Friday, December 29, 2017

ALL THE SHIPS AT SEA

Things have improved a little in the Navy since Joe Fyffe's day. All The Ships At Sea was in my father's library when I was young and I read the stories and the rest of William Lederer's books by the time I was 12. The story below was memorable because that's pretty much the Navy I joined.

I reported to my first ship after graduation, commissioning, 20 weeks of school in Newport and a trip to the far side of the world. I didn't get paid my travel claim for months after I submitted it. When it was paid the Disbursing Officer had a chat with me and told me I was not eligible for per diem the whole time and thus owed the Navy a lot of money and instead of getting a lot of money he was forced to take it out of my pay checks for the next year, he said. I allowed as how he was wrong and told him so.

About 2 months later, still steaming around in the Indian Ocean he and I talked again. He told me that he was mistaken and my order modification canceling Legal School left out the per diem I was authorized and he gave me a huge check and said it would be simpler all around if I just cashed this and let the dead horse continue to deduct pay from my checks for the rest of the year. I was OK with that.

When I went to Department Head School years later the same sort of thing happened. I didn't get paid my travel and per diem for about 5 months of school and travel. I waited several months, patiently, and then went to the disbursing office where a vicious civilian clerk from Hell assured me that she would get around to me when Hell itself froze over. I was left not unmoved by her sneering contempt and asked where I could find the CO's office. She didn't want to tell me so I said just point to his office and she sneered that he was a she.

I went down the hall and around a few corners and found the CO who listened to my complaint, called in the supervisor for the Clerk who Sneers and ordered her to cut me a check for the full amount. About a week later she contacted me to tell me that the holdup had been due to waiting for a receipt for my lodging in Newport and that it turns out that all of those receipts went up in flames when the building they were in burned to the ground.

I ran into something much worse that year I spent in Bahrain as a LCDR on the Staff of NAVCENT. I coudn't get paid. I had to fly back to Moffet Field and flame spray some people to get them to pay me.

Oddly enough, once I moved up one more time in rank I didn't run into any of these little problems ever again. It was weird because one of my skippers, upon his promotion to Commander, handed me his LCDR shoulder boards and pronounced as how Lieutenants, Junior Grade, Lieutenants and Lieutenant Commanders were all  the same, they were just Lieutenants. I sure got treated the same by every pay clerk and office until I reached Commander.

The Navy vs. Joe Fyffe 

Shortly after she steamed slowly into
the Whangpoo River, the Coolidge was met by the pilot
boat. Customs officials, newspapermen, and travel
agency representatives came out at the same time. So did
Ensign Hymie O'Toole, my official welcoming party.
Hymie had arrived in Shanghai a month ahead of me
and was the communications officer in the USS Dale.

None of the passengers could disembark for two
hours; Hymie and I sat in the bar talking over old
times and planning liberties of the future. "You know,"
said Hymie, looking over the luxurious lounge in the
Coolidge, "it's pretty damned marvelous that the Navy
sends you out this way. And all for free. You even get
an allowance for tipping the servants."

"It's nice all right."

Hymie said, "It didn't used to be this way. Formerly,
if you came by commercial, you paid your own way
and then tried to collect later."

"This cost the Navy about six hundred dollars; I
never could have scraped up that much cash."

"Think of the old days, though, said Hymie dream-
ily. Every time an officer had orders, especially if he
had a family, he put out a couple of thousand bucks.
That's why officers were always in debt. A distant rela-
tive of mine, Commodore Joe Fyffe, was the first one to
fight that system. In fact it was through his efforts that
legislation finally got passed."

I said, "Commodore Fyffe a relative of yours?"

"He was my grandfather's third cousin on my fa-
ther's side and he was always fighting with stuffed
shirts/' Hymie's eyes misted with sentiment. He or-
dered a couple of neat whiskeys. "To Commodore Joe
Fyffe" he toasted, "the Paul Bunyan of all the
oceans!"

He called for more drinks. Between the six or eight
toasts which followed, Hymie told me about Commo-
dore Fyffe's fight against the old law which decreed
that officers under orders lay out the money for their
own expenses.

When, in August, 1870, Lieutenant Commander Jo-
seph P. Fyffe, USN, received orders to the Orient via
San Francisco, he was a happy guy. It meant command
of a fine frigate, an independent command.

