My name is Bob Kirby. I was one of the original crew members to be stationed on Virginia DLGN-38. Yes I know that the ship designation may not be as some of you remember. Virginia had her designation changed prior to commissioning. Virginia was larger than a destroyer and the Navy decided to bring back the cruiser designation.
I had joined the Navy in 1970 during those wonderful and enjoyable Vietnam days. I was to be stationed upon a Fleet Oiler for a period of 2 years. After my enlistment had expired I rejoined the civilian population. I was gainfully employed but I started to miss the Navy life. So contrary to better judgment I re-enlisted. I was sent to the garden spot of Norfolk Virginia for outfitting. After receiving my sea bag (and frequenting the E-Club) I received my orders. Was I to be sent to some exotic port were the women out number the men? No, I was going to be stationed just across the river in Newport News. My orders basically read:
Report to Newport News Ship Building and Dry Dock Company Commanding Officer Virginia Pre-Commissioning Crew.
So off to beautiful Newport News I went. All the time I kept on wondering what kind of ship was the Virginia. After turning in my orders at NNSBDC, I was directed to a brick building just outside of the actual facility. To me this did not look like a ship. Inside this building there were some offices that were empty with the exception of some minor furniture. On the 2nd floor I located a office that sort of resembled a Personnel Office. I handed in my all of the paperwork given to me at the main office and my orders. I was welcomed aboard and brought into the fold. All the time I was still thinking "this still does not look like a ship". After being introduced to some of the crew, I met HIM. HIM being Captain G. W. Davis. Capt Davis was a very big man.
Capt George W. Davis Jr
You could almost feel the power that this man had. I felt that he would just welcome me and then go about his business. But I was wrong. He began to explain to me why I was here and what he expected from all 20 or 30 of us now under his command. He explained that the Virginia was in the process of being built and that we would have to make sure that she was built as right as possible. Then it hit me that I was not going to some exotic port but to be dry docked. I could hear the women crying.
At first there was absolutely no work other than moving furniture around. We spent most of our time just commuting to the shipyard from our condos in Hampton. Yes, we had to endure being housed in condos (that cost around $475.00 a month in 1974) for the next 2 years. But we did endure. Some of us have to make sacrifices for others.
During the next few months we started to receive what you E types call the Bible. The plant manuals were outdated but came with all of the wonderful changes that we all love. So for the next few months all we did was remove and insert. We also had a little diversion. We would take any blank pages and stamp them "Top Secret". One of gang decided to make paper airplanes out of them and toss them out the window. Needless to say Capt. Davis (in his own words) informed us that our diversion was counter productive and that we should stop it. Oh well so much for fun and games. After a period of time we were allowed to visit what was to become USS Virginia. There was at this time only a green colored hull and something that resembled a super structure. The forms for the plants and the "Limited Combat System areas" were present. We knew that at this time there was nothing that we could do but watch Virginia being built.
Slowly more crew members started to appear. Some of the names I can remember. Some are forgotten but time. I do regret this for I met some very fine people during my years on Virginia. I had found may friends in various divisions both topside and engineering. Though through the years my contact with anyone from engineering decreased due to events beyond our control, we still considered ourselves as friends and shipmates. As time past Virginia began to take shape. She was still in dry dock, but she looked more like a ship. Our tours of the ship became more frequent and the work load grew and grew. The captain and some of us would partake in the manly sport of B-Ball to alleviate the tension. Captain Davis was pretty good, but couldn't go left. Ensign Richardson (Supply Dept. and I hope I have his name right) was better. But it would not have been a good career move to tell the captain this. Another deviation from the work load was for us to start a football team. We were allowed to enter the football league at Fort Monroe. Let me just say that we were the worst team that I ever saw. The words "goose" and "eggs" seem to ring a bell. But we had heart and just happened to put a few Army players in the hospital. We were asked never to return. But that is another story.
Soon we were informed that the Virginia was to be christened.
Virginia slides down the ways on 14 December 1974.
Virginia is christened by Virginia Stuart Warner, daughter of Secretary of the Navy John Warner
This was to be a gala affair and the social event of the year. So we all mustered down to the dock to witness the pomp and ceremony.This to some was very impressive. But to me, it was just an event. Up until the bottle hit her hull and she slid down the dock into the water. It then hit me that this was going to be my home for the next couple of years. Scary thought isn't it? The work load started to get harder and harder as the completion was almost to an end. Wires and piping everywhere. The smell of welding torches was on every deck. Then strange things started to happen. Rugs were being laid. TV's were being placed in all berthing areas. Was this the Love Boat? This was not the Navy I remembered. There was also a few other things missing, people. At this time there were maybe 100 of us. Were was the rest of the crew? We were to find out that the balance of the crew was being stationed in Norfolk awaiting on-load. We also learned that the Navy had come up with a new concept. This new system was to be called the "The Reduced Manning Concept". Basically put:
Bigger ship but less people to run it.
