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) 


    I think this story happened in 1967, but I am not quite sure.  And I am not absolutely sure who the Oil King was, although I thought it was BT2 Nathaniel Thomas, but when I sent him a draft of the story he did not respond.  It all started with a gunnery exercise at San Clemente Island, the Navy’s gunnery practice island not too far from San Diego.  We shot, and we shot, and we shot.  Chevalier did have six good five-inch guns and they worked and they were accurate.

    After the shoot was over, we pulled into San Diego Harbor and because this was an ongoing exercise, we tied to one of the buoys near Shelter Island and Shelter Island Yacht Club rather than go all the way up to 32nd Street.  I was a brand new CDO (Command Duty Officer, the officer in charge of the ship in port).  Captain Kirk was unusual.  At first the Chief Engineer, the Operations Officer and the Supply Officer all had CDO Watch Stander’s Liberty.  The Weapons Officer complained, so he got it also.  So all of our CDO’s were junior officers, essentially all of the O-2’s on board.  But whoever assigned the duty roster wasn’t thinking.  There were not enough Ensigns to cover all five duty sections, so a few of the CDO’s would go solo.  Instead of giving an Ensign to the least experienced CDO, the senior CDO’s got them.  In Duty Section II, I was solo, the only officer on board the ship.  Ensigns don’t know much, but they can be helpful.

    We were supposed to go back out to the “Exercise” in the morning and I was told to refuel the ship that night.  The Port Services people brought a fuel barge along side just after dark.  At this point and time, I was wearing several “hats”.  I was CDO, MPA, and Fueling Officer and the only officer aboard. If anything went wrong with the refueling, it was going to be hard to blame someone else.

    We started fueling the forward tanks first and everything seemed to be going perfectly.  Obviously, the one place I “wasn’t” that night was in the wardroom.  And since I was the only officer on board, the wardroom was deserted.  Then someone went by the door to the Wardroom and reported that black oil, NSFO, was pouring out from under the Wardroom door, crossing the deck, spilling over the side and heading for Shelter Island Yacht Club.  When the problem was called to my attention, I ran to the door to the wardroom and opened the door.  Black oil gushed out and over the side.  The oil was heading to Shelter Island Yacht Club.  Oh Shit!”  (Almost all my stories have that phrase in there somewhere).

    I shut down the refueling barge and I am not sure what I did next.  But after a few minutes I had my Boatswain’s Mates in the boat with a fire hose to try to contain the spill and I had sent reports of our “troubles” to all the proper authorities, both civilian and military. 

    The Navy had an “oil spill recovery vessel” on the scene very quickly and between our motor whaleboat with a fire hose and the “recovery vessel”, that problem was quickly solved.  We went ahead and filled the after tanks from the barge while the clean up effort was still going on around us.   After the barge was gone, I went to the wardroom.  I was amazed.  Every engineer on board, whether “M”, “B” or “R”, whether in the duty section or just returned from liberty, was on his hands and knees cleaning the wardroom carpet with JP5.  I didn’t order that!  To this day I don’t know who organized it, perhaps the oil king.  It was a disaster about to happen, but I let them continue after putting the smoking lamp out throughout the ship.  A spark or match in the wardroom that night would have created a fiery inferno.  But amazingly, the carpet cleaned up nicely (it was dark blue and black to begin with).  The drapes on the other hand were a total loss. 

     A careful investigation the next day showed that the aluminum fuel trunk, on the O-1 level, had cracked during the gun shoot and that’s why the oil leaked into the wardroom.  I wish I was sure who was Oil King that night.  I still think it was BT2 Nathaniel Thomas from the Eastern shore of Virginia.  An outstanding sailor, 4.0, and one of very few blacks we had in either M or B Division.   


Now for some definitions:

  1. BTC stands for "Boiler Technician Chief" (E-7) in olden days "Boiler Tender Chief".  

  2. MM stands for "Machinist Mate", the rate that handled the steam turbines, turbo generators, evaporators, condensers, etc.  

  3. In simplistic terms, the "BT's" made the steam and the "MM's" put that steam to work and sent the condensate back to the BT's to make more steam.  It was called the "steam cycle" because in theory you used the same water over and over and over again.

  4. "MPA" stood for "Main Propulsion Assistant" which I describe to civilians (easier to understand) as "Assistant Engineering Officer for Main Propulsion".  Or on a merchant steamship, "First Engineer" (after the Chief Engineer).  




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