Anne Lawler
The Lady of My Life

Chapter 6
A Flashback
The Navy - The Fourth Year
1954 - 1955

Recorded by Donald J Plefka (Grandpa Don) 
Flashback - December, 2000 
The Navy - February, 2001

This is a very special chapter. Even the title of the page is different from all the rest. It was done that way to empathize the value I place on Anne and her influence on my life.

On August 9, 2004, a good internet friend sent his usual daily newsletter and included a recording that I had to use for this page. So, thanks to Frank  we listen to ...

Girl of My Dreams
Midi by
Frank (Grandpa) Schober

The Chapter begins with a flashback to events that happened in chapters 3, 4 and 5 but are so important to me that they deserve special mention. It concludes with the last year of my Navy enlistment.

Why not fix yourself a Rum and Coke while the photos load. Get into a festive mood for a happy chapter.

Journey on this page to ...


A Flashback - The Girl of My Dreams
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Flashback to Chapters Three, Four and Five

We went to different schools together.

I went to St Leo, a Catholic school for boys. On my way home, I rode a streetcar that passed Longwood Academy, a Catholic high school for girls. I would often meet Carol and Mary Ann who graduated with me from St. Christina grade school. Further along the route, we passed Morgan Park High School, a public school, and Anne Lawler would get on the streetcar. Anne and Carol lived next door to each other and I would walk with them on my way to my house. Before I got to know Anne, I would carry Carol's books so Anne thought I was interested in Carol.  After a while, we would stop in front of Anne's house and Carol would go on home. Anne and I would talk for quite a while. She was the first girl that I could really talk to. 

 I got up enough nerve to ask her to a movie and then to some school functions and dances. 

Anne M Lawler
 1952 photo
The Girl of My Dreams became The Lady of My Life

I was smitten! Sometimes we would go to O'Henry Ball Room in Willow Springs. It was the "Big Band" era and it was a great place. They had a bar for the "older" crowd and an ice cream parlor for the high school group. At one point, I told Anne that someday I would marry someone just like her. By that time, I was going to IIT and we had been dating for almost three years.

Wash that man right out of (her) hair!

One day I called about going out, but Anne said she couldn't. She was going to wash her hair. This was in 1949, a time before hair dryers and it took a long time for a girl to dry her hair, so I understood. But it was the same thing for four days in a row!  I finally asked, "Are you trying to get rid of me?" Anne was nice about it, she said, "Yes." ... I was gone!

My Miracle

I dropped out of college after a year, worked for a while, and then enlisted in the Navy. 
(See the previous chapters.) 

Moro Castle 
at entrance to San Juan harbor

 In May of 1952, my ship went to San Juan, Puerto Rico for a liberty visit for the troops and I bought a bunch of postcards to send to relatives and friends. When I finished addressing them there was one left over. I had often thought of Anne, always comparing my current date with her. The others just didn't make the grade! So, I address the card to Anne and only wrote, "Are you still available?".  

Anne answered with a letter. Later I found that it was her mother who said, "Why don't you write to him, maybe he's lonesome." (Even though she was not too fond of a college drop out with no prospects.) 

Some miracles start out slow

At first, we wrote infrequently. In June of that year I started Electronics Technician school at Great Lakes. Anne had been dating an electrical engineer who's parents were a friend of their family. Her parents liked him more than Anne did and she eventually cut  off the relationship.

Very often, my dad would pass Anne on her way to the buss and give her a ride to the train station. They would then ride the train together and talk. Anne was working for a large insurance company in downtown Chicago. One day on a few days leave before starting ET school, dad came home from work and said, "Ann Lawler told me you two went on a date last night! Why don't you tell me these things?" He was delighted that we had gone out together.

She made it clear that I was not #1 and she wanted to see other guys. I was told to date other girls. She soon met a terrific guy at a dance who at first told her he worked for the government. He later admitted that he was a Protestant Minister. The members of his church were constantly trying to get dates for him. He really liked Anne but after a few more dates she told him that she could never leave the Catholic Church and his church members would not understand him having a Catholic wife.

Dad died of a heart attack between Christmas and New Years Day that year. Anne and her mother attended the wake and funeral. I had never seen Anne cry before. After that we started to date regularly. We sometimes went to Susie and Bills house. Susie was a friend she met a work. I liked the idea that we were spending time with a married couple. Maybe Anne would get the idea. And, as I mentioned in chapter 5, she met some of my new friends too. She let me know that she did not want to become serious. When ET school was finished and I returned to sea duty we wrote more often. I started sending little gifts from some of the ports we visited. Anne was not dating anyone on a regular basis but was going to "singles" dances with her high school friends Pat and Adriana. 


