Commentaries, Reminiscences and Sea Stories
Albert M. Forget

A Personal History in the U.S. Navy
and Aboard USNS Michelson
Posted on 10/18/2007

I joined the Navy on 19 June 1952 and, after boot camp, went through Yeoman School, Class A, as my boot camp company commander (a Chief Boatswain’s Mate) had insisted I do. I had graduated 3rd in the regiment from boot camp and ended up being the top rated recruit in the “A” school. As a result I was ordered to a special tour at the Receiving Station, Naval Station, Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA, which was a sweet deal indeed as my family had made its home in Reno, NV, and my maternal grandmother and her husband lived in Berkeley, CA.

In that first assignment I performed many of the functions of Machine Accountants and learned how to input data on punch cards and to verify, interpret, duplicate them as well as a little bit about wiring up the package boards.

In 1953 I was selected from the 18 seamen whose names had been put into contention (3 from each of the major San Francisco area U. S. Navy activities, as the driver for Vice Admiral Theodore D. Ruddock, Jr., (a battleship commander during World War II who was twice awarded the Navy Cross). He was assigned as the President, General Court-Martial, TWELFTH Naval District which was located at the top of Yerba Buena Island. The tunnel portion of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge passes through the island. The courtroom scenes of “The Caine Mutiny” were filmed where I worked.

Of course to serve in the assignment I had to be vetted and granted top secret clearance. That process took several weeks and while I was waiting for the paperwork to go through, I was temporarily assigned to the Personnel Accounting Machine Installation at Treasure Island where I learned a tremendous amount more about IBM accounting machines and personnel management matters.

The first time I went up for third class I was not promoted and had retaken the exam. My promotion caught up with me while I was awaiting clearance. The top-secret clearance came through several days after I was promoted and I took up my duties at the Court-Martial.

My immediate boss was LCDR William A. Savage (a naval aviator during WWII and the son of a very successful corporate attorney in the Bay area) who had left active duty to attend Harvard Law School and had returned to active duty to serve as a Law Officer. In addition to driving the admiral my duties included (among other things) insuring the courtroom was properly set up for trials, insuring that the officers (and enlisted persons) designated to serve on courts-martial were properly notified and to contact the Brig and get accused persons to their trials in proper uniform and on time.

Several weeks after starting my driver duties the Admiral asked me to drive him to a residence at the bottom of Yerba Buena Island. When we got to the residence, the admiral invited me inside having first assured himself that I would keep my mouth closed and act as though I was a fly on the wall. After entering I was introduced to Fleet Admiral Nimitz as well as to another vice admiral and 3 rear admirals and sat quietly by as they discussed the future of the Navy with an emphasis (it seemed) on how they could insure the next generation of officers were properly professional.

When Admiral Ruddock retired I was under orders to serve in a destroyer squadron staff but begged I be assigned to a general-duty assignment instead. My wishes were granted and in February 1955 I reported to the USS COWELL (DD-547) operating out of Long Beach, CA. When I reported it turned out I was the most senior clerical type on board. The ship’s manning document provided that there should be a YNC aboard but I was it and found myself in charge of three other yeoman and two personnelmen. Two weeks after reporting aboard my promotion to 2nd class caught up with me and that promotion was backdated.

In COWELL I made several deployments to the Far East. Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong were far more exotic then than they are today and I still remember with pleasure being taught how to eat with chopsticks and learning at least something about the pleasures available if you treated the girls you met with dignity and respect.

As I had decided not to reenlist, I was transferred to the USS HENRY W. TUCKER (DDR-875) as a short timer rather than being deployed once again in COWELL. Shortly after reporting to the TUCKER, I was promoted to PO1 3 years, 8 months and 27 days after initially enlisting and learned that the reason why I had not been promoted the first time I had tested for PO3 I had aced the exam and had also aced the PO2 and PO1 exams. Once it had been determined that I could not have compromised the exams, my promotions were backdated so that I would not “suffer” because of the investigations.

I decided to reenlist.

Eight months later I got into brouhaha with a LTJG and ended up going to mast on a trumped-up charge. I was reduced to PO2 and (immediately after getting the CO to sign the paperwork) I informed him that I was being immediately transferred. He asked if he could stop that from happening and I told him that if he rescinded the punishment and expunged it from my record I would remain aboard but that, unless he was willing to do that, I would transfer under the rules in place in the Pacific Fleet and in Destroyer Group and Destroyer Squadron regulations which mandate that any PO1 or acting CPO be transferred at their request if reduced in grade at Captain’s Mast. I ended up transferring to the USS BREMERTON (CA-31).

