as of 03/5/2005

Cruise Stories
of the
USS Nitro (AE-2) and (AE-23)

"Service to the Fleet"

Ammunition ship crews, without a doubt, are the hardest working crews in the Navy. Whether UNREPS are conducted at 0330, 1600 or 2230, the crews are always prepared for any eventuality. The following poem is dedicated to the personnel who man the ammunition ship.
The Ammunition Ship Crew

Submitted by Archie Trader
(USS Mount Hood Survivor)

You can talk about your soldiers and the fighting mud Marines,
Even talk about the Coast Guard and the Seabees, oh, so green,
But you've never met a fighting man, a seaman oh so true
Until you've met a sailor from an ammunition crew.

His nerves of steel are legend and his eyes, they always gleam,
He's always working cargo, sometimes even in his dreams.
He's looking for some break time, and any scheme will do,
Talkin''bout a sailor from an ammo ship's deck crew.

Going into battles and invasions with the rest,
Or hours and hours of unreps, you face the rugged test.
Hoping that you're lucky and that the ship don't take a hit,
Cause you simply can't afford that on an ammunition ship !

And when the battle's over and the others take a rest
Even though you're awf'ly tired from giving all your best,
There's a cruiser on the radar- more rearming to be done !
And you're the poor unfortunate, you pitiful son of a gun !

Sometimes other sailors get some liberty in town
Have a chance to meet a lady, or chug a coupl'a rounds.
But- Ammo ship crews rarely ever hear that happy news
There's work to do and ships to serve ! The poor forgotten crews!

When the world war was over and we dreamed of going home
We weren't allowed to go there, for these islands we must roam
For we had on board six thousand tons of deadly TNT
And we weren't allowed to dump it in the briny deep blue sea.

From the South Pacific isles to Korea's rocky coast,
From dusty Port Chicago to a Yankee Station post,
AE's are primed to serve your needs at any given hour
With rockets, bombs and blood and sweat- American sea power.

So- now you've heard my story and here's a little tip:
If you want your praise and glory, stay off an ammo ship.
Yet, years and years thereafter, when the kid asks "Dad, What'd YOU do ?
You can tell him with some well-earned pride- I was on an ammo crew !

{Apologies to Archie for some editing to update
the poem a bit. It's still a classic. I believe
most of it was written during WW2.}

Poem was found on the USS Mount Ranier (AE-5) Web Site.

Story Request

Both Nitros have been all over the world in peace time and time of war and there are many many incidents involving both ships. We are interested in those stories. Crew members signing on to the Nitro Crewbook have mentioned experiences that they and fellow crew members have gone through, such as - the Nitro fire, the Kennedy incident, pier rammings, loosing the main bearing and winding up spending the night in a Soviet anchorage during a Med cruise, refueling our destroyers while they are shadowing new Russian ships, etc.

While most of the above incidents involve the USS Nitro (AE-23), we have and are looking for additional stories about the USS Nitro (AE-2). The stories listed here are those submitted for inclusion in the 1998 Nitro Reunion booklet. As we receive additional stories for future Reunion booklets, we will add additional stories to the web site.

Pictures that will be accompanying the stories are pictures of the ship's crew at work. Most of these pictures come from the 1968 Mediterranean Cruise. Additional pictures, showing various aspects of ship's work (such as UNREPS, refueling, replenishment, etc.) would be greatly appreciated. JPGs may be submitted to my email address below.

We hope you will enjoy the stories and their re-telling:

Crusie Stories for 2004

Booth Wallace, DK1 (MSGT, USAF, Ret), 1959-60 The following event took place in Golfe Juan, France, during the Med Cruise of 1960. Golfe Juan was a small town, and probably wouldn't even qualify as a port, except that it had a fleet landing, and was a popular liberty spot for American sailors.

Several of us from Nitro had spent the afternoon and most of the evening in various establishments in Golfe Juan, partaking of the French hospitality and even reciprocating by leaving a lot of U. S. dollars. Consequently, probably none of us could have passed an IQ test for a mongrel dog at the time, but we were having fun. At least up until the boat's screw got fouled in the mooring line of a cabin cruiser some idiot had tied up near us. Now, this cabin cruiser probably cost some forty or fifty thousand dollars at that time, and why it wasn't being watched by someone, I'll never know, but there it was, all tied up neatly at the dock with nobody around.

Naturally, if your boat's screw gets caught up in another boat's mooring line, nobody is going anywhere. For that reason, we all decided that the thing to do was to get it loose somehow. We held a meeting, and it was decided that since I was more sober than most of the other sailors around, I would be the one to dive down under the boat and cut the line loose. The fact that I agreed to this says a lot for my sobriety. Another guy decided to help, but to prove that he was in worse shape that I was, he chose to dive in fully clothed except for his shoes and hat.

I was smart - or sober - enough to strip to my skivvies. Borrowing a jackknife from somebody, I dove in and began groping in the murky water for the offending line, hoping desperately that nobody started the boat's engine while I was so engaged. The other guy kept getting in my way, and I was afraid at one point that I had cut one of his fingers off, but soon discovered that this was not the case. Actually, there was very little bleeding, so it couldn't have been serious.

After two or three dives, I succeeded in cutting the line, and we all climbed back in the boat. I removed my skivvies and put on my dry uniform. The other idiot had no dry clothes to wear and soon became chilled as a result of a brisk breeze that had come up. We all agreed that some action had to be taken fairly soon to get him dried off and warm. It was a thirty minute ride out to the ship, and the consensus was that we should get him warm first. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that liberty had expired some time back, and it was certain that the deck officer was going to become alarmed if we didn't proceed with haste.

Fortunately, another Navy boat was tied up at the dock. It happened to be the admiral's barge, but that didn't seem to be an insurmountable problem at the time. All of us - must have been six or seven - traipsed over to the barge and climbed aboard.

Now an admiral's barge isn't just another boat. It probably was nicer than the cabin cruiser we had just cut loose. It had lights, a heater to keep the cabin warm, and a couple of small compartments with bunks and doors that could be closed. I suppose this was in case there was more than one admiral that wanted to go somewhere.

Well, we discovered that the admiral wasn't aboard, which was really in our favor, as he would have been somewhat dismayed had he known what we were about. Who was aboard was the boat crew and two or three local ladies (and I use the term loosely) who were having what is commonly known as a party. They were only slightly less upset that the admiral would have been.

We insisted that unless our shipmate was allowed to dry off and get warm he would probably be deathly sick by the time we got him out to our ship. We even suggested that they call the admiral on the boat's radio and get his approval, and that we would remain completely silent about the party if they would help us out.

They chose not to disturb the admiral. They also chose not to risk any news about the party being bruited about the fleet. This was certainly understandable to us. They did, however, agree to call our ship and inform the Officer of the Deck that we had experienced some minor problems with the boat, but that we could repair it shortly and would soon be back where we belonged. By this time the French girls had left in disgust.

I was impressed by the hospitality of the barge crew. They allowed our soggy seaman to dry off with one of the admiral's towels and wrap up in one of his blankets to get warm. They also offered us some of the cognac they had been partying with. Naturally, we accepted. I suspect that the reason they were so nice had something to do with insurance that we wouldn't mention the party to anyone.

The offending cabin cruiser drifted away from the dock and ended up being stranded on a sand bar about forty or fifty yards off shore. When we finally got back to the ship, we quite naturally forgot that we had cut it adrift and failed to mention it to anyone. I never knew what story the boat cox'n gave the deck officer. The crew of the barge probably also forgot to mention the incident for various reasons.

We heard the next day that one of the local big-wigs was upset that his expensive boat had been the target of some boat thieves that had been operating in the area, but that somehow they had run it aground and had abandoned it. We failed to see how our setting the record straight would benefit anyone, so we chose not to confuse the situation with facts.

When I think about it, I suspect that it was fortunate we sailed the following day for Greece and Lebanon. By the time we returned to the French Riviera a lot of things had happened that sort of caused us to forget the occurrence and we again failed to report the incident to either the local authorities or to anyone of importance on our ship.

And I'm sure the barge crew decided it wasn't worth mentioning to the admiral.

Booth Wallace, DK1 (MSGT, USAF, Ret), 1959-60 On the Fourth of July, 1960, I was aboard USS Nitro (AE23) anchored at Cannes, France. She was the most comfortable ship I ever served in. She was completely air conditioned, was large enough for the crew who lived aboard, and was fast enough to get wherever it was we needed to go without taking forever. In 1960, Nitro was "state of the art" for the service fleet.

We were a little more than halfway through a six-month cruise in the Mediterranean. The ship sailed from Davisville, Rhode Island late in March, and we were due back by the end of September. We had enjoyed liberty in ports from Spain to Lebanon, and we were scheduled for more that summer. The dollar was strong in Europe, the French weren't as pissed off at us as they finally became, and I was thirty-one years old, single, and a Petty Officer First Class drawing proficiency pay.

On the Fourth of July, I stood watch as the in port Officer of the Deck. I wasn't qualified to do that sort of thing while we were underway, of course, but in port was a different matter. . Most of what you did with that type of duty was hang out at the quarterdeck, return the salutes of the people coming and going, and send your messenger for coffee once in a while.

