Rocket Launcher

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


    During the late 70’s, the ships of DesRon 37 were the only US warships stationed between San Francisco and Alaska.  The USS HAMNER DD 718 and the USS RODGERS DD876 were out of Portland, Oregon.  The USS ORLECK DD 886 was out of Tacoma, Washington and the USS HIGBEE DD 806 and the US McKEAN DD 784 were home ported in Seattle.  One of the drawbacks to being part of the “Canoe Club” was that we were drafted to participate in what we called “Dog and Pony shows”, but what the navy called “Visit ships and VIP tours.”
   In October of 1977, the McKEAN sailed from her berth at Pier 90 all the way to Seattle’s downtown Pier 70, a distance of about a mile and a half.  Pier 70 is at the north end of Seattle’s tourist waterfront.  The pier had a few restaurants, a souvenir stand, a bar and a disco.  I don’t recall what the specific occasion was-it may have been NAVY DAY.
    There was always a crowd on the pier watching us pull in.  The crew would be at the rails checking out girls on the pier.  If a desirable one was observed by one of the Fire Controlmen on line 6, they would say, “Whoa! Check out the split-tail!”   Huizar,  Sea Creature and Pallazola would bunch together like the Three Stooges and make "Whoop whoop whoop!" noises.  “Dog” Carlson's head would swivel so fast he'd damn near get a whiplash.  Then he'd trip over his tongue or something on the way to the lifelines to get a better look.  FTG1 Haggerty would just grind his teeth side-to-side and spill his coffee. 
   If another female should be spotted by one of the Sonar Techs on line 4, they might comment, “Contact, bearing 090, range 20 yards and closing, tentatively identified as a virgin in tight jeans.  Designate contact “Sierra 1”. 

   If a babe was spotted by a Gunners’ Mate, he would say, “Hey, check out the one with the nice rack!”

   Once we were tied up and a brow was in place, the ship would be open for tours.  The public was always so quick to praise us for our cheerful demeanor and friendliness.  Little did they know that our “public spirit” was only motivated in our desire to nail their daughters, their wives, girlfriends, moms and sisters.  Official tours would cease with the passing of the word, “Knock off ship’s work.  Now sweepers.”  About 15 minutes later, the word would be passed, “Now liberty call.  Liberty shall commence for duty sections 2,3,4,5 and 6.  Liberty shall expire at 0700.”
    I was in duty section 1 and therefore was stuck aboard the ship.  I rationalized it by knowing that a gorgeous single babe, one who had a high-paying job and would probably drive a convertible sports car, would happen by, perhaps on her way to the pier’s upscale bar, and be intrigued by the ship.  She will walk the length of the ship on the pier and spot me, the sharp, robust, salty 2nd Class Petty Officer.  We will strike up a conversation and I will impress her with my wit and wisdom.  I will then ask her if she would like an “after-hours private tour” of the ship and she will agree.  As I meet her at the brow and escort her aboard, the men on Quarterdeck watch will quietly wink at me to acknowledge my conquest.  Yeah, right!  And the tooth fairy really exists too.
   I was up in ASROC feeling sorry for myself when LTjg. Chris Fair, the ASWO – Anti Submarine Warfare Officer- came in.  He told me that LT. Robert Brandt, the Weapons Division officer, was up in the bar on the pier and he wanted to somehow pull a prank on him.  I stepped outside and looked out to the pier.  After I verified that my fantasy girlfriend, the one in the heels and short tight dress, WAS NOT out there waiting for me, I looked out to the bar.  The bar was on the 2nd story of the pier’s building.  It’s height was just slightly higher then that of the ASROC deck. The bar’s picture windows were slightly behind us, about adjacent to the motor whaleboat and no more then thirty-five feet away.  LT. Brandt and few of the other ship’s officers were in there drinking.  When he saw me out on deck, he raised his glass in a toast, and then let me watch as he drank the contents.  I meekly waved and went back inside ASROC.  Mr. Fair and I came up with a plan. 

   I energized the launcher and trained it away from the bar.  Mr. Fair and I then rigged our surprise and I then went back into ASROC.  With Mr. Fair giving me directions by hand signals, I trained the launcher and elevated the selected guide so that it was pointed directly at the bar’s window.  We waited a few moments to let the curiosity and suspense build and then Mr. Fair signaled to me by giving me a ‘thumbs up.” I selected cell #5 and hit the “Door open/rail extension” switch.  Dangling from the rail was a handmade sign that read “BANG”.  Mr. Fair gave it a minute or two for the laughter to build and then gave me a second “thumbs up.” I then selected cell #6.  The doors opened and the rail extended. At the end of that rail was another sign.  This one read “HI BOSS”.  I stepped outside and joined Mr. Fair by the launcher.  Mr. Brandt and all of the other officers were laughing and slapping each other on the backs.  Customers were approaching them and pointing out towards us, as if to say, “Do those clever rascals work for you?”  Mr. Brandt gave us a big double thumbs up and I stowed the launcher.  The next morning, liberty expired, we set the sea and anchor detail, got underway and steamed back to our berth at Pier 90.  Over the next few days, the ships’ officers would comment on how amusing they found our prank.  Even the old man, Cdr. Larry Smith, thought it was hilarious.

