As a library administrator and college professor, Mr.

Boyer has reviewed books in maritime/naval history
for 27 years. With degrees from Rutgers, Drexel and
Villanova Universities, he resides in Eastern
Pennsylvania, USA. This is his first novel.


To Audrey Joy Carroll Blossic,

“A constant friend is a thing rare and hard to find”


Copyright © Harold N. Boyer

The right of Harold N. Boyer to be identified as author of this
work has been asserted by him in accordance with section 77 and
78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the

Any person who commits any unauthorized act in relation to this
publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims
for damages.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British

ISBN 978 184963 805 0

First Published (2014)
Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd.
25 Canada Square
Canary Wharf
E14 5LB

Printed and bound in Great Britain

Chapter One

The Warrant Gunner

The squawbox on the bulkhead came to life with its usual loud,
irritating voice early this morning.
“Now hear this. Gunner’s Mate First Harnlee lay to the
bridge – that is – Gunner’s Mate First Harnlee – lay to the
Gunner’s Mate (Guns) First Class Hugh Robert Harnlee
looked at the box demanding his presence on the bridge and
began at first to swear but thought better of it. Walking quickly
across the mess deck towards the ladder leading topside he
began to run through his mind all the possible reasons why he
was being summoned.
1970 had been a crazy year for Harnlee with last Monday
coming close to being his last day on earth. On that day the
USS Wilmington had a turret fire while on the gun line off the
coast of Vietnam and Harnlee was leading petty officer in the
upper handling room directly below that turret. Des Moines
class heavy cruisers like the USS Wilmington were being
phased out of the fleet by 1970 but the need for gunfire support
in Vietnam had given them a new lease on life. With their nine
8″ guns arranged in three turrets they represented a serious
threat to any target ashore. Additionally, their secondary
battery of 5″ guns could also engage shore targets. This was
what the Wilmington was doing on that day when the God of
War decreed that despite training and safety precautions men
would die.
As Harnlee moved topside towards the bridge he ran over
in his mind the events of that day. What started out as a
“routine” day of firing the main battery of 8″ guns at selected
targets ashore had, by 1018 turned into one of the major
casualties suffered by the Navy in the war to date. What made

it all the more anguishing was that the turret fire was not
caused by enemy action but through sheer chance!
Harnlee found his thoughts rudely interrupted by Chief
Gunner’s Mate Rudel placing himself squarely athwart a
passageway that Harnlee had to use to get to the bridge.
Harnlee saw trouble looking him in the eyes for he had run
across Rudel before.
“Been called to the bridge, huh? What the hell do those
frickin’ officers want with such a squirrelly-assed sailor and
poor excuse for a gunner’s mate like you?” Rudel demanded
rather than asked. Generally, Navy chiefs respected and
worked side-by-side with their men, especially first and
second-class petty officers. Together they were responsible for
the successful completion of the thousands of details necessary
for the smooth operation of a ship. Rudel was the exception.
He rarely had a good word for anyone and more times than not
would curse and bully his men.
“Beats me, Chief. I thought maybe you would know.”
Harnlee replied hoping to make this encounter as short as
“If I knew, asshole, would I waste my time asking a speck
of fly-shit like you?” Rudel retorted. Harnlee glanced
nervously at his watch. It had been five minutes already since
he was summoned to the bridge. The old man, Captain
Woodrow, was a stickler for punctuality and more than one
sailor suffered a withering blast of verbal abuse from him for
being late. Harnlee knew that Rudel would deliberately delay
him. Fortunately for Harnlee, at that moment Rudel saw Lt.
Cdr. Higgins approaching. Higgins was the Wilmington’s
gunnery officer and Rudel knew better than to tangle with him.
“Get your ass up to the bridge and make sure you report to
me with the reason for your visit, got it?”
“Right, Chief,” Harnlee replied as he moved towards the
In the moment or two before he arrived on the bridge,
Harnlee’s thoughts returned to the day of the fire. Pure chance,
he thought, or rather bad luck caused that fire. On the sixth
salvo from turret two a faulty 8″ projectile exploded

prematurely in the barrel of the middle gun. This explosion in
turn ignited the next projectile sitting in the center projectile
hoist adding its explosive force to the expanding smoke and
flame filling the turret. Within seconds all 16 men in the turret
crew were consumed by explosive blast and fire. The smoke,
which quickly filled the turret and blanketed the forward part
of the ship almost to the bridge, killed four more men and
injured 36.
Harnlee had been trying to rid his memory of that day –
the incredible noise of the explosion – the screams of men
being burned alive and suffocated by smoke. As leading petty
officer in the upper handling room directly below turret two he
was as close to the explosion as possible without actually
being inside the turret. Little details crept back into his
memory of the moment – watching the paint bubbling off the
turret pan floor above his head and thinking it would have to
be repainted – the lights in the handling room flickering and
finally going out leaving he and his crew in total darkness –
that ominous smell coming from above that even the rawest
recruit knew spelt danger…
“Gunner’s Mate First Harnlee requests permission to enter
the bridge, Sir.” Harnlee barked at the officer of the deck, or
OOD as he was called. Harnlee’s eyes quickly scanned the
bridge taking in all important information in a matter of
seconds. The usual underway bridge watch was set. The OOD
and junior officer of the watch (JOOD), helmsman, lee
helmsman, quartermaster at the chart table, phone talker on the
status board, messenger – all were in place directing the
movements of the ship. Harnlee noticed that Captain Woodrow
was not in his usual place sitting in the bridge chair welded to
the deck.
“Permission granted,” replied the OOD Lt. Johns. “Stand
easy, Harnlee. Captain Woodrow wants to speak to you.” Lt.
Johns ordered the bridge messenger to inform the captain that
Harnlee was on the bridge as ordered. Harnlee was always
fascinated by the bridge. It was the center of activity where
important decisions were made – by officers. As a first-class
petty officer he had little hope of entering the world of gold

