Subject: Plank Owner (2)

Published: July 1999

By: J. Kenneth Cox


I joined the Navy on Aug 12, 1936 after graduating from Manchester Ohio High School.  I went through 14 weeks of training at N.O.B. Norfolk VA.  I then was assigned to the 1st Division of the USS Wyoming.


I never experienced motion sickness in my life (previously), but I was not out of sight of land on my 1st cruise when I realized that something is very different.  I fed the fish seven times that day and am still affected if I’d been in port for 2 weeks.  This first cruise was a Marine cruise through the Panama Canal to San Clemente Island off San Diego – Long Beach, Ca. for gunnery practice.  A 5” shell exploded when being rammed home in a secondary battery.  This tore the arm off the Marine handling the ram rod.  The shell went through the chest of a Marine Captain standing back of the gun.  We took the injured to port for the San Diego Naval Hospital.  The Wyoming returned to Norfolk.


Next was a midshipment cruise to Kiel Germany via the Kiel Canal.  This canal passage was the 1st since before WWI.  We returned around Denmark to Liverno, Italy.  Due to a war in Spain it was on to Funchal Madeira off Gibraltar and onto Torquay, England before returning to Annapolis. I enjoyed watching the Middies “holy stone” our teak deck.  The USS New York and USS Arkansas also made that cruise.


My last cruise on the Wyoming was to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Then it was to dry dock and overhaul at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth Va.  During this I had the privilege/chore to paint the pig stick.  If you don’t know, it is the last piece of 3” pipe on top of the foremast on which the pulleys are attached for hoisting the signal flags.  From drydock it looked like it was 300 ft up.  The 2nd class BM said “Go on up – paint the top.”  That meant get your 4” paint brush wet and shiny/climb three feet of 3” pipe and do the best you can, paint on the way while sliding back down to a flat surface.


As a qualified S2c a few months later, mid-December 1937, I was one of three transferred to the Philadelphia Navy Yard to Commission the USS Savannah.  While there I heard that they wanted someone who could type in the N.yd. Office.  I had had 2 years of it in high school, inquired, and got the job.


After a couple of weeks, Chief Art Palmer heard of this.  He and the Chief Pay Clerk C.B. Archer needed a typist in the SAVANNAH pay office.  Art inquired.  I gladly accepted.  This really started my Navy career – I had no love for the deck force.


Sea bag in hand I was #13 to proudly walk up the stairs to the quarterdeck on commissioning day at Hammerhead pier.  When I left Savannah, as a Pay Clerk-Warrant Officer 6 ½ years later I was told that there were only 12 plank owners left on board.  13 is my lucky number (I met Helen my wife on Sept. 13, 1940).


I was transferred to the receiving ship (USS Seattle at pier 92, New York, NY as the Ships Store Commissary and Liaison Officer.  The Ships Service program was abolished by this.  My 1st month’s receipts was $5,000, compared to $55,000 the last, 14 months later.  I handed out FREE show and entertainment tickets regularly including to the RCA, Roxy, etc, etc.  one day I received 2 ½ semi trucks of Hershey and candy bars.  I sold them by the box of 24.  They weren’t to be found elsewhere.  A departing ship at New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn could not load them – I accepted.


Next, I reported to Bethlehem Steel Ship Building at Baltimore, MD.  To commission the ARL, USS Menelaus.  It was a converted LST.  It was destined for the Japanese invasion.  I was the Assistant Supply Officer and ordered all of the food, barber, cobbler, and other necessities.  I asked the Supply Officer – Lt. Milton Harvey “Do you want to load moral builders?”  He replied “yes.”  It was a repair ship.  What is more important than ice cream and Coca Cola?  I ordered 17 flavors of ice cream mix.  We got 600 gallons of Coke mix in glass containers in the Panama Canal Zone.  We had the ice cream mix flavors on decks every place we came to port, including Saipan.  This is where I left it after VJ Day, in December 1945.


I was discharged at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in March 1946.  Afterwards I completed 24 years in the Naval Air Reserve and the Surface reserve in Minneapolis, MN.  I’m retired as a Chief Pay Clerk – W-2. 


While on the Savannah  I made every journey, over 200,000 miles logged on its pitometer, I believe.  This is the device that measures nautical miles.  These journeys extend from New Zealand, Samoa, Tahiti, Midway, Pearl Harbor, California, Panama Canal, Guantanamo Bay and Havana Cuba, Haiti, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Bermuda, up the Atlantic Seaboard, Newfoundland, Morocco, Algeria, Sicily, Italy, Malta, and England.


The bomb missed us in Director #1 by about 30 feet.  My General Quarters station was a pointer in that Director.  The pointer fired the guns in the main battery.  I had this position for over 5 ½ years.


One quiet day in the Caribbean we were putting up “Pay Day” – desired amounts of money in small envelopes: (Mr. Archer, Art  Palmer, Ernie Johns, and me).  It was a rather warm day.  It was decided to open the adjacent port hole and put out a wind scoop.  It was fine for awhile, then a ground swell came along.  The ship rolled a bit and scooped water in.  We had 20s, 10s, 5s and 1s floating all over our decks.  We did not lose a buck but used many blotters drying things off.


When convoying in the North Atlantic one morning I was in the shower, soaped down and ready to rinse off when General Quarters was sounded.  I grabbed my towel and slipped all the way to my battle station 94ft up in Director #1.  It was below 40 that morning.  When I crawled through the hatch all saw me in despair and shivering.  Mel Long or Ernie Johns loaned me his pea coat.


I remember our Shake-Down cruise especially when making our speed run of 32 knots from Havannah past Miami to Norfolk.


The only time we ever rigged paravanes was when passing through the 30 miles channel to Aukland, New Zealand.


We crossed the equator ten times one day while patrolling.  My initiation penalty when crossing it earlier was for cussing.  Jack Deming, SK1, G.S.K. boss told me “Ken you would not sat ‘S---‘ if you had a mouth full.”  Ahem. . .


When we passed through the Panama Canal the last time the deck force covered all of the Savannah names and abbreviations, even on the motor launches to avoid being identified in the flotilla passing through  after dark starting about 9.  When being secured in the Miraflores (sp) locks one of the fellows handling the lines on the dock yelled out “Hey on the Savannah catch my line.”  They apparently knew all the transiting ships.


The meat packers at Montevideo, Uruguay would not accept any profit when we provisioned there they threw a big picnic for all hands on board, first the starboard and then the port sections.  Many really got sunburned that afternoon.


When riding the waves of a storm just off Portsmouth, England a large crack developed in the main deck under the galley.  Those waves must have been about 50’ deep.


When the Savannah was anchored at Long Beach in about 1938, a Santanna blew in unexpectedly.  Half the crew was on the beach on liberty.  Waves broke over the sea wall.  A second anchor was dropped.  This one, however, crossed the anchor chain of the 1st, then the 2 sawed a big chunk out of the stem.  We went to Mare Island to have it repaired.


Enough stories:--


Excuse, one more.  LCDR DuBoise, First Lieutenant, inspected our storerooms aft when in the South Atlantic off Receife, Brazil.  He saw that our 325cases of canned milk were in wooden cases.  He told the supply officer that all had to be removed from the wooden cases as wood was a fire hazard.  This we did.  It was not too long, with the rolling of the ship, that the stench was overbearing to those in the hanger deck when the storeroom hatch was opened.  Spoiled canned milk had to be surveyed.


I enjoy riding my bike four miles to our daughter’s to garden, cut grass, etc.  Am still agile.  I was 80 last month.  We live in a condo.  I served over 62 years in Scouting.


J. Kenneth Cox