Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Old Navy Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, compartments were still,
The sailors were sleeping, as most sailors will.
The ditty bags hung by the lockers with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there

The men were all peacefully dreaming in bed
As visions of liberty danced in each head.
The Chief in his skivvies, hopped into his rack,
Having just came from town and a quick midnight snack.

When out on the deck there arose such a roar,
I ran to the porthole to find out the score.
I stuck out my head and started to shout,
"Just what in the world is this noise all about?"

A moon made for boondocking showed with a glow,
It was downright cold out, 'bout seven below.
What I saw out there looked like those Mardi Gras floats,
'Twas a Captain's gig drawn by four white Navy goats.

In the boat was a man who seemed quiet and moody,
I knew in an instant St. Nick had the duty.
As quickly as Monday his billy goats came,
He whistled and shouted and called them by name.

"Now Perry, now Farragut, Dewey and Jones,
What's the matter John Paul, got lead in your bones?
A little to Starb'rd, now hold it up short,
No fluffing off now, or you'll go on report!"

He was wearing dress "Reds" that fit like a charm,
His hash marks they covered the length of his arm.
The gifts to be issued were all in his pack,
The gedunk was ready to leave on each rack.

His eyes they were watering, his nose caked with ice,
He wiped it with canvass, then sneezed once or twice.
He opened his mouth and started to yawn,
It looked like the Sun coming up with the dawn.

The stump of a pipe, he held tight in his teeth,
And took a small nip from a bottle beneath
He wasn't so big, but he must have been strong,
I figured he'd been in SEALs early and long.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old Tar,
Who said "Evenin' Matey, here have a cigar."
He filled every seabag with presents galore,
And left us all leave papers, right by the door.

With "Anchors Aweigh" he climbed back into place,
A broad smile was creeping all over his face.
One look at his watch and he started to frown,
"This mid watch is certainly getting me down."

Then out to the breakwater and into the night,
The gig started fading, the landscape was bright.
"Merry Christmas" he said, as he drove on his way,
Now I'll finish my rounds and sack in for the day."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Greatest Veteran of the Cold War

by Phil Gardocki

This is note to honor the passing of one of the greatest veterans of the Cold War, CVN-65, USS Enterprise. 
Enterprise is a time honored name.  Though the US holds the dominant franchise on the name, warships holding that name have been found in the French and English navies as well.  The name captured the imagination of geeks worldwide in the sixties when Gene Roddenberry named his starship Enterprise. 
When built, the Enterprise had a number of new features.  She was the first aircraft carrier powered by nuclear reactors. Instead of rotating search radar, her island sported one of the world’s first “phased array” radars, giving her a 360 view without any gaps in the updated imagery.  This unique piece of naval architecture made the Enterprise stand out in many a movie where carrier footage was required.  Her last appearance was in the movie “American Warships”, where she was sunk in the first 5 minutes, only to be mysteriously resurrected, and resunk at the end of the flick.
My own personal encounter with the Big ‘E’ was early one morning in 1977.  I was walking from my bunk to the mess deck for breakfast.  I opened the port side hatch, and there she was, and 200 feet away.  Apparently we were refueling from her, for while the carrier was nuclear powered, almost none of her escorts were and she had dedicated fuel tanks for them.  I quickly ran back to my bunk, grabbed my Olympus, and snapped this photo.

Somewhere in the West Pacific, the Enterprise serves the cause of freedom.
As photographed by the author.

The Enterprise was one of the first responders to 911.  On September 11, she was in route to Cape Town, South Africa, while watching a U.S. morning news show live, although locally in the early evening, the crew saw the terrorist attacks by the al Qaeda terrorist network against New York's World Trade Center and on the Pentagon. On his own initiative, the Task Force's Admiral ordered Enterprise to turn around and head back to the waters off Southwest Asia. She was the first ship to arrive on station 100 miles south of Pakistan. Over the next few weeks, USS Enterprise conducted combat flight operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom executing primarily night strike flight operations, including a period of 36 hours continuous of flight operations.
Farewell Enterprise, you will be missed. 
Here is a link to a YouTube honorium of Enterprise with Julia Ecklar singing her song “Enterprise.”  I heartily recommend listening to this.
On  Dec 1, 2012,
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, in a video played towards the end of the ceremony, announced that CVN 80, third ship of the new GERALD R. FORD-class carriers, will be named ENTERPRISE, thus becoming the ninth American naval ship to bear the name.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Three Veterans

By Philip Gardocki

In America, we don’t know our history.  And in some cases this is a good thing.  How many conflicts reemerge when the next generation comes of age because of those dirty so and so’s across the river killed your grandfather’s cousin and his two brothers.  So hopefully, this is a sign of the new age.

A Motorola Pager, Circa 1990.
In the late 80’s I was a Field Service Engineer for Siemens Medical Systems, specializing in digital imaging systems.  At this time I was working on aligning the receiving coils for a MRI machine along with two other men when my pager went off.

