WWII (1943-46)

“Refueling at Sea” — Helm Duty

Memory from: Seaman 2nd class James P. Takitch

Setting the Scene

Learning to drive a car is perhaps every teenager's most anticipated moment and every parent's most dreaded nightmare. But in the Armed Forces, it is not unusual to find 18 year-old men and women driving or flying billion-dollar ships or aircraft. How's that for getting your parents' hearts pounding? In the following story, Seaman 2nd class James P. Takitch relives a scary moment during refueling operations while manning the helm of a $13 million destroyer as a still-somewhat-green sailor.

The Recollection

This is the story. It’s funny now, but it wasn’t funny at the time. When we were at Okinawa and, of course, we were subject to General Quarters quite a bit and all of that…. But then you would rendezvous. Ships would take on oil from tankers and from carriers and from battlewagons [battleships]. Of course, the oilers, they always had mail. They brought mail to the area. More than likely, the destroyers were designated to go to the oilers and pick up the mail and then deliver it to the ships that were in the area. I can remember we were pulling up alongside the old DETROIT (CL-8), which I think, was a four-stacker. It was a cruiser. It was an older ship. At that time, we had been passing mail, … oiling for a long time. The sailor that was on the wheel—I can’t remember his name—evidently, he was tired. So they called for a relief and me, being gung-ho, striking for a Quartermaster’s heart, I do the job. However, they told me many times that you never take over the helm until the rudder is amidships. So I went to the man and I says “I’m your relief” and I took over, not noticing at what degree angle the rudder indicator was. The Captain or Officer of the Deck called for a 15-degree change in course, and me, instead of going to the direction the man asked for, I increased the angle by 15 more degrees. Fortunately, instead of running into the ship [the DETROIT], we were running away from the ship. The rudder appeared as if it was going to jam positioned to the maximum angle. Captain Moore—who everybody knew, … I think everybody was just a little bit afraid of him—happened to be either on the bridge or came to the bridge immediately. He got on my heels and started up over my back, over my head, and down the other side. I was really frightened. What do you do if you jam the rudder on a ship among a convoy? After he quit, why, the Officer of the Deck, whoever it was, came to me and consoled me and said “Things like this happen, but don’t let it happen again.” With this consoling, I was a much better sailor after that.

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