During my watch day the utility boat cox’n came up and asked if he could use the new fifty star American Flag that his mother had sent him. July Fourth was the day that Alaska and Hawaii officially became states, and a new flag had been approved. The flag the boat cox’n had was the correct size and, of course, the right color. I told him, "Hell yes, go ahead and use it." He did, and, from a utility boat from USS Nitro (AE23), on my order, we showed the French the newest flag of the American people.

I don't know if that was the first time an American Naval vessel had flown the flag, and there probably aren't any records available that would prove things either way. However, the cox'n of that boat and I know that we did it, and that's enough for me. Granted, it doesn't approach the magnitude of the U. S. flag being placed on the moon, or at the North Pole, and it's not even in the same category as the flag on Mount Suribachi, but he and I know that we have a place in American history, however small it may be.

Crusie Stories for 2003

Jim Schultz, RM2, 1969-71 - was a RM2 on the Nitro from late 69 to Aug 71. I appreciate your stories and your maintenance of the Nitro website.

In early March 71, I flew home to NJ, from Naples on 30 days leave, as my wife was about to give birth to my first child. My orders were to meet up with the ship in Malta, 30 days later. After my son was born, I flew to Malta (as per orders), but the entire Fleet had pulled out early. As you know, I was the only Sailor on the island. I wound up staying with the Ambassador (a Navy Capt.) and in a Hotel for about a week. Eventually, the Embassy paid for an Airline ticket to Naples, where I hooked up with the Nitro again
Interestingly, when I was flying into Naples, I could see the Nitro was underway. When I got to Fleet Landing, I called the Nitro via radio, and they stopped the ship, and sent a launch back for me.

I still tell my son that story..

Anthony Thompson,1969-71 I served aboard USS Nitro, AE-23 from 1984 through 1987. I was happy to discover that this website existed to address myself and my fellow shipmates who were fortunate to serve our nation aboard this venerable old warhorse.

In retrospect, it is ironic that in the time we served, how eager we were to finish our time of service-always too concerned about "being short". We now look back, and only later do we remember, that this time in our lives-was the most important time of our lives. This was the time when we were 'out there' to make a difference and how lucky we were to serve our country together on the greatest adventure of our lives.

I remember, as if it were yesterday, all of those long hours during an unrep and simultaneous vertrep with two or three other ships. Can anyone forget the chemical warfare drills in heavy, hot rubber suits, bound with duct tape in the heat of the Carribean? Do you remember getting your 'midrats' and then standing the midwatch on the flying bridge in the north Atlantic with your three layers of clothes and the shared cold weather gear? Through all of this, we all had to be on the look-out for 'Captain's Mast" and the Shore Patrol in the "Red light districts" throughout the wild ports-of-call in the Med.

Crusie Stories from the 2002 Reunion booklet

Story provided by Robert Peiffer, Nitro Assn. Webmaster - "CANNON BALLS"...
In the heyday of sailing ships, all war ships and many freighters carried iron cannons. Those cannon fired round iron cannon balls. It was necessary to keep a good supply near the cannon, but prevent them from rolling about the deck. The best storage method devised was a square based pyramid with one ball on top, resting on four resting on nine which rested on sixteen.

Thus, a supply of thirty cannon balls could be stacked in a small area right next to the cannon.

There was only one problem - how to prevent the bottom layer from sliding/rolling from under the others. The solution was a metal plate called a, "Monkey," with sixteen round indentations. If this plate was made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it. The solution to the rusting problem was to make, "Brass Monkeys."

Few landlubbers realize that brass contracts much more and much faster than iron when chilled. Consequently, when the temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the cannon balls would come right off the monkey. Thus, it was quite literally, "Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey!" {And all this time, you have had dirty thoughts, haven't you?

John Sachs, La Mesa, CA., 1937. It was a great pleasure while looking through the April - June issue of the Shift Colors newsletter, I found the USS Nitro was holding their reunion in San Diego, Ca. I was worried when I saw you had no address listed, just your web site, my son computer was down and my two friend's with computers are away on a cruise. Being a passenger on the USS Nitro that transported me from Norfolk, Va (March 17, 1938), to Guantanemo Bay, Cuba through the Panama Canal to San Diego, Ca on (April 6, 1938). I never forgot that morning on the Nitro, looking at the sun rise over San Diego as we pulled into the harbor. I was nineteen, first time away from home. I remember helping unload ammo at Guantanemo Bay and when the ship was underway between Norfolk and Panama. I worked with the black gang helping remove the insulation (asbestos) off of something below deck. When we left Panama, I was working with the deck force doing their dirty jobs. I bought my first two sets of dungaree's while I was on that ship and had both sets stolen by the time I reached San Diego. I even paid more to have the ship's tailor sew my name in the shirt and pants, somebody still stole them.

Joanna Dunn Scheirer - My father, J D Dunn (Jonathan Dunn) had edited the chronological story of the cruise April 1944-August 1945. Thank you for putting it on the website. Unfortunately he past in 1998, but he would've really enjoyed the glory of seeing that.

Bob Davis, U.S.S. Oriskany (CVA-34), E Division, 1970 - 1972 - Collision Update I was an electrician serving aboard the U.S.S. Oriskany in 1972. The cause of the collision between the U.S.S. Nitro and the U.S.S. Oriskany was a short in the engine telegraph system.

As the Oriskany came along side the Nitro, she slowed down to match the Nitro's speed by reversing her engines. The command went out to reverse engines. #2, 3 and 4 engines got the signal to reverse, but a short in the engine telegraph system signaled the outboard #1 engine to run FLANK ahead, steering us right into the Nitro.

The losses of the propellers (this occurred twice during the cruise) happened later. It had nothing to do with the collision. We spent a lot of dry-dock time in Yokosuka during that cruise.

Richard Faytek, SN, 1970-73 - I was station on the port wing when the Oriskany came along side. The XO spoke to the Captain and said "she is coming along side nice" then she kept on coming. We looked on in amazement as she came closer. Nobody said anything until BMC Dubois on the forward deck said "get the hell away from the bulkhead". We all scattered. Remember very well.

Rick Fenstermacker, RM1, 1978-80 - I've been reading your stories about the 72 cruise and thought you might appreciate my first experience with the Nitro.

Even though it would be six years before I'd actually be stationed on the Nitro (I was on from 78 to 80, a radioman 1st class), and now it's almost 30 years since I seen the ship for the first time, I remember my first experience with the Nitro like it was yesterday.

In 1972 I was stationed on the USS Hancock (CVA-19) and I think that our ship might have been one of the first ones that the Nitro had to unrep when it got to Yankee Station...not totally sure of the reason, but the Nitro spent the entire night along side my ship...our CO was pissed (remember I'm a radioman and got to see messages others wouldn't)...a normal ammo unrep would take 3 to 4 hours max...our CO sent a message to the Admiral bitching about the service, even stated he didn't want to unrep with the Nitro again...of course the Admiral told him he'd unrep with any ship he's ordered to! You guys did unrep us once more and you got the job done in good time...I think this might have been right before your collision.

Steve Swierczek, LTJG, 1977-80 - In the Spring of 1980 the NITRO was scheduled to visit Vieques Island and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Captain Jockel obtained permission from the CNO to have about a dozen wives join their husbands for the return trip from St. Thomas to NWS Earle.

The Captain's wife took over the CO's At-Sea Cabin, and several of the other officer's wives moved into their husbands' staterooms (including mine). The "single" officers moved out into vacant rooms. The enlisted wives took over Sick Bay.

Everyone had a blast - the wives saw first hand what we do when underway, and we had the chance to relax with them after our Watches were completed. The weather was great, and some of the women had the foresight to have lawn chairs installed on the signal deck, where they got a great tan. During the evenings we had excellent meals, extra movies and some great card games in the wardroom. The USS Eisenhower unrepped with us on the trip back, and their crew was ASTOUNDED to see women on board, sunning themselves on the weather decks while we worked. It was the best Caribbean trip ever!

Jorge Vega, MS3, 1948-1987 - I am a U.S.S. Nitro AE23 survivor. I served her with an incredible crew from 1984 to 1987. I wonderful memories of her and my shipmate. I keep reading in these stories mention of reunion that have happened. I would love to go to one if there are plans for another. Please keep my email on file in case one is being planned. Also, on there is a military link that you may be able to see more shipmates from the time you served. Thank you for this website, it is really great to have some place to go and be nostalgic.

