Flush Decks and Four Pipes
The Pacific sun shone brightly upon the lightly swelled seas that seemed to dance to the breeze. Puffy clouds dotted the azure sky that gave the whole scene a picturesque atmosphere. The air was humid though, and seemed fit to penetrate any surface constructed by either man or nature. That included the little ship moving through the clear waters. Compared to others that scoured all four corners of the globe, this ship was small. A little over three hundred feet in length, the grey painted vessel looked distinct from the four pipes sticking out from the middle. Along the flushed deck that stretched bow to stern, a few figures in white were moving about. A closer look from the causal observer would have found them figure to be young men in their high school years. It was no anomaly, for it was common across the expansive oceans of the world. As the ship moved gracefully through the light surf, large white numbers could be seen at the bow reading 219. On the opposite side at the stern, smaller white lettering spelled out a name.
If a ship was to be humanized, then the brains would be the bridge. Located at the front behind one of the four guns on board the small vessel sat the structure that housed the decision makers. Like nerves running down the stem, they were the ones who decided where the ship would go and what the rest of the crew on board would do. Like their deck counterparts, late highschool years beheld them.
Standing off to the side stood an older figure in khaki military uniform. Though grey streaks filtered through his hair and a slight paunch had formed from long nights and poor diet, the man's demeanor showed intelligence and determination. The older man settled into the solitary chair that stood in the bridge of the small ship. As his grey eyes wandered to explore the seemingly endless horizon before him, a voice called out from behind.
"Captain Saunders sir, permission to enter!"
A soft chuckle came from the man's lips as he turned to return the salute from the ram rod straight junior. Though both men wore the uniform of a naval officer, Saunder's was a man with decades more experience than his counterpart. The officer standing before him was barely half his age, still in the throes of his high school career in the navy. With a slight yet athletic frame, the young man could have been a poster child for a recruitment poster if not for the steel rimmed glasses.
"No need to be so formal Rooks, it's not the academy."
At this, William Rooks, aged seventeen and Executive Officer aboard Edsall blushed as he nodded and held out a piece of paper towards his superior. "Message from Manila sir. Your eyes only."
Saunders lifted an eyebrow as he accepted the message with a small nod.
"Very well, I'll read it in my sea cabin. Have all department heads gather in the wardroom by 1900."
The junior responded with a nod before back down the ladder towards the main deck, which left Saunders alone with the helmsman. With another chuckle, the aging officer moved to his cabin just behind the bridge. It only took a few minutes to read the contents of the note, but at the end his lips had turned into a grin.
Well, this should be interesting.
A whoosh of flame caused Patrick Rourke to jerk his head away lest his black hair suddenly turn red. A short laugh from behind made him realize his antics with the stove didn't go unnoticed.
"How are we doing Pat?"
The cook took a moment to dip a wooden spoon into the baking sheets contents before tasting the concoction. A small grin formed on his face as he turned to address his fellow galley crew.
"We're doing good."
At this, another cook turned to look at his shipmate and culinary partner in crime. Dark brows furrowed as an equally dark hand slapped the shoulder of the taster.
"And why should we trust you? You're Irish."
Patrick grunted and rolled his eyes, "It only took us the famine to learn how to fish Jules."
Julius Roberts, 17 and a native of Baltimore laughed at his fellow cook. "Would have learned earlier if your people didn't spend all their time hating the English so much."
"Ah you know me, I'm a fast learner, like when I first signed up to travel the world, only to find out-."
The rest of the galley chimed in, "It's two thirds water."
It was an old joke that should have died after the first day out of port, but all standing inside the hot galley laughed as if they heard it the first time. With grins on their faces, the galley crew continued their hot work. They had over 50 crewmembers to feed.
The loud voice of Thomas Lee permeated the crowded enlisted mess of the Edsall as the native Virginian sat down to his meal. At six feet and 220 pounds, he was one of the biggest sailors onboard. Even his voice was lost in the cacophony that was the evening meal aboard a destroyer. Sailors from all departments found their usual seats to chow down whatever was the on the menu. For Lee, the baked flounder briefly reminded him of family dinner along the James River, but nothing would ever hold a candle to what his mother made. As he consumed his tray's contents, several other seats around him were taken up. One of the newcomers laughed as he gazed at the southerner.
"Damn Lee, it's like the Navy doesn't feed you."
The sailor was shorter by a head but just as wide as the Virginian. James Ramirez originally hailed from Puerto Rico before joining the Navy's highschool program. While Thomas served as a Gunner's Mate on the forward gun, he manned one of the starboard torpedo batteries.
"Ah, just excited for what's ahead. Bet ya were gonna be hunting pirates!"
Another laugh came from behind as the last of the trio was assembled. Arthur Crawley was a fireman handling of the ships boilers, and no matter how many times he showered his fellow mess mates swore he smelt of oil.
"Scuttlebutt again Lee? Next it's gonna be we're steaming to Cancun for surf and girls."
"It's true ya damn Yankee! We're heading north to flush out pirates by Siberia. Heard it from a fellow in Manila."
Both James and Arthur chuckled at their friend's antics. Lee could spin a yarn like no one's business, but damn if he had fun doing it. "Alright, and suppose we do head up and run into these pirates. What are we gonna do with one tin can?"
Thomas smacked both hands onto his chest like an ancient war chat. "Leave 'em to me! I'll line all their ships up and knock 'em down with my 4-incher! Like a turkey shoot!"
Another chuckle left Arthur's lips as he drew closer to his fellow shipmate. "I think it's a little more complicated than that Commodore Perry."
"Nope." Lee laughed, "Like a turkey shoot."
The rest of the conversation morphed into jokes and theories as each teenaged sailor put forth their idea of their ultimate destination. So was the scene set for the rest of the mess as each sailor divided his time between eating his dinner and shooting the breeze.