As a reenlistment incentive I had requested and approved to attend Yeoman School, Class B (Flag Writer School). BREMERTON was to deploy to the Far East and to visit Melbourne, Australia, during the Olympics. As my Mother was an Australian I looked forward to that visit. As things turned out, however, there was a crisis in Lebanon and while BREMERTON was in port at Pearl Harbor refueling, orders were received to top off and stand by awaiting orders to transit the Panama Canal and assist in operations in the Mediterranean.

With the schedule change and in view of the travel considerations necessary to get me back to CONUS to attend school, the decision was taken that I would transfer on TAD to the Naval Receiving Station, Treasure Island, for onward transfer later to San Diego to attend B School. I ended up being the top graduate of that school among first-time attendees. A chief who had attended the school about a year and a half earlier and was back again beat me out by less than 2 points.

BREMERTON did get to Melbourne and the Olympics and one of the biggest regrets of my life is that I was not aboard.

When the ship returned to Long Beach I reported aboard and was notified I was to be transferred to the Staff of the Chief of Naval Air Advanced Training at the Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, TX. I was assigned to the Plans and Operations Branch and worked under the supervision of a CPO for about a month and a half before he transferred to the Fleet Reserve. Once again I found myself filling a chief's job. The Branch was headed up by a Marine Colonel and my immediate supervisor was Commander (later Captain) Maxwell Bailey. Commander Bailey’s sons were members of the Boy Scout troop aboard the base and he was looking for a new scoutmaster. When he found out I had been in scouting as a youth, he asked me to take the job. I was reluctant but the Commander went to Rear Admiral Joseph Clifton who summoned me to his office and asked me to take the job. I couldn’t refuse and went on to serve for 5 years as Scoutmaster and was awarded the Scouter’s Key and the Woodbadge Award (called the Ph.D. of Scouting).

During that time I worked on war plans and logistics capability war plans. Because I was the only clerical type with sufficient clearance I had to do most all the work myself. I learned (from a draftsman) how to develop various charts, quite a bit about statistics and, even, how to run printing presses as the men in the base Print Shop were not properly cleared.

With a reorganization of the Staff, operations and training functions were combined and I moved on to the new office. I once again found myself working with a chief (and a PO1 who was senior to me). The first class was transferred within a few months and the chief was asked to transfer to the Fleet Reserve rather than face court-martial charges. He had been fooling around with an 18-year-old WAVE assigned to the office and had earlier hit on another (slightly older) WAVE. The man was married and had an 18-year-old daughter and such things are frowned on.

While working in that job I was once again promoted to PO1.

As part of my job I worked on flight training syllabi and learned a tremendous amount about Naval Aviation. It was also during that assignment that I was asked to get my OMYASS card so that I could fly back seat in an F-llF from Corpus Christi to Anacostia Naval Air Station in Washington, DC with RADM Ruddock in command of the aircraft. To get the OMYASS card requires a full flight physical, pressure chamber testing and getting one’s tail end shot into the air in flight ejector training. All in all it was an experience few enlisted people experience.

In August 1962 my tour of duty in Corpus Christi came to an end and it was onward and upward to bigger things and that was the assignment to OCDET3. My orders were to report to the Commander, Military Sealift Command, Atlantic, at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Brooklyn, NY. I reported as ordered (on a Friday afternoon), was given a place to bunk down and meal tickets, and was told to report back to the office the following Monday morning at 10:00 A. M.

I got into mufti, took a room at the Brooklyn YMCA and took a subway to Manhattan. That first night I had a great meal (a filet mignon, sautied mushrooms, baked potato with all the trimmings, petit pois (little peas) with pearl onions, French onion soup, a chocolate mousse and a small bottle of Chateau Neuf de Pape (a very good burgundy) before taking in a performance of Camelot. I figured, “What the hell, It’s probably the only time I’ll get such a chance” and spent like a drunken sailor. The fact that I was getting $7.50 per diem (a lot of money at the time) was a big help.

