By Dennis W Smith
Is this a horror story? I'd rather not use that word, because it involves one of my very best friends in the distant past and there was no horror in the event I will describe. Let’s just say it's extremely unsettling (to me at least) and you might term it as a paranormal event, whatever that is, and let it go at that. It is a true story, believe what you will of it or what you won’t. It happened. I just want to get it on paper. Yes, I have dreams, but the event that causes them was not a dream.
As I sit here at my computer writing this story, I don’t see any fiery sunrises or dark clouds looming, or sense some aura about me, and I didn’t wake up trembling when the alarm went off or any of that nonsense. I am up early, as usual, after one of “those” dreams, of which I’ve had so many over the years. The same dream. Me talking to my best friend, Bill, close to the bow of our ship, The USS Henry County (nicknamed “The Hawk”). The same conversation over and over, word for word. But that will be told in this story. I have been reluctant to tell it for obvious reasons. Back then I didn’t dare tell it for fear of being medically discharged from the Navy for being a “nut-job,” and then for years afterwards because of my work in security which sometimes brought me into contact with the government. But now, retired and a disabled veteran, what difference does it make? Maybe it'll be some therapy for me to get it out and talk about it? Maybe, or maybe not. It’s worth a try.
I joined the Navy in Hammond, Indiana in 1960. After Boot Camp in San Diego I was assigned to The USS HENRY COUNTY, a Landing Ship Tank assigned to Amphibious Forces. Our job was to carry troops and their tanks. Hit the beach, open up the huge bow doors, and they would roll off ashore and we would pull off and head back to sea. We only had a crew of 192 men, including officers. We also had a flat bottom which meant we bounced and wallowed a lot to wherever we were going. After going onboard and getting settled in I was assigned to the engineering department. I would be working as a boiler technician. I started out as a Fireman Apprentice, and then Fireman, and was fairly soon promoted to Boiler Technician 3rd class and was put in charge of the Boiler Room. That was as high as I rose in the 4 years I served.
The day after I boarded the Hawk, many of the crew members came to me and introduced themselves and told me where they were from. One of the guys was Bill Baylor, a tall and lanky dark-haired sailor from Hershey, Pennsylvania. We hit it off immediately and soon became best buddies. Bill had come aboard only 3 weeks before I had. Bill was an Engineman and rose in rank right along with me.
We had many adventures in California. One of our favorite places to meet girls was Knott's Berry Farm, an old western-style ghost town set up for visitors. One day, while there, we met Cindy and Carol, who were sisters. Carol was one year older than Cindy. We hit it off big time. I gravitated toward Cindy immediately and Bill did the same with Carol. It’s always been amazing to me how things like that work out.
Cindy wanted to be in the movies. She wanted to take acting lessons and get a real screen test. She showed me her card where she had already joined the Screen Actors Guild. Cindy had actually been in a movie called Flower Drum Song earlier that year.
“It was just a bit part,” she said. She didn’t have any lines. She was just a young woman walking down a street in San Francisco. She smiled remembering it all. “It lasted about five seconds, but you can plainly see me. And best of all, it didn’t get cut. And, they paid me a hundred bucks.”
I was duly impressed, and said so. A hundred bucks was a lot of money at that time.
We would often meet them in Long Beach (we, of course, didn’t have a car) and go to the movies at a theater in Long Beach. We four saw the first James Bond movie, Dr. No, and I became a big Bond fan. We would walk through The Pike Amusement Park and smooch a little behind the buildings. I really liked Cindy but felt a little guilty at times because I had a girl back home. Her name was Linda Isaacs, and she had the most beautiful long black hair in the world. She was also beautiful. We had “gone steady” for a couple of years before I joined the Navy and had discussed our possible future together. I received a letter from Linda at least twice a month, and I always wrote back. I had talked with Bill about her several times. But Bill was hung up on us going to Australia after the Navy. He constantly talked about it. According to Bill, we could become rich in Australia mining for opals which, he said, were everywhere down under. His plan was that we would go to San Francisco after the Navy and catch a steamer headed for Australia. We would work below decks in the boiler room for free passage. Bill had it all figured out. He said, “We’ll only be gone a couple of years and you can go back and marry Linda with plenty of money in your pockets.” He had talked me into it.
