TenderTale IV

40 years after WWII - And the Tradition Continues...

Webmaster's note: Ron has been kind enough to share his very personal TenderTale with us here. As with the other stories, this is retold from memory - with little help from any historical documentation. It is the way Ron remembers it - and I know he has worked (fretted, reworked) to make is as historically accurate as possible - however - like all things from memory - it may contain some minor errors regarding people, dates, times and places. The story as told relates very well the essence of the experience of being a Tender Sailor - and that is what TenderTale is all about.

I joined the Navy 15 November 1982. Eighteen years old with no particular plan but to get out of a sleepy little town in Michigan. The Navy seemed the way to go. A girl in every port and travel around the world sounded very good to me. Standing at the bus stop at 0530 was nothing new to me, yet I could not escape the feeling that my life had just made a very drastic change in course. There was no one there to see me off or say good by. No girl friends crying and all that. It was just me and a very cold November morning. The recruiter tried to persuade me to wait till after Christmas. I remember him saying "...not many join up during the holidays. It could be a long wait to form a company and actually start boot." You see when in boot camp it takes a minimum of 80 men to form a company before you start your basic training. None the less I signed on the dotted line. I was recruited as an electronics technician (ET) and was to specialize in communication electronics. I boarded the bus and handed the driver my ticket. He looked at me and smiled, told me he was in Korea and what company he was from. Seemed weird to me then, that this man would say that to me. The silence of the ride to Detroit was eerie. My mind adrift in thoughts of stories I had read. Particularly "At dawn we slept", "PT109", and a book about the USS Lexington that I can't remember now. The battle in the coral sea was on my mind also, and how close it all of a sudden felt. As the tires marked time down I-94 I was overwhelmed with the feeling of would I serve with honor for my family, my country if the need came?

As I got off the plane in San Diego everything stopped. I thought my life had ended. Some BIG red headed petty officer was screaming in my face, yelling orders and pointing fingers. I was doing push ups in the airport parking lot and wondering where Rod Serling was: I knew I had just stepped into the twilight zone. After the initial wake up call, boot came and went. Boot is funny in ways, you don't really understand it 'till its over. I do remember on graduation day, our company (217) was the Captain's company. That means we were the best company graduating of all the companies graduating that day. As we were recognized for this achievement it seemed kind of funny we did not know we did it till just a couple of days before graduation.
Bootcamp graduate
SN Ron Boggio
Remember in the Navy "if you don't have the need to know, you don't". As the Admiral over the graduation started his speech he opened up with remarks about the "Great White Fleet" and the hope it provided. Speaking of heritage and tradition, courage and fortitude he connected us as an extention of the "Great White Fleet". As I stood on the parade deck, I tuned out the rest of what he was saying. I noticed all the parents and spectators, brothers, sisters, wives, and girl friends. Knowing there was no one there for me to celebrate with I felt quite alone. The wind was blowing and it was making a howling sound in my ears. I lifted my eyes just a bit, and to this day can't explain the feeling I got as I looked at the American flag flapping in the breeze. Even though there was no one there for me, I knew I was not alone. Sounds crazy I know, that's the only way I can explain it.

BE&E (basic electronics and electricity) school flew by. I remember more about floor buffers and "Never Dull" then I do about school. The Navy has an inherent infatuation about tradition and while on school commands it becomes ingrained in you. Military protocol is more the order of the day than anything else. Shining floors and brass are part of it. Sitting around at night and talking about the next command we would get was the order of business for most of us. Rooming with some Sonar Techs(ST) was the best. They had been where I wanted to go. A Spruance class destroyer was my aim. Ultra modern warfare, clean fast ship with very impressive lines. Nothing would be better as far as I was concerned, that was the cherry on the cake.

