1969

The Herndon Legend
A Slip of the Lip About the Battleship or How I Shot My Way Out of Trouble
How I Know Today Is My 64th Birthday

 

The Herndon Legend 

By RADM Stan Bryant, USN (Ret.) '69

Every Mid has learned the legend of Herndon that says the Plebe who replaces the Dixie Cup atop the greased monument with a Combination Cover will be the class’s first U.S. Navy Admiral.  This is a great legend, but like most legends, one must wonder if it has ever happened?  If it has never happened, how close has it gotten? In thinking back on my career and our days in the Yard, I began to think that my classmate Jerry Witowski and I may have come as close to living the legend as anyone may have, at least in the modern era of hundreds of grads per class.  Why two of us, you may ask.  Well, that’s because Jerry and I “share” the accomplishment as roommates at the end of Plebe Year in 1969.  So, the question is, if no one grad has lived the legend, are Jerry and I, combined as roommates, as close as it gets?

June Week 1966 rolled around and the class of ’69 was preparing for the traditional “No more Plebes!” ceremony/adventure at the Herndon Monument.  As luck would have it, I was sidelined for the event while recovering from a pilonidal cyst removal operation.  Of course, the class moved inexorably toward the ceremony without me.  Now, Jerry is not a big guy, so it is natural that he should be one of those that would get near the top of the human pyramid on the strong backs of our larger classmate “hogs” many layers below.

The ceremony started hopefully enough but went on and on and on and……much to our chagrin, it was a long time (about 90 minutes) before our classmate and my roomie, Jerry Witowski, removed the Dixie Cup and successfully replaced it with the Combination Cover.  Not a record, we thought, of which we would be forever proud, but we weren’t Plebes anymore and that’s all that mattered then!!  

So, back to the legend or as close as it gets?  Jerry completes the first half of the roommate/legend saga by being the one who put the Combination Cap atop Herndon.  The first U.S. Navy Flag officer in the class?  Well, that was me - with a caveat and deference to my good friend and last boss in the Navy, Jim Ellis. We need to fast forward from June of 1969 to July of 1994 for the rest of the story.  Jim was the first in our class to be selected for Flag rank in 1992, a year before my selection in December of 1993.  Then how do I qualify, you may ask, as the second half of the legend?  Since Jim was in a billet that did not rate frocking to one star he was still waiting for his number to come up for actual promotion when I was frocked to one star upon leaving command of Theodore Roosevelt enroute command in Iceland.  Thus, I became the first in our class to be a U.S. Navy Flag Officer in uniform.

One aside about Jim and me. As he congratulated me after the change of command, I remarked that it felt strange for me to be a one star while he had been selected before me and was still a Captain.  Jim, ever the gentleman and as practical as the day is long, just smiled and said that it was OK since he was very soon to be promoted and that he had gotten the last year of his Nuke incentive pay (a tidy sum) because he was still an O-6.  I was not going to get mine as a frocked O-7.  It’s always something, right?  But who got the last laugh on the bonuses?  BUPERS and Naval Reactors, of course!  Jim had to pay back his bonus because he had received it in the year of his actual promotion to O-7!

So, is this as close as it has come?  One roommate tops Herndon and the other puts on Flag first?  It’s a stretch but can anyone (or two) get closer?  I don’t know, but it is fun to think that Jerry and I have come as close as it gets to making the legend a reality.  Beat Army!

Photos courtesy of 1969 Lucky Bag and The USNA Museum.

 

A Slip of the Lip About the Battleship or How I Shot My Way Out of Trouble

by Richard D. Gano '69

The funds to re-commission the Missouri and Wisconsin were being held up by Congress in 1984-5.  NJ and Iowa were already out.  Congress was complaining about the 16-inch gun accuracy problem.  You see, the NJ had taken 290 shore bombardment (1800-pound) rounds and all day long to blow that mountain-top terrorist hideout off the map after she was sent there when the Marines were blown up in Lebanon.
 
Turns out, the powder they had was WWII vintage, and no new 16/50 powder had been made since.  They mounted velocimeters on each turret when they re-commissioned the Iowa class ships.s, and the Dahlgren Weapons Station gun expert told me the NJ guys were getting round-to-round differences in IV (initial velocity) of 120 feet/sec.  That equates to about 1/2 mile dispersion down range on flat terrain.  Their training rounds were fired at the 30-degree slope of the San Clemente Island range off California, which presented them an ideal target terrain, masking the issue of the IV problem.  The solution was to get the three remaining lots of 16/45 powder (the size guns on the two battleship classes BEFORE the Iowa class) and mix them together into a single grand lot for a more uniform burn rate.  BUT we could not shoot our 2700-pound practice projectiles (identical to the armor piercing round we carried) with this stuff, because the powder grains were smaller than our 16/50 powder grains (each about the size of your thumb) and would over-pressure the guns.  We COULD shoot our 1800-pound shore bombardment projectiles all day with this remixed powder.  Didn't matter too much about the 2700-pounders because our normal load out was 90% 1800-pound shore bombardment projectiles.  Who needs to go through 16 inches of armor or 35 feet of reinforced concrete anymore?
 