All the fun would soon be over. At the end of 1961, Russia resumed nuclear weapons testing ordered by Khrushchev. In early 1962 President John Kennedy announced we would do the same to answer the threat. The Henry County was selected to be one of the ships participating in the tests. We steamed out of Long Beach on July 12, 1962 headed for Pearl harbor, Hawaii where we would re-supply food, fuel, and fresh water. From there we would steam to what was termed the “Johnston/Christmas Island Danger Zone,” designated “Operation Dominic.” The Hawk was part of “Joint Task Force 8.” The base we would operate from would be Johnston Island, which was 823 nautical miles SSW of Hawaii. We would be steaming between Johnston and Christmas Island, participating in the tests.
After nine days at sea we sighted Diamond Head lying off our starboard side. We continued on down to enter the channel that would lead us to the Pearl Harbor Naval Base where we would tie up.
The next night, after berthing at a pier, a sailor they called "Suds"—who was a shipfitter (welder)—and Bill and I hit the beach. We stopped at a little bar out on Waikiki that advertised “Live Entertainment.” The live entertainment was a long-haired girl sitting on a stool, picking a guitar and singing folk songs. She wasn’t very good but she was giving it her all. We found us a table over in a corner and ordered draft beer. We discussed the upcoming deployment to the Johnston/Christmas Island Danger Zone for these nuclear tests. Suds had known a couple of guys who were on Bikini back in 1958 for tests. One was now dead and one was dying.
“It’s not a good thing guys. Not good at all. We will, more or less, be guinea pigs. I just don’t want to be one of the poor guys who has to go topside to take radiation readings after they drop one of those bastards. I want my rear to be deep, deep below decks.”
I went to the bar and got us three more drafts. While waiting for them to be pulled, I chatted with the folk singer. Her name was LuAnn and she was from Columbus, Ohio. She played these gigs (as she called them) while attending the University of Hawaii. When I asked her why she didn’t stay in Columbus and go to Ohio State she stared at me as if I had gone daft. I grabbed our beers and headed back to the table. When I arrived, the conversation had changed. Bill and Suds were in a discussion about poetry. Bill was talking about a man named Shelley, a name I vaguely remembered from high school literature class. Suds said Shelley had a fascination with death. “Just read his ‘Queen Mab’ and you’ll see what I mean.” Bill said he had read it and it was one of his favorites. Bill said “Death has a beauty of its own and, in fact, may be the most beautiful part of life.” I was a little surprised when Suds said, “I’ve heard you write a little poetry” and Bill said, “I dabble at it. It’s not very good but I enjoy it.”
They were thinking out of my league so I just sat there sipping my beer. Bill sensed this and said, “Do you have a favorite poet, Den?”
I said, “Well, I sorta’ like that Poe guy, I guess, and the poem where he looks for El Dorado. I guess that’s about it.”
Suds sorta’ smiled as if I had said I preferred comic books to John Steinbeck. Bill picked up on that and quickly said, “Poe has always been under-appreciated. He was actually an extremely profound writer.” I didn’t know where Bill was getting words like “profound” from, but I was glad to see it wipe the smirk off Suds’ face.
There wasn’t much action going on in the little bar and we didn’t care. We were all three worn out and ready to go hit our racks early. Lu Ann was demolishing “Red River Valley” as we went out the door.
At muster the next morning it was announced that three men had been chosen to attend radiology school for five days. These men were:
Second Class Electrician’s Mate, Howard Sayers
Third Class Boiler Technician, Dennis Smith
Third Class Engineman, William Baylor
There were over 80 men in the radiology class. Larger ships had as many as a dozen men on their radiology teams. The Hawk was small so she rated just three. The class was taught by a chief warrant officer who claimed to have a degree in physics. We were each issued a numbered Mueller-Geiger counter that we had to sign for. Each man would be responsible for the care and maintenance of his counter until the end of the tests when they would be turned in.
