(1967-1969) - Stories - Bill Thomas MM3

Hi folks!
I'm recopying some stories that I sent to the shipmates of the Bennington before. I don't think they are on our Bennington website yet. Thought I might as well share them with others, too. Let me know if you received these.

Bill Thomas MM3
When I called for Lester M. Parks, his son answered and informed me his Dad had passed away a year ago. He battled cancer of the tonsils for 9 yrs. I can't remember the long name he gave me. However, he did say it was determined to be an Agent Orange related cancer. The VFW has been out talking to them a few times. I never knew if Agent Orange was on our ship, and I never thought I had the slightest chance of being exposed. The story he told me was this:

The jet stream carried the Agent Orange off the shore of Nam to the area where the ships were. Additionally, when the planes came back, they had residue on them. The air ventilation vents were on the deck, and sucked it in. Lester was an E5 in charge, so he stood under the blower of the vent. He also was on a cruise on the Bennie before I was, so it could have happened then. Another symptom that this was what it was, is that children of the men exposed to Agent Orange have very bad teeth, and this became the case with his children. The son was a corpsman in the Navy on, I believe the Essex, and seemed to know what he was talking about. He told me what cancer symptoms to look for. It was swelling in the throat which the doctors were treating as tonsilitus until they sent him somewhere else and got the cancer diagnosis. They thought they had it licked, and then after a long while one day it reappeared. His boy said Lester was a tough old buzzard and fought it up to the end. I remember him as rough on the outside, but with a heart of gold.

One night when we were docked in Sasebo, Lester and Straub had been on shore. They came back late 3 sheets to the wind. They woke me up and wanted me to play a Hank Thompson song, "Six Pack To Go". This led to many other shipmates on other nights waking me up to play a song for them.

We were in Singapore at a nightclub. Lester wanted me to borrow one of the band member's guitar and play a song. I told him I didn't think the musician would want to hand over his guitar to me with me in my drunken condition. Parks said, "He will give you the guitar or I'll kick his _____, and if you don't play it, I'll kick yours, too." So needless to say, the musician gave me the guitar with no argument, and I played and sang, "House of the Rising Sun."

If anyone was willing to learn, Lester Parks always took the time to explain stuff to you and make sure you had it. He took us under his wings. I'll always remember him and think of him.

Your shipmate,
Bill Thomas
Memorial Day weekend '99 was quite memorable. We were in Albert, KS visiting Gary Straub who served with me 1967-69. This will be the first fellow shipmate I've met in over 30 yrs. (close to 36 yrs.).

Bill Thomas MM3
I milked cows by hand in Iowa until Dad said, "What are you going to do when you graduate?" I replied, "Work around here until I get drafted." "Why don't you join the Navy?" He asked. I exclaimed, "FOR FOUR YEARS!!??" He said, "Son, I was AN Army medic in a MASH unit following the troops 3 days after the Omaha Beach landing. I know what it's like to use you helmet for a pillow and a bathtub. In the Navy, you'll have a warm place to sleep and a warm meal."

When I got home, the small dairy farms were in crisis. Dad had to give up the farm. So I've been driving forklift for 23 yrs. at Diamond Vogel Paint Factory. I can retire in 13 yrs. (not soon enough for me.) If I'd stayed in the Navy, I'd be retired now.

I'm on my second marriage. I have 2 sons by the first. I have a step-son and step-daughter by my second and they've given us 5 grandchildren and 2 step-grandchildren. We have a pesky Harlequin rabbit who lives and begs for food in the house when he's not riding in the basket with the wife.

I'll be sending you a picture of what I got to restore for my mid-life crisis - a 1944 Allis-Chalmers model WC. My wife hides her face every time I fire it up and putt putt down to the post office, grocery store, or hardware store in this town of 1500. I've told the wife, going down the alleys, I've found at least a dozen tractors also parked in backyards from that era. She answers, "But you're the only nut driving yours!" Maybe some movies will need an antique tractor and a displaced farmer. We did notice in "Bridges of Madison County" (which was filmed in Iowa), they used the big round bailer which didn't come out until 10 yrs. after the movie was to have taken place. I'm probably the only one who noticed.

I won points with the wife at the prop sale. I bought her the lace curtain that hung in the bathroom during "that scene" with Clint Eastwood. More stories on that later.

Bill Thomas MM3 ************************************************************************
Since I was on the Bennie on May 23, 1968, would I be eligible for the Golden Dragon Certificate I spent a lot of long hours below. The 2 engine rooms, 2 auxillaries, and the 4 boiler rooms took up the 6,7,& 8th decks in the center of the ship. Therefore, when we crossed the International Dateline, each day and night blended endlessly into the next.

