“Esther and the HAINAN”

Memory from: Lieutenant Commander Robert E. L. Compton, USNR (Ret.)

Setting the Scene

Esther Williams was a popular actress in the 1940s and 1950s. Pin-ups of her could be found far and wide in the military. According to legend, one young sailor forgot his much-adored pin-up of her when transferring to another ship during World War II. When he wrote back to his shipmates, asking them to forward the photo on to him at his new post, their response was "Come and get it!" Thus began a fierce and entertaining competition between ships of the Pacific Fleet that grew and continued for many long years. The entry below from Lieutenant Commander Robert E. L. Compton, USNR (Ret.), recounts the KIDD's possession of this coveted trophy as well as the collision with the Swedish freighter HAINAN and his other experiences during the KIDD's second Korean cruise.

The Recollection

I reported on board just one day before KIDD again deployed from San Diego to the Korean War Zone for seven and a half months. Skipper was Cdr. Chuck Bellis, and XO was Bob Richter. Lieutenant Bill Wells was chief engineer. He grabbed me for his assistant engineer and damage control officer. Bill was a big man, so I guess nobody argued. He was also on his last leg of a two-year Korean service obligation. As a new ensign, he heard of my wish to attend Officer’s Submarine School as a life-long ambition and agreed that engineering experience would be a plus, knowing I would “learn the boat.” Upon KIDD’s return, Cdr. “Broke” Ensey [CDR Lyttleton B. Ensey, USN] became skipper in April 1953 after shore duty assignment. After a brief shaky start, Skipper Ensey was the “best” ship-handler I’ve known. KIDD suffered a collision with SS HAINAN at Long Beach Inner Harbor entrance. Fortunately, one week before, KIDD’s entire damage control gang had completed refresher training together as a team. They were very quick to prevent further flooding and shored-up bulging lower bulkheads like professional carpenters. I was so proud of them. En route to the Korean Zone (August 1952), I soon learned why our pirate’s crew exuded high morale: wonderful World War II experienced chief petty officers and Skipper Bellis ordering our Jolly Roger flown to remind us and other Pacific Fleet units who we were.

Task Force 77 (fleet carriers), with KIDD alongside to return rescued pilots or refuel, raised “what-the-hell” pennants, including their own hand-made Jolly Roger. KIDD’s own engineering gang “country musicians” serenaded the carrier (not vice-versa), while we ensign “movie officers” bellowed to negotiate a better exchange of sea prints. Upon arrival in Japan, KIDD’s wardroom officers espied and stealthfully raided (midnight) a nearby destroyer to bring the World War II Esther Williams trophy to KIDD’s own wardroom for adoration. No fleet unit took it from KIDD during deployment, although there were attempts. These were loving events of ownership and trials to keep recorded in prose by the adoring wardrooms who kept her honor during World War II and since (U.S., Great Britain, and Australian fleet units). Tradition required that this trophy remain in the Far East, so KIDD selected an honorable U.S. unit to protect her honor upon sailing for home in March 1953. As the designated poet to record KIDD’s adorations and protection, I wrote to Miss Esther Williams in Culver City, California, to tell her of our fun and that her trophy still lives in the Far East. She wrote her amazement, having once heard about this years before. Thankful, she had her agent arrange for ship’s crew visits to Hollywood (two dates to ensure all might be there).

Sadly, I missed out, being scheduled for a month to ABCD (Atomic, Biological, and Chemical Defense) School at Treasure Island, California, so that I could later recommend squadron procedures for personnel safety and ship protective washdown. Upon my return from school, I first inquired: “Do we have any gas masks aboard?” Somebody responded that they were stored in a void under steering aft. I think it was the supply P.O. [petty officer] who told me this. We opened the cover (many bolts) to find many mask units soaked by some sea water! Ship’s plates above the screw had cracked. This was my second contribution to the integrity of KIDD’s hull as damage control assistant just one week before my June 1953 marriage. Happily, I missed the shipyard repair periods following the April 21st HAINAN collision and this leakage. Proudly, KIDD’s C.O. sent me off to sub school on December 01, 1953, all the way from Japan after KIDD’s next Far East deployment.

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