We were instructed in calibrating the instruments to take radiation readings. These readings would be read as roentgens. We also learned about ionizing radiation and its “half-life.” We learned about alpha and beta particles and gamma rays. We were trained in “wash down” procedures and the “base surge” that would emanate from the detonation of an Atomic Bomb much like the circle that radiated from a stone being thrown into a pond only tremendously bigger in scale. This was a huge wave that would slap the side of a ship causing it to list severely on the opposite side.
Three days after the classes ended we pulled away from our pier and headed down the channel and to the sea on our way to Johnston Island.
There seemed to be an unnatural stillness about the base as the Hawk steamed slowly up the channel, headed for the open sea. It was still dark, with a faint light to the east. No other vessels were moving in either direction. I was alone on the fantail with my thoughts. I thought about Linda and I thought about Bill and I going to Australia. Maybe it would all work out. I threw my cigarette overboard and headed below decks.
The farther we steamed southwest the more reality seemed to become suspended. Even the sea looked different. Darker. No phosphorus streaks brightened the wake behind the Hawk. Stars were becoming rare. It was impossible to tell where the sky ended and the sea started. There was no horizon. A black dome seemed to have been placed over the sea where the Hawk was steaming. Even breathing was difficult. On our third night of steaming, it seemed that every man not on watch was topside. The old salts who had been at sea for years had bewildered looks on their faces. Old Doc Bailey, a Chief Corpsman, who had sailed on all seven seas, shook his head. “These latitudes are not meant for men. This is Satan’s playground. Satan and his demons.”
Just as Doc finished his sentence, the southern sky flashed a bright white light. Brighter than any sun. Then it turned a greenish hue, and then it was gone. Somebody said, “What in God’s Name?”
Doc said, “That was a nuclear air burst. And we haven’t even reached our destination, where we’re going to see the bastards up close for real.” A light rain started to fall. We all headed belowdecks.
At 0500 hours on the third day we began approaching Johnston Island, which was really not an island, just an atoll.
We anchored 1000 yards out from the break-wall that had been built around the atoll. Standing on the main deck you could see the sea on the other side. There was a short runway running the length of the atoll. Men and equipment were moving about.
We watched a 4-engine cargo plane coming in on final. You could hear him cut back on the engines while he was still skimming the water’s surface. The nose-wheel touched down just where the runway met the water. The pilot knew it was a short runway, and he was good. We could hear his brakes squeal as he brought the plane to a stop thirty yards before the pavement ran out.
Somebody said, “Jesus Christ!”
Mr. Lingan, the Engineering Officer, called the engineers together. We were all issued a dosimeter—a small, black round object that would hang from a cord around our necks. We were told these would be “read” from time to time to detect how many roentgens we were being exposed to. They never were. The “uniform of the day” would be t-shirts and dungaree pants because of the heat.
Bill, Howard Sayers, and I were seated on the deck just inside the port hatch. We were all three wearing asbestos fire-fighting suits. Sweat was pouring from our bodies inside the suits. The only part not made of asbestos was the plexiglass in front of our eyes to see through. Howard muttered something about us looking like creatures from a B-grade science fiction movie. My body was itching. My face was itching. There was no way to scratch. Howard said he was having trouble breathing. We were each holding our Mueller-Geiger counters. Johnston Island was radioing messages that were being piped throughout the ship. One phrase was repeated over and over.
“APRIL WEATHER - APRIL WEATHER - APRIL WEATHER”.
We had no idea what it meant.
We knew a B-52 had left Hickam headed our way with a payload. It would be a surface drop of a multi-megaton nuclear bomb. It would be detonated at a certain altitude for the “rainbow effect." These drops were designated “air-bursts.” We had no idea where the Hawk’s position would be in relation to this drop. The damage control teams were seated in the mess hall below us. The rest of the crew were at their General Quarters stations. This drop was designated “Shot Chama.” We had no idea what that meant either. The countdown was blared throughout the ship.
“D - MINUS TEN MINUTES”
We three looked at each other. Howard shrugged—that was all he knew to do.
“D -MINUS TWENTY SECONDS … …19…18…17…16…15….14…13… 12…11…10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1”
The overhead lights blinked off and on. I could hear the engines changing speeds trying to maintain some sort of station. The engines shut down. There was silence. The speakers blared. “Brace for base surge.” We had been warned about the “base surge” in radiology school.
