Interviewee: RADM Roger O. Simon, USN (Ret)
U.S.S. Little Rock Association
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Below is a transcript of the oral history interviews with RADM Roger O. Simon, USN (Ret). The interviews were conducted by phone in June, 2008 and relate a captivating ‘Seaman to Admiral’ story. Here, two old friends shared thoughts and memories with the liberal use of Navy terms and slang, and RADM Simon speaks in a folksy manner common to natives of the upper reaches of Minnesota.
Interviewer: CAPT Kent R. Siegel, USN (Ret)
Interview Transcript: June 17, 2008 - Part One
CAPTAIN SIEGEL: Good morning, Admiral.
RADM SIMON: Good morning, indeed—I can say ‘Former Shipmate’. Our overlapping times on the ‘Rock’ (USS Little Rock) were no more than about four days or something like that, but I'm very glad to get back together and see what we can come up with as a little bit of naval history.
SIEGEL: Yes, sounds good. Now, Admiral, you had a long and distinguished Navy career during the second half of the 20th century when United States naval forces were focused on containing Soviet action during the Cold War. As we go through this interview I will appreciate any observations that you might express on how your participation, and that of your military associates, may have influenced America's victory in that long-term struggle. That would be from the perspective, of course, of a seagoing officer and specialist in C3I, which you were.
So, Admiral, let us start with what you remember to be your ambitions as a boy and young man that led to your interest in naval service and motivation for it. And I know it all started back where you are this morning as we talk on the telephone, back in upper northwest Minnesota. Go ahead.
SIMON: Well, you've got the right location. About a week ago—we left our permanent home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where temperatures were 90 to 96. We arrived in Minnesota four days later and the temperature was like 49. So we are getting adjusted.
Minnesota is the roots for me and my background…it’s very, very rural. My father was a farmer. I was born and raised on the farm until I was thirteen. At that time my dad had a heart attack causing him to have to give up the farm and we moved into a small town of about 2,300.
SIEGEL: So where was the nearest big town?
SIMON: Fargo, North Dakota, which is right on the border—Fargo is North Dakota and Moorhead is Minnesota, similar to Minneapolis/St. Paul, separated by the Red River of the North. I say “of the North;” because growing up I thought there was only one Red River. But back in 1959 I was on a destroyer that was taken out of commission and we went down to Orange, Texas, and, to get to Orange we had to go up the Red River of the South. So we've got two, and I got educated without having read about it.
SIEGEL: Cowboy country down there.
SIMON: It is very cowboy country, a very interesting area, made up of Orange and Port Arthur, Texas and I forget the third one. They make a triangle. People said “anything you wanted was there, good, bad, and ugly.” It was quite a place to spend the better part of three months putting a ship out.
Going back to the home town, I was in the high school from 1943 to 47 and during that time I had a job working before and after school. I was fairly active in sports. I lettered three years in football, basketball and track and played in the band. I was never known to be the greatest mathematician in my class.
The prime reason that I wasn't thinking Navy at the time was that I have two older brothers that were both in the Navy in World War II. The oldest one was married, twenty-four years old, with two children, and had a farm deferment. Yet he volunteered, and became a Seabee. The other brother was eighteen, right out of high school. They both got on the train at the same time and enlisted the same date. The younger one, became a radioman. That was the first time I thought: If I went in the service, what would I do?. I then decided if something came up and I was called up, I would be going into the Navy. Otherwise I would be insulting my brothers. Talking with them of their experiences, I learned my older brother in the SeaBees, two months from the time he enlisted was on the second wave with the Marines going into the Marshalls campaign. Although he went in as a mechanic, anybody could be that back those days (that's my comments at least) But, he was a practicing mechanic here in the town at one of the garages so he went in as a second-class petty officer. However, by the time they went into battle he had been switched to a bulldozer operator. He was assigned to the burial detail. You can imagine what kind of experience that was. At the same time the bachelor brother, now a year later, was still going to radio school, or schools.
SIEGEL: Yeah. One was a warrior and one was a schoolboy, eh?
SIMON: That's right. And by some quirk, they both ended up in Guam. The older one had just been released from the hospital. He received some shrapnel from a Jap air raid during the invasion (he has a picture of the crater) and was out of the hospital in Guam. Allegedly, when the two of them first met the older brother said to the younger one, “Where in the hell have you been hiding?” That was a piece of lasting family conversation (friendly) over the years. So my reason for going Navy was to follow the brothers that had gone before me.
SIEGEL: Yeah It's a great story about your brothers. How big was your family? Did you have other brothers and sisters?
SIMON: Yes, indeed. Originally there were six kids in my family. The oldest one was a sister but the third and fourth children passed away due to diphtheria. One was a year old and one was just over two. They were before my time so I obviously never knew them. They died a week apart.
SIEGEL: Did some sort of an epidemic go through your area?
SIMON: Yeah. Well, I don't know if it was an epidemic but it was apparently common back then. Therefore our family had an age split. I grew up with two other brothers and one sister, with almost a three-year gap in the middle of the family.
Dad moved into town and took a job with the village and remained there all through my high school years. I spent my after-school hours working in a meat market where I learned the butcher trade and cut meat for three years.
SIEGEL: Now, that's while you were in high school?
SIMON: That's while I was in high school. Our biggest customers were, besides the normal families, we had quite a few restaurants for a small town and I would take the orders from the restaurants in the morning and process them before I went to school. I worked after school and Saturdays. That kept me occupied. I liked the independence. I never had to go to my dad for a dollar. It's not that he couldn't afford to do it, but I would have felt guilty and I enjoyed doing the job. It exposed me to a lot of people and it broadened my understanding in dealing with people.
SIEGEL: Oh, yeah, a lesson in maturity. So right after high school you enlisted, is that right?
SIMON: No, not right away. I was active in sports for three years, as I said earlier and played in the band for four years.
SIEGEL: You were able to do all that while you were cutting meat?
SIMON: Absolutely. That was interesting. When I took my first job at fifteen, I was working for a very, very wealthy multimillionaire that had eighty-some farms. I drove a truck that hauled material between his multitude of farms. I had agreed to work for him until school started. But when the position of meat cutter came up, I went to meat man to apply for the position. He said “How quick can you come to work?” I told him I promised Mr. So-and-so that I would stay with him until school started. Well, then the meat man said “That’s it, I need you now”. I thought I had lost out.
About 10 days later I got a phone call and he said, “Do you still want to work?” I said yes, but I can’t go, etc. And he said, “Okay, I’ll wait.” That turned out very good. He taught me a profession. After I’d worked for the gentleman about a year, one time he said, “Did you ever wonder why I called you back?” I said, “Well, I certainly was surprised but, no”. “Well,” he said, “when you told me that you wouldn’t leave the other man because you had promised him you would work for him for a specific date that convinced me.”
SIEGEL: Yeah, that impressed him.
SIMON: By the time I had graduated from high school, one of my brothers had gone to Washington, D.C., and my only sister had married a local boy that had joined the Air Force and was stationed in D.C. So right out of high school, I took the train to D.C. That was 1947.
SIEGEL: Wow. Big adventure.
SIMON: Yeah. It was the first time for me beyond Minneapolis/St. Paul. But, again, I was lucky having an older sister and a brother shepherd me for at least six weeks until my brother and I got together and rented an apartment. That took care of the time from 1947 till 1950 when I enlisted.
During that time I took a job in a meat market that did not work out. I was not a union man and everything was union there. I put in one week and the manager came one afternoon and said he couldn't complain about my end product; my pork chops looked as good as anybody else’s. But how I got from the whole carcass to the end product was what they didn’t like. He gave me an option. He said you can resign or I’ll have to dismiss you. Well, okay, I’d resign.
My brother was working for the National Weather Bureau there and his boss had a modest gas station on the edge of Washington, D.C., and was looking for somebody to work in the gas station. I took the job and I was only there about two months and he fired the manager and said I could have the job if I wanted it.. Well, it wasn’t that much different, so I took it.
About five months after that, the Amoco representative that the owner had purchased the station from came in one day and said, “Would you be interested in buying a gas station in Washington?” I said, “I might be interested, but my finances aren’t in that kind of shape”. He said, “Well, it’s just a small one.” Bottom line, my brother, with a job, took out a loan and we bought a small gas station.
SIEGEL: I’ll be darned.
SIMON: That was the spring of 1948. It happened to be a 100-percent minority-customer station, which was a cultural education for me. I think I had met one black man in Minnesota in my entire life.
SIEGEL: Yeah, I know. It was the same growing up in northern Wisconsin.
SIMON: That's right, it’s the same idea. That was spring of ’48. By midsummer or something like that I decided I wanted to get back on the educational route. I was accepted at George Washington University. I went there one year, but I had to be self-supporting, so I went to the university from 8 in the morning until 12:30 and then went back to the station.
SIEGEL: I guess you were right at the central campus in the city at that point.
SIMON: Right. I was in school from 8 o’clock until 12:30, and at 2 o’clock I went back to the station and I worked till 2 o’clock in the morning. I did that for a year, but I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was and I couldn't conjugate a French verb. That was the bag, and I received an academic suspension. I took a long time to recover.
SIEGEL: But you had your gas station.
SIMON: Yes. Well, now, with more working hours available, we got a contract with a concrete company and bought a new gravel truck. I was driving the truck during the day and, again, working in the station at night. Well, not at night, but the evening bit. Another trucker was losing his truck and we took over the payments on his. We are now a two truck company.
That got us up to 1950, late ’49 to 1950, and then Korea hit. I was obviously a number one candidate for the draft. I couldn't really join the Army with two brothers that had been in the Navy. That just didn’t track, so it was time to make decisions…not really, because the decision was made for me by world events and family history.
SIEGEL: Well, with your gravel truck experience the Seabees probably would have loved you.
SIMON: Absolutely, but already, from my older brother, I didn’t want to get involved in that side of it. It was time to act, and I also wanted to be enlisted from Minnesota, just because, well, that was the tradition with my two brothers. There were some other things, too. We’ll touch into this a little bit later in our interview. I flew back to Minnesota and enlisted. (One of the other reasons was that I knew that Minnesota gave a World War II bonus of 300 bucks, and I thought, well, they just might do it again. Well, years passed, and they actually did.) Then, I went on to Great Lakes for boot camp.
Again, the vague interest in radio was only there because of the one brother that talked a lot about it. Well, he had a phrase. He said as long as the ship was floating you had hot food and clean sheets, and the SeaBee brother didn’t have either one of them, so that was another part of it.
SIEGEL: Good selling point.
SIMON: So that’s about it in the “youth” part of it, or however you choose to refer to it.
SIEGEL: Okay. Well, that’s a great story. And you had quite a career before you raised your hand and took the oath, then, didn’t you?
SIMON: Well, that ended up being a good experience, but relative to age, by the time I joined the Navy, I was six months short of twenty-two years old. I was older then the vast majority of those guys who were all eighteen, some seventeen, and very few older than nineteen. In later years, once I got in the commissioned side of the Navy, well, age was definitely a factor, and in two or three cases I was older than all of my department heads, or as a department head, I was sometimes older than the exec.
SIEGEL: Well, Admiral, you were one of the relatively few through the years that succeeded in rising from seaman to admiral, and so we’re interested in hearing more about your enlisted experience that launched you on this successful career path. So please tell us about boot camp and what the training was like that you received. Then, we’d like to hear how you became a radioman striker, eventually a full-fledged rated radioman, and your five years of fleet service before going to OCS in ’55.
SIMON: Well, boot camp was an absolute vacation. Where I had worked and what I’d done before gave me an understanding of how you evolve as you grow up. We had two chiefs that ran the company. They didn’t intend to set the world on fire either. You hear stories about how rough boot camp was, but as far as I was concerned, it was close to a vacation. I met a great number of really, really great young guys with various backgrounds.
A little incident of humor happened one night ‘lights out’, and this was the time of a song called “Good Night, Irene.”
SIEGEL: Oh, yeah. I remember that song very well.
SIMON: These chiefs that drove the company had bunkrooms right in the same barracks building where the 120 of us that made up the company lived. This particular night, the lights went out, and about ten minutes later somebody started singing that song and everybody’s joining in. The chiefs come out and we got chewed out profusely and they said,” Now, damn it, go to sleep”.
Five minutes later it started out again. With that, the chiefs bolted out this time. Now, this was December or January of the year between Chicago and Milwaukee – on Lake Michigan. We were told to put on our boots. We had long johns on, and that was it, and grabbed a gun and a helmet and we were marched outside into several inches of snow. We were in formation, and they kept us outside the better part of half an hour, the temperature was between 0 and 20 above, something like that.
SIEGEL: So “Irene” disappeared from the scene forever, eh?
SIMON: That was it. So that was boot camp and, like I said, I really enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun. Oh, and I need to tell you the radio side of it. About three weeks before we graduated everyone got called in for an interview by the appropriate chief and ask “What do you want to do?” I said, “I want to be a radioman.” “Well,” he said, “you can’t do it. You want to be a corpsman. We need corpsmen.” I said no, that didn’t interest me a bit. But he said okay, and that was it.
The next Friday came up, I got called in again, went through the same thing, and he said, “No, I told you before. The only thing that you can go to is corpsman school, or you can go straight to the ship as an undesignated seaman.” I said, “Well, I guess I’ll take my chance”.
On the third Friday I get called in and he said, “Before you say anything, I know damn well you want to be a radioman. Well, Simon, you’ve got it.” And he said, “You don’t know how lucky you were...”
SIEGEL: So persistence paid, eh?
SIMON: Yeah. He said, “The authorities just changed things. They’ve now allowed us to send men to radio school or to radar school.” And I said I’ll take the radio school. So that’s how I got into it and went on to the school in Norfolk. That was a fourteen-week school, and it was primarily to master Morse Code. Other schools had a much better curriculum, I found out later. We were exposed to electronics, but I would say not much more than that. It was mastering the code.
SIEGEL: What kind of rate of reading code did you have to have to graduate?
SIMON: Twenty-two words a minute. We started out and copied with a pencil from one or two up to, I think, six words a minute, and then they put us on typewriters. Well, I had taken typing in high school so the typewriter wasn’t a problem.
SIEGEL: You were ahead of the game, right?
SIMON: It worked out fine. Every week they increased it by just two words, something like that. I got up to twelve words a minute but I couldn't make the fourteen. They had a ruling that you had one chance. If you couldn't move the next step they put you back one week and gave you a chance to make it then. Well, that happened to me. I got held back and then the next time around I cleared the twelve words and went on up to twenty-two, but it took me sixteen weeks to get through a fourteen-week school.
SIEGEL: So you sat around in a room listening to code, pounding on a typewriter, for how many hours a day?
SIMON: Eight hours.
SIEGEL: Eight hours.
SIMON: But you’d normally have maybe a ten-minute break per hour. Then if you had trouble, like I did, you had to go to night school. I’d come back in the evening and go from maybe 7 to 8, something like that. Everybody (I think we had twenty-seven in the class) all sat in one room. You were sitting with earphones on so you didn’t hear what’s going on outside of that.
So I finished that. But, as I said, it took me an extra two weeks.
SIEGEL: And you left there without brain burnout, huh?
SIMON: That's exactly right.
With that ending, I reported to the USS Walter B. Cobb (APD 106}. For those that aren’t familiar with it, that was nothing much more then a ship built as a DE and then they closed in the open decking on both sides amidships, and each one of the spaces were for berthing. We carried UDT teams and Marines.
SIEGEL: So what did the APD actually stand for?
SIMON: You know, it was amphibious…
SIEGEL: Amphibious something, right?
SIMON: Yeah. But when we’d go into ports and people would ask what does “APD stand for?” We always said ‘atomic powered destroyer’, but it was nothing but a small DE with crew of 178 and I think we had 11 officers.
SIEGEL: And how many troops could you carry?
SIMON: 28 UDT during deployment and up to 75 Marines during an exercise. When we made an amphibious landing, training and that bit, the Marines would be aboard for, oh, maybe one day, two days before they went ashore.
SIEGEL: How’d you put everybody ashore?
SIMON: We had four landing craft. Two were PRs (for personnel) and two carried two vehicles. I don’t remember their nomenclature.
SIEGEL: I see. How was crew morale?
SIMON: That was not a happy ship for a specific reason. I would say eighty percent of the crew and probably eighty percent of the officers were all World War II vets that had stayed in the Active Reserve.
SIEGEL: And they got recalled.
SIMON: All got recalled.
SIEGEL: Mm-hmm. Which was not uncommon in the Korean War, was it?
SIMON: Absolutely not. it was similar to today, I believe; maybe not that much but pretty close to it. So some of those recalled were not that happy about it, and that had an impact on morale.
SIEGEL: Oh, yeah.
SIMON: And then the other fifteen, twenty percent were all youngsters like me on their first sea duty. It made for quite a balance. The living conditions were not that good. The ship had been pulled out of mothballs at Glen Cove Springs, Florida, but when I joined her, she was in the shipyard in Portsmouth, VA. I was sitting in the radio shack one day and copying on the circuit, they were chipping paint all over the place, including the bridge. Right over the radio room was the flag bridge, and the signalmen were out chipping and the blade of a chipping hammer came through my overhead and landed right between my legs and the typewriter. That gave you an idea of the quality of the materiel condition.
SIEGEL: Wow, almost a Purple Heart without combat.
SIMON: That's right.
SIEGEL: Or a purple something-else.
SIMON: That's exactly right. But it was still a great experience, there’s no question about it. My boss was a first-class radioman and he was an excellent, excellent leader in the shack. We had one other second-class and all the rest were right out of school like me, but it was a great, closely knit operation.
I only made one full six month deployment on the APD, that was in the Med. One of the spots was interesting at that time, I can’t think of the name of the town, and you probably can. It's on the border between Italy and Yugoslavia.
SIMON: Yes. And the two countries were arguing or fighting, whatever you want to call it.
SIEGEL: Yeah, a very contested city.
SIMON: Yeah. And so the ship I was on and another one, a destroyer, were sent up there and did a patrol operation for the better part of two weeks, maybe three weeks. We just stayed in sight of shore so the people there could see that there was American Navy outside. I assume that’s what it was all about. So that was the nearest thing to combat. That's a long ways from being in combat.
SIEGEL: Flying the flag; well, we did a lot of that. Showing a US presence, yep.
SIMON: We did an awful lot of that, and depending on how serious it was, the bigger ships, naturally, went into the bigger places. The smaller ships got the smaller places that were usually the poorest liberty ports. In that six months period I think 80 percent of the time our liberty ports were Augusta Bay, Sicily, and Naples, Italy. Both were still well bombed out from World War II.
SIEGEL: Oh, sure.
SIMON: At the end of that I knew Naples better than any city in America, I’ll put it that way. And there were more things to “see”—put that in quotes—in a place like Naples than just about anyplace else.
I moved from the APD onto the ComFAirWingsLant staff. That was the Commander, Fleet Air Wings, Atlantic, and they operated all of the amphibious patrol aircraft (P5Ms) land-based patrol Aircraft (P2Vs). I was the only black shoe petty officer in the organization.
SIEGEL: What was your rate at that time?
SIMON: I went to ComFAirWingsLant as a selected first class. I had made first class in three years and nine months.
SIEGEL: Pretty darn good.
SIMON: Yes, I felt pretty good about that.
SIEGEL: We used to call them slick-arm first class, as I remember.
SIMON: You’re exactly right. That's what it was. Nobody today would know what the heck you were talking about.
SIEGEL: Well, tell them, for record purposes.
SIMON: Well, it was sewing on the first class crow before getting a hash mark for the first four years of service and they’d say you can’t do it. But the big plus was that the radio rate was wide open. You had to take a written exam, and then you had to take a practical factors exam, and if you passed both of them you made it. I mean, there was no ‘PNA’ (passed but not advanced) for the radio gang. It was wide open. So that was a very, very big plus.
SIEGEL: I’m going to stop you right there, Admiral, and we’re going to flip the tape over.
(End of Side A, Tape 1, Start of Side B, Tape 1)
SIEGEL: This is Tape 1, Side 2; we’re ready to go, Admiral. And you’ve related that you’d been assigned to ComFAirWingsLant.
SIEGEL: As a rising first-class radioman.
SIMON: That is right. I had been there about a year and a new program had come out the year before but I hadn’t been aware of it. They called it the ‘Seaman to Admiral Program’. The big advocate for it was the Chief of Naval Personnel. My division officer was a lieutenant pilot, like all of them on that staff, and he called me one day when I was on watch. He said, “Did you ever consider going into the officer community?” And I said, “Well, I tried it shortly after joining the Navy. I tried to get an application for the Academy, but I was overage.” I said, “That took care of that.”
SIEGEL: You were overage? Really?
SIMON: Yeah, at twenty-four. See, like I said, I was twenty-one and six months years old, and the limit was...
SIEGEL: You had to be under twenty-two? Is that right?
SIMON: I believe that was it. It was probably the graduating age of the Academy that was critical. But anyhow, that took care of it and I never thought about it again. He said you have to have two years of obligated service to apply, or maybe it was three, I forget what. I said, “Well, that makes us stop right there. I’m not going to ship over for four years.” He said, “Did you ever think of extending, just to meet minimum requirements?” I said, “I hadn’t, but now that you put the bug in my ear...” He said, “Well, we’d like to recommend you for the program if you will extend long enough to qualify.” And I did that.
SIEGEL: Were you married at the time?
SIMON: We haven’t got to the marriage bit yet.
SIEGEL: Oh, you say you’re still a single guy at this point. You don’t have to go consult your wife.
SIMON: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. No. Phyllis, my wife, and I were married when I was a RMSN. So, no, we were married in 1952.
SIEGEL: ’52. And we’re now in ’55?
SIMON: We’re now in October of ’54. October of ’53 is when I went to ComFairWingsLant. No, she’s seen it from the bottom up, and the prime reason why I got where I got, there’s no question about that.
So first you obviously had to be recommended by your command. My immediate boss was this lieutenant and his senior was the captain who was chief of staff. This was a two-star flag organization. The chief of staff was the chairman of my interview board. Only one thing I remember. The Captain said, “Well, with your penmanship you could either be a doctor or a naval officer.” (And that hasn’t changed, by the way). So that was it.
SIEGEL: I seem to remember Pete Collins making some comment about your penmanship.
SIMON: Anybody that ever had to work with me or for me and had to read it, always said it took them six months. Okay, I think I can understand what he’s trying to say.
SIEGEL: Get the code-breakers in, huh?
SIMON: Because my wife and I wrote letters for five years before we married; she said she spent six months trying to figure out what I was saying, so I’ve been consistent.
Anyhow, my application went up to the Bureau and it came back and I was among the group authorized to take the written exam. There were 2,000-2,100 that were given the exam and out of that number, 119 were selected and ordered to OCS.
SIEGEL: Wow. That's a tough cut.
SIMON: And out of that group 112 graduated. So it was quite a screening process.
SIEGEL: Oh, yeah.
SIMON: An interesting recollection is that to get into the program to start with, you either had to have two years of college, a certain GCTA, and I forget the third one. I got in under the GCTA part of it. I was a little nervous about putting in my GW experience. Was that going to be an upper or downer? They worded it in the statement from the Navy: Proof of attendance at any academic...
SIEGEL: “Attendance” was the magic word, right?
SIMON: That's exactly right. And I personally went up to the GW administrative office and they broke out the record. I said: Could you give me a statement that says I attended here between such and such, and so forth? And they did. And I submitted that. To this day I don’t know if that was a deciding factor or not, but anyhow it was part of the whole bit. So that took us up to Newport, Rhode Island for OCS.
SIEGEL: And how long was OCS back then?
SIMON: Sixteen weeks. I went up there in April. You could take family; we had one child. Our son was about a year and a half old. I didn’t have that much confidence in myself, so I told my wife, Phyllis, “I suggest you move up to D.C. and stay with my parents until I see how OCS is working out.” (By this time my parents had also migrated to Washington, D.C.)
SIEGEL: Oh, really?
SIMON: Yeah. They owned a small, three-unit, apartment house. They had one apartment that was not rented, so my wife stayed with them while I was going to OCS. I said, “if I get halfway through and I’m satisfied mathematically I’m going to make it (and I would know that by halfway through) then you can come on up.” We did just that. She went up to live with my parents, and halfway through I could see I was going to make it so she came up. But liberty at OCS was...
SIEGEL: So, you were in the summer at that point?
SIEGEL: Yeah, nice in Newport.
SIMON: Beautiful, absolutely beautiful. Liberty was from 12:30 on Saturday to 6 p.m. on Sunday, so a not real big weekend, but it was better than nothing. This was what they called an integrated class. Once a year they sent X number of sailors like myself (in our case 119) up there and the other two-thirds of the class were right out of college.
SIEGEL: So you were one of the old guys again.
SIMON: Oh, yeah, absolutely. The saying was: The kids out of college taught us physics and we taught them how to shine shoes. That was the tradeoff between us.
SIEGEL: That's a great line. I’ll bet you taught them a lot of other stuff they needed to know, too.
SIMON: There are some tidbits that relate to when you get a commission. The question always comes up as to what’s your ‘date of rank’(commission)?. Well, the Academy graduation month is June, and the date I forget. And there was another category just straight out of college. Bottom line was that our class had to be 15 October to be fifteen days later than any other program. So when it got serious, you know, someone asking, well, when were you commissioned? We thought that was a little catty. And financially, also, all these college kids that we spent sixteen weeks with got a three hundred dollar clothing allowance.
SIEGEL: They were ahead of you, yeah?
