Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tour Guide for The Little Wanderers

USS Wright (CC-2)
                When I left Washington in 1967 I found that I had not made the cut for future submarine duty, which was the path to command for submarine officers.   I thought this was the end of the world, but like a lot of things in life, you don’t know what’s best for you, and people around you may not know, either. 
                At the time, diesel submarines were being quickly replaced by nuclear submarines, and I, as a diesel submariner, was part of a vanishing breed.  By “not making the cut” I put myself in line to climb the ladder to (hopefully) command a destroyer, and this was a prize for any naval officer.
                So, here I was, an ex-submariner, and I was sent to a strange little former aircraft carrier that was neither fish, nor fowl, nor good red herring. 
Capt. Frank Romanick was skipper of USS Wright, a small (46,000 ton) carrier converted to a national command authority communications command ship. Romanick was the public relations person par excellence. He lived for seeing his face plastered across a newspaper page, or on TV. He came from command of a naval communications station in the Philippines, where he had been known all over the Far East for his publicity tricks.  Now he commanded a ship that, in time of war might have the President aboard.  I was his navigator.

Sailors man the rails aboard USS Wright, 1968

This was a remarkable ship— it had once been a light aircraft carrier, but was now converted to a super state-of-the art floating communications station, a “National Emergency Command Post Afloat”.  Large antennas sprouted from the flight deck, and we had a helicopter that would often lift a heavy wire antenna several thousand feet in the air, its other end tethered on the ship, to experiment at sending signals if this ship took over from shore facilities in Washington in time of a nuclear war.  This was just at the dawn of satellite communications.
The central part of the ship was called “The Box” and it contained all the communications systems and an operations control center manned by a special team of officers and enlisted men from all the armed services, and NSA, CIA and so forth.  We even had a grandiose state room called “Flag One” which was designed for the President, who was then Lyndon B. Johnson. It even had the array of three television sets that LBJ always demanded  wherever he went. [In those days he wanted to watch NBC, CBS and ABC at the same time.  It would have blown his mind to have to watch CNN, Fox, MSNBC and all the rest!]

Captain Romanick congratulates Mrs. Romanick

Romanick discovered that ships got good press when they did good deeds. When we visited a port, he sent the Chaplain out in one direction and me in another, to round up orphans, kids of all descriptions, ladies' groups, whatever, to tour that ship.
We had ship visits down to a science: Bring them aboard in the hangar bay, welcome them, give them yellow "Wright Guy" buttons, then put them on the flight deck elevator and send them topside. Play with a gun mount. Look at the helo. Watch a liferaft inflate. Climb up to the bridge. Then, down to the mess decks for cookies and fruit punch. Then off. (and check to make sure none of the little rascals got left behind.)
I think the low point in my life aboard Wright was when we tied up at the Boston Navy Yard and I was in charge of touring The Little Wanderers aboard ship.  These kids were poor orphans from a time-honored Boston charity, and we showed them a great time.  But it seemed to me that my life as a naval officer, doing grand deeds upon the bounding main, was going down a rathole.  I was depressed.
Once a month in port in Norfolk, we'd have massive “Bravo Zulu” ceremonies, where Romanick would give large plywood keys, painted with the ship's logo, to people who really excelled at something, like giving the most blood at a blood drive, or leading a team of sailors to clean up a school in Bermuda. [“Bravo Zulu” is Navy code for “Well done!”]
There were flowers for all the wives and girlfriends who came to watch, and awards, awards, awards.
Romanick discovered that you could get good press for rescuing someone at sea, so he tried to turn us into a coast guard cutter, by steaming into hurricanes or other storms, looking for ships or boats that had sent a distress signal. We rescued a few, but as the President's National Command Post Afloat, was that our mission?
One time he got negative press, though .He was in a big rush to get up to an anchorage in Annapolis, where we were expecting dozens of helos full of flag and general officers and the Secretary of the Navy, flying over from Washington.
                So we roared up Chesapeake Bay at 27+ knots with a wake that spelled disaster for the marinas along the shore.
                At 46,000 tons, this was not just another motor boat tooling up Chesapeake Bay. Unless you've done it, it's hard  to imagine how a carrier navigation team looks for lighthouses and other navigational aids on either side as you zip past at 27 knots.  
                The Baltimore and Norfolk papers gave Romanick just the kind of coverage he didn't want, people from all the marinas in Chesapeake Bay were calling up the Navy Department and yelling, and Romanick got chewed out by his boss.
                Frank came up with another scheme to get publicity.  We’d do a burial at sea!  The brother of one of our officers had just died, and so the plan was to bring his coffin aboard and bury it at sea, with appropriate ceremony by several chaplains and gun salute, and all hands on deck in dress blues.  The ceremony went nicely, with cameras snapping and capturing every move, and the coffin was eased down a slide on the stern.  However, they had not put enough air holes in the coffin, nor weighted it down enough, and so it floated along astern of the ship.  Romanick was furious and ordered the stern gun mounts manned and away they blasted at the poor, defenseless floating coffin, until it finally sank. 
                USS Wright and Romanick tested me in a way that I had never been tested before.  In addition to the frantic, manic, screaming skipper, we had a quiet, pensive executive officer and a collection of officers at all ranks who seemed to act as if they wished they were somewhere else. 
                One young officer who worked with communications in “The Box” for the Joint Chiefs was Lieutenant Junior Grade Bob Woodward, USNR.  Shortly afterward he left the navy and found his way to The Washington Post where he distinguished himself with his stories about the Watergate Break in that ended with the resignation of President Nixon.
                I had just come from several years in submarines, where I had been surrounded by competent officers and men, highly motivated people with a real sense of purpose.   Here I found officers who openly admitted they were “putting in their time” before they were released, and everyone clearly unnerved by a commanding officer with a quicksilver temperament and a large case of insecurity.  In submarines I thought every officer and man was dedicated to a professional qualification program, and people were proud to learn more about their boat and the Navy every day, and showed it. 
                Aboard Wright, everything was for the moment, because the captain was likely to change his mind many times in the day, whether at sea or in port, and then expect everyone to conform instantly.  While I was aboard this ship, it looked like my future was to get assigned to a service force ship, the kiss of death for promotion.  I put in my papers to resign from the Navy, but after they had reached Washington, a former Wright executive officer and Romanick pulled some strings to get me offered the job of executive officer of a destroyer. What a joyous surprise this was!
Frank wasn’t at all sure he needed an ex- submariner as his navigator, and he was pretty tough on me, which encouraged me to do my best.  I learned a lot from him, including some invaluable pointers about the positive aspects of public relations, and certainly a lot about leadership.
Life aboard Wright exposed me to “The Amazing Things”.

