Sextant

USS Columbus (CG-12), (1972 - 74)
Paul T. Payne, (PC3/DV)



After serving aboard two submarines and attending Navy diving school, I finally realized that the 'elite' in submarine duty was well, .. .. .. . a 'relative' term. I decided I needed to see and feel the sun, take leave once in a while, and stop pressing my whites by sleeping on them! I had realized in order to get my head out of (well you know), I needed to do things 'differently.' So, I 'non-volunteered' for subs and off I went to the Columbus. On the way to the Columbus I spent almost three weeks doing nothing but washing and waxing a chief's Navy gray Plymouth station wagon(classic), and getting his money changed into pesatas for him at the exchange. Tough duty!! The day I set eyes on Columbus I suddenly realized I was standing on the same pier that two months prior I'd been standing on next to the USS Cutlass(SS-478)! Tough duty again, huh?? This didn't seem so bad ... The Pan Am club, the Barcelona Club, the Texas, hmmmm.

Of coarse, as Navy tradition has it, being non-rated I went straight to mess cooking. Now that may sound bad to some, but if you've ever had to mess cook aboard a submarine, where there's maybe four for a crew of 150, a cruiser's not bad at all! Trust me! 48 sounds better than 4!!

I decided it was time to get my priorities in line, so I decided to find a good skatin' rate. I DID NOT intend to go from messcooking to deck force.I'd had enough of chipping and painting round hulls, It didn't take an admiral to convince me of that!! The post office!! I found out that in there you didn't have to stand many watches, only condition three and refueling. This was no longer you're typical dumb seaman!! I wised up REAL quick, took out the coarse book, took the test, and was rated the first increment!! I was told I made the highest score among those taking the third class test on the ship. Don't ask me how, I sure wasn't going to contest it!

I worked for a Lt. Tharp. He was a fine man and friend. He was always fair, and always had a way to get the most from you. He once told me I was an ' Opportunist.' Never sure today just how he meant that ... .. Maybe he was right though ... .. Life was good as a postal clerk. First off in ports to go pick up mail, and you got to know personally almost all 698 guys aboard, including chiefs and officers.

One Navy lesson I did learn quick. There's five guys aboard a ship you never mess with . The cook, if you want to eat, the disbursing clerk, if you wanted to get paid, the supply clerk who ran the guidank(sp), if you wanted a coke and candy bar, and the yeoman, if you wanted your records to stay straight. Oh ya, I forgot one ... ... the postal clerk!! If you wanted to hear from that gal, or wanted that Playboy, you kept him on your good side! Truth is, I'd never have messed with any man's mail, but I sure wasn't going to stop them from feeling that way! It really was great being the postal clerk. For one thing, you had a job that for the most part, gave good morale to the guys. You got to know their faces and them, and you usually knew where you were actually going from one place to another before anyone else except maybe the radiomen! I had a lot of friends on Columbus that I'll never forget. I sure wish I could see them all right now.

I sure would like to hear from my best friend aboard Columbus. Though like many of us, I haven't heard from him in a long, long time. Danny Rodriquez was his name, a signalman. . Danny was a Chicano from San Antonio,Texas. No better friend can a guy have. Danny would have backed me up, and me him, in any fight that came along! A Chicano and a White Boy. Odd combo, but we was tight!!

All I can say is that within one year aboard Columbus my life had changed for the better. I wound up making third class, received the Navy Expeditionary medal for sub stuff, running a post office, got married, and wound up taking 68 straight days of leave! Due to sub duty (always going and being underwater), I'd saved quite a bit of leave. I still had thirty days left on the books after coming back from the honeymoon!

In November of '73, we found ourselves due to head for the Med. But, we also found ourselves between a rock and a hard place. As we watched bombs and tanks being loaded aboard ships, and aircraft markings being painted over and sealed,, we were put on alert because the second Israeli/Arab war was flaring up. We figured we were headed straight for it. But in the meantime, the Chicago's replacement had broken down. And guess who was put on a four hour alert to head for 'Nam??!! They wouldn't even let us on the pier without our ID's being checked! Here I was, only six months left in the Navy, and I, Mwa, might be going to Vietnam!!! What a BUMMER! It worked out that we spent six hours refueling at Rota, and off to sunny Alexandria, Egypt. We were put on condition three watches for twenty eight straight days! All we did was steam up and down, up and down in front of Alexandria. We were told to shoot down anything that passed the 100 mile perimeter! Now days it seems the Navy is handing out medals and ribbons for ANY kind of Middle East duty! I wonder if the Columbus ever received doodly squat for that cruise?? I never did find out. I left Columbus in Crete for a three month school early out.

As I look back, I have fond memories of Columbus. She truly was an icon of her own. Remember grilling steaks on the fantail?? Leaning back on the after missile house and gazing up at the stars as the exhaust fan kept you warm??? Those stars in the Caribbean looked so close, you thought you could actually reach up and grab them!!!

Oh well, they say you can't go back ... It is true. As McArthur once said, " Old soldiers never die, they just faaaaddddee away".


Thanks Paul,
See Paul's 1972 Cruise Book and some other great items he has contributed to put on the site.


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