braid and command. While he had advanced quickly to his
present rank – too quickly in the minds of some like Chief
Rudel – Harnlee knew that without finishing his college degree
he had little chance of gaining an officer’s commission.
The navy of the Vietnam War was strictly hierarchical and
still very much bound by tradition and a social snobbery that
seemed resistant to change. The Vietnam War had seen many
recruits like Harnlee enter the navy with one or two years of
college under their belts. But that counted for little in the eyes
of the navy’s Bureau of Personnel. You either had a degree or
not – plain and simple. Many old navy chiefs like Rudel
displayed open contempt for any efforts at furthering one’s
education and considered sailors with some college as
inveterate draft-dodgers.
“Captain on the bridge.” announced the JOOD Ens.
Smythe as Captain Woodrow stepped onto the bridge from his
sea cabin. An imposing man, this captain, thought Harnlee.
“I have the deck. Ensign Smythe has the conn. Course one
double-oh degrees, turning forty revolutions, weather clear,
normal underway watch set, Sir,” reported Lt. Johns.
“Very good, Mr. Johns, carry on,” replied the captain.
“Aye, aye, Sir,” Lt. Johns matter-of-factly responded,
adding “and Gunner’s Mate First Harnlee has reported to the
bridge as ordered, Sir.”
Harnlee had continued to study Captain Woodrow while
the OOD made his report. If ever there was a man born to
command, Woodrow was that man, thought Harnlee. Even
something as routine as stepping onto the bridge gave evidence
of that. The captain’s presence filled the bridge and infused
every man with both a sense of purpose and loyalty towards
him. This was what the navy called “command presence”.
Harnlee felt both awe and no small amount of envy.
The captain sat in his bridge chair and motioned Harnlee
over to him.
“Sir, you wanted to speak to me?” Harnlee asked.
“Yes, I do, Harnlee,” Captain Woodrow replied. “I have
reviewed the after-action reports concerning the turret fire and
I am particularly impressed with your performance during that

casualty. It seems obvious that your actions as leading petty
officer in the upper handling room not only saved lives but
possibly saved the Wilmington, also.”
Harnlee looked at Captain Woodrow for what seemed like
an eternity but what was actually only a second or two.
“I don’t quite follow you, Sir,” Harnlee replied.
“No flying false colors, now, Harnlee,” the captain said.
“Humility is fine to a point after which it becomes tedious and
Harnlee’s thoughts quickly returned to that moment when
he made the decision without orders to remove his crew from
the upper handling room. Looking back this decision seemed
to be the correct one with smoke beginning to fill the handling
room and the temperature steadily rising. Before leaving he
had the crew strike below the remaining seven 8″ projectiles
thus removing the threat of detonation in the handling room.
Considering the fact that this was done in the dark with fear
gnawing at everyone was a tribute both to Harnlee’s courage
and the confidence his crew had in his leadership. A lesser
man would not have inspired such action.
Once his crew had been removed from the handling room,
Harnlee climbed down through the escape scuttle to the lower
handling room to pass the word that he had removed both his
crew and the projectiles from danger. By this time word had
been passed to abandon and flood the 8″ magazine for turret
“Understood, Sir,” Harnlee replied as his thoughts returned
to the bridge and Captain Woodrow. So he wants me here
simply to give me a “well done”, thought Harnlee as a number
of eyes, and ears for that matter, followed the conversation
unfolding on the bridge.
“You have some college, don’t you Harnlee?” Captain
Woodrow inquired.
“Two years at Wisconsin State University, Sir,” Harnlee
replied, adding, “About sixty credits, Sir.” What the hell did
the old man want to know that for, thought Harnlee. He must
have been reading my service record. Two years of college so

far had been more of a curse than a blessing, especially where
superiors like Chief Rudel were concerned.
Harnlee had graduated from Gloucester High School in
1963 and went to Wisconsin State University on an Army
ROTC scholarship. Things had not worked out and he left the
university after two years of desultory study. He enlisted in the
navy as an alternative to dead-end civilian jobs. He chuckled to
himself as he remembered the Armed Services Vocational
Aptitude Test that he took as part of the enlistment process. A
grizzled, old navy chief told him that his mechanical aptitude
was so low that if he picked up a wrench and tried to use it he
would set the navy back a century – and damned he was if the
navy didn’t place him in a mechanical specialty after all! The
phrase “needs of the service” justified that decision.
“You also have ROTC training?” Captain Woodrow asked.
“Yes, Sir,” Harnlee replied, more puzzled than ever by
“Your record indicates not only ROTC training but
designation as “Outstanding Army ROTC Cadet two years
running?” Captain Woodrow inquired with one eyebrow
slightly raised.
“Yes, Sir,” Harnlee replied.
“Well, I probably should ask why you left the university
and a promising career in the army but that’s your business and
history now. For my purposes I want to inform you that as a
result of your actions during our casualty on the gun line I am
recommending you for a commendation and, more
importantly, offering you the opportunity to apply for
designation as a gunnery warrant officer,” Captain Woodrow
announced. Harnlee could not believe his ears. He was being
offered a chance at what he thought was impossible to attain –
a commission and eventually command.
“Are you interested in becoming a warrant officer,
Harnlee?” Captain Woodrow demanded rather than asked. All
eyes and ears on the bridge were transfixed on Harnlee after
the captain spoke.
For what seemed like an eternity Harnlee tried to
assimilate all that had just happened. Warrant officers in the

