Dear Lt. Huston,
I was running arouond the World Wide Web yesterday and came across alisting of ex-Navy folks and the ships they've served on. When I noticedthat you had been on the decomissioning crew of the Virginia, I thoughtI'd drop you a line and chat a little.
I had the privilege of serving on the pre-com and commissioning crew ofthe Virginia from June 1975-August 1977. I was in L-Division, and an MM2at the time of commissioning, although I made MM1 shortly after that. It's been quite a while since I dug out the commissioning book andglanced through it, so I can't remember the names of any save for myDivision Officer, Lt. Keith Bersticker and the Commanding Officer - Capt.George Washington Davis IV (that's one you don't forget quickly!)
Virginia was looked at as being a real "show-boat" in those days: firstin class, we had carpetting in the berthing areas and suspended ceilingsto block out the pipes and cableways - a totally new concept at thattime, and funded by outside contributions from the state of Virginia aswere a lot of other decorative items on board. This ship's crest wasdesigned by some school kid, but I'll admit that I'm still pretty fond ofit. I've actually got an original crest patch still in the wrappersomewhere. Would love to be able to get a ball cap, but have lost hopesince finding that the VA was taken out of commission a while back.
As I sit here in my office, I have a photo of the six California andVirginia-class cruisers in formation, taken in 1981 (although I wasserving on the USS California at the time the photo was made). It'sabout the only thing I have left besides my plank and my plank-holdercertificate and a lot of good memories.
Without rambling on too much more, I'd love to chat a little about ourexperiences if you'd care to. Drop me a line by e-mail as you have time.
Hi Joel! Good to hear from you! I've just come back from my trip downmemory lane thanks to your website. I must say, I'm pretty impressedwith the time you took to do this and please accept my sincere thanks. The layout and interactivity is great! Nice photos, too. One of thebest ship pages I've seen. I did add a logbook entry. Was a littlesorry not to see anyone from the early days.
Thanks for including the Captains' list. It was interested to see thatRalph Lipfert captained the ship at the end. I served under him when hewas Engineering officer - although I can't honestly remember if he was onthe VA or the CA. The name rang a bell. The first CO, Captain Davis,was easily the best officer I served under during my 12-year career. Hewas the kind of CO who would show up in #2ER during the midwatch just tosit and talk and ask questions about how things were running and how wewere doing personally. Would even team up with the enilisted guys whenwe played basketball. I would say that the general feeling among thenukes went beyond respect to genuine affection for the man. I was happyto hear that he had made Admiral later on - spotted it in a dog-earedcopy of proceedings I stumbled on.
I was involved in all the shakedown cruises before and aftercomissioning, and the first operational cruises in the Caribbean - mostlyout of Gitmo and Rosey Roads for exercises - but never went across thepond on the VA. We did carry a nice sailboat and a Cadillac Eldorado inthe hanger bay down to some senior officer in Gitmo on one cruise -during the days when we had an operational accordian hanger door andelevator. As I remember, I went through the first ORSE on VA, too. Can't recall what we got, except we kept the keys. Rickover's visit wasa real trip - he presented an interesting figure, rather gnome-like andghostly drifting around the ER, climbing on things, firing questions atthe watchstanders with his USMC Colonel aide in tow.
I went from the VA up to Ballston Spa where I taught Chem/Radcon at theMARF (S7G) prototype from 1977-1980. Saw Rickover there again - don;tthink he remembered me from the VA. Then on to the USS California for anIO cruise in 1981 (April 14 - November 22). We were involved inescorting US-flagged ships out of the Red Sea at the time Col Sadat wasassassinated as president of Egypt. Also kept an eye on the earlygoings-on between Iran and Iraq. Rescued the crew from a burning Greektanker off of India and brought them ashore in Pakistan. Came backacross the Pacific and through the Panama Canal, making it anaround-the-world passage. I've got my Magellan certificate somewhere,too. Got out in January 1983 with a selection to MMC in my hand but onlymore sea duty to look at and three kids at home. It was time to call itquits.
Since the Navy, I've been serving as a full-time missionary involved ininternational radio broadcasting - first from a shortwave station on Guamand now at Trans World Radio's international Headquarters in NC. I stilltravel a lot - mostly to Europe, and will likely be going to India nextyear. Have been at this for about 14 years now, but the Navy memoriesare still fresh. I'd love to know some more about the decom days. Kindof sad - makes me feel old that four of the five ships I served on are inpieces now.
Again, my sincere thanks for what you've done. It's nice to see someonekeeping the CGN38 afloat!
By the way: the aft game room was called that because it had some oldarcade-type video game units (Space Invaders, I think) and soda machinesback there for a while.
I guess that older memories have a way of dimming the unpleasant parts -I think the shrinks call it repressing or something like that - buthonestly, I can't remember much about my stay on the Virginia that wasreally unpleasant - just normal watchstanding and the usual shipyardhassles. My second son was born while I was in precom duty - up atRiverside Hospital in Newport News. I got a grand total of two days offfor it - really magnanamous!
I guess being on a brand-new ship with all the official visitors and suchmade you feel special (if that's ever really possible in the Navy) eventhough it sometimes seemed like a perpetual personnel inspection. We gotto be the host ship for a bicentennial visit by a squadron of Frenchships to Norfolk back in 1976. I spent the weekend being driver for aFrench Admiral - same weekend I made MM1. The French ships looked prettysharp topside - but inside was another story - greasy, smelling of garlicand poorly-lit. I got to meet the son of Charles DeGaulle who was asenior French naval officer. Pretty neat!
Since I spent a lot of my career in drydock (Forrestal - Engineeringrefit; Will Rogers [SSBN659] - refuel, Poseidon missle conversion;Virginia - precom; California - engineering refit, phalanx & harpoonupfit [twice in the yards]), the yard life seemed pretty normal for me. I remember one time when we were convinced that the yardbirds weren'tdoing much - particularly where sweepdown (which they were responsiblefor) was concerned. One of our ensigns got the bright idea of painting abottle cap red and pitching it on the deck. Sure enough - we watched oneless than energetic yard worker push a small pile of dirt, including thatsame red bottle cap, round and round on the diamond decking near maincontrol in 2ER for his entire 8-hour shift. It was good for a littleself-righteous laughter until the SY went out on strike for a couple ofdays and we got stuck pushing bottle caps and other things around the ER.We began to appreciate the SY worker's ingenuity after that.
I appreciate your comments about being topside at night. I have to say,that the primary redeeming factor about being at sea was the chance tosee God's creation in all its glory. I keep telling people that you'venever seen stars until you've seen them on a moonless night in the middleof the ocean. When I read in some of the old Horatio Hornblower books (apersonal favorite) about the phosphorescence of the water around the ship- my time in the Caribbean on the VA comes to mind. One of the starkestmemories I have about seeing things at sea occurred when I was on theCalifornia up near the entrance to the Persian Gulf back in 1981. We hadjust had a major sandstorm blow about 100 miles out to sea where we were- getting a brown grit into everything - especially our bedding. I wenttopside at night and was treated to the site of the moon lookingblood-red, the water looking blood-red and most of the stars looking redas well. The haze from the sand storm was so fine that it created thisincredible martian look to everything. Wish I'd had a video camera backthen. Could have sold the footage to Spielberg for the next Star Warsmovies.
Please feel free to use any of my remembrances about the VA in the webpages. I'll try to add some more as I dig through my junk at home. Ithink I have a commissioning book somewhere. Don't know if I could scanit in and send it to you, but I'll work on it. Would have to do it atwork, as I'm not equipped at home (yet?).
Thanks for the notes - nice to relive things - really!
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