Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Another Tale of Navy Woe

The first cruise I went on when I was in the Navy was a two month trip to Korea. We were at sea for 30 days participating in a multi-national exercise before putting into Pusan, Korea for 4 short days of liberty.

When we left Korea, a typhoon was ravaging the western Pacific. Navy ships don't willingly sail through typhoons. Why deal with 50 to 100 foot seas when you can avoid it. Even though we didn't sail through the storm, we certainly felt its effects.

For a week we had 25 foot seas. The USS Missouri was a "wet" ship. The bow plunged deep into the oncoming waves as water rushed down the deck. It was unsafe to go outside so the weather decks were closed. Finally after a week of rough riding, the seas subsided to the point where we could go outside and clean up.

The decks looked like... well... like a hurricane had passed through. There were fire hoses strewn across the deck, fire extinguishers hanging loose, and everything that wasn't welded or bolted on to the ship was loose. Navy ships are known for being ship-shape. Somebody had to clean up the mess. That was us - the Deck Department.

I was on the main deck on the port side cleaning up. Every now and then a wave rolled down the length of the deck, forcing us to pick up our swabs and buckets to keep them from floating away. I was rehanging a fire hose when I turned just in time to see a massive wall of water coming over the side.

The ship could be steered from two places - the bridge and aft steering. Aft steering, buried deep in the bowels of the ship, was used in emergencies. Several times a day, the bridge conducted aft steering drills to practice shifting control of the ship. This time they made a mistake.

Instead of hitting the waves head on, they turned the ship so the wave hit from the side. The side of the ship went down and the water came up. As this wall of water closed in I had only a millisecond to decide what to do. I chose wrong.

I tried to climb up to the next level. The wall of water hit like a runaway train. I was slammed into the bulkhead and washed back toward the side. I could feel the fire hose in my hands. I knew it was attached on one end. There was no way I was going to let go of that hose if I were swept over the side.

I wasn't. I was laying on the deck in the fetal position with the fire hose in a death grip. A foot of seawater sloshed around the deck. My head hurt like crazy and I couldn't see because the wave had knocked off my glasses. I jumped up.

My shipmates were running around trying to figure out if anyone was hurt. I yelled, "Is my head bleeding?" One of my friends said, "No, look at your leg." I turned and saw that my pants had ripped from the belt down to the knee. I was bleeding from a puncture wound just below my right butt cheek.

I found my glasses on the deck. They were undamaged. I put them on and then made my way, soaked to the skin, down to Medical. They stitched up my puncture wound, gave me a tetanus shot, antibiotics and Motrin, and put me on light duty. I cleaned the head for the remainder of the trip home to Long Beach.

I still have the scar but I won't show it to you. The torn pants are in a box in the garage.

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