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USS MEADOWLARK MSC 196

History

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Photos

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LT J.P.Cromwell
May 1955-Apr 1957
LT Rodion Cantacuzene
Apr 1957-Nov 1958
LT Paul R.Foley
Nov 1958-Jul 1960
LT Philip M.Palmer
Jul 1960-Jun 1962
LT A.A.Martella Jr.
Jun 1962-Jan 1964
LT P.H.Jacobs
Jan 1964-Dec 1966
LT Morris D.Busby Jr.
Dec 1966-
LT W.W.Medaris
-Sep 1968
LTJG P.E.Gilbert
Sep 1968- (OIC)
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Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal 08 June 1965 to 07 August 1965 for Dominican Republic.
Navy Expeditionary Medal 27 April 1961 to 24 May 1961 for Cuba.
Battle "E" 1962 to 1967.

Meadowlark (MSC 196) was laid down 18 May 1953 by Broward Marine Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; launched August 1954; sponsored by Mrs. Thomas E. Sheridan; and commissioned 10 May 1955. Lt. J. P. Cromwell in command.
 
Meadowlark, a post-Korea coastal minesweeper, conducted shakedown training out of Charleston, S.C. This remained her home port into fiscal 1969, except for a -year period commencing February 1956 when assigned to the Naval Mine Warfare School, Yorktown, Va. Since then she has conducted operations from Nova Scotia to the Canal Zone and in January 1967 visited Curaçao Netherlands West Indies. With Mine Squadron 42 she twice participated in joint exercises with the Canadian Navy the first time off Nova Scotia In July 1958 and again in June 1963 along the Florida coast.
 
An eager competitor in fleet exercises and battle problems, MSC-196 is recognised for her operational readiness. Since 1962 she has won five consecutive Battle Efficiency "E" awards and accumulated an equal number of awards for excellence in mine counter measures.

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USS MEADOWLARK (MSC 196) .This assignment was certainly a plum for a junior officer – command-at-sea

as a Lieutenant. I proceeded to Charleston full of expectation. On the one hand I was thrilled by the opportunity to command my own ship. On the other hand, I was apprehensive about my readiness for the assignment. My previous Cos had been very reluctant to let their junior officers do any real ship handling. Any ship handling training was reserved mostly for their Xos. Of course, I knew there were no easier ships to handle in the US Navy. They were small and had twin screws which made them very maneuverable. As I was to learn soon, however, Charleston’s Cooper River where the mine sweeping piers were normally berthed was a treacherous place for ship handling. Ships larger than MSCs rarely maneuvered along side without tug assistance. The current at maximum ebb tide ran 7-8 knots and sometimes more perpendicular to the piers. Before I could take command, I was required to take the Prospective Commanding Officer/Executive Officer Course (PCO/PXO Training). The course of instruction ran three weeks and was taught at Commander Mine Forces Atlantic Fleet Headquarters at the Mine Base where the ships were located. In those days, the Mine Force was large. In addition to COMINELANT, there was also a counter-part COMINEPAC in the Pacific Fleet. COMINELANT was a Rear Admiral. He had a large staff. There were two Mine Squadrons commanded by Captains. Each MINERON had four Mine Divisions headed by CDRs in the case of the Ocean Minesweeper (MSO) MINDIVs and LCDRs in the case of the MSC MINDIVs. There were four ships in most MINDIVs. So, as you can see, there were upwards of 30 ships in MINELANT. MSOs had LCDR Cos and LT Xos. MSCs had LT Cos and LT(jg) Xos. There were also auxiliary mine craft including tenders, Minesweeping Boats (MSBs), mine layers, and mine hunters. At his time, the Navy had no capability for aerial mine sweeping. When that capability was developed a decade later, the MSOs and MSCs largely went out of service..PCO/PXO Training was conducted both in the classroom and underway on MSOs and MSCs assigned as quarterly training ships. In the classroom, we learned about the mine inventories of the world’s navies, mine sweeping techniques, and navy policies and procedures including standard tactics. We got underway in the training ships to practice the techniques first hand. Mine sweeping gear was towed and required special handling gear, techniques, and ship maneuvering. We also began to forge our bond of fraternity. The Mine Force had two slogans; "Wooden Ships, Iron Men," and "Where the Fleet Goes, We’ve Been." Of my peers in MINELANT, several made Flag. I made a particular friend of LT Al Clopton who was PCO USS PARROT (MSC 197) in my division, MINDIV 42. Al was a high energy guy who worked hard and played hard. He was a Floridian from Pensacola and graduated from the University of Florida. He got his commission through OCS. We had very different personalities and leadership styles but we became close friends with great respect for one another. We were both bachelors. I relieved LT Paul Foley on board MEADOWLARK alongside the pier in Charleston in the shadow of MINELANT Headquarters. For whatever reason I never knew, he resigned from the Navy even though he was an Academy graduate. He was well liked by the crew and respected by the MINELANT staff. I got a lot

