My coming on board the Gamble at Nouméa, New Caledonia on the morning of March 3, 1943, seemed to bear out the face that Tackney couldn’t wait to shake the spray of the South Pacific. I reported to him around 0830 and he was gone by 1000 of the same morning, insisting that he had a plane to catch and that everything was ship-shape on the Gamble. He most certainly pulled rank on me, a young lieutenant, by having me signing certain papers and relieving him of command. It was within my rights to insist upon a closer inspection of the ship—Don Clay, a classmate of mine, took all day to look over the Gamble when he relieved me in July of 1944. But I was familiar with the old flush-deck destroyers. It was evident that Tackney ran a taut ship (I could see the people flinching when we walked around) and we had three weeks of scheduled time alongside the USS Whitney, a repair ship, for me to familiarize myself with the ship and her crew and make any necessary repairs. After the initial reception, I probably was ready to have him leave as soon as possible anyway. So I took command of my first ship and Stephen Tackney was on his way home with his Navy Cross from the Gamble before they could change his orders.
My impression of Tackney was that he was a lean, mean gent, a perception that wasn’t changed in 1955 when I walked into a crowded office in the Pentagon and noticed him along with four other Navy captains filling billets and space in Chief of Naval Operations organizations. At that time he deigned not to know me so we passed as ships in the night. I have since learned that many military officers have their professional “faces” and the one for friends and relatives. (I obtained a picture of Tackney from his Naval Academy biography and I was surprised that he was smiling and looking very pleasant and further noted he had five children.) Many officers and executives in business must feel that they will lose their control and respect if they reveal to their subordinates that they have any human qualities. Eisenhower’s ready smile was one of his charms, spiced by his quick temper and he could shift rapidly.
In my low key way, I decided immediately that the tone of the ship would be different. Instead of the crew doing their work because they feared me, I wanted them to work as a team to make the Gamble a ship we could all be proud of. “Lead, not drive” should be the way to work with the American citizen sailor-soldier. And, of course, you can’t play favorites and get too palsy with any one individual. I had success with gun crews in that approach previously and I saw no reason to change. I also tried to make meals in the wardroom a pleasant occasion, without the commanding officer monopolizing the conversation and not giving everyone else a chance to speak out. Many officers try to dominate any group they are in and do so by force of personality and energy, but an intelligent and caring officer, that is, interested in his officers and crew as individuals and concerned about their welfare, should have no trouble in maintaining control. One is not running a “popularity contest,” but is working to have a ship with spirit and pride and a crew who are happy with the way “The Old Man” operates from the bridge. As in raising children, consistency is the word. If you are going to be tough, keep it tough at all times; if you have a loose rein, keep it loose with no jerking. In wartime in the South Pacific, we steamed for months on routine work with no sight of the enemy. The intense moments should come when you are actually in danger; the rest of the time you should pace yourself. In company with other ships you do your job with smartness and efficiency.
I learned many years later that Tackney was a poor ship handler and a terror on the bridge with an Australian pilot saying to him one time in Brisbane, “For shame on you Captain,” after one of his tantrums. The commanding officer on the bridge underway is on stage and he should never forget it. This is particularly true when he has the conn and is maneuvering his ship alongside a dock, alongside another ship such as a tanker or supply ship, anchoring, mooring, and those items that come under ship handling. His capability, his demeanor, and grace under pressure are observed minutely by those sharp eyes of the bridge personnel—the watch, signalmen, quartermasters and junior officers, and the consensus of his performance is quickly broadcast below to the interested crew. When you work below decks in the firerooms and enginerooms and sleep and live at the waterline, you are intimately involved in how the ship is controlled from the bridge. A collision or grounding is a calamity and may result in death and injuries. “How is the Old Man doing on the bridge?” is a judgment that is made quickly and the word is passed rapidly.
