The draft was in effect so I decided to ‘join’ rather than be pulled out of school. The day I was sworn in, President Nixon ended the draft! My dad had been in World War II, I remember when asking him but he always refused to talk about it. I took service day by day, the war in Vietnam was coming to an end. I liked being in the navy, there were no worries. For boot camp, I went to the US Naval Station Rosie Roads in Puerto Rico, similar climate to here. Then transferred to a naval ammunitions facility where I was a cook-striker. It reminded me of McHale’s Navy, we were so far away. We worked five and two which meant five days on and then two days the next week. I was in charge of preparing the food, cooking and serving and collecting the money for it. I cooked for 15-20 people until marines came on the island and then it would jump to 100. I did it all by myself. My best memory of that time were the local girls, they were very friendly and nice. Soon my two years were up and they asked me what I wanted to do….I said go fishing! So I re-enlisted for four years. I was assigned to the USS Holland in Holy Lock, Scotland for two years, but only went fishing once! Then I caught the USS Portland in Naples, Italy. I cruised the Mediterranean as a baker for about 600 men. The USS Portland was a dock landing ship, referred to as an LSD, which meant marines came onboard with tanks and other cargo and made beach landings.
On our way back to home port in Virginia we went through the Bermuda Triangle, that’s where they say strange things happen. And they do! I was in the galley and all the pots and pans were flying off the shelves. I went topside thinking we must have some bad seas, but it was completely calm! Back downstairs the pots started flying around again. This went on for four hours!
After that I was assigned to Mayport, Florida and worked for Special Services which was like a gym. It was like a regular 9-5 job with no worries at all. One time as Junior Officer on deck, a hurricane blew through. All the phone lines were down so I hadto call the electricians in to get power back and everyone else who could help out.
I was moved onto a ‘pre-comm’ on the Fahrion, an FFG22. It was her maiden voyage. I was the galley supervisor. Eventually she was commissioned in January of 1982 in Seattle, Washington. We had to go back around through the Panama Canal to get back to Mayport, Florida. It was the first FFG to complete an underway replenishment where another ship comes alongside, they shoot cables across and then use the line to bring food and supplies across.
The ship was repositioned to the Mediterranean. Once the seas were so rough we had to strap ourselves into the bunks so we wouldn’t fall out. I was one of about 30 men, out of 200, that didn’t get sick! We were rocking and rolling!
We were sent to the coast of Beirut after terrorists blew up the marine barracks. They drove through the gates and killed hundreds of marines at the base there. We were there for support offshore, if warranted.
We continued our mission in the Mediterranean. I was on the first FFG to stay at sea 90 days straight! All through holidays; Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years….no mail, nothing! We returned to Mayport where I received an assignment to NATO headquarters in Naples, Italy. The day after I arrived in Naples, the local employees went on strike. They piled up tires at the front gate and set them on fire. I wondered what I got myself into! It went right back to normal the next day. The summertime was the best time there. It seemed like every month we had a three day weekend. I did two years there which went by quickly.
Then I was assigned to the USS San Bernadino LST #1189 in Sasebo, Japan, another marine transporter. That was a great tour! We did a ‘southpack’ cruise and visited Indonesia, Bali, Thailand and crossed the equator. Until you cross the equator in the navy, you are considered a ‘polywog’. I was a pollywog for 15 years. You go through a ritual ‘hazing’ and then become a ‘shellback’. In the hazing some guys get their head shaved, walking on all fours like a dog. I don’t think they allow hazing anymore. We had to swim through a pool containing a week’s supply of galley waste. When it is all over, they ask you ‘what are you now?’ ‘I’m aSHELLBACK!’ When it’s all over you can take a shower, but it has to be outdoors, you’re so full of crud!
We cruised the islands. We dropped marines off in Okinawa and then cruised back to Sasebo, our home port. The Japanese were very friendly, even the old-timers who suffered through the war. I saw the Hiroshima memorial in Nagasaki.
I was transferred to another ship, the USS St. Louis as Galley Supervisor. Our job was to transport marines wherever they needed to go….Our motto was “You call, we haul!”
Before I knew it, another two years was up. I loved Japan, so they stationed me up by Tokyo at a US Naval Station Radio Transmitting Station. It was a very small crew of less than 20. I was in charge of the galley and the barracks. I was there for a full two years. In 1993, I was sent to San Diego, California for my retirement.
After retirement, I joined the Merchant Marines for five years. I saw more islands. We transported food, weapons and oil. It was a great life! I saw no action and we had better pay, better food and the living conditions were good. I remembered when I was a kid growing up, my dad refused to talk about his time in World War II. One day, he finally opened up about it. He said he was in Saipan when they finally secured it. Little did I know then that in 1997 I would pull into Saipan. I went to the memorial in honor of my dad’s buddies that had died there.
I met my future wife in Singapore. I brought her back to the US, got married and I quit the Merchant Marines. In 1999, we moved to Marco Island.
My worst memory in that 20 year span was going through a super typhoon near Guam. The winds were at 265 miles per hour. We rescued the crew of another ship that sunk. The sharks had a good meal that day. There was no loss of human life, but there were carcasses of goats and sheep. It’s safer at sea than in port during weather like that.
I have a daughter, Lorrylyn, in Tommie Barfield Elementary. She’s in 5th grade in Mrs. Embree’s class. She loves school. I am proud of her.
Overall, I saw 54 countries, all the continents and 15 states. I learned more in my time in service than I would have in any history book!