of, "You’ve got big shoes to fill." The ship had received the mine sweeping "M" two years running under his command. In simple terms, that meant the ship was recognized as the most proficient in her class (MSCs) in MINELANT in her primary mission of mine sweeping. It appeared I had inherited a situation I could only screw up and wasn’t apt to improve upon. The Mine Base at NAVSTA Charleston was in a new facility on the Cooper River having moved from a facility on the Ashley River. MINELANT was a notorious graveyard for the careers of young skippers. When the ships were at the Ashley River base, the MINELANT staff used to observe every landing. The Ashley not only had the current of the Cooper but also much more limited maneuvering room. Ship handling calamities were numerous and if a skipper had a chronic problem or one major fiasco landing his ship, it was not unusual for him to be relieved after an investigation. As in most things, great opportunity walked hand in hand with great risk. By the time I arrived, there had been changes in MINELANT and the reign of terror was largely over. Good thing. The day after the change of command, we had to shift berths as the result of ship movements. I could have let the XO LT(jg) Ron Wiltsie, who was very experienced, handle the evolution while I observed but I unwisely thought of the event as a test of my leadership so I did it myself. It was a debacle. I ended up so far from the pier that they had to use a line throwing gun to get a line to the pier and then winch us in against the strong current. It was very awkward and embarrassing and the only thing I proved was that I didn’t know much about ship handling. I felt fortunate to survive. I later learned that it was not unusual in the max ebb to start a turn into the pier two piers upstream from the intended berth. The Mine Force was populated by a mix of very junior people, especially among the ship’s officers, and seasoned officers on the staff and experienced minesweeper sailors in the senior enlisted ranks. We had four officers in the wardroom. LT(jg) Ron Wiltsie, the XO, was a Naval Academy graduate. He was a Navy junior. His father had commanded an escort carrier (CVE) in WW II and had gone down on his torpedoed ship. A Navy destroyer bore his name. His father’s death in combat guaranteed Ron an appointment to the USNA under the policies of the time provide he otherwise qualified and there was space available. He had been manager of the football team. He already had completed one year of a two year tour..The Engineer Officer was LT(jg) Jarrett who was relieved by Ensign Sam Lane, a Vanderbilt grad from Chattanooga shortly after I took command. The Sup-ply Officer was Ensign Justin R. (Rick) Edgerton, a graduate of Brown University. He was in the Mine Warfare Supply Officer/First Lieutenant Training Course at the same time I was in the PCO/PXO Course. Because we were all junior officers with considerable authority and responsibility for our tender years, the Navy had selected us carefully. All had done well in school and were deemed to have excellent potential even though we had little by way of an actual track record. Sam Lane was smart, gregarious, and outgoing. Rick was very bright and eager but an ensign in his first tour. The XO provided the only wardroom continuity. This was a normal situation because the ship was starting the beginning of her training cycle when there was high turnover and we would all go through REFTRA together to become a team. We had a great crew and a particularly fine mine sweeping team headed up by the lead bos’n BM2 Poole. Poole was tough and disciplined and the crew respected him. I remember once when we were underway for several days, I came out on deck on the 02 level and looked down on the fantail to watch the deck crew scrub down the deck. Poole was very proud of the decks. They were scrubbed white by the use of sand soap, salt water, scrub brushes, and lots of elbow grease and stiff backs. This morning I was startled to see that the brushes in use were tooth brushes, not scrub brushes. Someone who didn’t share Poole’s enthusiasm for white decks had gone to the bosn’s locker and pitched the usual scrub brushes over the side. Poole decided to give an object lesson before he drew more brushes from the Supply Officer (who was also his boss, being two-hatted as the 1st LT/Deck Officer).