navy were specialists from the ranks, usually chiefs but
occasionally first-class petty officers, who were directly
promoted to W-1 and commissioned as officers at ranks W-2
through W-4. Harnlee had some experience working for
warrant officers on his previous ship. Generally they were
long-serving men with fifteen or twenty years of experience.
Here he was being offered this opportunity with only six years
of service.
Josiah “Mac” McClernan joined Harnlee and Boiler
Technician First-Class Brown in the first-class lounge,
strolling over with his huge fist wrapped around a mug of hot,
strong coffee.
“What’s happenin’, man?” Mac asked his good friend.
“Not much, Mac,” Harnlee replied without looking up.
“Same ‘ole shit.”
Harnlee and Mac were good friends and both from New
Jersey – the former from Gloucester City, a poor, white
working-class town while Mac was from Camden – a poor city
offering little or no hope for a young, black teenager. The navy
had brought them together and each had advanced quickly in
their respective specialties – Harnlee as a Gunner’s Mate and
Mac as a Boatswain’s Mate.
“You know Mac, a couple of women on my last trip to the
beach told me I should try out for the ’72 Olympics,” Brown
stated with a straight face. Mac knew he was being set up and
Harnlee simply rolled his eyes but both played the game.
“How so?” Mac replied.
Brown waited for a second or two for effect before
“They say I’m a world-class diver…!”
“Sheeee-it,” yelled Mac. “You white guys are sure strange
about that. If I can’t put a knife and fork on it I don’t eat it!”
“Guess not with that god-damned horse dick hangin’
between your legs,” Brown replied knowing that this banter
was a prelude to a more serious talk.
“Not my fault you gotta work with a needle-dick, man,”
retorted Mac. “Listen, all bull-shittin’ aside – scuttlebutt has it
that our man Harnlee here is going to be made warrant.”

“No shit?” Brown exclaimed.
“I tell you guys, there are no secrets on this showboat,”
replied Harnlee. “The ‘ole man only talked to me an hour
“You know how it is, man,” Mac proudly stated. “First
Division is tight and I know all the shit goin’ on.”
First Division on the Wilmington was the deck force
responsible for seamanship and maintenance of all external
hull, deck and bulkhead areas. It was a rough division made up
of the less educated, some would say less fortunate, members
of the crew. Mac had come up the ranks of such a division on a
number of ships and commanded respect by virtue of his
leadership qualities and his ability to manhandle almost
anyone who chose to oppose him.
“Come on, Hugh,” Brown pleaded. “Give us the straight
skinny here. You goin’ up for warrant?”
“All right, already,” Harnlee answered. “Besides, if I don’t
tell you I’ll get no slack until I do, right?”
“Right on, man,” Mac interjected.
“The ‘ole man is giving me a commendation for getting
my handling room crew and the ammo out during the turret
fire,” Harnlee replied. “He also wants me to apply for gunnery
“And?” asked Mac.
“I told him I needed time to think about it and he gave me
24 hours,” said Harnlee.
“You are one sorry-assed excuse for a gunner’s mate,
man,” Mac exclaimed. “How many times have we talked about
our careers and you talkin’ ’bout becomin’ an officer?”
“Yeah, so?” Harnlee replied.
“What do you mean “yeah, so” as if I don’t know already,”
Mac angrily retorted. “Here is the man givin’ you your chance
for gold and all you can say is “I’ll let you know?”
“Yeah, that seems kind of lame,” said Brown intruding on
their conversation.
“Shut the fuck up, you lame-assed snipe,” snapped Mac
employing some of his renowned swearing that reputedly

could blister the paint off the bulkheads, “This is between my
man here and me!”
“Let’s go on main deck for some air,” Harnlee suggested
to Mac, wanting to have a serious conversation with his good
“You know, sometimes I think Brown has spent too much
time around boilers,” Harnlee continued as he and Mac made
their way topside. Brown stayed behind apparently taking the
hint about the need for privacy.
“That’s for sure – anyway, most snipes are fucked up to
begin with, man,” replied Mac. “So what’s it goin’ to be –
Chief or Mister Harnlee?” Mac asked as they came out on
main deck near the blackened turret two.
The sea was a deep green with slight swells as the ship
headed east to Subic Bay Naval Base on the island of Luzon in
the Philippines. After the turret fire the Wilmington stayed on
the gun line off the coast of North Vietnam until relieved by
another cruiser and then headed for Subic Bay for repairs. The
crew, while regretting the deaths of shipmates due to the fire,
looked forward to liberty and the sensual delights of Subic
Bay. Harnlee liked these quiet moments which afforded him
the opportunity to feel the sea beneath his feet.
“You know Mac, we’ve talked about the navy and what we
would make of ourselves more times than I can remember,”
Harnlee said while looking at the water as it met the ship’s
bow and coursed back to become part of the wake. “And now
that I have an opportunity to become an officer I’m not sure.”
“Bout what?” Mac asked knowing his good friend was in
one of his more introspective and plagued moods. Mac also
knew that Harnlee was not one of the most optimistic guys
ever to pull on a pair of skivvies. Harnlee was known for
walking around and exclaiming “I feel plagued like Job”
whenever the mood overtook him and leaving sailors within
earshot wondering who this guy named Job could be.
“Failure and not being good enough to measure up to men
like Captain Woodrow,” Harnlee replied. “I mean look – the
‘ole man’s a naval academy graduate, he has a master’s degree

