“Change of Life on USS Rich (DD 820).”
In less than two days since our ship had arrived on the Vietnam gun line, our shipboard life had changed completely. It no longer bore any resemblance to the old normal underway routine. The major changes were not much sleep for anyone and very little time for food. Showers and clean laundry would now be a thing of the past. For the next several weeks, there would be no sleeping in our berthing compartments. For example, the operations berthing compartment where I lived also contained the upper handling room for mount 52, the after gun mount. With ongoing gunfire support missions essentially around the clock, there was constant activity in and around the mount 52 upper handling room. They had commandeered many racks to hold empty powder cartridge cases. Ever try sleeping directly under a shooting 5-inch gun? Probably not going to happen. When not on watch, at GQ stations, or in the middle of underway replenishment evolutions, sleep was in the form of short cat naps. We napped anywhere we found enough deck room that was out of the way. Many found that their flak jackets also served as quite decent pillows.
Another issue that had developed was stowage of the empty powder cartridges cases. Empty powder cartridge cases were being stowed in berthing compartments and anywhere there was available space. In some areas, particularly at night, it was a matter of finding ways to navigate around or through the stacks of empty cartridge cases in order to get around the ship. Typically each morning, empty cartridge cases were moved from below decks to above deck stowage locations. Empty cartridge cases were saved with the intent to transfer them back to the ammunition ships during the next underway replenishment. Normally, the empty cartridge cases were sent back to the ammunition supply ship (then called retro-grade) near the end of each replenishment evolution.
Meals now mainly came from C-rations, since most of the cooks and mess cooks were assigned to the gun crews, working either in the magazines, handling rooms, or in one of the gun mounts. C-rations, or the Meal Combat Individual (MCI), were distributed around on the ship to the crew at least once, sometimes twice per day. Each C-ration or MCI was packed in a small, rectangular cardboard box. Each box contained individual cans with a meat-based entree item, crackers/candy, a flat spread, and a dessert item.
The C-ration boxes also came with the P-38 can opener and a mini cigarette pack, containing five cigarettes (Marlboro, Winston, and Kools). The P-38s and the cigarettes were the two more popular items. There were some nonsmokers on board who would trade their cigarette packs with smokers for their C-ration canned items. At first, some felt the C-rations were an improvement over the food served in the ship’s galley.
The evening watch (1800 to 2400) back on station at MR1 was uneventful. Starting on the mid-watch, November 29, at the first gunfire, a support mission call came in from the Marine spotter just before 0100. That fire mission lasted until the cease-fire order at 0525, with 174 HE rounds fired. Thus began the routine from watch to watch for the next two days. The ship stayed in its assigned sector ranging offshore from Quang Ngai to the south and to Vinh Son in the northern part of the sector. During the prior 48-hour period, the ship had fired 375 illumination and high explosive (HE) rounds in gunfire support missions.
On the afternoon of November 30, the rumor around the ship was that we were going to attack Tiger Island that night….If you would like to read more of this story from “Striking Eight Bells,” use one of the links to various booksellers: Amazon.com: Books, Barnes and Noble Booksellers, BAM –Books A Million and Smashword.com eBooks.
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©2018 George Trowbridge