SIMON: But it was clothing—it was very specific. They got a clothing allowance of 300 bucks, and we didn’t get any. The reason for it, they said, was that we already had a uniform. Well, that’s fine if you were a chief... We had one company in our class that was 100 percent chiefs and they had khaki. Well, anyhow some of us raised as much questions as we could with a letter to CNP, and we didn’t get a 300 allowance but we got a 300 credit to pay back in six months. So they met us halfway, I guess you could say. But those are little nuances of how different parts of our service did different things. So that takes care of OCS.
SIEGEL: Yeah, consistency was not always the watchword.
SIMON: No, absolutely not.
SIEGEL: Of course, that was part of the thrill of it. You never knew quite what you could expect, did you?
SIMON: No, and personally to my wife and me, this was a whole new experience. Now we knew that our life had changed. We didn’t know where we were going. I never told the wife, but when I signed into this program, in my case, I could have come up just short of being eligible for lieutenant commander. And if I had failed at that point, I would have been out with nothing (no retirement pension?). Many years later I told Phyl about that and she said, “You never told me that part.” No? Well, it was just certain things.
SIEGEL: That was a calculated omission, right?
SIMON: That's exactly right.
SIEGEL: So, okay, now you’re commissioned and you’re off on your life as a young officer. Tell us about that.
SIMON: Well, again, it was a fabulous experience. The first ship was a minesweeper, MSO USS Bulwark. I had an absolute crackerjack skipper. He was a lieutenant commander that was a former chief gunner’s mate in World War II, and he could make the ship do anything but fly and a great instructor. One of the first things he said to me, maybe the very first day going through the fine bits of getting acquainted, he put it bluntly, “Roger, if I ever catch your ass in the radio shack you’re going to be thrown off the ship.” He really didn’t have to tell me that because I had seen other cases. One of the worst things a commanding officer can do (and they damn near all do it) if they get an LDO that goes straight line like I did. For example, a former quartermaster becomes the navigator.
SIMON: A radarman becomes CIC officer.
SIEGEL: Oh, sure.
SIMON: A radioman becomes the Comm officer.
SIEGEL: Yeah, we’ve seen that one.
SIMON: So a year later, two years later, three and four years later, when he’s been handled that way, and he’s an LDO and that’s all, his career is ruined. I owed my professional life to him. I’ve seen skippers do it wrong and do it and do it.
SIEGEL: Pretty smart advice there from the old skipper, wasn’t it?
SIMON: Oh, yes, absolutely. But, I blame the individual officers that let them do it. I mean, they feel comfortable because they’re doing what they’ve been doing for the previous ten years.
SIMON: And they don’t realize it. But anyhow, that was my guidance from him. The first time we got underway we were heading for San Juan in Operation Springboard in the early March time frame and in a MSO squadron of four ships. For me, it was the first time on the bridge as an officer, first time with the conn, and so forth, and we’re steaming in a bent line screen. By the way, I wasn’t the greatest on the maneuvering board. I had a hell of a time with maneuvering board solutions. We were in the bent line screen and a signal was given, just a modest signal, for some change, and when I executed it, I was going in the wrong direction. Way off, so I tried it again and went off further. I made a brilliant deduction. If it’s going the wrong way and I think I’m doing it right, let me do it wrong and see what happens, and I honestly did. I just reversed my thinking, the damned ship went right back on station. So I did that the biggest part of a couple of weeks of steaming.
So those were the experiences. And the ship handling was so great. You know, everything was hydraulic and we had variable pitch propellers, so when you threw a back order on it, it really backed down. It was great when it worked, except, quite often it hung up and wouldn’t respond, or it would respond late. When it worked right it was perfect, but when it didn’t, and things like...
SIEGEL: It sounds like my experience with bow thrusters.
SIMON: I envy you. I really wish I could have handled a ship, or learned how to handle a ship, with bow thrusters.
SIEGEL: Yeah, but we had that problem. You know, when they were working, they were just wonderful, but they weren’t always working.
SIMON: Well, we had an experience going into San Juan, Puerto Rico. We spent a lot of time working out of San Juan. We got to the pier and asked for a backing bell and didn’t get it the first time and we banged the pier pretty good. Finally, we got it to back off but at that time number one line had been put over to the pier as we’re backing away with the line attached.
SIEGEL: Oh, oh.
SIMON: And then when the conning officer tried to stop the ship to get a better angle to come in, , both ends of the line were thrown off at the same time so now we had 300 feet of hawser laying in the harbor of San Juan. It was just one of those little things. But you’ve dealt with them, so you know exactly what it’s like.
But, you know, that was a great learning ship for so many things, but especially ship handling. After San Juan we deployed to the Med. As you know on destroyer or normal type ships, it’s a ten-day crossing to the ‘Rock’ (Gibraltar). Our max speed was ten knots. Well, no, it was actually fourteen knots, but sustained we could only do ten.
SIEGEL: Yeah, a big ocean for little ships.
SIMON: That's right. We had Packard engines and they had lots and lots of trouble, blowing head gaskets, so we were dead in the water many times the better part of a day at a time. It took us twenty-two days to get across, and when we pulled into Rota, Spain, the carrier USS FDR was sitting in there and the signal gang on the FDR sent a message over saying, like, “Who carried you over?” We didn’t think that was too smart a comment. But that took care of the MSO.
SIEGEL: Did you have any larger ships shepherding you as you went across?
SIMON: We had an LST, and they carried the fuel. Even though it was a January crossing, weather-wise it was great, so it was not a big deal, not a big deal at all.
SIEGEL: Let me ask you a question. Now, these were the old wooden MSOs, all non-magnetic, right?
SIMON: Non-magnetic, all wood with a fiberglass cover across all the deck spaces and topside deck spaces. Anything that was metal was stainless steel. The engines were, as I said, 600-horsepower Packards, all aluminum. My class of MSO was still being built. Mine was only two years old. It had made one Med trip before.
SIEGEL: Manitowoc ship, I guess?
SIMON: Yeah. But when we pulled out, to get all the needed parts, there was a problem. There were twenty-eight mine sweepers in all of MineLant, all in Charleston. After we left, there were only three that could get underway. I used to have the number of heads that went on these Packard engines.
SIEGEL: The Packard head gaskets were the biggest material problem?
SIMON: Yeah. They were blowing all the time.
SIEGEL: Well, how about the non-magnetic aspect of the ship, was that a big problem with parts?
SIMON: No. It wasn’t as easy as normal, there’s no question about that, the fact being that Packard was the only company that took the original bid, and you must give them credit. We know where Packard went, but it was a good design, but part of the aluminum construction was the problem. By the time they got the bugs out, GM had taken over and took the contract away from them, and the GM engines that followed were much better.
SIEGEL: Yeah. The heat was warping those heads, I guess, huh?
SIMON: I guess.
SIEGEL: Aluminum was the problem.
SIMON: We carried extra. When we left I remember the number we carried was 102 or 103 spare heads, but not just for our ship. We carried some for the three other ships that were with us. But when we got back to the States there were something like five or six left of the whole lot.
SIMON: But, again, that was a most enjoyable tour of duty. Like I said, we had a skipper that was number one. Then he got relieved by…I don’t mean it as a potshot…an Academy grad that had minimum sea experience. He was quite short and he had trouble seeing over the top of the bridge rail. I forget what you call it. So he had a little, orange crate box that he stood on. And behind his back the...
SIEGEL: I remember we used to have to do that for some of the Japanese pilots for them to stand on so they could see out.
SIMON: But you wondered, you know, what’s going to happen if a wave catches us quick and he stumbled. That was it.
SIEGEL: How about the Med cruise? What sort of employment did you have in the Med?
SIMON: It was a learning curve, not just for the ship but also for the DesRon Commander to whom we were assigned. Basically he didn’t know what to do with us. We worked with the amphibs during landing operations, with the entire 6th Fleet during sortie exercises and one time with the DD’s in screening ops but that did not work. We were interfaced with the destroyer squadron and they had to do something with us. They tried to use us to deliver mail from the carrier to the DD’s but we were too slow. We’d get training when the fleet went into anchorage. Well, in this case, let’s say the entire Sixth Fleet was anchored in Souda Bay, Crete, way, way back up in the harbor. We were there for a weekend and a couple more days. On the sortie, on signal, the minesweepers would get underway first. We were in a bent line screen with our tails dragging way back there and off at an angle and so forth. Then behind us would come the destroyers, and after that would be one or two cruisers, three cruisers sometimes, and it was quite an impressive operation. But we were so slow. That drove everybody else crazy. We were coming out at about midnight big, fat, and happy. We had barely been underway maybe thirty minutes when the call came from COMSIXTHFLT; his call sign ‘War Road’. Two call signs I can always remember were ‘Heptagon’ and ‘War Road’. And all at once on the primary tactical circuit: “This is War Road. Stand clear; I’m coming through.” A direct quote.
SIEGEL: The mines be damned, eh?
SIMON: Yeah, destroyers and all. I mean, he came through that damned formation from way back. Of course, it’s a big bay, as you know, but when you’ve got that many ships…we’re talking twenty plus ships in the whole formation… it just blew the heck out of the whole formation. Commander of the Sixth Fleet wasn’t going to hang around.
SIEGEL: And what ship was he riding at that point?
SIMON: It was a cruiser. I don’t remember which one. You know, it would be the equivalent of the Rock (USS Little Rock).
SIEGEL: Came through with a bone in his teeth, huh?
SIMON: That's exactly right. (Every once in a while, I think back to when I was flag secretary and my boss was ComCruDesFlot Eight (CTF 60.2). He had a baritone voice and his call sign was Heptagon. He loved any excuse that he could to get on the circuit, especially the screen common, where he normally wasn’t supposed to be. He’d say, “This is Heptagon himself.” He would lay some words on them. Ah, they got a kick out of him.) But, back to the Med story, the only time, again, where the sweeps were used was practicing entering and exiting fleet anchorages. Other than that, one time early on we were operating with nothing but destroyers and there’d been a mail delivery on a carrier, and we’d get this signal from the destroyer division commander telling us to go to the carrier, pick up mail for all of the destroyers and us, and deliver it to them. He had totally missed the point on how fast we could go. Our squadron commander came on the line. He acknowledged the signal. He said, “If I execute your mailing plan at,” let’s say, “twelve o’clock, I will have the last mail delivered the day after tomorrow.” There was stone silence. Finally the destroyer commander came back and said, “Cancel my last.” But it showed they really didn’t know what to do with us so we were always kind of left out in the cold.
SIEGEL: Yeah, so you were able to do some independent ops and stream your gear and all that stuff?
SIMON: Primarily that, yeah. It got better. But they also didn’t send them over that often. When they plugged the Suez Canal, I had been relieved. But all the sweeps, all four of them, were over in Spain. To get the first work done in the canal, I understood later, the U.S. had to contract out the sweeping and digging needed, because they could hire it commercially, quicker and, I don’t know about cheaper, but quicker than they could move the minesweepers all the way to the other side of the Med. It was some kind of a problem like that. It sounded kind of ridiculous, but I gather they knew what they were doing.
SIEGEL: Yeah, and of course, as we know, we ended up with a lot of EOD people over there.
SIMON: That's right. It was several years later when they got the job done and the canal cleared for navigation. You guys got there later with the Rock.
SIEGEL: Yeah, we were there for the reopening in June of ‘75 after all the hard work was done.
SIMON: There was a Navy captain, and I don’t think he was EOD but he was a specialist of some kind, when they started work on clearance, and he was a project officer. He came aboard the Rock about two or three times. He’d be aboard for no more than two or three days and then leave and go back.
SIEGEL: Mm-hmm. I remember that. I can’t think of his name either.
SIMON: Yeah, that’s it. So that takes us through, I guess, my USS Bulwark tour.
SIEGEL: So you were detached in the Med.
SIMON: Over there. It was basically a little better than a split tour. I got orders to USS Bittern (MHC 43) , which was a coastal mine hunter, being built up in City Island, New York. It was 138 feet long, if I remember right and under construction I left the Bulwark and came back. My wife was in Charleston. That's where the Bulwark was home ported.
Oh, and a credit to my wife at that time. Our daughter was born on the 31st of December. The day she was born the ship was scheduled for one more day at sea just doing peaking and tweaking, so I dropped Phyl off at the hospital and went to the ship, we went out and did our thing and came back in, and Phyllis had delivered our daughter. Three days later we sailed for the Med and Phyl was on the pier when we sailed.
SIEGEL: Oh, my gosh.
SIMON: She was a typical Navy wife.
So I came back and Bittern was being built up in City Island, New York. I and a little over half the crew were sent to the Naval Training Center at Charleston for familiarization, damage control practice, and basics in maintenance, operations, and one thing and another. We went through about a month’s school there. Then we went to the builder’s site.
The skipper was already at the site. That was a little unique. Both the skipper and I were lieutenants Junior Grade (LTJG) and obviously both ex-enlisted.
SIEGEL: And he was younger than you?
SIMON: No, he was older. He was an ex-chief.
SIEGEL: Oh, yeah. That's great.
SIMON: He didn’t get there by the program I was in. We had a great relationship. The ship was commissioned and fitted out in Brooklyn Navy Yard. That was about a two-month period and my wife, now with two children, was back staying with my parents in D.C. I would come home on weekends from New York. I used to leave there at about three in the afternoon, but had three transfers in the city of New York, so it took me almost as long to get across New York City as it did to get from New York, to D.C.
SIEGEL: Yeah, right.
SIMON: We did that for the better part of two months. Two weeks before the ship was commissioned Phyl and the children came up and we had a hotel up there.
SIEGEL: Commissioning in Brooklyn, was it?
SIMON: Yeah, in the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard.
SIEGEL: And what was the crew size on that ship?
SIMON: Ah, what did we have? I think we had about 38.
SIEGEL: And just two officers.
SIMON: No, no. We had the two of us, and we had a weapons officer, and a chief engineer.
SIEGEL: What were they, warrant officers?
SIMON: No. The engineer was an ensign and so was the weapons officer. The weapons officer had been part of the high school and college NROTC. He had more service time on paper, commissioned time, than I did. It was never a factor.
The ship was so unique. We had 75-horsepower engines in each rudder. We could do four knots with the main engineering plant secured. We had 102 degrees rudder throw, so you could really move sideways. The idea was it was a mine hunter, not a sweep. We were to locate and identify the mines. You could get up to a mine or where you thought it was. You could sit in one spot and just throw that rudder to 100 degrees or more and just spin around.
It was the simplest ship to handle. In this one case at a different time we had been running the range right across from the Naval Academy, and did some minor repair work. When we finished the two weeks time on the range, we returned to Little Creek. All the officers handled the ship, it was so simple. The skipper said, “Hey, Roger, it’s your time. Take it to the pier.” Okay, no big deal I thought. I’d go in at the appropriate angle, throw that rudder 90 degrees, and just place it against the side of the pier…piece of cake. Well, I did it and the ship went in the opposite direction. It went out. The Skipper asked” What did you do?” I said, “I don’t know; I did the same thing I’ve been doing for a long time.” Try it again. Same thing; it kicked it opposite. I reversed the signal. Well, the bottom line was the work they had done up North….
SIEGEL: They got the wires switched, huh?
SIMON: Yeah, they put the electrical lines in backwards. It was easy to figure out, but the first time you did it, you know, that was some of the fun part.
SIEGEL: Well, I’ve heard of that happening on submarines too.
SIMON: You know, people say no.
SIEGEL: Electric motors and, you know, you’ve got reverse polarity going and you’re going to go the wrong direction.
SIMON: Well, we did a lot of showboating with that ship, because it was intended to be the first of a whole new class, and the contracts were let. But, on the showboat bit, among other things, we had to take it to Washington D.C., up the Potomac River and this was in January.
SIEGEL: Of what year?
SIMON: That would be winter of ’57, Yeah, January of ’57. Being XO, I was navigator at the same time which was automatic. We were gong up the Potomac and it was an all-night transit, or a big part of it was at night. We came up the Chesapeake and got into the Potomac and I was on the bridge all the time, just for the navigation. We had radar, of course, but there was not that much to shoot. The channel was narrow but the river was wide. Our draft was twelve feet, something like that. So at about 7 o’clock in the morning, we were just going under a big highway bridge.
SIEGEL: Dahlgren bridge?
SIEGEL: At US 301.
SIMON: Yeah, right, 301. We were going under it. We were coming up and easing to the right and I had just given my recommendations to the OOD that was conning. I recommended a left to a certain course and a certain degree of angle on the rudder. I just got the words out of my mouth when all of a sudden we stopped, and there was our bow stuck in the mud. We tried to back down, but couldn't back down. It wouldn’t move. We took a measurement of the depth, and we had something like, oh, eighteen feet on stern and zero on the bow.
SIMON: We were swinging.
SIEGEL: That's a sharp bank for a short ship.
SIMON: Yeah, must have used a knife. It was something like that, the cut. We swung the ship back and forth and back and forth and it just would not give way. We noticed then on the navigation chart there was a Coast Guard station about a mile down the river. We called down and inquired if they had something working in the area for a pull-off? Yeah, they said there was one working just upstream from us, but we couldn't see it, and they said they’d send them down. But we continued to work trying to get it off. The Coast Guard showed up and they went past by us and came back and said, “We’re coming by, throw us a line.” Just as we were ready to throw the line, the ship broke free. So we backed off and hesitated a little bit. The skipper got on the phone and he asked, “Will you be reporting this grounding.” I don’t know if he used the word “grounding”, though.
SIEGEL: Probably not.
SIMON: I’m sure it was probably a first class boatswain’s mate running the CG boat. He said “No. Our rules require it only if we put a line on you. This will not be reported.” Okay. So we backed off and we got up to D.C. It was dark now, it was six or seven o’clock in wintertime. The skipper’s cabin and mine were right close together. He came in and he asked, “What do you think about reporting that?” I said, “That’s your call. You know what the book says.” And he said, “I know exactly what the book says but you know, it’s not recorded,” and we went back and forth. And he said, “Okay, I won’t report it.” That was about six, seven o’clock at night.
At midnight, not quite midnight, he came back to my room and said, “Roger, I can’t do it. I’ve got to call it in.” So he called the admiral who was the district commandant in Washington and reported what happened. Now, this was, like midnight and he’s talking to the admiral, as he tells me at least. He says, “Well, the admiral said, ‘What does the book say?’ and I responded, you have to report it to the senior officer present. And the admiral said, ‘What are you calling me for? You were the senior officer present.’” End of transmission. You know, every once in a while you get a break, and that was it. We’ve talked about that many times.
SIEGEL: Yeah, that’s good.
SIMON: From there, I now had almost four years of commissioned time, specifically at sea, and I had a note or card or whatever from the detailer that I would be getting transferred. He didn’t say where, but my four years were up at sea and it was time to go ashore. And I said I did not want it. I said I’ve got no DD experience, almost 100 percent on the minesweeper stuff, and I said I’ve got to get destroyer time or I could kiss my career goodbye. I said that, first I want a CIC school. He said okay, you can go to the eight-week school at Dam Neck. I said, no, I want the twenty-two-week school at Glencoe, Georgia, and he hesitated. Well, I got that.
So I did that school, in Glencoe, Georgia and then reported to my first destroyer, USS Ross. And that changed my whole professional life from then on, of course, and I’m so glad. In the Surface Navy, the success record has been higher for officers with cruiser/destroyer experience than officers with primary experience in other classes of ship. This, of course, depends on pay grade. When you transfer ashore from four years in destroyers, you always hope to be selected for Postgraduate School or your choice of shore duty locations so you can get acquainted with your family.
SIMON: Well, I took two more years. So, in all I spent six years at sea before I went ashore.
SIEGEL: I think you and I both benefitted from and greatly enjoyed our time in small ships.
SIEGEL: It was the broad experiences that we had, and the early responsibility it gave us.
SIMON: Yes. That's true specifically on small ships. You can also say that for the crews of the small ship there’s no such thing as an unimportant seaman.
SIEGEL: That's right.
SIMON: They’ve got more responsibility at their age than any civilian job I can imagine. And especially when you get the good ones, and the vast majority are good. You lose some of that personal touch when you move to ships that are larger. I do feel sorry for carrier skippers. I mean, their engineering plant is bigger than a destroyer. And the big ships like the Rock, don’t have the personal, close-knit feeling you have on small ships. It's a big difference.
SIEGEL: Well, one of the challenges to skippers in the larger ships, that was always preached, was that you’ve got to make everybody feel important right down to the third butter cutter, you know, because it takes them all.
SIMON: Absolutely. But it’s hard to get that recognition to them. At the same time, if a Sailor in a big ship makes a mistake, he can hide out if he wants to. On a destroyer the whole damn ship knows about it almost instantaneously. And I would imagine it’s pretty close to that in the submarine force.
SIEGEL: Yeah, very much so. Well, Admiral, we’re getting down to the end of this side of the tape, so I suggest that we cut it off here and come back for another sitting in a day or two.
SIMON: That's just fine.
SIEGEL: Okay. Recorder’s going off.
SIMON: All right.
- - - - - - - End of Part One - - - - - - -
Interview Transcript: June 19, 2008 - Part Two
CAPTAIN SIEGEL: Good morning, Admiral.
RADM SIMON: Good morning, Kent. How goes it?
SIEGEL: Oh, fine.
We were last talking about how we loved service in small ships and the benefits to our professional growth that that service offered. As your career progressed as a junior officer, you were about to move from mine warfare ships to destroyers. So please pick it up from there.
SIMON: You bet. At that point I had four years of commissioned time and knew, just by paying attention to the Navy world around me, there had to be some destroyers put in there pretty quickly, and that was it.
I was assigned my first destroyer and about three months after I got aboard we got the word it was going to be decommissioned. So, I spent a total of only about six months on that ship. We did one Caribbean operation with one bit of interest. We had completed a six week patrol between Cuba and Mexico and were on our way back to Norfolk. We stopped at Key West for fuel and while there a number of the crew called to tell their wives/friends when we would be getting home. However, As we continued north, passing near Jacksonville (we were with a squadron), we received orders to return to Cuba and set up a patrol off Havana and intercept Cuban ships that were expected to exit. We did that, but no ships came out so we returned to Norfolk. But, no one in Norfolk told our wives that we had been turned around after the wives had received the phone calls. So wives and friends sat at fleet landing for a half a day waiting before the base police told them what happened. That was about it for the first DD.
SIEGEL: And what was the name of that destroyer?
SIMON: USS Ross. It was a Fletcher-class. We put it out of commission down at Orange, Texas.
Leaving there I drove back to the East Coast and flew to Aden in the Red Sea and picked up the DD USS Douglas H. Fox, leaving Norfolk just shortly before Thanksgiving. That took care of Christmas, of course. I spent the last half of the Fox tour operating along the East Coast and the North Atlantic. When the Cold War was going full bore, there was always one and sometimes two Soviet intelligence ships off the coast near Norfolk, New York City, and Charleston.
SIEGEL: I remember seeing them often.
SIMON: Yeah. They were monitoring. We didn’t do anything that they didn’t monitor. Along with that, every fall there were the major exercise’s called FallExes. I was just looking at some newspaper clippings from that time the other day. That would be 1960. The headlines read: “100 ships deployed from Charleston and from Norfolk and operating north of the Arctic Circle to the coast of Spain”. They had a big write-up on it. So I got the number out of that, not just U.S., but NATO.
SIEGEL: Yeah. That's a big number, isn’t it?
SIMON: That is a lot of ships when you look at what we’ve got today. That annual exercise was always in the fall, running from late September, through October and the first week of November. Most of the time during my time on board, we always operated in that area north of the Arctic Circle.
SIEGEL: Yeah, and as I remember, Admiral, there were some reports from some of our shipmates in the early days of the Little Rock of being involved in those northern exercises.
SIEGEL: And they tell how cold it was up there and getting their Blue Nose Certificates and all.
SIMON: Oh, that’s right. Over the years I’ve picked up three of those Blue Nose jobbers, two on the Fox and one on the Albany when I was Flag Secretary. On the second one on Fox, I saw my first of many ice bergs. I remember terrible, terrible weather conditions. We were refueling and it was quite dangerous. Accidents were being reported on both admin circuits and on the operational tactical circuits. When it was all over, the task group commander asked every ship to report how many injuries, type of injuries, and how many had doctors. That went out over the screen common circuit, and the various ships came back and identifying their medical specialties. I can’t come up with all the various specialties, but this was serious so the boss would come back just acknowledging that he had gotten the information. But in any case, one reported that the specialty was gynecologist. There was a pause before he acknowledged it, and he said, “Good luck; out.” So even in conditions like that somebody had, I don’t know, we called it a sense of humor. I’ll always remember that. We had a lot of broken arms and legs; that was the big thing.
SIEGEL: And, Admiral, that was due mainly to rough weather?
SIMON: Yes, absolutely. It was one hundred percent rough weather. Well, I can’t say a hundred percent, but that was the prime cause, weather. So that took care of the first two years, two and a half years, whatever it was, in destroyers.
Next came my first shore duty as a commissioned officer and it was at the Defense Communications Agency (DCA) in D.C. which was a brand new agency. It was commissioned on the first of March, 1961. The premise of the DCA was to have a federal comm agency control all of the long lines communication, nothing tactical. We had a very large command center just about half a mile from the Pentagon.
I started the first year there as a watch officer, had my own division made up of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine officer and enlisted. It was computer driven and very, very interesting. A map of the world was on glass display but the map was all electronic. Your circuits were red when they were down, they were yellow when they were half down, and they were green when they were what they were supposed to be, all driven by the computer. It monitored and then drove the display. But with today’s computer whizzes we have, our computer was about five and a half feet tall, it was four feet wide, and twenty feet long. It took up two rooms put together. It was slow, of course, by today’s standards, but compared to a typewriter it was super fast. But when I think back, we talk about it, I used to remember its speed capacity, and I don’t now, but it was very, very slow. But it was a step up for coordinated worldwide communications. I really enjoyed that. On my desk I had phone connections around the world and one push button to the DOD command center and the CIA command center. We had to call them whenever there was a major outage of our system any place in the world.
