“Floyd, what is that USS Newport News (CA 148) cap doing on your head? I thought you served in USS Philadelphia (CL-41). Mama’s got to go to the bathroom right away.” She’s pushing her walker through the door and headed left to the room with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities) certified toilet. Mom’s bladder is shot full of holes so it leaks out on schedule about every 110 minutes which ruins a two hour alarm schedule and there goes another adult depends diaper to consumable heaven.
“So” says, Floyd. “I did serve in the Newport News but that was after the war.”
And then I say hello to Gloria (Floyd’s wife of 65 years) as she charges past to help mom into the toilet. Gloria says there is a better way with disposable Depends to include disposable inserts. Those are called Depend Boost inserts , and I took note of it. These are Kimberly-Clark products and I think I have just suggested a stock to put in your portfolio for retirement. After the market wreck in early June it is probably a good time to buy KMB. (disclaimer - ALWAYS talk with your local village idiot before investing in the stock market).
“Floyd”, says I. “ My sister-in-law, Lynne’s brother, was on the Newport News in Vietnam when it blew up. He was nearly blown to smithereens when the number 2 eight inch turret blew up.” Twenty sailors were killed and 36 injured. Lee Mock, who lives in Pennsylvania was lucky. He is haunted to this day by the explosion. That was in October of 1972 only a week or so before me and my little gunboat the Destroyer Escort (Fast Frigate) - USS O’Callahan arrived off the coast of Vietnam.
I can’t say we ever had any accidental explosions on my ship and I am pleased that was the case. We did at some point, however, have a couple of compartmental fires that smoked up some passageways. One was a serious electrical fire that took us out of action a couple of days. Another was a sailor’s stash of rolling papers for the cannabis he traded from some Army 1st Cav when they helicoptered aboard so their officers could work out spotting missions to support South Vietnamese Marines on the beach. The papers were stashed near a steam pipe that eventually heated up the “paraphernalia” and set it to smoking. Anyway, my ship did not blow up. A little smoke puffed around though.
Floyd explained he served in that ship (Newport News) way before Vietnam but his primary war experience had been with the cruiser Philadelphia - spreading “brotherly love” in a special way. In a previous visit, Floyd told me about his first time under fire at the landings in North Africa. He was a gunner’s mate and looked out the ranging glass to see return fire splashing nearby. Said it scared the expletives out of him. He said his gun boss, a Chief, was just as scared as him, but they kept loading and firing.
Of all things, it was the French that were shooting at them as they landed troops. Students of WWII realize the Vichy French were on the side of Hitler. I’ve heard stories from people about that landing near Casablanca. My uncle, E.W. Carswell was in the invasion boats. A business man named Gene Spencer in Tampa told me about being ordered to get in a different boat by his company commander. Sadly, but fortunate for him, the boat with his C.O. was destroyed with everyone in it. And Floyd was loading 8 inch projectiles as fast as he could in the Philadelphia.
Where was I?
Gloria now had mom settled in the living room and Floyd began to talk about going to Chumuckla School around 1927 when he was about 4 ½ years old. His sister, Lillian (Coleman - of Flomaton) was 6 and he was her body guard on the trail through giant piney woods to the school from the Enfinger place a couple of miles away. Eventually, a teacher, Mrs Ruby Robinson, told the family that little Floyd was a bit of a challenge to keep up with all day. He would play out among the trees and occasionally run into the building and out and of course he would eventually be there when his sister was ready to go home. Mrs Robinson asked the family to let little Floyd sit in on classes with the official students and she would do her best to provide a good result. Floyd said that is when the fun left town. At the age of 5 he was trapped.
Gloria pointed among the many photos in the house of family to one black and white photo of a soldier. She explained it was Floyd’s younger brother, Adrian. Floyd explained how, in 1945, Adrian was killed in house-to-house fighting by a hidden German machine-gunner in the town of Weisbaden, Germany. Floyd as in port on the East Coast at the time. His commanding officers made it easy for him to take a leave of absence to be with the family down home and to put Adrian to rest at the Coon Hill Cemetery. Coon Hill is the cemetery that is vandalized by idiots every year. I wish they would have some respect for the dead who rest there. Adrian is just one of many of our family in that place.
“Do you have any squash?” Gloria wanted to know if we’d take some of their squash home with us. She had a five gallon bucket full of summer yellow crookneck squash. And, she had some good frying okra (not boiling okra that would be small pods - but the bigger pods) to give us as well. Floyd went out back and came back with an armload of sweet corn. Before mom and I left, we agreed that we would share the vegetables with family and friends and I would not tell them that I grew them. Instead, I would tell them they came by away of Floyd and Gloria, with much hope that God’s blessings would be upon them.
Notes: Vic Campbell and his wife Karen recently retired out of New Jersey and returned to their roots in Santa Rosa County. “Mom” is Mrs. J. Lee Campbell (Myrtle) . Elderly parents and other kin are part of the landscape and a good deal of elder care is part of almost every day. It works out well when a few visits can be put into the mix.
What I did not include in the story is that Floyd and I went out to his garden and found what we hoped was a ripe sugar baby watermelon. I thumped it. It had a bright yellow belly from its resting on the earth. It should have been ripe. Well, it was not ripe. But we all ate it anyway since the meaty part was almost ripe and it was pretty sweet because a ripe sugar baby is really extra sugary. Still, it is a bit embarrassing that neither Floyd nor myself, a former watermelon picker, were able to discern the melon was not ripe when we picked it.
I used my android app to make an audio recording of Floyd’s (and Gloria’s) superb recollections of history. I’ll make copies of the recording for their children.
VIc Campbell - June 14- 2011 copyright