Monday, October 29, 2007

My NASCAR Experience

Last Tuesday night I visited and was interviewed by RWA at “Thoughts From The Heart of Dixie” – listed as Thoughts In Dixie on my role bar. For those of you who are not dropping by his site are missing a unique and funny guy who can make you think about things in the news and his life. Stop by Tuesday night and listen to his blog cast – and call in if you have the mine to do so.

Anyway, while he was interviewing me, he asked what sports I liked. The only one I follow and have a passion for is NASCAR. We talked about that for a while, and then I told him about the time I got to work in a pit crew at a NASCAR race at Darlington Raceway. He suggested I post this, after I had to holler at him to wake him up. So, if you are having trouble falling asleep, try reading this little tale.

Back in the mid 70’s my first wife and I went to Darlington to watch the Rebel 500. One of the guys on Bruce Hill’s pit crew was a Chris, whom I went to high school with and whose dad owned a Gulf Service Station up the street from where I lived. It was a place we both worked on our racecars. We were both racing on the weekends before I gave it up and he quit to work for BH.

Anyways, we were walking up to the infield gate to see him and say hello. He was waiting for me and asked if I would like to work in the pit crew because one of the men broke his hand the night before when the race engine fell on it. Well, let me tell you that was like asking a fat man if he would like to have a hamburger.

So he turned to the man checking the race people into the infield and told him we where with him. This is before NASCAR was such a big deal. There were two men setting at a card table checking off names. Not like today where you have to have six pounds of passes around your neck to use the bathroom – much less get on pit road. So my wife, Patches, went to sit with the wives of the racing community and I went to pit road. I was more excited than I was the first time I got to feel a boob. I was right in the middle of my heroes. In the pit next to us was Janet Guthrie – the first woman to drive in, what was then, the modern racing era. The Flock brothers’ sister raced in the 50’s. But Janet was a big deal.

Back to the story! My job was to wash the windshield when Bruce pitted. I had a 15’ pole with a sponge and a squeegee on the end. Because there are a limited number of men allowed over the wall during a pit stop, I had to stand behind the wall, lean over and wash the window with a little elbow grease. I did quite well, thank you very much. I was better at that than driving my race car and I was having a ball. But half way through the race we had a rain delay.

As I was going to the garage area to wait out the rain, Patches ran up to the fence separating the wives from the pit area, and said to me in an excited voice, “I got to pee with Linda Petty.” She was easy to please. Me too! I was sitting in the garage area with all my heroes sitting and standing around in groups just chatting away. Bobby and Donnie Allison, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Benny Parsons, and all the rest were all round me. If I wasn’t so cool and sophisticated I would have been bugging everyone for an autograph, or asking stupid questions like, “Hi, will you talk to me?” So I just set and ogled.

One group of drivers was standing just off to my right and I could hear them talking. Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson and Richard Petty were talking about Janet Guthrie. Bobby said that she was driving a pretty good race, that he had been watching her all race long and was impressed with how she was handling the track, one of the hardest to drive at the time.

David said that they could thank him for that. Why? They wanted to know. And David said, “I told her that if she ever won a race, I would give her some and she had been trying like hell ever since.”

Then the rain stopped and we (and I use the term “we” very loosely) went back to racing. Bruce finished in tenth place, the highest he ever finished in a NASCAR race. I am convinced that it was because his windshield was so clean. They should have kept me around. He might have had a NASCAR career if the had, but, instead, he went back to Washington State after the year was over. I don’t even get a Christmas card from him. The ingrate!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sex Facts & Beauty Secrets

This was sent to me in an email, one of those pass along things that we all get from our friends and family. I did add a few comments, but the original meanings can be deciphered.

1. Sex is a beauty treatment. Scientific tests find that when women make love they produce amounts of the hormone estrogen, which makes hair shine and skin smooth. That is, if you pull it out and aim it right.

2. Gentle, relaxed lovemaking reduces your chances of suffering dermatitis, skin rashes and blemishes. The sweat produced cleanses the pores and makes your skin glow. And if you do it too fast you can get blisters and pull muscles.

3. Lovemaking can burn up those calories you piled on during that romantic dinner. Begging for a second chance burns up even more calories.

4. Sex is one of the safest sports you can take up. It stretches and tones up just about every muscle in the body. It's more enjoyable than swimming 20 laps, and you don't need
special sneakers or a bathing suite!