Juan J. Carrion QM2 1985-1989 - This one is one to remember. I believe it was in the '86 Med Cruise, I was a seaman in 2nd DIV then, this was one of the many UNREPS we did so well, I believe then LT Carey can confirm this and any other NITRO-ITE that is reading this story. We were NREPING/VERTREPING with the USS NIMITZ passing and receiving food/ammo and the likes, when the NIMITZ all of the sudden lost her steering. At that moment things got real scary, we aborted the VERTREP and began the emergency break away procedure. It got even scarier when you saw the stern of the NIMITZ come close to the top edge of the aft king post on NITRO. We had guys jumping down from the HELO deck to the Main Deck. Ammo was laid down all over on deck. Breakaway was going well except when a few marines on the NIMITZ that decided it wasn't safe to breakaway using the procedures and cut the Messenger and High lines. Boy our First LT at the time which I'm pretty sure was MR. Carey caught a fit. Long story short, we turned the ship hard to starboard the NIMITZ regained control of steerage by using her engines to get out of harms way and everyone was able to breathe but only for 2 minutes, because what happened next you would think happens only in the movies. Like the movie "The Philadelphia Experiment" the clouds envelopes us, no rain just some lighting. One bolt hits and blows up the TACAN antennae. The residual lighting bolts that came off the TACAN misses the sides of the ship by about a foot, the 1000 pound bombs that was sitting on main deck, missed getting hit by 3 feet from the stray lightning. Then the Rain came down, Hard. Everyone that day had to change their underwear

Joe Minuti, Middlesex, England - BIRZEBBUGA, Malta Update My name is Joe Minuti and I live in the UK now. I am writing to you as I stumbled on the USS NITRO's web site by accident. I used to live in MALTA in the 60's and early 70's in the small fishing port of BIRZEBBUGA where the USS NITRO used to anchor when the sixth fleet was in town. (Did you know that when President Bush met with Gorbachov, their ships where anchored in the exact spot the NITRO used to anchor?) I spent many happy hrs on her when I got invited for visits by the various sailors that I had met while on shore leave. I was happy to read all the information you have about the NITRO and sorry to hear that she has been retired. The NITRO and SURIBACHI will always remain a part of my past as I spent many happy hrs on both. Also all the friends I made. I am sorry but I do not remember any of the names. I was only 16 a the time. The only one I remember is a guy called Ernie Shelly. I noticed that You sell USS NITRO gear from your web page. I have printed the Order form but just thought I would write before I send it. I only want a couple of things from there and that is the NITRO baseball Cap and AE-23 Work Jacket Patch. If I sent in the order would you send these to the UK. If you do can you please let me know your handling charges as I am sure they would probably be more then what is on the order form. Hope to hear from you, and also that your reunion goes well.

Thanks again for a very interesting Web Page.....

Thanks for your e-mail. I can't believe you still have that photograph and money from Birzebbuga. The Bar you are talking about is called "BORDA's Bar" run by a guy called Sunny. He's still there believe it or not, with his sister still frying those nice fish and chips. I was there 2 years ago. Also you know the picture with you and that boy, well the bay behind that is now all sand. They even covered that little pier the liberty boats used to tie up and where the Shore Patrol used to hang around helping the sailors back to the boat. What has happened there is that they build the Malta "Free Port", and as they needed to dig quite deep to allow the big super carriers to come in where the NITRO used to anchor, they dumped the sand they dug up in the bay. So it's a nice little sandy beach now. Just thought you would like to know that. Also if you go to a search engine and search Birzebbuga you will see what I mean from some of the pictures that have been posted there.

Crusie Stories from the 2001 Reunion booklet

Claude Eaton, SA, 1937. It was on the Old Nitro that I learned about the "Sawdust Pump" I was a passenger in 1937 enroute to San Diego. A Seaman Second Class just out of boot camp, I was assigned to work in the Sick Bay. A PhM2c sent me to the Carpenter Shack to fetch all the lumber and things to build some shelves. After completing the work he told me to clean up. I was sweeping up the sawdust when he mumbled something about a "boot" who didn't know about a "Sawdust Pump." I just put down the broom and went back to the Carpenter Shack and asked to check out a Sawdust Pump. After checking with all the Carpenter's Mates they decided that it must be on the Bridge. The Bridge people thought it was in the Paint Locker. From there I was sent to the After Steering Room. Now I got wise. A Sawdust Pump was like "Red Oil for the Port Running Lamp."

John Moliere, QM2, 1961-62. The most significant story I could tell was about a tremendously vicious storm we encountered a couple days after departing Golfe Juan for sea ops Nov 4-6, 1961.

We were in company with the Canisteo (AO-98) in support of an amphib group. On the morning of the 4th we rearmed an LST, the Wood County and an AKA, the Thurman before ceasing unreps. The sea rapidly came to be extremely rough with waves of 30 feet powered by winds of 70 knots with gusts to 90 knots. In the storm we lost a truck, a utility boat, the Captain's gig, a fork lift and lots of standing and running rigging. The Canisteo lost a man overboard and we had numerous injuries including Ensign Wolpert who sustained multiple fractures to his leg. Virtually everything was secured below, the engine room and bridge watches were the only place you could find anyone standing. One the bridge Bos'n Ogligliaro of Ringoes, NJ, QMSN Gary Bishoff of Buffalo, NY and myself were hurt when a maverick 100 foot wave broke over the bridge. The Bos'n was severely bruised, Bishoff had a fractured skull and I sustained injuries to both of my knees. Don Massengale another QMSN was already in sick bay with appendicitis. Our two Hospital Corpsmen worked 'round the clock. On the 6th the storm abated almost as fast as it came up...sort of a two and a half days Mediterranean very serious squall. On the 8th of November we dropped anchor in Genoa to lick our wounds and effect repairs.

We continued on our Med cruise returning home just after the first space shot with Cdr. Alan Sheppard aboard.

George Biddle, BT3, 1967. I served aboard the Nitro during the period of 1967 in the boiler room (BT3), definitely not by choice but that is another story. There was a 2nd class who patrolled the mess decks (mainly sampling the chow) and his life was to make ours miserable, such as no head of the line chow privileges by having watch or working as the "Oil King". This individual who weighed around 300 lbs. decided to jump over the side during swim call but could not make it back up the ladder. For some reason our group which had just exited the water were selected to pull him back up after a belt was secured to him. Our orders were to pull slow and easy, but when we realized who it was, the technique changed and a few yanks become the order. As he climbed over the side with our assistance, his rather large abdomen looked like he has been in a knife fight from the barnacles. What a treat to see we had rendered him the assistance appropriately required....

Tom Tighe, RM2, 1970. After reading the stories from the USS Joseph P Kennedy (DD-850) crew members (SM2 Condon and Wm LaChance), I remembered that day as well. As leading radioman at the time, I assigned myself as radio bridge talker so that I could witness all the action from the bridge during an UNREP. It certainly was an interesting time to have been on the bridge! Kennedy did indeed cut across our bow while she turned hard to port, and I'm sure her captain did save some asses while ordering her to flank speed. However, our Captain Howe, who was on the bridge at the time also, immediately assessed the situation and ordered full reverse engines while sounding the collision alarm. Nitro put on the brakes and backed off with amazing speed. Even though we did put a hole in Kennedy's fantail, it would have been much worse if Capt. Howe were not so cool and collected. I feel it was he who saved the day. Way to go, Capt'n! (Incidentally, there was a certain Warrant Officer who then came running out on to the bridge with a gas mask on, shouting something like "GAS ATTACK! DON YOUR GAS MASKS!" Apparently he got his alarms mixed up - believe me, it was hard to keep a straight face after that one.

Rich Faytak, SN, 1970-73. The Nitro 7 - This is a follow up to a story in last year's reunion booklet from Jim "Boats" Andross and it is about what happened to the "Nitro 7" after they decided to take a swim at Earle, NWS and were picked up by the Coast Guard. Thanks, Rich for the information.

I was abroad the Nitro in 72 during the Nitro 7 incident. I had just returned from leave and was notified the ship was leaving for Nam. The next day we left the bay in Earle, 7 sailors went into the drink. A Coast Guard cutter picked the 7 out of the water. She came along side, the 7were return in their skivvies. I had the keys to the brig where they were in lock up.

I remember they were taken off the ship sometime after we arrived in Pearl Harbor for court-marshal... They had hooked up with the VAW, but I believed they had no relation with them afterward? A few of them were in my division. They were good guys caught up in some nonsense.

Bill Stankowski, EM3, 1974. I remember a huge commotion in the water one night while docked in GITMO. A naked person was seen swimming towards the Nitro. The Quaterdeck ordered armed personnel to be present immediately on the side of the ship the person was seen approaching towards.

Turns out it was a guy we called "BA-BA-Baily" who resided in 'E' division. He was drunk and decided he was going to swim back to refresh himself before racktime. The scene where good ole naked BAH-BAH Bailey was standing in several spotlights and, even though it was dark and I couldn't say for sure, probably under the scrutiny of the OOD and several .45 caliber pistols???? Priceless!!

Kim Lyle, PC3, 1979-81. "Do You remember the pier fight ?" 1980. After being at sea for over two Months, in 1980, the Captain decided to allow us to drink beer on the pier in Agusta Bay in Italy. Pallets of Budweiser were loaded onto the pier and we all were allowed to go onto the pier and drink. Well, having anxiety pinned-up for so long somehow a fight broke out with almost everyone on the pier. I vividly remember along with some other people, throwing beer up on the forcastle to drink later on that night . Wow, what a time that was.

Kim Lyle, PC3. " Into the drink " While on liberty in a Spanish port, myself and three other shipmates, two were HTSN Leslie Carraballo, and HT3 Thomas were sitting on a break wall waiting for the motor whale boat to return to take us back to the ship. It came every hour and we had just missed the last one. We all were kinda drunk from the San Miguel and started to snooze. All of a sudden I hear this big splash and looked into the water which was pretty deep and all I could see was these great big bubbles coming-up to the surface. Pretty wasted as I was, I could have sworn there was someone sitting next to me when I first sat down at the wall with the others. Bubbles still continued to come-up and then we saw a person surface to the top. We helped him out of the drink and we all laughed so hard we were crying. Since then, I've learned never to sit on a break wall tipsy while waiting for the motor whale boat.