For those of you under 30, a pager is what was used to notify people of messages when they were working a wide area.  Basically if someone needed to contact you, they would call a service, and leave a phone number.  The service would then punch in your ID number, and the phone number to call.  The pager would vibrate or beep, you would read the number.  Then you would have to go in search for a pay phone to call the number on your pager.  The service would then give you your message.  Since most of the numbers you needed to call were “long distance”, we were issued telephone credit cards that we would have to punch in so all this communication was logged in and paid for.  This took 37 digits.  Later pagers were upgraded to display text messages, 30 character display, with a limit of 140 characters per message.  But they also would receive random, usually useless news information items as well.  A portend of things to come.

A Motorola Analog Cell Phone. 
3 watts signal strength, with battery pack and bag.
Weight, 3.5 pounds, Net price $1,995.

It wasn’t that cell phones didn’t exist, but they were expensive to buy, about $4,000, expensive to run, about $1-3 per minute, were large and heavy, about the size of a brick.  The battery alone was about the size of 6 I-Phones, and lasted about 4 hours.  

The phone number was not one I recognized, but had a 908 area code, northern New Jersey, so it was probably Siemens Corporate HQ, so I made the call.

A woman's voice answered, “Siemens Medical Systems, how may I help you?”

“This is Phil Gardocki, I was paged to call this number,” I replied.

“Yes Mr. Gardocki, are you a veteran?” she asked.

Ah, I understood.  The US Government offers corporate incentives, usually in the form of tax breaks, for companies that hire and employ veterans.  Occasionally corporations will take a census to inventory their veteran count.  Siemens was more sensitive to this than most corporations because they were a German based company, and competing against several major American companies, and needed to show it can be a good corporate citizen in the USA as well.  

“Yes, I am,” I replied.

“Did you serve during the Vietnam War?” she continued.

“No, I did not,” I replied.

“Thank you,” she said, and then hung up.

Some veterans are worth more than others as far as the tax code goes.  I missed being a “Vietnam War” veteran by 6 months.  

I came back into the room just in time for Sorin’s pager to go off.  

“Is the area code 908?” I asked.

“Yes it is,” He replied.

After I explained what it was about, Sorin said, “I was a soldier during the Vietnam War.”  I raised an eyebrow at this, and ran through my mental notes.  Sorin immigrated to the United States from Israel, and from before that, Romania!

“You were in the Warsaw Pact,” I asked?

“Top Sergeant,” he declared proudly!

This tickled my sense of humor, as the Siemens rep didn’t ask which country I was veteran of, and that a veteran of a Soviet ally would be counted as well, so I advised him, “I would tell them you’re a vet.”

At that time, Chang loosed his pager, waiting for its prompting, and asked me, “What do you think I should tell them?”

I didn’t know much of Chang’s backstory, but I knew he originally hailed from mainland China.  So I asked, “What were you doing during the Vietnam War?”

Then he floored me with his quiet statement, “I was mercenary pilot for People’s Liberation Army Air Force flying MIG-21’s for North Vietnam.”

Chang’s pager went off, and we stared at it.  “Chang, I would be quiet about this, that wound is still a bit fresh.”

Thursday, November 15, 2012

My First Day in Boot Camp

By Phil Gardocki

The military is well versed in new hire integration, as they take “boots” in large groups at a time. So it takes a bit of doing to throw the well-oiled machine of the processing center out of kilter, but I managed it.

It was my first long train ride, some 22 hours in a sleepover car on Amtrak from Philadelphia to Orlando. Because I tested highly in the Military Entrance Tests, I had an early promotion and was placed nominally in charge of two other recruits, and holding their records. I also had “The” phone number to call when we arrived at our destination station. We had plenty of company, because as it turned out, this train was chartered by the Navy, and was picking up recruits all the way down the eastern seaboard.

Once we disembarked, a line formed at the pay phone. There were quite a few of us “in charge” of other groups, and we all had exactly the same instructions, to call the number and get instructions. I now realize what an annoyance it must have been to the receiver at the other end to get 30 calls in a row, from the same location, asking the same question. When it was my turn, I called, and a woman simply said, “The bus would be by in an hour.”

An hour! I had an hour to look around. Maybe I can find Disneyworld! So, without telling anyone what I was doing, I took off down the road, to see what I could see.

It wasn’t much. Very boring really. There were a lot of things wrong with this decision in retrospect, but I was young and on an adventure.

I returned in about half an hour to find the station vacant save a railway porter with an amused expression on his face. He told me a bus had picked up the recruits and left already. I was indignant. That wasn’t an hour! I looked at the station clock and only thirty minutes had passed. I found a map of Orlando, and the camp was only six miles away. I studied the map carefully, noting some of the major roads to cross to use as waypoints, and set out. If I was lucky, it would only take about two hours. I did note, with some sadness, that Disneyworld did not seem to be anywhere between here and there.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me I had upset quite a number of people, and had triggered a number of events.
The most immediate people affected were the two recruits whose records I was carrying. They showed up, without papers, and uncertain of what would happen to them. And of course for them the processing center had to deal with a couple of unknowns. The second group was everyone else on the train, who looked upon this with some amusement. They thought I was deserting. It looked to them I got off of the phone, and ran for it, and that is what they reported.