Over the weekend I did as much of the tourist scene as I could and reported exactly on time as I had been ordered on Monday morning. When I got to the office I was informed that my transportation to McGuire Air Force Base for the flight to Mildenhall, England, and onward travel to Bergen, Norway, had left 45 minutes earlier and while they did their best to delay the flight and get me on my way, they were unsuccessful and I ended up spending an entire month in New York. As it was that was probably a good thing for, because of civilian protests in Bergen, MICHAELSON was ordered to Belfast, Northern Ireland, and I would have been able to pick up the detachment in Bergen in any event.

I served in OCDET3 from September 1962 to August 1963 and came aboard (along with Marty Rombach) in Belfast. Marty and I had spent the evening before in London town--We were billeted in a hotel in the Marble Arch area and had taken in the attractions of Piccadilly Circus. Of course we had picked up on a couple of girls; but, as it turned out, they had picked up on us. As we were walking down the street with them after leaving a club, I started to feel quite woozy. I handle my liquor very well and had never felt that way before.

Believing we had been slipped mickies by the girls and that they intended to rob us, I was able to get Marty into a taxi and back to Marble Arch

The following morning I awoke (around 10 A.M.) to the telephone ringing. When I answered the first words I heard were “Where have you been? We’ve been trying to get hold of you for hours.” I told the caller we had been there all the time. Apparently we had in fact been drugged and had slept through the incessant ringing of the phone.

I shook Marty awake and as fast as we could we got our ditty bags packed and were on our way to catch a flight to Belfast. When we got there we were met by ENS EMMONS (with his chaw of tobacco escounced in his jaw) and driven to the ship. Meeting the members of the detachment for the first time was a blur. We were taken to our quarters and started settling in but the day was soon over and it was time for the crew to show us the enticements of Belfast at night.

Belfast had its charms as well as its problems. I went into a bar one evening and ordered a drink. A few moments later I was asked to leave because it was an "orange" (protestant) bar and it was perceived I might be "green" (catholic) which in fact I was.

The weather in Belfast in the autumn is not very pleasant but there were some places which catered to us where we could get a pretty darn good "Wimpy" hamburger, let it all hang out and (of course) romance the ladies.

Some of the OCDET crews had a radioman attached. OCDET3 did not (at least while I served in it) and we had to rely on the Michaelson's radioman which (because he was prone to drink) sometimes resulted in problems.

The man I relieved was to have been detached a few days after I reported aboard but had to spend an additional month on board because he had contracted an STD from one of those girls. Penicillin cleared it up within a few days but we kept him on board until the scratches on his back had healed so as to avoid problems with his wife when he got home. He explained them to us with the question “have you ever tried to sharpen a shovel handle in a pencil sharpener”.

I can well remember the night when I was summoned from my bunk and given a coded message to take to the crypto room and break down. After setting up the equipment I started to input what I had been given and, within a few code as a boy scout. I was able to start all over and, taking a guess that what was jotted down as an "a" (dit-dot) might instead be an "r" (dit-dot-dit) I was able to get a little further into breaking down the message. Each time the crypto machine would stop I had to start (again and again) at the beginning. The message was top secret (since declassified) and instructed us to proceed to certain coordinates and standby to potentially participate in the Cuban missile blockade.

Among my other jobs was to receive the ship’s mail. I had to personally sign for all registered mail and served as the Detachment Postal Officer (it was a collateral duty assigned to me in a letter signed by the O-in-C) which meant that I had to personally open the numerous mail bags which were waiting for us each time we came into port.

First priority, of course, was getting the personal mail to the crew. One after another I opened the bags and as fast as I could would set the personal mail to one side and the official mail to the other to be looked to later. Thank the Lord one or another member of the crew (usually John Hansen) would be there to help. As I would sort out the personal mail he would take it to the office door and hand it to the impatient clamoring crowd outside in closed quarters 15 people can be a crowd until all the letters from home were put in the right hands.

Once all the personal mail was out of the way it was time to open the official mail. That was a job I had to do by myself. The boxes containing the books for the library were distinctive and I would sort them out and get them to Ray Tullos as soon as I could so that he could place them in the library.

Once sorting the mail became a disconcerting job in a way.

Amongst the official mail addressed to the Officer in Charge was a cardboard box received from the offices down the street from the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square. Nondescript in every way I thought from the weight of the box that it must be some sort of equipment or material needed by the technicians. When I opened it, however, there was nothing in it except thousands and thousands of dollars, all new bills which had mistakenly been sent to the detachment instead of to the Michaelson's Purser.

