To celebrate Father’s Day, I thought I would share some of my dad’s best stories from his days in the Navy, where he served on the USS William R. Rush.
He served in the Navy from Aug. 30, 1955, to Aug. 8, 1958.
He was not quite 17 when he signed up so my grandfather had to sign the enlistment papers.
Dad joked that when he was in the Navy, grandpa went to the Russian embassy to buy war bonds so he would be on the winning side.
He recalled a drill when they were ordered to put on life preservers.
Most of the crew was smashed drunk but one sailor was sober and insisted on taking a closer look at the life vests.
They were from WWI and when the sober sailor threw it in the water, “it sank like a stone” because all the cork inside the old vests had dried out.
To serve on a destroyer like the Rush, you had to be easy-going because you slept 18 inches apart, he said.
He joined the Navy because he wanted to travel, get three meals a day and escape an unhappy home life.
“I hit it just right,” he said, noting that if he had re-enlisted, he could have been ensnared in Vietnam.
His ship was in heavy, heavy seas — the worst of his tour — and dad was fearful.
He said, “I got on my knees and prayed to God to keep me safe. I swore to Him: ‘I’ll give up smoking. I’ll give up drinking. I won’t see those girls in the bars in Barcelona.’
“Well, human frailty being what it is, we got through the rough seas and what did I do? I smoked, I drank and I saw those girls in Barcelona!”
Dad was like 19 and there was this black Southerner who saw dad was fearful and holding on for dear life, and he goes: “Mele, you got religion? Because if you don’t, you better get some tonight!”
I got his naval enlistment and discharge papers from the military: What training he had, where he did his tours, etc.
But the highlight was his application in which he listed “fishing” as a hobby.
So I went to my old man, and I was like: “Che cazzo è?” (More or less like WTF in Italian slang.)
I asked: “Dad, you grew up in the Bronx and the closest watering hole was a puddle in your neighborhood or Orchard Beach or City Island, which was a bus or train ride away. Where did you getting this ‘fishing’ shit from?”
He listed fishing because it was related to water and he thought it would look good on his application to the Navy!
He did three cruises in 1956, ’57 and ’58.
He went to Cuba twice, Spain, France, Scotland, Turkey, Greece and Jamaica.
He described the ship as a “radar picket” — an expendable commodity for torpedoes or mines.
He recalled a chief who was an insomniac who went out on the deck of an aircraft carrier at 2 in the morning to drink coffee.
He drifted into the active flight deck and one of the hooks they use to catch landing planes somehow struck the chief in the temple and killed him.
Dad said even though he was not there to witness what happened, it left him badly shaken but another officer told him: “It was his time to die and you have to accept that.”
He became known as the “Ginger Ale Kid” because he was fearful of getting caught drinking underage (sailors were warned they would do civilian AND military time if they got caught) so dad was relentless in not drinking and stuck to ginger ale.
On the chow line some sailors would say of the food: “Just like mother used to make. That’s why I left home!”