A Chow-Time Discussion - The Day we had no chow...
I soon learned as a Seaman Duce in 1962, to never speak about certain subjects to old salts and dedicated Sailors. One such time happened during our WestPac Cruise to the waters off the coast of Vietnam, Korea and the South China Sea, October, 1963....
It was a typical morning where we were all busy with the morning tasks of keeping the Captain's Office working smoothly. Tasks like doing the Officer's Daily Diary, typing out TAD orders for officers; typing Officer Fitness Reports, correspondence and sorting out the incoming mail and so forth.
This was probably the 5th month of a 7 month cruise at chow time break when I made the huge mistake of typing out a long list of things I liked and didn't like about Navy life. The list was formatted with two columns. On one side I put all the positive things about life in the Navy, and reasons to re-enlist, and on the other side, things that I didn't like about the Navy Life and the list was long.. I can't remember anymore what all I put on that side of the column, but one word stuck in my memory these 48+ years since I left the Afterbrow (enlisted crew gang plank) for the last time in March of 1964... the words "LACK OF PRIVACY".
Now being young and dumb, I had no idea what kind of stir such a paper would cause, as anyone who has served in the military knows, there are no such things as trivial things in the service, but I wasn't quite ready for what was to ensue after I put the paper in our Chief's In-basket. Now this Chief was a Master Chief Petty Officer - these guys run the U.S. Navy and often have more clout than a line officer. Some are pretty scary; others are like lambs; but there is no mistake as to who runs the show. I have a great amount of respect for the Navy Chiefs, and Master Chief Dewey Alexander was on the top of my list. I would no more disrespect him than I would my own dad - that's just how it was - at least for me.
We in the Office just called him "Chief Alexander". He was what we call in the Navy a "Lifer" and a Yeoman Master Chief Petty Officer. Although sometimes rather gruff, most of the time, he was a pleasant man, and easy to get along with. He would often laugh, and I can still see his face all these many years since, see his smile and hear his voice. In truth, he was a great man, and also a great friend; but on this one particular morning, he either didn't sleep well, or my comments just hit a sensitive nerve with him. He was, after all, Black Shoe from bilge to mast head!
Seeing my list in his In-Box, he made all of us in the office stick around until he went through each item on the list and he went over each and every negative comment on that list, but when he got to the words, "Lack of Privacy" you would think he was standing and reciting his PhD dissertation. "What in the hell does a sailor need privacy for?" I suppose his query was correct. What does a sailor need privacy for? But to me, it was very important; important enough to cause me to sneak away and find a far aft berthing compartment, designated for X-Division POs above aft steerage, below the fantail, where I had no right to be being just a Seaman Duce (Seaman Apprentice)... and although the space was very noisy being just above Shaft Alley and the huge 4 screws, it was, after all, very private!
It would be hard for me to relate the passion that Chief Alexander had about his life as a Sailor, but he had spent his entire adult life in the Navy. I just had no idea that he was as adamant about such a little subject as was 'privacy'. It may have been a 'little' subject to me, but it certainly wasn't to him. Nor was I aware of how much he loved the Navy until I put that paper in his in-box that morning. Looking back now, I can understand the love he had for the Navy, and wish now, I had listened to him more.
Chief Alexander gave his life because he loved the Navy and his fellow shipmates, and although I had heard that his death was no heroic act involved in his struggle aboard ORISKANY, I feel that his was a Heroic Act for I knew the man; I knew his heart and spirit and his dedication to his men and his ship. I know he no doubt was heroic, if only in those men he immediately came in contact with, while struggling to find a place of safety.
So On October 26, 1966, while in Oriskany (CVA-34), with that knowledge that only comes by inspiration and knowing the man as I did, I know in my heart that he died while fighting to save his ship and those he served with from the terrible fires that broke out on that day.
He was a true Sailor, and one I will never forget. His face and his passion for duty made an everlasting impression on my mind, an impression that I will carry with me to the end of my days..
So when anyone ever talks about "Privacy" in any fashion, my mind sweeps back many years to that day, in the Captain's Office, aboard the USS Hancock, when I, a young sailor, put a piece of paper in my Chief's in-basket. Rest in Peace, dear friend and Shipmate Lt(jg) Dewey Lee Alexander, from Houston, Texas.
On February 24, 2008, I received an Email sent to this Website from his daughter Karen Lee Alexander - I had been hoping for many years to have a member of his family come forward and let me know their thoughts about this Website and the Dedication I made in Master Chief Dewey Alexander's honor. You can only imagine slightly my reaction to hearing from Karen. Her words are below:
Name: Karen Lee Alexander, Daughter of Dewey Lee Alexander
24 February 2008
"Dear Jake, My daughter Renee found your website a few years ago; I myself do not use a computer without assistance, hence my delay in correspondence. Speaking for my family, I wish to Thank-you deeply for the tribute that you have created for my Father. We were deeply moved by it, and proud to see your testimony. Although we have not been to the Wall yet; we have been to the traveling Wall twice. We also each have a copy of the book "FIRE On The Hangar Deck, Ordeal of the Oriskany".
In the course of life, I have met many Men who have served on the Oriskany; but never met anyone who knew my Dad.
Once again, I Thank you with all my heart and Bless you."
Karen Lee Alexander
*Added 3/15/1998 - the years noted above is indexed at 1998
Page Updated 2/24/08
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