Sea Mail

Article excerpt

Dear Mr. Schnepf:

I would like to congratulate you for publishing in the February issue Owen Gault's fine article entitled "Warriors In Waiting." His excellent summaries of the three ships' histories, accompanied by Robin Hartford's wonderful photographs, really brought the story to life. Among the many interesting points was the fact that the carriers weigh only 8000 tons more than the battleship, despite their apparent size difference in the photos.

Thanks again for the high quality of your articles.

Clifford J. Faltus

Windham, CT

Dear Editor:

Kit Bonner's excellent article in the December issue, "Requiem for America's Cold War Nuclear Navy," helped bring back a flood of memories. Including the particular delight of one of the best breakfasts I've ever had.

During the mid- to late-70s I was assigned as a helicopter crewman, flying in the SH-3H Sea King, with HELANTISUBRON Fifteen (HS-15). We were assigned first to the USS AMERICA (CV-66), then to the USS INDEPENDENCE (CV-62) as part of Carrier Air Wing Six (CVW-6).

As each of the new units of both the California- and Virginia-class cruisers were commissioned, they were assigned to various East Coast task groups. At one time or another my unit's helicopters had delivered passengers, mail, or small cargo to each of these ships either by hoist or landing on their ample stern helo decks. This in addition to conducting coordinated antisubmarine warfare training with each of these ships on numerous training cruises. What beautiful sights these long, sleek ships truly were.

Now on to the breakfast story. Late in 1977 AMERICA was in the central Mediterranean conducting NATO exercises with the USS NIMITZ (CVN-68). Both USS CALIFORNIA (CGN-36) and USS SOUTH CAROLINA (CGN-37) were assigned as part of the NIMITZ battle group.

My crew of four had launched off AMERICA very early one morning on a passenger and mail transfer flight. Because of the early launch we had departed the ship prior to the mess decks' breakfast hours.

We made stops at several ships extending our range almost to our fuel limit. Upon landing on NIMITZ we hot-turn refueled and were relaunched with both passengers and mail for both the CALIFORNIA and SOUTH CAROLINA.

The flight was nearing the four-- hour mark and our crew was really starting to get hungry. As we received our radio clearance from the CALIFORNIA we were queried as to the number of crew on board. Upon landing we transferred the passengers and mail, and received more mail for further transfer. One of the flight deck crew handed me one last bag telling me that was for our crew. Short on time I stowed the bag aside and secured the cargo area for the short run to the nearby SOUTH CAROLINA. With our approach clearance came the same request for the number of crew on board. Again the cargo transfer brought one smaller bag labeled for our crew.

Once launched I opened the bags and discovered a veritable portable smorgasbord. Included were fresh donuts, fruit, huge spiral cinnamon rolls two inches thick, flasks of coffee and a large quantity of hot, foil-- wrapped sandwiches. I couldn't believe the quantity and quality of the gracious feast. Our pilot radioed our heartfelt appreciation to both ships.

Now I'd never been one to eat eggs cooked in any fashion, and still don't. But as I bit into one of those huge sandwiches a strange taste caught my attention. There in between the thick slices of ham and melted cheese was a perfectly formed poached egg. I hesitated a bit, then finished devouring the "Cruiser McMuffin." Nothing ever tasted so good or hit the spot better.

This seemed to be the normal routine among these two nuclear beauties, because many of our squadron crews returned from similar flights with the same tales. This is in sharp contrast to a certain destroyer that shall remain anonymous. Their response to a request for some liquid refreshment was a half a mason jar of warm water sent up the hoist in a mail bag. …