Electronics Tech "A" school Great Lakes, Illinois. Half way there. Classes started and so did the floor buffers. As far as school goes, it was going. Life was good and I had settled into the tradition of the Navy and was feeling quite at home. About half way through the digital communication section of school came the call. You could change your designation and cut off two years of your enlistment. WOW, that sounded good. What was the catch? Remember in the Navy "Never Volunteer". I liked the idea of being back to a 4 year hitch so I volunteered. I was transferred to Orlando Florida, Torpedomans Mate "A" school at the beginning of June. Life was starting to look better and better all the time. Who said never volunteer! This was great, Florida in the summer, base full of ladies, beaches, oceans what could be better. Let me tell you in 1983 the ordinance school barracks did not have air conditioning and you marched in formation everywhere you went. Summer 1983 just happened to be one of the hotter recorded summers in Florida. As for school it came and went. School finished, the billets came down. Now I realized what volunteering cost me. All the billets were overseas and they were all "Tenders". The idea of a tender turned my stomach, I did not join the Navy for a tender. We basically drew lots for the commands because they were all overseas. I remember how mad we were because they were all overseas and to top it off, they were all "tenders". I drew the USS Orion and after a brief "overseas orientation" at Norfolk Naval Station I was off.

USS Orion AS 18
On station La Maddalena, Sardinia, Italy
Now for those of you who have no idea were La Maddalena, Sardinia, Italy is let me help you. The ship was actually moored at San Stefano Island, off of La Maddalena which in turn is off of Sardinia Island and if you were to look at a map you find Sardinia about 100 miles off of mainland Italy. La Maddalena is located in the Straight of Bonifacio between Sardinia, Italy and Corsica, France. The Orion was about as forward deployed and remotely isolated as you can get barring the Arctic. I was picked up by an LCM at around 02:30 17 September 1983. It was very cold and raining; the wind was blowing very hard, as it always did in the Straight. I was miserable and very disillusioned. I remember rounding the island and seeing her for the first time. She was all lit up like a Christmas tree. Huge, old and very dismal looking at best. Maybe it was my attitude that made her look the way she did. I thought, "here is my naval future: a bucket of bolts". As I walked up the brow I remember saying it will only be 18 months. I checked in and found an empty bunk in the engineering berth. There I laid till reveille.

Naw, It's not old
It celebrated it's 40th birthday within two weeks of my reporting aboard!
As the 1 MC came to life with the boatswain pipe, I found my way to the personal office. From there I was escorted to the weapons berth under the helo deck. It was Florida all over again! Even though we had new air conditioners they could not keep up in the heat of the day. So it really never cooled off till around 22:00. I don't remember who the fellow was that helped me orientate to the ship but I remember the conversation we had. I asked him how long he had been on board and his reply was 9 years. I dropped my jaw and asked him how. His reply still rings in my ears today. He said you hate tender duty now, you wait, this ship will grow on you. As we walked by the sail he told me about all the battle ribbons and places she had been. Commissioned in 43 she saw WWII, Korea, Vietnam. She was in Pearl, Australia, Africa, Saipan, Tanapag, Balboa Canal Zone, Cuba and on and on he went. I must admit after hearing all this I knew I was standing on history even if I did not like it much. Captain Daniel B. Branch was at the helm then. Not long after my arrival we set sail for Tolaun France. The first day out we had a gunnery exercise.
Whadaya' mean where are the Gunners Mates? I'm It!
GMG3 Thomas
If you don't have a sense of humor - the tedium of the job can get to you.
All the weapons failed to operate in any manner that would suggest we could defend ourselves -- including the Captains side arm. The following day the emergency diesel generator caught fire. DC crews and fire teams were great. It seemed like for awhile they never got to drill; only the real thing. While we were in France I learned the ship had just slipped by its last INSURV inspection. The general feeling was that a good majority of the crew and the captain were rotating out and no one was going to push the issues.

I went to the ships armorer to inquire farther. I found out the only gunnersmate on the ship was the one that I was talking to. GMG3 Jon M. Thomas (Strawberry) as he was back then. Jon and I became fast friends with a desire to overcome the problems that stalked us. After talking with the weapons officer LT. Henry he confided in the two of us and said "all I have is TM's and FCT's if you boys can get the armory running, run it. I then set in my sights to cross rate to a GMG. Sure as clockwork we set out to do just that. Then the orders were cut. The XO, Lt.. Henry, GMG3 Thomas and what seemed like everyone else I knew was rotated out.
Resposibility comes fast...
GMG3 Boggio receiving congratulations on his new rate and rank from Lt. Henry.
Prior to his departure Lt. Henry assigned me the position of ships armorer. Successfully cross rating and being frocked GMG3 he felt I was more then ready for the assignment.