5. Sex is an instant cure for mild depression. It releases endorphins into the bloodstream, producing a sense of euphoria and leaving you with a feeling of well-being. Until she says, “Are you finished already?”

6. The more sex you have, the more you will be offered – especially if you are filthy stinking rich. Actually, the sexually active body gives off greater quantities of chemicals called pheromones. These subtle sex perfumes drive the opposite sex crazy!

7. Sex is the safest tranquilizer in the world. IT IS 10 TIMES MORE
EFFECTIVE THAN VALIUM. Men go at it like hell for two or three minuets and, bam, they are asleep.

8. Kissing each day will keep the dentist away. Kissing encourages saliva to wash food from the teeth and lowers the level of the acid that causes decay, preventing plaque build-up. If you like to spit out your partners food after each kiss. I’ll brush, thank you very much – unless she had hamburger with everything on it. That is different.

9. Sex actually relieves headaches. A lovemaking session can release the tension that restricts blood vessels in the brain. And then the headache will fall asleep.

10. A lot of lovemaking can unblock a stuffy nose. If done right it can blow the snot out of your nose. Actually, sex is a natural antihistamine. It can help combat asthma and hay fever.

Now you know why I am an overweight, grumpy, frustrated old fart who is getting entirely too much ear hair. I need to get laid. Sweet Tea is coming home tomorrow, but that won’t help the ear hair. But I am glad to have her back. My right arm is beginning to look like Popeyes.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


I said that I would tell you about my ship someday. Today is a good day to start, but it is really long. Just show the guys the respect and read the story.

The USS Frank E. Evans DD754 (DD is the designation for a destroyer) was launched and commissioned in 1944, and, after a shakedown cruse, set sail for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC in Navy terminology.) She arrived on station in time for the Okinawa invasion and earned her combat stars battling kamikazes, dueling with Japanese ships and doing shore bombardment in support of the ground troops. She was in combat until the end of the war. From there she did a stint in China and eventually ended up in mothballs.

When Korea broke out she was re-commissioned and sent back to WESTPAC to fight in that war. She was engaged in many shore bombardments and even received small arms and mortar fire because she was so close to the shore. Her nickname is “The Fighter,” and she earned the moniker. However, after Korea, she was sent back to the mothball fleet in San Diego.

In the early 60’s she was brought back again and refitted in what was called FRAM II. Her WWI and Korea configuration was removed and she had a helicopter deck added to the same place her #3 gun mount was located. This was used, unsuccessfully, for an unmanned torpedo carrying drone. The Navy just couldn’t get it to work more than ONCE in a row. This is when I came on board, in 1962.

I was fresh out of boot camp and from a leave home, and I was looking forward to boarding a true fighting ship. I got off the pier bus and looked down the pier. There were four small ships on the left (port) side of the pier and the beautiful, huge, gray ship on the right (starboard) side. I walked down to the gangway and ask the Marine (this should have been my first hint, since Marines don’t guard the gangways of destroyers) if this was the Evans. He said that this was the USS Helena, a cruiser of great renown. He pointed across the pier to the four little ships and said the Evans was the one next to the pier. Man! Only a little over 300 feet long and I was going to go to sea in THAT? Oh, well! I reported aboard. I was sent immediately to the deck force (boson mates who took care of all things outside – painting, chipping pain, painting, sweeping, swabbing (mopping) and painting, not to mention chipping and painting. My bunk was in the forward part of the ship two decks down from the main deck.

I spent two months there and, while at sea, I was stuck painting a 3’ by 3’ by 3’ locker below the anchor chain locker, and getting sicker by the minuet. Just before I was about to pass out, one of the guys stuck his head in and said some lieutenant wanted to see me. I reported to his stateroom and was told that I had scored high enough on my battery of test to be considered for radar training, and did I want to give it a try. I was trying soooo hard to keep from upchucking on his shoes that I almost wasn’t able to get out my, “Hell, yeah… uh, Sir.” So that night I had the mid-watch (midnight to four in the morning.) This normally meant I would get to sleep in until eight a.m., but I was awaken at six a.m. and told to report to CIC (Combat Information Center or Combat for short.) I was then made a radar striker.

The first person I met was a gravely voiced, thick glasses wearing, lisp speaking first class pettyofficer by the name of Gary Hodgson. He never combed his hair and it stuck out all over the place like a mad scientist and his laugh was as raspy as his voice – and he laughed often.

