Memories of a Seaman

NAS Grosse Ile


Chief Aubrey Gray

 Chief Gray was my first Chief on active duty. He was a great guy. I had arrived just days before the Labor Day Air Show of 1962 and was assigned to the Aircraft Maintenance Office as a clerk, working with a seaman named Ray Bodenham and another named Cunningham. It did not take long for Bodenham to train me to schluf through all the miscellaneous chits, muster sheets and leave papers for the department. The Chief was something of a worrywart, and was concerned about the perception that we did not have enough to do. Bodenham told him, Chief if you don’t have a lot to do, puts some completed worksheets in the pile to make it look like you have more to do. If you have a large stack, put some of the sheets in your desk drawer, that way you will not look like you are behind. The Chief was not impressed with Bodenham’s proposal. The next month Bodneham was sent mess cooking and a month later I followed.


Before entering the Navy Bodenham had been a computer programmer for Detroit Edison. He never got into any trouble and was an efficient worker with a great mind for organization. I asked him why he never took the advancement tests, and his answer was that he did not want to encourage the Navy. He seemed to enjoy calling the weekend warriors nose pickers - he had been one himself.


The New Brunswick Stew


Chief Schweitzer was the Chief in charge of the enlisted men’s galley. Generally, he just supervised the operation. He particularly liked to chastise the non-rated mess cooks for being lazy and not doing their jobs well. A mess cook’s day started at 0530 and ended at 1830. We were allowed about fifteen to twenty minutes for the breakfast, lunch and dinner breaks. Occasionally, we were given an hour break during the day, but these were rare occasions. The mess cooking term of duty was three months, during which time we rarely saw the light of day. Cleaning GI cans that had been filled with eatable garbage (Pig food) was a joy, because it was outside. The garbage shack did not smell bad because it was the middle of winter. It was a regular assignment for me until they found out that I did not mind the job.

Each morning, the mess cooks were mustered and the Chief would address the items that needed attention. These were bitter allocutions by a bitter man. He had a particularly distasteful manner of addressing the young men.  The response by the mess cooks was usually a sullen stare.


Occasionally the Chief would cook a meal for the enlisted men and would brim with pride as he prepared the meal. One of the Chief’s specialties was New Brunswick stew. One day he turned to in the galley dressed in his whites, and began the preparation for the evening meal. With a smile and a seemingly euphoric state of mind, he stirred the evening meal of New Brunswick stew in a giant, steam-heated caldron. He was unusually light on his feet as he moved about the galley gathering ingredients for the stew. He particularly liked bay leaves, which resembled tanna leaves, made famous by the movie Curse of the Mummy.


As was his custom, the Chief usually departed before the evening meal, and in this case before the New Brunswick stew was done. The stew was served up and there were no takers from the enlisted men.


As was required, the OOD took his meals in the enlisted men’s mess hall. He was required to write a report about the quality of the food served.  He took his tray and silverware from the rack and waited in line. He was served all the desirable entrées until he reached the New Brunswick stew. Small chunks of meat, that looked as if they had been bleached, and potatoes seemed to float on the surface of a thick greenish yellow liquid. The OOD asked the mess cook serving the stew what he thought about the stew. He said something to the effect that he had not eaten any of the stew because it resembled vomit. The OOD declined a serving of the stew and in his report the next day quoted the mess cook with his noted agreement.


After the report was published, the Chief was livid. He wanted to know who had made the comment. Nobody would volunteer the information, not even the petty officers. Some of the petty officers were not usually disinclined to inform the Chief about our petty indiscretions, but this was an exception. The Chief gave a direct order that the mess cooks were to never comment on the appearance of the food. After he left, there were a lot of chuckles from all about the New Brunswick stew being written up.


The New Brunswick stew was not wasted. It became pig food and recycled into pork chops.


The New Brunswick stew never appeared on the menu again.


Missing Fancy Nuts


A ten-pound bag of fancy salted nuts disappeared from the galley stores. The nuts were to be used for the Christmas meal in 1962.  On Thanksgiving and Christmas the dependents of the enlisted men were permitted to partake in the noon meal at the mess hall. I will never forget the Thanksgiving dinner of 1962. It was outstanding.


Chief Schweitzer, the 1st class-cook and the boats started an interrogation and investigation into the loss of the fancy nuts. At first they suspected that the mess-cooks had absconded with the fancy nuts, but, eventually, they realized that the mess-cooks could not have done the deed because they did not have the keys to the kitchen stores. Some additional investigative work and a process of elimination narrowed the suspect list down to one 3rd class cook. Eventually, he admitted the theft and had to do a substantial amount of voluntary extra duty in the mess hall.


Cumshaw was an acceptable form of trade and pilfering from the mess hall an acceptable reality. However, the cook had overstepped the limits.


Missing Dishes

When I was mess cooking in the fall/winter of 1962 I had liberty on Mondays and Tuesdays. For the Thanksgiving dinner everyone had to come in for the day and an alternate day-off was given. For some strange reason this was not the policy for the Christmas day meal and several mess-cooks, including myself, had liberty.