in engineering and a Personnelman in the ship’s office told me
he is one of the youngest captains in the whole navy!”
“So?” Mac quickly interjected. “More reason to trust him
givin’ you this break, right? I mean he wouldin’ do this for
anybody so he must know you can cut it.”
This wasn’t the first time Harnlee watched his good friend
cut right to the importance of an issue. Despite Mac’s rough
and tumble demeanor, just below the surface were to be found
many of the qualities sailors wanted to see in their leaders.
“Maybe…but I still feel plagued…” Harnlee responded
just as a loud voice intruded itself into their conversation.
“Harnlee, get your ass to the gun shack and start PMS on
the forward 5-inch,” Chief Rudel screamed from the forward
Mark 54 gun director. Harnlee knew that the weapons
department was behind on its preventative maintenance system
work, or PMS as it was called. He also knew much of the
blame rested with Rudel because the more he drove the men
the less work they did for him. It was a source of mystery to
Harnlee how men such as Rudel could advance in rank.
“Some day someone’s gonna’ shove his redneck ass over
the side at night,” murmured Mac.
“And you, McClernan, turn to or I’ll have a talk with Chief
Bosun Bennett about your slackness,” yelled Rudel as Harnlee
turned to go to the gun shack. Mac just stood and transfixed
Rudel with a piercing stare until the chief averted his gaze and
climbed back into the gun director.
“Fuck you in the eye,” Mac said to himself as he went
forward to check the progress of some painting his men were
doing on the anchor windlass on the foc’sle.
As the time approached a day later to respond to Captain
Woodrow, Harnlee had made up his mind to accept the offer to
become a gunnery warrant officer. Two things had made up his
mind for him – a conversation with the captain and another
run-in with Chief Rudel. Looking back on those two incidents
Harnlee couldn’t believe that these two men belonged in the
same navy.
The conversation with Captain Woodrow took place on the
main deck while he was inspecting the center gun barrel on

turret two. The force of the explosion had blown the barrel
completely clear of the turret leaving it connected only by the
rifled gun liner. With the barrel weighing about 18 tons this
presented an interesting engineering challenge which Captain
Woodrow quickly undertook in concert with Lt. Cdr. Higgins
and Lt. Cdr. Scott, chief engineer of the Wilmington. The
barrel had to be quickly and adequately secured where it rested
after the explosion. Once the Wilmington made Subic Bay it
would be removed and replaced. Turrets one and two were
fixed in train directly forward to prevent the barrel from
shifting. No one wanted to contemplate the damage that would
be done by an 18 ton barrel almost 37 feet in length breaking
loose on the main deck.
Captain Woodrow saw Harnlee approach and he motioned
for him to join the three officers.
“Well, Harnlee, have you made a decision about joining
the wardroom?” he asked, referring to the fact that as a warrant
officer Harnlee would eat, sleep and work with officers.
“I think so, Sir,” replied Harnlee, thinking about his near
fight with Rudel the day before. After going to the gun shack
as ordered by Rudel he had started pulling the PMS cards for
the forward 5″ mount. These cards gave detailed instructions
on required and recommended maintenance procedures to be
done on the equipment for which weapons department was
responsible. In theory PMS was an excellent system for
maintenance – in practice too much depended upon the
cooperation of the men and their honesty in actually doing the
work before it was recorded as done. A motivated division on
the Wilmington such as first division kept up with their PMS
paperwork and honestly did the work. In departments like
weapons that had low morale and were driven by tyrants such
as Rudel more times than not they “gundecked” the work
which meant record it as done when it really wasn’t.
Harnlee pulled the PMS card for the firing mechanism of
the left gun in the forward 5″ mount. It was an important piece
of equipment because the 5″ 38 calibre gun could be fired
electrically or mechanically by percussion. Electrical firing
was preferred because it involved no moving parts and was

faster. The card called for disassembling the firing mechanism
and checking to insure that the firing lead was connected to the
after end of the firing pin. This ensured that electrical current
flowed between the firing pin and the primer which in turn
ignited the powder which sent the projectile on its way.
During gun actions against targets while the Wilmington
was on the gun line the left gun had misfired a number of times
leading Harnlee to suspect that the electrical circuit was being
interrupted. He wanted to pull the firing mechanism to see if
indeed this was the problem. Yet the PMS card indicated that
this procedure had already been done. Harnlee decided to
check to see if indeed it had been done.
Harnlee found Chief Rudel back at the gun shack reading
one of the latter’s endless supply of skin mags.
“Chief, we have a problem with the firing circuit on the
forward 5″,” Harnlee stated.
“So?” Rudel answered not looking up from his mag.
“And the PMS for the circuit has been gundecked,”
Harnlee replied. That caught Rudel’s attention as he knew it
“That’s a serious accusation to make, asshole!” Rudel
exclaimed rising from the stool he was sitting on. “What proof
have you?” he asked.
“I pulled the firing circuit PMS card and saw that it was
signed off by Jonesy,” Harnlee matter-of-factly replied
referring to Gunner’s Mate Third-Class Jones. “Since the left
gun had been misfiring I figured it had to be the firing circuit.
When I checked the circuit the lead was almost burned through
and the complete PMS procedure had not been finished.”
“So that slacker Jones obviously didn’t do his job,” Rudel
stated, an ominous softening of his voice coming on that
warned Harnlee of imminent danger.
“That’s what I thought so I asked him if he did the job and
he said he hadn’t done any PMS for over a month…” replied
“What exactly are you saying here?” Rudel demanded
moving his face to within an inch of Harnlee’s nose.