Wes Carey, LT, 1986-89. My memories now are all good. The bumps in the road for me were probably similar to any young sailor. I joined when I was 17. I became a BM and that meant that I would spend the next 32 years working with young men who reminded me of the young man from Oregon who was lost and scared shitless with his new Navy life. I served on eleven ships in all and I never forgot that young people did not join the Navy to screw up. We all wanted to do our best. We all had to learn about life from each other and the term shipmate meant a great deal to me. I sometimes tried to pretend I was a hard ass but unless you were an axe murderer you probably got a thumbs up or at least some empathy from me. You made it thru a tour on a very difficult ship which was not representative of experiences I had on others. NITRO was TOUGH duty period. I think I had some of the best on there. I wish that Nitro had been my last ship perhaps I would have been a better mentor. I learned a lot onboard there. The least was that I couldn't have done my job without the support of Tony Keena and his shipmates.

Wes Carey, LT, 1986-89. Nitro was the most unusual of my 11 ships. An old ship that was never intended to be the fleet support ship she became. During deployments we were an oiler, stores, and Ammo ship. Our equipment and our budget to keep it up and operating always seemed to be inadequate. Yet the Nitro always did the job. They found a solution to her problem. Work the crew more than I had seen on any of the eleven others. I was proud that I survived almost four years on her. My real source of pride tho was the young men from every Department that made Nitro excel. In 88 when the newer and more modern AOE couldn't make her deployment they sent Nitro instead. We canceled Christmas literally and down loaded the Detroit at anchor. Morale was affected but not for long. The Nitro and her crew performed outstanding. She was old and weary but still ready. She never was really appreciated for what she accomplished. That old Ammo ship had more time at sea than any of the ships in her group. During my time aboard we had no serious injuries onboard. Our personnel statistics were at fleet average or above. But I am damned sure that no one in the Navy had been required to work harder, longer with less appreciation. They did it not for pay, accolade or any other reward, because there wasn't any. They did it in service to their country. I found that amazing.

Deanna Smitha, USS Nitro (AE-23) Command Chaplain, 1990. Scott Maxey found your site, and passed it along to me. That's so kewl! Saw a number of people I served with aboard, and when I tried to submit my comments, etc., it didn't here it is... I can't remember CDR Hall's first name for some reason.. I have it written down somewhere in my files, but I remember doing the prayers for the change of command (overlooked by the commodore, and both capts., who knew I was in violation of my curfew limit from Bethesda.. which was 50 miles from D.C.-but I had promised the captains that I would do the change in command, and I wasn't going to go back on my promise..that's a whole other story..

Deanna Smitha, USS Nitro (AE-23) Command Chaplain, 1990. I do remember something of that first unrep I was aboard with AMERICA.... when one of the CH-46 helo pilots didn't get a pallet of bombs up far enough off the carrier deck before moving horizontally, and dropped the whole bunch over the side of AMERICA and into the water. Capt. Jennings wasn't amused, and LCDR Donohoe (XO at the time) and I looked at each other (I was on the signal bridge, he and the Old Man were on the port wing of the bridge) when I happened to say, "I know one pilot who is gonna have one heck of a report of survey to write." Donohoe just rolled his eyes, and we both shrugged and grimaced.

Crusie Stories from the 2000 Reunion booklet

From: James Herron, EM1C
A Personal Letter to the USS Nitro (AE-2)

The words flowed from my pen so very easy I would guess that many a young sailor had much affection for the ships that carried them over many seas.

I think about her quite often - some nights I even dream about her. I remember how she took care of me during the war. She would always welcome me back when I left her. For short periods of time - and she knew that I always looked forward to seeing her again.

Coming back to her - -sometimes in he late hours of the day - when she came into my view I felt a security - a sense of protection. When I finally left her in the Pacific, I was glad that I was going home in once piece - but I left her with a sense of sadness - and I along with many others will remember her for taking such good care of me.

She was my kind of gal: - The USS Nitro AE-2

James Herron, EM1/C (WWII)

From: John Mahler, EM3, 59-60, E Division. While on the Nitro as an EM3, Harold Odette EMC put me in charge of the battery locker. I was kept quite busy with fork trucks, boats, emergency generator starter batteries, etc.
One night at sea, while on switchboard watch, a fellow crewmen in 'E' division Johnson, ICFN, came down to the switchboard and asked me if I could get him some distilled water for his new steam iron. It seemed that he was trying to get himself squared away for the up and coming Captains inspection. For such an event Johnson bought new whites and sewed on the USS NITRO patch on the right sleeve and his fireman stripes on the left sleeve. He also bought a new white hat and spent 1 hour spit shining his shoes. Johnson was bound and determined that he would be looking sharp.

I gave Johnson the keys to the battery locker since I was on watch, along with instructions: the distilled water is under the workbench in the glass jug.

Three hours later Johnson returned the battery locker keys to me. He also told me of the many problems he had, which were: 1. The brand new steam iron started to leak. 2. His eyes started watering and burning. 3. His brand new whites, with all that fine hand stitchwork started to literally fall apart.

It seems that Johnson made a big mistake. He filled his iron from the rubber jug. That one contained pure sulfuric acid.

From: Robert Eberlein, SN, 67-69, X Division.

After striking for Corpsman rate on the Nitro, I finally received the chance to get a seat at a class at Great Lakes NTC. Farewells said, sea bag packed, I was off to get my schooling. There were several "old salts" or fleet sailors who were to attend this particular class. There was a "Coasty" (Coast Guard sailor, too).

The fleet sailors wore the ship's curved patches on the dress uniforms, white summer shirts, the white jumpers, along with jacket patches on the dungaree jackets. Sea Farer dungaree trousers, form fitting, big bell bottoms and salt water bleached. We were the big men on campus. Time on board ship, you know "haze gray and under way".

Shortly after the class convened, the fleet sailors were asked if we were to return to the ships we came off. Most said, "no". The instructor told those of us who were not returning to the ships to bring in the uniforms with ship patches still attached at the next day's class. Puzzled we did as ordered. Class ends for the day, and here the fleet boys stand wondering why we had to bring in our uniforms. Then comes a dose of reality. We are now a member of this class, and NOT our old ships. Razor blades were passed out and we are told the ship's patches are to be removed.

We lost our status as "real sailors" and were now land-based members of a class. Sometimes I wonder what ever happened to them. Vietnam was going full speed ahead and after my "A" school I was assigned to a hospital ward at Great Lakes for a short time. Most of these Hospital Corpsmen received the dreaded orders to FMF (Fleet Marine Force) and then to Vietnam.

From: James Timmons, YN3, 1968-1969, Operations Division Break A Leg (Well not Literally). The Nitro was at anchorage in Piraeus (Athens), Greece in the Summer of 1968 when a Greek national salesman came on board to have discussions with one of the Supply Officers. I was Petty Officer of Day (POOD) on the quarterdeck.

When he came on board, he asked to be informed when a liberty launch was going to leave. He proceeded to the mess deck to conduct his business and the watch I was on continued normally. Normally, that is, until we announced that the next liberty launch was departing. He must have been under the impression that it was the final boat going to Fleet Landing because he came running out of the mess deck and made a "bee-line" down the accommodation ladder, before either the OOD or myself could stop him. The launch was just leaving and he made a jump for it. He got his foot tangled in one of the lines from the boat and then we heard this ungodly wail.

The boat crew called the quarterdeck for a corpsman and a litter. The duty corpsman and some litter bearers were sent to bring the Greek back on board so the extent of his injuries could be determined. Later in the watch, as he was being assisted into another liberty boat, we found out that his ankle was broken. You can't imagine the quarterdeck entry and paperwork that had to be completed as the result of this incident. I bet he took his time the next time he came on board one of our ships.

From: William LaChance (former Deck Ape), Joseph P. Kennedy (DD-850), 1970 - 1973>

I just dropped by this sight because I remember the Nitro well. We met up close and personal one warm day in the Bermuda Triangle. Now I just read the account by my former shipmate Joseph Condon and he has it a little mixed up.... First of all we had pulled alongside of the Nitro to rearm and had just finished. We started to pull away when something went terribly wrong. Up in the Bridge the wrong command was given or the wrong command was carried out (I am not sure who was at fault ) but we suddenly turned to Port (left) right in front of the Nitro and crossed her bow. She was about to cut us in half when the Captain ordered emergency flank speed and hard to Port--we went around the bow but she clipped our aft port quarter----right where I was standing fantail watch and I about shit my pants--I thought I was a dead man for sure.... but we survived with some minor damage.
William LaChance,

From: Captain Thomas Howe, Commanding Officer, USS Nitro (AE-23), 1970-71
There was one event that I'll always remember. We were in Narragansett Bay heading for sea on a beautiful summer morning. The bay was cluttered with pleasure craft - a great nuisance. Just as we approached the Jamestown Bridge one boat steered directly into our path. I ordered 3 short blasts on the whistle just as we passed under the bridge. Within seconds we were pelted with paint buckets and paint brushes from above. It was then we noticed there was a painting crew on the bridge and I guess we scared the hell out of them with the whistle blasts.