Continuation from Chapter 5
1954 - 1955

Home on Leave - February - March 1954

As I mentioned at the end of chapter 5,  I went home on leave in late February of 1955. We were definitely "a couple' and on one of our first times together I told Anne that I was going to buy an engagement ring. She said "No, don't do it", and then told me, in great detail, the kind of ring she wanted, "someday". 

Bill, Anne & Don
Suzie is behind the camera

 Mom & I went downtown the next day and bought it. The jeweler promised it could be ready in a week. 

On March 6, at Maple Lake, I gave Anne her ring. Thank God, it was perfect!. 

Anne insisted that we go to show it to Suzie and Bill. When we got there, Suzie's eyes went directly to Anne's hand and she shouted, "YOU GOT IT!".  

Back to the Navy

I had to tear myself away to return to the New Kent. We wrote several times a week.  I had started a correspondence course and planned to make a career as broadcast technician in radio or television. I was taking Neilson's Master Course in Radio Communications so evenings aboard ship were spent studying and building radio components with materials provided. Homework papers were mailed and after grading, returned. The course was guaranteed to prepare me to pass the FCC tests to obtain a license to work in the broadcast field. This course and writing letters to Anne kept me very busy. In addition to telling Anne how beautiful it was in the Caribbean, I mentioned the possibility of getting a broadcasting job and living there. She was very quick to point out the disadvantages. That thought, although still in mind, was never mentioned again. On May 16, 1954 my Navy rate advanced to Electronics Technician 2nd Class (ET2).

Anne & Suzie
Indiana Dunes
Bill is behind the camera.
Don in the background.

I managed to get a leave again that summer and while home we decided on a marriage in July of 55. That would give me time to find a job and start to settle into civilian life. At that time, I had the impression that Anne's Mom and Dad were still not so sure about me. I was very much afraid of Anne's Dad. He was a steel truck driver for a company that made local deliveries. He didn't say much and I just wasn't sure about how he felt about me. 

Two people in love
At the Indiana Dunes
(I wasn't always fat!)

Mom had taken driving lessons and had a drivers license. I soon found that she did not know how to drive. I asked how she passed the test and she told me that when her lessons were through, she told the instructor that she didn't know enough to pass the test. She was told not to worry about it and her license came in the mail a week later. (sound familiar?). The license had no picture on it at that time so the school took your money and after a few lessons, bought a license for you. I tried to teach her but there wasn't enough time. I had to go back to the ship.

The summer passed quickly and and we were informed tat the Navy no longer needed the New Kent. We were to return it to the mothball fleet at Orange, Texas. Anne knew about Myrtle and, with permission, I wrote to Myrtle letting her know I was engaged and returning to Orange. I did not want her to hear about the return of the ship without a word from me. She wrote back and congratulated me on my engagement. She asked me to call her when we got there. I called and met her once to talk about family and events. I'm afraid that I  talked mostly about Anne.  I had finished the first half of my correspondence course and arranged to take the Second Class FCC test in Beaumont. They graded the test while I waited.  I passed with no errors. I left with my Second Class License eager to finish the course. 

While all this was going on, Anne was making wedding arrangements. She reserved a hall for the reception and set the date at the Church. Her uncle George (her Dad's brother) knew people in the garment district in Chicago and was helping her get a deal on a wedding dress. Uncle George managed a string of parking garages and had many connections. I felt bad that it was all being left to Anne to make the arrangements but it couldn't wait 'till I got home. 

Along with the news of the arrangements Anne also told me that she was still going to singles dances with her friends. (She kept her ring in her purse.) The problem was that, of the three of them, she was usually asked to dance first. That didn't surprise me. 

Back in Texas, I took a weekend to hitch-hike to San Antonio with a friend.  We were two sailors in an Air Force town! We saw the Alamo, and visited a cave in the desert. The San Antonio River was beautiful with it's walkways, gardens and shops. We saw a movie and took the bus back to Orange. Unfortunately, I had left my camera at home and have no photos.

Pat & Anne
Adriana is behind the camera

Our job in Orange included demonstrating that all the ship's radios and radars were in top working order and then shutting them down ready for reactivation. We took down antennas, and checked spare parts. In December there was a decommissioning ceremony and we left for our next assignments. We had more than ample time to travel so with the Radio Officer who had a car and three other enlisted men we drove to Chicago. We took turns driving and stopped only when we had to. There were no expressways and the trip took 23 1/2 hours.

