USS Surfbird History/Sea Stories

Although I have made some obvious spelling corrections,  I have tried very hard to publish the articles in this section of the Surfbird WEB page exactly as they were received.  Although many of the naval terms and slang used by the sailors have changed over the years,  I feel it is important to those who served at that time to hear it as it was then.   If you have a story or bit of Surfbird history you would like to have published in this page,  please it to me and I will make every effort to add it.    Don

The Maiden Voyage

By Ed Fournier MOMM3c (Plank Owner)

Background as I can recall:

   We took her out of the Great Lakes with a stopover in Montreal due to the fact that the locks were frozen, ie: the gears that open them, so yours truly and the rest of the black gang poured water over them all night to help the situation as Montreal was a good liberty town.  I stood 12 to 4 watch for the 28 day trip.  We loaded ammo at Levis, Quebec and then on out the St Lawrence to the Atlantic Ocean.

   We did some Sub patrol on the way to Boston,  odd because all the hull below the waterline was shiny galvanized steel and was easy to see at night.  As luck or faith would have it with our shallow draft the three torpedoes that were fired at us in a brace went under the hull and kept on going.  Went into Boston and up the Charles River to Chelsea Yard.  Capt. Nelson got a little shook (90 day wonder from New Orleans, owned a power boat as a civilian) and the next thing we saw was the swing bridge open with cars on it and a large vessel go through to get out of our way.  Several other vessels also went scampering as we came in rather fast.  As we approached the finger piers, we went right up the middle of one splitting it in half.  Kind of a custom fit while a tug boat captain called out to our skipper "Don't worry sonny, you'll learn in time".  We really had a reputation in Chelsea.

   We were hauled on a marine railway for various jobs including the straightening of the prop tips as they got bent over while going through the locks on the St Lawrence because the Pilot that came aboard to take us through was plastered and called the wrong draft.  The hull was painted bottom red but no one realized that with dock steam heat to the vessel we had a thin film of ice on the hull.  After the paint dried and we slid into the water, the hull paint floated to the surface like a large red blanket.  On the better side, we (the aft engine dept conned the yard into putting a real bath tub between the main engines in the aft engine room and also a first class still, all for the price of 1500 lbs of frozen rancid butter that was supposed to have been deep sixed.  As engineers we figured it would be good barter if we kept it frozen to kill the smell.

   From Boston we went south to Little Creek, VA (Mincraft Center at the time) and another wild entrance only this time we went up Little Creek Channel sideways, scaring the hell out of an LCI coming out of the Amphib. Base.  From Little Creek to Charleston, SC to have the single 40's removed and twin 40's installed and load more ammo.  Our entrance to Charleston was as memorable as all the others,  the wind was against the st'bd side so Bos'n Cash used a line gun and fired the line right through a barracks window and out the other side for openers.  From here to ASW exercises at Gitmo Bay in Cuba.  Very interesting as we were invited to the Castro Plantation for lunch, where we met Fidel who as a senior in HS at the time and only interested girls as was the rest of our crew.

   From Cuba to Panama, the Coca Sola (?) Navy Base in Cologne and a five day wait to passage the canal.  Had a great PX there, sold beer in 2 size containers 1/2 Gal for 50 cents and 1 Gal for $1.00 (five bucks shot the day).  The city was wild and wooley, the best description would be to say that it was one big house of ill repute.

   San Diego and on to Honolulu running escort to there, and then out to the Pacific and to the duties of war.  We were involved in a few air attacks by both Zero's and Kamikaze's, scary but we made it OK.  We would sweep areas during the day and patrol then at night.  Somewhat boring until the invasion of Okinawa.  We swept the way for the cruiser Boston in Buckner Bay.  Suicide boats were many and scared the hell out of us, also dive bombers.  Saw the Pennsylvania get hit next to us, sunk here to the weather decks.  We left there to sweep the North China Sea, 85 Minesweeps in a row (Okinawa/Juno Operation). The destroyer Robertson was with us and I believe in charge of the operation.  We pulled along side of her to take on supplies and our jinx showed up again for our Stb'd anchor peeled off about 50 foot of stanchions and then went through her side into her galley.  As we pulled away, it fell to the ocean floor. The Capt. asked if we could go with her to pick up supplies and the Robinson replied sure if you can make 17 knots.  Hell on a good day with a calm sea going down wind, we might make 10.

