Thursday, November 12, 2015

Now that we’re married

The ship was in and out in early 1965. Now that we were married we looked for opportunities to be together. That is, after all, why we tied the knot in January instead of waiting until Aleene's graduation in June. While I wasn’t making a lot of money, I did not spend much either. It cost about $100 for a round trip ticket between Pittsburgh and Jacksonville. So, by mid March, just six weeks after we were married I sent Aleene some money and she showed up for a long weekend. That is when she got pregnant with Jeff….well, just do the math. Jeff was born on December 12.

She made it down again in late April and was able to even eat a meal on board in the wardroom. The ship was on its way to Norfolk and we thought about stowing her away for the overnight ride, but thought better of it. Instead, I took leave and we drove up to VA where she flew home.

I want to interject here my belief and feeling that in today’s world, we would not likely seen the need to get married for us to spend these weekends and short weeks together. But we were kids from the 1950s...we would not embarrass our families like that. We got married to legitimize our hook-ups. We did not see the risk in marriage, but there was, of course. We had great attachments of family background and personalities. We had been through a lot together. As it turned out we were more compatible than we realized and it worked out just fine.

The ship continued to operate off the East Coast and was scheduled to return to the Med in late June. We spent days alongside the pier in Mayport getting ready for the upcoming cruise. There was another LCDR onboard, the fuels officer, who was from Central Pennsylvania. He had scheduled to fly a small Navy transport from Mayport to Tyrone, PA in late May. He needed someone to ride in the right seat, an observer. The catch was, according to Navy Regs, the observer had to be an officer who was eligible for command at sea. I was such a guy and Tim knew that. He also knew I had a wife going to college in Central PA so he asked if I could see my way clear to accompany him. I jumped at the chance.

Aleene had the car, which meant she could drive over from Indiana to Tyrone (about 60 miles)  on a Friday afternoon and be back in school  by Sunday noon. It was on.

Tim Grier was the son of the owner of Grier School for Girls in Tyrone. It is a prep school for wealthy girls that focused on equestrian training. I had been there once two years before with the Penn State Glee Club. We put on a concert there and then served as dates for the spring dance. Think about men turned loose on high school girls. Yep, it was true.

Tim was a pilot and had learned to fly in the mountains of PA as a teen ager and had flown in and out of the little air strip many times. I was stoked. His deal was to fly with him on Friday, stay over in the school’s visitor quarters two nights...meals, with the girls, included.

The flight from Mayport Naval Air Station is another story altogether. The experience was one I will never forget. I have written about it several times and will point to that story. Suffice it to say here, we made the trip, landed the plane and Aleene, seeing our C-45 swooping around drove right to the air strip. We checked into our quarters and showed up for dinner. It really scalded Aleene to have to eat with all those staring girls. I, of course, was in uniform and that was enough attention, but she felt conspicuous.

Tim attended his board meeting on Saturday and on Sunday morning, early, we jumped in our orange and white Navy plane and headed south. On the way back, Tim took us off the coast and gave me the yoke...I flew for about an hour while he “rested.”

When we landed at NAS Mayport there was a car waiting for us with the message that we were to get back to the ship as quickly as we could. When we reported aboard 20 minutes late,r the OOD told me that the Chief Engineer had left me a message to get to Main Engines Control. We were lighting off boilers for an emergency get- underway and I was the only qualified watchstander on board at the time. We were headed to The Dominican Republic. So much for our romantic weekend escape, I was back in the Navy.Two weeks later I flew back up to PA for Aleene’s graduation.
Sometime in the spring I contacted my detailer at the Pentagon (really the Navy Annex)  to see if it was possible for me to get orders to shore duty. Aleene was expecting and I had heard that after two years aboard a ship the Navy might give me a shore assignment if I extended my active duty commitment for a year for a two year tour. The guy said it was possible if I had a strong recommendation from my Commanding Officer and if there was something open that the Navy needed and I was qualified for. The latter was no problem since I had spent ten weeks in Philly at DC-NBC school. The former, the fitness reports, I had no way of knowing how that would pan out.

I told my boss, Captain Davis was now Chief Engineer, my plan and he warmed to it. He said something like...who knows, this just might be the thing that makes you decide to make the Navy a career. Really? Really?

There was one more quick flight north for Aleene’s graduation from Indiana. I remember the dinner after graduation and a few pictures, but little else.

Once again, I flew to Jacksonville just in time for  the “sea and anchor detail” as we sailed out the St. John’s River for what turned out to be my last time as we headed for the Med. I was standing watches four hours on and eight hours off. We had to get the newbies qualified.

On July 5th I got orders to report to DC School, Philly as an instructor….in early September. Two more months to go before I left the ship.

I wrote to Aleene and she went to work. By the first of September she and Chickie made a trip to the Philly area and found us an apartment. Why Chickie? In 1965 she and the girls were living in New Castle while Bruce was on an unaccompanied tour in Korea. Phyllis had a friend from Utah whose husband had been transferred to New Jersey who was willing to let them use her home as a base for an apartment search. Charlotte and Gary Maffin were now connected to us.