I only had two days at home and had to leave. We had been told that all those who had been assigned to the New Kent from it's previous commissioning would have a choice of duty. My three choices were; (1) Any ship or station in the Ninth Naval District (Great Lakes), (2) any tanker, or (3) any refrigerator ship. If I didn't get Great Lakes, I wanted a large ship that didn't rock and pitch a lot. I was assigned to the USS Gyatt, a destroyer! When I reported aboard, it was in dry-dock at Norfolk. I expected to find a Chief and First Class ET aboard. There was no Chief and the First Class left for discharge the next day. I was in charge! I had three Third Class ETs and a striker under my command. I met with the Electronics Officer the next day and he informed me that all the electronics equipment was being replaced by the yard contractors. There was nothing for us to do. I said, "Good, I'll go on leave and take Christmas and New Years", eighteen days would do fine. He approved it and I went home. I had what is called "a short timer's attitude" and didn't care that the Electronics Officer did a dumb thing by letting me go for all that time.

It was great to have the holidays at home and we celebrated Anne's birthday (Dec 28).  There were double dates and visits with Susie and Bill as well as time with my Mom and Anne's Mom, Dad and brother Harry.  I think Anne's Mom and Dad were warming up to me. Anne had been trying to teach my Mom to drive but they both decided it was a lost cause. Anne was using her car. 

USS Gyatt DD-712
From the ship's stationary
USS Gyatt DD-712
Navy Photo

For statistics on the Gyatt click here

When I returned to the ship, the work was done and we were ready to go on sea trials. The Electronics Office had signed off on the new equipment without checking to see that it worked. Much of it didn't. I had to trouble shoot equipment that I had never seen. My ET's needed to be guided every step of the way. Also, The Electronics Officer had ordered spare parts for all the new equipment without checking to find that they had already been loaded into our storage lockers. They all arrived the day before leaving port and we had no place to put them. We were instructed to hide them and the next day, they went overboard to cover the error.

In a week we left for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Gitmo, for short). Not only did I have non working equipment but I was sea sick a good part of the time. It was soon apparent that we were in trouble. The Exec. Officer came to me one day and told me that he knew the Electronics Officer was totally incompetent and I would be given all the leeway possible to get the equipment in shape. I was given permission to sleep through exercises and even general quarters. At night when in port and all was quiet, I could work on the equipment. This arrangement went on for weeks.

With help from the equipment manufacturer's technicians we finally got everything working. We would go on exercises during the day or for a few days at a time and then return to Gitmo. We cruised with aircraft carriers as "plane guards" to pick up pilots in the event of a crash on takeoff or landing. We also carried observers and cruised along with a sea going tug pulling a target barge. Beyond the horizon we would see the flash of a battleship's big guns and soon hear the scream of the shell and then watch it explode near the target. They were incredibly accurate,  their firing aimed only by radar. One time the explosion cut the tow cable and we had to help retrieve the barge. 

Another exercise involved submarines. We would hunt them and in place of dept charges, drop a dye marker in the water. At the same time, a sonar signal would be sent to the sub and it would release a bubble of air. If the bubble came up close to the marker, it was a hit. We would also be hunted. A sub would fire a torpedo with a dummy war head at us. It was set to run deeper than the keel of our ship and would pass under. Never the less, it was scary to see the torpedo wake approach and then hit the ship. On one occasion, we launched a practice torpedo. The torpedo and tube were well greased to eliminate friction and when the torpedo left the tube, grease flew everywhere. I'm glad I didn't have the job of cleaning up that mess!

My Mom was having health problems and when she had to have an operation, Anne was there to take care of her along with my Aunt Kate. Anne's family donated blood. Thank God for Anne.

Gitmo was a great place for "base liberty". The Navy enlisted men's club was good but the Air Base E.M. club was great. It was an open air club on a high cliff overlooking the ocean. You could get a T-bone dinner for $1.75. A rum & coke was 15 cents. It was beautiful there and they usually had a Cuban band playing. I went there often wishing Anne was with me to share the beauty of the place.  

The Gyatt took a weekend liberty at Santiago de Cuba. The harbor was entered through a narrow passage between towering cliffs. On one side was an old Spanish castle. Once ashore, a couple of us took a bus ride to the castle and had a few drinks at a local club nearby. There were cannons laying around where the Spaniards had left them. We were the only people there besides the bar tender. We had a chicken and rice dinner in town and it was fun trying to order when you didn't know the language.  We also stopped for a tour of a local distillery and I bought a bottle of banana brandy. I shipped it home and it was the best brandy I had ever tasted. I was never able to find any in the states. Sorry, no pictures on this tour of duty. As a "short timer", I left my camera at home. Besides, I had no idea we would be going to the Caribbean. 