That's my little story. I wish I could be with you tonight. Will make to Charleston, I hope.

From: Captain Thomas Howe, Commanding Officer, USS Nitro (AE-23), 1970-71

The following is a letter sent to all Nitro families while on the 1970-71 Sixth Fleet Cruise:

Care of Fleet Post Office
New York, N.Y. 09501

15 March 1971
Dear Friends,

Wednesday 17 march we enter Athens, Greece again. However, the cruise is now three-fourths finished and after a few days here, a couple of days in Malta and eleven days in Barcelona, with a lot of work and steaming in between we'll be on our way home.
Our last stop, for 3 days was Antalya, Turkey where we departed the day before the Turkish government resigned. Antalyans were quite friendly, the weather was warm and sunny and the area was surrounded by recently excavated ruins of ancient towns, built by the Romans in the first century A. D. These towns flourished until the year 900 when an earthquake followed by a malaria epidemic practically wiped out the population and it's been only the last to fifteen years that the ruins have been excavated, so the tours were very popular with everyone.
Our routine is about the same; feverish preparation for a ship to come alongside for ammo usually ten o'clock in the evening or five o'clock in the morning. Several hours of fast transfer of heavy cargoes, a potentially dangerous evolution if everyone were no so safety conscious, and then clean up and stow gear until the next evolution, probably fueling. We fuel at sea and it usually works out to be a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon with the wind blowing 40 knots and the waves 12 to 15 feet high.
Health has been very good in general. The Navy Preventative Medicine Unit came aboard in Naples to see how we were doing and went away saying he Medical Department and the Food Service People were doing an outstanding job. Also, after our short visit to Antalya, Turkey we receive a message from the U.S. Naval Attache in Turkey congratulating all hands for exemplary conduct ashore during the visit.
Some other highlights were the following medals and commendations awarded: GMG3 Wilson - Navy Achievement Medal; MR3 Walker and SN Heater recommended for Navy Achievement Medal; SK2 Hewell, SK2 Cane, SN Hashem, and SN Luksha received a Letter of Commendation for Sustained Meritorious Service. Also, we are awaiting action on our recommendation that ET2 Carpenter be awarded the Navy Achievement Medal for his masterful job of installing a new radio circuit we now have in use.
The Underway Replenishment Teams have 3 times earned the designation "Standard of Excellence" for underway ammo replenishment of carriers and destroyers. LCDR Evans, the First Lt., is in overall charge of the performance of the Deck Department, the most heavily involved department, assisted by Mr. Caddell (Weapons officer), Mr. Bord (Cargo Officer), Mr. Leverett (ex-2nd Div. Officer) and Mr. Glass (1st Div. Officer). The on the spot experts who train these teams of hookmen, signalmen, winchmen, loaders, and truck operators are Chief DuBois and BM1 Hendricks.
It is unfortunate that all of you could not observe us replenishing a carrier at sea. You would be truly amazed to see this evolution of men in their little trucks positioning loads (3500 pounds, as heavy as your auto) on deck, other gents under charge of the "hookman" securely attach lifting wires to the load and the "hookman" signals his winchmen who smoothly lift the load and in coordination with the winchman on the carrier, swing it 150' over to the carrier, smoothly set it on deck and swiftly bring the hook back for another load. You would enjoy the sight.
Hope all are as well as can be back there. Our Squadron Chaplain (LCDR Gordon - Phone Newport, R.I. 841-2249) is our contact back there. He can give you a hand, advice or information to help.
Hope to write once more before returning to Davisville 8 MAY 1971.

Sincerely yours,


From: James Andross, (70s), BM2 - Don't Ask Me… I Don't Give A Damn… Next Stop is Vietnam…
We hadn't been informed of the "official orders" of our next mission, but even a lowly "deck ape" could see between the lines. We had returned from seven months in the Mediterranean, where the crew "practiced" getting used to the ship's primary purpose… UNREPS and VERTREPS. We had returned to the States, and to Boston Shipyard for a complete overhaul and upgrade. We had tested our skills and honed our combat-readiness training in Guantanamo Bay: firing the three-inch fifties, trying out our NBC Gear and geiger-counters, and seeing how many knots we could get out of the newly refitted ship's power plant. Having endured this arduous assignment, Nitro and her crew headed for NOS Earle, New Jersey, to replenish her load. On the other side of the world the Vietnam War was still raging; soon to escalate into the largest bombing campaign since the beginning of time, in an attempt to drive the North Vietnamese negotiators back to the bargaining table at the Paris Peace Talks. But surely this wouldn't involve Nitro. After all, we were homeported on the East Coast.

The first tell-tale signs that something unusual might be in store for us was when the crew headed down the three-mile pier and out the gate on their first Liberty Call in Jersey. At the gate we encountered some of those long-hair, weirdo-type, hippie-beatnik, Anti-Vietnam War Protestors. They were carrying signs that "suggested" that they thought participation in the war was a "bad idea". But why were they worried about the Nitro; didn't they realize we were an east coast ship?

The second clue to our imminent departure for Vietnam was when a group of Marines cordoned-off the perimeter of the ammo loading dock, and most of the deck-apes were given the day off. How many occasions do you know of that the deck crew is dismissed for an onload detail? It seems that perhaps the ship was taking on some highly classified explosive materials… who knows…?

One night during liberty at Earle, a few of Nitro's crewmen decided to "hang-out" with a few of the hippies. I know because I was one of these few. We were invited to join the protestors at Princeton University and wound up at a party being held in the Campus Press office. It all seemed innocent enough… until the next morning.

The XO had received news of our previous night's whereabouts and was none too pleased. Apparently a newspaper article had hit the AP WIRE Services which mentioned the possibility of a "rush job" of loading the ship, and that some on board were "apprehensive about the safety procedures which may have been overlooked". The Exec. Mentioned to us young rebels something involving charges of "conspiracy to commit mutiny". After a few frantic phone calls to a couple of politicians, and after a brief inquiry into the matter by a delegation from the CNO's Office, I thought the matter was resolved. Apparently not for all involved…

As Nitro was getting underway with still no official mention of our destination, it seems a few crewmembers decided it was a nice morning for a swim. Or maybe they spotted an acquaintance in one of the thirty or more canoes that gathered to block the harbor and try to prevent Nitro's departure. In either case, seven crewmembers stripped naked as jay-birds and jumped into the harbor. It didn't matter much since there was an ample fleet of small craft to assist; the water was crowded with U. S. Marshall boats and U. S. Coast Guard boats, not to mention the canoes. But the hippies in the canoes weren't faring too well, though, with all the turbulent waters, swamped canoes, and near collisions with the Government crafts. If this wasn't exciting enough in itself, there were TV news helicopters circling above to capture the whole event for posterity's sake. I wonder if that film ever made it to the news that evening. I wonder what ever happened to those sailors who decided to go swimming that day. For all I can imagine, they're probably still making big rocks into small rocks at some Federal joint in Arkansas.

I thought I should remind the prior and subsequent Nitro crew members of this momentous occasion, lest it all have taken place for naught.

From: William (Bill) Kohlruss, 1971-74, MM3.

I am aware that the Nitro was decommissioned some time back. I'm sure she is resting comfortably in mothballs. Here is a story for you. Last year my wife (Linda) was poking around an Antique Shop in St. Augustine Florida and came across a brass plaque of the Nitro emblem. It now hangs proudly in my living room. I have also maintained contact with several Nitro sailors. I will get the word to them about your newsletter.

Bob Davis, U.S.S. Oriskany (CVA-34), E Division, 1970 - 1972 - Collision Update as of 08/18/2002
I was an electrician serving aboard the U.S.S. Oriskany in 1972. The cause of the collision between the U.S.S. Nitro and the U.S.S. Oriskany was a short in the engine telegraph system.

As the Oriskany came along side the Nitro, she slowed down to match the Nitro's speed by reversing her engines. The command went out to reverse engines. #2, 3 and 4 engines got the signal to reverse, but a short in the engine telegraph system signaled the outboard #1 engine to run FLANK ahead, steering us right into the Nitro.

Aftermath of the Nitro-Oriskany collision. The losses of the propellers (this occurred twice during the cruise) happened later. It had nothing to do with the collision. We spent a lot of dry-dock time in Yokosuka during that cruise.

There was speculation, after we lost the first screw, that it may have been damaged by the collision. But, nobody could explain how the collision could have affected the screw. All the damage was along our port side, the major damage was to our #3 aircraft elevator. I don't remember exactly, but I seem to recall that the collision damage and the propeller replacement were dealt with during the same dry-dock period. The second screw we lost was about a month after we came out of dry-dock.

(Photo courtsey of Ron Camp, LCDR, USN (ret), X Div., USS Oriskany (CVA-34) 1972-75)

From: James Asher, 1972, BM3, USS Oriskany (CVA-34).

I was a third class boatswain mate aboard the USS ORISKANY CVA-34, 1st div. I was rig captain that night on #1 sponson (1st station on ship to receive armament and supplies). I believe we were in the Gulf of Tonkin on Yankee Station. My crew was staged to receive the USS NITRO as we were coming along side her. A customary courtesy was to welcome the ship along side us, and let them know what we were going to do.

