Big Man – Big Ship

USS MATHEWS (AKA 96), in which I was assigned as the engineering officer, was ordered decommissioned. Because I had been informed verbaly that my request for official designation as an engineering duty officer (EDO) would soon be approved, I anticipated that my next tour of duty would be in a field activity of the Bureau of Ships or, less likely, in the Bureau itself. I didn’t mind more sea duty, but I did not want to be again assigned to a ship wherein the other officers would resent my not standing deck watches.

While at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, the executive officer handed me a message that, in the terse language used for radio transmissions, ordered me upon decommissioning of MATHEWS to report to USS MAJOR (DE-796). There it was again! One part of the bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. didn’t know what another was doing. I was ordered to a destroyer escort in which the other officers, including the commanding officer, would prefer someone qualified to stand deck watches. I was manifestly disappointed.


Gregarious Hal Tall, a fellow Brooklynite of huge size, was the first lieutenant in MATHEWS. I first met him on 6 December 1941 when we both applied for admission to the U.S. Maritime Commission Cadet Corps, the forerunner of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. After meeting again in MATHEWS we developed a great friendship that transcended the fact that he was the leader of the deck force and that I was in charge of their natural enemies, the snipes below. According to the sailors on deck the black gang intentionally blew boiler tubes only for the purpose of covering their scrubbed decks with soot. Thus when Hal learned of my orders, he couldn’t resist comments such as, “At last, the deck officers will make a man out of you.”

After two days of such razzing, with the cooperation of the executive officer and others, I hatched a plot for the purpose of getting even. I typed phony orders for Hal to report to USS FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT (CV- 42), one of the Navy’s newest aircraft carriers. I put copies in the exec’s office and in the radio shack because Hal was likely to check. He did check and thus completely swallowed the ruse. He rushed to find me, slapped my back, and said, “Little man, little ship!” With a huge paw on his great chest he added, “Big man, big ship!”

Within a day, it was manifest to those of us in on the plot, that Hal was more than elated about his orders. Having to tell him the truth was one of the biggest challenges that I ever experienced.


Per my request, the orders for me to report to USS MAJOR (DE-796) were canceled. Instead, per new orders, I reported to the New York Naval Shipyard on 5 May 1947. Shortly thereafter, on 7 July 1947, my Designation for Assignment to Engineering Only in the regular Navy was signed by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal. Thus, the war within the war that had not ended with the surrender of Japan two-years before, was finally over.

A new chapter in my naval career had begun.


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

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