The ship was a BLUEBIRD class coastal minesweeper. It was 149’ in length and designed for a wardroom of 4 officers and a crew of 28. We had an on board count of 35 for most of my tour. The significance of 149’ was that the international rules of the road required a different set of navigational lights and rules for ships over 150’ which complicated operations in inland waters where MSC minesweeping duties were normally performed. USS BLUEBIRD (MSC 121) was in our division along with USS KINGBIRD (MSC 194) and PARROT. PARROT and MEADOWLARK were in the same part of the operating cycle and frequently operated together but we rarely operated with BLUEBIRD or KINGBIRD. My tour as CO, MEADOWLARK was really two separate tours. The first year we were at sea most of the time and deployed for long periods. Between the first and second year I married Nancy and, as luck would have it, the second year consisted primarily of local operations and was spent largely in Charleston. Early on we received REFTRA from a REFTRA Group in Charleston. By now, I was well schooled in the art of REFTRA survival so it went fairly well. Two events stand out in my memory. The first involved another ship, an MSO which was also in REFTRA. The skipper had been one of my PCO/PXO Course classmates. It was early in the morning and the REFTRA ships were getting underway for the assigned local Operating Areas (OPAREAs). An MSO was getting underway astern of us in the max ebb tidal condition. He was using two small yard tugs to pull him off the upstream side of the pier against combined effects of the tidal and river currents. He backed clear and immediately was unsheltered by the other moored ships and felt the full effects of the current. The ship immediately began to sweep broad-side down the Cooper River as the skipper struggled to shift from sternway to headway. The tug secured to the MSO’s bow let out line frantically to get slack to release the line. But, to no avail. Unfortunately, the tug did not have the required fire axe on the forecastle to cut the line in the event of such an emergency. As we all watched in horror, the MSO dragged the tug under like a fish pulls a bobber and it sunk in moments in mid-Cooper River. Three heads surfaced immediately and the.tug’s sailors were retrieved quickly by the other tug. That was most fortunate be-cause even the strongest swimmers could not beat that current and swim to shore a fact that was demonstrated more than once while I was in Charleston. After a delay while order was restored on the river, we got underway without incident (or assistance). When we returned at day’s end, we found that the tug had been raised by a floating crane from the Charleston Navy Yard. The other event had to do with low visibility piloting. In REFTRA it is standard procedure to use low visibility piloting techniques while leaving and entering port and to do it under the watchful eyes of the embarked trainers. One afternoon when we came into port it was not necessary to simulate low visibility conditions. We had actual dense fog all the way from the sea buoy to the Cooper River Bridge – a navigational distance of about 8 miles. At times I could not see the jack staff from the bridge – a distance of about 50’. Our navigational tools were primitive. The ship did not have a mechanized dead reckoning tracer table, only a plotting table for manually calculating and laying out our assumed and updated track. The only updating device available was the surface radar and a fathometer. Low visibility conditions did not permit more accurate visual fixes. So we wound our way up the river and it was a knuckle whitening trip. The tension broke with the fog when we sighted the Cooper River Bridge which confirmed we were precisely where we thought we were. We completed entry and went to the wardroom for the daily critique and I was completely disgusted to find that they had awarded us an UNSAT in low visibility navigation. Somehow they decided we were out of the navigational channel on three occasions. How they figured that, I don’t know to this day. In my book, the measure of satisfactory performance was the fact that we were safely tied up and enjoying coffee in the wardroom! Oh, well, I’d become seasoned enough to know you can’t beat city hall and I thanked them for their observations..We were blessed with good leadership at the squadron and division levels. Our two division commanders during my tour were, first; LCDR Jim Waldron and then; LCDR Robert Gross. Both were mustangs (former enlisted men). This was typical in these positions where maturity and experience were sought in relatively

junior ranking officers. The Cos, after all, were very wet behind the ears and needed mature guidance. Bob Gross had one problem which limited the guidance he could offer under way. He was chronically sea sick. Whenever he was embarked, he had to take to his bunk when we got under way and we rarely saw him until we

returned to port. Nevertheless, he was a great guy to work for – calm and steady. Our squadron commander was Captain George Brandt. He was a wonderful officer with great leadership skills. He organized a seminar for all the squadron Cos and their wives to read, study, and discuss the Federalist Papers. Nancy and I both enjoyed that experience and learned a lot. The Cos were a close group and we exchanged informal social hours. I remember

one we hosted in particular. Nancy liked Cherry Heering and we had a bottle in the house along with other offerings. I mentioned the Cherry Heering while taking orders. One of the wives said she’d like to try a "Cherried Herring" – that she’d never had any. How young and naïve we were! We also enjoyed the fact that the Charleston Air Force Base offered a free happy hour on Sunday afternoon once a month. They were able to do this because, in those days, Air Force Clubs were permitted to have slot machines (the Navy only permitted them overseas).

The profits were tremendous. We conspired to have all our wardroom parties during this free happy hour period during my first year in Charleston. This Navy free-loading brought an end to the free happy hour practice by the time Nancy joined me during the second year of my tour and, thus, the shift to rotating the entertaining among the Cos. The Navy was still fairly formal in terms of social calls at that time. However, the practice of considering calls by seniors to be "made when received" was becoming fairly prevalent. Therefore Nancy and I were quite shocked and unprepared one Saturday afternoon when Commodore and Mrs. Brandt showed up at our front door to return our call. We were in half of a duplex. A 9’x12’ rug served nicely as a wall to wall carpet in our living room. There was one window A/C unit and it was located in the kitchen of all places. In Charleston’s heat and humidity, we occasionally dragged our mattress out to the kitchen floor.

As I indicated, I did not start out as a very good ship handler but I learned by trial and error without too many errors, thankfully. I had three major high-lights in this area.