The thought did go through my mind that it would be very easy to hitch a ride down to Dublin and have a pretty good life in someplace like Rio. Virtue, thank heavens, got in the way and I called the Purser and had him inventory the money and sign a receipt for the box and its contents.

I was tempted though.

Over the next several months we plied the oceans doing the job we were supposed to. Our work took us north of the Arctic Circle and it was strange, indeed, to see for the first time the sun come up (like a tiny ball) just above the horizon and then almost immediately dive back down out of sight. Almost everybody went topside to watch it. We tried to but never could ignore the Russian trawler(s) constantly shadowing us.

The equipment we used to carry out our mission was not only very sensitive, quite often secret and not infrequently plagued by problems. That, of course, is exactly why so many members of the crew were electronics types and why so frequently we had to avail ourselves of the services of a TechRep. Sometimes, however, even non-technical types such as I would be pressed into service as when many package boards in the Bendix (was it a G-15?) computer were wiped by an electrical spike and I sat at a table replacing diodes and resistors and transistors.

We made our home port in Belfast for a number of months and pulled into Portsmouth, England, for some work (during which some of the crew were able to attend a Command Performance for the Queen one evening) and it was there I learned that some cities completely shut down for tea time.

Thanks to the efforts of LTJG Emmons we had things to do in our off hours other than loll around in our bunks. While reading books helped pass the time, the cribbage, pinochle and backgammon tournaments he helped set up were much more enjoyable and almost everybody participated. Some of the detachment members even got to do a little skeet shooting while at sea.

In early 1963 our home port became Barcelona, Spain.

At that time, though Spain was still under the rule of Francisco Franco, Barcelona was still a very relaxed city with a lot of night life, fine restaurants and a whole lot of things to see and do.

Before getting to Barcelona I had read one of the guidebooks the military puts out and had learned that one of the top restaurants in all of Europe was located in Barcelona. As my dad was a chef (at that time the Executive Chef at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas), I had learned to relish the foods of places other than the United States. I determined that I would visit that restaurant (Los Caracoles-the snails) on my first night in port. Three other members of the crew went with me and we all enjoyed a very good meal before heading out to do other things. After looking at the menu I decided on having the specialty of the house Paella sin Historia (which combines the elements of paella as it is cooked in places where there is little if any seafood and as it is cooked where the fruits of the sea are plentiful), a mixed salad with tomatoes and a pitcher of sangria. My companions ordered steak and French fries.

After finishing dinner we took off to Las Ramblas in search of a place where we could meet girls, have a few drinks and just kick back and enjoy. There was no lack of such enjoyments and we were broadly welcomed wherever we went.

I cannot remember who else was along but LTJG Emmons and I (along with that other detachment member) rented Vespas and took off for Sitges (a small-town seaside resort up the coast a bit) to catch some rays. It was a very enjoyable afternoon and gave us a taste of things most visitors to Spain do not experience.

During various visits I learned to relish eating marinated snails with crusty French bread and butter washed down by liters of beer while sitting in the courtyard of La Plaza Real

Having taken a year of Spanish in high school made our sojourns in Spain the more enjoyable.

But, all too soon, our deployment came to an end and we returned stateside to the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard. All hands were on deck as we sailed under the Brooklyn Bridge and pulled alongside the pier.

Once tied up we had as a priority to get our work product to the Naval Hydrographic Office, though in 1962 it had been renamed the Naval Oceanographic Office the old name was still commonly used down in the DC area. All the charts and the other materials (most of it top secret because of its nature which those who served in the OCDETs know very well) were loaded into the bed of a pickup truck and covered by a tarp. I was handed a .45 and strapped it to my side, hopped in the truck and (with trepidation) drove off (by myself) to deliver the materials. I was apprehensive every step of the way and it was with a big sigh of relief that I finally drove through the guarded gates of the facility, unloaded the materials and turned in my weapon.

Having previously visited Washington (when I flew back seat in an F-11F from Corpus Christi, TX, with Rear Admiral Joseph “Jumpin Joe” Clifton as the pilot) I looked forward to a night on the town before driving back up north. I took a room at the YMCA just down the street from the White House, changed into civvies and hit the clubs. Though Washington still had a whole slew of blue laws in place, it was not difficult at all to have a great time.

