|THE USS ARAPAHO ATF 68 Commissioning the Arapaho
It was just a matter of a week or two and I got my orders and was sent to Charleston, South Carolina, to commission a new fleet tugboat. It was a 210 foot long sea-going tug. It had probably around 150 men with 10 officers. I checked in at Charleston and got to meet Captain Wootan who was commanding officer. There were a few other personnel there. The Chief Quartermaster was there and I was the Pharmacists Mate. We were the backbone of the ship. A couple of weeks later we got five ensigns on board and they'd just gotten out of college. One had been in two or three days more than the others, so he became the Executive Officer. His name was Alexander Turak. He was a very intelligent young Jewish boy and he was a good worker and learner. He knew nothing about a ship, however. He didn't know forward from aft, but he was the XO and second in command. We got a former tugboat sailor from New York City who worked on small yard tugs whose name was O'Neil and he was the first Lieutenant. We had a good Chief Machinist, but I've forgotten his name now. I had a sick bay of my own and I was all by myself with no doctors. I had my own pharmacy, surgery and dispensary and it was quite elaborate. It was also my responsibility of making all the sanitary and quarterly reports. There were plenty of things to do and records to set up.
At that time in Charleston, things were slow. I went over and worked in the Navy yard at the civil service Medical Department where they did physical exams. They had an old doctor there doing them, and they were hiring a lot of help. I was doing all the physicals and taking all the vital signs. The doctor would just sit over to the side or he'd be gone completely. I'd do the complete physicals, accept them, and sign his name on it. This was fine and it was the way the doctor wanted it done. He'd check in every once in a while and I was doing all his work. I was there for maybe three or four weeks while we commissioned the ship. We were there at Thanksgiving time. I saw something I'll always remember. At the Navy Yard we had turkey, dressing and all the trimmings. Also in the yard there was a Norwegian destroyer that had been damaged and they were in there for repairs. At the chow line I heard the Norwegian sailors say, "God forgive them for they know not what they do." The US soldiers took their trays and dumped the extra food into a big trash can. They were just looking at the food piled up around the container. They'd gone through low provisions and people starving in Europe, and here we had an abundance of food and a lot went to waste.
Putting the Arapaho to Sea
The silhouette of a fleet tug is extensive. We're as big as a destroyer and we've got the super structure with big booms. On our first shakedown cruise we had Navy yard workmen and went out to sea for a couple of days. We were riding high with a small amount of oil and very few provisions. The first night out we took two torpedoes from a German sub that went underneath us. They were set too deep and Captain Wootan just about had a conniption. We had to return to base and the Captain told me that he couldn't take it. I took the Captain by the hand and took him to the hospital and admitted him as a patient. He was our Captain for one day at sea. Then we had to wait for a new one and we got a man by the name of C. B. Lee.
Lee was a mustang(an enlisted man who became an officer) and a fantastic individual. He'd been in the Navy for about 30 years. He understood people and had a good level head. In the meantime, the rest of us were training Mr. Turak, the XO. We were getting quite capable and could handle the ship. Eventually we left Charleston, and I believe our first duty was to go down to Key West to try to locate a submarine we had lost down there. It was sunk with all hands. We were berthed at Key West, but we were trying to pick up the sub with our sonar. We never did find it. We would go ashore in Key West and the Captain would go with us. We might be eight to ten strong and walk into a bar or someplace and Captain Lee would be with us. What a great guy. He was friendly and level headed and we had all kinds of confidence in him.