The first was in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. We were there with PARROT (I’ll explain why later) and we had been out for local ops and entered port in late afternoon. As was generally the case at that time of day, there was a wind of about 20 knots

blowing at right angles on to the pier where we were to tie up. There was a nest of two ships on the upwind side, shoreward end of the pier with one ship (PARROT) astern of them. A parallel upwind pier was adjacent with two ships abreast and two ships astern along the downwind side. So, I had an assigned berth outboard of PARROT with about 1 ½ ship widths between her and the stern most ship at the adjacent pier. In other words it was a shoe horn fit under the best of circumstances and these were not the best of circumstances. I would have to approach with a strong wind setting me on to the pier. As soon as I passed under the up-wind ship in the adjacent pier, the wind would be gone almost instantly and the ship would want to swing. This was a recipe for disaster so I opted for use of a tug (which the other ships had used under much less demanding conditions). Well, as a Lieutenant, I had zero priority for services and the destroyers and others were returning and calling for tugs. We waited and waited and no tug. Finally, I asked for a different berth where I could tie up without assistance. That was denied..At long last in a foolish display of youthful impatience and bravado I called the control tower and told them I would proceed without assistance.

I took a big upwind lead to allow for the set and headed for the slip. We crabbed in at 2/3 speed. I couldn’t come in at an angle because there wasn’t enough room between the ships where I had to tie up. I’d made a good (lucky?) guess on the lead angle so I was able to pass parallel under the stern of the adjacent ship into the slip. As I did, I backed full and prayed for a sure engine response.

The helmsman did a great job of keeping the ship’s head and we slid neatly into our berth and handed the lines over to PARROT. The commodore was aboard PARROT observing the entire evolution and had them run up "BRAVO ZULU", the international flag display for "Well Done." From that moment on, I was a legendary ship handler even though I knew that what I’d done would never pass for prudent seamanship. That led directly to my second major ship handling coupe. I was asked to write the ship handling chapter of the MINELANT Administrative and Operations Manual. The final feat occurred when we went into port at Savannah just before I was relieved at the end of my tour. I called for all back 1/3 after a cautious approach to the wharf knowing that the engines were not responding well and got no response at all. We put the lines over and used them to stop the ship. Once again I had a result that was much prettier than I knew it to be. I couldn’t help but reflect on what the outcome would have been if that had happened in Guantanamo.It is better to be lucky than smart any day. During the first year of my tour, we made a couple of short deployments to provide services for research and development projects. On one occasion, we went to Port Everglades just south of Fort Lauderdale. The Navy had a section of the off-shore parallel to the beach wired with a web of cables connected to instrumentation ashore. They could connect experimental mine sensors to the cable and run tests by having a minesweeper pass above them while trailing a magnetic minesweeping cable which was being pulsed according to test plans for evaluating the vulnerability of sensors to counter measures. Mine counter measures could also be tested. This was a nice 8 – 5 job which got us into a young person’s paradise each evening for liberty. One thing we really enjoyed was going to a Fort Lauderdale nightclub where a comedian named Woody Woodbury held forth. However, the actual operations could be nerve racking. The range was confined and offered very restricted maneuvering room, especially when trailing the cable. To complicate things, local fisherman were forever ignoring the fact they were not permitted to be on the range. I remember a particular occasion when we were trailing in a "jig" configuration so named because the cable (tail) was streamed in such a manner that it formed a letter "J" looking down at it from above. We passed a small fishing boat with an outboard that was drift fishing on the range. We signaled him to move out but he continued to drift. We alerted him to the cable attached to the paravane at the end of the tail which held it in the jig shape. He continued to drift inside the jig with the cable about 3 -4 feet off the water coming straight at him. At the last possible instant, he realized his danger and started pulling frantically on the starter cord of the outboard. It didn’t start ! I looked on in horror unable to do anything but pray. After what seemed an eternity, the outboard started. It seemed to be too late but the boat leapt away from the cable and he got safely out of the bight just in the nick of time. I’d watched my brief career flash across my mind like the short subject before a feature movie. Mine development was at its peak at the time so we had opportunities to provide ship services on several occasions not only at Port Everglades but also at Panama

