Noilly Prattle: Looking Back: 5 – old enough to buy a car

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Looking Back: 5 – old enough to buy a car

USS Hoist ARS-40
     After only four months on the USS Pawcatuck I got transferred to my second ship, the USS Hoist ARS-40 in March, 1960. Like the Pawcatuck, the Hoist was home-ported in Norfolk. The Hoist was a salvage and rescue vessel that was adapted or modified to come to the rescue of sunken submarines, presumably with living survivors trapped on the ocean floor. Part of the crew were qualified deep sea divers as well as skilled SKUBA divers. The ship also had a decompression chamber designed to relieve people with the bends (a condition arising from dissolved gases coming out of solution into bubbles inside the body due to too rapid depressurization). In other words, if a man rescued from a sunken submarine, say, rises to the surface too quickly the too rapid depressurization causes bubbles to form in the body causing severe pain and possible death. In such a case, the man would be put into the decompression chamber and re-pressurized more slowly until his body was readjusted to normal surface atmospheric pressure. 

      I had turned 18 in December, felt confined by the Norfolk scene without wheels and decided to buy a car, my first. It was a 1955 Ford, just like the one in the photo on the right. Having a car was enormously liberating. Away from Norfolk, in civilian clothes, you could be yourself, whereas in the Norfolk area, even in civilian clothes people seemed to know you were a sailor and treated or shunned or exploited you accordingly. Sad to say, but there was little respect or honor for “our finest”, our boys in uniform, at least not in the Norfolk area where sailors were concerned. It wasn't unusual for us to travel as far as, say, Ohio, to a shipboard buddies hometown and be fixed up with local girls (non professionals) for a weekend. Driving half the night to get there and half the night to get back, staggering and bleary-eyed and back in uniform, aboard ship for Monday morning muster. But it was worth it to get out of Nofuck Virginia.

mushroom cloud over NYC (composite idea)
      We were in the midst of the Cold War and paranoia vis-a-vis the Soviet Union seemed, in retrospect, to be building towards the brinkmanship that was the Cuban Missile Crisis, still a couple years down the pike. There was concern that Soviet subs could easily reach the eastern seaboard of the United States and an early warning system seemed absolutely essential to prevent Manhattan from going up in a mushroom cloud. To this end a kind of wall of sound detection was laid on the ocean floor off shore from the US East Coast. These were a series of sonar submarine sound detection modules known as SOSUS a Sound Surveillance System. For several months the Hoist was engaged in laying these sonar modules on the ocean floor and we were berthed in Hamilton, Bermuda for the duration. 

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To be continued....

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