The replacement crewmen settled in - and as INSURV approached - the time came to address the ship - and what would be required to get her ready for that inspection. With that shift in focus came a new attitude. Our new division officer Senior Chief Kingory placed it squarely on my shoulders to as he put it "FIX IT". INSURV was in 4 months and as he put it "there will be 0 incidents of failure". Then they sent the new guys in. The gunnery division was now made up of 6 guys newer then me. None of them GMG's. As we dug into the job at hand and prepared for this inspection that had us walking on egg shells I started to see things. 21 spaces had to be stripped and painted. As the paint came off, the bulkheads and overheads and decks revealed their scares. The numerous overhauls and refits. Battle damage. Years of service. My bucket of bolts as I had called it was taking on a personality. I don't believe in ghost or the like - but a genuine personality was present, at least to me. The places where the 5 inch guns used to be; welded over. The shell rooms long ago emptied. MK19 torpedo magazines converted to MK57 mine magazines, battery rooms converted to offices. War head magazines now holding small arms ammunition. Log books with names from men long ago who served. Names dug into the wheel house in aft steering. Personal articles left in the safe from sailors of a generation gone by. Notes left in ammo cans.
Pride in what you do... it's hard to explain.
My mind drifted back to a night I had pulled duty at one of the school commands. The duty was, you guessed it buffing the floor in the Captains HQ. There was a large brass model of a battleship in the center of the entrance hallway. Down the hallways hung on the walls were pictures of men who had done very gallant things and lost their lives. One in particular stood out to me. I don't remember his name, just the story. During the attack of Pearl Harbor a Seamen (E-3) single handily started one of the boilers on one of the battleships so it could move before she sank. If she would have sank were she was the mouth to the harbor would have been inaccessible. It cost this sailor his life because he was burnt to death. What made it even more amazing was that he was blinded by a bomb blast before he went below deck. The tradition of the Navy was sinking in. I could not help but feel awed by what was happening to me and around me. Assigned to me were men, boys really, me being the oldest at 20. They were considered bottom of the barrel. Most of them rejected by their own divisions because they did not fit in. I gave them direction and they did it. All of them fell into their own areas and picked up a burden and ran with it. If it was up to me they all were commendable. The flag that had waved over Prebble field the day I graduated boot was taking on faces and names. As things went, we worked our butts off. 3 week before INSURV we sailed to Barcelona Spain. First day out we had a gunnery exercise. The only problem we had was an officer firing a M-60 pulled the trigger mechanism out and cooked off a can of ammo. Other than that the entire trip went off without a hitch. Captain Branch being very happy was prepared to go into INSURV all engines full.

One night before we returned to port I was walking the ship. The sun was setting and we were making all of 15 knots. For the first time in the year since I had been there I was listening to the ship. The screws, engines, vibrations, wind, list, pitch. I heard her talking. I sat on the fantail till well after dark many times and just listened.
Sweeter than any paycheck
INSURV came and went, one of the captains on the inspection team told me we were the most readied tender in the sixth fleet. I don't know where or when but along the way the USS Orion AS-18 became my ship. The history that was her got into me, what she stood for I believed. The subs and the sub sailors took on a new face for me. The ship's mission had became my mission. Her crew became my crew; their mission was my mission. Ironically their life was my life. Their joys and sorrows were my joys and sorrows. It has never failed to amaze me how we all became family and everyone relied on everyone and yet seem to pull what seemed like an enormous weight of their own. Captain R. V. Morgan replaced Captain Branch shortly after the INSURV - and the focus of the ship shifted from the INSURV back to our pirmary duty - servicing the submarine fleet.

