I am sure every tin can has its unforgettable characters. The U.S.S. Collett was no exception. I have in mind a certain seaman in the deck crew. I'll call him "Kelly," but that's not his real name. Kelly treated his life in the Navy as a light-hearted adventure. He was irrepressible, and it was a treat to know him.
One fine summer afternoon, we were steaming at 25 knots across the western Pacific Ocean. I strolled down the main deck to the fantail where I felt the rubble of the deck vibrate with the power of the twin rotating screws. The screws churned up a wake that was like a highway of white water stretching off to the horizon. The great mound of bubbling white water just aft of the fantail continuously crashed down into the blue sea. This was a view that never failed to mesmerize me. After soaking up this scene for a few moments, I saw a light line tied to the lifeline. The other end of the line extended into the white water. This was obviously not official U.S. Navy business!
I was not the only one on the fantail that afternoon. The other sailor was Kelly who was standing watch as after lookout. He was facing aft and leaning against Mount 53, with a glazed look in his eyes, but he brightened up as I approached. I asked in a friendly way about the line. He became instantly animated. He said that the line was his idea. He was doing his laundry by tying it to the line, throwing the line over the fantail into the wake, and then retrieving it after 5 or 10 minutes. "Why not use the ship's laundry like everyone else?" I asked. "They take too long, and sometimes they lose my clothes. Besides, this gets them cleaner," he replied. "Oh," I said as I considered the merits of soap and gently agitated fresh water versus really agitated salt water. "My
dungarees should be clean now," he said as he strutted toward his laundry line. I stood beside him at the lifeline as he kept up a constant chatter while he retrieved his laundry line hand-over-hand.
Finally, he had his dungarees in his hands. But he was disturbed; the power of his 60,000 horsepower washing machine had frayed his dungarees down to short pants! "Oh, well," he said as he quickly untied the line and tossed his ruined dungarees, and his troubles, over the side. He walked back to the gun mount and resumed his watch without a care in the world.