The officers on the Gamble when I came aboard were Lt. Clay Goodloe, the executive officer, Lt.(jg)s Robert Carpenter, Bill Vose, Ed Geise and Ed Kramer and Ensigns Dave Stanley, Richard Peterson, Hector Currie and Max Garfinkle. As Harrison Berkeley said, who came on board four months after I did, the Gamble must have been one of the few ships in the US Navy that had a Rhodes Scholar, Currie, and a card-carrying Communist, Garfinkle, on her Officer’s Register. Whether Max fitted that category or not, I never knew—I didn’t check his credentials—all I observed was that he did his job and was a knowledgeable and pleasant fellow. He was a gentile bear of a man and obviously an intellectual of sorts—he would have made an excellent Rabbi. On occasion, he brought up the name of Dostoevski in wardroom conversations and although I did happen to know who Fyodor was, my retort was that I didn’t know whether he was a Russian ballet dancer or played tackle for Notre Dame. Max died soon after I left the Gamble in July 1944, when he caught a cold when drenched on the forecastle and the illness rapidly turned into pneumonia, for which Max apparently had no resistance. The other member of this unusual duo was Hector Currie, a fine southern gentleman if a good family and a product of the University of Mississippi and lately a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He carried on his duties in a quiet and efficient way and was always a welcome conversationalist in the wardroom. Hec introduced me to Byron White, presently on the supreme court, at the officers club in Nouméa as a fellow Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Hector was a professor at the law school at Louisiana State University and at the University of Mississippi in his working years after his wartime navy duties. To show you the worth of snap judgments, Hec, the last man I would suspect, speculated in the stock market and made considerable amounts of money. He has also written various novels and plays to round off his talented personality.
Clay Goodloe was the Executive Officer until we went to Hunter's Point Navy Yard in August, 1943. He had been on the USS Porter, which had been torpedoed and sunk by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine at the Battle of Santa Cruz. I remember seeing the Porter dead in the water then when we went by in the Maury, and had no idea she was sinking. From Clay I learned all about jet engines and jet planes long before they became a flying reality. Clay earned his wings and flew in the Navy's version of the B-24 Liberator. He was lost along with the entire crew somewhere in the South China Sea in early 1945. I tried to see his Mother in Washington, DC in July, 1948 on my way to Greece, as I thought I might have some consoling words to say about her son, but received an apathetic negative response. My impression was that her only child, her son was gone and that her life had little meaning left.
The Engineering Officer was Robert Carpenter, or “Carp,” as he was warmly known. He kept the Gamble steaming on her assigned duties, and although I had three years of engineering duty experience in these old ships, I never bothered him. He gave us what we rang upon the annunciators and that was enough for me. Tackney hazed him in the wardroom with engineering questions so persistently that Carp was forced to memorize the Manual of Engineering Instructions to protect himself. Tackney thoroughly trained him for his engineering duties. Carpenter was so sincere and completely without sham that he was an easy mark for anyone who wished to harass him.
Bill Vose, a Navy Junior and an Annapolis graduate, was the communications officer. He also was transferred from the ship during the stay at Hunter's Point. He was on the bridge with me during our successful Blackett Strait mining operation when we were both trying to locate the rest of the formation while in a torrential tropical rainstorm. As we had no radar at the time, we were many minutes without contact at the time we were laying mines. Not only was it impossible to see anything, but also one could not keep their eyes open in the deluge. I still remember his “there they are” when there was a slackening in the squall. That was gratifying as we had received a garbled voice transmission to make the final turn movement. Bill's knowledge of electronics and expertise was responsible for our obtaining a SF radar, a poor man's SG, while in Sydney during June of 1941. A PPI scope, which he hooked, up was a godsend after all the months of groping our way through darkness, bad weather and the use of charts based on 1793 surveys.
When I arrived, Ed Kramer was the 1st Lt, and was an experienced officer for those times. He left soon after my arrival and I have little memory of him.
Edward Geise from Honolulu took over his job. Geise, like most Hawaiians, was a great swimmer and with only a face mask and a harpoon could perform prodigious feats underwater, dragging in a couple of hundred pounds grouper one time. He invited me once to join him in Purvis Bay where the sharks came in to feed on dumped garbage from the base. As an old Sub-Squader, poor swimmer, from Naval Academy days, I declined with an emphatic no. I could see myself being pulled in like the grouper before the sharks got me. Ed was also our pitcher on the Gamble softball team. Pitching underhanded, he had a snapping fastball and a vicious curve and the team won games from ships and shore bases many times our size. I was permitted to play as “No-hit” Armstrong, couldn’t hit the ball, but I did occasionally catch one as a roving shortfielder.
