Gil Nelson Documents, 1953-1955

Gil Nelson

Gil Nelson reported aboard Abbot in 1953 as a newly minted ensign just out of the Merchant Marine Academy, and he left the ship in 1955 as a lieutenant (junior grade). Like all officers in the Cold War, he amassed vast quantities of paperwork in a personnel folder known as a journal.

The documents listed below represent a sampling from a journal about an inch thick. These papers predate xerography and shipboard computers, so some of the forms were typed with translucent onion paper using several layers of carbon paper to make simultaneous (and blurry) copies. Others were printed in purple on ditto machines. Some were mimeographed on cheap paper that by now has turned chestnut brown and is decomposing. For legibility, we converted some of the forms to black and white images.

Like all destroyer officers, Gil handled a variety of tasks. He navigated, investigated petty crimes, stood watch, decoded secret messages and performed myriad other tasks. And, as it is with all sailors, the day came when he left Abbot — duly recorded in his journal.

One highlight of Gil’s tenure aboard Abbot was the world cruise of 1954, which began and ended at Newport, Rhode Island. This generated paperwork, of course, including a detailed itinerary and authority to wear sundry medals and ribbons for activities near China and Korea. Such cruises become part of an officer’s résumé.

Promotions are a big part of navy life, and the first for an ensign is usually to lieutenant (junior grade). Word of the promotion came from the President of the United States via NavPers form 548, a flimsy piece of onion paper that belied its role as the first big stepping stone in a Cold War naval career. Gil was in Yokosuka, Japan, when he got the word, and the paperwork.

Many thanks to Gil for sharing his journal.

Here is a sampling of documents from Gil Nelson’s years aboard Abbot. We have omitted forms that contain the sorts of personal data that can lead to identity theft.