May 22, 2016

Remembering the "Farm"

A farmhouse similar in character and stature to the Farm
In April, 1964, I filled out my "dream sheet" to the Navy's Bureau of Personnel as follows:
First Choice - Any icebreaker home ported on the east coast, preferably Edisto (AGB-2)
Second Choice - Destroyer School for Engineering Option, followed by Chief Engineer's position on a destroyer homeported in Yokosuka, Japan.  I had just completed the Navy's 10-week long Firefighting, Damage Control, Nuclear, Bacteriological, and Chemical Defense school in Philadelphia.  I felt ready for more responsibility.

A few days later, I received a phone call from the Squadron Engineering Officer of Destroyer Development Group 2 (DESDEVGRU-2) in Newport, Rhode Island, my home port.  I knew the Squadron Engineer well, as my ship was part of his organization.  He often rode our ship for various engineering exercises for which he was a witness or judge.  "Hey, Bob, I just saw your dream sheet.  How would you like a Chief Engineer's job without having to complete Destroyer School?"  The question took me by surprise.  Only a few months before, an edict had come down from on high:  Only graduates of the newly-established Surface Warfare School (commonly called Destroyer School) could be considered for department head billets on destroyers from that point forward.  In essence, the Navy was requiring Destroyer school for the job I wanted, and Destroyer School would require an extension of my 4-year obligated service.  I was willing to extend to get the job I wanted as Chief Engineer, and I'd gain a little more time to decide if I wanted to make the Navy my career.  Yet here was the Squadron Engineer asking if I wanted to go straight to a Chief Engineer's billet.  I asked for clarification.

"We have a DE (Destroyer Escort) in the squadron home ported in New London, Connecticut," he told me.  "The Chief Engineer is in the base hospital with ulcers, and he ain't coming back.  If you're interested in the job, I can see that it's yours.  Because of the urgency, I believe we can make it happen without 6 months of Destroyer School."  That, in a nutshell, is how I got to be Chief Engineer of USS Maloy (DE-791), the last Buckley-class World War II turbo-electric powered destroyer escort in existence.  Two days after this conversation, I had my orders.  I ran down to Chief's Quarters to tell my leading Chief Petty Officer, Chief Harry Hardwick, that I had gotten orders.  He said, "You'll love it, Sir.  It'll be a lot like restoring an antique car!"

I flew to Bermuda to meet the ship, which was conducting operations in the area.  The ship had seen better days.  The Captain, Operations Officer, Weapons Officer, and a couple of others had been aboard less than 2 months.  There had been a "clean sweep" in the wardroom.  The new Captain, LCDR James E. Fernandes, was a "book man."  We would follow Navy Regulations to the letter.  I liked what I saw and heard.  After a few weeks operating off Bermuda, we headed for our home port of New London.  The ship was assigned to the Navy Underwater Sound Laboratory, which had a major operation in Groton, Connecticut.  I would get used to a routine of operating in and around Bermuda for a few weeks alternating with a few days or weeks in New London (The Navy base is actually on the Groton side of the river.).

After a couple of cycles back and forth to Bermuda, the Weapons Officer, Jay Allen, and one of the officers in the Operations Department, Tom Mason, expressed some interest in getting a place on the mainland to live when we were in port and didn't have "the duty."  I liked the idea.  We went to the Submarine School and put a notice on the bulletin board, as well as at the Bachelor Officer's Quarters.  After a few days, we had a list of six or seven fellows interested in finding a place.

We visited a realtor and explained our interest in a place that might accommodate this number of bachelor officers.  She immediately suggested an old farmhouse with "several" bedrooms located on 150 acres between Colchester and Chesterfield, Connecticut.  This would put the property somewhere around 17 miles from the Navy Base.  We went and looked at the property.  The house was pretty run down.  It belonged to a general contractor in New Haven who had been born and raised in the house.  He was mainly interested in having people live in the house to prevent vandalism.  The land was leased to a neighboring farmer, so we wouldn't have any obligation to maintain it.  And the price was right -- $150/month divided among us.  My share, including utilities, was usually around $25.00.  We rented the place and named it "Animal Farm."

We claimed places to put beds (I think there was a total of eight.) and scrounged some used furniture to make the place habitable.  A lot of shipmates cleaned out their attics/garages with the intent of "helping" us furnish our new digs.  The resulting decor was eclectic modern throwaway.  It became the perfect bachelor pad.  And it became a popular escape for a lot of friends.

Several graduating classes from the Submarine School held their graduation picnics at the farm.  Our ship's officers and their ladies had more than a few gatherings there, including picnics, softball games, and more organized dinner gatherings.  At one Christmas party, we started a creosote fire in the chimney when we got a little too enthusiastic burning the gift wrappings in the fireplace.  I remember one of the roommates on the roof with the garden hose trying to dampen the flames roaring out of the chimney.  But we all survived, including the house.

There was a dirt-floored one-car garage a stone's throw away from the house.  I cleaned it up and claimed it as my engine-rebuilding facility, in which, one very cold winter, I rebuilt the engine in my 1932 Model PB Plymouth (still owned and driven).  It was always a surprise to arrive "home" after a tour at sea, to see which of the roommates were at home.  We had two, Chris Clark and Art Kriesen, from the submarine force whose schedule never coincided with that of the Maloy, so we rarely had a "full house."

In April, 1965, the Maloy headed for Philadelphia on its final voyage.  I sold my "share" in the Farm to some other officer, whose name I can't recall.  I have no idea how long the tradition continued. I have many joyful recollections of the months spent in that ancient farmhouse.  I was dating a lady from Connecticut College for Women at the time and we spent many happy weekends there with friends.  It was a time of carefree innocence and great friendships.  And yet, a few years ago, while on a trip in that area, I tried unsuccessfully to find its location.  I suspect the house that generated so many wonderful memories no longer exists.

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