler. No one was about to care anyway, we were just another bunch of branbill-ing amerikanerne. Breakfast was a buffet, and there were platters heaped high with fried eggs and toasted black bread. And herring prepared at least 31 ways, including a tasty fermented concoction with onions, mint, and sjokoladebiter. It was really quite a good breakfast. For certain values of good. And certain values of breakfast.
There was a big crowd and only a single fellow taking money at a cash register, so there was a line. I went off to hit the head and when I returned the rest of the crew had made it past the money taker. When it was my turn I reached deep into my flight suit chest pocket for some of the dollars I'd turned into Kroner the night before. The kassaapparat gnome didn't speak American and I didn't habla Norsk, so I just held out a fistful of shiny coins. He pulled out several, then quickly cast a shifty-eyed glance around before pulling out several more of the biggest, shiniest ones.
Later when I asked the other guys what they'd paid for breakfast they weren't sure but shared similar observations. None of us spoke the language or knew how the money worked, so we had no idea how much we'd spent. When we got back to the ship we did some counting, adding, subtracting, and checking with both mom and a math teacher. All together the five of us had paid about $190 for breakfast. We were pissed of course but you had to see the humor in getting screwed by a major (ahem) NATO medsammensvoren for a pile of stinky fish and cold fried eggs. It's not just a job, it's an Adventure!
I hope that wasn't too much goggleNorsk and that you understand I'm being kaustisk og ironisk. The Norwegians were in fact very valuable partners. In my personal experience though, they tended to be, from my 1986 American perspective, insular, standoffish, and cranky. Obviously I didn't meet every single one. No doubt there were a great many who were just rude. The girls were quite Scandinavian though, so there's that.
The Norwegians I know and love today tell me that if I think they're bad, I should check out the Finns. I actually treasure the Finns I know, which probably speaks to the nature and depth of my pathology. YMMV.
Okay, back to Wilhelmshaven. We'd been operating hard. I was in that exhausted state where I kept saying "bring it on" but also kept tripping over knee-knockers and bumping my head. The world had gone as chewy as saltwater taffy. I existed in the moment and cherished each moment, including our night check Flight Deck Battle Dressing Station (FDBDS) ceremony of consuming a single warm beer at the beginning of our watch.
It was actually Egyptian Coca-Cola. Which should inform the reader of how goofy-tired we all were.
Anyway, we pulled into Wilhelmshaven, anchoring out as was always the case.
To my pleasure, I drew Beach Guard for the duration of the port visit.
As far as I was concerned, Beach Guard was a treasure, one of the few gold-plated really good deals provided by an unsuspecting navy.
Beach Guard duty meant being a member of the Beach Detachment (Beach Det) which was the formal and administrative presence of the command ashore whenever the ship was in a foreign port. The Beach Det was always housed in a structure (sometimes temporary) hard by Fleet Landing, which was the place where the Carrier's liberty boats disgorged and retrieved the crew going ashore for liberty.
At the Beach Det "shack" there was always a crew on duty, 24/7. There was a Beach Det Officer, who was essentially the OOD or Officer of the Deck/Day ashore. There was a Petty Officer of the Watch, usually a First Class/E-6, and a watch section consisting of (usually) an E-4 or Third Class Petty Officer and a couple of E-3's, who were variously Seamen, Enginemen, or Airmen, depending on whether their rating was Deck, Engineering, or Aviation. The shack always had tables and chairs, a radio for comms with the ship, several big-assed coffee pots and a half-dozen 30 pound cans of coffee, a bunch of stokes stretchers and folding liters, bales of gray wool blankets, and a great big cruise box of medical equipment and supplies.
At Wilhelmshaven the Beach Det shack was located in what appeared to me to be a temporary (perhaps WWII-built) frame structure. It was a single story and set back from the water only a few dozen yards to the south-southwest of fleet landing.
|Red circles are Beach Det shack left and fleet landing right. The frigate wasn't there in '86, but there was a Can parked a bit farther to the left.|
I thought the building likely to have been an administrative office at one time. It featured three entrance doors, each with a small concrete stoop or porch; each door opened on to a large front room with two smaller rooms and a head in back. The three sets of rooms were each isolated from the others -- there were no connecting doors or passageways. Beach Det had the run of the building and set up in the center section. The section farthest from fleet landing was used for Shore Patrol mustering and other SP business. The section nearest fleet landing was reserved for medical and napping. Believe it or not, some of the Beach Det sailors got tired during their marathon eight-hour watches. I tended to spend my watches mainly in the center section with everyone else and the coffee. I had no desire to isolate myself in aseptic splendor and had no need to hang out with the medical gear unless there was a patient involved who required my attention.