   On to Sasebo Japan and into the yard there to have some repairs made on a bent strut and shaft and a little R&R.  From Japan to Shanghai China for several weeks, where I was transferred to the USS Buoyant, a 180 foot sweep which I believe was sold to China, at least by the crew it was. (in pieces).

   I got transferred to the ARG Delta a transport and back to the states and home and that was the last I ever saw or heard of the Bird.  Had some close calls but enjoyed my stay.

Those I remember:
Capt Nelson
LCDR Denton XO
ChW Leffingwell Eng. Officer
LT White EO (Replaced Leffingwell)
Ch Mack Engineering
CH Emory Electrician
Bos'n 1X Cash
Cox'n Harris
Bundy MOMM2C
Costa MOMM3C
Tucker EM1C
Whitcomb MOMM2C
Disser RM2C
Dadosky GM3C
Sorrell SF2C
Julian EM3C
Nugent QM1C

   I have no idea where anyone is today,  I would guess a lot are deceased.  I'm 72 and was only 17 when I went to Lorain, Ohio to pick up the ship.  Amazing my home was only 60 miles south east of Lorain, Youngstown, Ohio.

   Hope this doesn't bore you.  It will give a look into the past of the Surfbird.  I was a MOMM3C (Diesel Specialist on GM and Alcoa engines) while onboard and worked in the aft engine room.  Battle station was gun capt and pointer on the stb'd twin 40 mm.  Bunked in the aft crews quarters.

Conversion To ADG

By Hyrum W. (Wes) Chapman, BMCS, USN, Retired

I served on the Surfbird from 1956 thru 1959. I was a BM2 (DV).  I was aboard her when she was a Mine sweeper home ported in Long Beach, CA and took her to Sasebo for her conversion to ADG.  

We took the Surfbird along side the Ampere and switched crews and the old Surfbird crew decommissioned the Ampere (ADG-11) and then went on back into Mine Pac. The Ampere crew took over the Surfbird so 98% of the crew were Ampere sailors.  I had requested to remain on the Surfbird and was lucky enough to get it.

There we developed the first portable degaussing range and used it extensively with our Minesweeps in Sasebo and with the South Korean Navy.  We rigged "portable davits" down the port side of the main deck and a series of hausers that led to the Capstan on the forecastle, to lower and retrieve the monster rig.

We were tied up in " India Basin " for some time and then the Admiral moved us over to the Navy Base so he could show us off...With our new awnings rigged and all the "Bright Work" shined, we looked more like a Yacht than a working Naval Vessel.

The picture of the Surfbird I am sending was taken sometime in 1957 or 58.  We had to change the hull numbers and add "ADG".  I went to a Painting Co. in Sasebo and had a big stencil made to put ADG383 in proper perportion according to the instructions from Buships.

The guy who made the stencils did a pretty good job, but when the side cleaners taped them to the sides and cut them in - they put the stencil up-side down and backwards.  (See photo)  That accounts for the shape of the 383 -  They were working so close, they didn't see what was happening until it was too late and viewed from a distance.   The Captain, instead of being angry,  got tickled and wouldn't let me change them and when I left the ship 2 years later,  they were still this way.  

We took a lot of "ribbing" but we were unique.  We also mixed our own haze Grey to paint the ship.  It came out about the color of the Brittish Navy Haze grey.  Unless you seen our Stars and Stripes flying from the Gaff, we looked like a Brit.  The Capt. and the Admiral liked what they saw and with our snow white awnings rigged and our unique shade of "Haze Grey" and the Hull numbers,  there was no doubt we were "one of a kind"

The other picture I am sending is of the Deck Force, taken aboard Surfbird in Chinhae, Korea 1958.

Front Row (Seated) - 1 left - Jerry Stout BM3

Back Row (Standing) - 1 left - Wes Chapman BM2(DV),  7 from left - Louis F Grabby BMCS, 2nd from right - A.B. Spence GMG1

I wish I could recall all the other names of those pictured, but my memory fails me.

On The Humorous Side

By Bill Nugent (Plank Owner)

  While I was at Little Creek awaiting assignment I had found out that the Surfbird was the last ship coming out of Lorain that year and that they had not assigned a QM to it as yet.  I sort of finagled assignment to it be cause it was only a couple of hundred miles from my home and being in the first group to go to Lorain would possibly allow me to get home on a weekend.  However at the last moment they assigned CQM Kirk to it and he got the early duty instead of me.  Not only that,  he hadn't worked on a single chart while he had been there and so I spent every moment working on them so that we could get to Boston safely.

