Forty years ago the Lowry spent the 1954 Christmas season in its home port of Norfolk after an eventful world cruise. It had been a cruise of "almost".
Even though the Korean Conflict was officially over some time before, we "almost started shooting again", when it was reported that a Russian submarine had surfaced inside the submarine nets in Tokyo Bay. This was the notorious (hilarious, but not at the time) midnight sailing incident when all ships were ordered out to sea and our Captain was on the beach and couldn't be located. We got underway with our very capable Exec, Russ Prout, in command and were joined by the Captain three days later when we returned to Yokosuka.
On our trip home we "almost" crossed the equator, but the old Shellbacks were frustrated and the Pollywogs relieved when it was learned that during the night the ship had suffered an engineering casualty and had changed course toward Ceylon without making the crossing. The ship had gotten within 30 miles of the equator before turning back.
We "almost" got an early start on the Vietnam war. As we were about to enter the Suez Canal word came that the French were evacuating Dien Bien Phu and might need our help to get out.
What a relief when we were allowed to proceed toward home. We "almost" got through the Mediterranean without incident until the Captain's gig collided with a local fishing vessel on a dark and dreary midnight in Palma, Mallorca harbor as the Captain returned from liberty.
We "almost" returned home without serious injuries or illnesses. While crossing the Atlantic, Vincent Burridge's appendix required medical attention. We slowed to ten knots and the squadron doctor performed surgery using the wardroom table. Burridge survived, but the officers dined on sandwiches.
"Almost" all of us were happy to get back to Norfolk and enjoy a fall season of normal operations on the east coast.
With conclusion of "Almosts", a reminder to all shipmates everywhere. I would like to hear from you about your experiences aboard Lowry as well as your life after your Lowry service. Drop me a line.
It was a good time to be aboard the Lowry. There were no large scale wars in progress, except the ongoing "Cold" war, so no one was shooting at us. We had no major cruises scheduled and spent more time near the East Coast of good old USA.
Before you remember it as all peaches and cream, let me remind you of LANTFLEX 55, the fleet exercise involving a large part of the Atlantic Fleet in training for amphibious landings, air defense and ASW.
DESDIV 261 (Laffey, Lowry, Fox and Stormes) was involved in the ASW operation as half of the screen in a Hunter Killer group.
At mid-week the operation turned ugly. A sub got through our screen and fired the dreaded green flare (signaling a torpedo launch) near the carrier. That set off 18 hours of the most radical and drastic maneuvering we ever experienced.All ships zigzagged continuously, then changed course and reoriented the screen every 30 minutes. Ships were going in all directions, mostly at us, it seemed. The OOD's knees were knocking, the Captain was wishing for shore duty, and most of the crew showed up topside wearing life jackets. We all waited nervously for sunset when we knew this crazy stuff would end.
WRONG. Sunset final came. Not only would we continue zigzagging and reorienting the screen, we would "Darken Ship". More sailors appeared on the main deck and above in life jackets. The movie in the mess hall was canceled because of lack of interest. Everyone became a lookout for the ships that still came at us from all directions. It was a sleepless night.
Our fears were not unfounded. About 0300 Friday morning we were ordered to cease zigzagging and turn on our lights. A collision had occurred in the other HUK group.
Later that morning we saw the awful spectacle of the two destroyers which had collided. The Lind and the English lay dead in the water, one with its bow sheared off somewhere nears the Chief's Quarters, and the other with a large dent in its stem. Miraculously no one was lost in the accident and both ships were able to return to port.
Those marked the end of LANTFLEX 55. The Lucky Lowry had done it again. She came through another wild episode unharmed. Maybe it wasn't a Kamikaze attack, but it was all the excitement we needed in the "peace time" Navy.
The time was early October 1955. The Lowry was moored in a nest of four destroyers at the Destroyer Escort Piers in Norfolk. We were fat, dumb and happy, and life aboard ship was about as good as it gets.
Oh sure, we kept getting those routine hurricane advisories on Carol every four hours, but she was way down in the Leeward Islands and would probably blow herself out to sea just like all the others.
How wrong we were! Next thing we knew she was 100 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras and headed straight for Norfolk. All ships in Hampton Roads were ordered to get underway and proceed to the hurricane anchorage in Chesapeake Bay.
We all knew there was such a place up there around Wolf Trap, but nobody had ever been there. We broke out the charts and located our assigned anchorage. Captain Johnston commented that We had a good spot as we "dropped the hook" about mid-morning, 2000 thousand yards west of the beach and 1000 thousand yards east of the nearest ship. At noon Carol was 40 miles away, but still heading straight for us. We knew we were in for some seriously bad weather as we were already experiencing gale force winds and the rain was getting heavy.
