We spent about two months living in Quonset Huts on the base and getting to know our shipmates. We made friendships there that have lasted ’til this day. One of these is “Doc” (Roy Dockray); several of us had been just “shooting the breeze” one day when I noticed the ring worn by the fellow sitting next to me. I commented that it was almost identical to my high school ring. When we compared them closely, they were identical! He was a year ahead of me at Ridgewood High School, and we had never known each other. He was a Motor Machinists Mate (Motormac) so we didn’t work together, but we became good friends, went on liberties together, and, after the war, each served as “Best Man” for the other. We still keep in touch and see each other occasionally.
At Norfolk, our training was continued, partly by shore-based instructors and partly by our own officers and non-commissioned officers. I spent hours in a “simulator,” learning to steer a destroyer. In a ship of that size and shape, unlike in a car or small boat, there is a considerable time-lag between turning the ship’s wheel, and having the ship actually change course. Also, depending on the sea conditions, the ship can wander off course of its own accord. With a stern sea, the ship could slide down a large swell and swing 10–20 degrees off course. Thus a helmsman had to learn to anticipate and to take action ahead of time. The simulator we used was really quite good and we learned a lot. We would simulate torpedo attacks, involving the officer of the deck, the torpedoman and the quartermaster, working as a team to attack a target. In those pre-electronic-computer days I don’t know how these gadgets worked; but work they did.
Norfolk had just too many sailors to be a good liberty town; we were not welcome in many places. Our attitude regarding Norfolk is summed up in the following ditty:
One good thing about Norfolk was the ship’s store on the base. Many things were available at good prices, and for the first time in my life, I had some spare money in my pocket! I made three good purchases: a wrist-watch that served me through the war, a pair of prescription sun glasses that also lasted beyond the war, and a cultured pearl necklace to give to Collie for Christmas. The necklace, re-strung at least once, and missing a few pearls, is still used.
All of us at Norfolk were sent, en-mass, to Boston. Other crew members, those with more experience, were already there working to get the ship ready for sea. The formal commissioning ceremony was held on Wednesday, November 10, 1943. We had been given invitations to the commissioning, and Mom and Uncle Clark came up to Boston for the occasion. It was an impressive, serious ceremony, and afterwards we were allowed to show our guests around parts of the ship, including the bridge.
The Newcomb’s Captain (Commanding Officer) was Commander Lawrence B. Cook (no relation), an Annapolis graduate, probably in his mid-30s. He was on the bridge when Mom and Clark came up, and he very graciously introduced himself and told us a bit about his branch of the Cook clan. I had the watch that evening, and wouldn’t have been able to go to dinner with Mom and Clark, but the Captain said it would be OK if my friend Roger Hanson (QM3/c) took my watch for me—and he did—a good start!
My first duty aboard ship that day was to hoist the flag (US Ensign) at the stern of the ship, at the very instant of commissioning, when the “Commissioning Pennant” is first flown from the top of the mast. I must say, I did that particular job flawlessly! (continued)