The Navy - USS New Kent - APA 217
I was transferred to the Amphibious Forces in Little Creek, Virginia. I had missed my training school! I didn't like Little Creek. They had us clearing brush in a snake infested area near a base housing project. Also, I was quite sick until my system learned to accept the well water of the base. To make matters worse, the Navy lost my records during the transfer and they did not pay me for two months. I couldn't even go on liberty. My caddy days came in handy one Saturday when I got into a black jack game with my last quarter and ran it up to $15. That allowed me a good weekend in Virginia Beach.
My time at Little Creek included a stint at the Fleet Air Defense Training Center at Dam Neck, VA. We were trained to fire twin and quad 40mm antiaircraft guns.The base was on the beach and the back of the barracks was all swamp with signs posted to warn of poisonous snakes. A remote control drone was our target and we weren't expected to be able to hit it. One day I shot it down, ending our practice for the day.
Myrtle had a brother who impressed me as a very good person who had a troubled life. He had been a merchant marine during the WW II and survived two ships that were sunk. He was working as an orderly at a hospital and was going for therapy. I later found out that he was gay. Several times he offered to drive me back to Orange but I always declined the offer. I was sure I didn't have anything to fear, ... But ...
In February of 1952 the ship went into dry dock at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. I liked that city because there was a lot to do and they treated servicemen well. There were free tickets to plays and other events. At a USO dance I met Janet and dated her while there. I wrote to her for a short time but that ended due to mutual lack of interest.
The New Kent was an APA (Attack Personnel Auxiliary). We carried landing craft, quarters for troops and cargo holds for their combat supplies. The rardarmen worked in CIC (Combat Information Center), where the radar tracked surface and air "targets". At first my job was to stand behind a large transparent plot board and mark it with the information. We wrote in "mirror image" so the officers in front of the board could read it. Soon I was trained to operate and read the radar.
When I got transferred to Great Lakes to Electronics Technician School in July of 52, I called Anne and went out with her. We had exchanged a few letters. She let me know that she was currently dating someone on a 'steady' basis so I didn't pursue it. (I already knew that you don't push Anne.) While at Great Lakes I made some good friends. Al was from Buffalo, NY and was very interested in Ham Radio. The two of us applied for permission to set up a station on the Naval base but the commanding officer said there was too many regulations and red tape. In stead, he put us in touch with the nuns at Barrette College where a radio studio had been built but was not being used. So for a while, I was a ham radio enthusiast. It turned out that Gloria, a girl I had dated in 1950 was going to school there and we dated a couple of times. Al and I enjoyed being two sailors in a Girl's college. The nuns swore us to secrecy when we needed to enter a small room to connect our equipment. It contained a one way mirror that the nuns used to check the girls in the adjacent study hall. (We used it too.)
I was on Christmas leave when on my dad had a second heart attack and died. I was devastated. Uncle Charles was our savior. He helped Mom with everything she needed. I was surprised when Anne and her mother came to the wake. Anne was very fond of my dad.
After that we dated occasionally . There was a great enlisted men's club at Great Lakes and I took her there a few times. There was a live band and dancing on weekends and Anne got to meet Al, Barney and Dot. But ... Again, I was more interested in Anne than she was with me.
In April of 1953 I graduated from ET School and went back to the New Kent. Anne and I wrote letters but she was afraid that I would be too involved with caring for my mother. I was sending home an allotment from my pay to help support her and she was not in good health.
I went to Mass when it was convenient and once in a while when it was not. My obsession with trying to make religious beliefs fit into a nice logical package continued, unsuccessfully. I still wondered if it was real. My literature of preference was still science fiction.
When on exercises we practiced everything including the transfer of Chaplains between ships by shooting a line across, and setting up cables to pull a "boson's chair" back and forth. (The Chaplains must have had a lot of faith) If the ships moved apart, the cobles could snap. And, if they moved closer together, the chair and passenger would be dipped into the sea. We had mock air attacks along with gunnery practice. To prevent boredom of the troops who's quarters had bunks stacked six high, there were movies on deck and boxing matches. When troops were aboard, we could not distill enough fresh water for everything, so you had to take salt water showers with special soap. That was a bummer.