“Ten seconds to base surge - 9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1…”
It was like a giant’s hand had slapped the side of the Hawk. I was thrown against the bulkhead behind me. Bill’s head slammed into the bulkhead behind him. Howard hung on to a rung to keep from being thrown down the ladder to the next deck. The Hawk took a 20 degree list to starboard and then bobbed back up on an even keel.
On the deck under us we could hear the damage control parties.
“What the hell!”
“Mary, Mother of God.”
The ship’s speakers crackled, “Damage control teams to port and starboard shaft alleys for damage inspection. Report to CIC. Radiology team lay topside.”
That was us. We got the hatch undogged and stepped outside. The heat was worse than inside. Daylight was just breaking. The sky on the southern horizon was unnaturally white with a greenish hue. It was like being on another planet, looking at an alien sky.
We headed out in different directions. I went midships on the starboard side, working my way forward. I slowly ran the counter’s probe wand over the railing. The meter fluctuated between thirty and forty roentgens. I ran it over a hose rack and it hit fifty roentgens as the clicks per minute increased. These were pretty much the average readings I received over my area. I dutifully logged in locations and the readings. The radiology team met back at the port hatch thirty minutes later. Howard’s reading had been about the same as mine. So were Bill’s, with the exception of the forward gun mount where his needle had pegged. We noticed the greenish hue in the sky had become larger. Then the rain came. We headed below decks, stripped down and hit the showers. Doc stationed himself outside the shower stalls with his own Geiger Counter. I had my shower running with only cold water. It felt good. I let it hit me full in the face for a long time, trying to get rid of the stink of the damned asbestos suit, before I started soaping down. Howard came out first. He stood with his arms out and legs spread while Doc ran the wand over him. There was no clicking from the Geiger counter. I came out next and assumed the position. Doc pronounced me “clean.” Bill came out. There was some clicking under his right armpit. He went back into the shower. When he came back out, the clicking continued. He headed back into the shower. When he came back out the third time the clicking had stopped. Bill was clean.
Mr. Lingan came in and talked with us while we were getting dressed. He looked at our logs and whistled when he saw the high readings Bill had picked up in the forward gun mount. He said, “I need to get these up to the captain right away,” and took off with the log sheets.
That night Bill and I sauntered into the mess hall at a little before 2000 hours to get a good seat for the movie. I asked the electrician’s mate setting up the projector the name of the movie. He said, “It’s called Flower Drum Song. It’s a good movie.” I thought of Cindy. He started to add something else but I cut him off.
“That’s ok,” I said
I headed back to my rack. I climbed in and read a western by Max Brand until I fell asleep.
The next test was two days later. This time the weapon would be carried aloft by a Thormissile and detonated in the ionosphere above us. All hands were required to observe this one. It was designated “Blue Bird.” We were each issued a pair of dark goggles with one-inch thick lens. At 0100 hours we were all seated topside with our knees pulled up. Even with the goggles you had to bury your head into your arms because the initial flash would blind you. The control room on the island was coming through the ship’s speakers.
“The blue bird has left the island—standby.” We didn’t need to be told that. We were close enough to see the Thor missile lift from its pad and hear the roar and see the flame. It quickly disappeared into the blackness of the night. We waited. Then the countdown.
“D - minus 30 seconds.”
We buried our heads and closed our eyes.
“10 - 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1”
With the goggles on, my face buried in my arms, and my eyes shut, I still saw a flash of light. We waited. The speakers came alive. “All Hands May Now Observe Detonation.”
We removed our goggles and looked up. The sky was on fire. A deep, dark, boiling red, covering the entire sky. There seemed to be lightning bolts flashing through it. There were audible gasps all around me. I heard an unknown voice somewhere behind me: “Now we know what hell looks like.” Somebody else said, “The hell we do, this shit would scare the piss out of Satan.” Then a band of light appeared, arcing from horizon to horizon. The ship’s speaker came alive, telling us we were looking at the Van Allen Radiation Belt. We were told that the lights that looked like tracers, but it was actually ionizing radiation from the detonation being pulled into the belt. Some of the guys had already left. The rest of us went below. Everybody was quiet, getting ready to get back into their racks. The usual horseplay and laughter was muted. Somebody propped open an overhead scuttle to let in some air. It was raining again.