“Simply that it was gundecked and someone forged
Jonesy’s initials on the PMS card,” said Harnlee.
“I don’t like what you are sayin’, boy,” Rudel said
continuing, “and just what do you intend to do about it?”
Harnlee debated whether to push the issue with Rudel. Life
could become awfully hard with Rudel as an enemy. Life was
hard enough on board the Wilmington dealing with Rudel’s
disdain and verbal abuse. An outright confrontation would
result in only one of them as the winner and it didn’t take
much imagination to guess who that would be. Additionally,
Lt. (jg) Winslow, Harnlee’s division officer, was thoroughly
intimidated by Rudel and rarely ventured into the work spaces
for which he was responsible. Yet Harnlee knew that men like
Rudel placed shipmates in danger and compromised the good
work that men like Captain Woodrow were trying to
accomplish in the navy. It also occurred to Harnlee that Rudel
had as yet not heard about the offer to make Harnlee a warrant
“I think Mr. Higgins should be made aware of this
problem,” Harnlee stated bracing himself for Rudel’s response
which was both quick and direct.
“You do, huh?” screamed Rudel. “Let me tell you
somethin’, asshole. You got nothin’ here but some confused
paperwork that I will straightin’ out by mornin’…then where
will you be?”
Harnlee knew that Rudel never signed PMS cards himself
but always had his men sign – or signed their initials himself.
This way he could always cite “confused paperwork” or bully
his men into silence.
“I think I can make it stick – especially with the backing of
some of the men,” Harnlee calmly responded.
“Think so you half-educated little puke?” Rudel again
screamed while jabbing his forefinger into Harnlee’s chest.
“Do it! We’ll see who has the balls to go the distance and
when I’m through with you I’m gonna’ tear your fuckin’ head
off and shit into the hole!”……..
“Harnlee, I don’t want you to think you want this
promotion – you have to know you want it if you are to

succeed,” Captain Woodrow stated looking directly into
Harnlee’s eyes. “Leadership is a quality in a man which
enables him to motivate men to achievement by virtue of their
willingness to follow through on a given mission or task. By
accepting a commission you undertake a serious responsibility
to provide leadership as an officer and a gentleman. By
providing leadership you will motivate your men to follow you
to hell and back if necessary. It is not an easy responsibility,
nor one to be taken lightly. Commanders Higgins and Scott
and I feel you have many of those qualities already. The
decision, however, must be yours.”
“I realize that, Captain, and I want to become a warrant
officer,” Harnlee replied watching as Captain Woodrow and
Lt. Cdr. Higgins smiled to each other.
“Sweepers, sweepers, man your brooms. Give the ship a
clean sweep down fore and aft. Sweep down all lower decks,
ladder wells and passageways. Now, sweepers.” Harnlee
looked up from the book he was reading when the word was
passed over the 1MC for sweepers. He had just begun reading
Samuel Eliot Morison’s Admiral of the Ocean Sea and was
deeply engrossed in it. He had a small collection of books on
naval history in his locker which he read while on deployment
at sea. Before starting Morison’s biography of Christopher
Columbus he had finished Nicholas Monsarrat’s The Cruel
Sea. As a serious reader Harnlee was set apart from the
average sailor. Indeed, men such as Rudel were suspicious of
shipmates with any intellectual inclinations. The most reading
the average sailor did was rate training manuals necessary for
promotion or perhaps correspondence courses for similar
reasons. Men like Rudel were more interested in photos than
Harnlee was to report to the ship’s office at 0900 to begin
the paperwork for his promotion to warrant officer. He was
concerned because Rudel as his chief and Lt. (jg) Winslow as
his division officer would have to sign off on his paperwork.
The blow up with Rudel would come back to haunt him while
Winslow would surely follow Rudel’s lead. Harnlee made up

his mind to talk this situation over with Mac as soon as
Chief Rudel leaned against the powder canisters stored
deep in the powder magazine of turret three. This space sat
almost directly on top of the Wilmington’s keel and smelled
strongly of the ether used to preserve the powder. It was about
as isolated a space as was possible to find on the ship and it
suited his purposes exactly as he stared across at the 18-year
old seaman who was with him to learn how to take the daily
magazine temperatures.
“I suppose even you have heard about the captain
promoting Harnlee to warrant?” Rudel exclaimed.
“Yea, there was talk ‘bout it last night while I was mess
cookin’,” replied Seaman Perkowitz. “Does that mean he’ll be
an officer?”
“An officer, you dumb shit,” screamed Rudel, “and yes,
that’s exactly what the fuck it means! I’ve spent 18 years in
this goddamned navy just to make chief and this peckerhead
makes warrant in less than seven. There’s no justice in this
damn world!”
“Guess not, chief,” Perkowitz replied while trying to figure
out how to read the thermometer. Rudel looked at him and just
slowly shook his head.
“You are one dumb fuckin’ pollock, Perkowitz. How many
times have I showed you how to read a thermometer? Anyway,
it doesn’t matter about what the ring-knocker up on the bridge
wants – Harnlee has to go through me and that puke division
officer Winslow to get signed off and my dick will grow ten
more inches before I’ll sign off…” Rudel said in a quick,
quivering voice as he looked differently at Perkowitz…
The Wilmington approached Subic Bay early in the
morning as the sun appeared as a blazing, red orb low on the
horizon ahead of the ship. The weather was calm with little or
no waves as the ocean took on a calm, greasy appearance that
some among the crew believed due to conditions in Subic Bay.
It was reputed to be able to smell Subic Bay twenty miles to
sea if the wind was right. Established in 1901 in the aftermath
of the Spanish-American War, the naval base had served the