The dependents were allowed to partake in the Christmas noon meal, the same as they had for Thanksgiving. With twenty percent of the mess-cooks missing and three times the number to feed something had to give. When I returned Wednesday there was a tremendous amount of trays, cups, bowls and silverware missing from the now obviously baron shelves and storage racks. The rule was that the mess-cooks could not leave until all the dinnerware, pots, and pans were washed. Being short handed and probably wanting to get home, the mess-cooks had dumped much of the trays, cups, bowls and silverware into the scullery GI-cans instead of washing them. They never bothered to retrieve the stashed dinnerware and they eventually made their way out to Farmer Pete’s Pig Farm. For some reason, Schweitzer, the first class and the boats did not say anything about the shortfall, and just pulled more  stock out to replace the missing dinnerware. They probably thought that the dependents had appropriated the missing items. As far as I know, Farmer Pete never filed a complaint. 

BM3 Ronald Smith aka Smitty


Smitty was a former regular navy boatswains mate, and was one of those sailors that looked good in a uniform with his slim build, tailor-mades, double rolled tie and impeccably formed white-hat. Smitty was serving his rotation in the galley as the MAA and was given the assignment to supervise the physical fitness tests for the mess cooks.


One Sunday morning Smitty announced that the physical fitness test was to be conducted during the Sunday service time. Two mess cooks who had never gone to the Sunday service before announced that they felt the need for prayer. Smitty excused the two and started to walk us over to the gym. Instead of going to the gym we stopped at the geedonk and had a cup of coffee. Forty-five minutes later we returned to the galley, being recorded as having passed the physical fitness requirements. That afternoon Smitty took the two religious types over to the gym and conducted a rigorous physical fitness test.  


Opening Night of the EM Club


An airman, Terry Jackson, got very drunk the night that the new EM club opened. He had given me explicit instructions to make him come back to the barracks about midnight. Needless to say, after too many beers, he became somewhat belligerent when I insisted that it was time to leave. No amount of persuasion could get him to leave. Eventually, I left without him, having to make the 0530 muster in the mess hall the next morning. Later, he and Tom Roos left the EM Club together. The MAA’s truck was parked outside the Rec hall. Tom was feeling a little mischievous and went inside the truck to turn on the red flasher light.  Meanwhile Terry in an urgent need urinated on the MAA’s truck. Both had not noticed BM# Webb, who was in the vicinity. Webb put Terry on report for illegally and wrongfully urinating all over the MAA’s truck. Tom got to testify against Terry at Captain’s mast. We all wondered how Terry did it wrongfully. He was given a couple weeks of base restriction and was forbidden to enter the EM club until his 21st birthday. It was a good thing that Terry did not get busted because he was promoted to third class a short time later.


Gate Guard Duty & the R4D


After mess cooking I was transferred to the MAA’s staff. I had the back gate guard duty on a very windy day. An R4D was on approach, and the wind gusts kept blowing the plane off the centerline of the runway. The pilot could not hold the plane on its path and eventually gave up. He retracted the wheels, gave the engines full throttle and just cleared the power lines. A short time later another R4D was on approach. The pilot would line the plane up with the center of the runway only to be blown sideways by the wind gusts. The only difference this time was that the plane kept descending. With every wind gust the pilot would make a correction. I then noticed something peculiar about the plane - it only had three props turning. The plane kept coming, using up more and more runway without landing. There I was, at the end of the runway about to desert my post. I was now about fifty feet away from the guard shack, poised for a dash. Finally, the plane hit the deck about mid-runway, reversed the pitch on the props and started to decelerate. But it kept using up more and more of the runway. It was still coming on fast when it made a quick turn at the end of the runway onto the taxiway. Needless to say if it had run off the end of runway, I would have deserted my post.


Later that night at the EM-club, AX3 John Farrell was telling a story about the back gate guard who had deserted his post when they landed. Obviously, he did not know that I was the guard on duty. It seems the plane had taken off overloaded with one marginal engine. The engine that had been feathered was not the marginal engine.


Gate Guard Duty and the Commander


I had gate guard duty during the day because I was assigned to the MAA’s staff. I was also in a regular duty section, which meant that on occasion I would have gate guard duty just before or after the day watch. This meant that I would have a twelve-hour stint on the gates from time to time. With not much to do, I read the gate guard manual from cover to cover several times and could site chapter and verse of the manual.


One Sunday morning I had the duty on the front gate. As I did not recognize any of the weekend warriors, I asked for proper identification. The cars were lined up at least a quarter of a mile down Meridian Road. A few were not in the proper uniform and I sent them to the JOOD. It was past the muster time and the warriors were late. The JOOD came out and asked me what was the problem. I told him that I was just checking for proper identification. He gave me a direct order to let everybody in without checking ID’s. I complied with the order.


