To orient land-lubbers and others with limited knowledge of the Navy and its traditions, a “bosun” is a boatswain mate 3/c or above. They serve the ship’s First Lieutenant by performing duties required to keep a ship sea worthy. A bosun’s “badge” of recognition when on watch is a pipe with a high, shrill pitch that can be heard over sea and ship noises that is wore on a lanyard around his neck. He uses about a dozen different calls to pass orders by the ship’s Captain or Officer-of-the-Deck to the crew. These calls are “pipings.”
WWII had ended. President Truman was trying to reduce government spending, but with a wary eye on the USSR as the Cold War was worsening. The National Security Act of 1947 was enacted 18 September with the births of the DOD (nee National Military Establishment) and USAF with James Forrestal, formally SECNAV, as SECDEF. John L. Sullivan replaced him as SECNAV. Being re-elected in 1948 Truman replaced Forrestal with by Louis Johnson in March 1949.
With Congress and the White House focused on SAC as a deterrence against war with the USSR, Johnson cancelled construction of USS UNITED STATES, a carrier designed for jet aircraft, right after taking after office although the keel had already been laid. SECNAV Sullivan resigned two months later in protest and Francis P Mathews became SECNAV May 26, 1949. Newsmen reported Mathews' comment after being confirmed was that he had never commanded anything but a “rowboat.”
About 9 a.m. Sunday, 24 August 1949 USS WRIGHT (CVL-49) was tied up at Pier 77 in New York. The ship was following holiday routine with half the crew ashore. I was Junior Officer of the Day (JOOD) on the aft gangway, the crew’s gangway, checking liberty cards and uniforms as men left the ship or returned. On a Sunday morning there is no activity. A long black limousine drove slowly pass the ship to the end of the pier, turned around, and returned stopping at the after gangway. The driver opened the rear door for a gentleman in a grey felt hat, who came up the gangway, stuck out his hand, and said “I’m Francis Mathews, Secretary of the Navy. I saw your ship from my hotel and wondered if I could come aboard.”
I responded “Yes Sir! Mister Secretary, welcome aboard! Just a moment and I’ll inform the Captain you are aboard.” I stepped to the quartermaster on duty, handed him my long glass (symbol of JOOD) and told him to call the OOD to tell the Captain SECNAV is aboard and I will escort him slowly to the Quarter Deck (forward officer’s gangway).
With no aircraft aboard, the hangar deck was bare exempt for the ship’s two motor launches and the Captain’s Gig aft. I started toward them and the stern explaining all aircraft had been flown ashore before entering port. Along the way I pointed out all water, fire-fighting (foam), and fuel lines to the fight deck. At the boats, I told SECNAV about capacities (reading off hull markings), about uses as for man overboard, portage between ships in an anchorage or to shore. Then followed with how they would be tethered to a boat boom when anchored off shore, and how rough rides were when the weather was bad. My ‘marathon of mouth” was a delaying action while I prayed for some sight of the Captain.
Heading forward again, passages to compartments and ladders to upper and lower decks were pointed out. Then, the Captain’s legs appeared as he came down the ladder from his cabin in white uniform to the Quarter Deck. Finally, I led Secretary Mathews over and introduced the Captain to him.
The Captain invited our surprise visitor to his cabin for coffee, advising the OOD to have the Chief Master-at-Arms to plan a tour of the ship that would pass through clean spaces and have side-boys and bosun ready for rendering proper honors when SECNAV departed. I returned to my duty station on the crew’s gangway with a sigh of relief. I thought my involvement was over when I directed my quartermaster on watch to tell the limo driver to park at the Quarter Deck gangway and come aboard for coffee and a place to wait.
Just before noon I was relieved as JOOD and was coming forward on the hangar deck headed for the JO Bunk Room. Passing the Quarterdeck SECNAV and the Captain were saying their farewells. SECNAV turned toward the gangway, the bosun started piping, side-boys and all within sight went to hand salute (including me), and Secretary Mathews stopped. Seeing me abreast the Quarter Deck, he walked over, shook my hand, and thanked me for letting him come aboard the ship. All the while the bosun was still piping with everyone saluting! How the bosun “recharged” his lungs remain a mystery to all, but he did! AND he continued piping until SECNAV had re-crossed the Quarter Deck, waved another goodbye to the Captain, passed down the side-boys, and went down the gangway!
The longest bosun’s piping in Navy history!! And, Secretary Mathews had had his first visit aboard a Navy ship.
Red Tolbert Posted: 21 January 2016
Among old sayings in the Navy is the one most often used by chiefs to young enlisted sailors.
“If the Navy wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one.”