The most dangerous world event during my time was the Cuban Missile Crisis and, in a way, I had sort of a ring side seat. It was October, 1962. I had the day watch and about mid afternoon my boss came into the center and said,”No one is going home tonight, the midnight section will still be coming in, cots are being brought in. You can call your wives and tell them you will not be home tonight, but you cannot tell them why, but they should listen to the President’s speech tonight at 6PM”. As the day progressed we were told we will be invading Cuba at first light tomorrow. AT&T techs came into the center who knew their system in Cuba. Many more were in Key West with our Army and Marine units that had moved there. There was at least one carrier off the coast (John McCain was on one) and we had sealift to move our military from Key West. As the night progressed, we kept reading message traffic but it slowed after midnight. As you know we did not invade. Adelai Stevenson, our UN Ambassador, flew down to D.C. that evening to talk the President out of the invasion. On my next assignment, after leaving DCA to join a Battle Group staff, one of the staff officers had been on one of those carriers. He said they were briefed and assigned their targets before they went to bed with a call for 3 AM. The call never came.
After a year I shifted to a day job. I had been on a desk job for just about three or four months, and in the big room where all of the desk-type people were, there were little cubicles. And my immediate boss was an Army major, and his boss was a Navy commander. Up the line were a Navy captain, an Army brigadier general an Air Force major general, and then up to a Navy two-star admiral who was the head man.
SIEGEL: You were all right in one location there?
SIMON: Oh, yes. Then you had DCA Europe and DCA Pacific. Europe was in Bremerhaven, Germany, and Pacific was at Pearl Harbor. We had been operating at that capacity for about a year, and in 1962 they needed to expand. DCA was sending out a team to the Pacific to identify locations where put the smaller area stations. I was in a cubicle, and the commander that was my immediate boss of consequence was in a cubicle just a couple of feet away, and I heard the major come in and say, “Hey, we’ve just got the word we have to send a four-man team to the Pacific on a site survey and come up with some recommendations where to put in the next expansion of the system.” And, he said, “I’ve got the major picked out and I’ve got the civilian picked out, and an Air Force light colonel is heading it up, but we need a Navy officer.” Of course, I could hear, because this was in the cubicle arrangement. And I yelled, “I’ll take it.”
SIEGEL: A rabbit warren, huh?
SIMON: Yeah. Exactly right, it was a warren. And I said, “I’ll take that.” And the major cut in: “Well, he hasn’t talked to his wife yet” and the commander came back with, “In the Navy you don’t talk to your wife. He’s going.” It was going to be a ten-day trip and I came back forty-five days later, but I saw a lot of interesting spots out there. It was a case of humor in uniform.
SIEGEL: Now tell me again, where did you establish out there in the Pacific?
SIMON: We worked out of Clark Air Force Base and that’s where we ended up recommending it be located.
SIEGEL: I see.
SIMON: But we went to Sangley Point, Tarlac Province, and Baguio. As we completed each site visit, at night, we’d get on the teletype, and tell what we’d seen and what we were recommending. When we checked back to say we’d been at Baguio, with some language cleaned up back in Washington, they said, “Who are you kidding? That's the summer capital. Who’s playing golf out there?”
SIEGEL: Yeah, right. And how much San Miguel are you drinking?
SIMON: That's right. But Clark was a beautiful base back then and that’s where we ended up putting it. But then we also looked at Okinawa, but it was a non-starter. Then we went to Japan to the Tatchacowa Air Force base and recommended that they put it in there. Later, they put a DCA in Korea also. So that expanded DCA.
It was while in the DCA job, once I got the straight day work, that I enrolled in the University of Maryland, at the Pentagon, and took the better part of two years, three nights a week. So, when I got out of there I had a legitimate, full two years of college credits.
SIEGEL: Yeah, and what was your area of concentration there?
SIMON: They had what I would call a basic curriculum. (It ended up, when I later got to Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, being International Relations.) But, it was just about general stuff.
SIEGEL: Core subjects, so to speak.
SIMON: Yes, core subjects. I couldn't think of the word. So that was a step forward but it didn’t necessarily help the family life with two kids and you didn’t get to see too much of them. When you’re ashore you’re supposed to get reacquainted with them, but it worked out just fine.
So we got that one together more-or-less and then I received orders to ComCruDesFlot Eight for the flag sec job. At that time, I had no idea what the heck that meant. I was talking to my boss, the commander. He said, “Don’t ask questions, take it.” Then he gave me a little history lesson about careers and so forth. So that was it. This would be in June of 1963.
The second day there, I got an idea of the seriousness, if you will. The admiral invited my wife, his flag lieutenant’s wife, and the chief of staff’s wife for luncheon. Okay, no big deal. But up until that point in that kind of relationship, to me, a commander was a quite senior officer, let alone a two-star, and he was very senior. He was John Victor Smith, the son of USMC Lieutenant General Holland ‘Howling Mad’ Smith of World War II fame.
SIEGEL: Really? That's interesting.
SIMON: And I got a lot of those lessons in the little over a year that I worked for him. But in any case I was not comfortable at the luncheon. I thought everything went fine, and went back to work that afternoon I get a call from the admiral, he wanted me to step into his office. I went in, and he said, “Roger, we may have a problem.” His wife’s name was Marian. He said, “Marian tells me you didn’t know how to hold a fork.” And he said, “Unless you can learn how, you’re going to have to eat with the ship’s officers, because I can’t be embarrassed when we’re entertaining when we deploy.” Okay, that made me feel great.
About an hour later.... Our flagship was the Long Beach., our first nuclear cruiser. I was walking the weather deck for some stupid reason and the chief of staff comes up and says, “Have you got a headache?” I said, “No, not that I am aware of.” “Well, then square your hat.” Now, the two hits on the second day on a new job, I realized how important, really, some things were. But I survived.
SIEGEL: What was home port?
SIMON: Norfolk. We deployed just about a week after I checked in. That would be the first of July until just shy of Christmas when we transferred to the cruiser Albany, and the Long Beach came back to CONUS. We got extended three more months, making it a nine-month deployment.
SIEGEL: So your fork retraining was successful then.
SIMON: The what?
SIEGEL: The fork retraining in the Admiral’s mess.
SIMON: Oh, yes. I survived. I absolutely survived. But Kent, he was a wonderful professional in any way, shape, or form. Never swore, never lost his temper. Just one, one time, we were in the Med and still on the Long Beach. Long Beach has a square flag bridge. You can walk all the way around. You can’t do that on very many ships. Admiral Smith never came out when we were refueling, very seldom. I was running the replenishment, and as we were breaking up and I was sending the oilers on their way and forming up the rest of the ships, Admiral Smith came out to the bridge and said, “Roger, what in the hell are you doing?” Now, here’s a man that never swore before, but I don’t really consider that swearing. I told him what was going down. I said, “We’re breaking up the formation.” And he walked away, he walked around, circumnavigated the bridge, came back on the other side. He said, “I’m sorry, Roger, I misunderstood you.” And that, to me, showed the man. He was a great teacher. He did a lot of things. Enough said on that.
The experience there was the staff work. Every paper that left the ship went through my office one way or the other. When we were in port there was always paperwork to do, and when we went to sea, we still stood four-section watch. So it was normally pretty close to a 12, 14, 15-hour day constantly every time we were at sea. But what I learned was hearing the other flag people talking when they had their meetings and that kind of stuff. It was an excellent education on the staff side of life.
SIEGEL: Yeah, I’m sure.
SIMON: From there, as my tour was coming to a close, I applied for the degree completion program and received the appropriate endorsement and ended up in at PG school in Monterey. We spent two years out there and came out with the B.S. in International Relations.
From there I went to the USS Holder, DD 719, as the exec/navigator. There were several very different type experiences from the normal destroyer-type kind. One was joining the SACLANT-created, Standing Naval Forces Atlantic Squadron. We left the States the 30 January, 1967.
But on that crossing, I was one frustrated navigator because we never had one star that we could find. It was overcast the entire bit.
SIEGEL: I’ve been there.
SIMON: Isn’t that something?
SIEGEL: Yeah. You wonder if you’re going to make landfall in the right country.
SIMON: That's right. In our case the fuel stop was in the Azores, and so it wasn’t a big piece of real estate to shoot for. This part of it you’re real familiar with, but I wasn’t. I’m talking about the underwater charts, the lay of the land at the bottom of the ocean.
SIEGEL: Yeah, bathymetry, as they say.
SIMON: Yeah. I used that with just a little bit of help. There were two Morse code stations that served my navigation needs, one in Morocco and one in England. Of course, I could still read code real easy, so with the combination of the bathymetric charts and those signals, I could come up with a diamond that you could drive a Mack truck through.
SIEGEL: Oh, you were just RDF-ing (radio direction finding)on those stations, then.
SIMON: Yeah. RDF-ing on them, but I’ll tell you, when the Azores appeared where they were supposed to be, I was one happy camper.
SIEGEL: I know exactly what you’re saying.
SIMON: We arrived in Portland, England on January 10th. . The British, Dutch and Norwegian destroyers pulled in on the 11th and the squadron, COMNAVFORLANT (Commander Standing Naval Force Atlantic) was commissioned on the 13th of January 1968. Its mission was to train in ASW defense. It was called “The squadron without a home”. A British Commodore (one star) was in charge of the initial group. His staff was made up of one or two officers from all of the...what did we have…six NATO countries involved at that time.
The commodore was a caricature British naval officer. He always walked a la Napoleon with his right hand on his chest or in his pocket, one or the other. He hated personnel transfers by American rigs. He didn’t mind the transfer itself, but once we passed him with our type of rig, he said never again, so we had to use the Brit’s whenever he was transferred.
SIEGEL: Get his feet wet?
SIMON: He said he didn’t wan t to go in what he called a ‘death trap’, that is in the cage we use for highline transfers. He didn’t ride our ship, oh, maybe about 30% of the time. He would shift around and give everybody a chance. The commodore would go across with one foot in the stirrup and one foot just hanging in the wind and he was hanging on with one hand. He did it many times.
SIEGEL: Well no death trap there
SIMON: We left Portland the day after we were commissioned in a heavy snow storm and fog, doing 18 knots and doing TACTICS while heading north. We operated in the Hebrides through January, February and early March. That's not a nice place to operate, especially at that time of the year.
SIEGEL: I know. I’ve been there.
SIMON: One of the more eerie experiences we had was when we were getting near the end of our first European phase of this deployment. This would be near the end of February. We were directed to make a fuel stop at SCAPA FLOW. Our course took us right over the German fleet that was sunk in formation at the end of World War I. We were going in at about 0200 with eerie weather just for effect. I thought again, ‘something new, something different’.
Leaving SCAPA FLOW we rejoined the squadron, less the Norwegian ship that was detached and had returned home, while we began our first westward crossing in March.
It was a very rough crossing. The Dutch ship and the Holder both received cracked hulls that required shipyard repairs in Bermuda.
We operated out of San Juan for six weeks during Operation SPRINGBOARD.A German and a Canadian destroyer joined the squadron at this time. We spent April operating along our East Coast, always doing ASW. We made port calls in Norfolk, our home port where all of the ships’ crews, lead by their Executive Officers, conducted a Review and Inspection by ComSacLant, Admiral Holms. We continued north to New York City where we were met by eight city fire boats that escorted us to our piers where Holder hosted 9,000 visitors.
Continuing north and east, we stopped at Halifax, Nova Scotia and St. Johns, Newfoundland, where the Canadian ship was detached while we continued on via Reykjavik, Iceland. We then made our first Norwegian port call in Trondheim, where the Norwegian destroyer rejoined us. We again had been conducting ASW drills throughout the crossing.
From May through June, we operated from the far north and over the North Cape of Norway and south to Bergen. At the farthermost point north, working with an additional number of British ships including one carrier, we conducted an amphibious operation that required us to take aboard then put ashore 118 British commandoes. The Brits provided the boats. The Soviet Navy was very active. We were constantly monitored. This was a very interesting exercise.
SIEGEL: I bet it was.
SIMON; Two “interesting” incidents’ happened to me during the two European phases of this deployment. One in the February that went like this. One of the staff members on board was a British Lieutenant Commander. He was the Staff Navigation Officer. He did not do a cotton-picken thing. We were going into, not a fjord but, I can’t think of the right word…
SIEGEL; Firth, in Scotland?
SIMON: Yeah. Firth of Forth.. We were coming in at night, it was all radar navigation. We were in station one of a FORM 1 formation with the Commodore on board. I could not get any good fixes, visibility was poor and we were doing 19 knots. On my chart in very big red letters, it stated “MAXIMUM SAFE SPEED TEN KNOTS”. I told my Captain, or I showed him rather that my fixes were terrible and that I couldn't pick up anything to shoot on. He said “Did you talk to the navigator”? I said ”He does not talk to me, so I don’t talk to him”. The Captain said “Talk to him”. I called the navigator to the chart and pointed out the speed restrictions. He said, “That’s only in the summer time when there are a lot of small craft in the water, you don’t bother with that in the winter time”. I was not happy nor was my skipper. My fixes improved somewhat and we made it to our anchorage.
My second incident happened in May and went like this. We were going into the port of Tromso, Norway again in a FORM 1, but this time we are in station three and the Brits were leading with the Norwegians between us. My fixes were good but they weren’t tracking with the Brits. All at once the Norwegian ship left his station and with no signal, he pulled hard to starboard. My skipper said “Follow him” and we did just that.
SIEGEL: A guy with local knowledge.
SIMON: That's right.
SIMON: Now I’ll put an end on this deployment story. We were relieved in Bergen on 24 June 1968 and headed west for our forth Atlantic crossing in six months. We arrived home in Norfolk on 3 July. During the remainder of 1968, the Holder operated locally in the Norfolk area, completed a shortened Navy shipyard overhaul and a Reftra at GTMO. We deployed to the MED on 30 December 1969. I was relieved in early March with 20 days leave in route to the United Nations Command in Seoul Korea. I arrived the day after the 121 air craft had been shot down. All end-of-tour rotational orders had been cancelled. Living conditions were tight for the first two months. My orders read for a twelve month tour that was later extended to fifteen months.
I got near the end of my tour…about my eleventh month over there…and I didn’t have orders.
SIEGEL: That was unaccompanied, was it?
SIMON: Oh, yes. So on the Holder I had made three trips across the Atlantic and back, and then into Korea with twenty days off. Then a month before my time was up I called the detailer and asked him did he forget something?) I’d had no indication. Well he said no. I said, “Orders?” “Oh,” he said, “you’re going to the Naval War College.” I had not requested it. But he said there’s maybe a hiccup; he said, “You’ve got to extend for three more months.” So obviously I extended for three more months and went on from there.
That was the hardest part for Phyl and the kids, of separated time, there was no question about that.
SIEGEL: Yeah. They stayed in Norfolk, did they?
SIMON: Yeah, right. To look at it a little bit different, those three years were the longest they’d ever been in one place since we were married.
SIEGEL: Yeah, but you weren’t there.
SIMON: We’ve all been through different versions of the same thing, no question about it.
The most interesting part of the Korean experience was working with another large staff that was basically 100 percent army, both U.S. and Korean. There were two projects that I was intimately involved with.
The Koreans had a full division in Vietnam, and they had to use our communications system. They didn’t have one going that far. We were giving them, and you have to put the word “give” in quotes as far as I’m concerned, a single sideband system. But it was antiquated, and supply problems were an issue, and they wouldn’t accept it until we could guarantee them and deliver the proper support. I was under orders to get it transferred to them. That was frustrating, because we were not upfront with them.
SIEGEL: Sell them a pig in a poke, eh?
SIMON: Yeah, that’s what we wanted. But finally, I took care of it.
The other project that fell in my lap was the microwave systems in Korea that we built shortly after the war. There were two microwave systems running the full length of Korea, from the DMZ down to Pusan, for us and the Koreans, but they were not interconnected. So when one system failed, the other one could be working but it didn’t do the failed system any good. I was put in charge of coming up with an agreement so we could tie the two systems together. We would pay for it, but we, the U.S., must be in charge at all inter-contact points. We could override them at any given time. Well, that’s another political challenge, if you will. Anyhow, we brought it through. I had to go back to CinCPac one time to brief the project. I was basically a decoy, being the Navy guy in a 100 percent Army and Air Force system. My boss, who was an Army bird colonel, said: Well, they’re going to feel that you don’t have any special axes to grind because it’s an all Army-Air Force facility, with the Navy briefing it. He said, “They’re going to believe you.” I don’t know if they all believed me, but all commands signed off.
I returned from Korea the 1st of July 1970 and went to the Naval War College (NWC) in Newport for the class of 70- 71. That's where, concurrent with the war collage course, I took the night school MS program that The George Washington University offered. GW had a building on the war collage site. They had half a dozen professors up there running the program, and I signed up for that. So I went to school three nights a week. That's where I got back to George Washington, so I got my master’s from George Washington in foreign affairs after I had flunked out twenty years before. So I have the two academic records from George Washington that are just a little bit different, an academic suspension and a master’s degree. My wife said you did that just for spite and that was the only thing. So go from there.
Out of that came assignment to USS Eddie Mac, (FF 1043).
SIEGEL: What did you call it? Eddie Mac?
SIMON: Yeah. Edward McDonnell.
SIEGEL: Eddie Mac, okay.
SIMON: I found out I was going there about halfway through the war college tour. The ship had deployed for the Exercise Unitas trip around South America. She was about six weeks into that, in Valparaiso, Chile, and I flew down took command there. That whole swing around South America, working with the respective countries from Chile on one side to Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela on the Atlantic side.
Their ships were older than the hills. They were all ex USN ships. The Chilean ships were in excellent condition and immaculate in appearance. Not the same for the rest of them. The Chileans never missed a beat. They were underway on schedule, they could do max speed. Everyone in the Chilean navy I spoke to, spoke perfect English. That was great.
Working around to the other side and working with the Brazilians was memorable for other reasons. They thought they were great, but they couldn't get out of the rain. They had a carrier and every time operations called for speed over 20 knots, it broke down. What a total difference.
SIEGEL: How about the Argentines? Did you work with them?
SIMON: They were not totally up to speed, but at least they weren’t presumptuous. They were not nearly as professional, but it was just that, where the Brazilians were arrogant, and the Chileans were just like any naval officer or enlisted man you ever served with. They were great.
The first major scare, if you can call it that, was when we got underway the first time out of Valparaiso and the first thing was refueling. We were fueling in the middle of the night again, we always do it at night; you know that. But the Chileans—and in fact I think all of them did, but specifically the Chileans—rather than coming alongside the way we do it by forming up astern. They do it from a bent line screen. It went like this; from stations one and two, you were signaled and you reversed course, came down, and did a 180-degree turn alongside the oiler. It's a little bit more of a challenge than when you’re coming up from astern. Keep in mind, that I had just been fifteen months in Korea, which was a staff job, the war college, for a year. Further, I never had, up until that time, worn glasses except for reading. As we swung around, I did not believe the conning officer had adequate rudder on, plus the fact the skipper I relieved was a real sharpie. You couldn't ask for a better way to start out. He graded his officers as to who was the best ship handler, who was the weakest ship handler, and so forth, and I had that information, and it just so happened the conning officer during that refueling happened to be what my predecessor had described as one of his weaker ship handlers.
SIEGEL: Murphy’s Law.
SIMON: Yeah. But his JO was a LTJG and a very, very good CIC guy, and he was dedicated to the maneuvering board. Well, we executed, we were coming around, and I was watching, and I said to myself he is not going to make it. He didn’t have enough rudder on. I took the conn, looked up, grabbed the center repeater, and couldn't see a damned thing on it, couldn't see a number, couldn't see anything except a dull light. With a couple prayers and a few other things and a deep breath I turned to the helmsman, “Increase the rudder...” I forget what it was. “Increase the rudder” such and such, “and call your bearings every five degrees as we come around.” He did just that and, of course, I knew what the replenishment course was so I knew where I was going. With him calling every five degrees as we passed it, we got alongside and refueled.
The tanker that they had was so slow pumping that sometimes we could be burning it almost as fast as we were taking it on. We refueled at sea several times during the next five months, but it was the worst with the Argentines. We would spend four hours alongside refueling. It was terrible.
That night when it was over with, I just thought that the lights were out on the repeater but at least it would function. I called the chief engineer up and said, “Get those lights fixed in that repeater. We damn near had an accident.” He didn’t say a word. The next morning at breakfast he said, “Skipper, do you ever wear glasses?” I said, “Yeah, but not on the bridge.” And he said, “Well, I suggest you start wearing them on the bridge. There’s nothing wrong with the repeater.” That was the first night underway, where I started the next 18-months tour. We survived. So, again, that’s part of training, right? That's part of learning.
SIEGEL: So then you were headed south around the Horn, right?
SIMON: Oh, yes. We went right around it, and it was quite choppy. We got a number of pictures. The staff had, oh, I don’t know, probably four photographers with them that rode on us just about all the way. When one of them was on one of the other ships, they were taking pictures of anything and everything, so I ended up with just scads of operational pictures, especially going through the Straits. It was quite rough, as I said, and the bow of the ship was under water and that kind of stuff, so we got a good pictorial history of the trip.
When we were on the Pacific side and hadn’t gotten down to the Straits yet, we got orders to where our next port of call was going to be once we cleared the Straits. It was going to be Mar del Plata in the southern part of Argentina. I knew we were two weeks from getting there, something like that. I looked at the entrance chart and I saw a very big sand bar, if you want to call it that—underwater of course.
Eddie Mac was a single screw ship and smaller than a full size destroyer, but I had a new sonar and it had a much deeper, draft. I believe our draft was something like twenty-nine feet and a regular destroyer was something like twenty-five. The chart indicated we weren’t going to make it. I thought I did a prudent thing and sent a message over to the admiral and said: having checked chart such-and-such, I find that it’s not safe for me to transit, upon arrival I will anchor out and join for meetings, etc., etc., ashore.
He shot back, “You will proceed into port and report to my cabin.” You might call it very sarcastic. Okay.
SIEGEL: Now, this is a U.S. admiral?
SIMON: Oh, yes. He was an SOB, every way, shape, or form, with a total incompetent staff.
The saving grace was that the squadron commander was DesRon Six out of Charleston, a tremendous, tremendous sailor. I don’t know when he slept, because when we’d start doing ASW, he was always on the tactical circuits. Once he got to know how the Eddie Mac worked, he would never execute a plan unless or until the Eddie Mac said we had a contact or we didn’t. And if the other ones had a contact and we didn’t, he wouldn’t execute a plan. So it was an ego trip for our crew, stuff like that. The commodore was CAPT Dave Emerson. He ended up as a three-star and ComCruDesPac. He also sat on my flag selection board. I felt good about that. He was a real, tremendous gentleman and a hard worker; and when he went ashore he was a hard player. He was everything I would ever hope to have been as a naval officer.
SIEGEL: You were fortunate to have had command under an operator of that caliber.
SIMON: You bet. The other U.S. destroyer on Unitas was one of the ships from his squadron in Charleston. Now, on that point, for my entire time as the Eddie Mac skipper, I never operated with my own squadron boss at all, not once. That could have been a plus or a minus. It happened to be a good deal for me, but knowing how that system works in the surface Navy I was probably just damned lucky.
But that took care of Exercise Unitas. We got back to Newport on the 20th of December. I can’t ever think of a better homecomming than to get home four days before Christmas. It was a great trip. This was to be almost the end of my operating time, although I hadn’t been there a year. The ship was scheduled in three months to go into Boston Naval Shipyard for a nine-month overhaul and take off the steel sonar dome and put on a rubber dome. As soon as we got back, I knew what the schedule was to be, just operating locally before the overhaul.
It just so happened, about the 1st of March, 1972, there was a squadron of four destroyers going to Europe to work with the Spanish and the Portuguese navies for two months, and one of them broke down. ComCruDesLant was based in Newport on a tender. He was Admiral Wentworth, but I can’t remember his first name. Here was another real sailor, a seagoing gentleman that was a tremendous destroyer type. He spent his life in that class. I got to know him very well. When I heard of the DD that broke down I made a call on him and said I’d like to volunteer to fill in for the ship that just broke down. He said, well, you just got back. I said I realize that, but if I don’t go to sea one more time, at least, I might as well not even think about staying surface. I’ve got to have some sea time. And he said no, it’s not fair, so that was it.
Two days later he called me and said, “You still want to go?” I said yes. He said, “Okay, you’ve got it.” But he said, “I want you to go to sea for five days, local ops, with another ship, and I want to be aboard you so I can see how it works.” So he did, and, again, he was just a great guy. When we returned he taped a message to my crew and gave me the tape, and he said, “Don’t play it until you’re underway.” Fine, so be it.
So we got underway and a couple days out I put it on, and he spoke to the crew. He said he had to apologize; there weren’t that many spare ships to use, whatever it was. And he never said that I had requested it, which was great.
SIEGEL: Yeah, it got you off the hook, right?
SIMON: Yeah. The crew would have thrown me overboard, I think. I’m not sure. Now, morale was sky high. And he said, “But I knew that if I asked the Eddie Mac to do something they could do it”, and it played right into the troops. It was perfect.
So we got over there and did our operations. We finished up and we were in Lisbon. We were there in Lisbon for a four-day weekend and would then return to the States. The night before we were to get underway the exec and I went over for dinner, we were anchored out in the river, and I got back about 22:00. One of my chiefs was running the beach guard. He said, “Skipper, where in the hell were you?” He said, “The admiral’s been calling for you since about 8 o’clock tonight,” with orders to have me call as soon as I got back.
SIEGEL: That's not something you necessarily want to hear when returning from an evening ashore.