This is where I spent my tenure as a sailor in the Navy. I was able to visit the WESPAC (three ports in Japan and one in Hong Kong) and Hawaii and Midway Island and San Francisco and San Diego. Although we did operate with the USS Oriskiny, an attack aircraft carrier with jets on board, we mostly operated with the USS Hornet, an anti-submarine aircraft carrier with propeller driven planes on board. We did do some early bombardment on Viet Nam in support of the advisors there at the time. But no real combat experience for me. I left the ship in 1964 and returned home a relatively normal life. But the Evans kept on doing her thing.

After I got off she made five more trips to the WESTPACK and received another combat star for her experiences. In 1969, before she left for her next cruse to the Pacific, all the personal had to have urine test for drugs. She set sail and during the cruse she pulled into Subic Bay, Philippines. She was immediately boarded by several government type agents and arrested several of the crew for failing the drug test. The captain was furious and demanded more men to bring his crew back up to compliment. So he received around thirty new recruits fresh from boot camp – some of whom had not even had the opportunity to go home after their training. Also on board were three brothers from Niobrabra, Nebraska, Gary, Gregory and Kelly Sage; Chief Larry Reilly had extended a year before retiring to serve with his son Larry Jr.; and my old friend Gary Hodgson was serving out his last year before retiring.

Anyway, there were a goodly number of untrained men on board. And she was heading to Viet Nam to be on “the gun line.” Meaning she would be doing close in bombardments to aide the men in the jungles.

She was there for about a two weeks when she (and when I say she I mean all four destroyers in the squadron) was ordered to head South out to the edge of the South China Sea and join up with the HMAS Melbourne and her task group of Australian and New Zeeland ships to practice in joint maneuvers.

One of the maneuvers that are done dozens of times when operating with a carrier is moving to the rear of the carrier. When aircraft are launched or retrieved there has to be a tin can 500 yards off the stern of the carrier in case something goes wrong. On June 3rd, just after three a.m., the Evans was order to go to plain guard. All she had to do was turn to port and circle around to fall onto station as the carrier went by. But the OD (Officer of the Deck) got confused between our base course and the zig zag course and he turned to starboard (right) and headed on a collision course with the Melbourne.

Everything became confused about then. Radar was telling them they were on a collision course. The Melbourne told him they were on a collision course, and finally, the OD ordered the rudder Hard Right. At the same time the Melbourne broke all the rules of the sea (the biggest ship has the right of way) and turned her rudder Hard Left and she rammed and cut in half the Evans at mid-ships. Everyone in the forward fire room was killed instantly by crushing metal or twelve hundred degree steam. Everyone in CIC was killed. All but five men below decks were drowned because the front half rolled over and sank in three minuets. Among the dead were all three Sage brothers, my friend Gary Hodgson and Chief Reilly watched his son go down (he was in the forward fire room – he volunteered to help out that night because one of the regular guys was sick or something.) In all, we lost 74 of Americas finest, and only one body was ever recovered and he was burnt pretty bad.

There were many stories of heroics that night. Our guys were trying to keep the back half afloat while working with the wounded and burned. The Melbourne had helicopters in the air immediately and they saved many of your men. There were men jumping OFF the Melbourne into the water to save some of our men and others were on the deck with rifles shooting at sharks. Many men on both ships earned commendations that night. The other ships tried a search and rescue, but no more were found. The front half carried and drug the seventy four down to eternity.

Afterward, the Melbourne captain’s 30+ years of service was ruined and he left the Australian Navy without his retirement. The captain of the Evans was exonerated but never held command of a ship again. He retired, but never got over loosing his ship and so many men. He passed away a couple of years ago, but he wouldn’t attend any of our reunions. Not one survivor ever blamed him for anything, but Navy Command has is traditions, and he felt so responsible.

The OD got a letter of reprimand in his file, which means he would never command a ship in the USS Navy. In civilian life he would have been charged with 74 counts of manslaughter. But the Navy has her own rules and customs. The OD left the Navy and no one knows where he is – that I know of. I haven’t mentioned the names, because it isn’t necessary. He has his cross to bear and doesn’t need any help from others.

So now you know, or maybe you don’t because I can’t express the story in my limited vocabulary, why I feel so proud to be at the reunion with such distinguished and brave men. I don’t know how I would have reacted in their place, but being a radarman, I would have been bunking below the mess decks (three decks down) where only two radarmen made it out. In the bow, where I was first stationed, only three men made it out. So I might not have been here at all. As a radarman I have been involved in many plain guard situations and it could have happened at any time, especially at night. Not likely, but it could have.