The announcement was " Welcome alongside USS NITRO standby to receive our shot lines". We were to receive 500lb. bombs from her. As I was standing by I noticed we kept getting closer and closer when I heard the collision alarm go off. I continued to stand there until we collided. I immediately ran up to my locker and grabbed my camera to take some pictures of this. While I was taking the pictures the Master at Arms confiscated my camera. The NITRO had a big gash on the upper part of her bow and the ORISKANY was listing to the starboard side. We separated a short time later. There where no serious injuries as I recall. There was a report of someone from the ORISKANY jumping on board the NITRO and was arrested for leaving the ship while it was underway. The cause of the accident was that the ORISKANY lost one its propellers during this maneuver, which cause us to veer of course and into the NITRO. We spent two weeks in a shipyard in Japan for repair, only to go back out to sea and loose another propeller and shaft a few weeks later.

By the way I did get my camera back minus film. I still think they used one of my pictures of the collision in our 1972 cruise book. By coincidence when I got out of the navy in '73 I became an electrician and worked for NITRO electric at a powerhouse in Conesville, Ohio. Small world isn't it?

Eric Bushner, 1982-83, SM2. NITRO as an Acronym - Never Intended To Really Operate!

Crusie Stories from the 1999 Reunion booklet

From: Joseph Amico, MM1, 1942-45.

Letter to the editor of the Nitro Blast. In reference to the March, 1999 newsletter. I have received the Nitro Blast - after reading it, you make it sound as if you and your ship mates were on a cruise of joy (he refers to the "white decks & bulkheads of the AE-23" comment from the "A Final Thought" column). A lot of my shipmates and myself went on the new Nitro and compared to the one we were on, it was out of this world.

Well, by now you must know that I was on the old AE-2 from 1941-46. We went through hell on that ship. It was a heap of steel, but it was home to us. Till the war ended, they supplied us with so much ammo we had our decks loaded with depth charges and torpedoes. I am now 77 years of age and I don't think too many of my shipmates are alive.

I was the last one off the AE-2 because at the end I and a few of my shipmates had to make sure that all the jackets (I assume he means personnel records) got back to Norfolk, VA for reassignment or discharge. I am glad to see the AE-2 on the right side of the "Blast". We had 26 mates on that ship from the Boston area.

Smith w/ AE-2 Bell
From: Lee Roy Smith, GM2, 1942-45.

From letter dated 1 June 1999. I am enclosing a picture of me, Lee Smith, Minneapolis, Minnesota, when my wife Margaret and I visited the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, WA., museum in October 1992. It was a wonderful happy surprise when I saw the bell that was on my ship, the USS Nitro (AE-2) from 1942-45.

We are looking forward to attending the reunion in Philadelphia, PA, June 21-24, 1999.

John Mahler, EM3, 1959-60,

The Krazy Krew. While on the Med. cruise with the 6th fleet in 1960 we were in Beirut. I was one of 4 assigned to shore patrol and we were armed with the usual night stick, webbed khaki belt, and SP insignia. But the most important part of our assignment was a map of the restricted areas. Being on an ammunition ship we were as usual required to take a motor launch from about 2 miles out. We also were informed that liberty would end at 2400 and the last boat would leave the beach at 2330. There would be one more boat at 0030 to pick up the 4 of us. Well, the boat at 2330 arrived with a message to the SP via the boat coxswain that due to heavy seas and high winds this would be the last boat until 0800. We were advised to make our last rounds and get a room for the night. We did this and promptly put all those night sticks, belts and SP insignias in the room. They got a good rest while we went out on the town. The first place we went to was a night club called the Krazy Kat. Then we went to the restricted area, of course. We had no trouble finding it since we had those handy little maps. We had one of the best liberties we ever had. At 0700 we were back at the hotel to get our equipment and make that 0800 launch.

From: Warren Misner, RMSN, 1961-62.

Original USS Nitro (AE-23) Commissioning Pennant. I will send the commissioning pennant to you. I will never need it for anything and I am sure you can put it to good us. I wish that I had kept records of when this came down. It was in 1961 before we went on a Med. cruise. This pennant is still in good shape; it is just faded somewhat. I cannot remember dates and sometimes years, but we returned from the Med., I think in spring of '62 and was in a hurricane for 9 days. I have some pictures of this. The ship was badly damaged. The twin 3 inch 50 mounts were torn from the deck. A single 3/50 was torn almost completely off. I think I have pictures of this somewhere. I'll send them when I find them.

From: Henry (Marty) Hope, PC3, 1961-63.

COFFEE MUGS - Since I was ship's postal clerk, I always stashed my big coffee mug locked inside the mailbox on the mess deck since it was so close to the coffee. I also kept another one in the mailbox on the 02 level by the wardroom. That way I could always get to a BIG cup near the radio shack. Even though I stood radio watches in the shack, RMC Morgan wouldn't let me keep a cup in the shack since I was a PC and not an RM. Funny what we remember.... (Editor's note: If you were on board during the time Marty was in the Post Office, you now know why some of the letters you sent home had coffee stains on them.)

From: John Foley, LTJG, 1962-63.

In late 62 I was assigned by Captain Dashiell to Naval Justice School, as preparation for my becoming Nitro's Legal Officer. While I was there, Nitro was assigned to participate in the Cuban Blockade, as a result of the missile crisis. Naturally, I missed that.

After the blockade duty was over, Nitro came back to Davisville, RI, her home port. I rejoined her there. It was sort of like old home week; I hadn't seen the guys for a few months, they wanted to know what I had been up to, and I wanted to know about the blockade. Plenty of stories, but there was one really funny one that Ens. Brian Farrell told me. (He's the guy, by the way, whose deck gang invented the 6' deadly accurate bolo slingshot that used to be mounted in clamps welded to the gunwales).

Seems that while they were boring holes in the ocean one day, the mail was delivered. With the mail came all the magazines, including TIME. One of the guys was reading it in the wardroom, and suddenly broke out laughing. TIME had a graphic of all of the ships in the blockade, their names, and their positions, but they had Nitro in the wrong place. Lots of chuckles, until the Operations Officer, a wonderful guy named Dick Tennyson, decided to look at the highly classified, super top secret op order.

Much to his chagrin, TIME Magazine had it right.

From: James Timmons, YN3, 1968-69:

Our commanding officer, Captain Joseph Snyder, was the type of CO who would volunteer for just about everything. That's why we became involved in the shadowing of the first Soviet carrier to make its appearance in the Mediterranean. During our 68 Med. cruise, we were dispatched to refuel and rearm two destroyers which were following the Russian Aircraft Missile Ship MOSKVA (Moscow), hull number 857.

The operations took place from 26 - 30 October. During that time period, we had several refuelings of the destroyers; were over flown by the MOSKVA's helicopters and found ourselves, one sunny Sunday AM, sitting in the lifeguard position for the MOSKVA's flight operations. Actually, we were in the spot where a Soviet cruiser was suppose to be. I knew when I went out on deck that we weren't suppose to have any replenishments that day, but there was a ship aft of the Nitro our starboard side. Something about the hull line did not look right. I then realized that I couldn't see the anchors (Soviet ship's at that time had their anchors recessed). When I went up to the bridge, I found out that it was indeed a Soviet Cruiser.

She proceeded to steam up parallel to us and stayed in that position during the remainder of the MOSKVA's flight operations. That cruiser was a real sleek beauty. Unbelievably silent and armed to the "teeth". After the operations were over, their CO had her kicked into high gear and she was gone in a flash - no black smoke, no sound - just pure power.

It was interesting to be on the other end for a change. We were so use to seeing one or two Russian ships following our task groups as we went thru our assignments, but it was a nervous kind of "spooky" to do the shadowing instead of the one being shadowed. It was definitely something different, but then again - that's Captain Snyder for you!

From: Joseph A. Condon, SM2 1969-1973, Joseph P. Kennedy JR (DD-850):

I did not serve on the Nitro but on the destroyer, Joseph P. Kennedy JR (DD-850). Sometime around June 1970, we were operating with the Nitro in our task group, and we’re going to have all hands working party for taking on ammo. This was in the [of all places] the Bermuda Triangle .We were going to try a new maneuver. As far as I knew, it was new to have an auxiliary ship [the Nitro] pull along side of my ship. As the Nitro approached, the Kennedy drifted into the Nitro's course and was almost cut in two as my CO took over the helm and saved the Kennedy from certain disaster. We went emergency flank hard to port and just went ahead and around the Nitro turning 180 degree's. However, our port quarter was hit as the Nitro's bow bounced off of the Kennedy right where I had been sleeping ,by the aft 5 inch magazine - all that gun powder whew!!! We took on about 6 inches of water and an aprox. 25 ft dent on our port quarter. That’s my story for the NITRO mates to learn about. Thank GOD for CMDR THOMAS ROGERS, where ever he may be, for saving my and many lives on the JPK.

From: Bob Flynn PC3:

Hello, My wife registered me for the association as a surprise birthday present, and I received my membership yesterday. I'm as proud to be a member as I was to be on the Nitro's crew! There was one nickname that you omitted, "The Naragansett Express". When we pulled alongside ships in Wastpac we would play some song that had a train whistle in it. It was much cooler when we moved to Earle and would play "Duke of Earle" when we un-repped. Thanks for all your hard work on the web-site. I check it at least once a week!