Apparently, attendees of the Naval Academy need one, because you have one or more during the 4 years of instruction. Your Plebe Summer roommate, or “wife,” is almost always a surprise, but thereafter you chose someone in your company to be your roommate. In some cases, you may have more than one “wife,” depending upon the size of the room or rooms. Mother Bancroft has four-man rooms at most corners of the different wings. The room with the entry on the corridor is referred to as the A-hole and the adjoining room the B-hole.
I gained many friends while at Tome School, the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) at that time; however, I was an alternate congressional appointee and felt destined for Outgoing Unit at Bainbridge NTC and places unknown along with sailors and marines that failed the exam. The sailors, marines and principal appointees that had passed the exam had already received orders to USNA. I expected my orders would be to Navy Pier Chicago to complete training as a Radar Technician, where I was going the previous year before I received the alternate appointment. An “eleventh hour” message to report the main office at Tome saved me. The principal appointee had failed to qualify and I had 4 days to report to the Naval Academy.
Passing the final physical exam at USNA, I was sworn in as a midshipman with about 30 other late arrivals and received my initial uniform issue including a laundry bag, white works and stencil displaying “R. R. Tolbert 1239.” This number appeared later as part of my serial number, 49-1239, on my ID card under my picture in blues. I’ve always wondered if the first 49er to report was 49-0001.
With room 5412 assigned, I maneuvered my load to 5th wing, 4th floor and found 5412 on a short corridor off the main corridor. Entering I met my first “wife,” Jim Brady. He was a Navy Junior, the son of the Commanding Officer of NAS Glenview. He was immediately helpful in helping me get my name over the door and demonstrating how a card behind my name identified me as “in charge of room.” He was in another “cutter crew” so our interaction was restricted mostly to free time. I soon learned that Jim did not aspire to a Navy career and planned to pursue another career when the war ended. Until then he intended to serve as a naval officer. After VJ -Day he resigned before the Plebe Battalion joined the Brigade.
NAPS buddies William Hanna (Bill) Lynch, Joseph Richard (Joe) Morrison and I asked to room together in Company 1, as did John Weber Donaldson, Jim Foster and Pete Fullinwider. With three two-man rooms remaining, we were asked to split up. John (Jack) Donaldson became my second “wife” in room 1014.
Being from Indiana, Jack was a good basketball player I had met on the basketball court early in Plebe Summer, so we weren’t strangers. However, my sports objective then was to be on the Navy football team and eat on a training table. I impressed end coaches, CDRs Hessel and Coward, by catching most passes. When it came down to keeping the good ‘49ers and relegating the rest to the plebe team, Walt Marquardt and Tom Kilcline were experienced and heavier than I was at 158 lbs. My time on the plebe team lasted a very short time, when a pulling guard was late getting to me defending a run around my end and taking out my knee.
As I hobbled along healing, Jack and I looked forward to basketball season. I learned Jack was not just a good player, but had been captain of his high school team that got to the Indiana state championship game! WOW! We would be competing to play on Navy’s basketball team!
Unfortunately, that did not occur. Jack had a medical problem that, when examined, was tuberculosis. He was sent to St Albans for treatment and, ultimately, received a medical discharge. I had lost my second “wife” and was periodically checked for TB for some time, as a plebe in private room 1014.
After discharge from the Navy Jack returned to Indiana, got his AB degree from DePauw and law degree from University of Indiana School of Law, was in private practice until elected a State Representative. He servedc for 17 terms over five decades, the longest service of any State Representative. He remained a member of the USNA Alumni Assoc. throughout his life, and at my urging, attended our 30th Reunion. He died of cancer April 26, 2015.
When the first term ended, I had a visitor come to my private room, Clyde Scott. Clyde had done good work on the football field during the first term, but not in the classroom. He told me that they wanted to turn him back to Class of 1949 and had told him he would be moved to room with me. He also told me he was offered a scholarship to play at Arkansas and had accepted. He was submitting his resignation and rather than move in with me, he would stay where he was.
There was nothing I could say to Clyde except I was sorry to see him go and good luck at Arkansas. However, to myself over the years I don’t know whether to count Clyde as a “wife” or not. He never moved his stuff into room 1014, so I never really thought I should.
Clyde did well at Arkansas in football, won a gold medal in the Olympics, played football for the Philadelphia Eagles and returned to Smackover, AR, and now lives in Little Rock. He is carried in alumni records as a member of the Class of 1949.
A few days after Clyde’s visit the door of room 1014 was opened by a ‘48B guy with a laundry bag full of stuff. He introduced himself as David C. Larish, my new roommate. My private room became a thing of the past.
