In 1979, the USS Enterprise CVN 65 was in dry dock in Bremerton Oregon. It was to be a massive overhaul removing four of its eight nuclear reactors. Her crew needed a temporary place to live. The Navy took the USS Gaffey out of mothballs. It was an old troop transport ship that would require a lot of cleaning to make it habitable. The Enterprise’s less than stellar sailors were volunteered. About 25 sailors were ordered to report to the USS Gaffey.
We were a rag tag bunch. Our leading Chief was no exception. You could see how he landed this top notch assignment. Our Leading Petty Officer was Tex, a lanky 1st class Petty officer. Tex had been passed over for chief too many times. Now, he just wanted to retire. The rest of us were E-1 through E-4 sailors that did not fit in. We were the ship’s most notable trouble makers.
Each morning we mustered on what was called the Pursers deck. This was where our daily tasks were assigned. Our 1st assignment was to clean and prepare our berthing space. Imagine 30 years of smelly nasty grime. After that, we were tasked with swabbing, vacuuming and waxing every deck. The ship’s state rooms and berthing areas were in need of having over 2 thousand mattresses replaced. As I look back, Petty Officer Tex was a pretty good leader. He used common sense to get jobs done. Each day he gave us liberty when our jobs were completed. There is nothing more loved by sailors than liberty. We worked as a well oiled machine in order to pursue our desires off of the ship. Tex also knew if you want a hard job done fast, give it to your laziest man / crew and it will get done the fastest! We developed a mattress brigade that accomplished the mattress task in about 2 hours. Not a bad day’s work.
There was one disgusting job that really stands out. It happened on the day before the rest of the ships crew would be moving on board. The Navy engineers had made an error attempting to flush the clogged CHT pipes. The engineers attempted what is known on submarines as Blowing the Shitters .Their efforts back fired big time! 30 year old human excrement coursed through the pipes and flooded 20 state rooms. There was crap a foot deep in each of the rooms. We strapped on white hazmat suits; mark 5 gas masks, rubber boots and gloves. We sealed all openings in our outfits with about 10 feet worth of duct tape. This job would cost Tex a 96 hr liberty.
My regular assignment was to clean a troop head. It had 25 toilet stalls and two 10 foot long latrines. The latrines looked like horse troughs. A hand washing sink was in the center of the head. At first I thought it was a latrine. I had never seen one like it before. This was originally a 2 hour job. I decided to speed it up a bit. I would pour bleach and toilet bowl cleaner everywhere. That mix creates a very hazardous toxic cloud. I would spray a salt water fire hose on it, let it drain, dry, and I was done!
Most sailors ignore secure signs and taped off areas. Many sailors soon learned to abide by my “SPACE SECURED” signs.
Dancing at the Blue Moon bar was a passion back then. We partied most nights till after 2am. Unfortunately, there’s that requirement of Mustering in the morning. Tex would muster everyone on the purser deck. It was just too hard for us hung over sailors to make that trip. Tex would trek down to our berthing and muster us in our racks. He would give us our assignments for the day. He tried moving our muster to the sundeck, straight above our birthing. It was a nice try, but that didn’t work either. He eventually gave up and made everyone else stand tall for morning muster in our berthing. Since he had to come down there anyway, this made his job seem easier.
We set our own working hours. We had a sun deck with hammocks. We improvised crab traps and used the galley’s steamers to enjoy fresh steamed crabs. Some days we would spend hours trying to hit sea gulls with anything that was not tied down. Occasionally we earned our pay checks. This was our version of a modern McHale’s Navy.