All Chiefs and No Indians

Talk about all chiefs and no indians, I reported on board USS MATHEWS (AKA-96) on 3 July 1946 and was immediately besieged by the black gang, four chiefs and three first-class petty officers. They babbled as a group, “The Exec hates us engineers. We’re worked like hell during the day and liberty is only one in two. Three of us have to stand watches one night and four of us the next night, even though the plant is cold iron (no boilers lighted and electric power is provided from ashore). He doesn’t know anything about the machinery and that doesn’t stop him from meddling!”

That did it! I already knew that I would be busier than a dog wagging two tails and an unsympathetic exec would make the situation intolerable. I went to see him forthwith and played my ace card, “Sir, I am told that you have no sympathy for the engineers and that you are giving them a hard time. If that’s true, since I have enough points to get out of the Navy now, that’s what I would do.”

Without hesitating, the Exec surprised me with his reply, “Yes! It’s true! They are a bunch of goof offs, but I’ll give you three months without me interfering. Let’s see what you can accomplish with them.”

Being on a roll I continued, “The boiler firesides have twice the maximum-allowed operating hours on them and must be cleaned. It’s been a long time since any of those senior petty officers had to do such dirty work, but there is no option. The only reason for a cold-iron watch is to be alert for flooding. I could have a cot put on the lower machinery-space floor plates for a single watchstander to sleep there. If any flooding occurs during the night he would be the first to know. Then, with your permission, I would give the other six liberty. Thus each one would have to stay on board one in seven nights instead of one in two, and every weekday I would work their butts off for eight hours.”

I could see from the look on the Exec’s face that he was thinking, “This guy’s crazy. How in the hell is he going to get four chiefs and three first-class to scrape firesides?”

Nonetheless he approved my request.


When I broke the news about liberty, the black gang went wild with joy. When I told them that they had to clean firesides, I was confronted with animal-like ferocity that lasted as long as me counting off while pointing, “One, two, three and four, boiler number one.” And then addressing the remainder, “One, two, three and,” while pointing to myself, “four, boiler number two.”

They were dumfounded as I added, “When I go into a furnace, you go in! When I come out, you come out!”

None of them knew then that I had cut my firesides-cleaning teeth in the merchant marine four-years before.

Thus, in the absence of non-rated personnel, four chief petty officers, three first-class petty officers, and one lieutenant junior grade cleaned firesides in MATHEWS’ boilers during the summer of 1946.

There were two fall outs.

On some evenings I left the Shipyard via the Sands Street gate and walked a few blocks to a subway stop, usually intent upon visiting my folks in Flatbush or heading for one of the nightspots in uptown Manhattan. More often than not, I got captured by the six snipes ashore when I attempted to pass their favorite Sands Street bar.

About ten-weeks after my pact with the Executive Officer he was detached from MATHEWS. Just before leaving he said to me, “My promise to not meddle in engineering affairs is the best decision I ever made. Keep up the good work!”


Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo

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