The only leak in the bilges was that travelling to San
Francisco cost money and Joe Fyffe didn't have any.
He already was in debt and didn't want to borrow any
more.

"The Navy should pay for my transportation" he
said, and forthwith wrote a statement to the paymaster
at New London requesting that his travel expenses be
paid ahead of time by the Navy. The paymaster en-
dorsed the statement: "Custom and Regulations have
determined that the officer pay his own way and sub-
mit an expense account upon reaching his destination."

So Joe communicated with the Secretary of the Navy
and complained over the financial hardships heaped
upon naval personnel. He requested that the Navy De-
partment either lay out the money, or supply him with
railroad tickets or transportation via naval vessel.

The reply to his letter came, not from the Secretary,
but from the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, a can-
tankerous old admiral.

To: Lieutenant Commander J. P. Fyffe.
In reply to your letter of the i8th. Your request is
contrary to Navy Regulations. Carry out your
orders.

Joe Fyffe cursed. Then he took a magnifying glass
and carefully studied his orders.

ON OR ABOUT 1 8 AUGUST YOU WILL DEPART FROM
THE NAVAL STATION NEW LONDON FOR SAN FRAN-
CISCO X UPON ARRIVING THERE REPORT TO THE
SENIOR OFFICER PRESENT FOR TRANSPORTATION VIA
NAVAL VESSEL TO THE ASIATIC SQUADRON. UPON AR-
RIVAL IN SHANGHAI . . . [and there followed several
paragraphs giving instructions about what to do in the Orient]

The orders terminated with the normal paragraph,

WHILE CARRYING OUT THESE ORDERS YOU WILL KEEP
THE BUREAU OF NAVIGATION INFORMED OF YOUR WHERE-
ABOUTS. There was nothing in his orders that stated
when he was supposed to arrive in San Francisco or by
what means he must travel.

Joe donned his best uniform, put his orders in a
waterproof envelope, and strapped his sword to his
small handbag. At sunrise on the 25th of August, he
walked out of New London and headed westward for
San Francisco.

By sundown he reached East Haddam where he sent
the following telegram to the Navy Department, Wash-
ington, D. C.

25 AUGUST 1870

TO: CHIEF BUREAU NAVIGATION
FROM: LT COMDR J P FYFFE USN
COMPLIANCE ORDERS NUMBER 1998 LT COMDR
FYFFE EN ROUTE NEW LONDON TO SAN FRANCISCO X
ON FOOT X THIS TELEGRAM TO KEEP BUREAU IN-
FORMED MY WHEREABOUTS X MADE GOOD TWENTY
TWO MILES THIS DATE X SPENDING EVENING IN HAY-
LOFT IN MT PARNASSUS X VERY RESPECTFULLY
FYFFE

Every evening for the next few days he sent a tele-
gram.

26 AUGUST 1870

TO: CHIEF BUREAU NAVIGATION
FROM: LT COMDR J P FYFFE USN
COMPLIANCE ORDERS NUMBER 1998 AM EN ROUTE
NEW LONDON TO SAN FRANCISCO X ON FOOT X KEEP-
ING BUREAU POSTED MY WHEREABOUTS X MADE GOOD
THIRTY ONE MILES THIS DATE X BY GRACIOUS CON-
SENT MAYOR OF BRISTOL AM SPENDING NIGHT IN
MAYOR'S STABLES X HAVE NOTICED HE HAS HYBRID
MULES SPECIALLY BRED FOR TROPICS X SUGGEST
NAVY INVESTIGATE X VERY RESPECTFULLY FYFFE

27 AUGUST 1870
TO: CHIEF BUREAU NAVIGATION
FROM: LT COMDR J P FYFFE USN
COMPLIANCE ORDERS 1998 AM EN ROUTE NEW
LONDON TO SAN FRANCISCO X ON FOOT X KEEPING
BUREAU INFORMED MY WHEREABOUTS X MADE GOOD
ONLY FIFTEEN MILES THIS DATE X RAINED ALL DAY X
STAYING OVERNIGHT AT LITCHFIELD WITH MY FA-
THERS FRIEND GENERAL HOLMES X I FIND STANDARD
BOOTS WORN BY NAVAL OFFICERS INADEQUATE FOR
PROLONGED WALKING X SUGGEST SURGEON GENERAL
INESTIGATE X VERY RESPECTFULLY FYFFE

