Bury the Dead

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

    Just because congress declares a man, “an officer and a gentleman,” that decree by itself doesn’t make him a leader.  In the late ‘70’s, the U.S.S. McKEAN DD784 had a sizeable wardroom.  Academy graduates, ROTC-pukes, mustangs and OCS-types.  One type of commission didn’t produce a superior caliber of officer over the others.  There were officers that we respected and liked.  We had officers that we respected and feared.  We had officers we liked but didn’t necessarily respect and then we had LTjg Glasgow.  He was a prick and we hated him.

    He was the CIC officer and must have been sick that day in ROTC when they discussed leadership.  All he really knew how to do was to spring-load the crew to the pissed-off position.  Whenever he did something that really annoyed the crew, someone would steal his hat and toss it over the side.  I’m not talking about his five dollar ball cap or his seven dollar piss-cutter.  I’m referring to his one-hundred dollar Bancroft  dress combination cover.

    I particularly remember late one afternoon when a 2nd class Hull Tech came into the crew’s lounge with this cat-that-ate-the-canary grin on his face.  We all turned and looked at him for awhile wondering, ‘WTF, over?’.  He finally sat down, opened a soda and said, “I just threw Glasgow’s %*$(_&# hat over the side.”  For a moment, we were all very quiet.  To a man, we pondered the possibilities of what LTjg. Glasgow, the CIC officer (radar and electronics warfare), could have done to offend a HT (welder and pipe-fitter).  But then reason and logic told us that Glasgow could piss off anybody.

    By late ’79 to early ’80, the McKEAN was the last of her squadron, DESRON 37. All of her sister ships had been retired and sold as scrap or to foreign navies.  That meant that we were the only man-of-war between San Francisco and the Canadian border. As a result, our patrols and at-sea commitments increased.  This was also the era of when  Iran seized our embassy in Tehran and taunted America by parading the hostages in front of the cameras.  We became very busy.

    In April of ’80, we were at sea most of time.  We would hold ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) exercises with the Canadians, have our weapons systems tweaked by FTG (Fleet Training Group) and on-load as much ordnance as possible.

    The reason for all of this activity became apparent 25 April 1980, when we learned of the disaster at Desert One in Iran. Eight American heroes died in a botched rescue attempt.  We were prepared to sail for the Persian Gulf if the situation there got even worse.  But the Mullahs in Iran were content to move our hostages around and gloat at America’s humiliation.  We stood down, somewhat.

    On 7 May we again got underway.  On the 15th, we held a rehearsal for the burial at sea ceremony and in the process, LTjg Glasgow’s hat was blown over the side by a gust of wind. 

    The 18th of May, 1980 found us off the coast of northern California.  Locked in the XO’s safe were the cremated remains of three retired sailors.  Of the deceased, the most senior was a Chief Petty Officer.  I was to be rifleman in the firing squad.  The eight of us were stationed port-side, main deck.  We were each given 3 rounds of 7.62mm ball to load into the magazine of our M-14 rifles.  The CO decided that he wanted LTjg Glasgow and Ens. Potter to officiate the ceremony.  I thought it odd that he himself wouldn’t participate but I didn’t say anything.  I did remember my high school math and realize that three rounds of 7.62 multiplied by eight M-14 rifles equals 24 -bangs.  As we were assembling, I asked the lead Gunner’s Mate about this.  He stopped, did some mental calculations and said, “Shit! Shut up, don’t say anything more and get back in line.”  Well, if the President of the United States gets a 21- gun salute, a Chief should deserve a 24- gun salute.

    The command, “Now all hands bury the dead,” was passed over the 1MC system and the ceremony started.  The ship was brought to a crawl and all hands not on watch mustered on the fantail.  LTjg Glasgow and Ens. Potter said their words but without a loudspeaker, none of us could hear a thing.  One by one, the urns were opened and the junior offers started scattering the ashes over the side. 

    It was at that moment that the wind shifted 90 degrees and in an instant, both officers were   We could see by the look on their faces that they were both thinking;

1)       “This isn’t in the procedures.”

2)       “My dress blue uniform is ruined.”

3)       “We’re going to look bad in the eyes of the captain.

4)       “Holy shit! I have dead people all over me!!!!!!!”


    It was at that very moment that the wind kicked up even stronger and blew LT jg Glasgow’s hat off his head and over the side.  To avoid laughing and make this solemn occasion a total disaster, we in the firing squad did the only thing we could think of doing.  We fired a 24-gun salute.


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