The man who recruited me got a phone call to tell him of my desertion, along with some commentary along the lines of “You sure know how to pick ’em.” It must have been fairly caustic or unsettling, because he then committed what can only be referred to as a real brain fart.

He called my mother.

Now picture this. You are a parent. Saturday, you kissed your oldest child goodbye, and teary eyed, sent him into the world, in the hands of a military recruiter.

Now it’s Sunday, you haven’t slept, having spent the last 24 hours sobbing at your loss, and the phone rings.


“Mrs. Gardocki?” says a voice.

“Yes, who is this?” she replies.

“This is Dave Ladley, the recruiter.” And she thinks, “Oh my God! What’s happened?”

“Do you know where your son is?” continued the recruiter.

“I left him with YOU!” she screeched.

And still not realizing just how deep Dave has stepped in it, he continues, “We lost him.”

To which he hears, in an octave range never before achieved by any human being, “HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY HAVE LOST MY SON! Every syllable cracked in such a way as to act like a badly wobbling dentist drill applied directly to your skull.

And then it got worse, my mother went into maximum wailing, holding the phone in a death grip, repeating over and over, HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY HAVE LOST MY SON,” ignoring my Step Father’s attempts to liberate the phone to get some useful information.

“Dorothy, give me the phone!”


“Dorothy, give me the phone!”

Eventually, he gave up, put on his coat, and got in the car.

Being my Step Father, Robert was only peripherally involved in the recruitment process. He knew the recruting center was in the Century Building, the largest building in Lansdale, which at 4 stories, is not saying much, but not exactly where in the building it was. But it was a short drive, less than 2 miles.

It was Sunday, the building was vacant, but uncharacteristically opened. The ground floor map had the recruitment center listed as on the second floor.  He got in the elevator, pushed the number 2 button and when the door opened


Roberts first thought was, “How did she beat me here?” But the truth quickly dawned.

He guided in on the steadily increasing font size.


And turning the final corner, he was greeted by a miserable sight. A grown man, face flat the desk, sobbing, his hand and phone as far from his ear as possible, and pleading, “I’m sorry lady, I’m really sorry.”

“Hang up the phone”, Robert said quietly.

A tear stained face looked up, expressing both horror and relief.

“Hang up the phone”, Robert repeated.

“Are you the father”, he asked?

“Yes, I am.”

“Oh God!”

And treating the phone like a viper, the recruiter placed the phone on the cradle.


“Okay”, said Robert, “We are going to make some phone calls.”

I never fully appreciated how well connected my Step Father was. The Brantly name was well known in the South. Before the Civil War, they were quite rich, but afterwards the family went into decline in wealth, but not in name recognition, or respect.

“Yes sir, Mr Brantly”, said the Sheriff of Orlando. “I have a deputy out in that area right now, just tell me what he is wearing and I’ll have him look for him.”
Hanging up, Robert told the recruiter, “Now we will call the base commander.”

Realizing how many rungs of the chain of command he would have to jump, the recruiter balked, “I can’t do that!”

“I can.”

The base commander was not in, and they had to settle for the Duty Officer, a Lieutenant Junior Grade, who had not yet been informed that someone in his charge was missing, possibly AWOL, and now had to take a direct interest in finding a wayward recruit.

“Now we’ll call the Chief of Naval Operations on the Joint Chief’s of Staff.”

Fortunately for my naval career, that phone number was not easily available.

So it was into this bear trap, a tired, but successful Seaman Gardocki arrived at his first command, threw a sloppy salute to the gate guard, and was sent to the office.

Where the shouting began.

“Recruit!” he yelled, “Why did you walk away, what did they tell you to do?”

“SIR, they said the bus would be there in an hour, SIR!”

“No they didn’t, he told you wait!”

“No SIR, they said the bus would be there in an hour, SIR!”

“Don’t lie to me recruit, I was there and he told you to wait for the bus.”

“SIR, He was a she, SIR!”

Shocked at being caught in a lie, or having someone stand up to him, he stormed off.

At that point, things got silly, and I realized even then, that a lot of this wasn’t really personal, it was just for appearances, part of the “Boot Camp Experience.”

I was told to stand in the corner.

Like a 5 year old.

So I did. There was a mirror in the corner, and I got to watch “The Rockford Files”, till a van picked me up to take me to the barracks. There I was greeted like a minor hero with a freshly minted reputation for being crazy.

The deputy arrived a little later at the gate, found I had been signed in, and reported back to the Sheriff, who called my Step Father. Who went home to tell his wife that he had found her only son and that all was well. The base commander received a report the next day that all recruits were accounted for, even if one was a late arrival. He probably was puzzled when he got a call from his Admiral later in the day over the incident.

All other processes that were started over this incident quietly unwound.  It was more than a year before I had all the pieces of this story.  Maybe...