A Mickey Mouse Op

By Dave Hood, GMT2, USS McKean (DD 784)  

    Remember when you were out at sea for months at a time? What were your thoughts about returning to port? What were your plans? Mine were about getting off the ship, chasing girls, drinking beer (in the hopes of meeting girls), going to the movies (in the hope of meeting girls), going to a restaurant and eating real food (with the hope that I can score with the waitress), going for a long scenic drive (with a girl as a passenger, or course), and sleeping over at a girl’s house.

The last thing in the world that I wanted to do was to escort a “_@#!+& stinkin’ rat across Puget Sound.  

    In September of 1978 the USS McKEAN DD-784 just returned to its homeport of Seattle, Washington after spending the summer out at sea. It hadn’t been an especially good cruise. We had a new CO aboard. The previous skipper, Cdr. Larry L. Smith, was very popular. He was a true Cold Warrior, an excellent ship driver and loved to fire the ship’s weapons.  When the crew did well he showed his appreciation. 

    The new CO didn’t have the charisma of Smith. Through no fault of his, we also had some mishaps: a vendor delivered us contaminated lube oil.  We had a near-disastrous Un-rep with a Royal Navy oiler.  A few of our Sonar Techs jumped ship. (On liberty they discovered some girls. Come the next morning, they had a choice-get underway or stay with the girls. The girls won out. ).  We hit some heavy seas and suffered some rather serious hull and equipment damage.  During a war game we lost a bearing in a reduction gear and had to pull into Alameda for repairs.  The ship store ran out of chewing tobacco.

    When we finally made port, we were looking forward to a fairly long stand-down period.  The ship’s office was flooded with Leave Chits.  For a week the ASROC crew was busy chasing running rust, painting scuppers and waterways, boot-topping the deck and replacing lifelines. (The deck just takes a beating from the blast of the ASROC missiles.)

    Now that our spaces were looking good it was our turn for some serious goof-off time.  The division was dumbfounded when our division officer read us the POD (plan of the day):

    “In order to promote good will between the United States Navy and the local community, and to honor the 50th birthday of WALT DISNEY’s character Mickey Mouse. The U.S.S. McKEAN will on 16 September 1978 transit from her berth at Pier 90 Seattle to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and moor alongside the mothballed battleship USS MISSOURI. From there she will receive Mickey Mouse, (unit of issue; 1 each) and transport Mr. Mouse across Puget Sound and deliver him to Seattle’s Pier 70. Once safely delivered, the U.S.S. McKEAN will then sail back to Pier 90.

Fair winds and following seas.

Signed, Commanding Officer, 13th Naval District.”


The memo ended with a note from the CO- “This will be a dependant’s cruise. You are encouraged to invite aboard your wives and children.”

“You have got to be @^*%%*&$ us, sir,” said Varga.

“What the $&#*?” said Turner.

“Holy @^*%!” said Collier.

“Oh $&#( me.” said Ring.

“Cool! We might meet some girls!” said Piper.

“Piper, you moron. Think about the girls that are going to be at Mickey Mouse’s birthday party. There won’t be any older then 12!”

“Oh. Yeah. I didn’t think about that. Hey! What about their moms’?”

“Piper! Shut up!”

    Around midnight of Friday turning into Saturday, the Boiler Techs from the off-going and on-coming duty sections wandered on down into their fire rooms and started to light fires in their boilers.

    The Machinist Mates would report aboard slightly before reveille.  They had to get vacuum in the main condensers and do a proper warm up.  They couldn’t rush the job because the 600-psi steam system in the GEARING-class plants had flange and bolt gasketed steam and water line connections.  To rush was to just beg for steam leaks. Other members of the engine room crew would arrive to relieve the light-off crew for breakfast and things just seemed to progress effortlessly; there was no schedule, no orders, everybody knew where they were going to be when "Sea & Anchor Detail" was piped and that they had somebody who needed relieving for chow. 

    The Electrician Mates would arrive just slightly before reveille and prepare the ship for the transfer from shore power to ship’s power.

    The first E-6 to report aboard had the most important light-off procedure of all to perform. He had to fire up the coffee pot in the “Lifer Locker.”

    We set Sea And Anchor under typical Seattle gray skies and an occasional drizzle. According to the Navy, it was summer time and the proper uniform on the momentous occasion was “Salt and Peppers” – Navy blue dress slacks and a white ironed shirt, polished leather shoes and a white combination cap.  (Thank you Admiral Zumwalt.) It was far from being the perfect uniform for men to work with a wet 3” manila mooring line.  Factor in rain and wind and you have a soggy, miserable and thoroughly annoyed line handling crew.  (Occasions like those were the only times we envied snipes in their warm and dry holes.)

    The transit from Seattle to PSNS Bremerton is a short one – about 30 minutes. Too short a trip to even secure from Sea And Anchor.  We sailed past the shipyard and towards the mothball fleet at the far end of Sinclair Inlet.  Most of us had never seen a real battleship before but we quickly recognized the MISSOURI’s silhouette. Only the SEARS TOWER in Chicago and HOOVER DAM in Nevada seemed bigger to me. 