The next day I got back into uniform, retrieved my sidearm and drove back to Brooklyn. When I got there I learned that MICHAELSON had gone to Bayonne, NJ, and had to wend my way there. When I walked on board, LTJG Emmons greeted me and told me that everybody had received their new duty assignments the military detachment members would not remain in the ship while it was undergoing repairs and being outfitted with the latest electronics and that I was going to someplace called Vietnam.

Enroute to my new duty station (the Navy Section, Military Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam) I went through Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training at the Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, CA, where I was taught survival techniques and once again learned how to fire military weapons; and, thereafter, at Warner Springs, CA, to learn such things as orientation, living off the land and (of course) went through the prison compound experience including sleep deprivation, being placed in confined spaces (standing, kneeling and in other postures) for periods long enough that limbs first went numb and then started to hurt like hell.

During that training it was found that I was hypertensive. When I learned my orders were to be cancelled I requested an interview with the Rear Admiral in charge of Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego and was able to convince him that I should be permitted to serve in Vietnam.

I reported to my new assignment in late October 1963 and served in country through mid November 1965.

After Nam I was ordered to report to the Naval Air Station, Moffett Field, CA, and the new command request that I attend Naval Justice School in Newport, RI, before reporting. I had previously request to attend the school as a reenlistment incentive but that request was denied. As a result I was somewhat chagrined that I was being ordered to attend and vowed that I would do just enough to get by. It ended up that I was the honor graduate and received every reward given to enlisted personnel who attend the school including the Colclaugh Award.

I served at Moffett Field (running the Legal Office) for but 18 months before requesting return to sea duty. It was while at Moffett that I was promoted to chief petty officer.

My next assignment was to the USS WILTSIE (DD-716) out of San Diego. In her I made two deployments to Vietnamese waters engaged in Market Time and gunfire support operations. We also spent our “down” time on Taiwan Defense Patrol. For the first time I served in a chief-petty-officer billet as a chief rather than as a more junior petty officer.

The next assignment was to the Staff, Commander Eastern Sea Frontier/Commandant THIRD Naval District in New York City where I served as Command Master Chief Petty Officer and took very seriously my responsibilities to the active duty and reserve enlisted personnel of the 300 or so subordinated commands.

I worked directly with 4 different admirals during that assignment and represented the United States, the U. S. Navy and (as the senior enlisted man in all the armed forces serving in the tri-state area of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut) all of our armed forces. As part of that job I had to attend numerous formal events ($1,000+ a plate dinners at the New York Hilton, the Americana, or the Waldorf Astoria), diplomatic receptions, change of command ceremonies and a host of others. It was a very interesting assignment indeed.

That tour was followed by a 3-year tour of duty as Command Master Chief Petty Officer in USS SYLVANIA (AFS-2) for which job I had been selected by the former Aide to Admiral Zumwalt (Captain Peter B. Booth a naval aviator who went on to retire as a vice admiral. In SYLVANIA I made 3 deployments to the Mediterranean.

Shortly after I reported aboard the ship went to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to undergo Refresher Training. That training is designed to make certain the crew is ready to react to any emergency which might occur. Much to my chagrin (but also to my great pleasure) I was ordered to replace the lieutenant who served as Damage Control Assistant (a lieutenant and a Naval Academy Graduate). Though I had only been through a 3-day damage control course while enroute to my first ship, I was able to successfully carry out the assignment. I was made to understand that I was the first enlisted person to serve in that capacity in a “deep-draft” vessel.

After 3 years in SYLVANIA I was ordered to the Bureau of Naval Personnel and assigned the “Detailer” for the yeoman community with supervisory authority over several other specialties.

I remained there for but 18 months before I was able to get myself assigned to the NROTC Unit at the University of Washington there to serve for my final two years before retirement.

I ended up serving a total of 30 years, 1 month and 13 days (from 19 June 1952 to 1 August 1982) before retiring as a Master Chief Petty Officer with Command designation.

I don’t know if any others who served in the OCDETs went on to complete a Navy career or not but (with the exception of some very few electronics types who were prima donnas) I can assure you that my time in OCDET3 embarked in USNS MICHAELSON was among the most enjoyable, demanding and rewarding times and I would hope others look back on their service in such as good light as I do.

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