We steamed southeast to Palmyra Island and anchored just outside the lagoon. We were here for what the Navy called R and R (Rest and Relaxation). Hot dogs, hamburgers—we were even allowed beer brought from Johnston Island. Some of the guys were in the lagoon splashing around. A baseball game was underway. Bill, Suds, Howard, several guys from deck force and operations and me had a game of tag football going. The longer our game went, the more competitive it became. Pretty soon the “tagging” was replaced by full contact tackling. Bill and Suds and their crew were on the opposite team from me and Howard and our guys. When it finally ended, there were bloody noses and torn t-shirts. I don’t even remember which side won but it was great fun. Everybody seemed to be in a good mood as we piled aboard the LCVPs and the sun was setting. Bill set down in a corner of the boat. “Man, I must really be out of shape. Damn, I’m tired and ache in every bone.”
I said, “Hell, we all do.”
Suds said, “What about an old guy like me? I’m 32 years old. How do you guys think I feel? You young whippersnappers shouldn’t be tired. Hell, I’m the one who’s tired.” We all grinned.
Bill didn’t feel like eating chow that night. I said, “They’ve got ice cream. Do you want me to bring you a bowl?” He thought a second. “Nah, I don’t think so.”
After chow, I went back to the berthing area to get Bill for the movie but he was sound asleep.
I went back to the mess hall and watched a goofy moving called Duel of the Titans. They were speaking English but it was definitely dubbed in because the actor’s lips weren’t in sync with the words. Halfway through just about everyone walked out, including me. Reveille came at 0530. When I jumped out of my rack I noticed Bill was already up. I tied a towel around my waist, grabbed my shaving kit and stumbled to the head. An engineman named Mosley was shaving at the sink next to mine. I never cared much for Mosley. He resembled a chipmunk to me. Buck-teeth and all. He said, “Where’s your buddy, Baylor?”
I said, “Probably looking for you to whip your butt.”
Mosley was patting cheap after-shave on his jaws. “No man, I’m serious. He was supposed to stand the mid-watch on the auxiliary engines. I went to wake him up but he wasn’t in his rack. Hell, I couldn’t find him anywhere. Mac had to take the watch.”
I went back to my rack and climbed into my dungarees and boondockers. I headed to the mess hall to grab a cup of coffee and climbed the ladder to the main deck, which I did alone most mornings to gather my thoughts and try to catch a breeze of some sort. As I moved forward, I saw Bill up by the forward gun tub. When I got to him I said, “Where in hell have you been, buddy? A lot of guys are looking for you. You didn’t relieve the watch last night.” Bill said, “I know I didn’t.”
That concerned me a little. I said, “Are you okay, Bill?"
He smiled, ”Actually, I feel better than I have ever felt in my life.”
That also disconcerted me for some reason. Bill had a strange aura about him, as though he was glowing just a little. It had to be the rising sun to his back causing the effect. But he also had a very slight scent of cinnamon about him, which made no sense. For some reason we started talking about our adventures. Carol and Cindy. The fun we had at the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena on New Years Eve, 1960. And watching The Washington Huskies defeat the Minnesota Golden Eagles in the Rose Bowl the next day, because two men who were Rose Bowl Officials and Navy veterans had given us tickets the night before; and all the fun we had on the Pike Amusement Park in Long Beach chasing the girls; and the western sing-a-longs at Knott's Berry Farm. We laughed and talked for an hour. Finally I said, “Let's go get some chow, buddy, before it’s all gone." Bill said, ”Not now, I’ll be down in a little while, maybe.” I said, “Make it quick or it will all be gone."
As I turned to leave, Bill stopped me. Putting his arm around my shoulder, he said, “About that Australia thing—that was just a pipe dream, Den. I want you to promise me you’ll take care of yourself, and go home and marry that raven-haired girl you talk about. She’s waiting for you." ”How would you know that?” I said. He smiled again. “I just know, believe me I do. Hell, I might even be at the wedding, if you’ll have me.” I said, ”We’ll talk about it later,” and headed down below for some chow.