SIMON: It definitely gets your attention. The admiral was embarked in the carrier Intrepid anchored in Lisbon with us. (We had spent the better part of two months chasing the carrier. They were sharp, too.) So I called the admiral as it was approaching midnight. I didn’t get him out of bed. I don’t know if he was waiting for me. He said, “Hey, skipper, how quick can you get underway?” I said, “I’m ready now.” He said, “Don’t be so damned dramatic.” That might ring a bell, but where that phrase came from, there was a picture for many years in several officers’ clubs, one specifically was at Newport, but I saw it someplace else. It's a picture of a destroyer squadron in World War I coming across and entering, I forget the port, in Ireland. They’d had a terrible crossing. It's a painting showing that the ships were just beaten all to the dickens. The American commodore receives this flashing light message from the British commodore and he said, “We need you; how soon can you be underway?” And the answer back was, “WE ARE READY NOW”. I thought for years, if I ever had an opportunity, isn’t that a great comeback? But why did I think of it at midnight? Again, it was one of those crazy things that happen.
He said, “Okay, get underway at first light. You’ll get underway before we do because we’re going back. You will get underway, proceed to Rota, and you will meet the Little Rock coming in. You will relieve the Little Rock and you will proceed on into the Mediterranean and finish up the rest of the Little Rock’s six-month deployment.”
When the official word got back to Newport, Admiral Wentworth sent another personal to the crew, similar to the first one. It really wasn’t a negative as far as the crew was concerned, in my opinion, because the bottom line was that our little single-screw ship was relieving a cruiser. It didn’t really make sense. I knew we were, by law, required to have a specific number of ships in the Med, but I always assumed, or thought I knew, it was class for class. You know, you had a cruiser for a cruiser, destroyer for a destroyer, and I don’t know how they pulled that one off.
We beat the Little Rock into Rota by a couple of hours. CAPT Gordon Nagler was in command. That was the first time I had met him. (It was just unbelievable how many times our official paths were going to cross for the rest of my Navy life. He had a lot of personality traits similar to Pete Cullins, so you know what I mean. They were very, very similar personalities.)
SIEGEL: Yeah. Now, you didn’t tell me why the Little Rock was coming out.
SIMON: That's right. That's part of the story. Vietnam was going in a basket — bad shape — and they were crying for gunfire support ships. There was only one all-gun cruiser left in the fleet, the CA USS Newport News which was the Second Fleet flagship in Norfolk. She was ordered to get to Vietnam as fast as possible. Little Rock was to head back at max speed, “no speed restriction” I think was the word, for crossing the Atlantic to relieve the Newport News so she could go to Vietnam. So there you’ve got three ships involved.
SIEGEL: Newport News was an eight-inch gun cruiser, yeah.
SIMON: That's right. And there is the prime example that I think is the greatest, greatest asset for the U.S. Navy. It's our ability to instantaneously respond. No matter where you’re at, even if you don’t have a full crew on board or whatever, when called upon, you’re going to respond. Here were three categories of ships, but when called upon for Vietnam, they all came through. I just thought that’s typical of a first-class Navy operation.
SIEGEL: Yeah, so it is.
SIMON: So that was it. Anyhow, we had a one-day overlap in Rota, and they were on their way and Eddie Mac was on the way in. We got into some heavy ASW training with the normal NATO Navy’s that you had. Primarily you had Greeks, Brits, and Italians. One night we were doing ASW and went dead in the water. What happened? Turbine blades had broken off and penetrated the evaporators. At that point I was thinking TOW. I had an exceptional chief engineer. He said before we take a tow, I think we can make Naples if we can get 30 minuets full steam pressure before salting up. We will keep dumping. At that point the DesRon commodore came on the line and said stand by to receive a towing DD. I told him what I wanted to try and he said OK, but you are asking for trouble. We tried the dumping but we could not get the 30 minutes so I requested the tow and that’s how we got to Naples. (I knew the commodore from before when he was CO of the parent tender for the Holder. We had met many times during that period doing the normal tender repair-type stuff.)
Let me take you back to the cause of the blades breaking. It turned out to be poor design. They should have had a cowling around the blades, and they didn’t. The blades just stuck straight out and nothing on the edges. A ShipAlt was in existence. If we had not made this deployment and gone into the shipyard, as we were scheduled, the ShipAlt would have been installed and this break down would not have happened. Our engineering records from the two previous chief engineers were in perfect shape so the problem was well documented.
SIEGEL: Wow. What a coincidence, huh?
SIMON: Yeah. It was recorded in the logbooks and it was confirmed by Logs covering almost three years of this problem. Thank God two previous chief engineers had immaculate books. That was a big help.
We got into Naples, and the rest of the destroyers had pulled in. The squadron commander, who had beaten us in, was standing on the pier as tugs backed us in to a Med moor. The first thing he said was, “Well, you know, they want a board of investigation and you’re looking at him.” So we went through that. Career-wise it didn’t become a negative factor.
Back in the States, Philadelphia Naval Shipyard had a division that handled only pressure-fired ships. There were only fourteen of them in the U.S. Navy. Eddie Mac was one of fourteen. There had been a lot of problems with that class. The shipyard sent over a man. He identified one thing and another and said, “I’ll get a team over here, and we can have you operating within ten to twelve days.”
SIEGEL: Oh, good.
SIMON: Okay. My chief engineer caught my eye and then said, “Can we step outside the room?” We did and he said, “Skipper, we can fix that. If you can guarantee that I can have all the men, any rating, anything I need, my men can fix it. But, we don’t have enough to do all of the ripping out to get to the problem.” And I said, “You’ve got it.” And, I think, six days after that we were doing twenty-eight knots out of Naples without support from Philadelphia.
SIMON: Again—I said so many times, if you went out to recruit your own crew I couldn't have done as well, no way. So that was it.
The Sixth Fleet Commander came back and said we had missed out on a port call and something else. He said, “You’ve got six weeks to go. Pick any three ports you want and you can have them.
SIEGEL: That's nice.
SIMON: Yeah. I picked Barcelona, Palma, and there was another, a Spanish one, and we got all three of them. So the last six weeks there, we basically went from port to port and it was great.
SIEGEL: And you were close to your exit point from the Med.
SIMON: We were. When we left the last port we were heading west, and that was it.
We stopped at the Azores for fuel, of course. The 1048 class was very short legged. It burned a lot of fuel, considering it was a single screw, so we always needed fuel sooner than the regular DD’s. We had one safety factor; at least I considered it such. When we didn’t have the helo on board, we had an extra fuel tank that we didn’t need for the helicopter, so we put ship’s fuel into it. When we got to the Azores I told the chief engineer to fill it up, I’d like to have that as a safety factor. And this was the chief engineer who had proved himself a hundred times over. A day out of the Azores, he came up to the bridge and he said, “Skipper, I blew something. They didn’t put extra fuel in the helo tank.” Okay. We didn’t need it. The weather was perfect, an absolutely perfect crossing. That would be about the first of June, 1972. You couldn't ask for better weather. But as fuel was going down and we got over halfway across, there was no doubt we were going to make it, but if we wanted to be really sure we could have gone north to St. Johns, Newfoundland and fueled there, and it would have been a hundred percent safe if storms hit. I made the decision to continue straight for Newport. When we got home, we had ten percent fuel left in the tanks.
SIEGEL: That's closer than you want it to be.
SIMON: That's much closer than you want it to be…
I had another tough decision to make as my tour was ending up, just before we were going into the shipyard. The crew had been talking about a family cruise all through South America, etc., etc., etc. So I set it up. We had people come up from, three or four hundred miles away, family members etc. The weather was perfect. Everybody was on board and we were to get underway at eleven o’clock.
Now I have a new chief engineer. There was nothing wrong with him, but he was just a new player. With everybody on board waiting to get underway, he came up and said, “I’ve got one plant down, one boiler down and I can’t get it fixed in the next hour and a half,” or whatever it was. “So,” he said, “you have to make a decision. Are we going out?” That was one of the harder decisions I had to make. With only one plant operating with a single screw ship you don’t have much of a safety factor. I knew how much the crew wanted it, so I said we’d go. We went out, and I had my fingers crossed all of that afternoon. The morale on the ship was sky-high when I took command and, if it’s possible, it got better. You just couldn't ask for a better, more professional crew.
SIEGEL: What a great experience.
SIMON: It was. All of that packed into an eighteen-month tour. So we go on from there. We’re coming to the point where I walked across the pier to the Rock and that was the start of a whole new experience.
SIEGEL: Well, now, you want to talk about how you managed to get assigned as executive officer on the Little Rock?
SIMON: Yeah, it’s a kind of a strange little story. I had met Captain Morris before going to the Boston Navy Ship Yard. But he and I had met no more then once for dinner at the club in Newport. The Eddie Mac entered the ship yard in late July 1972 and was scheduled to complete overhaul in April ‘73. I do not remember when the Little Rock came in. I was told the Rock was only supposed to be there something like two months, but it ended up nearly four. I’d met Captain Morris at the weekly yard work progress meetings. Our paths would cross, but no more than that.
This one particular evening my chief engineer and I went over to the Club for dinner and Captain Morris came in all alone. He said, “You mind if I join you?” So the three of us sat down, had dinner, and talked. Then my chief engineer left us alone and went back to the ship. Captain Morris and I spent the rest of the evening just enjoying a good conversation and some refreshments. I didn’t think anything about it. I did realize that we both enjoyed Martinis.
I went back to my ship and the next morning about ten o’clock I received a call from my detailer, and he said, “Do you know Captain Morris?” I said, “Well, not really.” I said, “I spent the evening with him last night. We had a very good conversation and enjoyable get-together, but other than that....” And he said, “Well, he wants you for his exec.” “Well,” I said, “I’ve already been notified that I will be receiving orders to OP 941 in D.C., which for me is a very, very good, career-wise, assignment.” And he said, “Well, it’s up to you, but,” he said, “I’m just giving you a heads-up. He’s going to be calling you.” So, okay; I barely hung up the phone and Captain Morris called and said, “Can you come over for a cup of coffee?” So I hopped over. When a captain tells a commander to come over for coffee, you don’t run in the other direction. I went over, and after a little bit of small talk, he said, “Roger, my exec is getting near the end of his tour. When that’s over I’d like to have you for my exec.” I felt kind of taken aback, shall I say, and I said, “Well, normally I would make the decision myself. I’ve always decided what I was going to do without consulting my wife on anything else. I, myself, knew where I felt I belonged in the Navy. But with all of the at-sea time I’ve had in the previous three years, I think I’m going to have to talk to her.” And he said okay, to let him know.
My wife and I talked it over, and I was caught up. I had ridden the Rock as the COMCRUDESFLOT Eight Flag Secretary for one deployment and half of another. Neither one was long, like a three-month deal, something like that. But when you’ve spent your life on the ‘cans’ and smaller ships and you go on the Rock, it seemed so big, and the living conditions were so much better. I had a feel, based on what I had experienced, ten years before, so I said, “Okay, Captain, we’ll take it.” So orders followed and that’s how I ended up as XO on the Rock. I think that’s a little bit different than normal assignments that officers receive.
SIEGEL: Yes, it is. And when and where was the ship when you reported?
SIMON: It was in the shipyard.
SIEGEL: In Boston?
SIMON: That's right. I reported aboard in March of ‘73. So, I was exec about a month under Captain Morris with the ship in the yard. The yard period for the Rock kept getting extended. (It had been extended at least twice and maybe three times before I joined.) There was always something else, and the final big change was then they decided to convert from the heavy fuel oil to light oil, known as Diesel Fuel Marine or DFM.
SIEGEL: Oh, yeah.
SIMON: Well, now all the oil tanks had to be sandblasted and/or power washed or whatever, but they wouldn’t do it in the shipyard, so we had to get underway, go to Newport, and bring in a civilian company. The outfit performed in a way where I didn’t think they’d ever been on a ship before. They didn’t have proper equipment to get the men down safely into the fuel tanks. At that point, you’re taking twenty-five years worth of crud collection out of there. The tank workers carried air hoses with them. We had an alarm systems set up so if air failed, a buzzer would go off and then they would rush in with a couple guys with air hoses. During the period of time they were doing that, I don’t know, three or four of them collapsed. The hose broke or something. It was scary.
Then the change of command took place in July. I had been in Newport then about two months, I guess, under Bob Morris when CAPT Peter K. Cullins came in. That was a surprise, because when Bob Morris asked me to be his XO, he still had thirteen months to be in command, so I was satisfied it would be a solid period, if you will. Then two months after I was there, he got orders to BuPers. He only spent eleven months in command of the Little Rock.
SIEGEL: Why did they move him so fast?
SIMON: Well, all I know is that he was part of Zumwalt’s ’inner circle’ or whatever you want to call it, but he had come out of the Bureau and had moved very fast. When he left the Rock, he went straight back to the Bureau. He was the senior detail officer for all Surface Officers, and specifically, on a one-on-one basis with all Surface Captains. Although other parts of detailing fell under his purview.
He apologized and apologized and apologized to me that this was a total shock, that he didn’t expect it, and so forth. I don’t know, but that was a little bit of a quirk. (I should offer this reflection. When I went to the Senior Officer Ship Material Readiness Course (SOSMRC) out in Idaho, in route to command of the Richmond K. Turner CG-20, he was a classmate. He was going to a battle group command, and halfway through the school out there he resigned. I don’t know why, but it was a strange happening.) But he was so apologetic. He couldn't have been better to me. That's how things happen to you that you have no control over, and it still comes out all right.
So, we were moving into the prepping of the Rock for the deployment.
SIEGEL: So, you’d finished with your fuel tank conversion.
SIMON: Oh, yes.
SIEGEL: And now you’re going to leak oil forever, because it was that old heavy oil that was sealing all the cracks.
SIMON: That's absolutely right. In fact, it became kind of a sick joke between Captain Cullins and me. You’d see the little iridescent bubbles alongside the ship where the oil leaks were coming out. This one time when we were loading missiles, other weapons and supplies at ordnance depot in Yorktown, Virginia, on the way to the Med, the captain and I saw them. The pier was, not unusual, creosoted soaked pilings. We looked down and saw these bubbles. Captain Cullins said, “It looks like that creosote is really coming out of those trees”, you know, out of the pilings.
(Let me digress. When they were cleaning the tanks, our son had just finished high school and he was working that summer for the Navy Exchange getting $4 an hour. He had heard the people cleaning the tanks were paying $10 an hour. He got permission from the store manager to take two weeks leave of absence and told them why—so he could get some of that $10-an-hour stuff. He did, and every time that alarm sounded and I knew my son was that far down, and the alarm went for loss of air, it made me pretty uneasy. But, he said his only mistake was that he hadn’t taken more time because he made more money in ten days than he’d made in the whole summer at the exchange.)
Yeah, the leaking, that went on for some time. I know it did improve in time but there wasn’t a time when there wasn’t a little bit of a leakage problem.
SIEGEL: Yeah. You know we trailed a little sheen even in my time.
SIMON: Sure. I’m sure you did. There was a lot of that conversion going on throughout the Navy, as a matter of fact. But, not such an old ship as the Rock that had, as you said, twenty-some years’ collection of heavy muck. It made a difference. Any time any ship got an oil leak of any kind, going into port they got so much stricter year-after-year. There was a lot of high visibility.
SIEGEL: Now back to the chronology. You were making preps to go to the Med.
SIMON: Bob Morris was very, very active. This was all happening in Newport. There was one officer that was sent over from the Med. I don’t remember if he was from the CONSIXTHFLT staff or the Springfield. We had set up a whole series of committees addressing everything, trying to give as much information out on what it was going to be like in Gaeta compared to what everybody was used to. We were having weekly evening meetings with everybody in the crew and family members that wanted to come up and listen and ask questions. We tried to answer them, especially those that could be handled by the officer that came over who could talk on a first-person basis. That seemed to help considerably. Especially important were questions from people that had never been outside of the States before. When they could hear an officer who had been there, it helped. He explained that, No, it really isn’t that way, because this is what you can do and what you can’t do. That was a great, settling of nerves. It made a big difference. By meeting evenings, people were more relaxed, and we did that for at least six weeks, probably closer to two months, besides what was going on during the day on other projects. The committees we had set up compiled questions that folks came up with that weren’t easily answered and a volunteer was asked to run them down. It seemed to work.
A problem that we envisioned was that we were going to be taking aboard about, I think it was like 265 or 285 crew members from the Springfield when we got to Gaeta. The concern was, as it would be on any ship, what would be the impact if you’re taking many crew members from a ship used to operating in a different way. It was a big number coming aboard and we would be losing that same number.
SIEGEL: The old cross-decking.
SIMON: Cross-decking, that was it. That was a big challenge. With all of these delays, delays, delays, the Springfield was literally falling apart over there. They weren’t moving at all unless it was absolutely necessary. At least that’s the word we were given at the time. With that in mind, ’the powers that be’ cancelled our refresher training period at Guantanamo. As soon as we got our tanks cleaned out, we were told to get ready to move and get there as fast as possible.
Well, troublesome was having the drawdown of our crew, a good number that we could have really used ‘til we got to Italy. A decision was made for the convenience of those crew members we’ll leave, let’s say, 150 of them in Newport, and besides, we know they are going to get fully replaced over there. It was stated we were trying our best to look out for our sailors. Why should they go across only to turn around and come right back again? That type of thing.
We had just a few over 400 that had never been to sea at all, or had never been to sea on the Little Rock.
SIEGEL: Sounds like port and starboard watches coming up.
SIMON: That's part of it. Probably 300 had never been to sea - period, and a hundred or so were the petty officers and seamen that had been to sea, (obviously the senior ones more than once), but they’d never been to sea on the Little Rock. So we had a draft of 400 that had never been on the Rock when we deployed.
As everyone knows that has gone through RefTra, the important thing is that it melds the crew together. You work eight, nine, ten-hour days, five and a half days a week, and have experts teaching, teaching, teaching practical factors at sea down in Gitmo. When you come out after six weeks, you’ve got a team that is forged together. I don’t care how left-handed you went in—because all ships go there after an extended repair period. And, I don’t care what kind of ship, as I’ve been through on three different types of ships. It's always the same, it really melds your crew together. Well, anyhow, we were deprived of that. So when we went across, the transit constituted our RefTra. We had general quarters—I think we might have missed one day going across. But, again, it doesn’t compare, doesn’t compete with what you get in Guantanamo.
SIEGEL: You were short-handed and you were going to lose some of those guys when you got over there.
SIMON: That's exactly right. It was a challenge, and it was a big cause of personnel problems that would come up in the future that nobody had any way of foreseeing. But, that impacted operations later on.
Oh, and to go back to the prepping for going across, one of the big concerns for a number of the sailors, mostly older and senior ones with families…..and their pets. Everybody had dogs and cats. Okay, bottom line was that the ship was given permission to take dogs and cats on the transit across. I believe we had thirty-odd numbers. I don’t know what kind, but the number thirty-something sticks in my mind. And, it was just like you’d go into a pet shop...
SIEGEL: It was the floating pound, right?
SIMON: That's right. I was thinking like, now I know what Noah’s Ark was like. We had that many with all these little cages up on the weather deck. We had both a cat and a dog, so I took the cat and I kept him in a box in my cabin. I guess you might call that ‘Rank has its privileges’. The cat had traveled with us quite a bit and would walk on a leash just like a dog does, as trained by my wife. So, at night when things were quieted down, I’d take the cat out for a walk on the weather decks. I could just hear someone of the 800 crew members saying, “That crazy exec and his damned cat are walking on the deck.” I could only imagine what was being said.
SIEGEL: That's good. My family had cats too, but we never could get them to walk on a leash like that. We’d drag them on their sides.
SIMON: Well, we only had two cats. The first one could not do it, but he didn’t last long, either. But, the cat on the ship had been with us, yeah, it went through multi-moves. We also had a little toy French poodle, and my wife had it on the airplane when she went across.
SIEGEL: Yeah, that’s quite a trick.
SIMON: We had a private boat on board that I think was a sailboat. I can’t remember who it belonged to. And there was also one car on board. The ship was just loaded with stuff. We looked more like a, I don’t know, again I say, like Noah’s Ark than a warship going across the Atlantic. But, again, that was a morale factor. There was no question about it.
Regarding ‘culture shock’, there was some but it was minimal. I think the ones most affected by the unfamiliar culture were the youngsters we had that had never been away from Dubuque, Iowa, or some such place. Also, in our case, we had so many that came out of Chicago, Detroit, New York and other big urban areas. They were big-city kids that knew everything that they thought they knew, that grew up on the laws of the streets, versus the laws of proper social behavior. And, that made a big difference in their outlook.
But, the culture change had a positive side, as you know. There’s so much culture in that part of Italy that you could almost walk to. But it was their reluctance, mostly on the part of younger sailors, to go more than two blocks from the ship. Okay, the train station was not that far away and, in our efforts to get the kids to get away from the ship, get away from the Gut, we had to explain what was out there to see.
I remember a kid that got in a little bit of trouble one time, and I said, “Have you been to Rome?” “Well, no. I don’t have a car.” “Well,” I said, “I don’t mean that.” But Rome was about forty-five, fifty minutes away by train. I said, “Do you know where the train depot is?” “Well, no.” We’d been advertising in plans of the day (PODs) and that type of thing and on our television, pushing travel: Get on the train; you can go to Naples and be there in an hour, go to Rome and be there in an hour, and that type of thing. And yet, there were those that didn’t get any farther than two blocks from the ship.
But the biggest thing was, once we could break that mold—and I’m not saying we ever broke it completely, but it took the first six months, I’d estimate, before we could feel that we now had a crew that had been operating together ashore and at sea and that they were now a team. That should have been the case the first day over there if we could have gotten to.... I go back to harping on the lack of refresher training. If we’d had that to build on, it would have been so much easier.
SIEGEL: Yeah, and there was one other problem that extended into my time. We were getting these drafts of new sailors. This was in many cases their first duty out of boot camp. And, while the Navy had a fairly tight system for screening personnel for overseas duty, most of these people never got that screening.
SIMON: I totally agree and understand. It's like those operating the system then to do the screening weren’t doing their job. There’s no question about it, and then it’s given into your hands. You’ve got them now, it’s your problem.
And there also was a big drop in selectivity. How do I put this? Almost the first twenty years I was in, the Navy had absolute prime picking of who they wanted at the recruiting stations. By the early 70’s, it was reaching a point when (I think it was a law passed by LBJ) when ten percent of your total enlistees must be those with problems. The Navy could not turn down a prospective recruit if he or she had a police record of only non-violent crime unless there were multiple infractions. This forced the hands of the recruiters, but brought the Navy into step with the Federal Government’s Equal Opportunity Program. Once the recruiting stations lost control of the quality of enlisted input, the problems quickly migrated to the fleet. Having been a three-time exec by that time, I could see the difference in the ones that reported aboard.
SIEGEL: Oh, sure.
SIMON: It was at its peak, as far as I’m concerned, in my time, and I’ll say your time, with the Rock. It was just one of those bad times for personnel quality.
SIEGEL: And, of course, I’d come out of the submarine navy with a pretty high caliber of individual who had not only been properly screened but had also been sent through submarine school.
SIEGEL: Or washed out because they couldn't hack it. So that was quite a transition for me on the Rock.
SIMON: Yeah, but I can just imagine with the godfather you had running the submarine force—he didn’t have any patience for anybody but the perfect ones, which is wonderful. I really envied the submarine boys because of that.
(I’m going to jump ahead just for a second, but it fits our discussion. After I’d made flag, one of the projects—I’ll talk to it a little bit later—that I inherited was getting started. It was a total new design for a shipboard radio shack. And one of the elders I had to brief in trying to sell the program was the Chief of NavMat. He was a four-star, submariner. He was noted for being a good submariner, and ‘by God you’d better walk above the water rather than on the water’, type of individual. I’d been trying to get on his schedule to give him a brief for some time and couldn't get on, couldn't get on. All at once, I get a call at 5:30 one evening: “The admiral wants you to come over and give him a brief at six o’clock.” So I went over there and I just got a few words out and he said, “You said ‘radioman’. Oh, I forgot. The submarine navy has ‘communication technicians’. You have radiomen.” And I thought: By God, he’s got to get a spike in there just for that. And then I went ahead and gave the brief. It went fine, but I had to bring it up now because it goes along with just what you said, the quality of the submarine forces. It was different, no question.)
SIEGEL: We were talking about the crew coming together after being over there for six months or so, but still hesitating to get out in Italian culture pretty much, so there were recreation issues.
SIMON: That was it. And, the godfather of recreation on the Rock in my tenure was Pete Cullins, the skipper. We talked at length before we even departed the States, anticipating some of the things we’ve just talked about it. He felt if they would have problems becoming acclimated to the culture and so forth, an active athletic program, and a good welfare and recreation program could fill that gap and get their minds away from the Gut or whatever you want. For those folks that don’t know, the ‘Gut’ was the harder part of town, a rough area. If you couldn't get in trouble anywhere else, you could definitely get in trouble there. But, it also had the best restaurants in town, so you had to take a chance. That was part of it.
SIEGEL: I agree. Admiral, I’m going to interrupt you right now. We will take up the recreation programs when we start our next session. This is the end of Tape 2, Side 2. Good day, Sir.
SIMON: Great, so long until then.
- - - - - - - End of Part Two - - - - - - -
Interview Transcript: June 24, 2008 - Part Three
CAPTAIN SIEGEL: I’m Kent Siegel interviewing Rear Admiral Roger Simon, USN (Retired), by telephone. It’s now 24 June 2008, and he is in his summer home up in northwest Minnesota. Good morning, Admiral.
RADM SIMON: Good morning, indeed. It’s a beautiful, beautiful day here in Minnesota, and I’m ready to get on with our discussion.