At 1400 the Captain decided to drop our second anchor and light off all four boilers as the wind got worse and the rain came down in sheets. We began to drag our anchors, but not to worry, we were being pushed away from the other ships (but toward the beach) and the Captain now had both engines going ahead one-third so that should hold us. At 1600 we knew that Carol had arrived in all her fury. The winds were now well beyond hurricane force and the seas were wild. The ship was rocking and rolling. We were finally seeing those 35 degree rolls the "old salts" talked about, and there was plenty of "green water" over the bridge too. Both engines now were ahead full as we continued to drag our anchors.
Over the roar of the wind Captain Johnston shouted "What's our position, Mr. Navigator?". In a remarkably calm voice Chief Guest, the finest Quartermaster ever to hold the title, replied "25 yards up on the beach, sir." The Captain was visibly shaken as were we all. Thanks to the tidal surge we were not aground, but I was sure hoping that the "Lucky Lowry" still had some of that luck left.
About 1700 the rain began to let up, the winds began to subside and we made some headway getting off the beach and back toward deeper water. By 2000 we were once again in our anchorage. Thanks to a great job of securing the ship for heavy weather by the crew, most of our equipment came through in good shape.
The next morning, the Sun rose on a beautiful day and the Lowry proceeded back to the CE Piers after a day to remember with a gal named CAROL.
It is the last weekend in January 1954. The Lowry is tied up at the CE Piers in Norfolk preparing to get underway for Korea on Monday, 1 February. All departments are giving their equipment a last minute check. Everything seems to be checking out - well, almost everything. There is one little glitch in the Mark 25 Fire Control System radar, but no problem, we have a new Electronics Officer, Ensign Bill O'Sullivan, who can handle these things.
In no time at all O'Sullivan diagnoses the problem as a blown magnetron. Easy, we've got two spares in the storeroom. Let's go get one. He does, installs it and nothing happens. It's a dud. Oh, well, get the other one. Unfortunately, the man set to get the other one was that infamous Electronics Technician, "Butterfingers" Jones, who returned shortly with a sheepish grin to report that the last spare had been dropped and smashed.
O'Sullivan is temporarily stumped but soon remembers that he has friends at the Norfolk Supply Depot on whom he can impose on this important weekend. Arrangements are made and Bill gets the good magnetron, but the Petty Officer on duty doesn't have the paperwork to take in our old ones. These magnetrons are highly classified items and the accounting is very strict. The Duty Petty Officer tells us we can turn in the old ones at our next port which is to be Colon, Panama. When we arrive there O'Sullivan is told he has received bad information, they are not authorized to accept magnetrons. Maybe our next port, San Diego, can handle it. Bill is a little nervous, as if he's carrying contraband.
On our way to San Diego another magnetron goes out. This one is in our surface radar, the SG-3. We'll get a replacement in San Diego when we turn in the others. Wouldn't you know, we arrived in San Diego on a weekend, and again we could get a new one, but they couldn't accept our duds. Now we are carrying four very sensitive dead magnetrons and a very nervous Electronics Officer. Would we be able to turn them in at Pearl Harbor, our next port before BuShips came down on us?
Well, President Nixon was not the first to have a Dirty Tricks Committee. Sensing that O'Sullivan was nervous enough and gullible enough to fall for a well-conceived practical joke, the committee went to work. The next time O'Sullivan had the crypto duty, decoding incoming messages, several of the committee members, including this writer, your newsletter editor and his CIC gang, gathered outside the crypto shack to await O'Sullivan's reaction. One of the messages he was decoding would read as follows:
TO: Commanding Officer
USS Lowry (DD-770)
Via: ComDesRon 26
Subject: Stolen magnetrons
Upon docking at Pearl Harbor, you are directed to proceed immediately, with your Electronics Officer, to Room 202, Building H, Naval Operating Base. You will meet with Rear Admiral Paul Bryant, CincPacFlt Chief of Staff, to explain the whereabouts of four magnetrons charged to your command. These magnetrons are classified "Secret" and are reported stolen.
There was no doubt as to when O'Sullivan reached this message in hisdecoding process. Those of us gathered outside heard a yell, followed quickly by a stream of profanity then a terrific clatter of rotor wheels being thrown to the deck. O'Sullivan burst through the Crypto Shack door, white as a sheet with messages in hand, and headed straight for the Captain's stateroom. The Dirty Tricks gang had scored a direct hit. The CIC gang was rolling on the deck. Only an alert "sentry" outside the Captain's stateroom was able to detain our man long enough for several of the Committee members to get there and drag him back to the CIC where the "joke" was explained. When Bill finally calmed down, he joined us in a good laugh.
After that incident, Ensign O'Sullivan's career took on a decidedly quieter flavor as he dealt with mundane matters such as electronics and bed bugs, until one day he decided to shoot down a few extra drones - but that's a story for another day.Articles continued