I flew off the ship in a COD (carrier onboard delivery - mail plane) on 4 September in the Eastern Med. Being launched from zero to 180 mph in three seconds is a thrill, for sure. I had the feeling I might never see the FDR again so I took a long look as we circled and headed towards Athens and then NAS Naples. It took me four days to make it to McGuire AFB by way of Rabat, and Rota. It’s the way the Military worked back then.

Aleene and Chickie were waiting for me in Philly at our new apartment in Westville, New Jersey. Westville is significant because it was our first home together. Jeff was born in the Naval Hospital in Philly and we brought him home to Ambler Ave. We made church friends there and our life as a family began there.

My job as an instructor in Biological Warfare Defense was challenging at first because we were teaching recent college grads who were on their way to the fleet...and were a bit smart alecky. But we (Al Kreiser and I) endured and really got good at it. Can’t believe we drove the Walt Whitman Bridge over the Delaware River for two years, successfully.

We made many life-long friends in Philly: Al and Ann Kreiser, Mark and Karen Simon, Jack and Gladys Cramer...all have stayed in touch over the years. There were many more very colorful people too. Great memories. Some of us bought houses in New Jersey south of the bridge in Woodbury and some took up residence in Navy rentals in Society Hill Towers in Philadelphia….yep highrises in downtown...beautiful apartments. I am sure that did not last long, but in the time we were there  (65-67) you gave up your BAQ (basic allowance for quarters, about $120 per month, then) for very swanky digs.

Our choice was to live in Jersey and was a big factor in why I went to work for Campbell Soup when I got out of the Navy in late 1967. CSC corporate office  was right up the road from us and I could take the train to work. But I am getting ahead of myself.

A word or so about the Navy aspect of those two years. Unlike the ship, the DC School staff were not exactly misfits, but many seemed to be. The ship officer cadre were people striving to get ahead, to do their best to be professional. DC staff were relieved to be ashore...close to home, close to grad school. They were people who did not like sea duty or who had been at sea too many years. And then there were those of us just starting out and exploring the Navy’s opportunities. The Commanding Officer was a lush, the admin officer was a lush, the Executive Officers came and went like the wind...they got there and could not stand it.

Most of my buddies were going to grad school at either Temple or Penn (Wharton School of Finance) and were looking to get out and go to work for big salaries. I was there to be with my school, and fairly sure this would be my last duty station and not further my Navy career. It was 1967, after all. The Vietnam War was heating up and protests were everywhere. The war was unpopular...especially in the big cities like Philadelphia.

Low and behold a letter from the Navy Bureau of Personnel (BuPers, we called it) offering me the chance to “augment”  or switch from the Naval Reserve to the Regular Navy (1105 designator to the coveted 1100 designator...unrestricted line officer; eligible for command at sea). The fitness reports that had accompanied me from FDR turned out to be that good that the Navy was giving me a plum...if...I wanted it. And, I did not. The senior administration in Philly was dumbfounded. This did not happen very often...unsolicited augmentation... and they could not believe I was ignoring it. Truth be told, had the CO and others been more squared away, I might have accepted the offer, but all I saw was a career of having to work with sleezy people.

The Navy made me one more offer six months after I got out….April 1968. This time it was orders to a destroyer in engineering with no penalty in time in grade for getting out. Again, unsolicited. In context, this was just after the Tet Offensive and the war was going was an easy decision. I did realize that the reason I had been promoted ahead of schedule was the same reason these orders were sent in the first place...there was a war on and the Navy needed more qualified people. They could have just as easily kicked me out sooner if they did not need me. That I knew.

We loved Philadelphia after we understood how to get around the city and the area. I was there for 10 weeks in 1963 and two years with the Navy from 1965-67...then with Campbell Soup through 1968 and again from 1970-72; slightly over five years. We had some roots, too. Tottie was in New York wrapping up her career and we were able to connect with her both in NYC and at our house on a couple of occasions. Philly was very comfortable for us.

When it came time to look for work as my separation date came closer I applied to several agri-businesses: Mobil Petrochemicals, Stauffer Ag Chemical, and Campbell Soup. I got phone calls from Penn State trying to connect me with several school districts looking for Ag teachers...there was work out there, I interviewed with Stauffer in Omaha and Campbell in New Jersey...Campbell won, hands down. My human resources career began (Personnel they called it then) and I was not even sure what value a personnel department added to an organization...if any. But I learned quickly.

My Navy career lasted four years and nine months. Other than marrying a devoted wife, mother and partner, Navy life was probably the most significant part of my education. I figured out I could compete with some of the best and gain approval of people I worked for. I spent 14 months in the Med visiting countries from Spain to Turkey and even set foot in Northern Africa. I tested my leadership skills and was tested in pressure situations and gained valuable confidence in my decision making. I have to admit I loved being at sea and had it not been for the time away from home I might have stayed in for twenty. Who knows? We made the decision to get out and never looked back. On balance I am convinced we did the smart thing for us.

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