SIEGEL: And likewise in Virginia. The last time we talked, Admiral, the Little Rock had arrived in its new home port of Gaeta, Italy, in August of ’73, and we’d started to discuss some of the unique challenges that you faced with both crew and dependents’ welfare and morale. Now, perhaps you could review some of the measures that you put in place to try to help everyone adjust to the new circumstances.
SIMON: Taking a ship’s crew that size and going into a whole new area, geographically as well as culturally, definitely was a challenge. We arrived in Gaeta with a mixed crew of trained Little Rock officers and men, plus over 400 that had never been to sea on the Little Rock, or for that matter on any other ship. Now we were about to be joined by several hundred new crew members that were waiting to be transferred from the Springfield. All of this would have been difficult under any circumstances, but particularly without benefit of refresher training. That, of course, was caused by the delays back in the States. We all thought the refresher training was the required vehicle to really bring a crew together.
SIMON: We found that normal crew training on the flagship was hard to plan for and carry out. When Admiral Murphy was aboard, it was difficult to carry out DC drills or tactical training exercises. Operating independently provided only limited training opportunities. The Captain used every effort to carry out maximum training. He was very active also in leading the way to develop programs to occupy the crew when the ship was in port and things were slow, and keeping our people involved in athletic activities was at the top of the list
SIMON: There was also the effort of smoothing the working relationships between the fleet staff and the ship’s company. This was not done without some rubs. These problems arose because of the different points of view, shall we say, between staff and crew. I emphasize, this was individuals more than the staff as a whole or the ship’s company as a whole.
SIEGEL: Yeah, I understand.
SIMON: This does not mean that there were no personnel problems. Our berth at the NATO fuel pier was a ten-minute walk from the ‘Gut’ in the town. This area provided anything that was illegal, indecent, or immoral. Also, the best restaurants were located in that part of town.
SIEGEL: I recall that real estate clearly.
SIMON: The drug problem was always a concern, but I do believe we gained some ground. Did we take full control? Absolutely, we did not. The greatest challenge was keeping the young recruits in line, those kids we had received directly from boot camp who had to learn the Navy way of doing things. To counter all the existing temptations, an all-out effort was put forth in the form of sports programs. If there was a sports program that could be conducted on the ship or ashore, I really think we had it. I give the good Captain Cullins credit for his all out effort to provide leadership and emphasis on anything relating to sports.
SIEGEL: So tell us a little about that program, both intramural and varsity teams that you had.
SIMON. The one I thought was the most unique in my experience was a full-blown tackle football team. We challenged the carrier, the one carrier that was with us most of the time. I believe that was the Independence. Locally, Captain Cullins got NSA Det to install a bowling alley on a site that also included a social club.
SIEGEL: What was the name of that place? Do you remember, Admiral? It was on Formia Road and your farewell party was there.
SIMON: That is correct and the name I think was the ‘Sea Breeze’. It was used more and more as the time went on. Com6thFlt took over another building there and paid for that.
SIEGEL: I didn’t know that.
SIMON: LCDR Dwight Avis, OinC of the NSA Det was very active and it was his people that operated the bowling alley which was heavily used. We had many, many soccer games. Soccer was the number one sport in Italy so it was never hard to find competition for our team.
SIEGEL: I remember that from my time and they played all over the Med in ports we visited
SIMON: Yes. We had one sailor that was first-generation Sicilian. I cannot remember his name, but he was real young, about twenty, twenty-one. He was a tremendous soccer player. The ship’s team that he put together was very successful. We didn’t win that many games, but he could put on a good show.
SIEGEL: What about basketball?
SIMON: Oh yes, we had a good basketball team and there was a tennis team too.
SIEGEL: Basketball had to be big with all those kids from the inner city.
SIMON: I’ll go back to the use of the new club room. The Sixth Fleet’s staff got USO shows coming in. I remember one of the first ones there was a rocker called Bobby V. I’m sure people today don’t know who that was, but he was a big star back then. That really made headlines among the ship’s company. The Club was well utilized. There were monthly parties there by all pay grades. It was a tremendous asset in giving the crew something to do.
The other program that was of great importance, but took time to get up the troops interest was tours. I remember talking to one kid that got in a little bit of trouble and I said, “Have you ever gone to Rome?” He said, “No, I don’t have a car.” I said, “You know, the trains are readily available.” After being there three or four months he did not know where the train station was, and yet he could step off the ship and be picked up by a city bus and taken right to the station.
SIMON: But once the crew got used to the ease of getting out of town, tours became very, very popular. Then the tours were expanded as to where they went. We had a number of folks that were going north to Germany, Austria and France.
SIEGEL: I remember, and I think our tour coordinator was the same gent that was there earlier in your time. He was a chief and spent a good bit of his time researching, organizing, and leading tours.
SIMON: That’s right. That gentleman’s name is not coming up. He was a Senior Chief Sonarman.
SIEGEL: A sonarman, I’d forgotten that.
SIMON: Yeah, he was a sonarman. I’m going to bring that up just a little bit later and see what you think. Yes, and you might wonder why somebody that senior would be on a ship with no sonar on board. I was not involved in his assignment; he was there when I came and he stayed on board after I left, as you said. He was very, very instrumental in improving the morale, because he had the experience of running recreation activities on board. We usually had a Las Vegas casino night the night before returning to Gaeta. That was held on the mess decks.
On Christmas of ’74, we had a Christmas raffle. The ultimate prizes were two mountain bikes. We went on the ship’s closed circuit TV and Captain Cullins said: “Why don’t you draw the ticket and I’ll read it. Well, I drew my own number. Obviously it was not going to stand, but that got a little bit of humor going on the ship.
SIEGEL: Yeah. Well, I don’t know what that senior chief’s official title was, but he was in effect ‘Mr. Welfare and Recreation’ on board.
SIMON: Yeah, he had it all. And quite often when dignitaries were coming aboard and we had to put up, let’s say, the more sharp-appearing sailors on the quarterdeck, he was often the duty chief on the quarterdeck. He got a lot of publicity out of that.
SIEGEL: How about telling us a little bit about the dependent community and some of their unique problems?
SIMON: All right. You had some family problems that had nothing to do with the ship that sometimes resulted in transfers back to the States. They involved hardships and that kind of thing. Another aspect of dependent matters was the rules on bringing ladies and dependents on board when underway. It was quite broadened by Admiral Murphy to the point that dependents could ride the ship from port to port as long as we made each port during daylight hours. That drew a goodly number. An example that I remember is when we were in Lisbon, Portugal. Wives and friends that were lucky enough flew over to Lisbon and then they rode the ship from Lisbon to Tangiers, Morocco and spent the time in Tangiers with their sponsors and flew back home from there.
Another time that was really stretching the point, was when we left Gaeta and we were sailing for Tunis, Tunisia, but we couldn’t make that in one day, so the Sixth Fleet scheduled a support stop in Sicily. We left Gaeta very early in the morning and pulled into Palermo, Sicily and it was pretty dark, but let’s say the sun wasn’t really down. We spent, I think, two days there and then went on to Tunis, and the wives and friends rode us all the way to Tunis. Things like that. I don’t think we had a family cruise, but this was part of one. There could have been a couple more, but I remember distinctly those two that fit the criteria for daylight transfer.
SIEGEL: Sure. Some of the wives that were mothers of small kids, would trade off on babysitting so they could visit one port, and then take the babysitting duties while the other mothers went to the next port.
SIMON: That was an economic necessity, and there were different versions of the same thing. One was a personal experience of mine. My wife was doing just what you said. She was flying to meet me wherever the ship was going, and she sent a message over that she had to get a dog sitter. I thought, my God, we’ve waited how many years, but I didn’t think I was going to be paying for a dog sitter. So it was one of those things.
SIEGEL: Wonderful. Say a little bit about the dependent facilities for school, shopping and the services of NSA Det.
SIMON: Yeah. That improved month by month. As I said, LCDR Avis had a big responsibility as far as I was concerned, and he had limited funds to do it. But he was so sincere. He met the ship every single time we returned from wherever we had been. He made a calls on the Chief of Staff, the Captain and me to ask what he could do for us. I was impressed that he could make a dollar go further than most people.
SIEGEL: He was very accommodating.
SIMON: People were complaining because they had never been away from downtown ’Dubuque, Iowa’, so to speak. That was the one part of it that frustrated me. Many of the adult dependents had never, ever, been out of the States away from, as I always say, Dubuque. Yet, when they got overseas, they wanted everything just like Dubuque, and it just doesn’t work that way. That was probably the most…oh, I keep using the word ‘challenging’, but LCDR Avis did a tremendous job, I thought, with what he had. Of course, there was always someone saying, “Why can’t we have this, why can’t we have that?”
Well, things improved over time as Phyllis and I noted when we went back to Gaeta in ’97. The NSA had taken over an Italian Army facility that was gold-plated.
SIEGEL: Up on the hill.
SIMON: Yeah, up on the hill. I asked them, were they getting complaints? No, everybody was very satisfied. But still, people complained there was not enough at the store. To get what you really wanted, you had to go to Naples to get it.
Back to the 70s, LCDR Avis did everything possible to have buses available. He would rent a bus for taking people for runs to Naples. He tried hard, that’s all I can say, and I thought with what he had, he did a very good job.
SIEGEL: They also had a housing referral office, which helped all the Americans coming in with families to find off-base housing.
SIMON: The capability to provide referrals started before we left the States. We had a list of availabilities, the cost, the distance from the ship, transportation needs, and so forth. That greatly expanded the longer we were over there. That’s how Phyllis and I, got our place there. Then you folks took it when we left.
SIMON: We shared that benefit and it was a great help.
SIEGEL: We had the Joshua Barney Grade School, for our dependents. Can you broaden out a bit on the overall school picture?
SIMON: We had three school facilities available. As you said, Joshua Barney, and I believe that was grads 1 through 8. Then for high school kids had to go to Naples by bus, leaving at six o’clock in the morning and getting back at six or a little bit later in the evening. An alternative for high school was to send the kids to the DOD high school at an Air Force Base near Zaragosa, Spain, just a little bit out of Madrid.
SIEGEL: Which did you use?
SIMON: Zaragoza. Our daughter went there for two years. It was the decision of, getting up and getting on a bus at six in the morning, we just thought it better for her not to have all that time on a bus.
SIEGEL: We had a daughter that took the bus to Naples one year, and it was sleeping all the way down and partying all the way back. It was the coming back that concerned us parents a little bit.
SIMON: Yep. Isn’t it great to be a parent at a place like that?
SIEGEL: Yeah, right. Well, that’s, I think, a pretty good rundown. I have just one last question here. Of course, the Italians were sensitive to the behavior of our crew… of all American personnel for that matter, some of whom were dependent kids. This was particularly true where it related to the drug problem. We worked closely with the Carabinieri as I’m sure you did. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
SIMON: We had a good relationship with the Carabinieri, the Italian national police and the Italian military. Again LCDR Avis helped in giving us a listing of which branches of the respective services we would be facing with on a daily and weekly basis. It took a while before we got to a point where we were meeting almost on a regular weekly basis with the Carabinieri. Regarding their dealing with our peoples’ conduct ashore, they were strict, but I don’t remember them taking action that I thought was overreacting. Drugs were a fact of life and both they and we had to live with it. After the better part of six months, we had more interface meetings with them. I can’t come up with any cases that happened that they responded excessively when our kids got in a little bit of trouble. I thought the working relationship stayed pretty good.
SIEGEL: Well, didn’t you have a permanent shore patrol assigned there that was direct liaison with them?
SIMON: Yes, indeed. That came about probably about three months into our arriving. Again, a learning curve or what you will. The senior SP was a chief, and it seems to me he was married to an Italian lady and was there on a second tour. I think he was one of the ones transferred to us from the Springfield. We were looking for continuity.
SIEGEL: We had a first-class named Dye (Kenneth T.). I can’t remember what his rating area was (ET1), but he was an Italian speaker. I think his wife (Rosa) was Italian. And that was a big advantage, of course.
SIMON: There was another person, a retired Navy man, again married to an Italian lady, and had been there on tours before. There were several like the radiomen you had. There were always radioman, mostly Chiefs, that had rotated from ComSta Naples, around the Med and back to Naples for the last five or six years.
SIEGEL: Right. There was that group of expatriates?
SIMON: That’s exactly right.
SIEGEL: Expatriate sailors comprised one group. There were also certain ethnic groups that were tight like the large population of Filipino guys, mostly on deck or in the mess specialist rating, that were well-adjusted and really professional. We also had a number of blacks on board, some of whom became good leaders. Can you say anything about that?
SIMON: Yes. We had 49 Afro Americans in a crew of 950, not counting the staff. The 2nd Division was primarily Filipino. At that time, the vast majority of all of the stewards were Filipino. They took great pride in their work, no matter where.
SIEGEL: Best wardroom mess I’ve ever been in.
SIMON: It was unbelievable, no question about it. They were so proud of what they did.
BMC Mitchel who ran 2nd Division and BMCM (Thomas) Santella who ran 1st Division were great leader. There was some friction between some of the black Sailors and the Filipinos, the blacks saying the Filipinos were given a better place to work on deck than they were. The chief came up with a plan: Okay, let’s check this out. They identified specific spaces on the weather decks that the black sailors would work as a group, and the Filipinos would work as a group. That eliminated the problem and it improved the overall quality of work because once they tried to be competitive they couldn’t come up with a race issue and it helped a lot.
SIEGEL: That’s innovative leadership for you.
SIMON: On the morale and disciplinary problems, when we were out about twenty days — I’m going to combine something here — after our arrival in Gaeta, our first time underway, our first port call was Istanbul. We anchored out, and a seaman coxswain, who was a black sailor lost one of his mates overboard. He gave the helm to another sailor and jumped overboard and saved the sailor that had fallen overboard.
That got a lot of publicity on the ship and he obviously deserved it.
SIEGEL: That’s a real morale builder.
SIMON You bet. We were in Istanbul for a four or five-day visit. On our third day, I believe it was, we got orders to emergency sortie. That was the first message that came in. The bottom line was, the Israelis were at war against the Egyptians and Syrians. The Egyptians had attacked first. We were ordered to take station off Crete and stand by for evacuation of British nationals. That was on 6th October ‘73. I’m going to tie this back to your question on the minority and morale issue because it reared its head during this upcoming operation.
They called it the Arab-Israeli conflict of October of 1973. That spawned, and I’m quoting now from the military magazine Sea Power that said, “This conflict spawned the most severe naval crisis of the Cold War.” The Soviet leader, Brezhnev, threatened to enforce a ceasefire with unilateral intentions.
The Soviet Union had eighty ships available, including fifty-seven combatants capable of launching at least forty cruise missiles in the first salvo. Admiral Joe Moorer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “We would lose our ass in the Eastern Mediterranean if war broke out there.” Initially, there were forty-eight American warships against fifty-seven Soviet vessels. The American fleet consisted of the USS Little Rock, located south of Crete; four attack subs; Task Force 60, consisting of the carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt and its DD escorts; Task Force 61, with the Independence and its DDs; against the Soviet force of the Fifth Escadra, including thirteen submarines, several missile-equipped cruisers, destroyers, LSDs, minesweepers, and regular destroyers.
The Kremlin sent word to the White House that said, “Interfering with the Fifth Escadra would be met with full force”. Soviet anti-carrier groups had been targeting the FDR, the Independence, and the Little Rock, and our amphibious task group was also under targeting. Our DOD ordered a DEFCON Three. On October 26 the Soviets launched an intensive anti-carrier exercise using each American task group as a virtual missile target.
SIEGEL: That’s pretty scary stuff, isn’t it?
SIMON: You’re damned right it is. By 3 November the Soviet force consisted of ninety-five ships capable of launching eighty-eight cruise missiles in a first salvo, approximately thirteen at each of the task groups. We now had sixty ships, including the carrier Kennedy that had just checked in. Admiral Murphy stated: “The two fleets are sitting on a pond in close proximity and the stage was now set for a war at sea.” On February 19 a Soviet official briefing on anti-carrier operations stated that the battle would be encapsulated as a ’battle of the first salvo’, meaning all Soviet ships would fire all their weapons on the order to shoot.
On 30 October, Washington authorized our carrier groups to finally leave the area and head west. Our battle groups had been very vulnerable this entire period within range of missile attacks because they had been denied freedom of maneuver by Washington. The Soviets prepared to land troops on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal. By now, 3 November, they had ninety-five ships and we had sixty.
SIEGEL: Those were the days when many questioned whether we had ‘the greatest navy in the world’.
SIMON: Now I’ve given you the strategic picture that had the Little Rock at sea for an extended period. I’m getting back to what started this when you brought up the subject of morale problems.
In the middle of that crisis, at 2222 one night, I forgot the date, I got a call that there was a problem on the mess decks. I then notified the skipper. He said he would go down, then call me if he wanted me. He did call and I notified the Chief's mess and selected officers. Seven of our most junior sailors had initiated the disturbance that had then moved on to one of the berthing spaces where they used dogging wrenches to hit shipmates sleeping in their bunks. It took some time to get it settled down. When it did, our brig was fully occupied, so we requested from CINCNAVEUR permission to transfer these personnel by helo the next morning to the carrier and then on to Naples. That followed.
I, and I know others on the ship, had a great feeling of pride and satisfaction in the leadership displayed by our career crew, both officers and men.
It was during that time you knew where your leadership was and you knew where your leadership was not. One of these leaders was SH1 Harold Chambers, An Afro-American. He was not a member of any part of our minority program, yet he was always visible, but involved in a only a minimum amount of quieting. He was a big man and so obvious, and when he’d walk into a disturbed area, it quieted right down.
SIEGEL: Now, Admiral, I think we need to set the record straight here. This disturbance, as you say, was initiated by young blacks.
SIMON: I defer to you, and the answer is correct.
SIEGEL: Yes and Chambers is a black man?
SIMON: Oh, yes. Yes. That’s right. I guess it got to be a personal thing. This went on all night. I was not going to go in that much detail. This started, as I said, after 2200, and it ended at about 0515 .
SIEGEL: What was the date? Do you recall?
SIMON: I used to have it on my mind; I don’t remember. It was right in the middle while we were in this October ’73 war battle condition.
SIEGEL: In early October, right.
SIMON: Oh, yes, it had to be, knowing it was ‘6th October War’. We were there about twenty-some days, so it was somewhere around the 10th of October. Petty Officer Chambers was never out of my sight, nor I his. He also stayed close to Captain Cullins. He was there all the time. I never realized ‘til well after the incident that he was my bodyguard.
SIMON: It made quite an impression on me. At the time of this incident, Petty Officer Chambers was an 18-year First Class. He retired five years later as a Master Chief and he ran a small exchange at NAS Oceana. He knew where I worked and asked if I would speak at his retirement.
SIEGEL: Isn’t that great?
SIMON: I accepted his invitation. Captain Cullins and I drove to Norfolk together from DC. There was a unique gathering. I’ll bet you there was up to thirty people there that were with him in Gaeta.
SIEGEL: Isn’t that good?
SIMON: It just reflected the respect he had.
SIEGEL: Yeah, a great story. A great story on top of a tough story.
SIMON: That’s right. Well, let me finish. I’ll give you another bad one and then we’ll go on.
I want to finish the story. The ones that started the disturbance on the Rock were taken ashore. Naples has no brig, so they were just on liberty in the bunkrooms, where they destroyed the room they were in. Then they stole a city bus and drove it all over Naples. They were transferred before their court-martials to Rota, which had brig facilities. One of them was more violent and was shipped back to the States. So these weren’t just your ordinary young kids. This was just going back to the problem of some belligerent young toughs coming off-the-street in the inner-city, no RefTra to try to bond them with their shipmates, and so forth. It was all part of the problem.
SIEGEL: Part of the poor screening that we had talked about earlier.
Two months after the at-sea riot, we were back in Gaeta in a position to clear up the outstanding legal problems of the seven rioters. By this time, five of them had been transferred to our base in Rota, Spain and were pulling brig time. One had been shipped back to the States and was doing ‘hard time’. That left one for us to process.
SIEGEL: You put him through an Article 15 mast?
SIMON: Yes. The ACLU sent three lawyers down from Frankfurt, Germany. They objected to the case being processed on the ship because the Commanding Officer, who was also the Convening Authority, could not be unbiased as he was involved in settling the riot. His testimony would not be totally accepted. The result was the sailor did receive punishment, but not what it should have been Captain Cullins said: “If this ever happens again, but in port, what we have to do is you go down, and I will only come down after everything is cleaned up.”
SIEGEL: That sounds like a smart plan.
SIMON: Would you believe, about two months after the first one, we were back in Gaeta and I get a call just at evening meal on a Sunday at 1800. There was a disturbance. I went down and it was nothing of the size of the first one, but I’ll always remember this kid from Detroit, he was black, and he stood about five-foot-six max (if he had high heels on). He poked me in the stomach.
SIMON: He said, “I am a product of the laws of the streets of Detroit. I live by them and they’re the only laws I will ever live by.” Well, like I said, he was one and...
SIEGEL: Ha, talk about brazen, huh?
SIMON: Yeah. I could have picked him up and thrown him off the ship, physically. It just wasn’t a big issue, but he thought he was.
I think there were three that were the instigators in that little incident. We took them to mast. The ACLU came down again but now they didn’t have a leg to stand on because the Captain had not been on the ship, and he could walk in clean and be the authority.
So that was some of the negative side.
SIEGEL: And they were court-martialed?
SIMON: Yes. Every one of them. Unfortunately one of the first group was the same coxswain that had saved the sailor over the side in Istanbul.
SIEGEL: Oh, dear.
SIMON: His father was a minister. So that was kind of a double-whamie.
I’ll go back to our potential sea battle with the...
SIEGEL: With the Soviets?
SIMON: Yes, as it was described in Sea Power.
SIEGEL: Sea Power, by the way, is a publication of the Navy League of the United States.
SIMON: Right. I’ll say a few words on what I observed during that time.
Every night, between eleven and midnight, I used to turn in. Before I did, I always checked into flag plot just to see what the world was doing. They had to know where all their ships were; that was part of their job. A Flag Watch Officer told me that they had just received orders to head toward Crete and to pick up the Brits that we were originally told to stand by for. He no more than told me that then the order came on the speaker that was on the CinC’s circuit to London, and a baritone voice said, and I’m quoting, “Turn that ship around and resume your station as directed.” Needless to say, we changed course and came back. I thought I’d heard that voice before; it had to be Admiral Hal Sheer who had visited the Rock. That’s an opinion, but it seems to be obvious. He was the one that moved the ship. I could never find out. Did he actually operate with that much independent authority? I just don’t know, but I’ll always remember that voice.
SIEGEL: So that voice was the CinC in London?
SIMON: That’s my opinion. Admiral Murphy was obviously dealing with him all the time. Murphy was his on-scene commander as far as our SixthFlt force was concerned.
SIEGEL: Almost like a command from Darth Vader.
SIMON: Anyhow, that’s the total first-hand experience of mine in that so-called big war.
SIEGEL: Going a little further with the operations of the Little Rock in the Med, say a little bit about the normal employment of the ship aside from the big flap with the October War.
SIMON: I think we participated in two NATO exercises during the two years that I was there. The sea time/shore time was probably 55 percent at sea and 45 percent in port. Compared to other ships I’ve been on, that was not an excessive amount of sea time. But that was ours In trying to conduct training, be it in port or underway, with Admiral Murphy, it was ‘don’t rock the boat’, because he had a lot of work to do. That was made very clear.
One case was a little bit different, real early on. Captain Cullins and his wife flew back to the States for their son’s wedding. They were only gone, I’ll say a maximum of four days, but the day after they left, I got a call from Admiral Murphy’s orderly.
SIEGEL: So you’re acting CO, of course.
SIMON: I think that’s what they called it, but I never thought of it that way.
In any case his orderly called and said, “The Admiral would like to see you in his cabin.”
Okay. What the hell did I do? I went down. Murphy was not a real friendly individual. I mean, his personality was such, any way you want to take it…. I got down and I said, “You called, Admiral?” He was in the dining area. He said, “Yes. Come on in my bedroom.”
Now what’s happening, I thought.
So we got back there and he said, I don’t even think he addressed me as anything, nothing, not as “XO,” or “Roger,” or anything else. That was normal for him. He said, and I paraphrase, “I am responsible for the entire European task,” or whatever it was, “of the Navy. Now, how can I concentrate with that much important work to be done. Your deck people out there are chipping on the bulkhead.” And they were. The 1st Division was chipping paint and, like I said, that was really the first months we were there, real early. From then on it was made clear, you don’t do any chipping while the Admiral’s on board, especially on the bow end of the ship.
SIMON: You had to understand priorities.
SIEGEL: You know why I’m chuckling, of course.
SIEGEL: It doesn’t matter who the admiral is, really. On a flagship, the admiral calls the shots.
SIMON: Well, I don’t know. I feel they didn’t have that much to do, but what do I know? But that was one of the things you worked with.
Along that line, when we started out on operations we tried to make the best use of that time for training, but with Admiral Murphy onboard we could not disturb him. That really restricted our at-sea training also. I don’t even think we had any tracking for our weapons. I can’t remember having any air targets for anti-air training. That is not what the ship was designed for according to the staff.
I guess, while we’re talking about the Admiral’s comments, periodically I would stand at the stern brow during liberty call, and every once in a while Admiral Murphy would be there.
SIEGEL: You mean, just to be there?
SIMON: Yeah, watching the crew go off. And, as you might remember, when the good CNO authorized civilian clothes and all those wonderful things, he forgot to give them a place to properly stow them. Then all the civilian clothing and everything else looked like they’d been sleeping in them. That’s my very prejudiced opinion, but they did. Then add that to the obsession with cultural attire.
