Gary Burkhart, USNR-R
Shipboard Plumber '71 and later USAFR Retired
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I joined "the Fighting Hannah" crew in 1971 at Hunter's Point, California as a Navy Reservist on a "2-by-4 Plan" (2 years active/4 years inactive) assigned to the "Repair Division" ready for WesPac at the end of the Vietnam era. I think I had every dirty job that no one else wanted.
My first job was unplugging the heads (of which I was told there were 900 toilets on the ol 'girl) and believe me there were. When my methods got so good at blowing out the drains to the overboard discharges, I was promoted to the mess deck to employ my new learned skills where stopped up drains were an everyday norm. But let me clear the air here. This drain cleaning in the heads (subterranean position) was a long cry from the engineering pipe draftsman design job that I left the Indianapolis Gas Company in order to broaden my horizons for a couple of years.
Fire hoses and rags with a few wrenches were usually the tools of the trade, but this entire crew of 4200 men were getting worse not better as the days at sea began dragging on. The mess deck crew were forgetting to clean up. Instead, they could just call "the pipe shop of R Division" and here would come "Burk", "Scud Duck" and "Big Earl", to name a few. Though I was sure my contribution was an asset to blowing out the overboard discharges, the Navy and "Fighting Hannah" needed some new ideas from me, not for me to stick my hand down another drain or toilet. Remember, I had worked for a gas company prior to being on Hannah. I was convinced I needed "high pressure gas." With my crew in their skivvies and boondockers at 0200, we were deployed to the mess decks where I found the formula for drain debris removal that very night.
With our midnight tempers being tested, I yelled, "step back men" and I grabbed a Fire Extinguisher from the wall, removed the horn, placed the hose in the drain and packed it with rags and held on tight. Yee-haw, those drains begin to have suction! When we hit port, our first task before liberty was to get on plenty of extra new C02 bottles for drain cleaning. Then I advanced from the pipe shop to the metal shop and from there to the carpenter shop as the "ships carpenter," working closely with the "ships locksmith" until the Viet Nam War was over and most of us were discharged and headed home.
I was now a full fledged Hull Technician (HT3), and never knew that someday regrouping with my crewmates would be possible.
After the Navy, I tried a couple of enlistments with the Army, later joining the Air Force to finish my reserve career (2002) of 34 years with 20 good years toward retirement. My wife and I live on a small ranch here outside of West Columbia, Texas with a military career son and daughter-in-law both in Iraq at this time, and a younger son and daughter-in-law finishing college.
The Navy and the sea will always be with this farm boy.
I hope you enjoyed that story knowing there were many kids just like me, under your command, that were not heroes, but just trying to do our part. I look forward someday soon to meeting you and the crew at a reunion and to visiting Patriots Point to see what's left of the ol' girl, "the Fighting Hannah." God be with you and your family.
Sincerely, Gary A. Burkhart Msgt USAFR Retired
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