Here are some memories that Tom Lussen has sent me.
Tom, his wife, Cecelia, and I became friends while he was working at the Kansas City International Airport as the Senior Electronics Technician. (See my note at the end of Tom's "The Fleet")
The Fleet By Tom Lussen
While attending the Navy's Fire Control Technician School I was asked what type of a ship I wanted to serve on. I chose a Guided Missile cruiser as my first choice. After completing Guided Missile FT"C" school at Mare Island, I received orders to the U.S.S. COLUMBUS (CG-12), a guided missile cruiser home ported in Norfolk, Virginia.
I flew out on Universal Airlines, a DOD contract carrier from McGuire AFB to Shannon, Ireland and then to NAS Rota, Spain. Upon arrival at Rota, I was given the rest of the day off and told to report to the flightline the next morning at zero dark thirty.
The next morning, I climbed aboard a C-130 full of mail and fresh milk, bound for Athens with intermediate stops at Sardinia and Sicily. It was the beginning of my "world travels." In about twenty-four hours, I had been in five countries.
I arrived in Athens on January 6th, which is Christmas day in the Eastern Church. Very few people from the fleet were ashore. There was a winter storm blowing with 6 to 10 foot seas in the outer harbor where the big ships were anchored. All small boat ops had been canceled. I spent the night in a transit barracks on the Air Force base and the following day at the USO.
Athens was a cultural awaking for me. I was in the "near east." Everything was strange and wonderful. Even the air smelled different than the air in New York. The open air markets, the sharp smell of Turkish tobacco and a whiff of ozone from the street car arcing as it made its turn in Independence Square. There was the smell of exotic foods. Everywhere there were open air restaurants and shops. There was the sweet smell of Lamb and vegetables cooked over a charcoal fire on street corners. Orthodox priests strolled in their long black robes in contemplation as they went about their daily routines. I sat in a corner café and drank it all in, as I sipped Greek wine with its characteristic rosin aftertaste.
The next morning, all the ships sortied early due to severe weather. This was one of the worst storms I had ever seen. The seas were now 10 to 15 feet offshore.
Reporting aboard the COLUMBUS was a culminating experience. I had finally arrived in the fleet.
The COLUMBUS was a beautiful ship. She was the flagship for Cruiser Destroyer Flotilla eight. The Admiral was presently on the carrier.
The "flag" was Rear Admiral Stansfield Turner who would later go on to Command Second fleet; Commander in Chief NATO (Southern Flank) and Director of the CIA under President Carter. He was a nuclear arms expert under several later Presidents and served key roles in the arms reduction talks of the late 80s and early 90s. I will always remember the night I smoked a cigarette with him on the launcher deck. Strange that he smoked in the first place because he was a Christian Scientist, a subject we discussed that evening while contemplating the stars.
I received my berthing assignment and was introduced to the guys in T-1 division. I was given my General Quarters, Condition III assignments and general orientation. The next day, I reported for regular duty in the computer room. Dan Leary (father Dan), the work center supervisor was showing me the ropes when they passed the word on the ships intercom, commonly referred to as the 1MC, ."Now away the Emergency Action Team." I didn't know what that was but it sounded important so I asked Dan, "what is the emergency action team?" The emergency action team had something to do with decoding radio messages and did not concern us at all but Dan took this opportunity to "initiate the new guy." He looked at me, jumped up and yelled, "Oh my god! You've forgotten where your emergency action station is?" Now I was scared. I had only been in the computer room one day and I had already screwed up. Dan said the emergency action billets were recorded on the watch quarters and station (WQS) bill which was posted on the bulkhead down in the berthing compartment. I ran off to the berthing compartment to find the WQS bill. Naturally, when I got down there, it had been sent to another place for "updating." It was the old "left handed smoke shifter" trick from Boy Scouts. Everyone had a good laugh over that.
I was told that I had to report to the galley for 30 days of mess cooking (this part was not a joke) or I could choose "vent cleaning" for a month. I chose vent cleaning and did that duty for my first full month on COLUMBUS. Vent cleaning was nasty work but I didn't have to get up at "O my god-thirty" every morning. (O my god -thirty is one hour before zero dark-thirty)
Two days after I returned to the division from vent cleaning, I was informed that I had been advanced to third class petty officer. I was further informed that because I was now a petty officer, I was qualified to be in charge of the seaman cleaning our berthing compartment. I was a "working" supervisor. A working supervisor means that you bust your butt along with the people you are supervising. At least I was now being paid a petty officer's salary. After completing my second month on the ship in the berthing compartment, I was finally assigned to the Tartar missile fire control computer room, the job for which I had been trained.
Duty on COLUMBUS consisted of working in my regularly assigned work center during the day and standing watches every fourth day in port. I was in duty section three. There were four duty sections when we were forward deployed. If duty section one had the duty, then duty section three had standby duty. Thus, half of the crew was always on board and ready to get the ship underway in an emergency. Stateside, we were in six-section duty and only one sixth of the crew was aboard if we were tied up at a naval base.
