(Editor’s Note: William Edward Cook, formerly of Danville, submitted an account of his years in the Navy. This is an abbreviated version of his account. Any veterans who would like to be featured in The News-Item’s Lifestyle section may contact Becky Lock, Lifestyle editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 570-644-6397, ext. 1342.)
We were 19 and ready for adventure. What better place to find it than in the U.S. Air Force?
I hooked up with a good friend, Lou Hagenbuch, and set out for Sunbury. We decided to join the Air Force on July 15, 1948.
When we arrived at the recruiting office, the recruitment officer was not available. It discouraged Lou.
“Looks like we won’t join the Air Force after all, Bill,” he said.
I nodded. “Ok.”
His face brightened. “You talked me into coming here, how about you shoot over to the Navy office with me, see if they want us?”
The naval recruiting officer welcomed us. One hour later, we leapt out of his office into the sunshine, brandishing a fistful of documents. We were on our way to becoming U.S. sailors — ready for adventure on the high seas — or so we believed.
Another friend, George Whapham, applied for a spot in the Navy Band at the same time but the wait list was long. When he heard I had joined the Navy, he decided to join the regular Navy too. We agreed to become radiomen and together attend radio school.
On the train to boot camp, I discovered a cousin, Luther Lee Cooke, had joined the Navy and was also headed to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Chicago, Illinois. It comforted us to know that we would all end up together, but fate stepped in.
At the time Co. 269 was formed, George and Lou visited the naval store and missed the selection parade. This meant Luther and I were in the same company and George and Lou landed in Co. 270. When my experience in the Danville Home Guard and the Pennsylvania State Guard came to light, the chief petty officer chose me as the first platoon leader in Co. 269.
Sixteen weeks later, school was over. I graduated seventh in a class of 150 students. They assigned me to the destroyer USS Bordelon on the East Coast.
I served four years in the navy. One extra year was added to my three-year hitch because of the Korean conflict. In that time, our ship made three trips to the Mediterranean Sea, each comprising three months.
One of the duties of the USS Bordelon, while in company with an aircraft carrier, was to follow closely behind while aircraft were taking off or landing. Our purpose was to rescue pilots from any downed aircraft. Through most of my time aboard ship, the aircraft on carriers were propeller-driven. Some years later, jet engine aircraft came into being.
Landing an aircraft on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier is one of the most difficult things a naval pilot will ever do. One day a jet had a problem lowering its landing flaps while preparing to land. The plane had to approach the aircraft carrier using takeoff speed. (Landing speed is much slower than takeoff speed) The jet aircraft approached the carrier angling down at the deck, instead of a regular parallel with the deck approach.
The plane hit the deck on its lowered landing gear, caught the stop cable with its rear hook and bounced off at a high angle. The cable stopped the jet in mid-air and it plummeted back to the deck. Thankfully, the hard landing caused no damage to the aircraft or the vessel. No doubt the pilot was shaken but there were no reports of injury.
During the Korean Conflict, our ship was ordered to pass through the Dardanelles to visit Istanbul, Turkey. Newspapers speculated if we went in, we would not come out. These were dangerous times and dangerous waters because of Russia’s strained relations with the US.
Passing through the Dardanelles, the land was flat as far as you could see. In the distance, a camel caravan trekked toward Istanbul. The Dardanelles, also known as the Hellespont Strait, is an internationally significant waterway in northwestern Turkey. It is 38 miles long and three-quarters to 4 miles wide, averaging 180 feet deep with a maximum depth of 300 feet at its narrowest point abreast the city of Canakkale. During our time in Istanbul, we tied up at the mouth of the Black Sea and watched as Russian ships passed, ominously close.
One November, the Navy decided to see how far north a fleet of ships could penetrate the cold weather. Our destroyer was in the circular screen around the larger ships. We made it as far as the Arctic Circle but had to turn around as heavy ice formed on the ship’s superstructure. All personnel became official members of the “Ye Royal Order of Blue Nose” and received certificates to prove it.
Before we turned around, the officers had us chipping ice off the superstructure to reduce the weight as much as possible. I was on the control bridge chipping ice when the ship rolled well over. I lost my balance and grabbed a handrail on the side of the pilothouse. My body swung around and my ankle hit the corner of a storage box on the superstructure. I ended up with a gaping hole the size of a quarter. Bone was visible through the opening.
They restricted me to my bunk while the pharmacist’s mates tried to heal it. They gave me penicillin, which caused an allergic reaction. Several days later, my leg showed no sign of healing.
The third class pharmacist’s mate came to my sleeping quarters. He had a tube of green salve with a small amount left in it. He got it from someone on another ship. “Do you mind if I try this on your wound,” he asked.
