Accent on Living

THE place was the tiny wardroom of the U.S.S. Lewis Hancock DD-675, castbound, about 1000 miles off New Jersey on the fortieth parallel. The occasion, on a summer evening after our meal, was the daily movie. On the screen — the film was Shane — the homesteader’s wife was just lighting an old-fashioned kerosene lamp. She adjusted the wick, the homesteader’s cabin took on a warm Technicolor effulgence, and all seemed in order, but I found myself worrying more and more about that lamp: obviously, this woman failed to realize that, with the way the Hancock was rolling, the lamp would inevitably slide right off the table and explode and set fire to the cabin.

With a length of 376 feet and a beam of only 36, a 2100-ton destroyer is perhaps predisposed to roll, yet nothing in our passage from Newport to Londonderry — eighteen days at sea, most of the time in company with some dozens of other naval vessels — nothing bore out the gloomy predictions of my fellow landsmen at home who foresaw for me everything from seasickness to a broken leg or two. The Navy had described the cruise as “routine maneuvers,” in allowing me to come along as part of its civilian indoctrination program; and routine or not, it was quite the most agreeable and picturesque voyage that I ever expect to make.

Everything, it seemed to me, was fascinating — the destroyers especially so, and their rolling was part of a dashing pictorial quality that the heavy cruiser and the vast carrier very nearly lacked altogether. The latter pair, with tankers and an ammunition ship, were the tenderly protected center of the destroyer screen, which extended around the horizon, and every man with whom I talked aboard the Hancock was convinced that he was riding the very best of the lot.

The ammunition ship, from which we took on various oddments, looked roomy and stable as we wallowed alongside. “They can have her,” a seaman remarked. “One goof and up she goes.” The cruiser, similarly, was no enviable way of life. “You have to be all dressed up all the time.” The speaker himself was wearing a weathered blue shirt with his name stenciled on the back. Just below the name, in large, neatly stenciled capitals, were the words: “Monkeyville, Ohio.” “I wouldn’t be in that carrier,” said another of the Hancock’s crew. “They tell me there’s an Admiral aboard her.” A slightly different note was sounded by an officer when four mine sweepers joined the formation off the Virginia capes. “Now there’s an ideal ship to ride,” said he. “In rough weather you just stand in the middle and hang on to both sides.”

All the Hancock’s people felt that destroyers are just right, and what their extremely close quarters subtract from physical comfort they more than make up in sociability and easygoing relationships. The destroyer is stuffed from stem to stern with machinery and all the fantastic apparatus of the electronic era, and the “spaces” for nineteen officers and a crew of 240 are astonishingly small. The ship‘s laundry, for instance, has just enough room for the operator of its machines; the supply office, where lour men work, has 28 square feet of unoccupied deck space, an area 8 feet by feet. The galley, to my eye, had no room at all for the cooks, yet it produces not only first-rate meals — asserted by the crew to be the best in the Navy — but also forty-five long loaves each day of bread in the great, old-fashioned sense of the word.

Everything’s a tight fit and everyone is humorously accommodated to that circumstance. It is worth noting, also, that this accommodation is achieved by the highly assorted mixture of personnel who constitute the peacetime Navy: reservists, graduates of R.O.T.C. and O.C.S. establishments, and a goodly fraction of regular Navy and Academy people.

The assortment goes into the service and out, nowadays, with such velocity that much, if not most, of the ship’s work is necessarily performed by newcomers, and what converts these last so quickly into capability is not readily apparent. My own private belief is that the answer lies in the personality of the Captain and Executive Officer, abetted by the spectacular scenes created by a formation of destroyers at sea, their speed, their eye-filling silhouette, their graceful ways, and a certain redoubtable, truculent air far out of proportion to their size and armament. Whether fueling, two at a time, from a tanker, or firing in a long column formation at targets, or scrambling nimbly into some complex new pattern of stations, destroyers are an endless pleasure to

see. Their little procession down Newport Harbor was as jaunty as the carrier was sedate, and roll or no roll, the destroyer people preferred what they had.

A final trifle from a landsman’s impressions of the Navy. The movies once again: —

The Girl, foolishly mounted on too spirited a hunter, is flung from the saddle as The Man rides furiously to her rescue. It’s a nasty fall, and the man leaps from his horse, runs to where she lies. Unconscious? Anything broken? Dead? He raises her head and is about to speak to her. A powerful voice is heard. “Now lay outside the chart room,” it says, over the ship’s public address system, “for the eight o’clock reports.”