When we went to general quarters, all hands manned their battle stations and all weapons systems were lit off and ready for action. On condition three we were at reduced manning but still ready for battle. There were several occasions during my four Med cruises when we were at condition three for extended periods of time, typically two or three weeks.
When things heated up in the Middle East, all port calls were canceled until the political situation stabilized.
Our berthing compartment was forward and on the 3rd deck (2 decks below the main deck) and was home to all of the Fire Control technicians and Gunner's Mates in the Tartar missile battery. We had our own head, a luxury, as some divisions had to walk to another area to use the head. We slept in racks or "trees" which were stacked three high. For several years my rack was on the bottom and I had to lift it up in the morning so the compartment cleaners could clean underneath. After I was promoted to second class pretty officer, I took the next available center rack which was much easier to climb into and didn't have to be lifted up every morning. Also, after I made second class I was assigned a larger auxiliary locker along the bulkhead. The berthing compartment had a small area where there were two tables and chairs for playing cards or for writing letters. After "lights out" they would turn on overhead red lights which gave the space an eerie glow.
The Cal Lab
Less than a year after I arrived on COLUMBUS, they asked for volunteers to man the new Test Equipment Calibration lab on the ship. (In those days, you could still use the word man as a verb). I volunteered and was transferred to T-7 division and later to the newly formed OT division. I learned more about test equipment and troubleshooting advanced circuits in that laboratory than I did in the fire control spaces. My Division officer was a Chief Warrant Officer named Carl Neste who was a mustang E.T. Mr. Neste helped teach me troubleshooting techniques. A mustang is a former enlisted man who later becomes an officer.
When I was working in the Cal Lab, the Electronics Material Officer (EMO) was a mustang named Lt. Cecil Decker.
In addition to being a calibration tech, I was the supply Petty Officer, a job that took about a third of my time.
I stayed in this position until I made second class, at which time I was transferred back to the fire control computer room as the work center supervisor. I did not particularly want to leave the Cal Lab but I had been promoted out of my billet.
The only reason I made second class was because of Lt. Decker.
It was near the last cycle in which I would have been eligible for advancement before my end of enlistment. We were tied up in Barcelona and I had gone ashore the night before and had a massive hangover the next morning, which was the morning of the advancement exam. The next day I was in the Cal Lab feeling really bad when Lt. Decker came in and demanded to know why I wasn't down on the mess decks taking the advancement exam. I told him I didn't feel well. Lt. Decker gave me a direct order to go down and get into the uniform of the day and to get my butt down to the mess decks to take the exam. I was one of the first persons to turn in the answer sheet. That was the exam on which I made second class petty officer.
Life at sea
As mentioned earlier, life at sea consisted of working and standing watches. Every morning, at zero dark thirty, we conducted system tests on our Mk-47 Tartar missile fire control system. This test, known as the Daily System Operability Test or DSOT (pronounced Dee Sot) consisted of the different sections of the system coming up on a sound powered phone circuit and going through a highly structured test to ensure that all components of the system functioned properly. If there was a problem and the test was terminated early, the problem was fixed and the test rerun.
There were card games after hours as well as other activities to keep the crew busy. There was movie call every night after dinner on the mess decks.
One of my favorite pastimes was going out on deck, especially at night. Only on a ship, hundreds of miles from land and under darken ship conditions, does one really see the night sky, and then, only after you have allowed your eyes to become accustomed to the dark for at least an hour. In short, the night sky, when it is truly dark, is nothing short of breathtaking. Or to use a phrase which was just becoming popular, it is "awesome." It is probably an exaggeration for a landlubber living near a town to say that he can see "millions" of stars. For a sailor, under the right conditions, it is not an exaggeration.
Occasionally, we would have special operations such as underway refueling, underway replenishment and high line details. It was always interesting to watch the ship come alongside an oilier or stores ship and put lines over to transfer fuel or supplies.
On one such occasion, a Saturday afternoon, we came alongside the oilier to take on fuel. We were also going to transfer the Catholic chaplain to the COLUMBUS to celebrate Mass. The plan was to put the chaplain in a "boatswain's chair" and send him over on the high line. As bad luck would have it, just as the chaplain was starting across, the two ships closed their distance just enough to slack the high line and partially dunk the chaplain in the sea for several seconds. The flag band, which was playing on the "owe two" level at the time, quickly struck up the tune, "Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water," which was a popular tune at the time.
On another occasion, we were taking on fresh water from the carrier with the flag band playing," How dry I am."
Having the Admiral and his staff aboard was very interesting at times.
One good thing about being forward deployed for six months was that upon our return to the States, all of the music on the radio was "new." We received copies of most top 40 hits from Armed Forces Radio in Los Angeles but, by the time they screened the hits and recorded them on 16 RPM LP records and got them out to the troops, they were four or five months old. Some of the songs on the top 40 were listed on DoD's "do not play" list. These were either anti-war protest songs or drug culture songs, the latter of which was starting to become very popular back home. I was a part time DJ on the Columbus's closed circuit radio station, WCOL and would spin the Armed Forces discs under the name Joe Thomas. Occasionally, we would relay news or AFRTS programming from short wave.