U.S. Asiatic Fleet since then with the exception of the
occupation by Japan from January 1942 to January 1945 when
it was retaken by U.S. forces. The bay, about seven miles long
with a mouth divided by Small Grande Island, was home to a
flourishing U.S. naval base.
The Wilmington slowed to allow the pilot boat to approach
on the port side. The transfer of the pilot would be easy today
as there was little or no sea running. Unlike the merchant
marine, pilots relieved the commanding officer of
responsibility only in special circumstances such as traversing
the Panama Canal or entering a dry dock. Captain Winslow
had the conn as the pilot boat maneuvered away from the
“Mr. Higgins, pass the word to make all preparations for
entering port. The Wilmington will anchor at 0900.”
“Aye, Sir,” Higgins replied as he was the OOD this
morning. “We have three things to do immediately, Lt. Barrell.
First, ascertain the time for quarters for entering port from the
XO, check the smartness of the ship, and get info on boating
from the XO and pass it on to the First Lieutenant, got it?”
As JOOD Lt. Barrell was learning to stand underway
bridge watches. His learning this was unusual since he was
both black and the ship’s dental officer. Unusual or not, on the
Wilmington Captain Woodrow encouraged initiative and
cross-training. Barrell had approached him with this idea and
he now found himself on the bridge as JOOD.
“Aye, Sir,” Barrell replied to Higgins.
“Pass the word for all hands to shift into the uniform of the
day,” ordered Higgins.
“Aye Aye, Sir,” replied the bosun mate of the watch.
Mac and Harnlee were standing on the foc’sle talking
while the anchor detail formed around them. Harnlee was
fascinated by the details of deck seamanship and envied Mac’s
extensive knowledge and apparent ease with which he
performed his bosun’s duties.
“Doin’ this anchor shit in whites makes no sense, man,”
Mac stated matter-of-factly to Harnlee. “I’ve ruined more
uniforms than I can remember.”

“The point is that you aren’t supposed to be doing, Mac –
your detail should be doing the work,” Harnlee replied, well
knowing that Mac was right all the same.
“And I s’pose they’re working in their skivvies?” Mac
pointed out.
“Anyway, I want to run something by you…” Harnlee
began to say but was interrupted by the order over the 1MC to
set the special sea and anchor detail.
“Not now, man,” Mac quickly said then added, “Ignore the
chain and you’ll feel the pain – I’ll catch you later!”
“All hands to quarters for entering port. Now assemble on
the quarterdeck the guard mail petty officer, mail clerk and
shore patrol officer. Station the quarterdeck watch.”
Since Harnlee had the first quarterdeck petty officer watch
he moved aft to be in position on time. The Wilmington
slowed quickly as Captain Woodrow conned her to a popint
just before where she was to anchor. Once there both bow
anchors were let go in a tremendous rush of chain that
assaulted the ears of the anchor detail. Word was passed that
the OOD was shifting his watch to the quarterdeck while the
First Lieutenant ordered boat booms and the accommodation
ladder rigged.
Harnlee busied himself with the seemingly thousand-and-
one details to be logged in during the first quarterdeck watch at
anchor. Fortunately, Lt. Cdr. Higgins was OOD and he let
Harnlee handle much of the detail and taught him much more.
“Now that you have made your decision to become a
warrant officer, Harnlee, the captain wants me to start teaching
you,” Higgins stated as he reviewed the orders for the day.
“Aye, aye, Sir” Harnlee replied, feeling nervous even
though he had stood these watches before.
“As OOD while at anchor there are a number of things you
must know,” Higgins continued, “so we might as well begin
your training now. The command duty officer (CDO) is Lt.
Cdr. Scott. He has primary responsibility for the safety and
security of the ship in the absence of the captain and executive
officer. As OOD I make an entry in the quarterdeck log noting
things such as our anchorage bearings, depth of water, position

of the ship, and other ships present and their locations. You, as
petty officer of the watch, are responsible for the messenger-
of-the-watch, sound and security patrol, and the master-at-
arms. Since you have stood this watch before this should be
old hat to you, right?” Higgins asked.
“Right, Sir,” Harnlee replied, thinking how excited he was
at actually beginning his training for warrant officer. He also
debated to himself whether or not to discuss the problem about
Rudel with Higgins. He decided not to until he had a chance to
talk with Mac. For some reason Mac had a way of making
things crystal-clear.
Mac was supervising the rigging of the accommodation
ladder over the starboard side of the Wilmington when Senior
Chief Bosun’s Mate Bennett walked up to him.
“Almost finished rigging the ladder, Mac?” Bennett asked
while carefully standing out of the men’s way while they
“Almost, Senior Chief,” Mac replied while keeping a sharp
eye on the work. To have the ladder give way and go over the
side to side to the bottom of Subic Bay would ruin the day for
first division, not to mention place Mac in deep shit.
“I want to talk to you privately. Meet me in the chain
locker in thirty minutes,” Bennett said as he turned to walk
“Will do, Senior Chief,” Mac replied, wondering what this
was about. He could also not get out of his mind the fact that
Harnlee tried to talk to him before the ship anchored. Knowing
Harnlee as he did he knew that it was going to be a serious
Senior Chief Bennett was a man who commanded Mac’s
unqualified respect. With twenty-one years in the navy Bennett
had served in many ships, done a tour as a recruiter in New
York City, trained recruits at Great Lakes Naval Training
Center, and was a qualified underway watch JOOD. He had
taught Mac many things during their service together on the
Wilmington and Mac trusted him completely – which made
Mac all the more concerned about the private talk.

