The Seaweed

USS Champlin DD-601  

Summer 2001

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Gerald Estes RdM2c writes, "Recalling exact dates and names of places visited as a Champlin sailor is not a characteristic I possess. Since that is the case, I hope you might still find use for some of the following. As an interesting point I would mention that, in using Word 97 to compose these recollections, every time I typed the ship's name, Word 97 insisted on changing the spelling to Champion. This bugged me no end even though all who served on her would agree that she certainly deserved that descriptive title."

"After leaving Sampson Naval Training Station on Seneca Lake in central New York, I arrived via railroad at Pier 92 in New York City. This was the infamous receiving station where I lost my hair, again, to a Navy barber(?). Entering Sampson had been the first time and, I had mistakenly believed, the last. The scuttlebutt at Pier 92 was, briefly, that the CO's unmarried daughter had become pregnant by a swabbie with handsome wavy hair. Consequently, the Captain's wife had insisted that shave heads were the way to go. Result: mandatory skinheads."

"After some time on mess cook duty dishing out chow to endless lines of fellow sailors, I was impatiently waiting to be assigned to a ship. The Champlin returned from convoy and Mediterranean deployment so I achieved the goal I had set before leaving the Catskill Mountains - I became a member of the crew on a DESTROYER! I 'paid my dues' as a member of deck crews, fore and aft, and grieved when my boot camp commandeered hammock canvas served as deck protection under the anchor chain as my fellow 'selective volunteers' and I wire brushed and painted it back to Navy standards. After all, that hammock served as my bunk on the crowded Champlin before transfers thinned out the ship's complement of crew. Sleeping in it was quite comfortable as the ship pitched and rolled. Another time, I pained when we were ordered to jettison winter skivvies that had been issued in boot camp. I sure could have use them later when were up in Casco Bay, Maine, with ice all over the rigging. But, with space in the lockers under the bunks so critical, I had to forgive what appeared to be gross Navy waste."

"At this point, I regret not having kept some sort of journal that would help in recalling dates, places and names, but perhaps things that occurred more than fifty years ago will crystallize as I write. As a rookie 'feather merchant' (Regular Navy descriptive term) aboard the Champlin, my first trip was convoy duty in rough North Atlantic seas. This was also my first experience with sea sickness and, thankfully, my last, since thereafter I had no such problem. We pulled in to Londonderry, Ireland. Thatched roofs on quaint farmhouses, blackouts in the town while on liberty there because this was 1943 and German bombers routinely hammered the British Isles. Later, when we were berthed at Swansea, Wales, some of us were sent by bus out in the countryside for aircraft recognition training. I 'borrowed' a small seat number as a souvenir. It is somewhere in a scrapbook here with other memorabilia. On liberty I went to the local Red Cross Canteen. I was eager for some pastry and coffee. The sugar for the coffee consisted of one quick immersion of a small bag with a microsecond of dipping in and out, no more. The small pastry was exceedingly bland, but, I had to admit that in wartime Britain they did the best they could. It was good to have our coffee sweetened to taste in the Champlin CIC. I used to trade my cigarette allotment for candy bars since there were no between meal snack such as I had enjoyed back in the Catskills."

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"I can never forget the seemingly endless four to eight off watches after successfully moving from the deck crew to 'C' division and standing watches as a Radarman striker. Watching the sweep of the search beam as it probed for blips over huge expanses of water was sometimes tiring, but rewarding as well. Knowing how critical the information it revealed was to the safety of our ship, as well as that of those cargo and transport vessels we were shepherding across treacherous seas, made the hour pass with less fatigue. Was that blip that just came up a periscope? A waterspout? A whale? Or was it another school of porpoises? 0000 to 0400 watches were not eagerly looked forward to."

"A large amount of the more than two years I served on the Champlin was in the Mediterranean. Mers El Kabirr and Oran, North Africa, were stops for our ship. On liberty with Jack Crawford of our sister ship USS Parker, I slapped Jack on the back when he made me laugh, knocking off his white cap which caught the breeze and rolled into the road. I ran after it, reached down, and heard screeching brakes. I jumped up just as the bumper of a Red Cross Field Service sedan caught me below the knees. I sprawled into the street as the local Arabs jabbered in French and Arabic. The distraught female driver was about to faint, but I assured her I would be okay. The Pharmacist's Mate in the Oran sick bay treated my severely bruised shins with heat lamps. Today, cold packs would be prescribed. Sported two big 'strawberries' below the knees for a week after that, but fortunately, no broken bones. I think my high jump skills from the track team in high school paid off. Incidentally, I rescued Jack's cap that day."

"The Champlin was used to support Allied ground troops as the 5th and 8th Armies drove German forces north in Italy. Spotting aircraft reported positions of enemy troops to us and our five-inch guns roared with a vengeance to enable Allied foot soldiers and mechanized units to advance. When fired, the entire ship seemed to vibrate and roll with concussion forces from those guns. As the Germans retreated, the Champlin moved northward using grid information from the pilots of the spotting planes to accurately direct our fire. At this time, the area around the famous Monte Cassino was particularly difficult for infantry to recapture from the enemy. I wonder now if any shells from our ship played a part in the German withdrawal from there."

"Far to the northwest Italian coast, in the vicinity of the islands of Corsica and Elba, we heard of the Germans using small craft referred to as E-Boats. Their equivalent of the Navy's PT Boat, I imagine. I never observed one. However, I distinctly recall a hair-raising incident when German 88mm artillery shells exploded very close to our port side, immediately followed by another on starboard. The Champlin accelerated to full speed just as the third shell exploded with a wicked 'crrumppff' very close dead astern. We may have been near the E-Boat lair at the time. At any rate, the Champlin's officers and crew utilized her maneuverability and speed to avoid a certain calamity that day. Radioman Jack Evans showed me a shrapnel piece he later found on the foc'sle deck."

"August of 1944 found us in the invasion of southern France. Our deadly accurate Fire Controlmen with their radar shot down a German Junker 88 bomber. Radarman George Stangle added it to the kill icons painted on the bridge. The Champlin sailed in so close I felt I could have thrown a stone and hit the beach at Nice. Didn't get ashore in France although the ship did send a boarding party in and when they returned, they reported the German soldiers were surrendering all over the place Their country conceded defeat shortly thereafter."

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