A 1944 photo of the MISSOURI. While my story takes place 34 years later, the perspective was the same.

As we drew closer to the battleship’s hull I became aware of two very different things.

1)       I had no idea how we were going to toss a heaving line up onto the MISSOURI’s main deck, and

2)       I’m hearing music. Goofy (no pun intended) music.

The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Band is performing from the deck of the MISSOURI.

It was the theme song from THE MICKEY MOUSE SHOW.

“Who’s the leader of the club

that’s made for you and me?




Hey there, hi there, ho there

You’re as welcome as can be.




    We managed to get ourselves moored to the MISSOURI and an accommodation ladder was lowered down to our flight deck. Well, almost. Either the MISSOURI was too big, we were too small or the ladder was too short. The bottom of the ladder was about 3 feet above the deck. All of the waiting high-ranking brass and muckety-mucks had to jump down to board the McKEAN. Finally it was Mickey’s turn. We were expecting a very tall mouse wearing a smile and pantaloons to come aboard. Instead, we got a short old guy with two big suitcases. He tossed the suitcases to a crewmember and then leaped down onto our flight deck.  Accompanying the short old guy with the suitcases was the PSNS band. One by one, they came down the ladder, handed down their instruments and leaped aboard.

    A junior officer escorted the short old guy to the wardroom, the PSNS band started playing M-I-C-K-E-Y, we cast off our lines and we set sail back for Seattle. After the band played the Mickey Mouse Theme Song a few dozen times they then started playing ANCHORS AWEIGH.


Stand, Navy, out to sea, Fight our battle cry;
We'll never change our course, So vicious foe steer shy-y-y-y.
Roll out the TNT, Anchors Aweigh. Sail on to victory
And sink their bones to Davy Jones, hooray!

Anchors Aweigh, my boys, Anchors Aweigh.
Farewell to college joys, we sail at break of day-ay-ay-ay.
Through our last night on shore, drink to the foam,
Until we meet once more. Here's wishing you a happy voyage home.

    Those “drum and stumble” warriors played those two songs, over and over.  It didn’t stop for the entire transit. The weather got worse. The winds kicked up and the seas got choppy. We didn’t mind that too much. It helped to muffle out the band.

   At right,  Mickey and FTG2 Dave "Dog" Carlson.  Moments after this picture was taken the weather got nasty.

    As we approached Seattle things got even more bizarre. We could hear “M-I-C-K-E-Y” in the distance and “Anchors Aweigh, my boys” up close - both being played at the same time. We couldn’t figure out how the PSNS band was doing that.  The answer became apparent as we neared Pier 70. The Naval Support Activity, Seattle (NSA) band was at the head of the pier. They were playing the one tune with as much enthusiasm and gusto as the PSNS band was playing the other. Since they were each playing over the other their respective bandleaders had them do the only sensible thing possible –play their instruments louder!

    The wind was really kicking up and it made getting alongside of the pier very difficult.  Every time we tried to get a heaving line over it kept falling short of the pier and they went “ka-plop” into the water. With each command to have one engine go ahead 1/3 and the other engine to go astern 1/3 the wind would just kick up harder and blow the ship further and further from the pier. When we finally could get a heaving line over the ship would slip away and the line handler on the pier would have to let it fall back into the water.

    While all of this is going on, the short old guy had put on his Mickey Mouse costume and took up station on the port bridge wing. He’s standing there waving to the crowds. The crowds are waving back to Mickey and the mouse is waving back to the crowds.  (The short old guy really was sort of short so to been over the bridge railing, he had to stand on a box).

    The ship just couldn’t get close to the pier. Every time the wind blew us too far away.  We finally backed away from the pier and started forward again – this time with a few extra knots dialed in.  And then the wind died.

    The Mouse was still standing on his perch waving to the crowd.  The ship was making an approach on to the pier. The wind that the OOD was compensating for wasn’t there anymore.  The mouse stopped waving “Hello boys and girls” with one hand and started waving “Get the hell out of the way” with both hands. Just in time, the public sensed the urgency in the mouse’s body language and ran away. Our bow sliced into the pier like a cheese cutter slicing into a cheddar log. Several 8” x 8” x 20’ timbers were torn apart and their splinters were tossed hither and yonder. The McKEAN’s bow ended up with a crease that looked like a hair-lip trying to smile.  And the mouse got catapulted over the bridge railing.

    Mickey was using those oversized gloved hands to hold onto a lifeline for, well…, his dear life. There was nothing under him but Puget Sound and splintered pier timbers. The Deck Apes grabbed hold of Mickey and pulled him back aboard.  The crowd cheered and the two bands finally quit playing.

    Once we got back to our home at Pier 90, STGSN Piper painted a picture of Mickey onto the ASROC launcher’s torque tube cover. The next day we were ordered to paint it over.  That was one incident the wardroom wanted to forget.


Home Up


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