SIEGEL: That’s very accurately stated, I think, Admiral.
SIMON: The clothing customs of the culture of the young sailor is what we’re talking about. We’d have the most God-awful costumes and stuff going off the ship. Admiral Murphy said this one time, “XO, can’t you do something about the clothing that these young men are wearing off the ship?” I said, “Admiral, as soon as you have a Sixth Fleet instruction written to that effect, I will gladly execute it.” He didn’t say anything, and walked away, that was that.
SIEGEL: And you still made admiral!
SIMON: Well, it gets worse or better, whichever way you look at it. Not from him, but I’ll put “our” in quotes, our mutual ‘other boss’ Captain Baggett, the Chief of Staff. He called me one afternoon and said, “XO, what time does your ship’s store close?” I said, “At 1600, Captain.” “Well,” he said, “I just sent my orderly down there and it is 1555 and the store is closed. How in the hell can you ever expect to drive a ship if you can’t even run a ship’s store?” Okay, what else is new? He forgot that I already had commanded a ship, but he chose to ignore that.
There was another captain on the staff. He was involved with ASW. He was carrying six stars and was a problem just to get along with. And, his wife took orders from him, and when you saw them both ashore at one of these port-to-port calls we talked about earlier, she was one that was never satisfied. That caused a flap when my wife got an air-conditioned hotel room that I had nothing to do with when we went into Alexandria, Egypt, and his wife didn’t. But those little things stuck in our memories.
SIEGEL: Oh, it was fun, wasn’t it? It was great fun.
SIMON: Oh, yeah. Let me close out a little bit on the at-sea memories. It fits several places we visited, or at least one place. On very short notice, we received word that our next port visit would be Alexandria, Egypt. That would have been on July 28 of ’74. As you know, Egypt had been a Soviet client state for twenty years. The Rock would be the first American warship to make a call there in those 20 years. We were told, “Do not go public with this visit until after we leave Gaeta because the visit has not yet been declassified. However make sure to obtain visas for any ship’s company dependents that will be traveling to Alexandria to meet the ship.” That was a bit difficult, but it was done when twenty wives traveled to Rome and picked up their visas.
In Alexandria, everybody seemed to be on the American side, which was interesting considering we were supposed to be the enemy as far as the Egyptians were concerned. You couldn’t find, really, a friendlier group of people. I mean, the taxicab drivers, the store keepers, the man in the street. There was a lot of English being spoken. The crew morale was sky high at that point. Earlier, everybody was concerned about it, but by the time it was half over we heard many favorable comments from the crew.
SIEGEL: Well, we were there a year later.
SIMON: Yeah, I knew that.
SIEGEL: It was after our participation in the Canal reopening that we went around to a port visit in Alexandria, and that friendliness impressed me. The Egyptians were quite vocal in their dislike of the Soviets, largely because of the dour personality of the Russians, who had been there for a number of years.
SIMON: That’s right. We found there was a large Jewish business community there that was highly respected and accepted by the Egyptians.
SIMON: I don’t mean the multibillionaire types, but the cab drivers, for instance. I distinctly remember the ones we used were almost all Jewish. The Jewish store keepers, too, who had a section of town. But here are two peoples, Arabs and Jews, that have been fighting for years and they had a very good working relationship in town. It was great.
In one of the comments in your paper, you asked about the pride in the Rock by the ship’s company and so forth. There were many times when plenty of pride was shown. I’ve already touched on the Sailor that had jumped over in Istanbul and had saved the man’s life. We already talked of SH1 Chambers. The name we were trying to recover earlier was STCS Jacques, who was a Senior Chief Sonarman.
SIEGEL: Right. J-A-C-Q-U-E-S.
SIMON: Yeah. And he volunteered for anything dealing with welfare and recreation. He managed it one hundred percent and did an excellent job. He distributed port pamphlets that he got hold of that we reproduced locally. If anybody had a question, what’s available in...? he had the answer and he would be the author of the documents we published based on his research, that kind of thing. I’m sure he got kidded a lot by his contemporaries, because of his unique specific rating capabilities that he wasn’t using as a sonarman.
SIMON: Here’s a memory on the humorous side. The first time I met Admiral Shear as CinC, he came down and had a tour on the ship and, of course, we had the normal walkthrough. The Command Master Chief, MMCM Frank was leading a small party made up of the Admiral Captain Cullins, The Chief Engineer and I was bringing up the rear. We were in the engineering spaces and Admiral Shear, turned to one of the FNs and asked, “How do you like Gaeta?” And the fireman didn’t hesitate. He responded like a bullet and said, “It sucks.” That’s a quote. And the admiral asked, “Well, what do you mean?” And before he could answer, MMCM Frank turned to the Admiral and said, “He doesn’t like it, Admiral.” I enjoyed that ‘moment of truth’ and the telling of it later.
SIEGEL: I’m sure.
SIMON: And here’s another thought on morale and pride, both, There was the Sixth Fleet Music Show. It had a tremendous popularity and effect on the pride side. They had an excellent professional Navy band and singing and dancing groups made up of ship’s company people and dependents that had been recruited. They were recruited back in the States before we ever went over.
SIEGEL: Is that right? I think I may not have known that.
SIMON: Yeah. They came over as I said earlier on in our first discussion. I don’t know if it was the Springfield or the staff that sent over an officer and a chief to brief us.
SIEGEL: Yeah, you did mention that.
SIMON: Another one that came was the band master who spent the better part of a week and, among other things, held interviews with prospective singers and dancers. Admiral Murphy’s predecessor was a man named Miller. He was a musician in his own right, and he pushed what he called the Sixth Fleet Music Show to the ultimate, getting air travel to get the band all over Europe, not just in the ports where the ship went. When Murphy came in, he just followed it up.
Well, with this group, when you went into port they would give a concert and the turnout was always great. We would see our own sailors and dependents performing in the shows. It was a real treat because the Show didn’t actually perform that much in Gaeta itself except for Christmas or something like that. But, when you saw those uniforms up on the stage with the local nationals clapping, we had a feeling of great pride.
SIEGEL: Yes, I remember that; it was something special.
SIMON: I had a personal interest in it because my wife was in that group. So she got a kick out of it as well as getting to see a lot of places. They went up to London, Leige, Belgium, Bromsum, Holland, and Central France. They certainly exhibited pride.
SIEGEL: Yeah. Sixth Fleet Singers, is that what they called them?
SIMON: The Sixth Fleet Music Show is what its official title was. The singers were one part of the show.
SIEGEL: Right. Another thing that I recall that you passed on to your successors was the pre-port visit briefings that you would do for the crew on closed circuit TV. I don’t remember using Senior Chief Jacques, but I know that occasionally you would get somebody on there with charts and things to show them what the city looked like and talk a little bit about the sensitivities of the natives. You know, what to look out for, what to take advantage of, and etc., etc.
SIMON: Well, it was interesting comparing the Little Rock to the other ships on deployment. By the time I made the Med deployment as the Rock’s XO, I had made eleven Mediterranean deployments, so there was a lot of experiences to compare it with. But again, with the Rock being a large capital ship with its responsibility to carry the flag and still be ready to do the combatant side, it was a whole different ballgame. It was difficult to get the closeness with 900-plus Sailors that you can on a small ship. The bigger the ship, the more problems you might expect with personnel ashore, it’s just a fact of life.
SIMON: But the Rock did not have that. One of the big things that helped is that the Rock never went into a port where a carrier or any other ships were visiting or had frequently visited, because the Admiral was selective. I bet we went into Palma, Majorca, at least four times during my two years. It was the best port in the Med.
SIEGEL: You had the good fortune, because we did not go to Spanish ports.
SIMON: Oh, you really lost out.
SIEGEL: That was because our Admiral did not like Spanish ports.
SIMON: But he sure liked the French, didn’t he?
SIEGEL: He loved to speak French and was quite fluent, but he couldn’t speak Spanish and was reluctant to learn it, according to reports..
SIMON: That’s exactly right. In getting to know the populace as well as you can on a four or five-day visit, I found the French were the hardest of all. That had been my experience until French port visits on the Rock. I don’t know who identified them, but a number of French that I met while on the Rock were part of the Resistance. There was a retired community in the Marseilles and St. Tropez area. It was a whole different part of France than I had seen before. It was a France that we liked to remember as a close ally in the world wars.
SIEGEL: I had the good fortune of meeting some of those gents.
SIMON: The Spanish ports such as Barcelona and Palma had more people speaking English than you’d ever find in France.
And, if you didn’t speak perfect French they’d look down their nose at you. Maybe I’m just bitter because I failed French in George Washington University and I took it twice. I still can’t conjugate a verb. So, maybe it’s personal.
SIEGEL: Well, one of the things that we used to tell ourselves that we had to be able to do, was to strut like a peacock because we were a flagship, and soar like an eagle because we were a Talos missile cruiser.
SIMON: I like that. I think that is great. You know, when you come up with the right phrase, it can build morale. I mean, the kids are just looking for something to grasp to, I think. When it’s their ship, when you can hear them talk about “my ship,” you know you’ve got them, because that doesn’t happen all the time.
SIEGEL: But, you know, I’m sure you experienced the same thing, when you’re doing your ’peacock’ act in a port with very important dignitaries arriving and departing, and trying to make sure that everything is just right, it’s not without some sweat.
SIMON: Oh, absolutely. Again, you’re dealing with sailor in an average age group of from eighteen to twenty-five max, something like that. It took training and discipline to teach them the necessity for these important ceremonial efforts. I keep harping on this bit of not having an opportunity to unite the crew before we got there. That is just the biggest cross to bear and it’s not a cop-out. I think it’s a fact of life in getting the crew to that point where they’re proud of their ship. I’m sure you’ve experienced that too. Here’s another case where unit pride shows itself. Two or three ships are in a port and the different crews get together at one facility, shall we say a bar, and you’ll hear one group talking very negatively about their ship, then crew member from a different ship will say, “Yeah, we agree with you,” and the first one gets mad. “Hey, I can talk about it, but you can’t do that,” you know. Sailors are a great bunch.
SIEGEL: Oh, yeah. Family feuds are okay, but don’t get involved if it’s not your family, right?
SIMON: That’s it.
Well, a little bit on logistics if we can move in that direction.
SIMON: I don’t have that much to offer, but logistics and security were important in all the ports, but specifically in Gaeta, security was the biggest concern and challenge. It was very simple to hit us from the steep hills we had right above the pier head. The first month or more we were there we had Navy specialists…I forget where we drew them from…that came aboard and helped us draw up security plans. We identified locations that we should always have under some form of visual observation, even if it was paying close attention when we were just out driving around. We needed to be paying attention, then consider how to counter a threat. How many places were there, if they wanted to come at you physically, where could we best put in a road block, that kind of stuff.
SIEGEL: Yeah. And, of course, you’ve got your Marine Detachment involved in this.
SIMON: Oh, yeah. There was the Marine Captain that was the head of it. His concern was probably where the survey came from because a Marine colonel came down the first times we had one of these drills and he was very helpful in setting it up, recommending the various obstacles to physical boarding, etc. As you well know, we were sitting targets. Thinking back, using today’s experience with terrorism for comparison, we were extremely fortunate, there’s no question about it.
SIEGEL: Yeah. And, of course, the Marines added an extra element of interest in the XO’s job of directing the crew.
SIMON: Oh, yes, they were good to have as shipmates The Marines, set the example, as far as I’m concerned, for conduct on board. They were so extremely proud to be Marine and The chain of command was very tight within the Marine community. You didn’t have one pay grade that was junior ever question somebody above them. I saw more of that in my command tour at the ComSta in Morocco where we had a Marine barracks. There, I had a light colonel as the CO, and, again, that official and personal relationship was gratifying. The Marines are a unique branch of our military, no question about it.
SIEGEL: It has been a tradition to assign Marines to battleship, carriers and cruisers to serve, if necessary, as a landing party (and in the old days to control unruly sailors). In ships like the Rock, they provided security for the embarked fleet commander and the nuke-armed Talos missiles.
SIMON: I did not know all of that. See, Kent, the longer you stay around the Navy, the more you find out you don’t know.
SIEGEL: Yeah. Well, I think that’s certainly true of a couple of old retired salts engaged in this conversation.
SIMON: Right you are. On the logistics side of it, we only anchored out in Gaeta once for sure, and maybe twice, in all of the two years I was there. We routinely made the pier, and the mooring pilot that they had was excellent and it was just a very easy operation.
We did have two VertReps at the pier, which was unusual. They were spread apart, probably one a year or something like that. The usual means of supply was at sea by UnRep or VertRep, While in port, barging local groceries, etc to the ship on lighters was necessary because vehicles could not be driven on the fuel pier where we moored.
SIEGEL: Yeah. Do you remember the Italians complaining during the VertReps about all of the helos flying down into their harbor and depositing their loads on the Little Rock?
SIMON: Yes and I’m sure you remember from where we both lived, our families had ringside seats on the back deck for watching the helos come in onto the Rock from the supply ship in the harbor., I always thought that was interesting.
SIEGEL: For the record, my family and I relieved the Admiral (then Commander) Simon and his family of the beautiful terraced apartment on the high hill that we called American Hill, overlooking the harbor and the ship.
SIMON: I’d never lived in a setting like that in my entire life. What did we have a three level deck?
SIEGEL: Right and two terrace levels.
SIMON: Two beautiful terrace levels.
SIEGEL: Yeah, with roses; it was nice.
SIMON: It couldn’t have been better. Heating and AC was something else. Their version was two kerosene stoves or something like that in the winter. It was usually breezy and comfortable in the summer. It was OK.
The department on the Rock that I feel carried the greatest load and was most essential, was Engineering. You can not ignore your missiles, no question about that, but here was the Rock, an old ship, patched up in Boston and trying to make it through four years deployed. In my time we never had an upkeep period. The engineers had to keep it running twenty four hours a day the whole doggone time, and they did it. The fact that we never missed an underway commitment speaks highly for the Engineers. They had a real challenge and they carried it out to the ultimate of professionalism, as far as I was concerned.
SIEGEL: Yeah, that was a tough go for them. They didn’t have nearly the liberty that other sailors on the ship had because of the watch requirements to keep the ship steaming at all times.
SIMON: That’s right. And I honestly believe that with anything we associate with crew problems, be it drugs, be it deportment, or anything like that, there were fewer of them in the Engineering Department. When I think about the departments and divisions, they had the hardest, the hottest, and the dirtiest jobs, and I just didn’t see those kids too much in the mast procedures.
SIEGEL: That type of very tough service the ship went through, steaming continuously for all that time except for a short period we were in dry dock getting a rudder fixed, ultimately took its toll. By that, I mean it led to the ship’s decommissioning because she was, so they say, ‘rode hard and put away wet’. The Board of Inspection and Survey (InSurv) came on board, and after a major inspection declared she was unfit for further service. The main reason was she had not had an opportunity for proper maintenance over a period of about three years because of overseas home porting.
SIMON: But if you stop and think, the age that she was, twenty eight when we deployed, she was twenty-eight years old, and now you’re talking thirty-two. Today, they want to decommission our new ships after twenty.
SIEGEL: Well, I think one of the questions that we like to ask in these interviews, Admiral, is this. Every ship has its cast of characters, and some people that stand out in your mind. Now, you’ve mentioned a few. Any others you’d like to discuss a little bit?
SIMON: I have to apologize on names. I don’t know if it’s my age or the thirty-plus years since we sailed together. I totally agree with you. Every ship’s got to have them and does have them. I know that Ship’s Bos’n Bob Hummel was a colorful individual who could come up lots of funny antics that caused many people to laugh. Our number two man for humor was LCDR John Culvor, who was selected for CDR and transferred about the end of the first year of our deployment. The two of them were always cutting up on the weather decks or in the wardroom or wherever it was.
SIEGEL: Well, every ship, of course, has lots of them, and a ship the size of the Little Rock has abundant talent and many different personalities. We had a lot of interesting skits and shows and even did some stage plays with a group of players. Do you remember what we called that?
SIMON: Little Theater.
SIEGEL: You got it.
SIMON: That was great entertainment for cast and patrons alike.
SIEGEL: We’ve talked about the logistics problems, and of course, aside from getting some groceries by barge from the sea wall there at the NATO fuel pier, it was all UnRep/VertRep at sea. That and the fact that we had to steam all the time meant there had to be a lot of self-sufficiency.
SIMON: There was always a little humorous side of things. It has to do with our mooring to the NATO fuel pier. In ’74, my son, who at that time had completed one year at the University of Maryland Program in Munich, had a summer job at the ship’s little boat pool we had there in GAETA and he accumulated a few dollars. He said if we ever got to Spain and he named the port—my mind just went blank on the name of the port-there’s a Bultaco motorcycle factory there, and he would sure would like to get one if he had enough money. He said, “I don’t care when you go, but if you do, see if you can buy one.” Well, the very next time underway we went there, and it’s the only time. So I went over there and, sure, I bought the cycle. They hoisted it aboard. We got back, I took it off, and we had it in the house.
The next time I went to Naples, I went to the import office, or whatever it was, to get it registered. The Italian guy, speaking perfect English asked, “ Where is the motorcycle now?” I said, “it’s in my house.” And, he said, “It can’t be.” I said, “Why?” “Well, the only place that you can bring it in to Italy is through Naples. You’ve got to get it back on the ship and bring the ship down and when the ship comes in, then I can get it registered.” I said, “That will never happen.” He said, “Then it can never...”
SIEGEL: So, no ticket?
SIMON: Wait, there was a pause and he asked, “Oh, your ship is at the NATO pier? I see people fishing off of that pier.” I said, “Yeah, all the time.” He asked, “Well, how do you get permission to fish?” I said, “You have to get the permission.” And, he asked, “ Where do I go to get that?” I said, “You get it from me.” He hesitated a minute, and said, “You have authority to...?” I said, “Yes.” and I gave him a permit to fish and he found a way that I could keep the motorcycle in the house. So, there’s politics Italian-style and a little bit of humor to boot.
SIEGEL: Yeah, so typical of the way things were done there.
SIEGEL: Now, as we near the end of this tape—you served as executive officer on the Rock how long?
SIEGEL: Twenty-three months?
SIMON: Yeah. One month short of two years.
SIEGEL: And that tour ended in March ’75 when you were relieved by one Commander Kent Siegel.
SIMON: How about that?
SIMON: Fresh from the ‘Submarine Navy’.
SIEGEL: Yeah. So, looking back, Admiral, in retrospect, have you got any overall impressions of that nearly two-year tour of duty?
SIMON: Well, yes. Little Rock was the eighth ship I had served on as a member of ship’s company. With the exception of my first ship where I had served as RMSA-RM2, I never left at the end of a tour with dry eyes. Until the last three months of my Rock assignment, I knew this was going to be my first end-of-tour transfer where I would walk off very dry-eyed. At that time a series of things happened that I will always remember.
Master Chief McCurry, the CMAA, was a very good guitar player. He and his wife had put together a group of about 8 to 10 chiefs and their wives that enjoyed country music. They had been meeting in their homes once a month for about a year. About three months before the end of my tour, Master Chief McCurry invited my wife and me to one of their jam sessions. We went and enjoyed it and joined them for two more before leaving.
The Chief’s Mess invited my wife and me to join them for a dinner in town. This was followed by several more.
The First Class Mess, with Petty Officer Chambers as President, invited Phyllis and me to join the mess for a dinner and dance at a supper club in Formia. We accepted. Chambers taught Phyliss the ‘Bump’ - the dance of the day and it was another enjoyable evening.
There were the normal Wardroom functions. Those were happy experiences those last three months. Then walking past the entire officers’ formation on the Quarterdeck and being piped over the side, my eyes were not dry. In accordance with Navy tradition, I never looked back, I have a picture of that walk.
SIEGEL: I was there and I was impressed by the warmth and dignity of that ‘send-off’ ceremony.
SIMON: Kent, you had asked about the big transition in coming from the ‘Small Ship Navy’ It was — there’s got to be a better word, but it was a radical, radical change, and starting primarily with the size of the respective ships. When you go from the command of 250 or so to 950 or so, there is no way you can compare. Well, yeah, there’s every way to compare it. It’s a hell of a big difference, there’s no question.
SIEGEL: Sure, sure.
SIMON: Part of the shift in approach comes when you go from a ship that has been operating intensely, as the Eddie Mac had, and get to a ship like the Rock that had been in overhaul for some time. The Rock was in Boston Naval Shipyard for three-months overhaul, and the time there just grew and grew and, it seems to me, it came out something over five months later. I may be off on that somewhat but it’s pretty close to it.
Well, when you go from that type of daily operations to none, it’s a big shocker. Getting the new ship ready to deploy and being told you’re not going to have a RefTra and you’re going overseas directly from an extended yard period… that’s tough. Then, the challenge of a cross-decking crew resulted in a split crew philosophy. With all of that, the tour as XO on the Little Rock provided me with the greatest challenge in leadership during my twenty years of sea duty on nine ships, if that sets the tone. I don’t say that in any negative way. You’re talking about differences, and with your background, you’ve got to be connecting with what I’m saying.
SIEGEL: Yeah. That puts things in bold print.
SIMON: Yeah. Okay. That’s about it with the Rock, and we’ll move on.
SIEGEL: Just one more comment, Admiral, which I’d like to get from you. Shortly after that period of time, and about a year into my tour there, there was kind of a major change in the Navy, in terms of the way that discipline would be handled. This tightened up the regulations that governed the activities of our sailors, their dress, their conduct ashore, etc. It was something of a retrenchment after the relaxations of the Zumwalt era.
SIMON: Yeah. I more read about those changes than I experienced them in my subsequent assignments. But, it was kind of a unique situation again, when I left the Rock and went across the Med over to Naval Communications Station, Morocco. Here again, I talked earlier about the number of radiomen that had rotated around the Med for years. I got to Morocco and we basically had an established leadership group. They were happy as larks. At that time, those stations were classified as sea duty. (They changed that about six or seven years later.) In Morocco you had not only the happy sailors, chiefs and first class, but very happy wives, a lot of whom were Italian and thought they never left home, so to speak.
For morale, your challenge would be for your junior sailors, as is always the case. They all had gone through a school or two before they got into the fleet, or came to the ComSta, but they were pretty mature. So, the sort of problems handed to us on the Rock, by the system, just didn’t exist over there. But that’s the same time when, as you said, the laws were changing on what could be gotten away with, or at least that’s how I looked at it.
SIEGEL: Yeah. Well, I think we’ll stop it right there, and in our next discussion we’ll talk about your career after the Little Rock.
SIMON: I look forward to it.
- - - - - - - End of Part Three - - - - - - -
Interview Transcript: June 26, 2008 - Part Four
CAPTAIN SIEGEL: I’m Kent Siegel and I’m back in touch by phone with Rear Admiral Roger O. Simon, USN (Retired) who is at his summer home in Northwest Minnesota. Today, we will be getting recollections of his career following his service as Executive Officer in the USS Little Rock in 1974 and ’75.
Good morning, Admiral.
SIMON: Good morning. I always want to say “shipmate,” and we have that little time together between coming and going, but...
SIEGEL: Yeah, maybe a week.
SIMON: There you go.
SIEGEL: When we last talked, Admiral, you had departed the Rock and you’d begun your assignment as Commanding Officer of the Naval Communication Station in Morocco. So, please pick it up from there.
SIMON: You might remember how I received the request, whatever you choose to call it, to be XO on Little Rock. There was kind of a similarity when it came to Morocco. I was on the tail end of my Rock assignment. About four or five days after the notice came out announcing the selection for Captain, I get a message from Captain Bob Morris, who was the first skipper of the Rock that ‘hired’ me, so to speak, and he was now my detailer, i.e. the Surface Captain Detailer along with heading all the Surface Officer detailing part of BuPers. I got a message from him, and I quote. It said, “Your friendly detailer would like to have you give him a call; nothing important.”
SIMON: Yeah. ’Nothing important’, except my entire Navy career probably depended on it. I found he had a strange sense of humor in the three months I had worked for him. So anyhow, he said, “If you choose, I’m going to assign you to the ComSta in Morocco. This will not impact on your future selection or non-selection for a major sea command. Oh, yes, I remember from our first meeting you’ve got to talk to Phyllis first, don’t you?” He had a good memory. So my wife and I did discuss it and the bottom line was that we took it, of course.
The Communication Station consisted of two physical sites. The headquarters and receiver site was just outside a little village called Sidi Yahia. The transmitter site was a separate physical site about twenty miles distant. Our population consisted of about 500 Sailors, a Marine Detachment of about 350 Marines and a little over 500 dependents.
SIEGEL: Wow, that’s a lot bigger than I would have thought.
SIMON: Yeah that was it. The 500 crew members were somewhat variable, usually a bit higher. The Marine Barracks was split into two companies. One company was at the headquarters of the ComSta and the other one was at the transmitter site. Each of those companies was headed by a Marine Captain, with a Light Colonel as the skipper of the barracks.
SIEGEL: Your two sites were near Rabat, is that correct?
SIMON: Sixty miles.
SIEGEL: Sixty miles from Rabat.
SIMON: Yeah. And that was a regular monthly run, which I’ll touch on in just a minute.
It was a unique working situation. Officially, the ComSta did not exist. No uniforms were allowed off the base, so every serviceman had to wear civilian clothes when he went off the base, but they wore a little flip-flop type of badge on their shirt. It was recognized by any official, even unofficial, Moroccans. So it was a strange relationship of: “No, the CommSta did not exist, but here’s a sign that proves that we belong to it.”
SIEGEL: And was that true even of your guys on a working mission between your sites?
SIMON: Oh, yes. You had to be out of uniform. It was not allowed.
Two weeks after I took command there was a very, very bad train accident. The passenger train had made its normal stop in this little village that’s about three miles from the base, and it was plowed into from astern by a high-flying merchant freight. There were quite a few casualties, many injured. This happened on a Sunday. On our site, we had a modest medical detachment consisting of a Navy Lieutenant dentist and a Chief Hospital Corpsman and probably a half dozen or so other corpsman ratings.
SIEGEL: You didn’t even have a physician there?
SIMON: Not on the site. But twenty-two miles away the Navy facility over at Kenitra had a full hospital. They had three doctors, and an appropriate amount of medical support. We notified them and the detachment of Seabees at that site. We used all of their vehicles to carry people. We had three big dump trucks or flatbed trucks and several pickups. We also had one ambulance. The Navy hospital sent one doctor over. It was a massive bit of work for an afternoon.
I filed a report to CinCUSNavEur and to the American Embassy of what had happened and what we had done and were doing. I requested permission to go public, but because we ‘did not exist’, I was never allowed to do it. That really hurt the crew that had busted their tails and done a really wonderful, wonderful job that saved lives, but....
SIEGEL: But didn’t the word get out through all of the people that you’d helped?
SIMON: Sure. It was a joke. I mean, our Moroccan employees knew — we had about thirty-five official Moroccan employees in our heating plant, galley, and that kind of stuff. Beyond that, we had many, many more Moroccans that were hired by the troops to do their laundry and personal things. Our maid (that we did not need) had worked for every Captain for the previous four or five and we felt obligated to keep her. I believe we paid her something like fifteen or eighteen dollars a month.
SIMON: And, that was considered high. It’s a very, very poor country economically. It’s 100 percent Arab, made up of three tribes, just like Iraq. Unemployment was twenty percent or higher. There were a number of Moroccans coming and going every day. The maids came up to the gate where there was a little place to change clothes. They would be in a set of native clothing as they got to the base, and then shift to Western-style clothing while they were working on the base. So the secrecy part of it was a joke, there’s no question about it.
Okay. The real mission for being there, of course, was to provide communication support to those forces operating in the Med. In the previous years, maybe six, before I arrived, there was a move within the Navy to shift everything over to Rota, Spain. Morocco had been the main base ever since World War II. Rota got bigger and bigger, and it was much handier for fleet’s coming and going because, you had to take a train or drive inland to get to the Morocco CommSta. So they had shifted to Rota, but it didn’t work out the first time, and they shifted it back to Morocco. We had an active security group with us all the time and that was an issue that went back and forth. So it was kind of a yo-yo.
Shortly after we arrived there, they shifted back to Rota and we ended up being basically a backup. When Rota had power failures or went down for maintenance periods they would shift fleet support back to us again.
SIEGEL: So how was it that it was established landlocked in Morocco in the first place? High ground, is that it?
SIMON: The first comm station there originated right out of World War II. In fact, when the Germans were driven out, the first big base that was built was at this Air Force Base at Kanitra. Then the Navy built an air station there.. All your air traffic coming into the med was flown by the ‘Biggest Little Supply Squadron in the World’ or something like that. it operated for probably thirty years. But then, when we didn’t need that air base anymore as the major air entry point, the ComSta that had been built on that station was lost and a brand new one was built twenty-two miles East of Kenitra toward the desert…that was us.
The frequencies there were unique, the best in the entire world, for Navy high-frequency communications. I remember them as a radioman when we checked into the Med. It was so much clearer and easier to copy… it was just great. We had obtained the frequencies as part of WW II settlements. The UN controls frequency assignments. The United States claimed the certain set of frequencies that the Morocco ComSta was based on. So, they closed out the CommSta in Port Lyautey, and CommSta Morocco operated for about twenty, twenty-five years.
SIEGEL: And, of course, it was politically sensitive, too.
SIMON: Yes, and the Ambassador that we had there at the time was a wonderful, wonderful gentleman; good in every respect. The Moroccans loved him, and we were supported totally. When it came to closing out the station, he did everything trying to preserve it. He supported it politically, and came to the base many times to demonstrate his support.
SIEGEL: So it was shut down as a practical matter.
SIMON: That’s right. Eighteen months after I left it was closed.
The uniqueness of the base and its important operational relationship with the locals gave me a chance to stay in close touch with the Ambassador. Part of being skipper of the base carried an assignment to a group called ’In-Country Team’ headed by the Ambassador. Once a month on a Friday, I had to report to the Embassy, where I attended a staff meeting in a top-secret meeting room that the Ambassador chaired. We heard what was going on in-country, what he was trying to do, what he got done and what he didn’t get done. I had to give a report on the base i.e., who I had met in the locale anytime during the preceding month? I dealt continually with the Mayor of this little town, who spoke fluent English. He had been educated in France. I also met the Governor of the province in which the base was located about once a quarter or anytime something would come up that involved contact between any of our Sailors and the locals .The Ambassador was always eager to hear what happened or didn’t happen.
We had a very active little theater group. We put on about four shows a year. Each time the Ambassador and staff members, quite often including the Chief of Mission, would come. You are talking about a sixty-mile drive for a nighttime show, and he and his wife never missed one. One time when he’d had three teeth extracted, and he was still actually bleeding, he came for a little theater performance. He was that kind of a guy.
SIEGEL: That’s great.
SIMON: We had him to our home, I think, twice, for dinner. We had a small officers’ club that my predecessor had closed. He didn’t like alcoholic beverages, and halfway through his tour he closed the club.
SIEGEL: Oh, wonderful. Yeah. That must have really sent morale sky high.
SIMON: Yes, as you infer in jest, it went the other direction. We also had a small officers’ swimming pool, a full-size enlisted swimming pool, a chiefs’ club, an enlisted club and a general whoever-showed-up-type club. It was like a little village in the United States, for example everything you wanted in an exchange. When you stepped outside the gate, you were in a totally different culture.
The troops loved duty there. They traveled all over the country. We had very few incidents. There was so much to do off the base at minimal cost. That was a big plus.
SIEGEL: Did most of your personnel live on the base?
SIMON: Yes, except the non-sponsored ones, like third-class who we couldn’t accommodate on the base. We didn’t have the capability. But the rest lived on the base itself. The barracks - were very nice - you’d hardly recognize them as barracks. Each building had three or four two-man bedrooms around a circle, and in the center was a large family room. For entertainment, we had closed-circuit television. All of this had only been built about ten years before and everything was in perfect condition.
I did get in trouble as we were closing down. A young female Sailor showed up with about an eighteen-month-old child. That had never happened before. She was supposed to live on base but she couldn’t have the child on base. Well, that didn’t work out so I made a command decision. At this particular time, we had rooms that were not occupied, and I took it upon myself to put her and her child in one of the larger rooms and let her put in some other furniture. Well, a third-class petty officer with a non-sponsored dependent, who was living in the city of Kenitra, wrote a letter up the chain of command way over my head. It just so happened that the Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain O’Connor, was in London, and I got an info copy of a message sent to him to report down to our station and find out what the heck was going on and why did Captain Simon allow this woman with a baby, etc., etc., etc. It came out okay, but....
SIEGEL: Well, why in the world did they ever detail her to a place like ComSta Morocco?
SIMON: Well, I’d have to refer you to BuPers for that answer. We had nothing to do with it. I couldn’t see her being on the station and having to have a Moroccan baby-sitter out in town.
SIEGEL: Well, that’s right. They threw you a curve ball that was just unhittable.
SIMON: That’s right. And she was a very sharp young woman; there was no question about that.
SIEGEL: So, as I take it, Admiral, you had a pretty enjoyable tour there that was good for you and good for your career in the end?
SIMON: It was a vacation, to be honest. That’s exactly what it was.
SIEGEL: After the Little Rock you needed one, right?
SIMON: It was an absolute vacation. We had three school buses, because we had to haul our kids over to the other facility. On weekends the buses were available. We made up our own tours, and drove all over, things like that. It was great.
I mentioned the Chief of Chaplains, Rear Admiral O’Connor. When he retired he became...
SIMON: Cardinal. And you’ve probably heard stories about him. He was a very strong Irishman. I had met him when he was a Commander. He was on DesLant staff up at Newport when I had the FF. Of course, he didn’t remember me; he was only talking to God at that time. So he went on from there and made another big name for himself.
For the change of command, both coming in and going, the Ambassador was there as the keynote speaker.
SIEGEL: How great to have a senior, like the Ambassador that was so supportive.
SIMON: Oh, yes. But I saw and experienced two totally different Ambassadors. The first one, and the one I rave about, was a political appointee, not a career Government Foreign Service man. He was a personal friend of Kissinger. Kissinger was obviously Republican, but this Ambassador, described himself as a middle-of-the-road Republican. He was not a hardnosed type, if you will. In fact, he ended up when he was back in the States, on Reagan’s committee that did the research for the White House Staff support for President Reagan. He was also a ‘graduate’, as he referred to it, of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. He had spent a little over two years imprisoned there.
He was replaced by a professional civil servant, who was a typical political hack. He didn’t do his job; just the complete opposite. So I had a chance to compare the two of them, and the difference was stark.
One more point on the frequencies we had. A number of times when new ships were being commissioned back in the States, and I remember specifically the first LHA that was built down in Pascagoula, we get a message to test their long-range communications. They specifically wanted to deal with Morocco. We go back to our frequencies again and it went like clockwork.
SIEGEL: It was my old ship, the USS Tarawa LHA 1, right?
SIMON: You’re right. You’re absolutely right. How about that? They were well satisfied. The frequencies were the biggest operational plus we had, there’s no question.
So we can move on from there.
SIEGEL: Now, back to sea… or back to sea duty, at least.
SIMON: Back to sea duty it was. Just before I left the ROCK, I got the card that said that I’d screened for major command.
SIEGEL: So, how did that work?
SIMON: I had first gotten the one that said if I wanted it, I was going to Morocco. And then, it was a couple weeks or a couple months, I don’t remember, and the major command screening came out. I had made it known, if I was successful in selection, I respectfully requested a cruiser command. I did not want a squadron. So many of them go for that, and that wasn’t my bag, I didn’t think. So anyhow, that’s what I put in for. Then the message came in that I’d made the major command selection and that I’d screened for a cruiser. So, I knew where I was going when I went to Morocco and that was going to be the USS Richmond K. Turner (CG 20).
I took command in August of ’77, halfway through the first month of a major overhaul. That kind of sounded like, “My God, are we going through the Little Rock experience again; going into the shipyard to start out again”. But, it was nine months to the day. In fact, it was three weeks ahead of schedule.
SIEGEL: And you were at the shipyard in...?
SIMON: Charleston, South Carolina.
SIEGEL: Charleston was a good yard back then.
SIMON: Yes. Turner’s home port was Norfolk. When I reported, the ship was in the yard and SurfLant came down and was the principal speaker at the change of command ceremony.
We were looking at nine months in the yard with all families being up in Norfolk. You go through an overhaul and then you start operating; you could have gone the full two years and never seen much of home. About a month after I took command, I put in a request to change home port. I did not know if it would fly, because I didn’t ’know anybody’. I was shooting in the dark. I said something to the effect that completing nine months out of home port in the yard followed by a normal operating schedule would allow the crew very limited opportunities to get home and then only by taking long week end drives.
SIEGEL: Oh, yeah. And let’s see, US 17 was the way you got from Charleston to Norfolk, wasn’t it?
SIMON: Yeah, that’s right. But, surprise, surprise, they approved it. We got the home port changed and the families moved. That was a monumental morale boost.
SIEGEL: Oh, sure.
SIMON: It happened, that’s all I can say, because there was nothing political. I didn’t know a thing about the system. But it worked.
We got out of the yard and were ordered to Gitmo. In route there, we went down to the two test ranges; for underwater certification at St. Croix, and then the missile range at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. We spent the better part of two weeks there.
I had what could have been a fatal experience down there but the good Lord was looking out for drunks and sailors and I survived, or something like that, I’m not sure.
SIEGEL: Now, which category were you in, Admiral?
SIEGEL: Oh, no. I was talking about drunks and sailors.
SIMON: I tried to stay a happy medium.
SIMON: You never know who you can attract with comments like that. It can kill your career….
Anyhow, every time I had an opportunity with my previous command, I would take on board local civilians, Navy Leaguers, politicians, etc. I didn’t care who it was, I would seek them out. When we got down there and were running the ranges, I had Navy Leaguers onboard when we transferred from Rosie Roads over to St. Thomas, and another Navy League group from St. Thomas to St. Croix.
Working out of St. Croix on a Sunday I had a group of Navy Leaguers and one of them happened to be the president of a refinery in St. Croix along with a number of his associates. I think we had probably eight or ten folks for the day. Running the range was not that complicated, as you well know. My official orders said you will go into St. Croix and you will anchor out. There wasn’t a normal pier that the Navy used in St. Croix, at the west end of St. Croix. So we anchored out the first two nights.
This Sunday I had the group from the refinery and we were going back into port. We were quite a ways out, and I didn’t know where this gentleman fit in. He said, “Why don’t you go to the pier?” And I said, “I don’t have orders for the pier. I have orders to anchor. I wouldn’t know who to apply even if I wanted to go to the pier.”
The bottom line was, this gentleman owned the pier as president of the oil company. He said, “Why don’t you go to the pier? It’s just easier.” I said that’s fine. I was losing my Weapons Officer to transfer that night and due to my oversight, he had never taken the ship to the pier. I thought every officer had done it, and I had screwed up. I called him to the bridge and had him take the conn.
It’s an easy thing to go in there. You come straight in. You don’t have to turn, you don’t have current, so it’s a dream to take a ship in there.
SIEGEL: I think I was at that one with my diesel submarine when I had command of Pickerel.
SIEGEL: West end of St. Croix.
SIMON: Yeah, that’s right. I could usually come up with the name of the place, but that’s the one. So we’re going in and I need to tell you that I had a principle throughout my career. As a junior officer I got so frustrated when the skipper would say “You take it in,” and then he stood behind me and coached, “I think a little left, I think a little right, I think blah, blah, do this and that”. And, I knew if I had any guts, I’d have told him off, but I never had the guts to tell him, “You drive or I drive, but not both.” I swore if I ever got to be skipper, I wasn’t going to do that, and I had lived with what I intended to do.
My officer was a LCDR and he was coming in a little too fast. In spite of my principle, I took the conn away from him but I had waited too long. I had the emergency backing bell on when we hit the pier. The pier had steel pilings on it, not wood, and it cut a hole in the ship almost a foot wide and fifteen feet long.
SIMON: On the port bow.
SIMON: Yeah, that smarted. Now what do you do? The oil company president on board said, “Can I help in any way?” after we were tied up. I said, “Yeah. Do you have any four-by-eight foot sheets of quarter-inch steel?” He said, “yes, we’ve got lots of it.” I said, “Can I buy two of them from you?” He said, “I’ll give them to you.” Half an hour later the two sheets were laying pier side. Our HT’s went to work. They cut and they welded, and two seamen painted all night long. The next morning we got underway for Gitmo, as ordered. Of course, I had to file an incident report back to SurfLant.
SIEGEL: The wording of which minimized the damage, of course.
SIMON: That’s right, ‘painted over’, so to speak. We operated with that patch on for the next almost five months. We went through the whole first part of the operational cycle . The SurfLant Admiral at the time loved having officers canned. There was no question about it; he had a hell of a reputation. So, again, I was kissing my butt good-bye. Surflant sent a message, “Captain ‘so-and-so’ is en route; he’ll meet you in Guantanamo and conduct an investigation”.
Talk about luck again. This Captain came down; he was a very, very senior guy. He had been in command on the Service Force side. All he had looked at for the previous two years was ships that had been banged up and crashed and all that. He himself had all kinds of sea time. He flew into Gitmo and we met him at the airport. He apologized, saying, “There’s no reason for me to be down here…but, you know the Admiral.” This guy had just been selected for Admiral. We were walking down the pier where we had tied up, and we’re halfway up the brow and he said, “Wait a minute, I’ve got to look at that hole.” So he went down, and he said, “I’ve seen bigger holes than that in a tin can.” Talk about luck. Then he said, “I’m going to call the admiral. Can I use your phone? And, I want you to hear what I’m saying.” Of course, I said fine, go ahead.
He called up and described the size and how it had happened. Then he said, “Admiral, if you have any punishment for Captain Simon, don’t ever expect another commanding officer in SurfLant will ever let a JO handle his ship in a tight situation.” I couldn’t have had a better endorsement. It was his reputation and strong support that saved me.
SIEGEL: Sure, good for him.
SIMON: I could have drawn a politician, and that would have been it. So I’ve had a lot of luck in my time, and that’s just the way it goes.
SIEGEL: Is that the worst you ever did?
SIMON: Yes, that’s the worst I ever did.
SIEGEL: Well, I’d say you were pretty darned good.
SIMON: No, ‘lucky’. I keep using the word ’lucky’.
SIEGEL: No, ‘lucky’ is when you really have a calamity and you still get off.
SIMON: Well, however you do it. See, I’d previously described the grounding going up to Washington, D.C. on that little MHC as navigator. But this one, I thought, was far more serious.
We were in Gitmo and it was a Friday when this guy flew down. I’ll always remember the time and the date. We were scheduled to start our RefTra the following Monday. We got underway on schedule and at eleven o’clock in the morning I got a Secret flash message that said: “Helo’s en route to offload all trainers. As soon as cleared, proceed to…(it gave us a specific location that was up near Haiti) and there are no speed restriction; max speed required, intercept four Soviet ships that are coming into the Caribbean. Find them, stay with them until we know where they’re going.”
SIEGEL: Soviet warships?
SIMON: Yes. If I remember right, it was a cruiser, a destroyer, and I forget what the other ones were, but there were four. I assume they were in from Russia for a logistics stop. It had to be something like that.
They were just lollygagging. I intercepted them about three o’clock in the morning, and they were doing about six or seven knots, something like that, and they stayed that way till daylight and then they struck a course West. Bottom line is that we escorted them to Havana. Nothing happened, and that was it. We turned around going back to Gitmo and start over again on our refresher training. We got there at four or five o’clock in the afternoon, on a Friday.
Okay, Saturday morning about eleven o’clock I got a phone call on an unclassified civilian phone system, from the command center at CinCLant that said,”Get underway as soon as possible“. I said, “Where are we going?” And I’m on a clear circuit now; it’s a clear telephone call. The voice said, “Messages are being prepared. Top off fuel.” I said, “Where are we going, and what are we talking about in terms of fuel?” He said, “It will be explained,” or words to that effect. Oh, he did say, “…and head south.” That was it.
SIEGEL: And you have all the B portfolio charts, right?
SIMON: Yeah, it never came up. It was an Audie Murphy movie type scenario; the damnedest thing going.
We cleared harbor. It just happened to be the chiefs’ initiation day and I had four guys that made chief. Well, thank God, that had happened at eleven in the morning. liberty had already gone down, so now we had to round up the crew, which we did, and we topped off fuel. The message followed the phone call and said, “Take at least fifteen Spanish-speakers with you“”. We did that and cleared the harbor, and a little bit later.... They had said, “Head west, and a second message will explain more”. Bottom line, the next message said: “Arrive at Panama Canal at three in the morning. The Canal has been cleared of all problem traffic; you have clear passage straight through.” But, we still didn’t get any ‘why’ we’re going there. That came in by a series of messages as we entered the Canal.
SIEGEL: Can you give me a month and year here, Admiral?
SIMON: Oh, sure. That would be late September of ’78.
SIEGEL: September, ’78, you’re saying.
All my orders came from CinCLant, and the CIA, with the White House as an info addee. We were ordered not to file a movement report. We got to the other side, the Pacific end of the Canal, and CIA had a large van waiting for us that was put aboard and welded down and hooked up. Our Spanish-speaking radiomen filled that up.
In the yard they had taken off the only gun I had which was a 5-inch. That was it. I had requested officially, from SurfLant, to get some .50-cal machine guns to give me something, just in case. And I got a sarcastic response saying, “You’ve got the most powerful surface ship in the Atlantic Fleet and you want .50-calibers? Denied.”
Okay, now we were at the Canal and I was getting phone calls from the three-star in CinCLant’s office. I used to remember names, but here we go again. Before one of the calls came in, I had - on my own - gone to the Army and requested three .50-cals and they said “fine”. So they brought them aboard. When I told the three-star what I’d done, he said, “Oh, that’s great. You’re thinking ahead.” I said, “I don’t know what the hell I’m getting involved in.”
It turned out we were going to be doing a patrol for an unlimited time. You see, Sandinistas were coming in from the south, and all of our internal communications in-country in Nicaragua had been disrupted or destroyed. In short, we had lost all communications and that’s what I was there for. This van that the CIA put on board had such sensitive equipment that if they took a deep breath anyplace in the country, we could tell. It was very good.
Anyhow, the three-star was happy with that. Then I realized I didn’t have anybody qualified for a .50-cal. So again, I went back to the Army and asked if they could send a rifle team to sail with me. And, they said “sure”. So they approved it and one reported on board.
One other little thing happened when I pulled into the port on the Pacific side. There was a hand-written letter from Admiral Kidd giving me very specific hand-written instructions of what he wanted done. He said, “I don’t want another goddamn Liberty or Pueblo incident.”?
SIEGEL: This was in a hand-written letter?
SIMON: That’s right. He said: I don’t want a G-D Liberty or Pueblo and then went on from there.
Then it came to getting Army personnel on board. I went back to the four-star’s deputy and said I’ve just requested, and the Army’s going to give me some gunners trained on .50-cals. And, the three-star says, “I don’t think so.” Well, I said, again, I didn’t have the qualified gunners, and he said it wasn’t going to fly. I said, “I’m making an official request.” And, he said, “Just a minute.” And about five minutes later he called back saying, “It will not be approved.” I said, “Well, I’ve got two officers on board already, etc., etc.” And, he said, “You don’t understand.” And, I said, “You don’t understand. What you want me to do may require firepower and all I’ve got is a slingshot. Would you ask one more time? Please let me bring the Army people on board.”
SIEGEL: You get high marks for persistence.
SIMON: This would have been the third effort. And, that’s about the third time the three-star said, “You don’t understand.” He went back to the person who was obviously his boss, and I heard a characteristic voice in the background. (I found out later when I met both of them in Washington D.C. when they were close to an end of their careers which voice was which. It was Admiral Kidd’s voice that I had heard on the phone.) He said, “Tell Simon to get those goddamn ‘greenies’ off that ship. This is a Navy show.”
SIEGEL: Oh, jeez.
SIMON: And that combined with the personal letter were Kidd originals — why didn’t I keep that letter? I’ve kept all kinds of stuff, just one of those things. So anyhow, the Army people were taken off. But then, I found that I hadn’t done my homework properly because we had three Sailors on board that were former Marines and had handled .50-cals in Vietnam. Why didn’t I find that out before? But anyhow, we got the .50s aboard, welded them down, and I had chicken wire running up to the bridge, and that kind of stuff.
So that was it. We did three weeks patrolling up and down and were able to pass on a considerable amount of information.
SIEGEL: Now, why were you warned about not being another Liberty or Pueblo unless there were Soviet ships around? The Nicaraguans weren’t going to capture you, certainly.
SIMON: No, that’s right. But I’m quoting the admiral. That’s what he said. What I didn’t know at the time was that he was the Chief Investigating Officer for the Israeli attack on the Liberty. That whole story is the most disgusting part of Navy politics I’ve ever heard, or national politics for that matter. It blows your mind.
What I was concerned about was that we would be operating between seven and ten miles off the coast, and we would be proceeding at minimal speed because, at that point, we didn’t have fuel arrangements, and there was none on the Pacific side.
What got me is that at that speed, they could come aboard with a satchel. I looked at that as totally realistic. But why he used that.... Now, I think the reason was he didn’t like the way we, the Navy and the politicians, had handled the other two incidents. But, of course, I’m concerned he may have been part of the problem. Of course, he was taking orders when he did the Liberty investigation.
SIEGEL: It sounds like a pretty unproductive operation for most of the crew.
SIMON: That’s a fact. So, then the last week there, we were getting helo support for a few little things. We had requested that Gitmo send over whatever the helos could carry, but they had to work with the Army there in the Canal Zone. If we could get four or five trainers from Gitmo, that would be a help, and we got them. So we had a week with about as much training as we could do while we were patrolling with these three or four guys from Gitmo on board. When we were detached, no other ship came in after us. We ‘trained’ en route to GTMO.
SIEGEL: You sure had some serious false starts on RefTra.
SIMON: Yes, we had been told we were going back to Norfolk and we’d come back to finish our RefTra later on. To head that off, we put in a request to take the RefTra graduation exam as soon as we got back to Gitmo. Bottom line, with two days of on-site training, we took the operational exam and got a grade of 89, which is a low grade when you come out of Gitmo after a normal training period, but when you have two days of training before you take the test, we were pretty damned satisfied with it. We got home and that was it; the end of that story.
Now, I’ll shift over to the deployment. We left Charleston for the Med in March of ’79 for what was to be a six-month deployment. When we got there, our Group Commander was Admiral Gordon Nagler. He was in the carrier America.
There were several unique experiences. We had pulled into Tunis, Tunisia for a port visit. Before getting under way I got a message from Nagler saying: When you come out, you’re going to find six Soviet ships in open ocean anchorages; proceed within 2,000 yards, steam around them, then anchor 2,000 yards away and remain there for the night. I guess that was for effect, I don’t know. So we did that. That was not an issue
One may wonder why I would receive such an order. My opinion is that it involved international politics. During the many Med deployments I’ve made, I sat in staff meetings that discussed ways to remind the Soviets that we controlled the Mediterranean. We knew the Soviet combatants could anchor anywhere in international waters, but when they did, they could expect that American warships would not be far away. When I was CO of the FF operation in the central Med, I was ordered to proceed to the entrance of the Straits of Gibraltar and intercept a Soviet submarine coming into the Med from the Atlantic. I was to make ‘positive identification’ and report when action completed. With that experience in my background, I did not second guess Admiral Nagler’s order to ‘close the Soviet ships, take pictures and anchor nearby
SIEGEL: All part of the game of staying ‘one-up’ that we played with the Soviets in that era.
