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Friday
Sep022011

Passing of a Great Gray Lady

I've been alive for a very, very long time. I have seen things that most people today can only read about in history books. I've also been fortunate enough to live a life full of opportunities, rarely ever being prevented from participating in something I wanted to do. The one thing, however, I have wanted but have never been able to do is join the military. Every recruiter I have talked to has always said the same thing, “You're just not made for the service. You're a prehistoric man-like ape.” While I don't see how having a Yeti on your side in battle would be a bad thing, I nonetheless accept it as my reality. So what do I do to satisfy my thirst for knowledge of what things might have been like for those who have been able to serve? I read stories like the one below.

I don't know if Dick Zimmerman was a sailor in the Navy or not, but based on his warm descriptions of the USS Buchanan, I would be surprised to learn that he wasn't. I'd be even more impressed though, if he had painted such a vivid portrait of this particular naval vessel from pieces of information he had collected through third-party sources. Either way, I'm happy to have him onboard and am pleased to present his work to you all. 

 

You could hardly tell ‘it’ had once been a ship. They were now calling ‘it’ a target hulk, and it floated lifelessly in the water, with rust chewing the hull, the decks, and whatever was left of the superstructure. There was no sign of a living thing anywhere aboard.

But years ago, she was painted and polished. Back in those days, she was a proud warship of the US Navy, a modern guided missile destroyer, USS BUCHANAN (DDG-14). She was alive back then, with over 300 men constantly moving and tending machinery that breathed life into the ship.

The men worked and sweated and laughed together. They ate meals and watched movies and played card games and trained together.

And sometimes, they went to war.

Back when the ship was living and breathing, you could watch from the bridge and see her forward gun mount train to starboard, elevate its barrel a little, and fire off a round with a big KA-BOOM. Then you could hear that distinctive PING of the brass shell casing ejected onto her deck. Back then, the signal bridge was teeming with activity as Signalmen ran flags up and down the halyards, and operated the searchlights that blinked out messages to other ships in company. Now there was no movement on the signal bridge.

The pilothouse was also alive back then, crawling with Officers of the Deck and Junior Officers of the Deck, lookouts, Quartermasters, Bos’ns Mates, helmsmen and others. I remember taking the ship to station many times, with our forced draft blowers howling that beautiful song that only they can scream while the ship is racing through the water at 25 knots with spray coming up over the foc’sle on each downward plunge of her bow. On the hulk now, nothing moved in the pilothouse.

Back in the old days in the Combat Information Center, radarscopes and plotting boards were lit up and alive with contacts, while Radarmen reported them and tracked the contacts carefully. Back then the wardroom, down a couple of levels below CIC, was alive with laughter at movies and comrades sharing their talk over meals that were probably better than what many of us had ever had before, or since, but about which we complained endlessly. Now the wardroom was silent and empty, just as lifeless as the rest of the hulk. I could go through each of the other spaces on the ship with similar stories, how the mess decks were humming and alive before, but now were nothing. And how the firerooms and enginerooms were vibrant back then, but now sat quiet and dead. But you get the idea.

While the hulk floated lifelessly, SH-60 LAMPS helos began firing Hellfire missiles, and several struck the ship with great explosions. But the ship kept floating! Then Harpoon missiles were fired from F-111 and P-3 aircraft, as well as from a surface ship, and again there were many hits and explosions. But the ship kept floating! A laser-guided bomb scored a direct hit with another massive explosion. But the ship kept floating! A submarine-launched torpedo missed. The ship continued to float all night long while those charged with sending her to the bottom pondered what to do next.

The next morning at first light, a team of Explosive Ordinance Disposal personnel boarded the still-floating ship, and spent a couple of hours placing charges in several spaces. It was now the 14th of June, 2000. It was no longer the 13th, the day all the missiles and bombs started flying - the day she was supposed to go down. Shortly after the EOD crew left the ship, there were several more explosions, this time deep within her hull. Her bow settled down into the water, lifting her stern up and well clear of the surface.

This hulk which had once been a sleek modern guided missile destroyer held that position for three full seconds, so that you could clearly see the 14 painted on her stern, now proudly matching the new day on the calendar whose page had just turned. Knowing the time was now right, she then slid gracefully beneath the waves.

 

Dick Zimmermann | Age 68 | Many Places, USA

Once took a camping trip to embrace his inner-Hemingway, but accidentally only brought books written by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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