I had Monday and Tuesday off and had the back gate duty the following Wednesday morning. An automobile pulled up and I noticed that the entry sticker had an expired date. The vehicle also had an officer’s-sticker on the windshield. I approached the vehicle with apprehension and saluted the Commander who was driving the vehicle. I had been given explicit orders not to permit any vehicles from entering the base that had an expired sticker. Nothing was said about exceptions for officers with three wide gold stripes on their sleeves and shoulder boards. I told the Commander that he could not enter the base because his vehicle sticker had expired. The commander asked, “Are you refusing to let me enter the base?” I replied “No Sir. Just your vehicle.” He asked if he could use the gate shack telephone and I said, “Yes Sir.” He called the legal officer, Lieutenant Commander Calhoun, and had him report to the back gate where he had a few words with him at a distance where I could not hear what was being said. This happened the morning of an inspection, which made the Commander very late. About an hour later, another seaman came to the back gate dressed for guard duty. With a few choice words he told me that I was to report to the MAA’s office. I was a little concerned, but as I was thoroughly versed in the rules and regulations of gate guard duty, I could not figure out what I had done wrong. The legal officer had me removed from gate guard duty and reassigned to compartment cleaning. The BM1 told me that he had orders that I was to never be assigned to gate guard duty during the day again. My compartment cleaning duties became very rigorous for a time with some impromptu extra duty from the BM1 and supervised by BM3 Keaney after the incident. It seems that I could never get those urinals and toilets clean enough. Eventually things let up.


Except for the guy who had to take my place on the gates, the other compartment cleaners liked the story about the late weekend warriors and the Commander.


Water Fight


When I was a compartment cleaner, leading seaman Jonas and I were given the assignment to water the lawn around the barracks with a fire hose. Eventually the assignment turned into a water fight with the fire hose. BM3 Keaney was in the head, setting on the can on the second deck of the barracks when a blast from the fire hose came through the open window and drenched him. I had some problems with Keaney in the past and thought that I might be in for a substantial amount of voluntary extra duty, but Keaney never said anything about the incident. After that I had a new found respect for him.


Dead Cat


An unpleasant smell began to become apparent in the first floor washroom of the transit barracks. Eventually, the obnoxious odor was traced to the steam pit at the rear of the barracks. After opening the doors to the steam pit the problem became apparent. A large cat, now bloated to twice it normal size, had died and was lying just inside the steam pit doors under the barracks. Leading seaman Jonas summoned a detail to remove carcass. The detail consisted of myself and another seaman. It was going to be a nasty job. Jonas, a fair man, said, split up the detail to get the cat out of the pit and into the dumpster, which was some 100 yards away. Thinking that I could outrun the odor, I volunteered to carry the carcass to the dumpster after the other seaman had removed it from the pit. The other seaman would have none of that. He insisted that I be the one to remove the cat from the pit. I said, OK if that’s what you want. I tossed a cardboard carton into the pit, took a deep breath and jumped down into the pit with a shovel. Holding my breath, I quickly scooped the cat up, put it in the box, threw the box out of the pit, climbed out very quickly and made a dash to get a breath of fresh air. My first breath resulted in a couple of gag reflexes.


The cat was now reeking, because its body had burst when I threw the carton out of the pit. The other seaman now had to carry it the 100 yards to the dumpster. He could only manage to drag the box a few feet before he started gagging uncontrollably. He protested but Jonas, barked out a succession of loud orders demanding that he complete the task of disposing of the cat. By this time I was laughing at the other’s situation, happy that I had not been the one to carry the carcass to the dumpster.


Jonas then dumped a couple gallons of disinfectant into the pit, killing the odor.


Voluntary Extra Duty


Voluntary extra duty was punishment for bad boy time served after hours. The infractions were usually minor and the punishment minimal, but definitely not legal.  It was an off the books method of discipline. Few would complain because the offences did not show up in your record.


I was making my way through the transit barracks after hours and found several of the MAA’s staff painting the barracks. I suppressed my amusement and soon found out that the legal officer had caught them gambling while on duty. The legal officer took a dim view of his staff breaking the rules, but on the other hand he could not put a substantial number of his staff on report because it just would not look good.


Third Class


The rating test results were at the post office and the MAA’s staff was sent to pick up the registered mail. I had foolishly not completed my correspondence courses the first time that I was eligible to take the test for ETN3. I paid a heavy price for that mistake – another six months of compartment cleaning.  Nobody was expecting me to pass because I had achieved a whopping score of 3.3 on my correspondence courses – 3.2 was passing – and I had received no electronics training. The only OJT training that I had received was cleaning commodes and swabbing decks.


I went over to the MAA’s office for my afternoon break, and Webb who had just returned from delivering the mail to the Captain looked at me in a strange manner. I knew that I had passed. I eventually heard that the envelope had somehow been damaged during the mailing process and there was an investigation underway.


The advancement results came out the next day and I was on the promotion list. The AT’s had not faired so well for third – one passed, one was quoted and another failed.  The AT’s wanted to know how I passed. I would only tell them that I picked C for all the answers. In reality I had four years of formal electrical and electronic education in high school, and only had to study the military factors section of the test. I had a crow and I was headed out of compartment cleaning.


Rodney Martin ETN3

NAS Grosse Ile 1962-64, NAS New York 1964-65


For the biography of the WWII German U-boat Commander,

Wolfgang Heyda see

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