  The voyage to Boston was a great one in my view.  I had spent my whole life next to Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and it was very familiar to me.  The trip down the St. Lawrence river was very pretty.  I should know as I was the helmsman for the whole way except for occasional relief from Kirk.  Montreal was one place where a group of us went out together.  Of course we stopped at the nearest Pub.  I ordered a beer for all of us and their eyes popped out when we got quart bottles.  the boys from the deep south soon found that there was a difference between 3.2 and 12 % beer.  In later years my wife and I have taken several trips down the St. Lawrence and through the eastern Provinces.  The river has been dammed up now.  no more locks to go through as we had to do.

  Boston played an important part in my life.  First of all, when we got a leave at Christmas,  I went home and got married,  on Christmas day no less.  Helen came back with me and spent the following week.  We had quite a time there.  the company Helen and I both worked for had a sales branch there and, as were in constant contact, the branch manager wined and dined us to a fare thee well. The other petty officer stood my watches for me so I had overnight liberty the whole week.   I made it up to them later but is was darned nice of them.

  Secondly;  I could feel that Chief Kirk wasn't too happy with the ship.  I made a liberty with him one night and he told me he was going to Washington for the weekend.  A week later he was transferred from the ship., and I took his place.  Those regular navy chiefs with a few hitches in really had contacts in the right place.  When I was heading home for discharge I met him in Seattle.  The first thing he said was "I see you didn't make chief!"

  Now back to Hawaii and the balance of my careen in the Navy Once we left there I was never off the ship except for a few hours on a small island off Okinawa having a couple of warm beers.  Some of the crew went ashore in Guam but we were anchored away out and I didn't think it worth it.  You may remember Ens. Darling.  He was my superior in the Division and we got pretty friendly.  He was down in the dumps and complained that he was the most senior Ensign in the whole Navy.  At Guam he went ashore and got really tanked up.  I got a call from the XO,  James Denton saying that Darling was pretty high and wouldn't talk to anyone but me and would I try to straighten him out.  They had him in the shower, fully dressed, and the cold water on.  He practically fell on my shoulders and told me what he thought of the ship,  the officers and the Navy in general.  I finally got him calmed down and into his sack.  I found out later that when he was brought back to the ship he had jumped over the side and tried to swim back to Guam.  Within a week he was transferred.

  Another humorous episode.  The yoeman 1/c,  I can't remember is name but I think his initials were W.T.M.  and he was from Texas, read an article about using kites for AA practice.  So he build one.  During our big sweeping operation the Captain,  on the flying bridge, turned around and here was that kite flying off of our fantail.  I thought he had a stroke.  his face got red,  his neck swelled up and for a minute all he could do was sputter.  You can bet that the kite came down pretty fast.  The yoeman and the officer who was aft overseeing the mine gear,  the First Lt. I think were called up to the bridge and chewed out royally,  the gist of the tirade being "here we are in this big formation and we are the only ship flying a G.D. kite.

  One more story and then I'll quit.  The magnetic compass in the pilot house had a bubble in it.  I mentioned it to the XO and offered to get it out if he so desired.  He agreed and I told him how I would do it.  This would require adding a mixture of alcohol and water to it.  I figured out the volume of the bowl and he game me a chit to get the alcohol from the PM.  Suffice it to say that the bubble came out with only a small amount added.  No one asked about the left over alcohol,  a sizable amount,  so I stashed it away for festive occasions.

What The Heck Is A Degaussing Vessel?

By Don Gillispie, RMC (Ret.)

Since no one else has stepped forward to explain what a degaussing  vessel is, I thought someone needs to take a stab at it. If I bungle it  up too much, let me know where I went wrong and I'll make it right. If one of you EM types have a better explanation, let me know also.

As a ship moves through the water, it tends to build up a magnetism that attracts magnetic mines. To address this problem, the navy equipped its ships with degaussing systems that would neutralize this magnetism when calibrated correctly.

The only way to determine when a ship's degaussing system is calibrated correctly is to have it move across a submerged degaussing range. The magnetism is measured on each pass and if the ships degaussing system is out of calibration, they are told what coil changes to make on the system that will bring it back into calibration.

