Reflections: “Engineering Officer – Dial 005”

Yikes. That’s The Captain’s Number

Yikes is not really the word we thought/whispered/cursed out loud.

The Oki-Boat in Victoria Harbor – Hong Kong 1974

This was not nothing.

We all genuflected upon hearing that blast over the ship’s 1MC. The ship’s intercom – so to speak.

Getting the word out to almost every nook and cranny that one might find on the USS Okinawa LPH-3. Words passed, such as: “The smoking lamp is out.” Or: “General Quarters” (the current day Battle Stations for all you landlubbers out there).

“Engineering Officer – Dial 005.”

This was 1974. In the South China Seas in the summer where the sun’s rays produced a searing heat on the Flight Deck of our helicopter carrier. One that was hot enough to start cooking us below in CCTV – Closed Circuit TV – one level lower than the Flight Deck.

This – 15 minutes after I had called the Bridge to “pass the word” that I was shutting down the CCTV system for the night. Early. And I knew that there would be hell to pay for doing so.

But the Bridge Messenger of the Watch hadn’t passed “my word” out yet.

I guessed that I had gotten bumped. By the Captain and others.

We had TV equipment, worth several hundred thousand dollars (as we understood it) cooking – as the ship’s engineers had turned off the water to our air conditioning unit while they took too long to repair the Marine’s Officer’s Head next door (restroom for all you landlubbers still here).

My equipment was starting to go on the fritz – a technical term – about 2 hours into our nightly broadcast – which started at 1800 (6 pm for all you landlubbers) – and I decided that I had to turn the darn thing off.

It wasn’t the first time that I had turned the system off – or so it seemed to my captive audience – but usually for only a minute or two – if I didn’t have functioning equipment to smoothly segue back and forth with. If I had to change film reels or video tape reels and then start back up. The ship was used to that kind of interruption. Not exactly just like home.

But that wasn’t my issue this night.

So I called the Bridge to ask them to pass the word that CCTV was suspending tonight’s showing due to equipment issues – and that if they were resolved we would pass the word again that we were starting back up.

That was 15 minutes ago. 5 minutes ago we pulled the plug so to speak – and shut ‘er down. But still we did not hear our message passed – passed on to EVERYWHERE which would include those spaces where our 75 TVs were – scattered across the ship’s many sleeping compartments and many more working spaces.

A few of my 3000 viewers – in my captive audience – less those on their 4-hour watches – were already calling asking: WTH!?! Or worse.

I stated that the word was yet to be passed about “why” – but it would soon – I hoped. But my phone didn’t stop ringing. And I could not not answer it. That would be unacceptable.

So I took them all – and in each call that I answered – I took it in the ear – so to speak.

I caught “hell” for disrupting the evening on a night out at sea for a whole bunch of people. 2400 had been training for combat all day; then knocked off for chow on the Mess Deck to sit and eat with some of the 600 people who went about the business of running a ship and ferrying the 2400 around … and then looking for something to do – to stay out of trouble.

They all, mostly, settled into the nightly TV routine. Non-stop movies and TV shows. No commercials. Because I didn’t like showing them. Most of the time. Distractions at night on a US warship cruising the South China Seas didn’t include commercials. Not in my Navy. But did the crew appreciate that? Not just NO, but….

I knew that I was going to hear about this – catch a little hell – everywhere I went the next day. Especially if no one knew that we were shut down – and if everyone waited for me to get it back up – and then it didn’t.

I had called the Bridge and asked them to Pass The Word. But nothing came across except for official ship’s business.

And for the Engineering Officer to call the Captain’s stateroom.

That gave me a queasy feeling, hearing that request. Only it wasn’t a request. Didn’t sound like a request.

The Messenger of the Watch had barked out his command as if he were the Captain. The Captain in a bad mood. Hence my queasiness.

We, CCTV, Closed Circuit TV – were there for entertainment purposes. For ship’s morale. The morale of 2400 Marines and 600 sailors.

We were not the #1 priority for getting the word out across the 1MC which is used for important ship’s business … remember General Quarters?

Yeah. I got that. But still. Those calls coming in to CCTV. People were cranky … to say the least.

We – my buddies who helped me out in my typically air conditioned working space – heard The Word passed for a half dozen or so messages – without hearing mine.

Then another call. I wearily but professionally answered: “CCTV. Wallace speaking.”

“This is the Captain. What’s going on with CCTV?”

I answered while at Attention:

“Sir, our working space is extremely hot and I am afraid we are about to damage several hundred thousands of dollars of equipment. So we decided we had to shut down and we called the Bridge to pass the word, but they haven’t done it yet. Sir.”

“Well, what’s the problem?”

“Sir, they’ve got the water turned off in the next compartment, the Officer’s Head, and so our air conditioner isn’t working and we are overheating the equipment.”

“Very well.” And he hung up on me.

Then we heard it – across the 1MC.

Immediately.

“Engineering Officer – Dial 005.”

We exchanged looks. For we knew we had perhaps created an issue for ourselves that evening. The Engineering Officer might not be too happy about this.

A moment later we heard the Word Passed for my message. Finally. All would now know and they would hopefully leave me alone.

Then a knock at our door. I opened it. There was the Engineering Officer with 20-30 people in tow. I couldn’t tell the exact number as they were strung up and down the passageway (hallway for you landlubbers) past the next open hatchway (doorway, you landlubbers).

“What the hell is the problem here?”

I told him. He turned and barked a few order and his men scrambled.

“Next time, call me first.”

“Yes, sir.” I called out as he stormed off.

The AC was soon fixed. We went back on-air a couple of hours later – as soon as The Word was passed.

I approached the Engineering Officer the next day to apologize. He casually brushed it off. And then he asked if we would be able to run a cable to his stateroom, so that he could hook up his new TV and watch his favorite program while working at his desk. It was the show that I had cut short when I turned the system off.

“Not a problem, sir. I’ll be back in 10 minutes.”

“By the way,” he asked, did I know that the program I shut down when I turned off the entire system was also the Captain’s favorite show?

Who knew!? That totally blew me away.

I made sure that I never did THAT again.

Me with some guy who worked for The Hong Kong Ferry back in the day.

To All Who Have And Are Serving – May Your Favorite TV Program Never Be Interrupted

Unless you need a quick break, of course.

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