“Go ahead,” I replied.
Within three days the wound had completely healed. The chief petty officer, who knew nothing about the green salve, told me the stuff he had been using must be great. I kept quiet about the salve.
At times, being the smallest ship participating in fleet exercises, our destroyer was hard put to keep up with the larger ships, doing around 30 knots (Our maximum speed was about 32 knots).
One day, during heavy weather, we were plowing through waves almost as high as our bridge. We all had to stand our watch in the pilot house because of the waves coming over the bridge. No one was safe from being washed overboard. Suddenly, the pilot house phone sounded. I answered the phone and the call was from the chief petty officers’ quarters in the bow of the ship. They reported something had ruptured and water was rushing into the quarters. We had to call the command ship and they reduced speed, then we proceeded to port for repairs.
Our captain, Commander Carleton Romig Kear Jr., was transferred to another ship in October 1949. Our new captain, Commander John Edwin Johanson, was ship’s captain until November 1950. Following the transfer of Capt. Johanson, our executive officer, Lt. Commander John D. Patterson, became acting captain until January 1951, when Commander Kenneth Washburn Hines came aboard.
At sea with Capt. Hines
With Capt. Hines in charge, we left for Guantanamo Bay in Cuba on a shakedown cruise. When we arrived, we tied up to stanchions in the open bay. A ship was already tied to one side of the stanchions, so we were restricted to the other side.
The captain brought us in at right angles to the other ship instead of parallel. If we had come in any faster, we could have easily cut the other ship in half. After much maneuvering, the captain got the ship where it needed to be.
When it came time to refuel, we headed out to the refueling piers. They had similar stanchions where the ships were secured during refueling. Our captain plowed the ship right into the stanchions. Splintered wood flew in all directions. These two incidents were the only significant events on our shakedown tour.
One dark night, we were traveling as one of many destroyers surrounding larger ships. All ships in the squadron were being guided by “course clocks.”
Part of a destroyer’s enemy detection procedure is to use sonar to search for enemy submarines. Our sonar watch personnel notified the bridge watch officer of a possible submarine contact. Capt. Hines was notified and immediately contacted the squadron command ship. It ordered us to leave the screen and track the submarine.
I stood behind Capt. Hines on the bridge. The moon suddenly came out from behind the clouds and revealed we were tracking another destroyer ― not a submarine. We were headed straight for the starboard side of the destroyer and about to cut it in half.
Capt. Hines gasped when he saw the other ship and froze. He was speechless and couldn’t move. He somehow pulled himself together, ran into the pilothouse, shoved the helmsman away from the steering wheel and pushed the engine room control person out of the way. He grasped the speed controls and threw the engine full back and swung the steering wheel full port. The ship veered violently, narrowly missing the destroyer’s stern.
One day we were going to tie our ship alongside another destroyer. Nesting one ship to another using heavy bumpers between them is standard practice in some ports.
This day Capt. Hines misjudged our approach and our bow tore through a good portion of the steel structure of the other ship. The captain of the damaged vessel watched in disbelief. Capt. Hines waved and hollered over, “Don’t worry, I’ll send my ship fitters over to put you back together.”
Our first cruise to the Mediterranean Sea was soon after the end of World War II. Naval mines had not yet been cleared from all waterways and those areas were restricted to ships.
One day our lookouts saw something floating about 50 yards off our starboard bow. The ship stopped, and we determined it was an old naval mine. A gunner’s mate sank it with one of our 30mm anti-aircraft guns.
Finally, the ship was back in Norfolk.
After serving in the Navy from July 1948 to June 1952, I’d soon be honorably discharged as a quartermaster petty officer second class.
The Navy allowed people to be discharged early at the discretion of senior officers.
I was eager to leave as I was planning to attend Bucknell University and I needed time to apply for the fall semester. I also knew that the Bordelon was scheduled for another shakedown cruise to Guantanamo Bay, which probably meant I’d be forced to stay beyond my discharge date.
We had a new executive officer onboard, so I asked him for an early discharge. He was reluctant and told me how the captain only trusted certain people and I was one of them and he’d probably prefer I stay on board. Finally, after many discussions, he gave permission for me to leave.
I ran to my sleeping compartment, stuffed my clothes into my sea bag and headed for the quarterdeck. I almost ran into the captain, who was returning to the ship.
I ducked into a passageway until he passed. Later, an officer told me the new executive officer was given a reprimand on his records by Capt. Hines for allowing me to leave. The reprimand prevented the new executive officer from his next promotion. I was sorry to hear that.
When I was discharged, I sped out of the Norfolk Naval Base, threw my hat out the car window, tore my jumper in half and threw it after my hat.