Opeola sounds like the name of a locale in Florida, instead it is the sir name of the First Lieutenant when I was the Engineering Officer in USS BURLEIGH (APA-95) during the first half of 1946.
Opeola was a mustang, that is, an enlisted man who had been commissioned. He was in his late thirties, a bachelor, and a typical product of the pre-World War II depression who found sanctuary in the U.S. Navy. Moreover, since he was from a town in northeastern New Jersey and also of Italian descent, he and I were more like each other than we were like any of the collage graduates, my age and a few older, who made up the remainder of the wardroom. Since I had more in common with Opeola than with any of the other officers, there were times when I went ashore with him for a few beers.
Then sometime in March of 1946 when word was received that BURLEIGH would be decommissioned in Norfolk, Virginia; I beat a path to Washington, D.C. in order to see the detail officer in the Navy’s Bureau of Personnel. I told him how I had been wrongly assigned in the past, had recently become eligible to leave active service, and that I would remain active subject to my being assigned to an auxiliary-type ship as engineering officer. “That’s easy,” he said as he handed me a list of about 20 ships, “select any ship you want.”
Happy for the opportunity, I picked USS MATHEWS (AKA-96). Back in Norfolk, when I told Opeola he said, “I have had sea duty for more than 20 years and not once did I get to pick a ship. I’m going up to the Bureau and do what you did. I’ll ask for orders to MATHEWS.”
By the time Opeola got to see the detail officer he had forgotten the ship’s name, but felt confident that he had remembered the number so he asked to be assigned to AKA-97. Back in Norfolk, he was anxious to tell me the good news and I broke the real news to him, “You are assigned to another AKA, the YANCEY.”
Not one to be taken aback Opeola said, “My ship is part of the Service Force and hauls supplies from New York and Norfolk, to Cuba, Puerto Rico and Panama. MATHEWS is in the Amphibious Force. All you will do is leave Norfolk for training exercises and then return to Norfolk!”
I have to admit to being a bit jealous and kicked myself for not asking for a ship in the Service Force. But then some surprising events transpired.
Shortly afterwards, MATHEWS was transferred to the Pacific Fleet Amphibious Force headquartered in San Diego, the Navy’s best liberty port. But first MATHEWS had to take on a load of mines in Norfolk and off load them in San Francisco, another great liberty port. Next, as if by magic, YANCEY suddenly appeared in San Francisco Bay and tied up at the same Treasure Island pier just aft of MATHEWS!
As Opeola had expected, as soon as her gangway was secured I literally bounded aboard YANCEY. He started the conversation:
“Don’t tease me.”
“Why would I tease you?”
“Promise that you won’t tease me!”
“YANCEY has been assigned to operation DEEP FREEZE. I’m going to Antartica.”
Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo