Rose Festival

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

    A young man joins the navy for many reasons. Some do it for the GI Bill benefits. Some do it out of family tradition. For others, it’s an opportunity to grow up and decide what they wish to do with their lives. Some do it at the demands of a Superior Court judge. I think most enlisted for the same reason I did - for the adventure. We heard our fathers, uncles, older brothers and neighbors tell us tales of exotic ports of call visited while they served their time at sea.

    Once we swore that oath, the tales only got better. There are some facts of life that your Uncle Charley won’t discuss with you. But that Gunner’s Mate Second Class that you spent a mid-watch with will tell you everything, and you just can’t wait for your chance to go on a WESTPAC cruise so that you too can visit Subic Bay and cross the Perfume River. You are told (and you believe) that every bar-maid in Olongapo is a gymnastic goddess waiting to turn a pimply-faced pollywog into a salty sea-dog - and will do it all night long for only five bucks.

    My first exotic port of call was Portland, Oregon in June of 1977. My ship, the USS McKEAN DD784 was invited to take part in Portland’s annual Rose Festival. A dozen or so naval vessels from the US and Canada would sail up the Willamette River and moor at Portland’s waterfront. Each ship would offer tours during the day and the crew would have liberty during the late afternoon and night. Those that had been to previous Rose Festivals told us younger guys that this was the next best thing to Subic. We were told that Portland women just loved sailors and that we had best stock up on “protection.” SH3 Verba had stockpiled the ship’s store with condoms and sold out of them the first time he opened to store for business. He told me that based on his experience at the previous Rose Festival, I should buy at least a dozen, two dozen would better. I think I bought three dozen, just in case.

    Being only 19 years old, I couldn’t go into the waterfront bars so I toured Portland’s other sites where one is likely to meet a hot woman. I walked the waterfront park thirty or forty times, walked to the Museum of Science and Industry, walked back from the Museum of Science and Industry. (There must be an Oregon state law that saws that no girl over the age of twelve will ever visit the science museum.) I went into every department store, record shop, book store and even a gun shop and failed to be approached by a passionate, gorgeous and affluent woman who wanted to take advantage of my youth and virility. I had dinner at a Burger King, returned to the ship, watched a movie on the mess decks, crawled into my rack and went to sleep.

    The next day I had the duty and was stuck on ship. The command, “Rig ship for visitors,” was announced over the 1MC. (That’s another great sea-story but beyond the scope of this article. Perhaps later.) The ship was open for tours. I stood the 0800-1200 quarterdeck watch as the Petty Officer of the Watch (POOW). I told myself that if I couldn’t meet any pretty girls in Portland, at least I could watch them as they came onboard. And perhaps, if I looked really cool, one might approach me and ask when I get off-duty. Hey, I was young and naïve. When my watch ended, I had to give lectures to visitors about the MK 16 ASROC Anti-Submarine Rocket Launcher and the various small arms kept onboard. To make the lectures more interesting, I would periodically sip coffee from my mug that had the NUCLEAR WEAPONS TRAINING GROUP PACIFIC logo on it. Intrigued, visitors would ask if we had any nukes aboard. I would pause, take another sip, look real serious and respond, in a dead-pan tone, “I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of any nuclear weapons on-board any military installation.”

      Tours ended at 1700. Those not on-duty went on liberty. I had to remain on-board. I had another quarterdeck watch to serve starting at 2000. About 1730, the 1MC sounded. “GMT3 Hood, report to the wardroom.” Oh, oh. Never a good place to be called to. Our CO, Cdr. Larry Smith asked me if I wouldn’t mind giving his family a personal tour of the ship. For some reason, Captain Smith had taken a shine to me and I felt rather honored that he would ask me to do this. I realized that this was important and I had better not screw this up.

       I escorted his mother, brother and other relations to Mount 51, our foreword dual 5”/38 caliber gun mount. I explained how the ammo is hoisted from the magazine below and manually placed into the trays where it will then be rammed into the breech. I listed the duties required of all the men stationed just in the mount (10 in all) to make it fire up to 24 rounds per gun per minute.

