My first awareness of the existence of the USS Collett came in 1966 when I was finishing up electronics school on Treasure Island and I received orders to board her in Long Beach for what was to be a thirty month tour in Westpac. Now, having come to T.I. from a “Flattop”, the USS Kitty Hawk, this was devastating news! The latter being my only fleet experience, I just couldn’t imagine life on a small ship. What could I do?
As it turned out, one of my good steaming buddies, Dave, had received orders to the “Hawk” and he was as unhappy about that prospect as I was about mine. To us the solution seemed simple...we would just get the orders traded! Well, we promptly approached the powers that be with this idea and were flatly turned down. A minor set-back in my mind, there were other ways. I would concoct a story of extreme hardship and approach the Chaplain.
I soon had a story thrown together. I told him my fiancee (I had none) was pregnant and probably would have a breakdown if I were to be gone for this thirty month tour. To really make this situation urgent I embellished it even further (desperate situations require desperate measures). I added that my father was leaving my terminally ill mother for another woman (quite untrue, and my mother was very well) and if I were gone, who would take care of her and the younger brothers??
The Chaplain viewed this story with a jaundiced eye, and with very little checking, soon found my claims out for what they were. I was, of course admonished, and told I had two choices. Either accept the orders or face Mast and some dire consequences. Well, I was not inclined to willingly volunteer for Mast, so I accepted the orders.
I set off that night for one last fling in Frisco, and after visiting several of the local watering holes, I remember buying a bottle and going to an all night movie to drink it. When I awoke the next morning, I found I was already about two hours late for muster and by the time I got back to T.I. it was even worse. So, as it turns out, I was written up by the Master at Arms and ended up going to Mast anyway. Fortunately for me, I had my orders to the Collett already, and was due to leave. For this reason I believe I got off lightly. I was given a six month reduction in pay, and a six month rate reduction, SUSPENDED, and sent on my way.
When I arrived in Long Beach I managed to find my way to the ship after a short detour into one of the local dives for some liquid encouragement. When I finally got to the pier along side the Collett and looked down on her, all my worst fears were realized! This thing was PUNY!! Why, you could have fit a couple of these into the hanger deck on the Kitty Hawk! I thought the anchor on the Kitty Hawk was probably bigger than this. On the carrier, you had to walk UP a three or four story set of stairs to approach the brow....here one had to walk DOWN a slick, cleated gang-plank.
Anyway, seabag in one hand and banjo in the other, I started down, and the inevitable happened - I lost my footing and virtually slid onto the Quarterdeck. I’m sure this gave the watch a great deal of enjoyment. After regaining my composure and presenting my orders, I was told that I would be bunking in the forward crew quarters as the E.T.’s bunked with the Radiomen and Radarmen. To get there, they told me, I was to go down the starboard side of the ship to the forward hatch.
I made my way down the side of the ship, and after passing the forward gun mount, I found this hatch standing open and assumed this must be the one in question. down the ladder I went into the dinginess. This place reeked of paint and thinner, there was rope, and small stuff laying around. I saw no bunks...could this be right? Back up the ladder I went leaving my seabag and banjo below, and as I sat at the top of the hatch ruminating on my current situation, I was approached by one of the crewmen, who asked me what I was doing hanging around the Deck Crew’s paint locker? Very humiliating!
After hearing my explanation, he led me back to the proper hatch and showed me the way to the proper compartment. Of course, he thought this all was quite humorous, and I am sure the story was relayed back to the Quarterdeck watch, who I am certain intentionally set me up for this one and had another great laugh at my expense!
At the time all this took place, I thought my prospects were bleak, but I soon settled in and frankly, began to like the ship.
We sailed for WestPac in May of ‘66.
Looking back on things now, if I were presented the same circumstances again, I would choose the Destroyer in a heart beat. There were some hard times aboard, but all in all it was the best experience I had in the Navy. I don’t know that I would want to live it again, but can tell you I would trade it for nothing!!
L.R. “Andy” Anderson