Where the Buoys are!

By Bob Orleck

War and peace are serious matters. This being so, all who serve aboard United States Naval Vessels act appropriately and concentrate their efforts on nothing less than total preparedness to win the cause. There is no messing around! At least most of the time! At least some of the time! Well, at least when the Captain is around! Well, at least most of the time when the Captain is around!

It was 1957 when an excited and expectant 17 year old sailor carried his bags on board his first ship, the light Cruiser, USS ROANOKE (CL-145) home ported in Long Beach. He was “fresh out of ‘A’ school and reported aboard as a “Radarman Striker” This young man was ready to serve and determined to do it right. He would carry out orders to the letter and serve his country well. It wasn’t long before he had his chance, being sent to the engine room to get a “can of steam” and then to retrieve a “sky hook”. A year later he was transferred to USS ORLECK, an older and wiser “Veteran of the Seas.”

Those of you who served in ORLECK knew how important it was to get your mail from home. Those wonderful notes from loved ones and all those stale, smashed cookies were what you lived for. It was a top priority to get that mail on board and distribute it. You all remember, I am sure, that wonderful feeling when the word spread throughout the ship that we were near the “mail buoy”, that wondrous and magical place that was the next best thing to home. For it was in those buoys that passing supply ships would deposit the ship’s mail and other treasures. On the ORLECK, a “mail buoy watch” was posted when the ship was in an area where mail buoys were located. To show the respect and confidence the regular crew had for them, only new reservists were listed to stand that watch.

Its a big ocean out there and those buoys were very hard to spot. To insure that the buoy was not missed, the man on watch had to stand on the bow, continuously scanning the horizon with binoculars. When that buoy was spotted he was to blow his whistle and wave his arms to get the Bridge’s attention at which time the ship would come alongside and retrieve its mail with the ships “boat hook”. What fear was in the heart of that man on watch that he might miss that buoy. But what joy he anticipated he would feel when he actually spotted it and was able to signal his find.

“Those brave, and wet men stood there on the most forward part of the bow, taking all the spray, and diligently searching for this elusive buoy.” But James Allison, now a seasoned 18 year old sailor was not counted among those who had this gag pulled on them. He had learned his lesson well from the USS ROANOKE. According to James “We all got a big laugh out of it and the new reservists became initiated and were now bona fide members of the crew.” Just imagine, right now as you read this, some lonely sailor is out there feeling an ever growing panic that he just might have blinked and missed seeing that buoy and wondering if he will be made to walk the plank. Buoy oh Buoy!

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