took a lot of ribbing while serving on the DALY, but one of my most
embarrassing moments occurred when I caught up with the ship in Cuba in
the fall of 1952. As a Reservist called on active duty in March, I
was assigned to the ship in Charleston where it had just gone into dry
dock for minor repairs. During this time, the ship's office was
temporarily located in a building in the shipyards.
I spent most of that
summer in yeoman's school at Bainbridge, Md. Meanwhile, the ship sailed to Guantanamo on a shake-down cruise. Eventually, I joined the crew and
learned that the days were spent in long, tiresome training. On that first
morning, I made my first visit to the ship's office and chatted with Jack
Minon from upstate New York, who told me I should stay in the office until
further notice since I hadn't been assigned a duty station.. As we talked,
the ship's phone rang, but Jack ignored it. When I offered to answer it,
he said, "Oh, we don't answer that."
Okay. We had
telephones in Alabama – at least we did after I was nearly grown and we'd
moved to the small town of Fairfield. We answered ours, but I
figured Jack knew what he was talking about.
Soon, everyone else
disappeared. In a very few minutes, the ship's phone rang. And rang. I
had no idea why I shouldn't answer it, but I didn't worry. I ignored it.
It rang quite a lot. Soon a sailor came bounding down the ladder and
informed me that Commander William Klein, our Exec, wished to see me on
the bridge. He had seemed like a nice enough guy. So, dressed in my
denims, I was making my way to the bridge. It seemed like half the crew
was watching. Before I made it up the ladder, the Exec looked down at me
and asked: "Didn't you hear the phone ringing, Payne?"
It was very quiet. Not
a wave was stirring. Not a single sailor coughed.
"Yes sir," I said.
"Then why didn't you
answer it?" he asked in cool, crisp tones.
A multitude of
eyeballs focused on me from the bridge. Everyone was listening. I had no
doubt that even the bo's'n on the fan tail was waiting for my reply.
"I didn't know I was
supposed to answer it," I said, knowing with absolute certainty even as I
spoke that I was confirming all the suspicions that shipmates from New
York, Detroit, Chicago, Pennsylvania and everywhere else north of the
Mason-Dixon already had about the Alabama bumpkin. I waited, helpless, for
Commander Klein's response. It was brief. As crisp as his neatly
pressed khaki shirt and pants. Incredulous.
"You didn't know you
were supposed to answer the phone?!!"
"No sir," I answered
in a very weak voice. Palms upward, his arms arose, like wings. He shook
his head, shrugged, and walked away. I could almost hear the smirks
cracking Yankee faces all over the starboard side of the ship.
that I was to take the starboard lookout. I tried to fade away,
desperately searching for a pair of binoculars. The Exec never said why
he had called. I wasn't about to ask. And I swore I'd never speak to
Jack Minon again.
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