15 October, 1978
   A year had passed and some changes were inevitable. The McKEAN had a new Commanding Officer, a Cdr. Robert Doll. Mr. Fair and Mr. Brandt had left the ship for new commands.  We were now on five-section duty.  The McKEAN was once again at Pier 70 for another Visit Ship and I again was stuck onboard with the duty.
   Come Liberty Call, several of shipmates from my Division decided to go to the nearest bar; the one at the top of the pier.  The same bar that Mr. Brandt was at the previous year.  I was on the ASROC deck trying to look cool in the event that my fantasy lady friend should decide to show up this year.  I glanced up to the bar’s windows and there were my shipmates.  They were having a great time.  They even took the effort to prominently display for me the drinks they were consuming.  In jest, they would motion for me to come up and join them.  One of them, the one making the biggest show of mocking me, was STGSN Eric Varga.
   Recalling the fun we had the previous year, I went back into the ASROC shack to scrounge some cardboard, a bold marking pen and some shot line.  (Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.)
   Now prepared, I trained and elevated the launcher so that it was pointing towards the bar.  I selected a cell and extended a rail.  Out popped my famous “BANG” sign.  I peered into the bar and the gathered crowd was laughing.  Varga was milking it for all it was worth.  I’m sure that he was telling the crowd that he worked on that very rocket launcher and that he is the one responsible for finding targets for it to destroy.  I then stowed that guide and selected another.  As the new guide elevated, Varga motioned for all of the bar’s patrons to gather at the windows. Varga began telling all who would listen just how the ASROC operated.  He briefed them that each of the four guides contained two cells.  He added that each cell had it’s own set of pneumatically operated doors and when those doors open, a rocket launcher rail will extend.  Attached to the end of the rail was a new sign that read, “VARGA’S NOT 21”.
    Before the bartender could say, “Let me see that ID card again,” Varga had run out of the bar.  The crowd inside was laughing.  The rest of the division inside was cheering.  And someone on the pier was yelling.  At first, I thought that the yelling was part of the fanfare for my prank.  But as the yelling got closer, I could discern it more clearly.  It sounded rather negative.  Puzzled, I leaned out over the rails and looked at the end of the pier.  Storming down the length of the pier towards the brow was our new CO, Cdr. Doll.  He didn’t appear to be very amused. In fact, he seemed to be rather angry.  Hostile, in fact.  When he got close enough, I could hear that he what he was yelling was, “Put that %(##!*^ rocket launcher away!” 
I immediately retracted the rail, closed the doors and stowed the guide.  I then did the only thing I could think of- I hide in the loader rail storage locker for the rest of the day.
   That evening, I heard my name passed over the 1MC.  Oh, no!  The CDO, Lt. Taylor wanted to see me in the wardroom.  I’m screwed.  Expecting a summary Captain’s Mast to be held there and then, I sheepishly entered.  No one else was in the wardroom.  Mr. Taylor told me that initially, the old man wanted both my head and his.  Mr. Taylor said that he had spent the better part of an hour explaining last year’s prank.  How the ship’s former CO, Capt. Smith, ordered the ship’s ASWO, Mr. Fair, to direct me to play that practical joke on the ships WEAPS, Lt. Brandt.  He further told me that that story was a favorite of both the Squadron’s Commodore and the District’s Admiral.  Mr. Taylor further added that now that Capt. Smith is at the Pentagon, word of this hilarious story was working it’s way around the Department of the Navy and even the Joint Chiefs were said to have gotten a chuckle out it. 
   With that explanation given, Mr. Taylor told me that the captain decided to drop the issue.  He even forgot about Varga having a fake ID card.

Side Note: One of the key differences between the Navy (and I will lump the USCG in here too) and the USAF, USMC and USArmy is that an enlisted sailor is first and foremost his Rating. I was a Gunners’ Mate. I just happened to get paid at the E-5 level. Ask Dog or Larry what they did on their hitch and they will tell you that they were Fire Control Techs. Ask a jarhead (Marine) what he is and he will tell, “I’m a United States Marine!” Ask a dogface (U.S. Army Soldier) what he is and he will tell you, “I’m a Spec 5.”
  Do not confuse Rate with Rank. Rank was only a concern on work details.

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