J.O.'s and Chiefs

By Richard H. King, CDR USNR-Ret.

At the time of this story, CDR King was LT JG, Main Propulsion Assistant (1965-1968), 
(Assistant Engineering Officer for Main Propulsion) 

    There is probably no relationship more awkward than that of a junior officer (Ensign or LTJG), usually a “division officer” on board a Navy ship, with the Chief Petty Officer or senior Chief Petty Officer in the same Division.  Officer and senior enlisted.  College graduate and school of hard knocks and experience.  In the Army, it is 1st or 2nd Lieutenant and Master Sergeant.  The problem is the same.  The young officer doesn’t know what he is doing and the senior chief or sergeant with up to twenty-five years experience or more is theoretically under the direction of the junior officer who may be smart and educated, but doesn’t know crap. 

    Very little is written in military manuals about how this is supposed to work.  There are a few brief paragraphs in the “Division Officer’s Guide”, an official Naval Publication that stays about twenty years behind the times.  As an NROTC student during the draft, I had a class or two in which a LCDR tried to impress upon us that Chief’s were the backbone of the Navy, and needed to be treated with utmost respect.  Beyond that, we were on our own.  So, now with a clear picture of how this was supposed to work, I embarked upon my active duty career in 1965 aboard the USS CHEVALIER DD-805, a destroyer left over from WWII, to fight the war in Vietnam. 

    Arriving on board, on the second day, I was interviewed by the Captain.  I had already achieved two out of three “dream sheet” goals, homeport in San Diego and a destroyer.  My third goal, to be an engineering officer, would have to wait.  I would have to do penance first in operations, specifically, electronics.  Initially, the leading ET was only a first class, so he was a bit easier to deal with.  But later he was replaced by an ETC, Chief Cline.  He was close to my age, for a CPO, and I saw talent.  Before the year was over, I wrote the recommendation that made him one of the first W-1’s after warrants were re-discovered and brought back on line.  WO1 Cline and I had lunch in the wardroom on Chevalier shortly after he graduated from what we called Warrant Officer “knife and fork” school.  He was one of four enlisted chiefs that made O.O.D I on the Chevalier.   Chief Cline (ETC), Chief Latshaw (STCS), Chief McGrew (RDC) and Chief Fleming (FTGS).   

    After a year, I finally got the job on the CHEVALIER that I wanted from the start:  MPA (Main Propulsion Assistant).  The departing Chief Engineer, James Dee, put in a good word for me; all the time I was in Operations, I spent as much time as I could studying the engineering plant.  Captain Kirk did not like Engineering and he wanted me to stay in OPS, his field.  He could not understand why I wanted to move from OPS to Engineering, but he relented. 

    The MPA vacancy occurred during a period of much turnover, simultaneous with a new Chief Engineer, LT Al Sherman, and a new BTC, Chief Richard Morton.  We newcomers met together for the first time in the Engineering Log Room.  I was impressed with LT Al Sherman immediately.  Chief Richard Morton took some “adjusting”.  He was a burley salt from the West Virginia coal country rich with crude country sayings. 

    For three or four months, I was enrolled in COMCRUDESPAC ENGINEERING OFFICERS SCHOOL, and graduated with honors.  It was three times harder than DUKE UNIVERSITY, which is not a slack school.    When I returned to the ship, and assumed my new duties, I soon discovered that BTC Richard Morton and I could work together.  We remained good friends long after we both left the Navy and were in close communication right up to his death on May 1, 2000. The problem I discovered quickly was the one “holdover” player from the old engineering regime, the leading chief of “M” Division, an E-9 Master Chief, Don Hackbarth.

    Master Chief Hackbarth had little use for junior officers.  Like children, they were to be seen but not heard.  I was willing to do it that way, up to a point.  I was already a good      manipulator of the supply system and that’s where my M Division energy was spent.  If Don Hackbarth could get the parts, he could fix it.  And that was OK with me!

    We left San Diego on 29 August 1967.  We were not half way to Pearl when Master Chief Hackbarth reported that we were salting up in the forward plant.  Upon arrival at Pearl the forward main condenser was opened and examined closely.  In that very hot humid climate there was so much condensation that it was impossible to identify the leaking tube.  I cannot remember whether it was Al Sherman or Chief Hackbarth that had heard of a new way to search for condenser leaks.  Take the standard issue green “dye”, used by sonar men to mark “datum” in the ocean, and put it into the steam side of the condenser in water and under pressure.  Then shine a “black light” at the tube bank from the salt-water side and the leaking tube will “glow in the dark like a “psychedelic poster” (this was the psychedelic sixties).

    We had the dye, but we didn’t have the black light.  I knew immediately what my job was; find a black light.  But Honolulu was not a psychedelic haven like San Francisco.  I started at the boiler shop at Pearl, but they didn’t have one.  So then I got in my rental car, opened up the yellow pages, and in about four hours, I found a place that had a black light for sale.  About $35.00, if I remember correctly.  They only had one in stock.

    I returned to the ship and met with the supply officer.  How do we buy a “black light” on “open purchase”?  He warned me it would be difficult, but cut me a “purchase order” which then had to go to the mostly civilian “supply depot” at Pearl.  I met with an overweight woman in a small office with my request.  Her first question,  “How many bids do you have?”

    “Mam, it took me four hours to find one black light in all of Honolulu, not to mention getting three bids.  Its only $35 and we have a major warship that can’t really go to sea tomorrow without it.  We will have to file an engineering CASREP”.