Now we all remember Mr. Kadufa and his line in the sand and sea and all his whisbang threats, right? Well he had a team of elite under water swimmers and threatened to sink a US ship. Of course the whole med. fleet goes to a heightened security posture and all that goes with that. Gunnery division is selected to be the land and small boat defense parties. For 78 days we pull watches in small boats lasting as long as 20 hours everyday. No Joke. Riding around in LCM's with grenades, shotguns and M-60s. On this particular night we are finishing our sweep of the ships perimeter when over the radio comes the call, "small craft on intercept course with AS-18 stop at all cost". As it happened to be there were 6 subs moored to the ship. The crew on the LCM knew what was at stake. Now a lot of people can say where their whole life flashed before them in one moment. Well this was mine. Of all of the things you think I would have thought about, I thought of a National Cemetery I saw while in San Diego out on "Point Loma" and my baby sister. The miles of white head stones and the heritage my sister represented. The questions and thoughts came to mind like bus wheels marking time. Would I have the courage to complete my mission with honor? As we closed on the small fishing boat the man sailing her was not about to make our job any easier. As the thought ran through my mind its us or the ship, fear gave way to duty. Although I was scared, freezing, wet, and hungry all I could think about was all the men 40 years before me who would have done the same for me. As it turned out it was just a local fisherman, scared, freezing, wet, and hungry trying to get home.

As the crisis subsided in the spring and we went back to a normal security posture we patrolled the ships perimeter for the last time. The moon was full and rising behind the ship. AS-18 stood out and I saw why the man who had orientated me talked of her as he did. I did not see a ship, I saw a 40 year old warrior. One that had stood her watch and not backed down. The scene reminded me of one of the 10 general orders: "do not leave your post until you are properly relieved". She had withstood the tolls of time -- adapted to each new assignment and duty. A ship that had protected her crew and various ships she tended. She stood at the front lines and refused to surrender, and performed her duty with dignity.
GMG2 Charles (Chucky) Peer and TMSN Stanley (Goober) Wright
TM3 Trent Shaw
More than good Friends - Shipmates... unless you have had "shipmates", you can't really appreciate just how deep that word goes - but here is a short "Sea Story" that is just one example of "Shipmate". I remember one night Trent got off the LCM after an 18 hour shift. I had been watching from the 20MM forward gun mount as the LCM manuevered about. Not enough "qualified watchstanders with small arms" - so I was pulling a long haul watch of about 30 hours. Trent - just coming off watch - had 4 hours until he himself had to be back on watch - 4 precious hours to get some much needed sleep. So you can imagine my suprise when here comes Trent - toting two pans loaded with hot chicken, potatoes and gravy and 5 gallons of milk - in one of those very heavy "dispenser pack" cartons that go in a dispenser. The weather was dreadful - raining and blowing and it sure felt like 30 degrees. And instead of sleeping as much of that 4 hours as he could - he's seeing to it his shipmate is taken care of... I could tell a dozen "Sea Stories" about GMG2 Charles Peer, and a hundred more about Goober... I'm proud to have served with these "Shipmates".
That night the Navy was no longer an institution but, a fraternity of men - as Captain Thomas put it. 1400 plus men and woman put their shoulders to the plow, not just for ourselves, we were the cover, the supply, the help and protection of so much more than we could know. So many subs, ships and their crews depended on us and our ship. No glory nor praise. There is no glamour in tender duty. Long hours in remote places and if you died -- no one would ever know. Duty - tradition - fraternity; I realized I now understood those things -- I had indeed come to a full understanding of that as I watched the moon rise over my ship - USS Orion AS-18.

Three weeks later my orders came and I was transferred to the USS New Jersey BB-62.On 3 March 85 as the LCM took me over to Sardinia for the last time at 04:30 to catch my ride to CONUS tears rolled from my eyes, a ship and her crew stole my heart. A lady with more dignity and courage than anyone I had ever met -- and a crew with more willingness and determination -- now fell silent behind the shadow of an Island but lives on in my memory. I would like to take the time to say "Thank you" to all the men and woman that served tender duty over the years. Many a ship's crew survived and were able to perform their duty because of you. I have shared this story to help preserve the memory of a silent sentinel USS Orion AS-18 and all the men and woman that served with her.
GMG3 Ronald Charles Boggio II
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