After Richard was transferred, I became the "leading ET" and I brought my mattress up to the electronics shop. During the day it was rolled up under the work bench and at night the work bench became my bed. I was the only enlisted man with a private stateroom with porthole and electric fan. My "stateroom" was one level above the Captain's and opened to a private "balcony" high above #3 hatch. To add to my comforts, I had rigged an antenna connection to the ships galley for a radio. In gratitude, the cooks shared their private supply of cakes and snacks. I had transformed the New Kent into my private cruse ship.
I enjoyed going to the bow of the ship and having the wind in my face. (Shades of "Titanic") Often you could see porpoises playing in the water at the bow. One made game of swimming ahead of the ship and letting it catch up. When the ship touched it's tail, it would leap far ahead and do it again. On another occasion a giant ray cut across our bow. It just glided through the water. There were water spouts to see and sometimes when it was very hot, we would go off course to cool the ship down in a nearby rain shower. There were beautiful sunsets and nights with more stars that I ever thought possible.
It was not beautiful all the time. On one occasion, a hurricane tore two of our boats off their supports on deck and we lost them. On another occasion we were in Chesapeake Bay with two anchors out and the engines at top speed while a hurricane slowly moved us backward.
One night, I was awakened and told to go to the bridge. The lieutenant who had the con told me that the radio direction finding equipment was malfunctioning. It did not agree with the star sightings he had just made. I could not find a problem and asked if he verified his location with the fathometer. When we did that, we found that the water was much more shallow than it should have been if he was correct. But that depth agreed with the readings from the electronic equipment. Then I casually asked him what all those lights were to the starboard. He looked and shouted "Hard left rudder". We were less than a mile of the coast of Florida, not the five miles he had calculated.
During joint exercises with other ships, or on independent trips, we visited Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Havana Cuba. Havana was great. We went to a beautiful beach and then to a night club that was right out of the old movies. When you went into a shop, you were offered a glass of brandy or rum. There was one unpleasant incident. Looking for directions, we approached a Cuban Navy guard . He pointed his machine gun at us saying, "No English!" We retreated immediately. The second day there, I was on duty and had to bring battery packs for the radios to the shore patrol station set up on the dock. The batteries were in storage a long time and wore out quickly. On every trip, I dumped the old batteries and put 4 bottles of rum in the case. Three bottles went to the sailor that bought them and one went to me. I had become a smuggler for a day! That night, we were drinking rum and coke in the radar room when the new Executive Officer came in, saw an extra cup of coke on the table and asked if he could have it. (We thought we were dead!) His comment was "That's mighty fine coke!" He asked if there was more and when we said no, he told us to go get more cups of coke from the machine in the rec room and he went to his cabin for a bottle of rum. After that round, he said, "Let's not ever have this happen again !"
I had two disturbing incidents during this time. The first, in Miami Beach, was when a bus stopped right in front of me. I stepped aside and let an elderly colored (that was the term for black people at the time) woman get on before me. The bus driver made me and the woman get off so I could get on first. The second was in Norfolk when I got on a bus went to the back where there were plenty of seats. The driver came back and told me the buss would not move until I got into the white section where I had to stand because it was full.
In late February of 1954, I went home on leave for two weeks. That is a good point to pause and start another chapter.
Haskell Class Attack Transport:
Placed Out-of-Commission-in-Reserve 29 July 1949;
Don Plefka, Seaman Apprentice, assigned July, 1951
Recommissioned 10 October 1951;
Don Plefka temporary assignment to Electronics School, Great Lakes June, 52 - April, 53
Placed Out-of-Commission-in-Reserve 12 July 1954;
Struck from the Naval Register 1 October 1958;
Final Disposition, unknown.
What was happening in the world during this time?