“What’s up, Senior Chief?” Mac asked as he closed the
hatch to the chain locker behind him. The space smelled of
grease and paint while being dimly lit by the few lights
“I want to know what’s going on between Rudel and
GMG1 Harnlee?” Bennett asked, “Rudel’s makin’ noises all
over the CPO lounge about blockin’ Harnlee’s promotion to
warrant. I figure you two are tight so you would know and
enlighten me.”
“Senior Chief, you got me by the short hairs,” replied Mac.
“I mean, I know there’s bad blood between Rudel and Harnlee
but that’s the same for anyone who works for him.”
“I am well aware of Chief Rudel’s shortcomings in the
leadership department but this is different. He is out to do
some serious damage to Harnlee and guys like Rudel can be
dangerous,” stated Bennett matter-of-factly.
Mac began to think that Harnlee’s attempt to talk to him
might be related to this conversation with Bennett. He tried to
think quickly about possible reasons why Rudel would act this
way other than his natural tendency to act like a petty tyrant
and an asshole to boot.
“I don’t know, Senior Chief,” Mac replied. “But if I can
talk to Harnlee I’ll find out damn quick and let you know
“You do that, Mac,” Bennett said adding quickly, “I for
one am not going to let Rudel get away with this and I’m sure
neither will Captain Woodrow.”
Harnlee was relieved by the next watch and was heading
for his bunk to change when Mac caught up with him.
“We gotta talk,” Mac said quickly, “Get outta your whites
and meet me in after steering.”
After steering was the station directly aft over the
Wilmington’s twin rudders. It was used as an alternative
steering station and was manned when underway. Both
Harnlee and Mac had stood after steering watches and knew
they could talk there without being interrupted. The massive
steering engine for the rudders took up most of the space in the
compartment. Just inside the hatch were located a wheel,

gyrocompass and compass repeater. While standing after
steering watches one sat facing aft for hours at a time being
essentially on-call in case of a steering malfunction on the
Harnlee remembered his first after steering watch on his
first ship as a newly reported-on-board seamen apprentice. He
had been given no instruction or training other than being told
how to engage the wheel to the steering engine and simply to
match his pointer with that of the bridge pointer on the
compass repeater.
It was the midwatch from midnight to 4:00AM and the
alarm, much to Harnlee’s consternation, went off at 3:40AM.
Remembering never feeling so alone in his whole life, Harnlee
engaged the wheel and tried to follow the bridge pointer.
Instead of steering much like a car, the ship proceeded to
careen as much as 30 degrees left and right of its base course
as he vainly tried to keep his pointer aligned with that of the
bridge. On top of this the bridge talker kept relaying the
OOD’s frantic inquiries over the sound-powered telephone
demanding to know who the hell was in after steering and if
said person was capable of hearing thunder and seeing
After carving a somewhat erratic course across miles of
ocean the bridge finally, much to Harnlee’s relief, ended the
drill and took back control of the rudders. As a result of this
exercise the shit hit the fan when the captain found out that
Harnlee had been standing this watch without training. Harnlee
thereafter stood a bridge helm watch every day for two weeks
after which he could steer with the best helmsman.
Harnlee was quickly jolted from reminiscing by Mac
opening the water-tight hatch leading to the compartment.
After closing the hatch Mac turned to Harnlee saying “What’s
goin’ on ‘tween you and Rudel? He’s makin’ noises ‘bout
blockin’ your promotion to warrant.”
“So he knows,” Harnlee replied.
“Damn straight. And a lot of other people are getting’
involved, too,” Mac said.

“We had another run-in. I found out, and more
importantly, can prove he is gundecking PMS,” Harnlee stated
calmly. “I brought it to him but didn’t make any accusations.
He asked me what I intended to do so I told him I was going to
Mr. Higgins.”
“Jesus H. Fuckin’ Christ,” exclaimed Mac. “Why’d you do
that? You need his sign-off, and don’t forget Lt. Winslow’s
pen, too!”
“I know, but I’m tired of getting jerked around by him.
The whole department is demoralized – Winslow is afraid of
him – somebody has to make a stand and end this,” Harnlee
said, looking at Mac with an intensity that indicated his
“Have you talked to anyone else?” Mac asked.
“I was going to talk to Mr. Higgins this morning while on
watch but I thought I would wait until you and I talked,”
Harnlee replied.
“At least there’s still some sense left in that noggin of
yours. You got friends in high places. Senior Chief Bennett
talked to me and wants to know what’s ‘tween you two. He’s
got no time for Rudel and neither does the ‘ole man!” Mac
exclaimed while smiling.
“So…what do you think I should do next?” Harnlee asked
his good friend.
“You leave that to the man, here,” Mac stated turning to
leave the compartment. “You lie low for the time being.”
No time was lost in arranging for the removal of the
stricken gun barrel on turret two. The Wilmington nested
alongside the USS Penobscot, a destroyer tender assigned to
service destroyers returning from the gun line off Vietnam.
The 30-ton capacity cranes amidships would easily handle the
gun barrel. The problem was not the actual replacement of the
barrel but how to find a barrel outside of the continental United
Captain Woodrow was on the foc’sle with Captain James,
the Subic Bay shipyard commanding officer, discussing
options for the Wilmington.