   Now, the Personal Navigator offers these books and papers:   

Portfolio of the World War-- Rotogravure Etchings Selected from the Mid-Week Pictorial of The New York Times. 1917. New York: New York Times Company. Excellent collection of photographs from World War I. 28 x 41 cm. Cloth on board, very nice cover. Sepia-toned, high-quality photos. Front hinge broken, but binding intact. Good condition. (0392) $90.00. History.

Coaster's and Fisherman's Guide, and Master's and Mate's Manual: Laws of the Sea. Including the Passenger Laws of 1819, '47, '48 and '49 
by Butts, Isaac Ridler 1849 Boston, MA: I.R. Butts, No. 2 School Street. Butts (1795-1882) published a whole mass of guide books  for Sailors, Seamen and Fishermen. This Seaman's Assistant provides guidance for Rights of Merchant Seamen, including hiring, when they may desert, right to salvage, wages (including tables) and punishment. "...a master might be excused for knocking a seaman down, under the influence of sudden passion, from provocation by language of gross insolence.....(further) kicking and beating the fallen seaman ...would not be justified."  "The master is not justified in stripping a seaman naked, and inflicting  a severe punishment with a cat; at least not for ordinary violation of the ship's discipline." Also included are Coaster's Guide, Fisherman's Guide, including Bounty in Cod Fisheries, Mackerel Fishery, Pickled Fish; Shipmaster's Manual, Passenger Vessels (Act of 1847); In Appendix is Navy Ration for victualling, which stipulates 4 lbs. of beef per week per man, 3 lbs. pork, 1 lb. flour, 1/2 lb. raisins or dried fruit, and 1 3/4 pints of spirits.  Also guidance for Common Carriers, Marine Insurance and Book-keeping.. 120 pp. 11 x 18 cm. Paper on board with cloth tape spine, parts of cloth tape on spine missing, inside back hinge cracked, pencil inscriptions on back pastedown and back endpaper. Fair. (4742) $290.00. Nautical

Spirit of Sail: On Board the World's Great Sailing Ships 1987 New York, NY Henry Holt & Co. 175 pp. 24 x 31 cm. This is a magnificent work, with beautiful photographs aboard the finest tall ships in the world, by Peter Christopher, with text by John Dyson. Cloth on board, excellent condition. Dj has two minor scratches, else excellent. (0719) $40.00. Nautical/ Picture Books.

Table compares Armies and Navies of the World, and tonnage of ships under sail or steam, 1882 1882 Graphic presentation shows relative size of shipping fleet in tons; Size of armies and navies in numbers of men.  Great Britain and Ireland led the world in shipping, with 3,621,650 tons under sail; 3,335,215 under steam, with U.S. second with 2,366,132 under sail, 1,221,206 under steam.  Siam had 20,930 tons, all sail. Russia had the largest army in the world, with 717,747 soldiers, next was Italy with 714,958, and France with 518,642, Germany with 449,239. Great Britain had the largest navy with 69,540 sailors; Sweden and Norway were next, with 50,915. The United States, just 17 years after the Civil War, had only 25,186 soldiers and 12,230 sailors. 1 page     17.5 x 24.5 cm.       Colored plate, good. (7722) $24.00. Navy/Nautical

Tales of the Coast and a Brief History of the Merchants & Miners Transportation Co. Seventy-fifth Anniversary 1927 Baltimore, MD: Merchants & Miners Transportation Co. Seventy-fifth anniversary publication offers stories of life and high adventure in the old days along the Atlantic seaboard. Frontispiece shows painting of Duel between Blackbeard and Maynard.  Battle of Chesapeake and Shannon, June 1, 1813. History of Merchants & Minors, from 1852. Thomas C. Jenkins, first president of company. Capt. Solomon Howes was master of Company's first vessel in 1854. Includes fold-out map of United States Eastern Seaboard with mileages from various points to and from Baltimore. 63 pp. 13 x 19 cm. Paper on board, spine suntanned, very good. (1478) $29.00. Nautical/History

 Vielliebchen [in German] von Marie von Olfers,  1882 Berlin, Germany: Verlag von Georg Stilte.  15 pp. 20.5 x 27 cm. Vielliebchen by Marie von Olfers (b. 1826 d. 1924) is a children's book drawing upon old German custom. "Ihr Mädchen und Bübchen, Nur ja sin Vielliebchewn, S'ist nicht um das Essen, Uber um's Vergessen!" Decorated paper on board, worn, price mark on front free endpaper. All illustrated pages printed on one side of heavy stock.  Good. (2612) $29.00. Children's


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