Jim Jewell: What really was super, and not, about this weekend

I cannot be honest and write I did not watch any of the “Super Bowl” in the Southwest corner on Sunday.
Feb 4, 2014
Jim Jewell

SAN DIEGO

I cannot be honest and write I did not watch any of the “Super Bowl” in the Southwest corner on Sunday.

Earlier I watched a good Phoenix Open with Bubba Watson fading and super-sized Kevin Stadler finally making a putt to win on the final hole. Simultaneously, I watched the Vandy women squeak out a basketball victory against Texas A&M.

Then we tuned into the extravaganza. Maureen made seafood stew. I started a fire in the hearth and worked on chores, not paying much attention. We sat down for dinner shortly after the half to watch while eating but turned it off after a few minutes: too much hype and not much of a football game. Yet we know this is one huge day for many folks who like buffalo wings and football. I am glad all of you had that moment.

One of my distractions was wrestling with more than a century of stuff in my office. Through my father and mother, I have collected memorabilia from grandparents and even great grandparents. We have suitcases full of photographs, the old Kodak kind, from Maureen’s side of the family. Nearly all of this stuff is in my home office. Occasionally, I actually work there, and this “stuff” always seems to be where I thought I put some current project. So I was groping for a system to get organized.

That’s when I ran across something far more interesting (and super) to me than the Super Bowl. In a book I randomly chose for organizing was the Navy photograph of my first official ship, the U.S.S. Hawkins (DD 873). Accompanying the official photo were other pictures reminding me of that first Navy tour. 

So while the Super Bowl was raging in the family room, I was traveling back to a time long ago in a place far away. It was super.

The Southwest corner was not a twinkle in my eye in those years of yore. My first actual ship, the U.S.S. Lloyd Thomas (DD 694), had taken me on an incredible midshipman cruise in the summer of 1963 (It’s amazing to consider that happened more than a half-century ago). The cruise began at ended in Newport, R.I., the Thomas’ home port, the Northeast corner. My next brush with the Navy was Officer Candidate School in Newport, and my first officer orders were to the “Hawk” also home ported in Newport.

After finishing my anti-submarine officer training, I flew to the Navy’s base in Rota, Spain to sit for two weeks before being flown and dropped off by a Navy cargo plane at a Spanish airfield near Malaga, a metropolis at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean resort area known as “Costa del Sol.” 

I sat on the tarmac in the broiling sun, sitting on top of a truckload of supplies for my ship and the others in Destroyer Squadron 24. 

Finally, a ship’s officer arrived in a flatbed truck to take me, and more importantly, the supplies to the port. There, I walked across the brow, saluted the ensign aft (the U.S. flag for landlubbers), and reported for a most splendid adventure.

Compared to today’s sophisticated technological monsters, the Hawk and her WWII vintage sisters were not much. She was just shy of 400 feet long and weighed in at about 3600 Tons. She was fast, able to reach 36 knots, and a great shooter with two twin mount 5”/38 guns. 

In my 21 months on the “Hawk,” I learned the Navy’s “tin-can” way of doing things. That way no longer exists in the Navy. Nearly all but the married officers lived on board. I shared staterooms with one or two other officers in berthing compartments about the size of my wife’s walk-in closet. It was rough and tumble and labor intensive.

The Hawk returned to Newport from the “Med cruise” in May 1968 and conducted local operations until undergoing a major overhaul in the Boston Naval Shipyard. Afterwards, she spent three months in Guantanamo Bay undergoing “refresher training.” 

Later in 1969, she served as the observation post for British and U.S. submarines test firing Polaris intercontinental ballistic missiles off of Cape Canaveral. She was also the emergency recovery ship in the Atlantic for Apollo 12 (which landed in the Pacific).

I met folks who are friends today. It was a super ride.

I think my time spent was better than watching the Super (sic) Bowl.

Jim Jewell, a retired Navy commander lives in San Diego but was raised in Lebanon. His book, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems, is now available through Author House, Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. Jim’s email is jim@jimjewell.com.

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