“No barrels outside of Conus, John?” Captain Woodrow
asked his good friend and naval academy classmate.
“Not a one, Ed,” replied James. “There are barrels on the
cruisers in the mothball fleet in Philadelphia. I contacted the
CO of the shipyard there and he said a minimum of six weeks
to get a barrel out here.”
“I want to get back on the gun line ASAP, John. You know
there are only four all-gun heavy cruisers left in the fleet and
we’re needed every day!” Captain Woodrow replied.
“Tell me about it – Seventh-Fleet HQ has already alerted
me to the desirability – hell – the necessity of getting the
Wilmington back to sea,” Captain James said, knowing his
good friend was desperate for a solution.
Work began the following day on removing the damaged
gun barrel. The crane on the destroyer tender made short work
of lifting it clear of the Wilmington. Captains Woodrow and
James were standing on the foc’sle of the tender watching.
“I have an idea, Ed.” Captain James said matter-of-factly.
“It might solve your problem.”
“I’m all ears, John – let’s hear it,” Captain Woodrow
replied while keeping a keen eye on the work being done on
his ship.
“We could remove the center gun and plate over the turret
face leaving two guns in that turret,” Captain James said. “That
would get you back on the gun line in a week to ten days.
Meanwhile I could have the new barrel shipped out and
installed during your next rotation.”
“I was thinking the same thing, John, although it would
look like hell and reduce my main battery. We might have
problems with stabilization of the turret, too.” he replied.
“No argument on any of those points. The only other
alternative is to fix the turret in train and not use it at all but
I’m sure that’s not a viable solution from your point-of-view,”
Captain James replied with a huge grin.
“Damn straight! Better to lose a gun than a whole turret. I
would think a four-stripe yardbird like you would know better
than to suggest such a thing,” Captain Woodrow replied with a

Captain James laughed and looked at his good friend.
“Then I have my answer. We’ll start work tonight. I’ll put two
shifts on it to get you outta my hair and my good shipyard.
You guys with salt water in your veins aren’t happy unless
you’re steaming in harm’s way!”
“Thanks, John. I owe you one for this,” Captain Woodrow
replied while walking away.
Lt. Winslow entered the gun shack to find Chief Rudel
working on PMS cards.
“Of the maintaining of guns there is no end, right chief?”
he said trying to begin the conversation with some humor. And
the making of dickhead lieutenants there is no end, thought
Rudel before he acknowledged Winslow’s appearance with a
tired “If you say so, sir.”
“I do chief, truly I do,” replied Winslow. He was trying to
summon the courage to broach the subject of Harnlee’s
promotion to warrant. He knew that it was a sore subject with
Rudel and that the latter had been making injudicious
statements about Harnlee, the promotion and Captain
Woodrow. As Rudel’s superior officer Winslow should have
ended such behavior when it began but, as he admitted to
himself in his more honest moments, he was thoroughly
intimidated by Rudel. Of course, Rudel sensed this almost
immediately and took advantage of it.
As an Officer Candidate School graduate Winslow was on
or near the bottom of the officer training pecking order. First
came naval academy graduates like Captain Woodrow with the
navy’s imprimatur firmly bestowed upon them as graduates of
the school on the Servern. Next came Naval Reserve Officer
Training Corps graduates. While these officers did not enjoy
the panache usually associated with academy graduates they
provided a sizable number of competent officers from colleges
and universities around the country. Lastly came OCS
graduates – college graduates sent to a sixteen-week crash
course designed to give then what an academy or ROTC grad
received over a four-year period.
Lt. Winslow, with his honors English degree from
Swarthmore College, somehow managed to survive the rigors

of marine OCS drill sergeants only to find himself as a turret
officer on the Wilmington in charge of one of the three main
turrets. Chief Rudel summed up his value one day by saying in
exasperation that Winslow was as useful as tits on a bull,
which Winslow appreciated for its literary value but not
necessarily as a measure of his manhood.
“I have the paperwork for Harnlee’s promotion to warrant,
chief,” Winslow stated matter-of-factly while awaiting the
blast of invective that would pour from Rudel’s lips as freely
as coffee from the gun shack coffeepot.
“So….” Rudel replied without looking up from his PMS
cards. The missing “sir” at the end of Rudel’s reply summed
up his total disdain for the man standing before him. Winslow
made the mistake of using this opportunity to try to reassert
that which had long ago gone over the side.
“You will address me as sir when speaking to me, Chief
Rudel,” Winslow stated with as much conviction as he could
Rudel slowly placed his pen and PMS cards on the counter
and turned to face Winslow. Bringing his face to within an
inch of Winslow’s he slowly smiled and spoke in a low,
menacing tone.
“You are nothing but some over-educated pussy who
walks around reading poetry while not knowing your ass from
your elbow about this division, Sir!” Rudel replied
emphasizing the “sir” at the end of the sentence. “I’ve been
backstopping your worthless ass since you first stepped aboard
this ship and I’m not about to address you otherwise in
private,” Rudel continued. “AS for that paperwork, you can
shove it where the sun don’t shine as far as I’m concerned.
Harnlee’s not makin’ warrant on this ship!” Rudel said
standing with his hands on his hips in utter contempt of the
officer standing before him.
Winslow felt uncontrollable anger within himself after
being dressed down by Rudel. For a moment he considered a
physical resolution to this incident but checked himself.
Striking an enlisted man would land him in a courts-martial
with a dishonorable discharge. He simply turned to leave the