1966-1967 West Pac Memories #5 Paul Trombetta
Memories of West Pac, 1966-1967
by Paul Trombetta AX3 and AX2 and almost AX3 again (HS-8)
Installment #5. What does commissary working party mean?
Well, it has been more than a month since the last installment. I have been on the road again- this time to Saipan and Subic Bay. Yes- that's right- good ol' Olongapo City. It's time I got back to the business of reminiscing.
I received an informative email from a fellow shipmate, Steve Jacobson. Regarding my comments about the rockets on the S2's, Steve assured me that during the entire cruise they carried rockets and Steve's bunch would have a "pool" to see how many broke loose on landing. I would never "intentionally" embellish a sea story so I stand corrected- har har.
As you can probably tell from the previous 4 installments, my first exposure to shipboard life, specifically carrier life, was during these carrier qualifications that preceded the westpac cruise. I was adjusting reasonably well- having plenty of bumps on my forehead and knobs on my shins. I learned to avoid Khaki, White Shirts, Yellow Shirts, and I used that damned escalator no matter what they said to me.
Part of learning about shipboard life involves getting used to the smell and taste of sterilized milk. Actually, food on the Bennington in 1966 could not be exactly described in any terms which relate to edible plant and meat products. I remember some kind of egg frizzle which would make good packing material. The bug juice tasted like turpentine. I was introduced to Bennington Steak, which was a very dry roast beef or other 4-legged animal in disguise. And the milk!!! I never saw milk like that in my life. It came in cans which were opened and dumped into the milk dispensers.
I first saw this strange milk when my shop chief told me at 7 am (after working a 12 hour night shift) that I would be on a commissary working party at 10 am that morning. Why me? Because he liked me so much. I reported to a second class petty officer while we were doing an UNREP and he told me to line up about three decks down. We passed, hand to hand, case after case of this "milk". Some of the cans had punctured and the boxes were dripping this putrid stuff all over us. The stench was overwhelming sometimes. I must say that I didn't drink a drop of the stuff for the entire cruise. When we got to Sydney Australia, I drank 2 gallons of fresh milk, first thing- right before the 2 cases of beer- but I'll save that story for later.
Getting back to the galley, we night check folks really depended on mid-rats (the meal served at midnight). It was like lunch to us and very important. As time went by, they seemed to stop cooking for us. We were getting leftovers from supper and cold cereal (I didn't eat cereal on this cruise either because of the milk). One night all we had was soup and potato chips. Hell, ships company didn't work shifts like the air group so they simply didn't feel like making an effort at feeding us late night. That is until CAG got involved.
Apparently someone complained and got CAG's attention. Pretty soon after that we were getting a full meal of soup, potato chips AND egg frizzle, Bug Juice, Bennington steak and milk. Whoopee!! A couple of years later I had the pleasure of being in a squadron called HC-7 and spent quite a bit of time on the Enterprise. Now, that ship could feed it's crew, I must say. For you Bennington sailors who never experienced chow on a bigger carrier, let me tell you that it was great. Steaks, lobster once a week, fresh baked bread (5 or 6 kinds), well cooked chow by folks who took pride in their food. The Bennington was a fine ship with a fine crew but the lack of great chow was a drawback- at least during my time aboard (and I'm the guy who loves Navy chow- much better than my mother ever cooked).
Well folks, these carrier quals are almost over.
Standby for installment #6 - Off to West Pac - next stop, Pearl Harbor