USS Rainier (AE-5)

June, 2013

Washington -- Recently I had dinner with an old shipmate from the USS Rainier, John Lutz. We had not seen or communicated with each other in about forty-five years. But memories came flooding back quickly.

I told him a story that I'll send on to our ship's reunion association newsletter, The Eruption. It describes how I undeservedly got into our Captain John Smith's good graces. (Yes, that was his name.)

Rainier, an ammunition cargo ship, was tied up at a pier in Subic Bay, The Philippines, in 1967. The pier was far away from the main base, in case any ammunition ship assigned to it blew up. Adjacent to the pier, carved out of the Bataan Peninsula jungle, was a large tarmac surface for loading and unloading ammunition.

Early one morning, Captain Smith, new to his command, had the idea he would get a look at his crew by inviting the officers and enlisted men to come out on the tarmac for calisthenics. He passed the word to his department heads and announced it over the ship's 1MC.

As the communications officer I was in the radio shack that morning, updating my registered publications accounts. In Navy Registered Publication School, we had been told that those who were sloppy with crypto publications wound up on the Navy Prison Softball Team, and a fine team it was, with lots of players.

My department head, Operations Officer Lt. Tom Stuart, stuck his head into the radio shack and suggested I participate in the Captain's calisthenics. I said I had more pressing work. He shot me a glance that wordlessly conveyed my priority that morning should be out on the tarmac.

I disguised my contempt for the idea and joined what was a meager turnout. At least I'll be in shape to play softball, I thought, as I got into the swing of jumping jacks, sit-ups, and push-ups.

Later that day, Captain Smith critiqued his officers and crew. He was sorely disappointed at the showing. He told his thirteen officers, specifically his junior officers, that they should take as their example that fine Lt(jg) Oberg.

I was red-faced, at least inside. It was not my style to get my fellow j.o.'s -- or anyone -- in trouble. I may have muttered to the Captain that credit was due to my operations officer, or maybe not. But I distinctly remember telling Tom Stuart that I really, really, owed him one for getting me off on a good note with the Captain. There were times later that I needed it.

Tom Stuart's own recollected stories are a must read in The Eruption. John Lutz and I savored them along with dinner, especially the one about our near-collision in the fog in San Diego harbor. I hope more of our shipmates weigh in with their own stories; there's a guaranteed readership.