The Navy installed degaussing ranges near the entrances of most of its major ports and ships were (and still are) required to "run" (pass over) those ranges periodically. Many a sailor remembers having to do this while entering or leaving the harbor. The range is marked with two buoys that the ship must be maneuvered between. Cables run from the degaussing range to the"range shack" where personnel monitor equipment that tells them if the ships degaussing system is in calibration.

Recognizing the need for degaussing ranges in forward areas, the Navy built the first degaussing vessel's designated YDG, then later designated ADG. These ships carried all of the equipment that was needed to check the calibration of a ships degaussing system, but still had to build a range for each port they set up in.

In 1956 the Surfbird was converted to an ADG. See Wes Chapman's story "Conversion to ADG". Although there were degaussing vessels before the Surfbird was converted to one, the Surfbird does have the distinction of being the first (and I believe the only) one that was ever outfitted with a portable range. Wes took an active role in designing the mechanism used to deploy and recover that range.

The range was carried on the port side of the main deck. When it was deployed, the range was lifted and swung out to clear the ship. It was then lowered to the harbor floor where divers made sure it was level and connected buoys at each end. The ship was then "swung" and positioned so that other ships could run the range.

I suppose the next question to ask is "what if you can't get a ship's magnetism within acceptable limits by making coil changes to its degaussing system?" Well, then you have to deperm them and thats an "All Hands" evolution. The ship is wrapped in a single strand of cable, covering the superstructure and the hull. The wrapping of the cables was a major task, which involved everyone on the Surfbird regardless of your rate or job classification. The cable was wrapped at ten foot intervals along the length of the ship.

Once the cables were connected the ship's company removed all magnetically sensitive items from the ship and the deperming process began with the cables being energized in cycles to reduce the magnetic signature of the ship. The whole evolution took many hours to complete and involved passing very high currents through the deperm cable in 20 second bursts until the ship's signature was lowered to a point where its degaussing system could do its job.

Editor's Note: A recently received magazine article published in March of 1963 does a good job of explaining what I have just explained.

Many thanks to Robert Potter QM3(DV) 1964-66 and Larry McMaster EN2 (1968-70), who provided the images linked at various points throughout this story.

Another Surfbird?

By Don Gillispie RMC (Ret.)

There are other vessels that carries the Surfbird name. I was searching the net a while back and came across a reference to a "ship" with the Surfbird name that was being used for research in Alaska. I fired off some email and the guy answered. After a while he sent me a picture of the Surfbird he knew. Follow THIS LINK to see his Surfbird.

Christmas 1945

By Ed Lee F2/c

I have been in contact with Ed Fournier and I mentioned to him that I had a Christmas menu for the Surfbird, while we were statined in Sasebo on 12/25/45. Ed suggested that I should mail a copy to you along with 2 copies of photos taken aboard the ship. I hope you can use them on your website. I am also enclosing a list of a few crew members at the time.

Interesting info: A Christmas tree, compliments of Ed Fournier and decorations of crumpled communication paper of sorted colors located in the galley. Not listed on the menu was 1 can of beverage, complements of the captain.

I served on the Surfbird Oct. '45 to Feb '46. I was a Fireman 2nd class in the aft engine room.

Surbird in Caine Mutiny Movie

by Mitch Danforth

The "Bird" is in the Caine Mutiny (the movie that is). If you get the video there is a scene where the Captain (Humphrey Bogart) runs over a target towing cable. Well the camera cuts to a ship astern of his ship for about 5 seconds. If you look close it is the "Bird". Check it out!!!

Final Voyage

by Larry McMaster

Larry (Mac) McMaster EN2 reports that he rode the Surfbird on her final voyage back to the states. In September 1970 (he thinks) they departed Sasebo for Bremerton, WA where she was decommissioned.  They made stops at Guam and Pearl Harbor for fuel along the way.  He says it was foggy on the day the Bird arrived in Bremerton and it took 6-8 hours to get into the harbor and tie up.

 Mid-watch Entertainment

by Doug Beach

Just after I came on board in Long Beach, I was standing mid watch alongside the pier. Any of you guys know how boring mid watches are when you are in port so I was trying to entertain myself in any way I could think of. I started playing with the General Alarm and set it off accidentally. It was 3 in the morning and I was really surprised that only one person responded. He was a WW2 vet and 1st class boats. Can't remember his name but he came to the QD with only his white hat skivvies and shoes on. It wasn't funny at the time but afterwards we had a good laugh. Nothing was ever said about it by anyone even though all were on board. I made an entry in the log and waited to be called in the old mans office but it didn't happen.

 Where Is The Surfbird Now?

by Don Gillispie

According to the Surfbird Log (1944-1975) found on the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ship's  web page (DANSF Online), the Surfbird was decommissioned on 18 December 1970 and attached to the Pacific Reserve Fleet at the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, Bremerton, Washington.  On 23 January 1975, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) sent a letter to the Secretary of the Navy notifying him that the President of the Board of Inspection and Survey had found the Surfbird unfit for further service and had recommended that the ship be stricken from the Naval Vessel  Register (NVR). CNO concurred with that recommendation and recommended that she be stricken on 21 February 1975 .  CNO also requested authority to dispose of Surfbird in that letter.  On 27 January 1975, the Secretary of the Navy sent a letter to CNO approving his request.  On 5 December 1975, the Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility at Bremerton sent a Naval Message to CNO advising him that the Surfbird had been released from Naval Custody and delivered to the successful bidder, Pacific Northwest Salvage, 2421 West Thurman, Seattle, WA 98199.  One would assume that since she was sold to a salvage company, she was eventually cut up into little pieces and sold for scrap metal.  But not so fast......A "Transcriber's Note" was recently added to the DANSF Online web page for Surfbird that stated: "Surfbird was stricken 1976 and transferred to MarCom for disposal. Eventually she was sold for commercial use as Helenka B]".  At this point most of us gave up looking for her...... everyone that is except one of her plank owners named Ed Fournier.  Read Ed's story under "In Search Of A Rare Bird" on this same page. 

Order of the DG

by Wes Chapman

I wanted to send you a pic of an unusual Decoration "The Order of the DG" several of us aboard the Surfbird recieved from Capt. Mitchell.  

He designed the medal and had one made for each of us. Each medal had a different clasp according to our accomplishments to devise and put in service the very first Portable Degaussing Range. Mine was for Porable Davits and Rigging to launch the monster rig.

The crew of the Surfbird devised, Constructed and Launched the very first portable range. BUORD sent a GS999 out to Sasebo to tell us it was impossable to do it...We had been ranging sweeps in Sasebo Harbor and Chinhae Korea for several weeks when this guy from BUORD came to visit us in person, and after looking over the Rig that we already had in operation, he told our Captain Mitchell and Servron three, it was impossable and that it wouldn't work.

We promptly got underway for Chinhae Korea and took this guy with us and Ranged every wooden hulled Minesweeper the Koreans owned without a flaw.Then we returned to Sasebo and ranged every sweep in the harbor there and everything worked flawlessly and our messenger of doom went back home scratching his head wondering what happened..and needless to say, The Surfbird "kept on Keeping on"

Capt. Mitchell had an individual Medal and clasp engraved for 5 or 6 of us. The ribbon for mine has long since deteriorated and now I have it hanging in my Memorial Box with my other treasures. But we were each required to wear them to all Personel Inspections and our brass better be shined. Several Admirals and Servron 3 suppressed a smile, but congratulated each of us for winning such a unique award.

There are only the 5 or 6 in existance. I also have a letter of comendation that went along with the medal, with Red Wax Ships Seal and yellow ribbon. As soon as I can get it copied, I will send a copy of it.

 Fresh Milk Anyone?

by Virge Hoadley

We were returning from Sasebo to the U.S. and stopped in Hawaii.  

I was new on board so I got my share of galley duty. We took on fresh stores which included fresh fruit and whole milk (remember that reconstituted Yuck?)

Ensign -------- confiscated the fresh milk for the officers and was bragging about how good it was. Little did he know that the galley slaves swapped the milk and the crew got the fresh stuff.

The fresh fruit was terrific except certain of the galley crew over did it and spent the rest of the trip on the crapper.

 A Tribute To Ch Warrant Leffingwell

by Ed Fournier

Now that Christmas is almost here, I would like to tell you about one of the best officers I have ever known., Myron Leffingwell, Chief Warrant, Lefty was the engineering officer on the Surfbird when I served on her.