It was probably poetic justice that we got the request from the Secretary of the Navy to prove the accuracy of the gun system because I had let slip to some NY Times reporter that the NJ was having these issues.  The NJ guys were MAD at me when this gem got national attention, but it was true, and my skipper backed me up.  Anyway, we had previously loaded some of the remix powder AND we happened to be down near Viequez Island gunnery range when the call came in from SECNAV Lehman.  My E9 fire-control tech told us that projectile weight (a very important factor in long range gunnery, especially with flat-shooting naval rifles) was not a well-controlled factor in projectile manufacture and that we would do well to mention that in our can-do reply to SECNAV - good gunnery requires very consistent projectile weight.  We wanted ours to all weigh within 20 pounds of one another.  Another thing we brought up was that the Navy had no practice (i.e., no explosive in them) projectiles of the 1800-pound variety, and since we had been prohibited from firing explosive rounds at Viequez, we could not comply until we got some. 
 
SECNAV told the CO of Naval Weapons Station, Crane Indiana to get humping and steam the explosives out of fifty shore bombardment rounds and get them weighed accurately, so stamped, and sent to us down tin the Caribbean ASAP.  About a week later, the CO personally escorted the carefully weighed 1800-pound projectiles on a C5 cargo aircraft down to Roosevelt Roads where they were lightered out to us on a landing craft.
 
The next day we were "on station, ready for call for fire" with the fifty projectiles distributed between the two forward turrets.  Our program of fire was a graduated event where we were going to fire some comparison shots with reduced charges (actually 8-inch gun powder) behind the first few "special" projectiles.  We knew from previous experience that we were pretty good with this reduced charge stuff and could quite accurately lob the 2700-pounders in with it; so after a few well placed rounds in the 10-15,000 yard range with the special 1800-pounders, we moved out to around 20,000 yards to play with the big stuff.
 
Of course, during this first phase, the velocimeter on turret two, where most of the "special" round were, malfunctioned causing us to get no IV data.  We could not afford to play around trying to get the damned thing fixed; so after a couple more scarce "special" rounds fired to see if the velocimeter would respond, I ordered the projectiles moved to turret one via the internal overhead mono-rail system.  This is a long and arduous task, but it was done in a few hours.  The idea of removing the guts of a velocimeter from one turret to another was considered and discarded because nobody onboard really knew how to do it.  We would have likely ended up with all three being torn up.
 
The 20K shoot went well, with good accuracy at this mid-range distance.  So we moved out a notch at a time until we were at the extreme range for this powder and projectile combination - 37,000 yards.  Keep in mind that no WWII battleship was ever known to have bombarded land targets at this range.  They are pictured in all the news reels of WWII as close into the beach with guns leveled.
 
At 37,000 yards, our rounds would have an apogee of 37,000 feet, and we were required to clear airspace for miles around before shooting.  Another safety requirement was that the turret officer had to be able to see the observation post through his turret officer's periscope.  That's why we wanted to shoot from turret two - it was highest of the three.  Now we were in iffy visiblilty with some low clouds tending to obscure the OP and a lower level periscope to see over the horizon.
 
The gunnery god was with us, and the OP was visible; at least that's what the turret officer said.  He said that although he could see it, because of the extreme range he could not swear the turret's guns were not trained on it and not the nearby target area.  I was standing in gun plot buried deep in the ship watching my fire control officer and his team line up the first long shot.  The Commanding Officer of Weapons Station Crane was there too, as an official witness for SECNAV, I guess.  "Turret one load center gun," went the order, and we all intently watched turret one bull's eye ready light on the nearby bulkhead.  Light on.  "Shoot!" (true naval gunnery types do not say Fire), and the firecontrol tech manning the trigger mechanism squeezed the salvo alarm (warning those on the bridge and in the turret to get clear and take cover) three times with the firing trigger being pulled simultaneously with the third alarm trigger pull.  Beep, beep, boooom.  We could hear the and feel the low frequency rumble from the gun going off.  Now the wait - sixty seconds of wait.  "Splash, over," went the radio signal to the OP giving them 5 seconds warming of impact.  "Splash, out," came back the standard response.  Now more waiting for the spot to tell up how far off the stack of fifty-gallon drums our shot was, remembering that anything within a hundred yards of the real thing is in peril.
 
Finally, "Drop fifty," came the spot, and gun plot erupted in roars of joy amid much back-slapping.  We had just dropped a thread through a needle at 37,500 yards, an astounding shot.
 
We continued firing until we had established that the rounds were pretty well following one another.  We didn't hit the drums, but I have photos of our blue dud rounds lying on the ground near them after bouncing back to the surface from the hard core of the island down some number of feet.
 
That night I went to radio with the spotting information from the OP and made up a scale on a sheet of paper with a mark for the target in the center of the page and an "X" for each shot.  I had the radiomen type in the information and had it printed out as it would appear in the recipients' hands so I could compare the result to my original by overlaying them and looking up into an overhead light.  Once it was accurate, we added the text approved by the Captain and sent it to the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations.  SECNAV in turn overlaid this data on the US Capitol Dome as well as the Senate Office building and the Pentagon.  Numerous rounds were clustered about the confines of the Pentagon's center court, which is not that big. 
 