From: Tony Medeiros, GMT3, USS Pyro (AE-24)

Development of the FAST System: The prototype FAST system was installed on the PYRO at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, San Francisco California during a yard period the summer of 1963. Up until this time, the system was developed and tested on a pier and had never been tested under actual ship to ship transfers and in rough weather conditions.

Once it was installed (between the superstructure and # 3 hold, we took on ballast, a Hollywood production team (trailers on the main deck, cameramen, directors, etc. and engineers from BUWEPS, BUSHIPS, and Hunters Point) and got underway. For about three weeks we tested the system with a guided missile destroyer ( can't recall the name but it had what was then a relatively new missile system called Tarter) and damm near killed a couple sailors on the destroyer when the brakes failed on the FAST gear capstans. While all of this was going on the Hollywood gang was filming it all for a NAVY training film and yours truely became one of the stars. I was the first and only GMT on board and responsible for # 2 hold so I was used for all of the guided Missile sequences. I never got to see the completed film. We were told that the film had to be completed quickly as the USS Sacramento was nearing completion and would be commissioned soon. She was to be the first ship with FAST gear and they need the film to train crew members. Most of the 3 weeks of testing and filming was done in very rough seas (intentionally, we actually chased storms) to test the system under the most severe conditions.

Other than the accident I mentioned, the only other problem we experienced was during one of the transfers ( in very rough seas) the destroyer lost her steering and before the could shift over to after-steering she turned into us. Thanks to quick response of our bridge and helmsman the destroyer collided with us side by side rather than her bow first. The only loss was we blew out two of our bumpers, scraped paint, and lost a Tarter training missiles as we had to do an emergency cable cut. Following the test and filming we dropped off the film crew and ballast and went to San Diego to certify for deployment. At that time we passed our first BUWEPS NTPI and earned the Navy Battle Efficiency E as the best AE in PACFLT for 1964 also a first for the ship. By the way, our skipper was Captain James M. O'Brian at that time.

We then returned to Port Chicago (Concord California) Concord Naval Weapons Station to load out for our next WESTPAC cruise which turned out to be 80% of our time shuttling between Subic Bay PI and Viet Nam and servicing two task groups including the Midway and the Kittyhawk. Immediately following the Gulf of Tonkin episode, We went to Okinowa and moved all of the munitions and weapons for an entire USMC Division to Veit Nam. Because the USS Card had been sunk at the pier two days before our arrival, we were forced to off-load all of the munitions from off-shore into barges and anything else they could muster up.

When I left the ship in September 1964 the FAST gear was still installed. I can't recall if we ever used it again. Maybe once or twice for some Talos missiles and boosters over to some Cruisers while on the WESTPAC cruise. As to a helo-pad on the fantail, she still had two 3.50's gun mounts and MK 63 fire control equipment aft when I left. I never saw the ship again.

Crusie Stories from the 1998 Reunion booklet

From: Bill Lewis "Cox", (1943-44) Excerpts from his letter about A Tour of Duty WWII

[AE-2 deck] Transferred to USS Nitro (AE-2) in February, 1943. We made at least 3 or 4 trips to Recife, Brazil, stopping at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (known as Gitmo), or Puerto Rico. We would take a load of ammunition and supplies to Reciefe for South Atlantic patrols and later the planes would fly it to the Acsension Island half way across to Casablanca for troops fighting in Northern Africa, Egypt and Algeria.

On our return trips, we would load up with coffee and raw sugar for Baltimore, stopping at Venezuela, Trinidad, Puerto Rico or Cuba. From Baltimore back to Norfolk, Va. and load up again with ammo.

Early in 1944 we went to Portsmouth, Va. Navy Yard dry dock to get ready for the big trip to Scotland, Ireland Wales and Plymouth England. AE-2 was "World War I vintage" with a double hull and all riveted, with wood decks and solid guard rails. In the Navy yard, they cut large holes in the rails for water to drain out during the trip in the North Atlantic. On our trip in April 1944, we were the only ship in the convoy, with 5 destroyers or DE’s as escorts.

In Plymouth, England, we loaded all cruisers, and 3 battleships, Arkansas, Nevada and Texas, with projectiles for bombardment in France. Then on June 6th., the big war really got started. AE-2 was on station in the English Channel out of sight of Normandy waiting for those battleships to pull along side for reloading. Mt. Baker (ammo ship) would run to the States for a load of ammo, pull along side of us and load us up. They were much faster than us. We loaded those 3 battleships about 3 times each. They were really burning the paint off their big guns.

After Normandy, we went to the Mediterranean for Southern France invasion, which did not amount to much for us. We stopped at Gibraltar; Oran, Morocco, Algeria; Tunisia and Corsica, where Napoleon was born. We took some German prisoners to Algiers, Algeria.

In September 1944, I left the Nitro in Algiers and came back to the States for further assignment.

From: Jack Van Tol, (1960-64) Aboard the Nitro from Oct 6, 1960 through July 3, 1964. RD-2

Run Me Aground! USS Nitro AE-23 super duper landing craft!
We had a Captain named Cone. Just left a Submarine and I guess he thought we were a sub too. We came in to Rosie Roads, Puerto Rico to deliver some cargo. The Marines were all lined up on the dock with cargo we were also picking up. We get about 40 yards from the beach at about 7 knots and the Capt. yells "All back 1/3 port screw and ahead 2/3 on the starboard screw." HUH??? We only have ONE screw unlike a submarine. The next thing we feel is the whole ship shudders and it slams to a stop. The Marines were running away and we were about 20 feet up on the beach. Tore a big hole in the forward fresh water peak tank. Now we’re short a LOT of fresh water every day. We got cut back to very little shower water. I imagine he got a hell of a chewing out for that trick.

Slow down coming into port??? Nah..
It was nighttime or early morning. Whatever time it was, it was very dark and very foggy coming into Newport RI. I was a Radarman working the surface radar SPS 6B I think it was. I’m sitting there taking bearings and ranges and calling out course changes to the bridge. I’m watching the long torpedo testing getting closer and closer and nobody is paying attention to my course and speed recommendations. Why?? Because visibility was about 1/4 mile or maybe a tad more. Finally when it was looking very serious on the radar screen I went out on the bridge and told the OD that we had best make a very quick course and speed change or we we’re going to run right through this testing dock. Same Capt. as Run me aground. We came around hard to the left and dropped speed from 15 knots to 5. We passed that dock by maybe 50 feet if that. I was beginning to think this ship had a death wish.

From: George Gregory:

In the 60's we rearmed the USS America (CVA-66), Gitmo bay in the harbor - by transferring ammo on barges Two Russian destroyers followed us into Istanbul, Turkey harbor on the '64 med. cruse. While refueling at sea during the night, in the med. a civilian liner came directly at us - heading between our two ships -- we had to break off immediately and turn the white lights on and at the last minute the liner changed course and just missed us.

Look forward to seeing all at the reunion!
George Gregory

From: Howard L Schriefer, BSME MSE PE.

[Officer of the Day] During the sixties, I worked at Maryland Shipbuilding & Drydock Company at Fairfield, Maryland. I was a Ship General Foreman on the second shift. Nitro was in our yard for extensive overhaul and conversion to FAST capability. She had been on and off drydock and still had a large opening, as I remember, in her port side at the engine room, where we had removed and reinstalled much of her machinery. She was tied up at our remote Pier 5. As I drove into the shipyard on a Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1967 to begin my shift, I noticed that Nitro was listing port side much more than her usual couple degrees. On the parking lot, I saw a huddle of day Foremen. I asked them if they were discussing the stability of Nitro. They critically told me they couldn't worry about Nitro because our largest drydock had capsized overnight and they were getting their story together for the insurance company. Since they were occupied with the half-sunken and deformed drydock, I decided to investigate Nitro myself.

After crossing the floating bridge to Pier 5, and approaching the listing Nitro, I saw that her pipe and diamond-plate yard-furnished gangway was severely distorted and twisted. Some of her mooring lines were slack and others looked ready to pop. I walked to the large approximately ten-foot-high by twenty-foot-long access opening in her side and peered in from my position on the Pier. Her engine room was deeply flooded and the freeboard outside to the bottom of the access opening was less than 16 inches. Fairly strong wind was working against Nitro's precarious situation. I decided to board her and determine the problem.

Walking on Nitro's main deck, the list was noticeable. I headed for the stern and descended the ladder in the trunk to the shaft alley. The shaft alley bilges were bone dry. Next I went forward and checked the forepeak, which was also dry. I climbed down into one of her holds to check the double bottom. Inside her hold I could hear the creaking and popping of Nitro's strain. I returned to midships and made the decision to descend into Nitro's engine room. I went directly to the bottom and saw that the starboard side was dry while machinery on the port side was submerged. The floodwater was too dirty to see through and had plenty of scum on top. I watched the scum, and saw that the floodwater had a slow current. The current emanated from near the large access opening in Nitro's side. I saw electric, welding, and air lines strewn through the access opening. I also saw a puffed-up canvas fire hose which ran from beneath the dirty bilge water through the access opening and overboard into the harbor. My first thought was right - siphon! I waded into and reached down under the bilge water to feel for the fire hose. When I found it, I tugged and tugged until I could haul the fireline over my shoulder and grab the stanchions to lug the hose inside. I finally felt the hose break suction and knew that I had stopped the flooding that was entering Nitro through a backpedaling portable air-driven pump which had been shut off, probably on Friday evening when the workforce left the yard.