City, FL and Key West. Once we went to Panama City where there was a mine countermeasures development lab. They installed experimental minehunting sonar equipment and sent us to Key West with it where the water visibility was particu-larly good and the bottom conditions and depth were right for evaluation. The idea was for us to hunt for objects which had been planted on the bottom using the experimental sonar and, when we discovered a contact, to evaluate it as mine-like or non-mine-like. A helicopter operated with us and carried a dipping television camera. When we found and declared a contact , they would hover and dip the TV camera. On our sonar we could see both the camera and the contact. We would give vectors to the helicopter until the contacts merged and then they would visually verify our classification. The sonar was not yet ready for prime time and we declared golf balls and tin cans as mines. We did this for a couple of weeks. One night we were in the Officer’s Club and the helo pilots were there. We compared notes and struck up a rapport. They told us we should be ready with our rescue plans because they were flying the helo about 1000 lbs overloaded with TV gear and they fully expected the helo to crash. I concluded they must be nuts. Any way, the very next day I was in CIC looking at the sonar scope as we worked a con-tact. I saw the familiar blossom as the TV ball entered the water. Suddenly the TV echo grew very large and the voice came from the bridge, "Helo in the water!". I ran to the bridge and ordered our boat in the water. To my great relief, three heads bobbed to the surface. We quickly recovered the crew. While that was being done , I went below to my safe and broke out the medicinal brandy which I dispensed to the crew when we got them aboard. For the next two days we received glowing praise over the dispatches for our skilled handling of the emergency . Medicinal brandy works miracles . The Navy was not well funded at that time and we had repair parts problems. One time I found myself going ashore to a Key West hardware store and buying a fuze we did not have on board. Needless to say, I was a lot less well funded than the Navy. We also had a problem with the pit sword, the housing which encases the fathometer and can be raised when not needed and lowered for navigating. We couldn’t get it to retract. I got out the manual and after some study, I concluded the Navy had procured an incorrect spring by substituting ft-lbs for in-lbs in the procurement specification. The spring was too weak to do its job. We were able to send a message to MINELANT headquarters which confirmed our conclusion and got us the right spring. One of my most historically significant (and, possibly dangerous) adventures occurred while in command of MEADOWLARK . In early 1961 we were sent along with PARROT to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for service in the Swan Island (Islas Santanilla) patrol. Swan Island was actually two small islands connected by a shallow cay. We knew nothing about the assignment when we sailed from Charleston and were in the dark about it throughout the cruise except for what we could deduce from our observations. We knew nothing of the planned invasion at the Bay of Pigs and, certainly, were unaware that we had any role in such an event. In Guantanamo Bay we went to the Headquarters of the Commander, Caribbean Sea Frontier for in-briefing. Our mission was described to us in what I now realize were completely fictitious terms. We were told by way of background that Swan Island was claimed separately by Honduras, Nicaragua, and the U. S. That part was true. Further, at the present time, the briefers said a U. S. shipping firm called The Gibraltar Steamship Company was using it as a radio site for operating its fleet of ships. That part was untrue. Charts of the Central Caribbean Sea showing Swan Island , a chart of the island complex, and an aerial view of the islands follow on the next page. Eventually ownership of the island was resolved by treaty in favor of Honduras during the Kennedy administration. MEADOWLARK was assigned the first rotation to proceed to the island and relieve the MSC already there. I was handed sealed orders and told to lock them in my safe (the same one where I kept the medicinal brandy) and not open them until I was at sea en route to Swan Island. A couple of weeks later, PARROT would relieve us and we would rotate in the assignment until replaced by another pair of MSCs in about three months. Until I opened my orders, it was unclear as to why we were going but we were told that our mission was at the request of the State Department. After we were underway for our first patrol, I eagerly opened my sealed orders. They repeated the background and went on to outline our duties. We were told that we were to anchor off the island and be alert for any attempts by either of the other sovereigns to exercise their claims by invading the island. We were authorized to use whatever force was required to repel any invasion. The force at our disposal was a 20 mm rifle mounted on the bow and a small arms locker with side arms and Browning automatic rifles. Clearly, we were a tethered goat. If anyone attacked us, we would be incapable of mustering much of a defense but the attack would be one technically against the United States. The obvious strategy was that, because that would be the case, no one would actually try to storm the island...When we got to the island and relieved the on-station MSC (very happy to see us because they could now leave this boring duty and return to the U. S.) we had to wonder why anyone would attack the island. I got a turn over from the CO of the other MSC (my memory is hazy but it may have been BLUEBIRD) and he recommended I go ashore and meet the guys operating the radio station. I did. I was surprised to find the men all dressed in dress shirts and ties, slacks and having crew cuts. They didn’t look like a bunch of shipping company radio operators. They said nothing about who they were or what they were doing. They encouraged us to come ashore during the day for recreation but told us not to come ashore in the evening as the island was patrolled at night by dogs. We didn’t go ashore often but did catch an occasional turtle which our cook was quite accomplished at reducing to a tasty soup. For the most part we maintained the ship, read, fished, and carried on an endless cribbage tournament. Today Swan Island is apparently on the tourist route. The following picture was posted on the web by a tourist whose recent tour of Honduras apparently included Swan Island. There is another photo I’ve not included which shows the group having a cookout at a Tiki shack on the beach. We made a few patrols (I don’t recall the exact number). During one transit late at night we encountered a small group of ships which was projected to close nearby. We were required to challenge ships encountered in such a fashion by flashing light which we did. A ship in the group responded identifying herself as USS CANBERRA and demanded to know our mission. I knew CANBERRA would have a flag embarked so I had to provide an answer and get his permission to proceed. We responded with our identity and stated that we were on a classified mission. I crossed my fingers that the Admiral would not demand further detail and was relieved when the reply came back, "Continue on duties assigned. Smooth sailing on your lonely vigil." The Flag staff obviously knew what we were doing..We were about to end one patrol and be relieved by PARROT in mid-April 1961 when we received news of the aborted invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.

