John L. Alford

Aircraft tracking exercise

I was the director operator on mount 31, which was on the starboard side near the torpedo tubes. Because I wore glasses, I think our Gunnery Officer, LT Daus, had some reservations about me being the director operator. On 10 March 1958, I had a short course of instruction for the MK 63 GFCS. My team members were SN Martin Callinan and FTSN Richard Parks. Callinan was the phone talker with me at the director, and Parks was in the radar room. Most of the training was relative to tracking targets. I would track the target and it would be coordinated with the radar indicator.

John Alford in London

On the ship, the radar dish was on the gun mount. When the mount was in automatic control, it would follow my aiming point. When the radar was on target, I had an indication on my gun sight. If the aim was a little off, the indicator would pulse with a small arrow showing me how to correct the aim. Simultaneously, Parks in the radar room could see if I was on target. His screen would show the target was gated; meaning I was on target.

On one of our frequent operational trips at sea, we had a tracking exercise with an aircraft. The plane would fly over the ship from the beam. It would fly out until it was out of sight, turn and come back in at us, fly across the ship, and keep going out of sight on the other side of the ship. When the plane came over and started out on my side, I tracked it all the way out until it turned and started back. When I was on target, the radar man would tell the gunnery officer that the target was “Gated.” That meant that I had the target zeroed in. I had the plane gated all the way out and back in. The gunnery officer didn’t believe it, so he went to the radar room to see for himself And sure enough, I did it again. He was amazed. I told him, “And that’s without glasses, Sir.”

I never told anyone the secret until recently. I knew that the plane would fly straight out, turn in the same direction we were steaming, and fly for a short time before turning again to fly toward us. His speed was so much greater than ours that it didn’t take too much calculation to know where he was. But most of all, I was sighting on a cloud. I followed the plane and saw that he was headed for a particular spot on a cloud, then I would stay aimed at that part of the cloud. When I figured it was about time for the plane to turn, I moved the sight a little to the left and picked out another spot on the cloud. When the plane was close enough to sight visually, I was right on target.

Preparing for Deployment

Getting ready for a deployment to the Mediterranean was a difficult task. For me, as a Chief Ship’s Serviceman, it was necessary to forecast the expenditures of supplies, as well as the anticipated ship’s store sales of the day to day needs of the crew. The process involved looking at the past consumption and expenditures, and calculating the anticipated usage for the future. One consideration was the fact that overseas usage was not necessarily similar to Stateside use. When the crew has no other source for cigarettes, toothpaste, shaving cream, and hair tonic, the ship’s store sales of these items tends to increase when no civilian stores are available. This is especially true for married men who live ashore. Estimating how much soap powder and bleach the laundry would use was also different because of the married men and their life style ashore. The experience of a prior NATO exercise was very beneficial.

As every tin can sailor knows, storage space on a destroyer is at a premium. We had only one storeroom for all of the ship’s store merchandise and the laundry supplies. Data from the Sixth Fleet advised that we would be able to replenish from the stores ship or a tender, but that was not an absolute. In addition, it was a gamble as to whether or not those ships would have the things we would be requisitioning.

A major consideration was the cigarette consumption. Sea store cigarettes are bulky and require a lot of space. Camels are packed 60 cartons to a case; all others are 50 cartons per case. When we were out for an operation, whether for a week or many weeks, married men bought sea stores for themselves and their wives. During our deployment, they won’t be buying for their wives; so calculating cigarette usage becomes a real problem. The stores ship? Don’t count on it.

Subsequent to determining the quantities required, I then transcribed those quantities into cubic feet to see if we had enough available storage space. I had been cautious in estimating the cubic feet in our storage area. So, okay, we don’t have enough space. Trim some of the quantities of the nonessential ship’s store resale items. Like what, genius? Almost everything in the store is essential for welfare, comfort, and morale. Decision time. Cut a case of shampoo, a case of hair tonic, two cases of candy, two cases of peanuts, one case of mixed nuts, and one case of lighter fluid. That should do it.

The next step in the process was submitting the requisitions to the Supply Depot for the supplies and issuing orders to vendors for the ship’s store merchandise.