When I first reported aboard, there was another Ham operator named ET2 Tom Geis, WA2KAC. Tom was the senior op in the ham shack. The Ham shack on the Columbus had a top of the line Collins "S" line, one of the best radios on the amateur radio market at that time.
We also had a National NCL-2000 Linear amplifier and a Collins manually operated matching network feeding a standard Navy 35-foot whip on the after AN/SPS-30 Radar platform. This put the antenna about 50 feet above the water.
There was also an ETNSN named Jim Sears WA3MEJ, who would help out running phone patches. In the 4 ˝ years I was on Columbus, we ran several hundred phone patches. Occasionally, when the twenty-meter band was out to the states, I would work the locals on short skip. During one of these sessions, I worked King Hussein, JY1 in Jordan.
On another occasion, I had contacted a Greek station in Athens. As it happened, we were scheduled to pull into Athens for a port call in about a week. The problem was that, because of security restrictions, I couldn't tell him this so I simply told him that I might be in Athens someday and he gave me his telephone number, which I recorded in the log. When we pulled into Athens, I gave him a call and he came down to pick me up and show me the town. He was an electrical engineer at one of the big banks and had a nice but modest ham shack. Then he asked me where I wanted to eat dinner. I told him anyplace that wasn't on the regular tourist route. He said he knew just the place and we drove in his little car for what seemed like over an hour to this little place up in the hills. By the time we got there, it had gotten dark and had started raining. This little restaurant only had 4 tables in the whole place and to this day, I do not even know what I ordered. It was some kind of Greek lamb stew. The salad was also great. Although it only had four tables, it had a pretty good bar, as is typical of many European restaurants.
When I was a young third class petty officer, junior enlisted men were not permitted to have civilian clothes on board ship. Most single guys joined "locker clubs" out on the strip. The strip was an area just outside the gate which hosted locker clubs, bars, pool halls, tattoo parlors and check cashing centers where you could buy high priced, low quality merchandise on "easy credit." All you had to do was show your ID card, which indicated how much time you still had remaining in the service and you had "credit." What a deal!
I actually bought a 1963 Chevy II on the strip at John Henry Motors, which turned out to be a maintenance nightmare, the worst component being a leaky rear seal on the automatic transmission. I paid $895 for that car, drove it for five months and sold it before our next deployment for $400. It was a hard lesson. I was paying off that car for the next 18 Months. For about two years, I did not own an automobile. Later, after I made second class petty officer, a friend of my father in New Jersey, Ed Callahan, offered to take me to the Mercer County Auto Auction to purchase a 1968 Ford Galaxy 500 with about 22,000 miles on it. The car cost under $1,000.00 and Ed would not take anything for his time and effort.
COLUMBUS was my home for four years and five months of my early adult life. I was not yet married and did not have an apartment on the beach except for the last five or six months. Most of my friends were shipmates.
I worked, ate, slept and played on that ship. Everything I owned was either stored on her or stored in the trunk of my car. It was my home through four Mediterranean Cruises, part of a North Atlantic cruise and two Caribbean Cruises. It was also my home through a devastating fire, and two major shipyard overhauls, where living conditions were deplorable.
I have many fond memories of people, places and events during those wonderful years. Yes, there were bad times, a few people who were obnoxious or events that were challenging but time and the natural filters of memory tend to ease these memories. I was proud to be a member of the COLUMBUS family, and the United States Navy.
Thank you, Tom Lussen!! I really enjoyed reading this a lot!!
A note from John, the webmaster:
Tom Lussen was aboard the USS Columbus (CG-12) during part of the same time I was on board. He had some of the same friends I had on the USS Columbus. I was also involved with the "hamshack" onboard and knew ET2 Tom Geis, WA2KAC and Jim Sears WA3MEJ. I was not a ham at the time but became familiar with it during that time. I am now a ham (WA4QVP) and I just saw a very nice Collins "S" Line system for sale for $750.00 at the Yuma Hamfest - ARRL Southwestern Division Convention, in Yuma, Arizona (2-17-2018). It sure brought back good memories. I worked with Tom Geis on the forward AN/SPS-30 Radar ocasionally when I was assigned to the aft SPS-30 Radar. Both Tom Geis and Jim Sears were great shipmates!
Also, when I read Tom's memories:
"On another occasion, we were taking on fresh water from the carrier with the flag band playing," How dry I am."
Having the Admiral and his staff aboard was very interesting at times."
I also remembered the Flag band playing "Cool Clear Water" by the Son's of The Pioners and I think they may have
played Water, Water by Tommy Steele.
Which part of it goes:
"Water, water, ev'rywhere and not a drop to drink
So tell me now what else can a poor fellow do but sit right down and think?
Think about his girl, think about the times we had together, boy
On Friday we'd paint the town but now she ain't around. There's only...
Think about some tea, even if I wanted to be a tee-totaller It's only salty sea between a drink and me it's drives you mad...
Good memories, Tom. I would aslo add that if there are some former crew members who are now hams Tom's present amateur radio call is now WA4ILH. Want to know which way to swing that beam antenna check with QRZ.COM. Tom has a nice write up there and it will tell you.