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Survival at Sea

Guest Editorial

Saturday, 14 December, 2014
Steve D.

As I see the horrible devastation in Ferguson, MO I am reminded of similar times.

The following is an account of events that transpired in 1970 when I was stationed as a Dental Tech. on board the USS Saratoga 40+ years ago for a Summer deployment to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Saratoga was a Super Carrier, with over 100 aircraft, and some 6000 personnel along with manufacturer reps.  I had been on other ships, and was proud to have had the opportunity to be there.

As a Dental Tech., we were also considered emergency medics if the need called for it, and could be deployed with the Marines ashore if required.  As Medical/Dental personal we were not to be armed, that was for the Marines. We were not allowed to carry personal firearms at any time. The Navy did however provide a nice large Red Cross target for us to wear.

Knives were not forbidden.  I also was an amateur wood carver and was responsible for keeping my doctor's instruments very sharp making his job easier. So I had learned to "Wet" an edge, I had come to the conclusion that Stainless Steel was far  better than carbon steel, as carbon steel needs constant sharpening, where stainless steel, once an edge is established, will hold it through all sorts of work, bone trimming during surgery,  especially in a salt air environment.

In Early June of 1970 I came on the ship, along with me were my 2 Stainless Steel 12" Bowie knives that I wore under my uniform trouser legs. I had fabricated a strap that I tied with a leather boot lace tied below my knee hilt up with the blade running to the inside if my shin with the end tucked into my socks. I wore this because the Navy had made me significantly aware of the possibility of an attack or accident in the middle of the night. I wore them all the time, and in the event of the ship going down, then being in shark infested waters, I would be able to fight them off for a bit.  The Bowie knife could easily cut a 1" maple branch and hold its edge. I keep my knives sharp enough to shave with if needed. The early '70's were a difficult time for the US, since the assignation of Dr. King in 1968 it took very little to enrage Blacks against the Whites, and this ship was no different.

It started slowly at first, on our crossing of the Atlantic, the Navy wisely keeps sailors so busy working they have little time for nonsense. An aircraft carrier runs 24 hours a day with launch and recovery all day and night, then prepping for the next round.  Generally 2/3 of the aircraft are aloft at all time. Yet somehow a few thought they would take out their frustrations on unsuspecting white sailors moving about the ship. They would be jumped and beaten up in the passageways on their way to their duty station, or returning.

This practice had been going on for two months after I arrived on the ship.  Captain O'Neill was at a loss as to how to control those random acts of violence, so he issued an edict that White sailors were not to travel about the ship alone. The problem continued in that not everyone can travel about the ship in pairs and do their job. 

Word does get around, and I was able to discover one of the gang leaders. So I sought out one of the leaders.  I got him alone and drew one of my shinny blades and rested it along the side of his neck as I explained to him that should any one in the medical or dental departments meet with foul play, I would find him, and his head would come off and his body would go over the side, no one would miss him.  His eyes got as big as basketballs, I replaced my knife. and went about my business.

From that day on Medical and Dental were immune from any problems.  A few of my shipmates witnessed it, and were as shocked as he was.   I am sure that blade looked like a sword as it caught the light In early August that year everything changed.

Capt. O'Neill was replaced by Capt. Freeman. who within half an hour of taking command put an end to all the problems. He announced that racial problems on that ship would stop immediately, he would arrest and prosecute any troublemakers. He was good to his word, It all ended and he had 28 sailors arrested and prosecuted.

The problem today is we do not have leaders.
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