Dave Stanley was the Gunnery Officer, four old four-inch guns plus some fifty-caliber machine guns for air defense! Once in Espiritu Santo after we had received some new lifejackets, I asked him to test one, so he gallantly jumped over the side to the delight of the crew who happened to be present.
Richard “Pete” Peterson was another Georgia Tech man and was the Assistant Engineering Officer and later the Engineering Officer in my last days as the CO. Pete was the final commanding officer of the Gamble after she had been hit at Iwo Jima and before she was decommissioned and sunk off Guam. He has many stories but one of the best is his description of his first day on board the Gamble when he sauntered back to the after deckhouse and started to play acey-deucy with one of the crew. Tackney, from the bridge, followed his movements and immediately summoned him forward, “What do you mean Mr. Peterson, fraternizing with the crew.” “I wasn’t fraternizing, Captain, I was just playing acey-deucy.” Peterson was one of the scroungers, par excellence, of the South Pacific—he could have been right out of Mitchener’s book. If an object wasn’t bolted down it could be on the Gamble quickly. After Pearl Harbor, the Gamble, in a patriotic flurry, stripped ship and sent their movie projector ashore, little realizing the days, months and years spent steaming and anchored in isolated ports that lay ahead of them. Pete “requisitioned” a projector in Nouméa, which had been designated for an aircraft carrier. The Gamble ate well, lived well and slept well thanks to many of the exploits of this “Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech.”
Chuck Flynn and Harrison Berkeley came on board four months after I had arrived. Flynn was from the University of Washington and had been in Hollywood working as an extra and had married a girl in the movies, a “starlet” who toured with Maurice Evans, a famous Shakespearean actor during the war, Chuck told of the time he was playing an Indian in a Western, wearing only greasepaint and a breech-clout and after ten re-takes where he and his noble redmen had ridden bareback across a stream to attack a wagon train, his crotch was rubbed so raw that he could hardly walk. Flynn had enough Irish in him that once ashore in the South Pacific and with enough whisky available, he could be a terror to the Shore Patrol, but more of that later.
Harrison Berkeley was a bright young man from Ohio. One of his duties once we were in port was to take the whaleboat and go out and search for good movies for the crew. This was not an easy task when one is competing with aircraft carriers, cruisers and the like. Once when we had a late Rita Hayworth movie on board and took it to sea for a week during an emergency sortie, we left more consternation ashore than if there had been a surprise Japanese attack. Berk told the story first(quickly acquired by all of us) of the time he went to one of the newly arrived cruisers to look for films. Some of these cruisers arrived in the South Pacific with their crews in whites and one would have thought that they were operating in Norfolk, Virginia in the 1930s. After Berkeley had arrived on deck and stated his mission, the Officer of the Deck told the coxswain of our whaleboat to cast off and lay to awaiting further orders. All the above was done with the proper sideboys, boatswains pipes and correct salutes. Upon Berk’s return, our whaleboat was called alongside and all the reverse honors were given and Berk descended the gangway to the boat, when the OOD shouted in stentorian tones, “Cast off coxswain and carry out your orders.” To which our four-piper coxswain said to his engineer, “Kick it in the ass, Moe.” We didn’t make life on board our ship more stringent by adhering to some of the niceties of Navy life. We were a working destroyer in the combat zone. The cross section of American life in all its diversity was appreciated on the Gamble during my tenure. We were US citizens fighting for our country.
Ens. L. Gitler was from Los Angeles and UCLA and was one of those fellows who was described perfectly by the phrase “up anchor down Gitler.” He suffered horribly from seasickness, but gamely tried to perform his duties. He had played basketball at UCLA and played first base on our softball team. He was a trained athlete and made you wonder if it wasn’t better to be more dissolute when it came to fighting mal de mer. I mentioned the name “Jackie Robinson” to him (this was long before Robinson became nationally known as the first black to break into the baseball big leagues) and Git wasn’t too complimentary in his answer. Although Robinson was a four-letter man at UCLA, he evidently was a moaner-groaner with many aches and pains in practice sessions, but suddenly coming to life by game time.
Ens. Cass and Van Metre came to the ship in Nov. 1943. I have little to add except Byron Van Metre was the Wardroom Mess Treasurer at the time the Gamble was hit at Iwo Jima in Feb. 1945. Since his account books were in such disorder, as soon as the Gamble was damaged, he ran down and got the books and tossed them over the side. Lost in action.