Hours had passed and only I and a gate house guard remained at the shipyard. I went to my office and placed calls for workers and supervisors to work Nitro's mooring lines, place huge counterweights on her high-side main deck, and to run pumps to pump her bilges. I left a note for my Superintendent concerning what had occurred. The next day entering the yard, I saw Nitro with her familiar slight list. When I entered the main office, I expected to be congratulated for protecting Nitro, and possibly saving her from capsizing at the dock. Instead, nobody said a word then or ever.

Many years have passed. I don't expect congratulations anymore.. But I'm glad I did it and glad to see the Nitro on the www. She's always been special to me. I also worked on her sister the Suribachi (AE-21) as a machinist. Would like to hear what you think and answer any questions you might have. I appreciate the notes and bmp's the Website has sent me. Best of all, I enjoy the picture of USS Nitro that is now wallpaper on my computer monitor.

Finally, my several attempts at MARCAD and NAVCAD enlistment and even being among the too many at Fort Holabird induction resulted in my never serving. Nevertheless, my wife and I extend the most heartfelt thanks to all the men and women who have served in war and peace. I especially thank all who have been part of the Nitro "experience" and wish you much success at the upcoming Nitro Reunion.

Howard L. Schriefer, PE

[Underway Replenishment]
From: Robert Eberlein 1967-69

Baltimore by Chance My grandparents immigrated from Bremen, Germany, and the port where they landed in the United States was Baltimore, Maryland. When I was assigned to report aboard the USS Nitro, it was at that same port of Baltimore. Their first port was also my first port.

From: James Timmons, USS Nitro (AE-23) 1968 -69

Soviet Anchorage Several things happened aboard the Nitro during the Med. Cruise of 1968. The one occurrence that stands out was spending a very eerie November night in a Soviet anchorage.

14 Nov.68 - 2200 Sea and Anchor detail called. We were underway, on a partly overcast and calm night, eastbound in independently with several other ships in our task group, just off the Greek island coast of Kithera when it happened. The anchorage detail was called for, and my job was captain’s talker on the starboard bridge. Shortly after I arrived on the bridge, I heard that we had had an engineering causality. What had happened, at that point, was not generally known.

We were shortly to learn that the main bearing in the shaft alley had burned up. As I remembered it, we were looking for some place to drop anchor and as it happened the place we were approaching already had some occupants. As we approached the anchorage, barely able to make 5 knots, we saw what appeared to be three sets of ship anchorage lights and they definitely were not American. From looking at the plotting chart on the bridge and in CIC, it was determined that he anchorage was most likely Soviet. Fortunately, the seas were calm and the skies were fairly clear. Captain Snyder was receiving reports on the damage and trying to contact our task group commander onboard the USS Topeka (CG8). I mentioned previously that the night became eerie. Not only because we were about ready to drop anchor in a Soviet anchorage but because of a plane which was flying overhead dropping parachute flares. We figured that it might have been from one of the NATO bases in Italy, but it just as easily could have been either Soviet or American from the USS Wasp (CVS 18). We had been in our anchorage spot for a while when we heard, rather than saw a ship coming up upon us from the stern off of our starboard side. I said heard rather than saw because the ship had no running lights on. As she approached, a small spot light from one of the other ship’s at anchor came on as it tried to illuminate the incoming ship. Well, the incoming ship turned on one of her huge arc lights and trained it on the ship with the much smaller spot light. Needless to say, the small spot snapped off and in came the Topeka.

Once the Topeka arrived off of our starboard side, Captain Snyder had a brief conversation with the task group Commodore via bullhorn. It was decided that he would take his launch over to the Topeka for further discussions. The launch was stowed on davits just aft of the bridge on the starboard side. It was made ready and the captain boarded it when it was level with the deck. Both were then lowered into the Med. for the short trip to the Topeka.

When Captain Snyder came back to the Nitro, we were told that we would remain at anchorage while another bearing was sent to the Nitro from a nearby aircraft carrier. Those type of bearings are usually not kept as spares in inventory, except by larger ships such as carriers. He also mentioned to us that the Commodore said that they were going to keep a destroyer in the vicinity "just over the horizon", just in case. After the anchorage watches were set, the crew members, not otherwise involved in ship’s business, went back to their racks for whatever sleep was left that night.

The next morning, as we were gathering for quarters, we saw that our neighbors at anchor were indeed Soviet; however, instead of finding three ships at anchor there were only two. One was a Soviet warship, probably a destroyer and the other was a trawlers but could have been one of the intelligence gathering ship which often follow our convoys. I’m sure that members of the "Snoopy detail" took quite a few pictures of these two ships to pass along to various intelligence sources. If indeed we did see three sets of anchorage lights and there were only two ships there in the morning, the third set could have belonged to a submarine which probably decamped during our approach to the anchorage. During the day, we pretty much went about the ship’s business, had the bearing repaired and left the anchorage. As we departed, Captain Snyder sent the following flag message to the Soviet ships: "See you later". You can imagine the scuttlebutt that went around the ship during the next few days.

From: James Timmons, USS Nitro (AE-23) 1968 -69

Augusta Bay, Sicily - 4 Jan 69, 0800 - Arrived Augusta Bay. We were being relieved by the USS Diamond Head (AE-19) and were off loading our excess ammunition while in the port of Augusta Bay, Sicily. Augusta Bay is also a petroleum refinery and is on the south side of Sicily at the foot of Mount Aetna, an inactive volcano.

We were tied up along side a pier for the transfer with the Diamond Head. The Diamond Head was outboard of the Nitro on our Port side. We had fenders between the ships and a gangway between the two quarterdecks. The Commandant of the Naval Base was on board the Nitro, having decided to make a courtesy call on both our captain and the captain of Diamond Head. The transfer of ammunition was well underway when all of a sudden the announcement of General Quarters (went to GQ around 1500) was heard throughout both ships - THIS WAS NOT A DRILL. Since the majority of the crew members of both ships were carrying out ship’s work, they had no idea of what was happening or where it was happening. The call to General Quarters did not mention where or what the nature of the emergency was. It could have been on either ship or in the general area.

Needless to say, everyone beat feet to their GQ stations. My GQ station was in CIC to work with the signals book. Once at GQ station, with my headphones firmly in place, the word was passed that one of our forklift trucks had backed into a stanchion in one of the forward holds while moving ammunition around. In doing so, the driver had severed an electrical line and it had either created or the potential to create an electrical fire. With a major catastrophe in mind, GQ had been sounded, the deck crew was ready to sever lines to the Diamond Head and the pier in preparations for getting underway.

Shortly after GQ had been sounded the situation was brought under control and the ships were secured from GQ. I managed to get out of CIC just in time to see the hasty departure of the Commandant of the naval base. He could just barely contain himself while the gangway was reconnected to the pier. It was an interesting way to leave the Med. Left Augusta Bay at 1800.

From: Bill Toohey:
[USS Independence (CVA-62)]
I reported to Nitro at Earle, N. J., in April of 76 and she was in sorry shape. We had to delay our deployment to the Med. several days while we overhauled a forced draft blower and it went down hill from there. Sixth Fleet had requested that we not be deployed but the CO told the brass that we could make it with no sweat. We got under way in April 76 for the Med.

Well me made it to Naples and sat there dead in the water for 8 weeks with a tub along side giving us steam and a donkey generator on the helo deck for AC power. Sixth Fleet helped by laying on every inspection team that they could find. . She had been used badly and not given the care that she deserved. If it were not for the excellent crew we would never have gotten underway again. We had so many steam leaks that we spent all time at sea on water hours. BM1 Hall went one time 6 weeks with out seeing a shower, ever time we were in port and a water barge was along side he was assigned to beach guard. He finally gave up and took a shower in a rain storm that we chased down for just that reason.

When we returned to the states we went into the Yard at Philly for 14 month overhaul. When we tied to the pier and shut down, she just leaned over on her side like she was all tired out, and she was. She had not been cold iron for over 36 months, except that period in Naples.

I had served on Haleakala (AE-25) and I knew the class. Nitro was a great ship but that is only because of the people who served in her. I left in July of 79 at Yorktown NWS. After 20 yrs in the Navy and now being retired for over 10 yrs I find it hard to remember any of the bad times we had only the best shipmates anyone could ever ask for. I hope to make the reunion this year; I would like to put my arms around some of my friends, I truly love them. Bill Toohey ETC USN Retired, Operations Dept. Leading Chief, USS Nitro April 76 - July 79.

Story Specifications:

Nitro Cruise Stories should be based on actual events that happened on board the Nitro. Be specific as possible when describing the story. Short stories of 500 words or less, wherever possible, so that we can keep the reader's interest.

Please email your interesting stories to Jim Timmons

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Page created: 12/21/1998 Updated: 3/6/2006
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