Another trip took us to Jamaica in February. A tour was arranged that cost us $5.00 each. The tour included a tour of the tropical gardens and then a bus ride through the mountains to the Tower Isle Resort Hotel on the other side of the island. Included was swimming at their beach and pool along with lunch. (Room rates at the resort were quoted at $50 per night per couple.) We returned by another route and went through a town that was incredibly poor. The next day, some of us went to Mass at a beautiful church in Kingston. An American priest spoke with us on the steps and was able to identify the locality each of us came from just by our accents. The church was full but only one little old lady received Communion. That night a couple of us wandered into the dining room of the Myrtle Bank Hotel. We started to leave because it was obviously out of our class but were stopped and assured that we were welcome. We were treated like kings and had a great dinner that cost us $3.00 each. I had never been waited on by so many people. 

 In late February, we sailed to Culebra, (between Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands) had a day of shore bombardment exercises and set course for Norfolk. We encountered a bad storm that had me in my bunk vomiting into a bucket. I was called to the bridge because the radio direction finder was out. (This time it was.) I got two of my ETs up with me. I knew I could not work in the small enclosed equipment room behind the bridge so I hung on to a railing outside, sheltered a little by the forward stack. I gave instructions to one ET who relayed them to the one inside. After a little while, we isolated the problem and repaired the equipment and we were able to know where we were. Just after it was done there was a sudden lurch of the ship and a loud noise. A wave came over the top of the stack and washed over us. For a brief time our destroyer tried to be a submarine. Fortunately we were hanging on tight. That was my last bad night at sea.

Back in Norfolk, the Captain gave me the reenlistment talk saying that the Gyatt was scheduled to go to San Diego and be refitted as the navy's first guided missal destroyer. I would remain attached to the ship and go to advanced electronics school. I told him of my plans and he wished me well. On March 10, 1955 I took the FCC test and received my First Class License. I was ready to be a civilian! Several days later I was transferred to the shore station for processing out. On March 23rd  I received my discharge papers. I went to town, got a haircut and boarded the train for home with joy of anticipation and big hopes for the future. 

Anne was in Chicago, praying she made the right decision and waiting for an out-of-work sailor. I had saved over a hundred dollars to start my future.  

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USS Gyatt Information

DD-712 / DDG-1 / DDG-712 USS GYATT

Displacement 3460 Tons (Full), Dimensions, 390' 6"(oa) x 40' 10" x 14' 4" (Max)
Armament 6 x 5"/38AA (3x2), 12 x 40mm AA, 11 x 20mm AA, 10 x 21" tt.(2x5).
Machinery, 60,000 SHP; General Electric Geared Turbines, 2 screws
Speed, 36.8 Knots, Range 4500 NM@ 20 Knots, Crew 336.
Operational and Building Data

Laid down by Federal Shipbuilding, Newark NJ. September 7 1944.
Launched April 15 1945 and commissioned July 2 1945.

Don Plefka Electronics Technician 2nd Class, assigned December, 1954 -
...  (From USS New Kent)

 1955 Ports of call 
1-Dec-54 Norfolk, VA 11-Jan  Home Port
15-Jan Guantanamo Bay 28-Jan Caribbean Operation Areas - Refresher training
28-Jan Santiago, Cuba 30-Jan Caribbean Operation Areas - Refresher training
30-Jan Guantanamo Bay 11-Feb Caribbean Operation Areas - Refresher training
12-Feb Kingston, Jamaica 13-Feb Caribbean Operation Areas - Refresher training
14-Feb Guantanamo Bay 25-Feb Caribbean Operation Areas - Refresher training
27-Feb San Juan, Puerto Rico 27-Feb Caribbean Operation Areas - Refresher training
27-Feb Culebra 1-Mar Caribbean Operation Areas - Refresher training
4-Mar Norfolk, VA 22-Apr  Home Port

...  Honorable Discharge March, 1955 

Reclassified DDG-1 on December 1 1955. (The Navy's first Guided Missal destroyer.)
Reclassified DDG-712 on December 30 1956.
Reclassified back to DDG-1 on May 23 1957, 
reverted to DD-712 October 1 1962. (Refitted as Gun Destroyer)
Decommissioned (?).
Stricken October 22 1969.
Fate : Sunk as target off Virginia - June 11 1970. 

More information can be found on the USS Gyatt web site.

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