NOTE ONE: So, what happened? Why was Friday’s story posted a day late?  [The only time that’s happened in almost a year, let me add.] The short answer is I just dropped the ball. I was at Snowbird, in the mountains of North Carolina, with friends and family, pitching shoes, playing Hearts, and sitting around the fire retelling old jokes — not the start to finish, of course, just the punch lines.

And I forgot.

NOTE TWO:  I went on a six-day hike in the Grand Canyon last month [Oct. 17-22].  It was interesting and I’m going to write about it soon.

And now, today’s story:

In 1961 my ship, USS Los Angeles, ran from Nancy, a super typhoon with wind speeds of 215 mph, the strongest ever measured in a tropical cyclone.

The path of Typhoon Nancy.
The path of Typhoon Nancy.

But we didn’t run quite fast enough, apparently, or far enough.  Or Nancy was just too big to completely escape.

During the height of the storm the Los Angeles, a heavy cruiser, was battened down from one end to the other. No one was allowed on deck.

Standing watch on the bridge I saw waves crash across the main deck, land on top of the number two turret, and splatter the windows of the bridge.

It was a heck of a storm.

USS Los Angeles, CA-135
USS Los Angeles, CA-135

We sat on benches in the enlisted men’s mess deck and ate off tables with rims. In rough weather you held your tray with one hand and ate with the other. If you got up to get more milk — there was a milk dispenser in each compartment — you had to time your move just right, so you could get back to your tray before the ship rolled again.

Destruction in Japan.
Destruction in Japan from Typhoon Nancy.

A guy across from me, at the end of the table, had bad timing. And when his tray began sliding, both of the sailors directly across from me pick up their trays and let the sliding tray go right on by, to the other end of the table, where it jumped the rim and made a mess on the deck.  The two guys set their trays back on the table, acted as if nothing had happened, and kept on eating. Never said a word.

But the thing I remember best is the water fountain on our mess deck. During the typhoon the LA rolled so hard that when you turned on the fountain water fell on the deck.

Here's a photo that were blown ashore.
Two ships that were blown ashore.

Postscript: The Stars and Stripes, a Department of Defense newspaper, reported in September 1961 that at least 1,056 ships and fishing vessels were sunk or blown ashore by Typhoon Nancy and many more were damaged.

Coming Friday: Squelched

Go Tell Daddy What You Did

When I was a boy I came within a nickel of burning down our house.

We lived on a farm near Gadsden, Alabama, and Brother Dave and I went through a fire phase, setting them, playing with them. I was about eight, he was two and a half years older. 

This particular fire, which I unwittingly built near an underground oil tank, was mine alone.  When my little stick fire got into the grass it began to spread and when it reached the oil-soaked ground over the tank it quickly became a big fire.

The farmhouse. It looks a lot better now than it did 65 years ago.
The farmhouse: It looks a lot better now than it did 65 years ago.

I ran into the house, to the kitchen, pushed past my brothers and sisters, filled a frying pan with water, rushed back outside, and threw it on the fire.  And then I ran back inside and got another frying pan full of water.  I never believed it, but a man who worked for Dad and lived in a tenant house nearby, said the flames were taller than our three-story house.

When I ran back inside to get another a third frying pan of water one of my sisters asked me, “What are you doing, Pat?”

I told her.

My brothers and sisters who were home –I had six– rushed outside and the fight was on to keep the fire from spreading to our house. Somebody called the fire department, but we had it out before the firemen arrived.

When Dad got home from Altoona, Alabama, where he mined coal, Marge, my oldest sister, ordered me: “Go tell Daddy what you did!”

So I went to him, stood by his chair, and confessed.

He asked me one question, “Did you help put it out?”

“Yes sir,” I said.

That was all. I was dismissed and he went back to reading his newspaper.

NOTE: One day, when no one else was home, one of Dave’s fires got out of hand and burned up near the house, the syrup factory, and the barn before he and I corralled it. It was touch and go for a while there. Finally, there was only one small flame left.

“Who started this fire?” Dave asked.

“You did,” I said.

And then he swept his broom across the last bit of fire and asked, “Who put it out?”

Coming Monday: Typhoon!