The Swan Island patrol was terminated within a couple of days and our two ships were directed to return to GTMO for further assignment. We now realized our suspicions were probably correct. The crew cuts belonged to CIA agents and the radio station was transmitting propaganda to encourage local support during and after the invasion. "Bay of Pigs Declassified, The Secret Report on the Invasion of Cuba," edited by Peter Kornbluh, New Press, New York, 1998 details the invasion attempt and describes the role of Swan Island. I started by saying that this was a dangerous adventure. I didn’t realize that, of course, until after the fact. But, as

it turned out, the threat was not the one described to me. In fact, had a beachhead been established in a successful invasion, it could well have been the Soviet Union that turned out to be the threat. After all, the Cuban missile crisis was right around the corner. These were far more perilous times than most of us realized.

"The Navy – it’s not just a job it’s an adventure!" - the recruiting slogan went in later years. Well, it was certainly an adventure for me. Returning to GTMO, PARROT and MEADOWLARK were topped off with fuel, water, and supplies and ordered to the Panama Canal Zone where we were to fulfill a commitment of COMINELANT’s to provide refresher training to two reserve MSC’s assigned as Naval District craft there – one in the Pacific and one in the Atlantic. They were supposed to remain mission ready but, in fact, they were mostly used as personal craft for the District Commandant. They had their mine sweeping gear stowed ashore so that there was no way in the world for the crews to maintain their mine sweeping proficiency nor even to know the material condition of their gear. PAR-ROT and MEADOWLARK jointly inspected the Atlantic MSC to determine its readiness and gave the skipper a list of deficiencies to correct while we proceeded.through the Canal to do the same for the Pacific ship. That completed, we awaited the arrival of the Atlantic ship to commence REFTRA for both ships. It turned out the situation was such that only one ship could be placed in satisfactory condition for training by cannibalizing the other. That ship was to be the Pacific MSC, USS FALCON. With no requirement for two MINELANT ships to conduct the underway training, PARROT was ordered back to Charleston and we stayed on to conduct the training. In 18 months I had gone from never having seen a mine sweeper to now being in the business of providing training in their operation. I was not yet 28 years old and I had operated my own ship in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, the fresh water of the Panama Canal, and the Pacific Ocean. This was some kind of adventure.

The trip through the Panama Canal had been interesting. There are two situations when the commanding officer of a US Navy ship is not responsible for its safe navigation. One is entering or leaving dry dock. The other is transiting the Panama Canal. So, in theory, I was not required to be on the bridge at any time during the entire trip. In fact, however, I never left the bridge during the 14 hour trip except for one quick head call. I’d been told that they had little experience with wooden ships of our size and that there was a distinct possibility that the diesel "mules" used to tow ships through the locks might take a too heavy strain and pull the cleats right out of the deck. Any way, I was fascinated by the whole concept of this massive hydraulic system which functioned entirely by gravity flow with no pumps. The only energy added to the system was by mother nature depositing water into Lake Gatun during the rainy season.Operating in the relaxed environment of the Canal Zone was a cultural shock. The CO and crew were laid back but took the training seriously and FALCON did well. I envied the ship for her name. FALCON as a ship name was much more imposing (and war-like) than MEADOWLARK. An example of the informality of the.operations was one afternoon the operations ran late and it was obvious we would not return before dark. This was early in the training and the CO and key crew members from FALCON were aboard our ship to observe how the gear was rigged and streamed. I told the FALCON’s skipper that I was concerned about entering a

strange place with no apparent navigational aids. He told me I’d see why I’d need not to worry shortly. We went down the channel towards the pier and he called his house on our little commercial radio and told his wife to turn on the range lights.

Pretty soon, two white lights – one high and one low, came on. He told me to turn and line up on the lights. I did and before long, we were along side the pier perfectly. The sailors stepped ashore with the lines and we tied up. The skipper had a light over the back door and one at the end of his garage. They were the range lights. Sailors are very resourceful people. After three weeks of training, we were directed to return to Charleston via a quick stop in GTMO. We made the entire trip unaccompanied. It was the longest unescorted trip ever made by a MINELANT MSC and headquarters was very worried about it. We had to report our position every four hours. Upon arrival in Charleston, I turned the command over to the XO, still Ron Wiltsie closing in on the end of his two year tour, and departed on leave to return home to marry Nancy Nebel. Through the prior year and not withstanding deployments and other operations, we had managed to continue a long distance courtship aided by a couple of visits from Nancy and even accompanied once by her mother and brother on an "inspection visit." I proposed on Thanksgiving weekend in 1960 on a visit by her to Charleston. Including mine, she received three proposals of marriage that weekend. We were married on August 19, 1961 in the West Side Methodist Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Our honeymoon was the drive back to Charleston in her rather tired ‘54 Ford. We did drive via Canada and the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario and we even made a pass through Niagara Falls which was a nearly obligatory honeymoon stop in those days.