Congress got the word and approved the reactivation funds for the two remaining BBs.
 

How I Know Today Is My 64th Birthday

By John Post '69

“They won’t talk to you unless you’re in push-up position.” It was with these words of encouragement that I joined my son Ben at SEAL Team Physical 

Training a few months ago. STPT was started in Richmond, VA several years back by a former Navy SEAL who had ideas on making those around him stronger and fitter. And he needed a job. It worked well enough that there are branches here in Charlottesville, Richmond, Washington, DC, and they’re in the process of setting up in other metropolitan areas. We meet every weekday morning at 6:15, come rain, come shine, come whatever, and heaven forbid someone’s late. It becomes an “opportunity to get stronger.” Just like plebe year, the group pays for individual shortcomings - we get to do push-ups. Only 20 or so if the instructor is in a chipper mood, 30 or more if not. Then we go for a warm up run. Often times it’s the old indian file which I hadn’t done since high school. And that was a long time ago. Following our run, the group could do bear crawls, sit-ups, more push-ups, pull-ups, inclined sit-ups on the side of a nearby hill, crab soccer tag, did I mention more push-ups?, sprints, etc. At the end of the hour, the group of 40 – 50 is a bit tired, has had a great work out, and is generally smiling and chatting actively. In fact, their first question is commonly, “Where is the work out tomorrow?” We never do the same work out twice. And at approximately two month intervals we do the Navy Physical Strength Test to get an accurate idea of where we stand. What’s really encouraging in this self-paced work out is there are all sizes and shapes of participants from those who run 7 minute miles to some who start the class being unable to do even a single sit up. But on the days we do the PST, virtually everyone can see personal improvement. A sincere effort is made to recognize this improvement in each individual, identifying them by name and accomplishment. And the gent who couldn’t do a sit up a few months ago? He managed 19 of them at a recent PST. A feat for which he received tremendous support and positive feedback from the group!

Fellowship among adults is not often easy. Sure, when you’re part of ship’s company or a squadron there’s always a softball game or touch football on Sunday afternoon. Unless the Packers are playing of course and then it’s a different kind of fellowship. But, outside the service or business work place, friendship is not guaranteed. In fact, it can be quite a surprise to those used to the camaraderie of the Navy or Marine Corps ward room. I remember quite vividly the comments of a friend who was quite used to his superior military position carrying over to his community life, easy recognition and great service at the establishments in town. But when he retired and moved to a new community, he was most dismayed to report that at the barber shop, “I was just next retiree in line.”

We come from an institution that rewards fitness. Our chosen professions have done likewise. Is there any reason that we couldn’t continue to lead by example? Or, should we – as has happened to many who show up a little late for our class reunion dinner parties – walk in to a group of classmates and think, “I must be in the wrong place, these are all old people?”

As a physician, I see people from all walks of life in my office, many who’ve discarded any sense of commitment to exercise. I’d say we started off our careers with a higher sense of fitness than most. I’d also vote that we make the effort to stay that way.

Here in central Virginia, we’re surrounded by parks with lakes. Boats play an important part of teaching teamwork, an essential in STPT. The inflatable Zodiacs and kayaks also add to the variety. The Zodiac races are something to behold. Not pretty, but exciting. Splashing water, cheering voices, boats heading in a variety of different directions, many not close to the intended course, and the occasional man overboard drill when someone misses a stroke. Since many of the work outs begin before dawn we’re on the water in the dark. It’s quite a challenge to jump overboard, dressed, with a life preserver on and swim under the craft, hand over hand feeling the ribs on the bottom of the boat, when it’s pitch black. But, when you do bob up on the opposite side, it gives you a real sense of accomplishment. As you’d expect, this task is more difficult for some than others but if you begin to fail, in this or any other aspect of STPT there’s always someone nearby to help you out.

While floating next to the boat once, I made the mistake of retying one of my running shoes, totally by feel. When this “infraction” was noticed, I was asked by the instructor, only half in jest, “What’s the matter? Didn’t Mommy and Daddy teach you how to tie your shoes right?” (I always double knot them now.)

So how did I know it was my 64th birthday? Well, we started off today’s workout with 64 pushups and one to Beat Army of course. Little did these people, most in their 20’s and 30’s know what was coming. They’re quite used to birthday pushups – for people their own age – but as we passed 40…and then 50, from the back of the crowd came a loud, “So how old are you anyway?” That voice did 14 more pushups, and one to beat Army!

Over the course of the work out, I had 40 or more “Happy Birthdays.” And I worked up a sweat, all by 7:15 am. Imagine starting your day this way every day.

So if SEAL Team Physical Training comes to your town, be the first to sign up. Or, you did a plebe year and know how this works, start one of your own. It’s more rewarding than you might imagine. And besides, man overboard drills in a Zodiac are fun.

Hooyah!

Photographs: Nick Strocchia

 

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