AIMD Shop 3, In 1977

John Larch VA-12 Flying Ubangis 1976-1979


..... I was able to reestablish contact with a buddy of mine from the sister-squadron to VA-12, the VA-66 Waldomen. Bill G and I served our sea-duty tours with those squadrons as a part of airwing CVW-7 on the Independence, at virtually the same time.

..... It was a real revelation to chat with Bill again, and in June 2005 I worked out a double-whammy deal and got a chance to visit with him and some of his family in central Missouri, while I was visiting an uncle.

..... This meant so much to me, because unlike other eras of military service, those of us who served in the late-70's ran up against some of the most cynical, unhappy, bitter, and frustrating times in the history of the Navy. It has been a tough road to travel, in contacting shipmates from my own time. So it was a real treat – and coincidence - to find Bill G living in Salem, Missouri, while I live in Salem, Oregon.

..... We all met for dinner one evening, and after a while the stories started to flow straight out of us both. We’ve combined our recollections of some of the incidents. Here’s a couple of them that you might find amusing.


..... CV-62 Independence departed Norfolk to start a Med cruise on March 31, 1977. I was attached to the VA-12 Flying Ubangis. We got out into the Atlantic from Norfolk and entered into some bad weather that ran for about 4 days. Veterans of that time call it the “Storm of ‘77” and it was a whopper, at one point waves were breaking over the bow. Here’s a photo taken at the time.

77 storm

..... For 3 days it was not so bad. I had been detached from the Weapons shop of VA-12, over to AIMD, and they had berthing forward on the 02 or 03 deck. My rack was oriented fore-and-aft, so the weather gave me a nice rock-a-bye-baby lullaby action and I slept well. I even had an air vent that still worked, putting out a small charge of lower-than-room-temperature air. Heck of a deal!

..... On the 4th day, of course, this all came unhinged and everyone was green in the gills, including me.

..... Well, the storm ended, we arrived in Rota, and were able to take stock of the damages. It was actually pretty severe on the forward catwalks. A lot of them were torn off. We departed for Naples and spent about 10 days there getting repairs performed by an Italian contractor.

..... We came to discover that there were other damages as well but a great percentage of the crew never knew how severe they were at the time.

..... The catwalks were rebuilt and we got underway for normal flight operations in the Med.

..... We started to see roast beef as a main course in the main chow hall. Day after day after day. After day, after day…I actually broke down and ate roast beef slices for dinner one evening. MISTAKE!

..... About 8 hours later I started to get sick. I mean to tell you, real sick. Nausea. weakness and dizziness. I had secured from my day-check shift in the shop by then and was in the rack. Over the course of about 90 minutes, I started to lose everything. First simple vomiting, then later on from the bowel. This started slowly and kept getting worse. Having never dealt with that combination before, I didn’t understand it at all. I decided that I’d better not let myself fall asleep, for fear of filling my drawers while asleep. Before mustering for duty at AIMD Shop 3 the next morning (hadn’t slept a wink all night), I called in from the berthing compartment and told AT1 “L” that I was sick in the rack, I didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t get far away from the head, and this was my first chance to call in the last half-hour, and I had another date with the porcelain throne coming right up!

..... Well, the guy was understanding and I was left to suffer there at the nearest head. Except, I kept getting sicker and sicker. Many times I found both ends working at the same time. And then of course, the CO calls a GQ.

..... So I had to marshall all my strength, I found a phone, and called “L” back to ask what to do. He said to stay there. He didn’t need any punk airman E-3 leaving a stinking trail of vomit and diarrhea around HIS shop! Well, that was fine for him, except that I kept getting sicker.

..... About 2 more hours later, GQ was still on but I was so sick I could barely stand up. This was going from very difficult, to worse, and I was in bad enough shape that I decided I’d better get to Sick Bay. I waited for a lull in the “fore-and-aft two-step” and called Sick Bay for permission to break Condition Zebra, on a route down there. I timed it nicely and got there without leaving an unfortunate trail. Remarkable, to think of it now, because I remember I didn’t know where the heck Sick Bay was. Made a mess of things once I got there, but at least I got there. They got me checked in, got a BP and pulse, and then pushed me into a corner. I found a head and ran in there where I continued to work both ends. This went on for hours. Back to the rack there in Sick Bay for a few minutes, then off to the head. I was so sick and disoriented by then that I don’t recall being examined or treated beyond the initial screening.

..... Of course I recovered enough to resume my duties, in about a day. But I had lost about 30 pounds in the process and didn’t get that back for months. The self-diagnosis was food poisoning. This had to be what it was, I don’t ever recall anyone saying anything to me.

..... All these years, I had thought that I was the only one who got sick. I was so out of it with the loss of fluids, I knew there were other sailors there in Sick Bay but I never got a chance to talk to anyone.

..... You want to know how sick I was? This all happened in April/May and the 1977 Med cruise ended in late October. I was fortunate enough to get Christmas Leave that year. In late December, relatives at home remarked at how much weight I had lost since the last time they had seen me in December 1976.

..... So there we were years later, in June 2005, and Bill G fills me in on a few more details. One being that18-20 men got sick. 18-20! The Hell, you say! Additionally, there were up to 6 different meat items that were tainted. I didn’t know this at the time, but Bill G passed along that at the time he was still a qualified diver and always kept up with the guys in the dive shop. When we got to Naples, the CO or the Engineer, or somebody, wanted some of the divers to go over the side and check something on the hull. They knew that there was a problem because after the storm we were getting a large racket reverberating way up, from way down there deep in the hull, whenever we made any high speed. They asked Bill G if he wanted to tag along and of course he said yes.

..... Swimming under the hull in Naples, they found a tear of unknown origins. There was a void compartment open to the sea, of course. The top side of that void compartment turned out to be the deck of a freezer space where frozen meat was kept. Except that when one side is exposed to ambient-temperature sea-water in the Mediterranean, it’s pretty tough to keep roast beef frozen. So there was a lot of spoiled meat in that locker and we had gotten a good dose of it.

..... Bill also notes that the skipper and chief medical officer had later appeared on WIND-TV and told some of this story and that the rotten products had been tossed off of Sponson 8.

..... After all these years, we are not aware of any definitive reason for the hull tear. It could have been metal fatigue from the twisting and torsion during the storm. It could have been a sub collision, but no one would ever admit that even to the crew. It could have been a rock-strike (as per the Exxon Valdez a few years ago) but no one would hazard a guess where that would have taken place.


..... I and many of my friends accepted a cordial invitation by our rich Uncle to attend a sea cruise, and so we started the 1977 cruise. We soon found that the leading petty officer at AIMD Shop 3 was an AT1 who had been in the Navy 14 years, and this was his first cruise. In fact, the first time he had ever been on any sort of ship. 14 years, huh? On top of that, his last name was very similar to the character in the McHale’s Navy TV show, where everybody called the CO “Leadbottom”.

..... One time, all of us old weathered E-2s, E-3s, assorted salty old sea-dogs, miscellaneous sailors, E-4s and a smattering of E-5s here and there all started to wonder what kinda Navy it was that would put an untried, untested sort such as this AT1 Leadbottom, in charge of a real important major-league enterprise like Shop 3. After some careful discussions, deliberations and speculations, an AE1 in the shop named Ray C, spearheaded an effort to rig up a test to measure Leadbottom’s seaworthiness. While Leadbottom was out to chow, Ray and a few other conspirators rigged up a metal washer dangling from a string. It was a bigger one, about the size of a 50¢ piece. The washer hung in open direct sight overhead and to one side, but placed just far enough out of the normal field of view that you wouldn’t necessarily notice it. You had to look right at it to see it. Sitting at the chair he used, the washer was in peripheral view only.

..... The string was white and melded in invisibly with the off-white color of the painted items attached there in the overhead. The string ran a route over ventilation ducts, wiring bundles, plumbing links, jet-fuel lines, water lines, and all manner of braces and fixtures there in the overhead, over to the test-bench where Ray and a couple other guys worked. At the business end with the washer, the string went over a brace that would put a side-to-side motion on the washer, when Ray or another sea-worthiness-test technician way over at the far end would merely tug down on the string ever so slightly. The idea was to get the washer to sway back and forth from the “english” put on by that brace, and see if the swaying motion would make Leadbottom sick enough to heave.

..... There was a whole conversational story worked up. With diversions, cut-outs, changes of pace, some fake arguments and the like all planned. All designed to keep him planted in that chair. We knew we had to wait for calm seas and just such a day came. The whole shop timed it so that we had all been to chow already, or were soon to return, by the time Leadbottom’s chance came. He returned in a half hour or so and went back to work. Ray had a co-conspirator sit down in a chair directly under the washer and engage Leadbottom in a conversation in which he had to look repeatedly at conspirator - TEST TECHNICIAN - Mark C. Ray was over there at his bench and started working the string, standing on a box to see over the top of his own test set bench. All of the rest of us started to either scramble up onto our benches and look over the top at Leadbottom, or those of us that could keep a straight face and not give away the jig just wandered over and watched the show. I can’t recall exactly, if it took about 10 to 15 minutes, but ol’ Leadbottom went from human skin tone, to pale grey, to sorta whitish, and then a few shades of green, progressing from a real faint pastel green, into the true pea-soup shades, and then finally to a real lime. Mark C and a few of the real “operators” would not let him go to the head, they knew he was getting sick. They kept the animated conversation going. Ray is still over there working the string and about to bust a gut. Some of us standing close by decided that we might give up the jig by breaking down into laughter, it was so beautiful, the perfect caper, that some of the guys wandered off, they didn’t want to blow it for all of us. And sure enough, Leadbottom had to excuse himself very abruptly at one point and run to the head. A couple of the guys tagged along and later verified that he had had to engage in a “Technicolor yawn”, during “a conversation with Ralph”. We had already assumed this because he ran away so quickly.

..... I don’t think I had ever laughed that hard in my life.

..... The guys worked this caper quite a few times during the cruise whenever they figured they needed Leadbottom out of the shop and as far as I know after all these years, I don’t recall that anyone ever gave up the deal and told him about it.

AQAN – AQ3 – AQ2 John Larch

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Special Thanks to John Larch for submitting his Stories

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