As a bachelor I had taken an apartment in the Darlington Apartments. I felt it was important to both the crew and me that I not be on board 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. After we arrived in Charleston, Nancy and I found a duplex in North Charleston and I made the radical transition from single to married officer life. We weren’t in our new home a month before a hurricane approached and I had to make my first choice between family and ship. I called Nancy from the ship and told her that I had to stay on board and see to its safety. I gave her a quick course by phone on how to prepare for a hurricane and told her she was on her own. She was not pleased. This was her first hard lesson in the priorities of Navy life. Neither of us had ever been in a hurricane and it was a fearsome experience. All of the larger ships that were ready for sea put to sea. We were safer at the pierand stayed put. The hurricane experience was dramatic. Several tornadoes were

spawned. The hurricane was not major but I was impressed. We had hurricane fenders placed between us and the pier by the navy base folks. They were huge, but under the pressure created on them by the force of the wind setting us on to the pier, they flattened down like rubber bands. The two great threats were that

the pressure might crack the wooden ribs of the ship or the sea surge might create such high water that we would ride up on the pier. But, luck was with us at home and on board and we sustained no damage – we merely had a big thrill that most people never experience. If that incident left any doubt in Nancy’s mind about the relative loyalties of

a Naval officer between wife and ship, it was dispelled by what I did in February1962. Time available for individual ship training to prepare for competitive exercises was very tight in the OPSKED. In early February we had some schedule slack so I had the XO arrange for services and a training area allocation for two days of individual ship training with an overnight in the local OPAREA. It was approved and we got underway on February 8. About midway through the day I realized it was Nancy’s birthday and I had scheduled the ship underway overnight and, worst of all, it was entirely my own initiative. It took a while to smooth that one over.

I experienced two different Charlestons. The Charleston of my bachelor days was a round of ship parties and singles parties. I did the minimal sight seeing of Fort Sumter, the Battery, etc but it wasn’t until after I was married that I became aware of historic and cultural Charleston. We went to productions of the Dock Street Players which was a really good repertoire company, toured the plantations, had tea with "George Washington" at the Washington-Heyward House, and went to the many fine Charleston restaurants. Al Clopton rented an old Charleston historic Battery home with some other young officers and they had grand parties with wall to wall people that spilled over into the magnificent courtyard just as in antebellum days. One of the other officers renting with Al was Jim Hogg. Jim was very polished and intelligent and a very proper young officer. He was operations officer of a Charleston-based destroyer. One day he had Nancy and me to dinner on board when he had the duty as command duty officer. Of course, I knew the protocol and that it would be strictly observed knowing Jim as I did. And, sure enough as I crossed the brow and requested permission to come aboard, I was given the obligatory "Bonging aboard" by the striking of the ship’s bell and the announcement over the ship’s public address system, "MEADOWLARK Arriving." Nancy was very impressed.

Jim Hogg would complete his Navy career many years later as the Supreme Allied Commander, NATO and a four-star admiral. The business of being a "Captain" as a Lieutenant could be a heady experience and, occasionally, one needed to be brought down a peg. That happened to me very dramatically once when the ship was in the Charleston Naval Shipyard for routine repairs. The Cos of ships in availability, as repair periods were called, were summoned each Friday by the Commander of the shipyard to a Commander’s Conference.

