On a noteworthy day during the last week of November 1956, I was busy per a two-hat job in the Boston Naval Shipyard. For the one-hour remaining before quitting time I was working at my regular job as the Assistant Planning and Estimating Superintendent for Construction and Conversions. In that capacity I had certain responsibilities for getting the Navy’s first guided-missile destroyer, USS GYATT (DDG-1), ready for a shakedown trial that was scheduled to start at six the next morning. Thanks to able assistants everything was under control. I had time to dash the sixteen miles to Lexington, have a good meal with Rhoda and the kids, sleep fast, and return to the yard before dawn in the black bitter cold for a sixteen-hour sea trial in what I expected to be a very-rough Atlantic Ocean.
At sea I would be the Officer-in-Charge of the Builder’s Trial Board. The trial would be a rehearsal for another that would be witnessed by the Board of Inspection and Survey that reported directly to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).
Much was dependent on how GYATT would perform. Destroyer commanders wanted the two-stage 28-foot long Terrier missiles. Others felt that they were too big for such relatively small ships. The GYATT conversion was a developmental effort to determine feasibility of the Terriers in a destroyer. Also, about a year before, a number of senior admirals were bypassed when the Commander, Destroyer Forces, U.S. Atlantic Fleet was appointed CNO. To say the least, some disgruntled brass had especially keen interest. Their representatives would be on board.
In addition to the missile system, GYATT had been fitted with the Navy’s first gas-turbine-driven ship’s-service generator and the Navy’s first ship stabilizer. The latter, was a British invention built by an American licensee.
My phone rang. It was Walter Schalsha of the New York office of the Superior-Lidgerwood-Mundy Corporation, the licensee. He advised, “Sir William Wallace, the inventor of the Denny-Brown Stabilizer just arrived by QUEEN MARY a few hours ago. We showed him a proposed itinerary that would have him in New York a few days and then at our plant in Superior, Wisconsin. He doesn’t want to do any of that. He wants to go on the sea trial of the American warship that is fitted with his stabilizer. He can come with me on tonight’s train.”
I answered quickly, “You must be kidding! He’s an alien! I would have to get permission from the Office of the CNO in Washington, D.C. There just isn’t time. No after-hours duty officer is likely to risk granting permission without formal security clearance. GYATT is the first guided-missile destroyer!”
Walter Schalsha literally wailed, “Oh please. Everything is ruined if he doesn’t get on board. Isn’t there something you can do?”
I knew that Sir William had become a legend during the heyday of Scotland’s fabulous shipbuilding industry. That’s why he was knighted. I also knew that he was one of the few who survived the sinking of a World War I submarine during its sea trials. In addition, I had spent two months along the Firth of Clyde in 1942 and had seen how Scotland’s shipyards valiantly contributed to the war effort while being thoroughly blitzed by the Luftwaffe. I had no doubt that Admiral Arliegh Burke, our new CNO, would agree that Sir William Wallace deserved special consideration.
I said a fast prayer, “God please insure that the officer responsible for judging my performance believes that there should be a special medal for someone who saves a situation by acting against orders.”
Since I suspected that Sir William would have a thick Scottish brogue, I said to Walter Schalsha, “I will meet you in City Square near the Navy Yard. Tell Sir William to keep his mouth shut until after GYATT gets underway. I am going to put him on the sailing list as my father.”
That’s how Daniel John Chirillo, a retired New York City Department of Sanitation truck driver and trumpet player in the best marching band that the Big Apple ever had, became a knight for a day.
Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo