Chief Petty Officer Harry Schreck stood tall and left no doubt about who was in charge. He told us at quarters for muster that if we were late returning to the ship from liberty we had better have our death certificates in our hand, because that was the only excuse he would accept. He loved the crew, but he would not tolerate tardiness. We were taught in boot camp that being A.W.O.L. was against regulations and would be dealt with in a swift judicial manner. Our small crew worked hard and played hard, but with the threat of severe punishment hanging over our heads, we made every effort to be aboard the ship when we were supposed to be.
Every sailor who served in Long Beach, California was familiar with the pontoon bridge which linked the city to Terminal Island where the Navy base and shipyard were located. The pontoon bridge was an engineering marvel of floating sections, which an operator could separate in order to allow boat traffic to pass through. The problem was the bridge was separated for even the smallest of sailboats, causing a time consuming delay for the cars waiting to cross the bridge. It could be a real nightmare for the sailors returning to their ships.
One foggy morning in 1958, as my shipmate, Billy G. Carlson and I were approaching the pontoon bridge, we saw it was closed to let a barge pass through. Suddenly a car passed us, went right through the barrier, and splashed into the water. We got out of our car, made our way to the edge of the open bridge, and looked below. There we saw an older couple, panicked and struggling to get out of their sinking vehicle. We looked at each other, stripped down to our Navy skivies, and jumped into the water. We managed to get them out and ashore. After many a "Thank-you", followed by discussions with the authorities, we got dried off and dressed.
We finally got to the other side of the bridge and arrived back onboard our ship, the U.S.S. Oceanside (LSM 175) * , three hours late.
The sailor on watch said, "The Chief wants to see you."
Even though we were scared, we felt we had a legitimate excuse for being late. We confidently told the Chief our story.
He looked at us with a slight smile and said, "Boys, anytime, night or day, you have a story like that to tell me, even if you have to wake me up, you do so." He continued, "In the meantime, you spend two weeks aboard just in case you caught cold."
Sometimes life just isn't fair.
© 2002 Maurice D Karst
Long Beach pontoon bridge (at the left is the "Herman the German" crane in the L.B. Naval Shipyard)
Photo courtesy of: http://members.cox.net/mkpl4/mmmmw/thumb.htm *see more photos & area map*
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The above pictured pontoon bridge was replaced by the Gerald Desmond Bridge in 1968. Gerald Desmond, a prominent Long Beach civic leader, served on the Long Beach City Council and as Long Beach City Attorney.
(From Major Bridges of Los Angeles County: http://www.losangelesalmanac.com/topics/Structure/st03.htm)
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* The LSM 175 was homeported at Long Beach in October 1956 and renamed USS Oceanside, 14 October 1959, she served the 11th Naval District until 1961.
For more history, see: Landing Ship Medium LSM 175 Oceanside at http://www.navsource.org/archives/10/14175.htm
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