Noilly Prattle: Looking Back: 15 – the home stretch

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Looking Back: 15 – the home stretch

USS Kaskaskia AO-27
    I've decided to take up the narrative of my "Looking Back" series from where I left off a year ago. In December 1961 I was assigned to my last ship. The subsequent two years, 1962 and 1963 were to be two of the most traumatizing years for the country and, by association, for me as well. Neither the country nor I would ever be the same again and we would eventually part company as I moved increasingly to the left and the country moved increasingly to the right. So, I pick up my story in December of 1961.

    The idyll of Southern Florida was pretty much shattered by the traffic accident on the Florida Turnpike. It received its coup de grace soon after when I was once again transferred to another ship. I got temporary orders in October, 1961 for a two-months training program in none other than Norfolk, Virginia again, but I don't even remember what the training was for. In December I traveled north to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to report aboard my new ship, the USS Kaskaskia AO-27. The Kaskaskia was a fleet oiler very similar to my first ship, the USS Pawcatuck AO-108, only the “Kassy”, as you can tell by her number (27) was much older—bit of a rust bucket of questionable seaworthiness actually.

Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan
       The Kaskaskia, first launched in 1939, had been decommissioned in 1957. She was recommissioned on December 6, 1961, the day after I had reported aboard. She was again decommissioned in 1969 and sold for scrap in 1970 having plied the waves for some 31 years. I remember steering the Kassy out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard under the Brooklyn Bridge, past the towers of Lower Manhattan and down the Hudson as we headed for our home port in Jacksonville, Florida. So, I was on my way back to Florida, but not to the sunshiny south, to the ho-hum unremarkable northern part of the Sunshine State.

       I had arranged to leave my repaired 55 Ford in Miami while the Navy went about the logistics of my transfer. The Navy's requirements superseded any personal problems or considerations. In fact I have hardly any impression left of Jacksonville at all. I did take a couple days leave of absence to go to Miami, visit the Ts and pick up my car and drive it back to Jacksonville.

       The Cold War was soon to heat up and catch up to us while I was serving aboard the Kaskaskia. I was coming to the end of the active duty phase of my enlistment and was starting to think about life after the Navy. Reenlisting wasn't in the cards. I simply had too independent and non-conformist a personality to be career military material. But, neither did I have any idea about where to go or what to do next. I liked the Miami area and thought it might be worth a shot at finding work and living there, but I had no skills other than what I had learned in the Navy. Unless I was interested in the merchant marine, navigation and steering ships were of limited marketability on the civilian job market. I had learned a few business skills in high school such as bookkeeping and typing and filing, but being a clerk-typist for minimum didn't sound terribly exciting as a career—the merchant marine would've paid much better.

       Then a guy named Devita (who actually looked a lot like the comedian Danny Devito) came aboard and was assigned to my division. He was older than I was and, like me, he was a QM. He had been discharged from the Navy, but for some reason reenlisted. I'm guessing he probably wasn't making it very well in civilian life. We got to be friends and he told me how there was lots of money to be made in the beauty salon business. He thought that Miami would be a great place to set up in business since I was interested in going there after I got out. I don't know why it didn't occur to me to ask him why, if it was such a great business, he had given it up and rejoined the Navy. Nevertheless, the idea germinated in my mind, but other things of a more immediate urgency came up on the Kaskaskia, and what to do after my discharge was a matter for the future and I kept it on the back burner. Meanwhile, NASA and the Cold War were waiting in the wings.

To be continued...

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