During a shipyard availability the ship’s force was required to do that part of the work which was within their capability. And, at these conferences, the shipyard repair officer would report the progress of the shipyard’s part of the repair package and the CO would report the progress of ship’s force work to the Commander so that assurance was given that we were all on track for completion on time. Among other things, the ship’s force work package included painting the ship. I was standing on the bow of MEADOWLARK in my best Horatio Hornblower pose absolutely impressed with myself that I was going to attend my first shipyard Commander’s Conference with the other skippers and an Admiral and I was but a Lieutenant. The lead bos’n BM2 Poole had preceded me on the foc’sle and had taken a break from burning off the old paint with a blow torch to go below for a cup of coffee. The blow torch is hard to get burning just right but when it is, its flame is invisible. As I stood there in my pose feeling full of myself, I also began to feel warm. And, then I began to smell smoke. And then I realized the awful truth. Not wanting to have to relight the torch when he returned with his coffee and there being no one else on deck when he went below, Poole left it lighted. My dress trousers were on fire. I quickly got out of them and got the fire out but now, only minutes before the start of the conference I was standing pantless with my trousers unwearable. I borrowed a pair from the XO that didn’t fit me at all and didn’t match the blouse as to shade of Navy blue and slunk into the conference hoping no one would notice. Fortunately, no one did but I knew and was considerably chagrined. I learned many valuable lessons while in command of MEADOWLARK in addition to that lesson in humility. I was often taught the power of the sea. Once, we managed to get an visit scheduled to Nassau which we all looked forward to. We.encountered a storm and became engaged in an exercise in survival. The seas were mountainous and all we could do was head into the seas and maintain steerage and hope the engines did not fail us. One and a half days out of Charleston we were two and a half days behind track. That is, at our rate of advance up to that point, we would arrive in Nassau 2 ½ days after our ETA. I gave up and got permission to divert to Miami. I also learned a lot about how to forge a winning team. A number of MINELANT ships including PARROT and MEADOWLARK were schedule for inspection by the Navy Board of Inspection and Survey. The INSURV was much feared. Their job was to do a thorough material inspection of the ship and declare it ready or not ready to carry out its mission. It was a pass or fail deal. Cos whose ships failed and did particularly poorly in the process often lost their commands. MINELANT had not had a ship pass INSURV in seven years and it was a real sore point with the headquarters staff. Al and I were determined to pass. We had a two week stand down in ops to prepare. We took different approaches. I took the check off list and divided it up and went over it with the officers and leading petty officers. My guidance was to go through the check list and be as ready as was reasonably possible. We had always tried to keep our maintenance and records current and I saw no reason to take extraordinary measures. I cautioned however that our mission required us to be non-magnetic and to be sure we had no magnetic tools or other magnetic material on board. We worked normal hours. Al, on the other hand, decided to take a rigorous approach and to work everyone sixteen hour days with minimal, and some days no liberty. The ship’s morale consequently suffered severely. I’ll admit that I was nervous about the consequences if we were to fail and PARROT were to pass. Everyone in MINELANT was aware of the differ-ences in approach to preparing. After all, the Admiral could look out his office window and see all his ships that were in port. When the inspection was over, MEADOWLARK was the first MINELANT ship in seven years to pass and PARROT had failed. While inspecting PARROT’s engine room the inspectors found a magnet attached to a line that the engineers used to retrieve magnetic tools from the bilges if they were accidentally dropped while performing maintenance. Of course, there weren’t supposed to be any magnetic tools on board. Fortunately for Al, no action was taken since it was a deficiency easily corrected and every one in MINELANT knew that aluminum tools didn’t hold up in day to day use.

During the last two weeks of my tour the ship went to Savannah for work on the engine foundations and it was there I was relieved. I was very proud of the tour. The ship and I had both prospered. We continued a long string of winning the annual mine sweeping M. We also won the first Battle Efficiency Plaque and Battle Efficiency "E" as the best MSC in over all performance. Eventually, the ship would win five consecutive awards and thus receive a gold E. I felt we had started a tradition of excellence.

Philip M.Palmer Commanding Officer 1960-1962

Members of the minesweeping community; The Lucid MSO-458 Foundation was formed by a group of minesweeper crewmen who served aboard US Navy MSO's. MSO's are a class of wooden hull oceangoing minesweepers that are now decommissioned and fading from public memory. The group has obtained the USS Lucid MSO-458 and has her docked at Bradford Island, California. Work has begun! The organization is restoring her and a public museum is established. The MSO is a little known and poorly documented, extremely interesting facet of Naval history. The USS Lucid Museum is dedicated to telling the story of the minesweeping men and their wooden ships, the last all wooden US Naval ships, to navigate the oceans. We will be telling the stories of Mine Recovery and UDT teams, Floating Pigs, Hammer Boxes, Magtails, Aluminum Engines and Towed Sonar. The little known stories of Contact, Magnetic and Acoustic minesweeping as well as the mystery of Magnetic Countermeasures will be told through the displays, narratives and museum media. Typhoons, tiny ships and ice-clad superstructures are only a small part of the "Wooden Ships and Iron Men" story. From sweeping the Mekong Delta in Viet Nam, observing the final Nuclear blasts on Johnston Island to sweeping the Persian Gulf, "Where the Fleet Goes, We've Been" will be clearly illustrated. Since there is no other Naval Museum that even attempts to tell the story of the MSO the USS Lucid is an important and living detail of US Naval History. First, Lucid must undergo a restoration. Previous civilian owners for commercial use have modified her. She needs hull repairs and painting and re-outfitting to be brought back to her former Naval dignity and glory. The Lucid MSO-458 Foundation has a workforce of planners, engineers and volunteer manpower who are vested and committed to this grand and worthy project. Bringing her to life is a large financial undertaking. We’re looking for tax-exempt gifts from the Military Industrial sector and individuals to help with this extremely valuable endeavor. Of course, all donors will be properly and prominently acknowledged aboard the vessel. Your donation will help preserve this vital part of Naval History. Please join us in telling the MSO story by sending a tax-exempt gift to Lucid MSO-458 Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit foundation through our website. http://www.usslucid.org
W.W."Mike"Warren EN2


 

CREW ROSTER

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