Fire is always a major danger aboard any ship, and especially an ammo ship...and the damage control teams of Rainier were the best aboard any ship. Every member of the crew was intensively trained in fire safety and damage control. I can't recall any major fires aboard while I was there, but there was one incident in 1968...
GQ- Boots in Stocking Feet
I had come aboard for the first time in September along with about seven other new crewmembers, mostly fresh from boot, who had all been awaiting the arrival of the ship at the luxurious Subic Bay Transit Barracks. We took the long bus ride over to the well-isolated ammo pier, passing bunkers scattered among the forest clearings. When the road crested the top of the rise above the pier, there was the pier below, with two ships tied along-side, one, the Rainier and the other was. I believe, a civilian USNS ship. The thing that struck me most was that the pier, which I remember as being about the size of a football field, was fully covered with what looked to be thousands of 500-pound bombs in "six-packs", stacked five or six high, and dozens of other odd-shaped boxes and containers of ammunition. They were being loaded as quickly as was feasible by Navy and Filipino civilian workers together.
That was our first day aboard, but that evening , before we had been told ANYTHING about the ship, GQ sounded ! The 1MC announced "FIRE, FIRE" and it was no drill. The only thing I could see was dark and the only thing I could think of was that tremendous stack of bombs out on the pier and the holds of the ship filled with tons more bombs and explosives of all descriptions. I knew I had no place to go, no DC assignment and I'll admit I was scared. My newly arrived shipmates and I were herded back to the fantail where we could do the least harm and remained there until the emergency was over. I never did find out whether there WAS a fire, but ,I heard what may or may not have been the truth...that a Marine guard on the pier had found, in the course of his patrol, a grenade in the hollow nose of a 500-pound bomb rigged to go off when the container on top of it was removed by a forklft... heard he got a medal. Anyone know anything about that story ?
You're on My List, Sailor !
Another "GQ episode" I remember well was in 1969 when the ship was at Alameda Naval Air Station- (you know the place, it's where Mr. Chekov found the "nucleeer-wessels" in that Star Trek movie about the whales)...at any rate, a group of us had been sent over to Treasure Island for several days of fire fighting and DC training and on the way back we caught sight of the ship. She seemed to be showing a great deal of bottom paint...When we got there, we found the ship had listed over some 15 degrees at the pier, and although when we left, the rail was ten or twelve feet or more above the pier, it was nearly possible to step from the pier directly onto the ship when we arrived. Heres a photo shot by Navigator Larry Butts on that fateful day. (Larry assures us he was NOT on duty at the time.)
Apparently there had been some transfer of ballast water from the port to the starboard deep tanks by mistake. It took much of the crew and the NAS and Alameda City Fire Departments to do the necessary pumping. I was standing up on the bridge at my GQ station with the decks at a so severe a list that I could barely keep my footing, when I heard those words..."All Hands Abandon Ship !" Didn't take me long to be on the pier, but there were lots of brave and dedicated engineering types that just kept right on working. Before long the ship was saved from an embarassing potential capsizing and sinking at the pier. Chief Neil Long said he was also away from the ship at the time- guess nobody will admitto being aboard that day except Larry Butts.
The Beginning of the End
Chief Long also related the story about the Rainier's last rearming off the California coast in 1970. She was to make one more line trip until the main bearings burned out during an unrep. It was then that it was decided to decommission the old ship because the cost of repair would be prohibitive. So- the USS Chara made that last planned Westpac cruise in place of Rainier.
Bosun- Straighten Out that Boom !
And then there are those spectacular casualties- Here are some pix from Gene Chambers of the infamous broken boom in 1952, along with a picture of Gene as a youthful sailor seated in that classic pose we all have of ourselves, sitting on a stack of 500 pounders...
Fire on the Pier- 1965
BM2 Frank Ushler sends us this news release from COMSERVPAC about a shipyard fire he and the Rainier helped put out. "Uncommon bravery was a common virtue."...
COMSERVPAC INFORMATION BULLETIN
RAINIER FIRE: For their efforts in containing a fire which could possibly have erupted into a major disaster, 11 men aboard ammunition ship USS Rainier were commended. Rainier was undergoing an extensive overhaul at the Pacific Ship Repair, Inc., in San Francisco when, during the afternoon of June 13, 1965 a fire broke out in one of the shipyard shops. The ship's fire party was immediately sent to the scene. They managed to contain and control the fire until San Francisco civilian fire. fighting equipment, including fire trucks and a harbor fire boat arrived at the scene and The fire party consisted of: C.W. Watson, IC2; W. A. Carelock, GMG2; G. W. Morris, BM3; J. E. Ball, EM-3; D.S. Miller, EN3; H.D. Bohnstengel, SN; D. P. Carter, SN; M. R. Rockdaschal, SN; F. S. Ushler, SN- D. G. Welch, EHFN and G. L. Wells, SN. 18. The President of the Shipyard personally delivered a letter of appreciation to the commanding officer Captain W. J. Moran which read in part: "...It was most comforting to see these men in action and I'm sure you are as proud of them as we are." In addition he also presented the $400 to the ship.
Got any good stories about Damage Control adventures ? Send them in !