Our relationship is somewhat unusual, Lefty and I left Norfolk, VA together to go to Lorain, OH to pick up a brand new vessel, the Surfbird, I was a Fireman 1/c traveling with a warrant officer, quite an age difference and rank difference, however we got to know each other fairly well as to background and home towns.

Lefty was born in St. Louis, MO and grew up in a orphanage home, never knew his parents, and when he was old enough, he joined the Navy. Rose up through the ranks and became a Warrant Officer, he stayed in 30 years and retired to his home town, He was married, however I never met his wife, and like many of us lost track of our shipmates over the years.

Fifteen years later I was transferred to the main office of the company I worked for. Until I moved my family to St. Louis I would work late at the office. One night I got locked in and had to call the night watchman to let me out. While waiting for a taxi he asked me how things were in Cleveland and if I remembered the train ride to Lorain Ohio. Yes it was Lefty, well the taxi came and went and many cups of coffee later with the sun coming up I rushed to the hotel just in time to shave and get to work. Lefty and I shared many moments together and talked about how he was a father figure to many of us 17 year olds away from home for the first time.

I asked Lefty why he was working what with 30 years retirement pay. He told me that all of his pay from the night watchman job and a generous amount of his retirement went to the orphanage where he was raised, for clothes and many toys at Christmas time, while his wife served as a cook there, after he retired and came home..

Both he and his wife have since passed away, but every Christmas I think of Lefty and what a fine person and great friend he was, not only to me but to the young people at the orphanage, Im sure he convinced a few of them to join the Navy.

 Splice The Main Brace

by Gary (Timmy) Timmerman

Early in 69 we were on operations in Vung Tau, Viet Nam. We had set up the degausing range during the middle of the day while the wind was blowing one direction and the current in the bay was flowing the other.

That evening the wind changed. With the wind and the current coming from the same direction we began to drift anchor. Before the drift was realized the ship had drifted over the range and and was aground on top of it.

Alaska Tug And Transit had tugs in the area and they were called to pull us off. During the hook-up the tug had a prop pitch problem and departed the sceen without being able to inform the hook-up crew of their intentions. It was near disaster for the hook-up crew.

They returned after repairing the pitch problem and sucessfuly pulled us free of the range. After this terrible night where nobody slept and all hands turned two, the captain anounced over the intercom that we should Splice the Main Brace. I had never heard this term before but it was made plain enough when it was anounced that any crew member who wished a shot of brandy should report to sick bay.

We retrieved the range and found that it was not as badly damaged as we had suspected. We prepared to get under way and started retrieving our anchors. One of the cables we used to position the ship became entangled in the port screw and cut approximately one third of one blade off. We limped home to Sasebo with the sound of a sledge hammer in each rotation of the screw. It made sleaping a little difficult for the deck crew because their birthing quarters were just forward of the screws.

 Who's On Watch?

by Gary (Timmy) Timmerman

We were in Sasebo in the spring or summer of 68 when during the midnight to four watch a fire main broke in the forward engine room.

The person on watch in the engine rooms was not making the rounds as they should have been made. It was not discovered until the quarter deck watch noticed that the ship was starting to list.

By the time that the flood was under control the ship was straining at its mooring lines. The water had submerged and destroyed #1 and #2 Drive Motors and #1 ships service generator.

We spent considerable time in the dry-dock getting repaired.

 Strange Happenings On The Mid Watch

by Gary (Timmy) Timmerman

I was a boatswain striker when I first came on board standing the 12 to 4 watch. The watch was rotated periodicaly from the fantail, to the helm, to the bridge and back to the fantail, so nobody became too bored with what they were doing.

I was standing the fantail watch while we were going through the Taiwan Straights and the weather as usual for these straights was rough. There was a control box on the 01 level just behind the after stack that controled the deperm cable real. This was the watch position for the fantail watch.

I was purched on top of it with my back against the stack when something hit the stack rather hard. It sounded like someone had slapped the stack with their hand. I heard what I thought was the sound of someone running away. I went around the stack to investigate and found nothing. A little later I thought I heard someone running away again.

I reported all of this to the boatswain of the watch when I was rotated to the helm. All I got were big broad smiles and nothing more. I was sure these guys were up to something.

The next morning the deck crew was assigned to search for flying fish so they wouldn't stink up the ship. I suddenly realized what my spook had been and why the big smiles.

 Heavy Load?

by Frank Kincade

Just thought of a little story about the day I left the Surfbird.

When I was leaving, EN3 McMaster and Chief Alley were standing by the gangway with big grins on thei faces. I just thought there were glad to se me go.

When I got to the Naval Air Station in Seattle, I was unpacking my clothes bag and small satchel and found 2 brass valve bodies and a sledge hammer head in them.

So I then knew why they were grinning!

 The Strongest Guy I Ever Met

by Mike Heiny

Bill Dekking EN3/DV, was one of the strongest men that I ever met. He and I came back to the Bird after an evening's entertainment in Sasabo's Diggmans Alley. While standing in the galley we got into an argument over "who knows what". Bill grabbed me and pined me against the overhead; I weighted 195 lbs. and thought of myself as a bit of a tough guy. He was screaming at me "Don't you make me mad, Heiny" My answer was "That's a cheery eye, eye, Bill".

 The Hunting Was Great In Chinhae, Korea

by Wes Chapman

The duck, pheasant and goose hunting in the fall of the year in Chinhae had to be the best hunting in the world..The pheasants were extra large and plentiful. The farmers welcomed us to hunt their rice paddy's to get rid of the pheasants that were ruining their crops. The waters of the back bay were thick with ducks and we would drift in among them, laying in the bottom of the motor whale boat and it was common to down 2 and three at a time the air would be so thick with them when they took flight  The Koreans weren't allowed to own guns in those days and the birds just took over. We would shoot until dark and them return to the ship and clean our bag and put them in the freezer and take them back to Sasebo with us. I always locked fwd to our trips to Chinhae and a visit to Duffy's Tavern.  (Editors note:  Wes has a couple of pictures of some of his shipmates with their catch of the day on his picture page.)

In Search Of A Rare Bird

by Ed Fournier

At the young age of seventeen with a rating of Fireman 1/c I walked up the gangplank of a not so shiny new minesweeper, she was a 220 ft armed minesweeper, diesel electric drive, with a 3 inch fifty forward mount, 1 hedgehog fwd. a pair of single 40 mm guns aft, several 20mm guns, 2 depth charge racks and 2 K depth charge units. It was November 1944 and we were docked at the builders yard, American Shipbuilding Company in Lorain, Ohio on Lake Erie,

Bitter cold when we left for Chelsea Yards in Boston, Mass., to be fitted out and painted, including the bottom, no heat on this trip of twenty eight days as the ships boiler was not connected. I was assigned to the Aft Engine room for the 12 to 4 watch and that's where I stayed, sleeping on the starboard main engine to keep warm.

From Chelsea to Little Creek, on to Charleston, to Cuba and on to Pearl for assignment to the Pacific Fleet and the War and the invasion Okinawa, and then to Shanghai China. And that is where we parted company.

Many, many years later I found a web page for the Surfbird AM 383, and found that She had continued to make a name for Herself, and this made me wonder what ever happened to Her. After checking BuShips and other registries I found that she had been decommissioned and stricken in February 1976 then transferred to DRMS a division of the Govt. that markets items it no longer needs. It was then sold to a company in Alaska and renamed Helenka B. Sounds simple so far, wrong.

The Surfbird was sold to Brice Industries in Fairbanks Alaska, who completely changed the appearance by removing the bow and replacing it with the front of a landing craft ramp and doors, the deck house was removed and reconstructed, her engines were removed and replaced with a more economical drive system, in other words she was made into a work ship to aid in diving salvage. She was renamed the Helenka B after Sam Brice's wife. Not long after this transformation she was sold to a company by the name of Wel-Aska in Valdez, Alaska.

When I contacted Wel-Aska and described the vessel I was looking for, they told me that they had a ship named Helenka-B but it did not fit the design I spoke about. Back to square 1, I then contacted many leads and numerous shipyards on the Northwest coast, everything kept coming up with Sam Brice's name, so I called him. The following conversation ensued: Sam, I'm looking for 220 ft armed minesweeper, diesel electric drive. His reply was: You wouldn't be looking for the Surfbird by chance would you? I think my heart skipped a beat, YES I said what can you tell me? Well, he said I am looking at a picture of her over my desk, but you would not recognize her now with all the work we did to her, and preceded to tell me all that I have described to you.

As a civilian ship She continues to be worthy of Her heritage, by helping in the cleanup of the Valdez oil spill and just recently involved in the salvaging of a sunken fishing vessel.

