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Before and After-Steering
Carl Boedecker

    George Carlson and I were brought to the Rich from the 'receiving ship' (New York City's infamous Pier 92) about the second week of March, 1944. We had spent a couple of miserable weeks at the Pier waiting for young guys to bring the ship back from the Bahamas, or Londonderry, or whatever luxury resort you had been enjoying.

    Finally we had been told to be in the loading area of the Pier at 0800 next morning with our 'gear lashed in sea-going fashion' for conveyance to our ship, USS Rich, DE 695. We were there, on time and eager, together with a bunch of other gobs going to their ships.

    We sat on our lashed gear until about 5, when our 'conveyance', an open, stake truck appeared. I don't know that George and I were the last to be delivered, but we were cold to the bone by the time the truck stopped alongside the Rich.

    There was no gangway, or any of that ceremonious saluting described in the Bluejackets Manual; we just tossed our gear aboard, stepped from the dock onto the ship and gave our names to the Officer of the Deck, who was, I think, C. V. Ross. I remember a brief tug-of-war between Ross, who wanted us assigned to his deck division and Howard Enquist, who maintained that, since we had come from signal school, we should be in his communication division. I figured either division would be just as well off without me, so I didn't know what the fuss was about. They could have each taken one and flipped a coin to see who got what. But, I guess the Navy had packed us as a set and Enquist got both of us.

    Chief Bosun Berry then took us below to find bunks. Now, Bob Aluni claims he had the worst bunk on our ship. I'm sure Bob's right about a lot of things (he's from the Midwest), but he's wrong on this. I don't know where his bunk was, but mine was in the mess hall, right behind the movie screen. A movie was in progress that night so there was no stowing of my gear, or getting any sleep until the show ended. Whenever movies were shown, I had to sleep, in my clothes, on top of a borrowed sack. Talk about making sacrifices for one's country.

    Next morning I was rousted out for the 0800-1200 watch and went up to the wheelhouse for instruction by QM3 Travis Stephens (His battle station was after-steering, and he went down in the stern section when it was torn off on June 8.) Later that day, I believe, we pulled out of Brooklyn Navy Yard and headed north to join a convoy east of Boston. 

    A few days out it was decided that after-steering should be the responsibility of the communication division since that division already manned the helm and the engine order telegraph (After-steering is the compartment in the stern of the ship that houses the mechanism controlling the rudder. By installing a helm and gyro-compass it was made into an auxiliary steering station from which the ship could be steered if the wheelhouse became disabled.).

    Chief QM Moore took us down and explained the procedure for activating that helm and keeping the ship on course, if we got the signal to do so. (Check the compass for course, flip two or three switches, grab the wheel and hold the course until further orders; that wouldn't be too difficult.).

    My first watch in after-steering was the next day, and, not very far into it, there came the signal I had half expected -- I was being tested on yesterday's lesson. I sprang into action and, within seconds had taken over control of the ship. Any moment now I would hear the voice of the OD or even perhaps that of my captain, 'Well done, Boedecker. That was a test. You can return control to the wheelhouse."

    The next voice I actually did hear was that of my chief, Moore, as he burst through the hatch and yelled: 'What the hell do you think you're doing?"

    Something about the look in his eyes and the redness of his face told me that I was not about to get a 'well done' out of this. I started explaining about the signal and how I thought this was a test. About that time the 'signal' sounded again, and I learned that what had 'alarmed' me was nothing more than the signal (a very loud one because of all the machinery noise) that someone wanted to talk on the intercom.

    There must have been some moments of panic in the wheelhouse, and on the bridge, when the wheel suddenly became, obviously, disconnected and ineffective. Maybe the captain was sent for. I wasn't told, and it isn't likely I asked too many questions. While nothing was said further that I heard about, surely there must have been some mutterings about "the stupid, USNR landlubbers we're getting these days."

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