On 3 July 1946 when I reported on board, USS MATHEWS (AKA-96) was in the final phase of a two-month regular overhaul in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Most of the circumstances that impacted adversely on the overhaul were clearly due to what I refer to as the hysterical demobilization that followed the end of World War II. The black gang had been depleted; only four chief and three first-class petty officers remained and the Yard was experiencing a massive reduction in force (RIF). Many civilian workers had received RIF notices; there were signs of intentional poor workmanship by some who were especially bitter.
In addition there was a senior shipyard official, the Repair Officer, whose behavior also impacted adversely. To me, he was a forerunner of a number of his self-serving ilk that I would identify and detest during the remainder of my naval career as an engineering specialist concerned with the operation, maintenance and building of warships. They dressed like naval warriors but didn’t think nor act like warriors. They put their career ambitions ahead of maintaining the Navy’s readiness posture. The Repair Officer was immediately responsible for meeting the scheduled overhaul-completion date. To him, his record of meeting such dates regardless of the conditions of ships departing from the Yard, was paramount.
My predecessor as engineering officer was a chemistry major in college and had been assigned responsibility for MATHEW’s engineering plant just a few weeks before the work-request list was prepared. I think that he would agree that his title should have been the officer who looks after engineering in the absence of an engineering officer. The list was seriously incomplete. For example, the first-class and only electrician, who had recently reported on board, advised me that the armatures of three winches were shorted rendering the winches inoperable.
The Repair Officer absolutely refused to accept any additional work that would necessitate revising the overhaul completion date. He didn’t at all consider that the winches for an AKA were its raison d’etre, that is, they were essential for unloading the supplies needed to sustain an amphibious attack. In addition, he felt no obligation to report the circumstance along with a proposed solution to his seniors up the line. “Get that ship the hell out of here! If necessary, I’ll cast off the lines myself and let it drift in the stream,” he shouted.
Such was his devotion to his career at the expense of naval readiness!
At the time of our scheduled departure he was on the pier in a particularly intense good-bye good-riddance mood. Then fate intervened in behalf of us lads who were going to sea. With the Repair Officer watching, the shipyard’s tug, that is his tug, hit into and bent one of MATHEWS’ propeller blades. To say that he was screaming and jumping up and down would be an understatement. The overhaul had to be extended accordingly, but the three winches remained inoperable when MATHEWS finally departed.
Regarding the inoperable winches, fate played another hand. Since VJ-Day many auxiliary-type ships were decommissioned. Officers and crewmen who wanted to be discharged as soon as possible, skipped the prescribed paperwork requirements and dumped a mountain of machinery spare parts on the Yard’s Supply Department. My cousin Betty’s husband Vinnie, was in charge of one of the very-near impossible efforts to identify and sort the spares. More than once he said to me, “Tell me what you need. If I have it I’ll send it to you.”
I had no time to be specific. Thus, I put persistent Vinnie off until finally I said, “I could use all the ball and roller bearings that you have.”
I expected a boxful, but Vinnie showed up with a truckload!
When MATHEWS arrived in Norfolk I swapped hundreds of bearings for the spare armatures that were needed. My one electrician, with me assisting, accomplished the work that the Repair Officer in the Brooklyn Navy Yard refused to undertake.
Eight years later, that same officer was summarily relieved of command of the Boston Naval Shipyard as demanded by its civilian workforce and their congressman, Tip O’Neil.
Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo