- Book Review -

Fletcher Destroyer Bluejacket: Voyages of the Uss McGowan Dd 678 1951-54
by Robert L. Johnson

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About the Book:

Fletcher Destroyer Bluejacket is about service on one of the fastest, sleekest, and most heavily armed ships in the United States Navy. It is about a young boy from the Midwest who had never seen the ocean until he enlisted in the Navy after high school. His Boot training in San Diego and the remaining period of his four-year enlistment on sea duty aboard the USS McGowan left an indelible impression for the remainder of his life.

The authorís period of service began five years after the end of World War II, as reserve fleet units were being activated to counter the Communist invasion of South Korea. The McGowan had been in the thick of the fighting against Japan in the South Pacific, and now she would see action in Korean waters, then participate in Destroyer Squadron 20ís Around the World Cruise. Off Korea, she would be a part of the vast armada of Task Force 77, serving on shore bombardment assignments, radar picket and plane guard duty with many of the great ships of the Second World War, including cruisers, carriers, and the battleship Missouri.

But most of all, this book is about being a sailor.

About the Author:

Robert L. Johnson was born and raised in Carbondale, Illinois, home of Southern Illinois University.

In 1951, tired of school and looking for adventure, he joined the Navy. After Boot training in San Diego, he was assigned to the USS McGowan, newly re-commissioned for the Korean War. After serving in Korean waters, on Destroyer Squadron 20ís Around the World Cruise, and NATO maneuvers in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, he was discharged and returned home to Carbondale. There he completed an M.A. in history at Southern Illinois University.

For 30 years he taught history at the high schools in Granite City, Illinois, near St. Louis, Missouri. Retiring in 1988, he has spent his time writing and fishing.

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My years aboard the McGowan canít be topped for adventure. McGowan was a 2150 ton Fletcher Class destroyer, built by the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company at Kearny, N.J. It was commissioned on December 20, 1943. Fletcher Class destroyers were named after the original Fletcher DD 445, which was designed in 1939 and commissioned on June 30, 1942. They were sleek, heavily armed and fast. So successful was the design that 174 more Fletchers were built during World War II; more than any other class

Raised in a small town in southern Illinois, I felt land- locked. I yearned to find adventure on the worldís oceans which I had never seen, and would not until a train took us south along the Pacific slope from Los Angles to Boot Training in San Diego. What a thrill for a landlubber! I joined the Navy to see the world, and I certainly did see a substantial portion of it in my three and a half years aboard ship, starting in 1951.

I was so naÔve when I enlisted in the Navy, that I thought ships stopped their voyages at night so the crew could get some sleep! My first experience out of sight of land aboard ship was when we were taken on a day cruise during Boot to learn how to fire a five-inch gun. Iíll never forget the sight of 360 degrees of water surrounding me for the first time. No landmarks. Would we find our way back? Rest assured, we did.

I thought about those early experiences as I celebrated my second anniversary in the Navy on March 5, 1953, underway from Calcutta, India, to Colombo, Ceylon. We were on a voyage around the world with the eight ships of Destroyer Squadron 20, after having spent several months operating out of Japan with Task Force 77 against North Korea, in company of the battleship Missouri.

By the age of twenty I had twice locked through the Panama Canal, sailed the Caribbean, and now had sailed across the Pacific and into the Indian Ocean, approximately half way around the world from our home port of Newport, R.I. Before I hit twenty-one, I had circumnavigated the globe. Howís that for a small town boy from the Midwest?

I can think of no vessel that could give you such a feeling for sailing or being a sailor, as a destroyer. They not so much sail on the sea, as with it and through it. The McGowan is like some great fish that deftly swims her way through even the stormiest waters. She sails up to the crest of a great wave until the bow projects out over the abyss of the trough below, trembles and shakes the spray from her focísle---then plunges into the next wave, the propellers projecting out over the trough, biting thin air.

No landsman can begin to understand the power and the majesty of the great oceans when they rise, nor the tranquillity and solitude of life at sea when they inevitably recede. I have seen the ocean in every conceivable condition, ranging from the mountainous seas of the typhoon, with waves forty or more feet high, to the utter serenity of a becalmed sea that resembles nothing so much as a mill-pond.

I have been in seas so vicious that the McGowan has taken rolls that caused us to worry that she might not again right herself, but she did. We have been in seas that have caved in the gun tubs as if struck by a giant fist; seas that have ripped the ammunition ready-boxes from their welds to the deck; seas that have torn the depth- charges from the stern racks and sent them careening from side to side across the deck, and I have been in storms that have stripped the paint from the hull down to bare metal.

If there is a God, youíll find him at sea. Every sailor knows him. The evidence is everywhere. But he is the Old Testament God---The God of the Tempest!

I have described the sea when it is angry, but more often it is friendly and beautiful. Often we have following seas with the wind at our backs. We sail across great rollers, as if on an amusement ride.

I think the best times are when the ship is sailing ordinary seas in tropical climes. You can lie out on deck at night, watching the stars that shine like diamonds in the sky. The constellations stand out above you, crystal clear. No city dweller has ever seen them like this. In the darkness, plankton in the sea spray sparkle iridescent light as the ship slices through the waves. Flying fish glide from wave to wave, occasionally alighting on deck to flip about wildly as they try to find their wave, again.

And all the while, the ship heaves and rolls beneath you as if alive. We feel that she is alive. We have formed a bond with her. She keeps us safe in natureís ocean-deep. Ship and crew---We are one!

Still the Bible says it best:
"They that go down to the sea in ships,
That do business in great waters,
These see the works of the Lord,
And his wonders in the deep!"

Psalms 107: 23-24

Fletcher Destroyer Bluejacket
ISBN 1-4033-1782-8
1st Books Library
1663 Liberty Drive
Bloomington, IN 47403
Author: rlj678navy@yahoo.com

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