POTTER SEA STORIES/MEMORIES
--By Fred Gaebler--
DCA STEPHEN POTTER 51-52
Ops Off STEPHEN POTTER 52-53
DD607, JC OWENS DD776, NEW DD818
The first time we got the Steaming Steve underway to try out the guns, we got underway from Long Beach. Potter, Benham and Hale were to fire on San Clemente Island, the Navy's favorite target on the west coast. We got underway in mid day and were to fire starting early the next morning.
The three COs got together by Radio and agreed it was dumb to steam all night just to be near the exercise area, so we drove to the Island a short haul out, and dropped the hook in formation. The skippers wanted a pre-shoot conference so we rigged the quarterdeck to port and put the gig in the water. They had their meeting, and we set up a regular quarterdeck watch, with the light over the side by the quarterdeck.
As the sun went down, we noticed a large collection of squid by the accommodation ladder light. We had several Filipino stewards who took advantage of this find and were scooping squid up by the gallons. Being new to this class ship we forgot that the main condenser strainers were just below on the port side. In short, the strainers got clogged, we lost the load, and had an unplanned test of the emergency diesel generator. We never forgot that lesson. The two Filipino stewards feasted on squid for weeks.
We had a port call in Acapulco for a couple of days on our trip to the Atlantic fleet. The Mexican police absolutely insisted on "permanent shore patrol" of two teams of four from each ship for security. Figuring that is a good way to see the town on a few dollars, Don Doubleday and I took the duty. The first day we were in the "good" part of town, fine hotels, beautiful beaches, no problems.
The second day we learned we had been rotated to "shock troops". Don's team was to stay at the police station to be trucked to "problems" if needed, my team went to the "Rio rita" or red light district to keep our sailors out. We shifted locations at 6PM. About 19:30 we got a call from Don. He said, "Send the truck, there is some Mexican shooting up the place." We got the local cops in the station to talk to the cops out there and got assurance they could handle it, so we did not send the truck at that time.
In less than a half hour, Don called back. It seems that the guy who was drunk and shooting up the place was a senior official and the cop on the scene could or would not arrest him. Besides that he had two guns, the one he was using, a .22 caliber, they took away, and left him the other, a .45, on his promise not to use it. I sent the truck to pick them up immediately, over the local police's protest.
The night of 4 July, 1951, I had the 20‑24 quarterdeck watch, we were in Panama City waiting to transit to the Atlantic the next day. Being a holiday, everyone not in the duty section was over in town getting into the holiday spirit and vice versa. Needless to say up until about 2200 it was very dull, no one was coming back. A little before 10PM I ask the messenger to go up to bridge and get the weather readings, to which he said he did not know where they were, I felt like stretching my legs so I told him I would show him where the gear was and how to do it, and up we went.
As my foot reached the bridge level our siren went off right over our heads. Both the messenger and I ran into the pilot house and there was a seaman who had obviously over‑imbibed, holding on the siren handle, in part to keep from falling down. I knocked his hand off the handle and asked "For God's sake sailor, what are you doing?" He replied, "But Sir, here we are about to run aground and only 50 yards from the beach and no one was doing anything." It took all the two of us could do to keep a straight face, but I asked the messenger to get the duty MA to get this young man to bed before he hurt himself or someone else.
I then called the port director to advise him the collision signal was accidental. When the CO returned a few hours later I advised him of the incident, his only remark was, "You did the right thing, but I do wish you would have told the port director, this is the Officer of the Deck of the BENHAM".
I had the First Watch, 20‑24, on the bridge, our first night steaming after a couple of months in the Phily yard. The captain turned into his sea cabin with his favorite, a western novel, about 2100 to 2130. According to the Op Order we had a flashing light signal drill at 2200 conducted by guide. Our signal men went about their preparations to use the yardarm lights but when they tested the lights they did not work. They tried and tried but finally gave up.
A few minutes later, Captain Batcheler came out rubbing his eyes and said, "I must be going blind, I'd swear the lights in my cabin were blinking on and off." We used the signal search light on the port wing for the drill. We put our two stories together and figured the electricians in the shipyard had set up a practical joke on us. The next day our electricians fixed it.
When we re-commissioned the POTTER we figured that the old Whale boat had a hard life before we got to it, but until we could get an overhaul the ship's force could keep it going. Long Beach did nothing, Philly yard took them to the boat shop, let them sit and returned them ...Navy budgets you see. When we got to Gitmo for refresher training dependable boats were a must, as well as for our next duty in the Med. Crunch time came the day we were to fire a fish, chase it down and recover it with the MWB. The day before the exercise attention focused on the boat.
I had the R Division, A gang, electricians and shipfitters. Chief Flowers MMC told the boat engineer that we work on the boat until we feel it we can be sure of it tomorrow. To make sure, I was going to be there until it was done. Upon securing from sea details after a long day of training, we started in, took time out for supper, and went back at it. The chief and the engineer were darn good at diesel engines and pulled every trick in the book and some not in the book, I was good for finding nuts and bolts that dropped on the deck or locating a tool that was misplaced, we finished just in time to wash up for breakfast. I reported this to the CO and suggested not to expect anything too spectacular out of any of the three of us that day. Gitmo had a good boat shop, and after that night someone found some money and we got both the gig and the MWB overhauled. They ran great after that.
Who could forget one of Captain Batcheller's habit of putting a penny on one of the bridge repeaters and tossing it into the water as we got underway?