Home    Shipmates    Ship's Store    History    Photos    Links    Reunions and Newsletters    Stories

By Alfred W. Brown

Possible the proudest achievement of my life, my moment of highest living, occurred when I was nineteen.  I was aboard the USS COLLETT off the coast of Hong Kong.  We were in a typhoon.  All hands had been below deck most of the night.  I was called to the bridge at 0200 to take the helm.  Everything had been rigged down above deck for the typhoon.  We were running in front of it at under fifteen knots, yet the destroyer tore along as it buckled and pitched.  The large swells were about 1/16 of a mile apart, and the wind snatched the large wells and slammed them on top of us.

The destroyer was almost unmanageable, rolling her superstructure under to starboard and to port, veering and yawing anywhere between southeast and southwest, and threatening when the huge seas lifted under here quarter to roll us over.  Had she rolled over, she would have been reported lost with all hands aboard.

I took the helm.  The Captain was inside the bridge as no one could be outside.  He watched me for a time.  He was afraid of my youth and feared that I lacked the strength and nerve.  But when he saw me successfully wrestle the destroyer through several bouts, he ordered up to the bridge for a sandwich and copy of coffee.  Fore and aft, all hands were below decks.  Had she rolled over, not one of them would ever have reached the deck.  For several hours I stood there alone at the helm, in my grasp the wildly careening destroyer and the lives of two hundred and fifty men. Once we plugged bow first under a large wave, tons of water were upon her.  I checked the roll indicator and saw it go to a reading of at least 85 degrees.  At the end of five hours, sweating and played out, I was relieved.  But I had done it!  With my own hands I had done my trick at the wheel and guided tons of iron through a few million tons of wind-driven waves.

My delight was in that I had done it not in the fact that two hundred and fifty men knew I had done it.  Within the year, all the men aboard had forgotten; yet my pride in the duty performed was not diminished by half.

I am willing to confess, however, that I do like a small audience.  But it must be a very small audience, composed of those who are willing to chance adventure.  I have a feeling that I am justifying my environment.  But this is quite apart from the delight of the achievement itself.  This delight is particularly my own and does not depend upon witnesses.  When I have done some such thing, I am exalted.  I glow all over.  I am aware of a pride in myself that is mine and mine alone.  It is organic.  Every fiber of me is thrilling with it.  It is very natural.  It is a mere matter of satisfaction at the adjustment to the environment.  It is success.  Life that lives with adventure is life successful.  The achievement of a difficult feat is successful adjustment to a sternly exacting environment.  The more difficult the feat, the greater the satisfaction in its accomplishment.

Thus it is with the young sailor who leaps forward and volunteers to unload a gun that has misfired.  Once the sailor began the task, his environment became immediately savage, and savage the penalty it would have exacted had he failed and the projectile had blown him away.

Of course, the sailor did not have to run the risk of the penalty.  He could have remained at his General Quarters station at the helm in a sweet and placid environment. Only he was not made that way.  In that swift sea breeze moment he lived as he could never have lived at this duty station.

As for myself, I am proud to be that individual who was able to rise to the distant sound of a drum and meet the occasion with success.