SIMON: Before going into the Med, I had told the crew how important conduct was. I told them of my experiences on the Little Rock, I knew that the Fleet staff really didn’t care where they sent their ships for port visits. They had to make commitments as to size of ship, the size of the cities, and that kind of stuff. You’re going to get good liberty ports if you behave on the beach. I told them before we checked in that I was going to be requesting specific ports for the first two months and take it from there, which I did, and Sixth Fleet responded and gave me everything I asked for.
SIEGEL: Good deal.
SIMON: It was great. So we’d now been operating about two months or so, no longer than that,... about halfway through the cruise, I believe. Between major operations I got a message from Admiral Nagler that said, “You’re going to get a message from the American Embassy in Rome because an American ship has been kicked out of a port for misconduct, and they want a replacement, and, , I gave them your name“. Fine, but then when the message came from the Embassy they said: “You will not allow any Sailors ashore until you have met with the Mayor and requested and obtained permission to let your Sailors ashore.” We did, and that turned into a mutual love affair.
SIEGEL: But where was it? You haven’t told me the name of the town.
SIMON: Oh, the Italian Riviera, the city of Alassio. I mean, if you dreamed about a good liberty port you couldn’t do any better. I met with the Mayor who was a real gentleman. We received his permission to grant liberty and that was that. I had a number of other city officials onboard for lunch or dinner. I’ll always remember a businessman who said when the other ship was in, he and his other Italian townsfolk would ask something about the ship or something like that, and it was all negative. They couldn’t get any positive response from the crewmen they talked to. He said, “Now, you people have been here four days and from any Sailor I talk to, the first thing I hear is, “’Well, that’s my ship’, They’re telling me what it is before I even ask them.” We anchored out and had swim call every day. So that was another love affair. Hard duty.
SIEGEL: Multo simpatico!
SIMON: Multo bene.
We also carried the first Harpoon missile battery, having fired the first Harpoon back in St. Croix as a test, and in the Med we had the first firing. Nagler sent me a message saying, “You know the capability, it’s supposed to get out seventy-five miles. I want you to go for seventy-eight.” This was at night. You know, you do what you’re told. This was off Lybia with that site picked deliberately for a live shot. The target was a Greek derelict DD. We fired and sank it with one shot. It worked magnificantly, there’s no question about it.
On departing the Med, I was notified that we were the only ship that didn’t have one incident ashore during the six-month deployment.
SIMON: The troops couldn’t have been any better, there’s no question about it. The ship received the Meritorious Unit Commendation and I received the Meritorious Service Medal.
SIEGEL: Well led, obviously.
SIMON: Well, I’m saying ‘crew’ because you know yourself, you’ve been there, you don’t do a damned thing unless you’ve got a crew to do it with. That’s the bottom line.
SIEGEL: Oh, yes, but never-the-less, a crew needs a good skipper.
SIMON: The last bit I’ll say about my crew is also a matter of real pride. Three working days after I took command of the Richmond K. Turner, I got a letter from the two-star that was at that time still up in Norfolk, and he said, “We view with alarm the prolonged low retention rate of your ship, etc., etc., etc.” It was addressed to me, by name, as commanding officer of the ship, which really bugged me. I’d been in command three working days. I got on an airplane and I went up there, and the admiral said, well, I didn’t write it, my Master Chief did and he feels if you don’t deal personally with your Commanding Officers, it doesn’t take effect.
SIEGEL: He knew how to get your attention, didn’t he?
SIMON: Yeah. And I said, “Well, you got my attention. That’s why I’m here.” “Well,” he said, “don’t take it too seriously.” “Well,” I said, “I take it damned seriously.” And that was it.
The frosting on the cake was that just before I got relieved, we received the Golden Anchor Award for the best reenlistment numbers.
SIEGEL: Full circle; how great.
SIMON: I wish that the same admiral would have been there, but it didn’t happen that way. The Turner tour resulted in my receiving my first Legion of Merit award. Okay, that’s enough there. What haven’t we covered that you wanted to touch on?
SIEGEL: How about just a little history on when you got married, and how the Navy treated your family and how you reacted to it, and so forth.
SIMON: Here we go again with the danger of too many words. I’ll really try to keep it short, because it’s a prolonged adventure. My wife and I met the tail end of my senior year in high school. She came from a different school that was a little ways away. After four dates, I graduated and I went to Washington, DC, and three years later joined the Navy. Well, during that five-year period we wrote letters and we only met each other once a year for two weeks when I went back to Minnesota. That’s a lot of letter writing, especially when you write like I write. And all the time she had a social life and so did I, 1600 miles apart.
Finally, in ’52 (I left in ’47 and now it’s ’52), I’d just completed my first Med deployment. We got back in March. I made a phone call, the only phone call I ever made to her in our whole so-called… I guess you couldn’t call it ‘courtship’. But anyhow, I called and said, “Let’s put this thing to bed one-way-or-the-other”. We’d been writing for five years and it was time to either do something or check out. I said, “I’m sending you an airplane ticket and, if you accept it, you can come out and stay with my parents (who lived in DC by that time) and we’ll see what develops”.
She came out the last week in March. In the middle of May we were engaged, and right after that we had picked the month of August for our wedding because I was about to leave on a two-month midshipman cruise. I got back in August and flew to Minnesota on a ten-day leave, and got married. So after five years of writing letters we ended up getting married. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
SIEGEL: Where’d you get married?
SIMON: In Minnesota. Now she’s just heard me say that as we talk, and she’s reminded me that she got a ticket to come back from a friend she had back in Minnesota, because I’d said she was getting a one-way ticket. Well, anyhow, that’s the way it got started, and that’s the way it’s been now for fifty-five years. Phyllis… I call her Phyll… has been the foundation that has held the family together through 22 moves in those 55 five years.
SIEGEL: And you had two children?
SIMON: We have two children, a son and a daughter. After eighteen months of our marriage I got shore duty where I picked up my opportunity to get into the officer community. When we got married, I was a full seaman radioman, so $98 a month, including $10 sea pay. Overpaid.
SIEGEL: Wow, how good life is.
SIMON: Yeah. But the wife was a dental assistant back in Minnesota and then, later, in Washington, DC, so she made more money than I did, but neither one of us was making a heck of a lot. But anyhow, that took care of things.
Our son was born in the Navy hospital in Norfolk. There were so many babies born that night that she spent her delivery time in the hallway. We had checked in at eight in the evening, based on what was happening with her, and they said, “We can’t take you; there’s too many here.” So, we spent the night sitting in the car in front of the hospital. We checked back in at eight o’clock in the morning and she went on from there. It was not a happy experience.
When our daughter was born in the Charleston Navy Hospital, she had two doctors and a whole bunch of assistants, and she raves to this day about how good the service was there.
SIEGEL: What’s the different in age between your son and your daughter?
SIMON: Two years, almost exactly. Our son was born the 20th of December, and our daughter was born on the 31st of December. Three days after our daughter was born, I sailed for the Med, and Phyll was on the pier.
SIEGEL: Yeah, I remember you mentioned that earlier. I seem to remember that your daughter was in high school in Zaragoza when you were on the Rock.
SIMON: That’s right. She went two years there, and our son Craig went two years to the University of Maryland extension up in Munich, Germany. And when he finished there he transferred to the University of Missouri. A friend of his from Munich was going to Missouri, and Craig called and said, “Can I go there?” I said, “You’re calling the shot.” So, he went there. Our daughter completed two years up at Munich, and then when we came back to the States, she went to the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina. Craig married a classmate at the University of Missouri, and our daughter, Shelley, married a man from the College of Charleston.
SIEGEL: Well, go to college and find a mate for life, right?
SIMON: That’s what they used to call it; it was a ‘marriage exchange’ or something. It worked out extremely well. Craig is an Independent Franchisee with Winzer Automotive in Kansas City and our daughter-in-law is a project manager for Sprint Communications headquartered in KC where she’s worked for 19 years.
Shelley flew with Peidmont Airline for three years then had a few scares and shifted to ground work and joined House Of Blues, a musical show in Myrtle Beach. Her husband is a chemist with the Myrtle Beach Water Commission.
SIEGEL: No doubt, that’s one of the reasons you migrated down there.
SIMON: Yeah, we’re happy. Okay, that covers that, I think.
SIEGEL: Okay. Now, you’re about to embark on your flag career, the culmination of the ‘Seaman to Admiral’ story. Am I getting ahead of things? After the Turner? You went to shore duty and had a couple senior jobs there.
SIMON: Yes, and I’ll cover this by talking about some of the specific projects on which I worked.
ComNavTelCom was my first time ashore after the TURNER. I was the Deputy Commander of the Naval Telecommunications Command. That’s where I was selected for Flag and then ordered to the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. There we built a low-frequency radar system and installed it up in Alaska. In fact it’s in Kiska. I’ll always remember the guys doing the hard work up on site, and their prime concern was dealing with polar bears. But the difference, technically, on this, was the type of frequencies employed. It was a totally different type of radar. The low frequencies normally are associated, as you well know, with the submarine detection. This was designed for work in the atmospheric conditions, weather, and so forth up there. After you got away from the engineering drawings and got into the building of it, it took the better part of a year. But it was interesting. I didn’t volunteer to go up and see if they did it right, but that was part of it.
SIEGEL: It is way out in the ocean isn’t it?
SIMON: Yeah. It couldn’t be any further out. We were getting back to cold weather again so pushed hard to finish it up.
The one project I feel the closest to was also in SpaWar. The project’s aim was to create a totally different Radio Central room in a ship. Having spent time copying code in the radio shack, I found that thirty years later so much in that radio shack was identical to what it had been back then. Yes, we went to satellite and we did all these things, and much, much more, but on shipboard, we were still dealing with patch panels and jack boxes that were designed fifty years ago. When you had a problem with your cabling, something was wrong internally; time-and-again, there was a broken piece or something inside the doggone switchboard.
One of the officers that worked for me had run across this one possibility. We got a contract signed for Phase I. It eliminated the patch boards altogether plus incorporated hundreds of other innovations. It was so comprehensive and so complete that we figured you could lose three of the four systems in the radio shack and still communicate. I thought it was the answer to everything. I’ve forgotten the technical name for it. I briefed Commander Second Fleet and he came up with money. He was supporting it greatly. As I was kidding you some time past, I finally got to brief Chief NavMat. Maybe you can remember, but he was a submariner 4-star whose name I believe was White. (He was the last Chief NavMat who got in a fight with SecNav who fired him and disestablished NavMat.) NavMat did, however, support my project.
SIEGEL: Yes, I remember the stormy demise of NavMat.
SIMON: I then went to brief Nagler, who was now OP94, the head of all Navy Comm. At the time, he was cancelling and, getting rid of HF and bringing in satellite. He had a financial problem that didn’t bode well for the project that I was heading up. It was just everything we wanted, but I couldn’t sell it to him, so it never got beyond the first contract. That was a huge disappointment.
The last one that I’ll comment on was a Naval Sea Systems Command (NavSea) project. I was transferred within the bureaucracy and went over to NavSea, and was handed a project on paper that they were trying to sell. It was designed for the missile air defense of aircraft carriers. I had the opportunity to brief the CNO on that one. It had been installed on a test platform and the results were great. It was much further advanced than I could get on the radio system I’d been working on. I sold it to the CNO, and they are on the carriers - or were, although it’s now going to be twenty years old.
SIEGEL: Well, it’s good you were around long enough to do that.
SIMON: Yes. In this case, to actually see it installed and test fired.
SIEGEL: Pretty rare.
SIEGEL: So you were in the bureaucracy as a flag officer for about five years? ’82 to ’87, is that right?
SIMON: No. Four. There’s a max there of four.
SIEGEL: Oh, four.
SIMON: You’ve got to pick up the second star or you’re automatically out. It’s a select up-or-out. They changed that system the year that I made flag. Before that, you know, you stayed for four years and you automatically moved from one to two stars. They could terminate you within that period, but that was the exception. Once they went to the one-star Commodore rank, it went to the four-year deal where it is today. It gets into a lot of red tape. So that was it.
SIEGEL: So you were — let’s see - in the era of the Commodore?
SIMON: I was the first Commodore.
SIEGEL: No kidding; you were the first Commodore?
SIMON: Yes. Nagler called me when the list came out and said, “I want to be the first one to call you ‘Commodore.’” I said, “Can’t you think of a better name?” He didn’t like it either, but you know, that’s the way it worked.
With the first set of orders I was supposed to receive, the Chief of Naval Personnel called me just to congratulate me. The orders were to the Naval Shipyard Philadelphia, and hell, that base was essentially non-existent. I said, “That’s the biggest insult you could give me, Admiral.” And he said The shipyard was his first flag assignment and that was what I would get. Well, I said to the 3-star, “Okay. I don’t look at it that way, but thank you for the call.” For whatever reason, I never received written orders.
Nagler called later and told me I was going to OP 942, but those orders did not come to pass either
Oh, and I tried to extend. Before I went to the tail end of my flag career, I went to the Director of Surface Navy, the OpNav three-star in the pentagon, and said, “I’m requesting a return to sea duty as a Unit Commander.” and he said, “Roger, you’re too damn old?”
SIMON: That’s a direct quote.
SIEGEL: Yeah? He didn’t pull any punches on you.
SIMON: No. I said, “Would you object if I go to the Chief of Naval Personnel?” He said,”No, go ahead.” I had met this guy a number of times but nothing near knowing him by name and vice versa. So, I went over to the Chief of Naval Personnel, with the same question. He didn’t use any vulgarity, but had the same message. He said, “Well, I believe you’re too old”. I made flag when I was fifty-two, and my age was given when the flag list came out in Navy Times. The nearest one to me was forty-eight. Well, I was used to that all my life. But anyhow I went to the CNP and he said, “No, we can’t do it, you’re just too old.”
So, I went back to the surface guy again. I asked if he could recommend anything, given that I’d been a project manager over at SpaWar. What if I change my designator and go up for selection as a program manager? He said, “Well, that may give you a little time on years, but I can’t recommend it.” Well, it’s one shot, so I did that, and that’s one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. I’m now carried as a ‘Program Manager’ on the retired flag list, which I wish I hadn’t done, but that’s the way it goes.
SIEGEL: Oh boy, and you the original sea-going tiger. That’s sad.
SIMON: But when I was with CNP he said, “Why are you so anxious to go back to sea?” I said, “That’s where I’ve spent my life. “That’s what we all dream about.” He said, “Well, think of what you’ve achieved.” — and I’m quoting him now very closely in my numbers - “What you’ve done is unique,” he said, “Do you know of all of the officers that come out of the Naval Academy, NROTC, or any other way,” he said, “.014 make flag.” I said, “I don’t keep track of numbers. That never bothered me.” He said, “How can you complain?” I said, “I’m not complaining; I’m requesting.” He said, “We don’t have figures on straight Seaman to Admiral” - whatever you want to call it, and he said, you should be very happy.” Well, I said, “I am happy, but etc., etc.” But those are just some of the things I ran into.
SIEGEL: Yeah. Well, it’s a brick wall.
SIEGEL: I believe you had to look at it as just one of the stark realities of achieving that near impossible climb from Seaman to Admiral.
SIMON: You’re right; it was time to face reality.
SIEGEL: The reality was that you’d find another place of employment. Tell me a little bit about your first job after Navy retirement.
SIMON: Okay. It was with an electronics engineering company out of San Diego that had been one of our contractors in my very last job. The owner of this small company came to DC from time to time. They had only 244 people in the company when I joined, with most of them in San Diego. There were detachments at an Air Force base in Ohio and the Naval Base in Norfolk, and a small one in Washington, DC. We had people on site at Norfolk and over in London that were like service techs that did the repair work. He offered me the job and I was satisfied with it, feeling comfortable with my qualifications to succeed.
The job was to expand our presence in Washington, DC and that’s what got me interested. This was the same kind of work that I had done in any of the three flag assignments I had, except it broadened the knowledge of the drafting of project descriptions, where to look for that kind of work and, and the prospect of joining in partnership with other companies doing the same thing. We joined with other companies just to get a broader experience base, and that type of thing. I was satisfied with it from day one.
It was a challenge. One man had put the company together, starting in a garage, like you hear about. The company became very successful. He came to Washington maybe once a month, sometimes not even that, and he’d just pop in and that was it. He’d be gone the next day.
He bought another company that was similar, but bigger, whose customers were Army. And, the main thing this company had done was to come up with a radar that specifically sat at the Berlin Wall and could see on the other side. They were very, very successful, but there’re not that many Berlin Walls around for follow-on work. He didn’t do his homework when he bought the company, and then he realized they had given him a big sell that wasn’t quite there. Once the Army’s need for the product was gone, our company took a big hit, but he survived.
SIEGEL: Fine. You indicated that you wanted to talk a bit more about the Little Rock.
SIMON: Yes, that’s the reason we got together for this interview and your connection with the work of the Oral History Program of the USS LITTLE ROCK Association.
SIEGEL: Absolutely, that’s where the concentration was intended.
SIMON: It’s a bit hard to remain unemotional and it’s heartfelt. I can’t thank every crew member enough that deployed in the Rock and operated with us for the time I was onboard. It was an immense effort they put forth when the challenge was to take a very old ship out of an extended overhaul and do what we did with a bunch of tough add-ons. Refresher Training was cut short, lots of green recruits had to be integrated for the transit to the Med, and then there was the crew merger with the Springfield crossdeckers. On top of this was all the preparation that had to be done for four years of overseas deployment. You can’t face a greater challenge than that as far as I’m concerned. But they confronted the challenge, unique to a flagship and to a major combatant. And all I can say is very much of a ‘thank you’ to everyone that supported it and did everything they could to make it work. Speaking as a Sailor to Sailor, I couldn’t ask for anything better.
SIEGEL: Yeah. Well, you know, my tour following yours was not without a lot of challenges, but I look back on it as a pretty exciting, but happy time, thanks to all that you and Pete Cullins had done to break the ice.
SIMON: I appreciate that, but it was all on the shoulders of our people. From the crew’s standpoint, in a four-month period before deploying, they got a new XO, and then a new CO, and had all the personnel upheaval of the influx of young, inexperienced Sailors and the crew split in Gaeta. From the crew’s standpoint, they must have wondered about the series of seemingly dysfunctional efforts that occurred. I’m sure that they had to be saying,”What are they doing with us here?” I try to put myself in the crew’s position. They had to have had a problem.
SIEGEL: Well, you know, I think if you expand that to the broader picture of our Navy experience, one of the things that shines through is the resilience of the people that we dealt with and eventually led. That’s one of the great memories I have of my almost thirty years. Somehow, we succeeded, as you said before, because we had great people with us. And one of the reasons we stuck around the ‘Canoe Club’ is that we enjoyed the association with those people. In the later years, almost all of them were younger than we, and I think that was good for us.
SIMON: Oh, you’re so right. And, when you think back on the number of ships we served in and the Navy missions carried out, the biggest plus that existed, and exists in today’s Navy, is the ability to be ready to go on a no-notice basis. How many times this ship or that ship brake down, or something else came up where you’re expected to fill in without delay. It’s the mobility factor that we can be proud of.
Recall the case of my FF relieving the Little Rock which relieved the Newport News, etc. here are three ships, with the cause being Vietnam. What other profession, in or out of the military, could operate that way. And, that wasn’t unique. That’s typical of Navy mobility and I think it’s great.
SIEGEL: And, the readiness for continuing mobility makes for a tight unit.
SIMON: Absolutely. It’s a wonderful experience. But that factor also put a strain on family life. We had lots of separations, a lot of Christmases and school graduations and the like were missed. One of the hardest ones for me that I couldn’t avoid, but still regret to this day, was when our son graduated from the University of Missouri. I’ve seen so many cases where the parents are there and so happy to see a child graduate. Well, it happened the Turner was scheduled for its annual nuclear weapons handling inspection. I can’t remember the official title.
SIEGEL: Was it the NTPI?
SIMON: Yes. I couldn’t think. That’s the one.
SIEGEL: The Nuclear Technical Proficiency Inspection.
SIMON: Yeah. I should be able to spit it out. But in any case, we were scheduled for that, and it was called the week that our son was graduating from the University of Missouri. And, of any place I wanted to be, I wanted to be there. I’d missed high school graduation, I’d missed so many things, and now it would be college graduation. So I had to suck it in because I knew that there’re only two grades on the NTPI, and they’re ‘pass’or ‘fail’. You don’t get 98 percent or anything like that, as you well know. If you fail it, you’ve basically ruined your chances career-wise or whatever you want to call it. You’re going to stop right there in the surface Navy.
We had the inspection and Nagler, again, was my boss. That name Nagler appears, I know, many times. He often uttered some very strong words that didn’t encourage me, let’s put it that way. Anyhow, it was about three in the afternoon and he called me and said, “Bad news. You failed. But, there’s a ray of sunlight.” He said the failure was because of what my guys did or didn’t do and they forgot to make one phone call. He said everything else was perfect and he said they’re even complimenting on it, but he said, “A failure is a failure. However, they will let you re-do it if you would volunteer to take the entire test again starting this afternoon at three o’clock.” At this point, they’d been at it since eight in the morning.
SIEGEL: Tough love.
SIMON: He asked, “Do you want to do it?” Of course, I said “Yes”. Well, we did it and they passed us, but again, my family came in ‘number two’. I didn’t like it, but it’s a fact of life.
SIEGEL: Yeah, no doubt about it. If it’s not, you’re probably going to be doing something else professionally after not too many years.
SIMON: That’s right. You’d better. That’s it.
SIEGEL: And, of course, talk about divorce rates and separations and, you know, all kinds of other things that are possibilities. And thank heavens you and I had wives that could cope with it.
SIMON: Oh yes, there is absolutely no way that I could have succeeded to the degree I did without Phyllis. I mean, the understanding from day one. It just couldn’t be any different. I sought two additional years at sea as a LTJG to get some destroyer time. If you look at what you’re trying to do, and if you aren’t willing to pay the price, well then, like you just said, get another job. That’s part of it. His wife is an absolutely critical part to a Navy man’s life, there’s absolutely no question about it.
SIEGEL: Yeah. So what was the number on your last wedding anniversary?
SIMON: Uhh. We....
SIEGEL: Oh-oh, I’m pinning you down.
SIMON: It’s fifty-five. We were married in ’52 and it was just great. We’re back here now in Minnesota where we celebrated our fiftieth anniversary. Through a series of phone calls to old friends and Phyllis’s family - what’s left of her family all live here yet - they put together an anniversary dinner at a supper club that we have here. In fact, Phyllis and I met the first time when this supper club was just opened and was nothing more than a… you couldn’t call it a restaurant… just a little place. Call it a ’joint’ I guess you could say. They pulled together about fifty-five people in a room they had reserved in the supper club. We walked in and there was one of my high school classmates, now living in Minneapolis, who had driven up. That’s 285 miles and he drove up for the dinner, then drove back home that night. That was an absolute total surprise. That was in 2002. We go back to the family support again. That’s it.
SIEGEL: So, now you’re happily retired and you spend most of the year in Myrtle Beach.
SIEGEL: You’ve got a condo down there?
SIMON: Yes, a condo. We live right on, like a point of land. On our one side is the Intracoastal Waterway and on the other side of us is a 500-slip marina. We sit on the point, so you can watch the heavy waterway traffic on one side and the boat activity on the other side. We love it, we really do. It’s a two-level condo in the upper floors of our three-story building. The weather is great down there. I’ve gotten involved with golf; never mastered it, but I absolutely refuse to practice so that’s not a big issue. I don’t have a boat. People say, “Why don’t you have a boat?” and I say, “My boat’s in Minnesota and I can’t afford two of them.”
As for traveling, we’ve gone back to Gaeta once, and then we went up the coast of the Italian Riviera and had a time share up there. Then we did a couple of cruises in the Caribbean, no further than that, and some island hopping, and that stuff.
SIEGEL: Yeah. Well, that’s what you do when you’re retired. You’re supposed to be doing that stuff.
SIMON: That’s it. I’m totally satisfied. The first couple of weeks after we get back up here to our lake home in Minnesota, we stay pretty busy. A commercial guy that takes care of the main lawn, but Phyll is a ‘green-thumber’, so every year, we put out lots of plants. I counted one time, and we had 450 plants put out, and that’s about normal. You know, the winter wipes them out. We try to do a lot of perennials just to keep the work down but when it gets to be so doggone cold, as you are well aware, you’ve got to have the right amount of snow to insulate the plants and that kind of stuff. We’re about _ of the way finished with the planting as we speak.
SIEGEL: So you join the snowbirds and head south in the fall. Well, life is good. And Admiral, we’re reaching the termination point here. It’s just been a pleasure for me to sit here and chat with you about your career and reflect a little bit on mine. It brought back all kinds of great memories for me, especially about the days in the Little Rock.
SIMON: Well, it sure does bring them back. But, I’m always going on at length and I probably did the same doggone thing here again. My wife is always on my back. “All I ask you is the time of day and you’ll build me a cotton-pickin’ clock.” I’m sure I’ve done it here again with you, Kent.
SIEGEL: It was all great fun, Roger, dear friend. We’re at the end of the tape, so I’m just going to thank you again on my own behalf and that of my shipmates in the USS Little Rock Association.
SIMON: Okay. It’s been fun, and I do appreciate working with you. Not working; it’s not work. I mean talking with you. Thanks. It’s been my pleasure, Kent.
SIEGEL: Good bye, Sir, and good day.
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