Likewise, when we hit the 60 foot wave, Bill was on the sound powered phones to the bridge. The guy on the bridge "commented" that we had just hit a 60 ft. wave. All we felt down there was a shutter.

Another time the man on the bridge on the sound powered phones told us that we were passing over a spot that was 8 miles deep.

During the same storm, he went across the fantail and watched the destroyers bouncing around pretty violently and saw the destroyers' bow go down deep enough to bring the screws out of the water for a brief moment.

Bill Thomas MM3 ************************************************************************
How far can you sail a aircraft carrier without snipes? How much fresh water would you drink without them? You would only have candles and lanterns and a bunch of oarsmen without them. Of course, snipes could get blown to hell without the protection of the airdales.

Bill Thomas MM3 ************************************************************************
I have a video that my wife had made from slides and some materials explaining the forward engine room. I've noticed on some of the videos we got from the Reunion group, that there are guys that worked in the forward engine room that might be interested in copies.

If anyone would like copies email us at

Bill Thomas MM3 ***********************************************************************
My side of the Thanksgiving story - Bremmerton, WA Thanksgiving 1969:

I ALMOST got in on that Thanksgiving meal when they all got food poisoning from a cleaning chemical on the food trays. My cousin who went through boot camp with me, Ray Thomas, never set foot on a ship the 4 yrs. he was in the Navy. He got stationed in Adack, Alaska while I was up in Bremmerton decomissioning the Bennington. Any way, I get this letter from him that he was getting a leave to see his wife down by Fresno, CA, and it was a military standby flight. So he couldn't tell me exactly what time he would be in the SETAC (Seattle-Tocoma) airport where he would be stopping briefly to change planes.

At liberty call, about 1600, I went to the SETAC airport the night before Thanksgiving, waited and watched the halls until about 2 AM. I never made connections with him. Finally, I got tired, didn't want to wait for the ferry to get back to Bremmerton. It just wasn't running too regular that time of night. At the terminal, they said I would have to wait 2 hrs. So, feeling sorry for myself, I got a hotel, thinking about the terrific meal I would probably miss out on because I would probably sleep late. I did wake up at 1100.

I found a greasy spoon and had 3 hamburgers and fries and went back to the barracks and listened to the guys tell about the nice meal they had - and felt even sorrier for myself. Boy, was I rejoicing and praising the Lord later, as I watched my shipmates in the engine room run UP the ladder instead of DOWN the ladder.

If I remember right, (if the extreme heat of the engine room hasn't damaged my memory), the B division head (the largest on the ship) was still open. The others were secure and had been taken apart, airing out the lines for preservation, etc. I heard many stories about guys that had to wait in line too long, and finally just had to drop out and go change their clothes.

While we were in the barracks at this same time, I remember guys hung food out the windows because it was cold for refrigeration. The Master at Arms started confiscating it.

One night, Wiley and I were playing our guitars. We were just a little bit forward of the Master at Arms office. We were also recording our jam session. Wiley got bored, and decided to liven things up a little bit. He happened to have a string of fire crackers in his locker about a foot long. He lit them and tossed them out the window right underneath the Master at Arms office. Meanwhile, the tape recorder was still running. You'd think a nest of hornets were behind the Master at Arms the way he came out of his office! We got a good laugh. Then Wiley decided to throw a cherry bomb out.

This time they were watching and they saw where it came from. And the tape recorder continued to record. A knock on the door, and the door came open. The laughing stopped. Wiley tried to throw it all in the locker. There stood the Master at Arms - madder than a wet hornet!!! And there stood Wiley with his hands full of fire crackers. He confiscated all the fire crackers. He told us to put anything valuable in our locker, that we were going down to the office.

So Wiley shut off his tape recorder and stuck it in the locker. Wiley got wrote up and the rest of us got our asses chewed. As near as I know, I don't think it followed him to the Enterprise. After the Master at Arms got done with us, we went back up to our room and rewound the tape and listened to it. I had a pretty good laugh ----- since I didn't get wrote up.


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When everybody else was wearing bell bottom dress pants at that time, I preferred a nice looking pair of good blue jeans. I had been getting into the mess hall that way. Of course, we were allowed to wear civies on the base after working hours. One night, I went over to eat. It was raining and I had my raincoat on. The Master at Arms said I couldn't eat in dungerees, that I either had to have my dress uniform (which was undress blues) on or civies. I told him that I didn't have dungerees on, and as far as I was concerned I was in civies. As far as I was concerned, they didn't look anything like Navy dungerees.