Then came the task of loading the supplies and merchandise prior to departure. I tried to stagger the deliveries so that we would be getting deliveries over a period of several days rather than have everything come all at once. I planned on putting as much soap powder as possible in the laundry itself to free up some space in the storeroom. Putting the soap powder in the laundry meant anticipating a washer overflow; so get it off the deck! I also put as much resale merchandise as possible in the ship’s store itself

Almost everything except some of the cigarettes were on board two days before our scheduled departure. Our storeroom was full. There was no space for anything. Our ship’s store was on the mess deck under the ladder from the main deck. Space was limited, and the ship’s store operator didn’t have much room to maneuver around the boxes of toothpaste, soap, candy, and other merchandise stacked within the store. The last several cases of cigarettes came the day before departure. I moved the barber into the after head and put the cigarettes in the barber shop until we started using some of the supplies from the storeroom.

Soon after getting underway on 11 July 1958, sales of sea store cigarettes progressed to the point where the barber moved back into his shop within about a week. Sales of cigarettes and other essentials to the 35 Midshipmen we had taken aboard at Annapolis helped restore functions to normal, if there is such a thing as normal on a tin can.

Liberty in Beirut

The eight ships of Destroyer Squadron 10 departed Newport, R.I., on 11 July 1958, for what was supposed to be a normal deployment to the Mediterranean Sea.

The first stop for my ship, USS Abbot (DD-629), was in Annapolis on 14 July to pick up 35 Midshipmen for their summer cruise. The next day, 15 July, we got underway for the Med. We were only out of Annapolis a few hours when we were ordered to Norfolk. Fighting had erupted in Beirut, Lebanon, and our expected normal operations were to be modified. After arrival at Norfolk, we topped off our fuel and supplies, and soon departed Norfolk, headed for the Caribbean. After a short visit to Puerto Rico, we conducted some exercises with the USS Forrestal while we waited to find out what was happening in the Med.

We finally got underway for the Med with brief intermediate stops in the Azores and Gibraltar, we arrived in Naples. After a few days there, we departed and operated with the USS Saratoga. We also conducted ASW exercises.

Then on 29 August 1958, we were anchored off Beirut as gunfire support ship. During our stay in Beirut, liberty would be granted to only one sixth of the crew each day. The Chief Petty Officers were assigned to shore patrol duty; one CPO each day. On one day of shore patrol I rode in an army jeep with a Lebanese driver, a Beirut policeman, and a U. S. Army sergeant. For the first time in my career, I wore a .45 caliber pistol on shore patrol. I had previously carried a .45 as JOOD when we were in the Far East during the Korean Police Action. Riding around Beirut in the jeep, I got a good look at the “haves” and “have-nots.” Sand bagged machine gun emplacements were everywhere.

One night we were watching a movie and one of the men topside was hit in the shoulder by a round of gunfire from the beach. And, “What’s this crud about ‘no movie’ tonight?” Not topside, at any rate. The prospects of carrying out our normal deployment and returning to Newport as originally scheduled seemed remote.

As always, liberty for the crew, even for only one sixth of us, was a welcome relief from the tedium of laying at anchor, waiting for something to happen. And it was especially important when trying to anticipate the unknown of the days to come; where and when would be the next liberty?

All of the foregoing is to set the stage for the reader to appreciate one particular incident that happened while we were in Beirut. I was among the men in the liberty party returning to the ship. The LCVP was crowded with men who had been enjoying the pleasures of the local taverns, such as they were. While waiting for the boat to shove off from the dock, one sailor was especially loud and vociferous in expressing his dissatisfaction with the navy in general, and this ship in particular. He could hardly wait for his enlistment to expire so he could get out of the navy that he despised. He found no redeeming qualities at all, neither in the ship nor the navy at large. The navy had done him a terrible injustice by sending him on this tour of the Mediterranean and exposing him to the dangers of the factors in Lebanon.

His diatribe started before we left the dock and continued until we were approaching our gangway. His remarks were disturbing to a number of the men in the boat. At one pause for breath, and to gather his thoughts for more of the same ranting, I stopped him with a question.

I asked, “Do you want to get even with the navy?” He quickly responded, emphatically, “Sure.” My next questions were, “Are you sure? Do you really want to screw the navy?” Thinking that someone was offering retribution, his response was firm and deliberate, “Sure.” I said, “You can fix them good. Ship over.”

Not another word from him while we made the gangway, and the liberty party returned aboard.