I had been in the Navy for a year, on land, in Jacksonville, Florida. New regulations stipulated that all two-year enlistees split their service, one year on land and one year at sea.
When I got the news that I was to go to sea off Key West, Florida, I was very happy. I had requested Key West if I were to be transferred, and the Navy kindly obliged. Soon, off I went to be assigned to an EDDE, an Experimental Destroyer Destroyer-Escort, the only one in the fleet at the time. It was a mysterious appellation for me because we used to call them “tin cans” (for destroyers).
When I reported on board, the ship appeared to be in pretty good condition but shaped a bit differently. Normally this vessel would have two 5-inch guns in the bow. Instead there was one gun and a huge tube under the bridge. This was part of the ship’s “experimental” designation. I soon found out that we were to be engaged in ASW (anti-submarine warfare) — the tube was part of that.
The first couple days were rather routine. We went out in the morning, steamed around chasing phantom Russian submarines, sometimes firing dummy shots, dummy torpedoes and dummy tube shots.
After a few weeks of this we were told that a new captain was to take command.
Commander Kingsley was a distinguished, tall, pipe-smoking administrator from Washington. I don’t know to this day whether he had ever been to sea, but he had spent several years on desk-duty, which leads to the nub of this tale.
New captain on board, bright and early on a mid-June morning we set sail for another beautiful day of ephemeral sub-chasing. It began as a rather successful day, we even hit a new class submarine with a dummy torpedo and put a dent in its conning tower. Most of the commands were given by the executive officer with help from Lt. Gant, both experienced seafarers.
At day’s end, we headed for port, usually, as on this day, racing other ships to berth — for competitive fun, I guess. That tin-can could reach over 30 knots, something like 34 miles per hour. We were clipping along at over 25 knots as we raced for the piers of Key West. None of us thought much about this. I was on phones on the bridge and could hear and see just about everything. We got awfully close to home and I got a little weak-kneed. We were not slowing down!
Another moment in eternity passed, and Lt. Gant, in a firm, respectful voice, said, “Captain, I recommend full reverse!”
Without hesitation, Captain Kingsley said something like “give the order!”
Well, we shuddered and shook horribly into reverse and smashed, at almost full-speed, into the pier pilings, heavy wood beams flying into the air, sailors on the pier running every which way. We were badly damaged but afloat. I, along with most of the crew, tumbled onto the steel deck, bruised but alive. Gant slowed us down enough to avoid a disaster.
Harvey Rupp lives in Ashland.
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