He didn't agree and said that I wasn't going to eat in what I had on. I thought to myself, "Phooey, I'll go up town and get some decent food, instead of this slop!" Yes, inside my head, I was mad, had a tantrum, and decided to go up town. It was still raining, about 6" water running along the curb of the street.

I heard somebody's passing gear kick in behind me. I turned around and saw an 8' wall of water coming at me as 4 guys in a car passed by hawhawing. I had enough time to duck my head when the tidal wave got me. The water run down inside the raincoat, which I might as well not have had it on. I was drenched! Back to another greasy spoon, ordered my 3 hamburgers, fries and a malt. And there I sat on the stool, with water dripping all over the floor, grumpily eating my "decent food." I left a big puddle of water as my tip.

How about one more?

Wiley and I were up town in Seattle one night. This young pretty gal asked if we had any spare change because she wanted to catch a ferry somewhere. Wiley dug a couple quarters out of his pocket. I didn't appreciate panhandlers, and all I had was bills in my wallet - no change, so I said, "I don't have any spare change." Wiley shamed me into giving her something, so I pulled out what I thought was a dollar and give it to her. Her eyes and face light up as she said, "Gee, thanks!" And she was gone. When we got back to the barracks, I found out I'd given her a $10 bill.

Well that's all for now.

Bill Thomas MM3 ************************************************************************

How many of you guys have been a victim of a practical joke? Such as:

The Marines were having an inspection one day. There was a new one on board. He was sent down to the engine room to get a bucket of steam. One of the guys took his bucket and set it on the deck. He sprayed the steam hose into his bucket. (Of course, all the steam went into the air!) Then they laid a rag over it. Then he sent him on his way with his empty bucket.

Did anybody ever give you a handful of flourescent bulbs and tell you to take them to the lighting shop to get them recharged? Of course, the lighting shop told you they didn't do that, and to take them to the Power Shop, because they did. The Power Shop sent you somewhere else because they didn't do it, etc. so on, and so forth. Giving the new boot just out of boot camp a fine tour, learning his way around the Bennington.

Down in the engine room, the main condensers had to have a 29" vacuum for them to work properly (Meaning that you had a little tube of Mercury 30" high, and the more vacuum you had, the higher up the atmospheric pressure would push the Mercury to only 30" under a perfect vacuum.) Certain new guys were sent up to the supply room to get a couple of 5 gallon buckets of vacuum so we could pour it in the condenser.

There were terms that when you were new in the engine room you heard:
like "water hammer" and "gland seal," but the new guys didn't understand yet what they were. The gland seal was a steam line coming off the auxiliary exhaust that went to where the turbine rotor came through the turbine casing. This low pressure steam was to keep the atmospheric pressure from leaking into the vacuum side of the condenser because the low pressure was higher than the atmospheric pressure. You didn't want the condenser to pull air into it, but instead pull the air out of it. Every once in a while, some new guy was sent up to the supply room to get A CAN OF "GLAND SEAL."

The water hammer was when you got a shot of water in the steam lines, and every time IT hit a corner on the steam line or closed valves, you would hear a hammering noise and also see the pipes shake. (Actually, it was not a very safe situation.) It wasn't uncommon for the new guy to be sent all over the ship looking for A WATER HAMMER!

One day, some of the old salts individually got a hold of the new guys one at time and told them they caught a sea bat down in the bilges, and that it was in a bucket with a rag on top of it. The new guy was encouraged to lift the rag and peer down into the bucket to look at the sea bat. What he didn't know was that the "sea bat" was the broom in the old salt's hand that came flying across his rump when he bent over to look at THE SEA BAT!

When we new guys came on board, we noticed that the older hands had a chain hanging from their keyring. Most of them had maybe 6,7, or 8 lengths on the small chain on their keyring. They explained that this meant they were "short timers" and didn't have much time left on the Bennington. They took off a link as each month went by. Then they would proceed to sneer, and ask us how long we had left on board.

One day, I came down with my "short timers" chain on ---- only mine hung about 3" below my knee. When I went down the ladders, it would drag on the steps behind me - kachink, kachinkk, kachink. Needless to say, they weren't impressed. Got their attention, though! If you stood in the chow line and saw some idiot with a super long chain on, I'll give you 3 guesses who it was ---- and the first two don't count!

That's about all I've got for now. Please let me know if you received these.

Bill Thomas MM3 ************************************************************************


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