My biggest concern upon going to the Gamble was my lack of shiphandling experience. By shiphandling, I mean the pinnacle of controlling a ship, which is taking your ship alongside another ship, a dock or going along side a tanker underway and all the necessary maneuvering in tight situations in channels, harbors with the different vagaries of wind and tide and the combinations of both. I steamed thousands of miles as an Officer of the Deck, but I had never handled a ship as above. I was a product of the system. Most commanding officers are reticent to allow a junior officer to practice with their ship when there is a possibility of damage to the vessel and the senior man's career. This particularly true with a ship as fragile and powerful as a destroyer—even our old four-piper had thirty thousand horsepower. So to Frost’s “Destroyer Ship Handling” examining book I went studiously examining various situations I would encounter, including the first one presented to me—backing away from a nest of destroyers. alongside a tender. “Cast off all lines except the bow line, back one-third on the inboard engine and the wash will force the stern out. When clear, cast off bow line, back on both engines with rudder amidships.”
The old four-pipers were brutes to turn in close quarters, as their propellers were close together and the stern was not cut away under the fantail, giving them a large turning circle. I remember Capt. Wallace in the Pagoda Anchorage, Min River, below Foochow, attempting to turn the Barker, DD 213, while changing anchorage and having a difficult time. The British were there with the modern Daring-class destroyers and they had no trouble maneuvering in the muddy Min, where American clipper ships used to load tea and porcelain from China. To compound the difficulty in turning, bows of the old American destroyers were high enough to act like jib sails if there was any wind blowing.
After reading my book and doing some mental maneuvering in my mind, I though I was as well prepared as possible before the actual event. On our day of departure from the nest alongside the tender, I went up to the bridge an hour before scheduled departure to survey the situation minutely. I wanted to be sure what the wind and tide were doing, to make certain there were no obstructions astern such as buoys, anchored ships or shoal water, and I wanted to be positive that I had ample space to turn once I was clear of the nest. While I was making my observations, I noticed — (Signal 1/c) watching me intently. When the time came to cast off, I went through my pre-planned commands to engineroom telegraph operator and helmsman and the Gamble backed away smartly from the other ships, stopped, went ahead and turned down the channel to await the convoy outside the harbor entrance. As the backing maneuver ended and we were clear, I noticed [the signalman] out of the corner of my eye and it appeared that he was as happy as I was that it all came off without a hitch and I knew the word would soon be spread below decks.
One of the advantages that I had was my experience as chief engineer at the throttles in the engineroom and the word is “Easy does it.” I recalled the CO of the Doran, DD 185, going from full astern to full ahead at a buoy in Newport, Rhode Island. When one bounces a ship around as light and fragile as that with full horsepower, all kinds of avenues open up for disaster and damage. Easy does it in most cases. One should have finesse and a light touch in handling a ship, unless you have extreme conditions of wind and tide and unless, of course, you are in combat, when all limitations are off.
Generally, my shiphandling on the Gamble and the Bradford, my two destroyer commands, was satisfactory to me—have to please yourself first—and I had no damage to the ships or injury to the crew. However, two cases come to my mind where I was found wanting. I took the Gamble into the piers at San Francisco in August of 1943 and ended up with the bow at one pier and the stern at the other for there, the tide runs one way outside the piers and a counter-current runs inside. Unless you come in fast, which I did not, you end up in my embarrassing position. My ego was hurt, but when I realized no damage was being done, I refused to twist the ship with full power. The crew and I were contemplating the situation when a small passing tug rescued us. The USS Breese came in after us at high speed and stopped in time for an excellent landing. A failure to receive the backing bell would have been disastrous.
My other fiasco was on the Bradford at Guam after we had damaged a propeller at Iwo Jima. I brought the Bradford up to the nest of destroyers on the port engine alone and it was only after I had made my final approach that I realize the whole nest was swinging into us rapidly. The Bradford’s starboard anchor punctured the nesting destroyer’s port bow—and you should have seen the chief come boiling out of the hatchway to their quarters. I was amusing later when there were no injuries reported and the repair ship patched up the gouge with no questions asked. Just one consolation of wartime—no investigations.