After leaving the mess hall, I headed down the passageway that led past sick bay, where old Doc Bailey ruled the roost. As I passed, the hatch door was open. I noticed someone was on the hospital bed with a sheet over his head. I stuck my head in and said, “Who you got there, Doc?” He shook his head: “It’s your friend Bill, Smitty. I’m afraid we’ve lost him. He woke me up around 2300 saying he was in pain everywhere. I got him in here and he started throwing up. I gave him something to put him out, but he was gone before he even swallowed it." I stumbled back against the bulkhead. I said, “You’re crazy Doc, I just talked with Bill a short time ago, up topside!” Doc reached over and pulled the hatch shut and dogged it down. Doc said, ”Listen to me, Smitty! I’ve been in this man’s navy nigh on 30 years. World War 2 and the Korean Conflict and I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen too many dead men and I’ve heard what you’re saying many times. The bottom line is I believe you talked to Bill on the main deck earlier, because I’ve seen this before. But the fact is, your good friend has been dead close to eight hours and is lying right here.” He pulled a little of the sheet back. It was Bill. A cold shiver ran down my back and my hands were shaking. Doc grabbed my arm and said "Get a hold of yourself. As I’ve told you, what happened to you is not all that uncommon, but if you have any sense at all you’ll keep it between us. You want an honorable discharge when you get out and not a Section 8. You wouldn’t be able to get a job at a dump. Just let it go, Smitty." I nodded okay but the chill was still with me. Doc said, ”I’ve notified the Captain. A hospital boat is on it’s way to take Bill back to the Island where he’ll be flown to Hawaii and back to Pennsylvania”. Doc handed me a key. “In the meantime, I want you to go to his locker and get all his things out and bring them back here so they can go with him. I know you would be the one he would want to do it." The chill was still running up and down my spine as I went to get Bill’s seabag and then to his locker to put all his things in it. While going through his locker, I found a piece of paper with Bill’s handwriting. It looked as though he had started a poem of some kind but hadn’t finished it.
Steaming On A Sea of Red
By William Baylor
Steaming, Steaming, Upon A Sea Of Red.
Steaming, Steaming, Upon A Sea Of Red.
Dare We Pray Tonight For Sleep Or Rest?
Or Would A Moment’s Lack Of Vigilance Bring
Us That Eternal Sleep That Knows No Sound?
Being Young And Foolish, We Do Not Know.
I slipped the piece of paper into my own pocket and I still have it.
I carried it all back up to sickbay, still totally bewildered. When I got back, Mr. Lingan was in sick bay. He told me he was sorry about Bill and we shook hands. The loud speaker announced that the hospital boat had pulled along side. Two of Doc’s Corpsmen put Bill on a stretcher and carried him topside. As the stretcher was being lowered to the hospital boat I yelled out, “Be careful with him!” One of the Corpsmen on the boat said, “We will, we will! Don’t worry!” Old Doc, Mr. Lingan, and Suds and me stood there and watched the boat until it went behind the breakwall at Johnston Island. As we turned to go below decks, Doc said he wanted to see me in sick bay. I followed him down. Doc have me some kind of pill and a glass of water and told me to swallow it. He said, “I’m giving you an 'off duty' slip for today. I want you to get in your rack and stay there. Again, I believe you told the truth, but also, again, I’m telling you that if you value your future, you’ll keep your mouth shut." I nodded in agreement and headed for my rack. I was already growing drowsy. I slept a dreamless sleep for 9 hours.
We endured 3 more surface drops with only Howard and me on the radiology team.
2320: Crew observes high altitude detonation over Johnston Island designated Kingfish. SOPA is CTG 8.3 in USS Princeton. Condition of ReadinessV LT. S. Salter USN
We also witnessed 3 more detonations in the ionosphere, including Shot Kingfish, which was in the ships log recorded as above. These were also sent aloft on Thor Missiles. For these we also wore heavy goggles with our heads buried in our laps until the initial flash had passed. Even then, you could hear men yell out that they could see their own bones like an X-ray. I saw mine once, in my left leg, but didn’t say anything.
