The Owasco Chronicles.....

OWASCO

By Dave Moyer

At one time she was probably a proud ship but after being in commission over 22 some odd years she had seen better days. Nonetheless she was our home, transportation and major weapon, both defensive and offensive. She was our nemesis, hated as much as a caged animal hates an enclosure, always seeking freedom yet hesitant to leave once the gate is opened. We loved her. Painting and other preening went on constantly and as sailors we were ready to enter any brawl to protect her good name. A paradox.

Owasco being refueled underway off of Vietnam

Official USCG Photo

Unfortunately all those flowery words didn't necessarily reflect her feeling towards us. She hardly missed an opportunity to vent her disgust at being put in a wartime situation. I could go on in detail about how she returned our "affection" like the time we had to limp back to P.I. because her sea chests caved in and we were sinking, or numerous times she just decided to shut down, and then there was....oh well, maybe later. NGFS is the subject for this bit of rambling.

"NOW GENERAL QUARTERS! GENERAL QUARTERS! ALL HANDS MAN YOUR NGFS STATIONS! THIS IS NOT A DRILL. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. ALL HANDS MAN YOUR NGFS STATIONS!"

That's the way it would begin. It could be any time day or night. The blaring call could wake you from a sound sleep, take you running out of the shower or away from any meal. The entire ship's crew had less than two minutes to be at their stations. We were all kind of proud of the fact that we could do that.

Naval Gunfire Support Stations were indeed important. To explain it simply, we were going to fire our five inch gun. Either someone was in trouble, someone saw something where it shouldn't have been, or some ground pounder with braid just wanted to throw around some real estate. All we had was that one gun. Most naval units had at least two but then again most destroyers were larger than us and had more room. Ours took up most of the forward section. It was an outdated model. It had to be loaded by hand, first the projectile, followed by the powder casing. Actually we were pretty good with the damned thing. You have to realize however that this was an old ship ands the concussion of a five inch gun permanently mounted on a steel deck had some strange effects.

The first quartermaster on the bridge had to remove the chartroom door. It was made of aluminum and slid fore and aft for entry into the chartroom and CIC. If it was left where it belonged, it had a habit of unattaching itself when the gun fired and hurling itself down the bridge ladder landing at the entrance to the Captain's Cabin. The Captain did not like that.

The chart table on the bridge where all the careful plotting was done by the Navigator and Operations Officer was crucial to a good shoot. We had to know precisely where we were in order to make sure the projectile would end up precisely where it should.

Ground troops took a dim view of a poorly placed projectile. The ship seemed to know that so, just to make things interesting, every time the gun would fire the vibrations would cause the chart table legs to collapse. This was solved by having the Operations Officer many times standing on one leg with the other lifted up holding the table with his knee. Looked like some sort of flamingo in khakis.

These two problems were easily dealt with because they were predictable. The old girl would then begin her surprises. They weren't the same each time. Once it was the surface search radar. You simply have to have this to shoot. Another time it was steering. This is also rather important. Once she simply decided to shut down completely. Left with no power on a 255 foot ship makes one nervous in a possible combat situation. You can't shoot the five inch, the radar is down so you can't see who's coming at you, hell you can't even get underway to run. In order to overcome the old girl's sense of humor the only defense was to have a bevy of mechanics, electricians, and damage controlmen ready and willing to go anywhere and fix anything. These brave souls, armed with pipe wrenches, screw drivers, volt meters, and lots of tape braved the elements and went where duty called. Underneath the boilers, into the maze of wiring of a radar repeater, anyplace, any time they were needed without regard for their own safety or well being. No job too big, no job too small. Snipping, taping, connecting their way into the annals of history taking their rightful places besides other heroes like John Paul Jones, Sgt. Alvin York, Audie Murphy, and John Wayne.

Ah Yes. The announcement inevitably came, "NOW SECURE FROM GENERAL QUARTERS AND SET THE UNDERWAY WATCH!" This may come after a few minutes of firing or it may come eight hours after, but it would always come. Quiet at last, right? Wrong! You see that firing caused most of the ships light bulbs to rattle loose. A large majority of them were now either blown or simply unscrewed and had to be replaced or fixed.

As far as the interior of the ship was concerned, ascetically it lacked a decorators touch. Years upon years of paint, dirt, and paint again caused loose asbestos to shower down on the entire inside. After each firing run clean linen had to be issued to the entire crew and all the interior decks cleaned. She had quite a sense of humor.

In spite of all we made it through and brought her back in one piece. I heard a few years later the service decommissioned her and sold her for scrap. I knew she deserved it. I may have even put the first torch to her if asked, but then again I feel a certain love for the old girl. She fought and kicked all the way but yet she did her job. She was my home for almost two years and believe it or not she gave me a feeling of warmth and safety. On second thought I'll miss her and I am not alone.

 

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