I was late posting another article for the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Having no immediate material on hand, I chose a related topic: my grandfather, the sailor.
My love for naval history began with my grandfather. He didn’t tell many stories about the war when I was a child, but he did let me watch his enormous collection of war movies. Hollywood films are not very accurate with military history, but they do excite you in many subjects. You’ll find no better flicks than The Enemy Below, Sink the Bismarck, and Run Silent, Run Deep. We were led to believe that my grandfather joined the Navy because of John Wayne.
Bup, as we call him, was a “plank owner” on the destroyer USS Cone in the 1940s. He enlisted with a starting crew on the new ship out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and spent a lot of time in the Atlantic looking for action. Destroyers are the SUVs of the navy. In World War II, they guarded convoys against wolf packs of U-Boats, picked up downed pilots, delivered mail, and filled the air with anti-aircraft flak. They hunted subs, created smoke screens, and blasted enemy shores. Bup got his taste of the Navy on such a ship.
They cross-trained sailors on “tin cans” to work in different sections. My grandfather went from handling 5-inch shell casings to working in a damage control party. He remembers wearing fireproof gloves made with asbestos that went up past his elbows. By the time he left the Navy, they had trained him to operate radar. I often wonder how this farm boy from Nova Scotia reacted to the steady flash of new technology that moved quickly into the military. He once watched a blip dart across his radar scope, which he later understood to be one of the first jet fighters sent into service. Aviation was less than a century old and flying steady into his world.
He sure has his stories about the Navy as most vets do. Of course, they do bridge the gap between truth and exaggeration.
- The Army jeep “borrowed” by junior officers and lashed to the fantail for the occasional port-of-call. One night, the prized vehicle “accidentally” rolled off the ship into the English Channel.
- A sailor caught a shark on a hook and hauled it onto the deck. The predator thrashed so violently around the crew that an officer pulled out a pistol and shot it.
- Cone discovered a mine while traveling with another destroyer in the North Sea. One of the destroyers managed to destroy the weapon with small arms fire. (To this day, old mines are still discovered in land and water. They pose a major danger to civilians around the world.)
- Two sailors were reported missing ashore when Cone was visiting New York. Police made inquiries with the crew. Bup always suspected they gambled with the wrong crowd and disappeared. His ship sailed without them.
Cone proved to be a durable warship years after World War II and was modified repeatedly for various services. I believe it was eventually sold to Pakistan. Bup exhibits a quiet, reserved stance which is common among his Canadian kin. You’ll have to really get him going in order to get stories like these, and they may involve a few fingers of whiskey. Nothing better in this world than listening to your grandfather. He got a chance at adventure in the truest fashion. John Wayne would be proud of that.