On November 16th, the Hawk was the last ship to depart Johnston Island. We never knew why we were required to stay another 3 days after everyone else had left. We steamed out of Johnston Harbor at 0500, headed back to Pearl. We were all tired to the bone. We were also hungry for something real to eat. We had run out of groceries a week earlier and we were subsisting on powdered eggs, spam, powdered potatoes and powdered milk. The refrigerated reefer ship that was on it's way to Johnston Island to re-supply us never showed up. We had no idea what the situation was on the larger ships. They sure as hell didn't offer us anything.
At 0200 on November 19th, we tied up to a pier in Pearl. We hooked up to shore for electricity and fresh water. After that, the engineering crew was so tired we weren't up to getting undressed and climbing into our racks. We just threw our pillows on deck and flaked out in our dungarees.
Early the next morning, the supply trucks were on the pier. The whole crew went down to help bring it aboard—officers, non-coms, E-2's and E-3's, everybody. It seemed we were all after the same thing: ice cream! Everyone was tearing into the 5-gallon cardboard tubs of ice cream and eating it with their bare hands. I was right in there with the rest of them.
Friday,December 8, 1962
Officer of the Deck Log entry.
16-24 steaming as before. 1612 c/s to 9.3 knots
1624 sighted Point Loma Bearing 075Distance 25M cls to 2.1 knots. 1630 set special mooring detail – maneuvering at various courses at various speeds conforming to enter San Diego Harbor channel. Buoy #5 a beam to port – 1640 entered inland water – draft fwd 6'3”, aft 12'9” - 1720 commenced maneuvering to approach berth – 1740 moored starboard side to Navy Pier – Ships present include various units of the US Pacific Fleet and various foreign and domestic merchant vessels. Condition of readiness V.
We were home. In August of 1964 I received an Honorable Discharge and headed back to Indiana. The dreams started a month or so after I returned home—Bill and I talking that morning up by the forward gun tub. All of it. Word for word. The scent of cinnamon, the aura of light. Right up to me heading below decks. But it wasn’t that often. Maybe once every two months or so. Everyone aboard the Hawk signed paperwork that nothing we saw or heard at Operation Dominic would be revealed to anyone for thirty years, which would be 1992. And I have honored that. I went to work for Rand McNally in Hammond, and then sold insurance for awhile, but that was just not for me. After that, I was trained as a de-coder and went to work for a security firm that had contacts with the government. Linda and I married a year later.
As the years wore on, strangely, the dreams increased. It’s now to the point, after all these years, that the same dream comes to me at least once a week, and sometimes even more often. It is very stressful: I always wake up with a depressed feeling after one of the dreams. I recently finally told my wife about it. My wife was originally from Alabama, and after I retired we moved here. We have a place on a lake, which does have a somewhat of a calming effect. She has tried to help me in every way she can, and I don’t know what I would do without her. I do have a VA Psychiatrist at the Veterans Hospital in Birmingham, who I only see about once a year because of being diagnosed with PTSD from the tests. But I have never discussed the dreams with him. I’ve told him I have dreams about the tests, but I don’t go into any details. I also have severe pain in my back and both legs, which two VA doctors have told me may very well be caused by the ionizing radiation, and I have asbestos in my lungs from both wearing the asbestos fire-fighting suit during the tests and working with asbestos on a daily basis down in the boiler room of the Hawk. The VA has me at 90% disabled.
I certainly don’t mind having dreams about my friend. I would like to have dreams about some of our adventures. But it’s the same dream, word for word, over and over. Linda is the one who told me I should write about it, because it might be therapeutic for me. I can only hope it is. Hoping and praying.
Born in Bayview, Alabama, Dennis Smith moved to Ohio when he was 10-years-old and then to Indiana where he graduated from high school. The author earned several citations in the US Navy from his duties during Nuclear Testing in the South Pacific. He is a 76-year-old disabled veteran who loves to write and has been an avid reader all his life. However, his first love is oil painting and sketching in pencil. He attended the University of Alabama in Birmingham and has had stories published in The Birmingham Post Herald, Senior Living Magazine and The Leaf--but not this story, which he was hesitant to write.
Header photo courtesy of the author.