I hope that in future crews this was corrected. Faster and faster Virginia was becoming the ship that you see at this site. The crew started to move aboard and testing began. These days to me were the hell days. The plants were put on line. All of the systems were checked and double checked for errors. The gang plank was removed from the ship. No coming or going. The ship wasn't moving. I was forced to eat Navy food!!! Oh the horrors.
Then one day the captain addressed the crew to inform us the day that we all awaited was at hand. We were to get underway. First we were allowed to take her for a spin and then report to Norfolk NS.
This event will always be with me. I have joked throughout this letter to show you even back when, we laughed. We laughed and joked to alleviate the tension. But for anyone that was on USS Virginia the first day she got underway, it had to be special. We went through all of the normal procedures to set sail. The tension was growing. The BM of the watch blew a whistle and uttered those magical words "Under Way, shift colors." I like you hate that phrase, for you know that you are going somewhere away from your family. But on this day I felt prouder than any other day in my life with the exception of my son's birth. All of the work that we the Pre-Commissioning crew had done was finally being displayed. I left the bridge just behind Captain Davis after the watch was set. Both the captain and myself just looked at each other for what seemed like minutes but were actually seconds. I broke the silence with just a phrase " We did it". Captain Davis just looked at me and smiled. You could tell that he was at a loss for words. This was the only time that he showed any emotion other than concern.
I feel that to some this story maybe limited and seem a little mushy. But to me, and I hope to others it was a moment that they will never forget.
In the future any letters will be more on the humorous side. For example:
The day we shot ourselves. The day the bird came home. The day we out swam a fish.
The Day We Shot Ourselves Hello again fellow shipmates. It is I, the spinner of OLD Sea Stories. I am writing these stories not to relive my past, but to share with you some of the greater moments in the history of USS Virginia. My stories will not be restricted to any event that happened above the main deck, but will be a story that effected all of the Pre Commissioning, Commissioning crews. This story is one that I had mentioned to Joel. He seemed to be very interested about it. It is the story of how we shot ourselves. This event may be the only one in Naval history that I know of. This story is the actual story contrary to what you may have heard over the years. I should know because I am the one that discovered what had happened.
All ships must go through what is called "sea trials" before a ship is turned over to the Navy from the builder. Once every piece of equipment has been tested and double tested, is the ship accepted. On one of our little trips it was time to test the forward gun mount (mnt51). It was very late in the day and we were directing our shots at different degrees. First we would shot forward, then 10 degrees port (left for you engineering types) and so on. The sun was beginning to go down in the great pond. As is customary all of the ships exterior lights are to be extinguished upon sunset and the ships running lights are turned on. I, being the Quartermaster of the watch began to observe this age old Naval tradition. Mean while the ship is vibrating like a mixing machine with every blast from mnt51. At exactly the precise moment I turned on all of the ships running lights. On the bridge there is a panel that displays the status of all running lights. As I turned all of the switches on, everything was working as designed. The mighty 51 was still going through its testing at this time. As you all know, any time we shoot the guns the ship would vibrate like crazy and have a strange effect on certain equipment. The shooting of the gun effected our starboard running light. I received an filament error from the light. So I went to the starboard wing and looked over the side to see if the light was in fact out. Luckily the second filament was working and the light was lit. Upon verifying this fact I returned to the bridge. I must have taken only 2 or 3 steps inside when it hit me. Something did not look right. So back to the starboard wing I went. I looked over the side again. Just bellow the running I could see a very big piece of metal protruding from the ship. This piece of metal was shaped like a V with a circular hole in it's middle. This piece of metal turned out to be the starboard side door on the main deck. Yes I said "door". Some genius decided to put 2 doors on both sides of the ship to separate the main deck forward of the superstructure and amidships. These 2 doors were held closed by only a standard door knob. In all of the ships vibrating, the door opened exposing it to the direct path of our previous shot from mnt51. I stood there for a good while just absorbing the picture that I saw below. All at once I started to laugh. Everyone on the bridge (including the Captain) started to stare at me as if I had lost it. After I regained my composure I proceeded to apologize to the Captain for my outburst. I then informed him that he should look over the starboard wing because we had just shot ourselves. At first he did not comprehend what I was saying. But he went anyway. He looked over the side for a second or so and returned to the bridge. After working with Captain Davis for so long, I could tell when he was upset. Needless to say the Captain decided to suspend any further testing of the gun mount.
Well that is how we shot ourselves. As I stated I can think of no other ship that has accomplished this feat. I will try to think of other stories. Some will pertain to the Navigation Department (yes we were a Department back then, all 5 of us) and other experiences that involved the whole crew. I hope that my telling of these stories will make others remember something's from the history of Virginia. I would like to hear what Virginia went through over the years. The crews that served aboard her may have had their differences, but the ship was a good ship.
Hope to hear from you all.
If anyone should know the whereabouts of the following dead beats, please advise.
Lt. Terry Dettmann (last Washington State) QMC Bill Mc Millian (from NY) QM2 Fred Hammond (from NJ) QM3 Bruce Gentry (from W. Virginia)