The Surfbird was my home, and my mentor for a time in my life when serious changes were taking place, she protected me and my shipmates guided me. What more could a sailor ask for.

At the present time I am working with Mr. Brice to see if we can get the ships name plate and possibly Her bell. I will keep you posted on the website.

Click here to go to a slide show of Helenka B pictures  

Webmasters note: Our sincere gratitude to the current skipper of the Helenka B (Capt. Bruce Flanigan) for providing th pictures and for all the other help he has given Ed in his search for a rare bird.

Rescue of the Yanix

by Don Gillispie

Photos provided by Gerald Blevins

The time was the early 60's (not sure which year for sure).  The Surfbird was steaming about a day out of Subic bay on the leading edge of a very bad storm.  It was just after quarters and the radio gang consisting of RM1 Blevins, RM2 Mathews and myself were in the radio shack discussing the day's activities.  

U.S. Navy Standard Operation Procedures require that all ship's monitor ship and aircraft distress frequencies and we were following those procedures when we heard an urgency signal being transmitted on the International Distress frequency 500 mhz.  The urgency signal would be sent to mariners over distress frequencies when something of an urgent nature required their attention.  

RM2 Mathews was on watch at the time and he copied a message from a Greek freighter that was in trouble.  They were taking on water in the main hold and they wanted any ship's in the area to be aware of their situation and to be prepared to assist should they need help.  I took the message to the bridge where the XO (also our Navigator) and the Commanding Officers were looking at the navigation charts.  The XO plotted the position of the Yanix and noted it was behind us in the main part of the storm.  He told me to let him know if we heard anything else from the freighter.

Almost immediated after returning to the Radio Shack, we heard what sends a chill down the back of any Radioman, the International Distress call (SOS).  It seems that the situation on the Yanix has worsened and they were requesting assistance from any ship in the area.   I took the most recent message back to the bridge and gave it to the XO.  After discussing it for a few minutes with the XO, the CO ordered the Surfbird to reverse course and head directly back in the storm.

When we arrived on the scene, there was already a civilian tanker there.  However, due to the size, and the nature of her cargo, they were not prepared to assist in the rescue.  We also could see that the ship was in real danger of sinking with all hands aboard.  We established visual communication with the Yanix (flashing light) and were told that they would like to see if they could get the ship closer to the Philippine Islands so that the cargo could be salvaged.  The captain of the ship  had decided to stay aboard the ship with a small boat crew and asked that the remaining crew be evauated to the Surfbird.

The Surfbird skipper decided to try a highline rescue, but when we pulled along side, he found that is was too rough.  He then sent word to the Yanix that they would have to maneuver to our ship using their lifeboats.  Their first attempt to evacuate the crew in this manner resulted in one of the lifeboats capsizing.  However they managed to get enough people in the second boat that it remained upright.  It wasn't easy for them to maneuver to the Surfbird, but they did finally manage to get alongside and be pulled up to the main deck by Surfbird crewmembers.  

Speaking of being pulled aboard, those of us participating watched Bill Decking pull the First Mate's wife (no small woman) onto the deck without assistance.  See Mike Heiny's story "The strongest guy I ever met" on this page.

After getting most of the crew safely aboard the Surfbird, we hund around close by while the Master of the freighter and his boat crew tried to make land.  Some time later, a U.S. Navy destroyer arrived on the scene and assumed the role of on the scene commander.  A short time later, Surfbird was ordered to transport the Yanix crew members to Manilla Philippines and turn them over to representatives of the Greek government.

In order to keep the Yanix crewmembers together, Surfbird crewmembers that were berthed in the aft compartment were reassigned to empty berths in the forward crews quarters and anywhere else they could find a spot.   Anyone who ever shipped out on the Surfbird knows that you are in for a wild ride in rough weather if you are berthed in the aft berthing compartment.  Since most of the Yanix crewmembers had never been on a ship as small as the Surfbird, especially for such a long ride in rough weather, they didn't do well.  Needless to say, we didn't see a lot of them until we got into calmer waters.  Then a lot of clean-up was in order.

We later learned that the Captain of the Yanix and his boat crew finally abandoned ship and were taken aboard the destroyer.  The Yanix finally sunk in waters too deep to allow a salvage effort to be feasible.

Click here for a slideshow of pictures taken during the rescue