     I took them down into the berthing compartment for my division.  I let them see how 15 men lived and slept in a space no bigger then the bathroom they had in their home.   I took them up to the torpedo deck and explained our dual Mk 38 triple mount torpedo tubes.  I took them into the galley and the mess decks and explained how up to 240 hungry sailors were expected to eat in this cramped space and how, at night, the mess decks doubled as a movie theater.

    We went down the main passageway and I pointed out the scuttles leading to the fire-rooms and engine-rooms.  I let them peer down and feel the heat and hear the noise of the engineering spaces.   They wisely declined my invitation to go down into snipe country.

      I pointed out the ship’ office, sick bay, armory and oil king shack.  I had no idea what an oil king was nor what he did but I faked it when his mom asked me about the functions of that job.  I gave them a quick tour of officer’s country and didn’t say a word as they saw the difference between commissioned and enlisted berthing.

   To really impress them, I took them to ASROC last. I started off with a lecture of ASW – Anti-Submarine warfare. I explained the principle of the modern MK 16 system and how the RUR-5A underwater rocket would launch either a MK 46 torpedo or a MK 17 nuclear depth charge at a hostile Soviet submarine that was ready to annihilate the entire West Coast of the United States. I pointed out to them the 4 guides, each containing 2 cells. Each cell could store one weapon. I wanted to really impress them by making the launcher do something, such as make it turn around (train) and go up and down (elevate). Unfortunately, the 400-cycle generator that provided power to the electronic controls was secured for the weekend. But the genius of ASROC was it’s built-in redundancy. I could make it move by controlling it’s compressed air-drive motors. My plan was to remove the center access cover (a curve hunk of metal about the size of a Buick), trip a solenoid by hand to engage a guide, train the launcher out to the side, elevate a guide and open the door and extend a rail. It would be a strong visual effect and give them something to talk about with their favorite relative, my skipper.

    As I wrestled the cover to the side of the deck, I noticed some commotion going on along the port (river) side of the ship.  A 15’ runabout was along side the ship, directly under the ASROC deck.  A guy was at the tiller and a REAL LIVE GIRL was lounging in the bow.  She was only wearing a bikini.  McKEAN sailors were talking to her and she was starting to wiggle.  A sailor tossed her his ball cap and she took off her top.  I didn’t know what to do.  Here in front of me were real live bare breasts on a real live woman and I’ve got the skipper’s mom with me.  My entire career could be at stake if I screw up.  On the other hand, there was a live topless girl not twenty feet from me.

    I came up with a brilliant plan.  I had everyone stand on the port side of the ASROC deck and gaze up at the launcher.  I stood behind them and continued my lecture about dmma, T4, MEST tests, shipping containers, nuclear fission and solid fuel rocket motors.  As I babbled, I looked, no, I starred, no, I gawked as the lovely lady in the boat then slipped out of her bikini bottom and flashed the ship while sailors tossed money into her boat.  I must have been talking about sea-dye, OTTO fuel, depth set A and depth set B when I realized that the skipper’s mom was leaning over the rail, curious as what it was that distracted me so.  Watching my career sink faster then the HMS HOOD (no relationship that I know of) the skipper’s mom said, “Well, isn’t that sweet.”  The old man’s brother was leaning over the rail so far I was afraid he was going to fall overboard.  The rest of my tour group started giggling.  Just as I realized that this may not be a disaster, the runabout managed to maneuver directly under an overboard discharge fitting.  The now-naked gyrating lovely was splashed by a few gallons of a foul-colored liquid.  She cursed loader then a Chief Bos’n Mate and her boat sped off. 

    The skipper’s mom waited until the boat was out of site.  She looked at her watch and told me that it was now time to join her son.  They had dinner plans in the city somewhere.  Without saying a word, I escorted them back to the wardroom.  Then Capt. Smith asked if they had an informative tour and his mom said, “We had a lovely time.  It was most informative.”  She thanked me and the skipper NEVER said a word about this to me at all.

    Capt. Smith, if you’re reading this, I’m glad your mom had such a wonderful sense of humor.  I’m glad your brother (I think it was your brother but it has been 20+years) enjoyed my tour as much, if not more then I did.  And I’m really glad you didn’t make me stand evaporator watches for the next 4 years.

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