Dave was born in New York state and entered USNA as a member of the Class of 1948 by congressional appointment from Pennsylvania. He was a dedicated track man, although I never saw him on the track at USNA. He successfully completed the second term of our plebe year and was transferred to the Company 13 for youngster year, ultimately graduating with Company 1 of the Class of 1949. Dave resigned his commission as a lieutenant August 20, 1955. He worked for IBM in White Plains, NY and served as a Blue and Gold member recommending good track men for USNA. Surprisingly, he has been reported in Alumni Assoc. records as “status unknown.” At last check, he is still a part time assistant for track with an office in Wesley Brown Fieldhouse. Old friends can contact him at email@example.com .
Since he spent many days in room 1014, I consider Dave as “wife” number three.
Finishing plebe year and returning from summer cruise to become youngsters, Bill Lynch, Joe Morrison, and I finally became roommates in room 1317, a two-man room with a single bed and a bunk bed. I took the upper bunk bed. “Wives” numbers four and five were aboard.
Joe was from Ellsworth, KS, at NAPS with me with a congressional appointment to USN. He was one of the Navy’s best divers on the Swimming squad. He opted for the Air Force at graduation and, unfortunately, burst his eardrums diving while at postgraduate school at University of Washington. He was grounded from flying and retired as a major after 20 years of service. He worked for an oil pipeline corporation in Louisiana until retirement, returning to all big 5-year reunions at USNA. He died in 1995.
Bill was from Amarillo, TX, son of a football coach, an All Texas running back in football, and state champion 220 dash man in track. He was in the Army for 21 days, received a congressional appointment to USNA and transferred to the Navy to study for the entrance exam at NAPS. Bill was vying for a spot on Navy’s football team, but injured his back. It ended his football career. He was permitted to stay at USNA, although being found physically “unfit for service” on annual physicals - - until the last one before graduation. His plans for returning to Texas and be a football coach were cancelled by orders to an aircraft carrier. His next duty was going through submarine training and getting his dolphins. Bill learned communications and served as Commander, NAVCOMSTA Londonderry and NAVCOMSTA San Francisco at Rough and Ready Island. He retired in Stockton, CA working in banking. He died January 9, 2015.
On our second summer cruise aboard Kearsarge, Evert Dale Wilmoth and I were paired up on flights. During our previous summer cruise aboard Washington, I learned that Dale had motion sickness, so I figured flying in a TBM it would be best for him to be in the turret so he could see the horizon, and I would ride in the belly. Bad Choice! Dale also got air sick! From then on, I rode in the turret and he was in the belly with a bag. In ports of call, we had good times together, especially in Stockholm. But that is another story.
Along with Robert William (Bob) Titus, we decided to merge the lower part of the alphabet and get a three-man room during the transition from being Company 1 in the 1st Regiment to being Company 13 in the 2nd Regiment. I now had “wives” six and seven.
Our room assignment was 4003, with most of our Company 13 classmates in the 2nd wing of Bancroft Hall. It was in a part of Bancroft that had been renovated and the room was as large as an A-hole, two-man room, and a B-hole, one man room, put together. It had fluorescent lighting, but no light on the double desk. However, being so close to the Battalion Officer’s Office, handicapped our actions.
Dale was from Enid, OK right out of high school, with a congressional appointment to USNA. He had a OAO beauty queen going to Oklahoma A&M, with whom he had an agreement both would date others while apart. After leaves he had and June weeks she attended, he was smiling. With motion sickness, Dale opted for the Air Force, was grounded by air sickness, was sent to USAF R&D command, Wright-Patterson, OH. Got a MS in Aeronautics from MIT, worked at George AFB before returning to MIT to earn a PHD in navigational systems. His next stop was USAF Academy, Colorado Springs, CO, where he developed their Aeronautics and Astronautics curriculum. Dale resigned from USAF in 1961, going to AC Spark Plug Division of GM, where he was engineer for the TITAN III guidance system and navigation system for the APOLLO spacecraft. Dale became CEO of DELCO Electronics in Santa Barbara, CA until Parkinson’s caused his retirement. Dale died in 1995.
Bob was from Reno, NV attending University of Nevada, Reno when he received a congressional appointment to USNA. He was a cheerleader for Navy and became an aerologist on an aircraft carrier. His wife did not being a Navy wife and he resigned his commission only to find out she didn’t like being his wife. Unmarried during the geophysical year 1957-1958, he volunteered to winter-over in Antarctica with several meteorology scientists. He has a mountain there, Mount Titus, named for him. He became chief meteorologist on the AEC test range outside Las Vegas and is now retired in Reno.
With the number of companies being increased from 24 companies to 36 first class year, two thirds of Company 13 became Company 19, with the remainder joining a third of Company 14 to become Company 20. Dale, Bob and I moved to room 4402 for our final year.
Graduating from USNA and leaving room 4402, I can no longer add to my list of “wives.” However, I found a Texas beauty who became my wife, and sharing 58 years together.
Red Tolbert Posted: 9 January 2017