William took another sip of his coffee as the information began to sink in. He was not the only officer in the wardroom for the head of each department was here. To his left was the Communication Department, an Ensign from Vermont named Ethan Warren. He was the youngest of the group at just 15 of last week; his raw nature showed as his brown eyes nervously darted between the rest of the room's occupants and to his plate. A small pat on the back nearly made the brown haired newbie jump out of his seat.
"Relax Ethan, we're all equals here...save for the skipper and XO of course."
William Jackson laughed as the Green Mountain boy sat back in his chair. At 17, the Worcester, Mass native was in charge of the ships torpedo batteries. His short dark hair matched the color of his arms as he gave another pat on his friend's shoulder. That seemed to quell the Vermonter's nerve for the time being. Across from the table, the ships doctor cleared his throat before addressing the room.
"Which reminds me, does anyone here know where our destination will be? I'm still in the dark since Manila."
"No word I'm afraid; it should come down from the captain."
The voice of Robert Bell cut through the air as the South Carolinian Engineer responded. Just next to him was the ship's gunnery officer, Kim Parks. At the gaze of the doctor, the Los Angeles native shook his head. That left only one more officer who still hadn't spoken up since the gathering. All eyes turned to the bespectacled XO with a cup of coffee in his hand. William inwardly frowned from all of the attention, a habit he hadn't quite kicked since childhood.
"Sorry doc, I'm still in the dark-"
"Not anymore gentlemen."
At Captain Saunders voice, all chatter ceased as the aged officer sat himself at the head of the table. Though all officers kept silent to let the master of the ship speak first, none of them had stood up to salute. The skipper had quashed that rigid system, for dinner at least. Now settled into his seat, Saunders smiled broadly at the collection of officers that encompassed the head of Edsall.
"Manila has given us our orders; we are to head to Japan for assignment with the Blue Mermaids newest class."
He let the sentence sink in for a moment to gauge the reaction of the table. Every officer seemed to take the statement with an even tone, though Warren's face turned a shade darker. The silence was only broken as one of the stewards came to deliver the evening meal. Finally, Rooks broke the ice as he swirled the cream and suger mix into his coffee.
"Did Manila say which school and for how long?"
"We'll be joining the Yokosuka Girl's Marine's fleet exercise. Plan is to be out to sea for two weeks."
William nodded at this information, and pulled out a small pencil and scribbled out a few words on the notepad next to his plate. As he did so, it was Parks who spoke up. "With all due respect sir, but why us? And why only one ship? Shouldn't Pearl send them out?"
Saunders grinned at the gunnery officer's prodding. Parks was known to be a quiet type, but could speak his mind when he wanted to. "I'm privvy to a bit more information. There was talk about having Japan and the United States combine their school assets for a naval exercise, but talks were slow going for months. I'm sure the brass over in Pearl thought it easier to send one of their Asiatic ships up. As to why us? Well, Tommy Hart felt it was more appropriate to send a destroyer up to avoid looking like aggressors."
Now it was Jackson's turn to speak up, "But sir, wouldn't the Houston have been a better choice than an old Clemson?"
At this, Saunders patted the bulkhead next to him while letting out a short laugh.
"Nonsense Jackson, Edsall isn't old; she's in her prime. She's a fine ship, with a fine crew."
There was a series of chuckles at the table from the captains favorite statement about the ship. It was an well known fact onboard that Saunders held the Clemson class in revere, having served on them ever since he graduated from the academy decades ago. It was a few moments before Warren spoke up, his voice a small whisper. "What time are we expected at Yokosuka?"
"Excellent question Warren; we're due to arrive in two days time on the third, roughly 1400 hours given our present speed. The fleet will set out a few days after so there'll be enough time to resupply and repair any issues onboard."
Saunders turned to Rooks and gave him a small nod which the junior officer responded without a word. As Executive Officer, it was his job to make sure the captains decisions were followed through. That meant checking the stores in all the departments, recording any issues with the ship or her crew. It was a busy job, but with the duties of the skipper being all encompassing, it was a vital one. Still, there was one question nagging at Rooks as he paused from his drink.
"What about the rest of the crew sir? Should I inform them tonight?"
A small shake of the head was all Saunders needed. A smile crept on his face as he addressed his executive. "Let the crew have their fun for tonight. The next two days will get us all up to speed for what's ahead."
With formalities out of the way, the atmosphere seemed to relax as the officers began to get into their dinner. Saunders took a bite out of his baked flounder before motioning to the radio along the bulkhead. All of his subordinates smiled at the gesture; it was a tradition for Edsall to have some music while the officers dined. Soon, a familiar tune began to fill the confines of the wardroom. A turn of the knob next to the radio caused the music to filter through the passageways of the ship. Rooks smiled as he imagined the enlisted crew pausing their meals to listen to the pleasant sound. It was a tune that traced its roots on the other side of the Atlantic from his native Hartford; as the lyrics gave way into the chorus, every crewmember on Edsall sang as if it was his own.
"It's a long way to Tipperary,
it's a long way to go!
It's a long way to Tipperary,
to the sweetest girl I know!
Farewell Leicester Square!
It's a long way to Tipperary,
But my heart's right there!"
The rest of the evening meal consisted of similar singing and laughing, whether it was another one of Saunder's stories of going Asiatic, or an academy tale from one of the junior officers. Throughout all this, the sunlight sank slowly into the horizon as the warm rays washed over the aged destroyer like a cloak. As twilight settled into the blackness of the pacific night, the mood aboard was jovial. There would be trials and tribulations ahead, but everyone from highest officer to lowest enlisted was confident in overcoming whatever challenge stood before them. They were different from the thousands of high school cadets serving on battleships or carriers across the oceans. They were of a different breed.