28 AUGUST 1870
TO: CHIEF BUREAU NAVIGATION
FROM: LT COMDR J P FYFFE USN
COMPLIANCE ORDER 1998 EN ROUTE NEW LONDON
TO SAN FRANCISCO X ON FOOT X KEEPING BUREAU IN-
FORMED MY WHEREABOUTS X SPENDING NIGHT
LAKEVILLE X LOVELY COUNTRY EXPECT BUY HOME
HERE SOON AS GET REIMBURSED TRAVEL VOUCHER
SUBMITTED BY ME TO NAVY THREE YEARS AGO X TO-
MORROW I ENTER NEW YORK STATE X VERY RESPECT-
FULLY FYFFE

29 AUGUST 1870
TO: CHIEF BUREAU NAVIGATION
FROM: LT COMDR J P FYFFE USN
COMPLIANCE ORDERS 1998 AM EN ROUTE NEW
LONDON TO SAN FRANCISCO X ON FOOT X KEEPING
BUREAU INFORMED MY WHEREABOUTS X MADE
TWENTY EIGHT MILES THIS DATE DESPITE BADLY
WORN SHOES X PEOPLE NOT FAMILIAR NAVY UNI-
FORMS THIS AREA X GREAT CROWD WALKED PART
WAY WITH ME X I SANG THEM SEA CHANTIES X POPU-
LACE THINKS IT GREAT SIGN DEMOCRACY FOR COM-
MANDING OFFICER OF SHIP TO WALK THREE THOU-
SAND MILES TO NEW STATION X POLICE CHIEF HUD-
SON NEW YORK HAS GIVEN ME BEST CELL IN JAIL FOR
OVERNIGHT X HE HAS DELOUSING LIQUID VERY EF-
FECTIVE X MAILING QUART SAMPLE WASHINGTON
FOR TRYOUT ONBOARD SHIP X VERY RESPECTFULLY
FYFFE

30 AUGUST 1870
TO: CHIEF BUREAU NAVIGATION
FROM: LT COMDR J P FYFFE USN
COMPLIANCE ORDERS NUMBER 1998 AM EN ROUTE
NEW LONDON TO SAN FRANCISCO X ON FOOT X KEEP-
ING BUREAU POSTED MY WHEREABOUTS X ARRIVED
ALBANY THIS DATE X REQUESTED RECRUITING OFFI-
CER BE AUTHORIZED ISSUE ME NEW SHOES X SHOES
FELL APART NOON TODAY X ENTERED ALBANY BARE-
FOOTED X WILL REMAIN SEWARD HOTEL TWO DAYS
AWAITING ANSWER X COMFORTABLE X EARNING MY
KEEP AS BARTENDER X LOCAL RUM FAR SUPERIOR
THAT SERVED IN NAVY X AM SENDING SAMPLE X VERY
RESPECTFULLY FYFFE

The next evening the recruiting officer sent a messen-
ger to the Seward Hotel requesting Lt. Commander Joe
Fyffe's presence. In full uniform, wearing borrowed
shoes, Joe went to the recruiting station.

"I have a telegram for you sir," said the recruiting
officer. "Here it is."

31 AUGUST 1870
TO: RECRUITING OFFICER ALBANY
FROM: CHIEF BUREAU NAVIGATION
PASS FOLLOWING MESSAGE TO LIEUT COMDR J P
FYFFE USN NOW AT SEWARD HOTEL BAR QUOTE I
STRIKE MY COLOURS X SECRETARY OF NAVY AUTHOR-
IZES RECRUITING OFFICER ALBANY ISSUE YOU SHOES
AND PROVIDE YOU QUICKEST TRANSPORTATION FROM
ALBANY TO SAN FRANCISCO X DELOUSING LIQUID SUC-
CESS X ANTICIPATE MAKING IT STANDARD NAVY ISSUE
X EVEN CHIEF BUREAU NAVIGATION CAN LAUGH
WHEN OUTSMARTED X USS TUSCARORA DEPARTING
SAN FRANCISCO FOR SHANGHAI TWO WEEKS FROM
TODAY X UNQUOTE X RESPECTFULLY BUREAU NAVI-
GATION

Between hiccups Hymie O'Toole concluded, "And
that's how it is that guys like you have their first-class
passage on the Coolidge prepaid by the Navy."

Those interested in reading some of the rest of the stories in All The Ships At Sea can find an online copy here.

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