The HMAS Melbourne had already sunk one Australian destroyer doing the same maneuver a couple of years before and had two close calls a few nights before the collision with a couple of our destroyers. I believe she was a jinxed ship, but that’s just me. If you want to read some first hand accounts, Google USS FRAND E EVANS DD7545 and look around. The association is working on a new web site where we will be able to blog. I’m looking forward to that.

I guess this is way too long for a blog, but I couldn’t stop typing. I hope you remember the 74 in your prayers. I do!

Friday, October 12, 2007

For Moms

My Sweet Tea emailed this to me today and I though you moms out there would like to see it. I'm still technology impaired, so you will have to cut and past, but it is worth it.

Monday, October 08, 2007

I'm Back - For Now

Well, I’m home – for now. I have to leave tomorrow to deliver a car to Roanoke Rapids, NC; an eighteen hour round trip. But the time I spent with my shipmates was priceless. I really look forward to the reunion each year because it rejuvenates my spirit.

I thank you all for your comments and your well wishes. I have spent the last two hours getting caught up on all your blogs, and I am just as glad to be a part of your world, too. You folks are fun, funny and have courage that I wish I had just a little bit of.

When I have time I will tell you about my ship and the men who served aboard her. I was so fortunate to have serve with so many fine and brave soles who allow me to be apart of their crew. From WWII to Korea to the beginnings of Viet Nam, I worked along side combat veterans who earned many medals for bravery and wounds received in combat. And yet they are the most humble and decent group of guys I have ever been around. But, then we are all in our late 50’s to late 80’s. We are too old to be mean – just cantankerous. We are all grandfathers and some great-grandfathers. Some still have nightmares, but all have made a life for themselves and their familys. You would like them, too.

It was fun sitting around drinking a beer or two or twelve or twenty and telling and retelling the old stories. But they are just a funny and thrilling and sad as the first time I heard them. We are always having new guys show up due to the outreach program we use to gather up veterans who served aboard her, and they add new stories and memories to each meeting. And we all get to sit around and say Fuck, and Goddamn, and other words dear to navy men all over the world. The wives just sit and shake their heads and let us get away with it once a year. Of course, many of them (my Sweet Tea wasn’t there) will probably get their mouths washed out with lye soap when they get home, but, man, it was worth it.

However it is good to be home and sitting in my chair and sleeping in my bed – although I will be alone. And it was wonderful to hear the voices of my grandkids this afternoon. I really missed them. I visited the family home of Jessie and Frank James and I went to a riverboat museum in Kansas City, Mo. J-Man would have loved it, and Bug would have loved all the horses that were everywhere. I’ll get to see them Friday, and I’m ready, now.

I did think of E. Craig when I saw a picture of his ship, the USS Sullivans DD537, in a destroyer book in our display room, and I wish Biddie and her family the best and have them in my prayers. I just found out about her situation today, or I would have commented sooner.

Thank you, again for your comments, and I will tell you more when I get back from my trip.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Don't Leave Me

Okay! Here’s what’s going on. I will be leaving for Excelsior Springs, Mo, tomorrow morning for my Navy reunion. I am driving up with one of my old Navy buddies and his wife. They are the couple that Sweet Tea and I went on the cruise for their 50 wedding anniversary. They are two of the greatest people you could ever meet, and I am proud they call me a friend. But that’s not what this is about.

I will be gone until next Monday evening and I will not have a computer with me the whole time. What am I going to do? Withdrawal! Will I go into convulsions? Will I see little blog bugs crawling up my arms and legs? Will I have the police call to my room because of all the screaming? I don’t know what to do.

Asking you not to post anything for a week won’t work; nor will threatening to spank you till your butt glows red. Too many of you seem to want and look forward to that, and I don’t want to disappoint you and let you down again. So I am at a loss. I will be by myself, too, since Sweet Tea is in NJ for year-end closing and training on a new system FOR A MONTH.

I’m also worried about you, too. Where are you going to get your lewd and lascivious comments with me gone? Decency and class may come back into the blog world and I will be just another cast out. Damn, I can feel the rejection already.

Wait! Give me a chance. When I come back I’ll try not to say fuck and shit and goddamn and Democrat and other nasty words. I’ll try! I promise! I’ll say all those words to my sailor mates and maybe it will be all out of my system by the time I get back. Just wait.