|The Beach Det Shack as it looks today(ish). They've changed it a bit but it's really as I remember, except for the wheelchair ramp or whatever it is on the right.|
The Beach Det roster also always included a couple of MDR's, or Medical Department Representatives. The MDR's were usually experienced corpsmen with demonstrated medical skills as well as demonstrated ability to think on their feet, make sound decisions, and work well with both the ship's command structure and foreign authorities. It's actually a somewhat rare skill set in many medical departments, in part because medical tends to be somewhat cloistered and specialized and just a little bit separate from the rest of the command's divisions and departments. Also, the tooth-to-tail ratio in medical resembles the Army's tooth-to-tail ratio. In the Army, relatively few shooters or infantry (teeth) are backed up by relatively very many support personnel (tail). In medical, very few people do hands-on patient care stuff; these are supported by very many techs, clerks, and fetchers. Not everyone in medical had the qualifications, and this is why there were seldom (never in my experience) more than two corpsmen assigned to Beach Guard.
In general, a carrier's Beach Det was massive, because the entire group, from the Beach Det Officers down to the most junior slick-sleeves, rotated in eight hour watches. Rather than rotate back and forth from the boat, the entire party was almost always housed in a hotel, which was usually but not always located close to Fleet Landing. If the hotel wasn't within easy walking distance, vehicles would be rented and drivers would be added to the Beach Det roster. Beach Det could be rather a large circus. While all those dozens of sailors rotated watches, usually standing only one watch per day and with at least one day in three entirely free during any particular port visit, the corpsmen were port and starboard, 24 hours on and 24 hours off. Which was great, because if you do the math, that's every other day off, baby!
You might wonder why all the fuss about a presence ashore, and it's simply this. The boat is out there, swinging on the hook. Many of the crew are here, in a foreign port. When things happen ashore involving the ship's personnel -- good or bad -- there must be someone available ashore who can immediately represent the command in a face-to-face setting. It's really pretty darned important, though I tended to view my part exclusively through the lens of "good deal for me-me-ME."
And speaking of ME, what's all this description and setting the stage shit? This is all about ME, innit?
As the senior MDR (and dickhead) I got to pick which days I was on and which days I was off. Well, more precisely, I got to pick whether I stood duty the first day or not, and everything flowed from that. We'd be in Wilhelmshaven for eight days. If I picked day one, I'd work 1,3,5, and 7. The other guy would catch 2, 4, 6. and 8. The first and last days would be shorter than the rest, with the day one duty commencing usually not earlier than late morning and day eight duty ending usually not much after midnight. So it was pretty much a wash. The deciding factor was that it seemed like the most interesting stuff happened on the first day, and I had a desire to be present when serious medical stuff was most likely to go down. I always felt like I was the most qualified and had the best ability to handle serious medical shit. Whether it was true or not, that's how I saw it and I picked my watches accordingly. Though I never let an inflamed sense of duty keep me from charging headlong into liberty on my days "off!" Anyway, I picked "on" for day one (and therefore three, five, and seven, just to beat a dead horse).
So day one was cool. As usual, a few intoxicated, semi-conscious, and vomit-covered amateur sailors were being returned to fleet landing within 90 minutes of arrival. Things got more interesting after the sun went down, but not too interesting. There were a lot of inebriated sailors flowing back to the boat, but they were almost exclusively happy drunks who'd had a grand time of liberty. As I recall the overnight was really quite boring.
As the sun came up I was sleepy as hell and doing touch-n-goes over my forty-leventh cup of coffee. I got up and announced an excursion to stretch my legs. Outside I turned right and began to walk briskly down the roadway fronting the pier. The third building I came to, on my right as I walked, was a larger two-story building which had a neat sign in front that said something in German which made me think it might be a museum.
|The building in question is now a parking lot (red circle to the left). The small building to the far right with a red circle on it is the Beach Det shack.|
I walked over to check but the door was locked. Well, it was early in the morning. I cupped my hands to a window glass and peered inside. What I saw looked very much like it could be the displays of a German Navy museum. There were some ensigns, pennants, and lots of navalish pictures hanging on the walls. I resolved to come back later when the museum was open. When that would be I had no idea, and I didn't see anything like an hours of operation sign, either on the front door or on the big sign out front. I was sure I could ask around and find out. Probably.