    “Sorry, you will have to have three bids” “And you will have to write specifications!”   “And since a black light is not in your ship’s allowance, you will have to write up justification papers.”   This was my first attempt to write government specifications (MILSPECS) for a “black light, psychedelic”, but the job got done.  Actually, I wrote: “Lamp, hand held, 110 volt AC, ultraviolet light emitting for the detection of fluorescent dyes”.  

    She then took it upon herself to try to get more “bids”.  Three hours later, she still didn’t have even one competitive bid.  As the day was drawing to an end, she begrudgingly issued me the paperwork I needed to go buy the black light.  I returned to the ship at about 1800 with the black light in hand.  And EM1 Electrician (Kavanaugh) looked at it and immediately said we could not use it.  The cord had only two “prongs”, not three.  I told that damn electrician to take it immediately to his shop and rig it with a grounded cord.  An hour later, we had a three-wire black light and took it into the salt-water side of the main condenser.  Chief Hackbarth and I were side by side.  The leaking tube just “leaped out at us” with a green glow and was quickly plugged.

    After that Don Hackbarth had a bit more respect for me.   But I had to go through a few more tests before he begrudgingly accepted me. I can’t remember which came next, the forward generator or the starboard shaft.

    The starboard shaft is the long shaft, running from the forward engine room through the after fire room, then through the after engine room, then through a shaft ally, and finally to the starboard prop. It was supported by a series of spring bearings, and one of the spring bearings in the after fireroom was running dangerously hot.  If it got too hot, it would melt the babbit in the bearing and we would limp back to port on one shaft.  While in port, Chief Hackbarth lifted the bearing cover and brought out all of his precision instruments, including that blue stuff that you use to detect irregularities.   He measured and measured, and finally I asked him what he thought was wrong.  He said that all of his measurements and tests indicated that the bearing was not aligned perfectly with the shaft. 

    “But how could that be Chief?  The bearing is bolted to a saddle, which is welded to a frame of the hull and can’t move.  This bearing has not been running hot for 22 years, only recently”.  Actually, after studying the engineering logs, I noted that it had been running hotter than all the others for a long time, and it just kept getting worse and worse.  The Chief showed me all the tests he had run and his measurements and finally said “Maybe after all these years the hull of the ship has warped a bit”.  “After all, it is an old steel hull subject to a lot of stress in heavy seas and we are talking about less than 1/64th of an inch”.

    I asked, “What if we enlarged the bolt holes a tiny bit; could you then re-align the bearing and bolt it back down in perfect alignment?”   He replied yes, that would work, but that was against “the rules”.  I thought about it for a few minutes, considered the fact that we were already rumored for scrapping, and finally said “Hell Chief lets do it.  I will take the responsibility”.  “What do you need?”  He replied, “some hydraulic jacks and some shoring”.  “We will need to jack up the shaft without jacking a hole in the bottom of the ship.”

    I announced that I was on my way to the tender to borrow some jacks.  When I got back, he had already cut some shoring and had it in place to properly distribute the weight of the shaft.  Several hours later the job was done.  We went to sea and the overheating problem was solved.  The ship is still steaming today, 32 years later in the South Korean Navy, presumably still with oversized bolt holes in that same spring bearing saddle.

    My third and final “Hackbarth” test came with the failure of No. 1 generator in Khaosuing in 1968, I think.  We were steaming “auxiliary” in #1 Engine room only, when  #1 generator “tripped”.  This led to a chain reaction that is a bit hard to explain.  With the loss of power, we lost ventilation in the engine room. With the loss of the auxiliary condenser (under the turbo generator), steam had nowhere to go and began “popping” drains, releasing steam into the space.  The temperature started to rise, and rise, and rise, finally pegging the thermometer at 120 degrees.  Not only was the space dangerously hot, it was filled with so much steam that visibility was only a few feet. 

    Man by man, the MM’s had bailed out, but Chief Hackbarth and I were still down there trying to re-start the generator.  We tried about eight times.  To start a Sumner-Gearing turbo generator took two men.  One had to crank like hell on a crank driven lube oil pump while the other opened the steam valve.  I did most of the cranking; Chief Hackbarth worked the valve.  I was in my early twenties and Chief Hackbarth was in his late forties or early fifties.  On the eighth unsuccessful attempt to re-start the generator, I looked at the Chief and became concerned.  His complexion was near purple and he looked close to collapse.  I then gave him the first ORDER I had ever given him.  Chief, VACATE THIS SPACE NOW, THAT’S AN ORDER!  Then I also ordered out the EM3 who had hung in there with us also.  They both almost collapsed going up the ladder.  I came out last.

    Once we were out and in the passageway, I gave my second definitive order to Chief Hackbarth of my career.  I told Chief Hackbarth to go light off the after engine room and get power restored.  He did not argue a bit.  After the sweat cleared out of my eyes, I realized that the Captain had watched the whole scene of the three of us climbing out of the engine room hatch that was still spewing steam into the inboard passageway.

    After power, ventilation and a condenser for excess steam were restored, Chief Hackbarth and some MM’s worked on #1 generator all night long.  I went down there about every hour to watch his progress.  There was none. To amuse myself, I pulled the blue prints of the generator.  I saw a complicated piston operated over speed device, and became convinced that that device was the source of the problem.  Why?  Because the generator would start, but then shut itself down.

    About three or four in the morning, I went down and explained my theory about the over speed piston to Master Chief Hackbarth.  He was tired, and was running out of options.  Next thing I knew, he ordered two guys to open the cap over the over speed piston.  An hour later, he reported it was bent, we had the part on board and everything was fixed.

    Master Chief Hackbarth and I never had a problem again! I wish I could find him.  I heard he married a Japanese citizen and retired in Japan.  I also heard about a year ago he put an ad in Navy Times trying to find Chief Morton.     

Home Up


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