I continued my walk until I reached the locks that allowed passage into the inner basin of the naval harbor, then turned and retraced my steps. This time I paid more attention to the German destroyer, now on my right, parked at the pier just down from the Beach Det shack. It was a sleek looking vessel, in an odd shade of gray to my eye, with gun mounts fore and aft, what I took to be torpedo tubes amidships, and something that might be a missile launcher aft.
|Locks to the left, large red circle. Smaller red circles along the pier are, from left to right, location of the destroyer, museum building, Beach Det shack.|
As I came abreast of the destroyer's deckhouse I noticed a German officer standing out on the bridge wing looking at me. He waved, and I fired off a snappy salute. I was in uniform after all. Dress Blues and looking firetrucking sharp if I say so myself. The fellow returned my salute and I continued on my way.
At 0800 I was properly relieved, so I made my way to the hotel and crashed. In the evening I went out walking and took in some sights.
I ran into some squadron buddies and we hit a likely looking restaurant for dinner. Inside I met and was smitten by a gorgeous waitress and secured a tour guide/dinner date for two evenings hence. This served to reinforce to my fellow squadron members the fact that Doc was something of a superman and an international player par excellence. Well and good, but I'd actually surprised the hell out of myself.
I'll touch on that experience another time. The hour grows late and I want to send this to scheduling and hit the rack. And I haven't even approached the whole Seydlitz story! But here we go.
The next morning after relieving my fellow Beach Guard corpsman the Bundesmarine equivalent of the Naval Base's Command Duty Officer stopped by while making his morning rounds. I wasn't paying much attention as he exchanged pleasantries with the duty officer. That was officer shit and had nothing to do with me. However, the two naval officers, one American and the other German, stepped over to where I was busy reading my partner's overnight notes in the logbook. I glanced up, then shot to my feet.
"Petty Officer Evertson is our Beach Det Corpsman," he said to the German officer, before turning to me. "This is Fregatten-Kapitan (some German-sounding name), Doc."
"Pleased to meet you, Sir," I said as we shook hands.
He smiled warmly and asked if I was interested in a tour of the base's naval museum. His English was accented but he was easy to understand. The penny dropped.
"Ah, yesterday morning!" I said. We had exchanged salutes. "Yes, I'd very much like to visit your museum. When does it open?"
As it turned out, the museum was open only by appointment, but the Fregatten-Kapitan had some time to spare and would be pleased to give me a tour. I was genuinely honored and took him up on the offer.
"Just three buildings down on the right, Lieutenant," I said.
"I'll send a runner if we need you, Doc," he said. "Enjoy!"
I had assumed the Fregatten-Kapitan was a, well, Captain-Kapitan, or equivalent to an O-6. He was actually, however, nobbut a lowly Hinge, or Lieutenant Commander/O-4. He gave me a hell of a tour though, including the part when he lifted a framed picture off the bulkhead, image identical or very closely related to the image of SMS Seydlitz above, and walked me and the heavy picture out onto the pier to show me exactly where the ship had tied up after Jutland way back in 1916. At that time 1916 was a mere 70 years in the past.
|Red circle marks the spot where Seydlitz tied up in 1916 and where a German Navy Hinge and I stood 70 years later. The other red circles are, from left to right, site of the former museum building, Beach Det shack, fleet landing.|
One thing I found very odd at the time was that there was exactly zero information or displays in the museum regarding WWII. I'm afraid I pestered the poor Fregatten-Kapitan on the subject, which may be why he pulled the picture off the wall and dragged me out on the pier -- to shut me up! I had no idea at the time how denazification had shaped post-war Germany, and I could be pretty tone deaf in my curiosity.
So that's pretty much it for this part of the story of my visit to Bill's Towne, but I should share the story of the beautiful German girl with you kind readers. I'll do that in the near future.
If I don't get abducted by aliens.
Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)