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by Ernie Matlock
below the horizon,
Virgo's but a spot,
here we're doomed to spend our time,
a ship that God forgot.
with the snails and fish,
where a man gets blue,
in the middle of nowhere,
many miles from you.
sweat, we freeze, we shiver,
all a man can stand,
not supposed to be convicts,
of our land.
sailors of the Navy,
small in pay,
people with millions,
two and a half a day.
to see our girls.
hoping while we're away,
they won't marry our buddies,
add to our dismay.
one knows we're living.
one gives a damn,
home we are forgotten,
belong to Uncle Sam.
time we spend in the Navy,
good times that we missed,
don't let the draft board get you,
for God's sake, don't enlist.
die and go to heaven,
Peter we will tell,
of the Virgo,
our time in hell.
The USS Virgo 1954 to
The first of three parts
by Richard D. Winters FT2 (Also know as Richard von
I reported aboard the
USS Virgo in November of 1955 while she was in dry dock at the Bethlehem
Naval Ship Yard in San Francisco. The
Virgo was being re-outfitted with new winches and booms.
Minor work was being done on her hull.
In December 55 the
Virgo steamed up the Sacramento River to Port Chicago to begin loading
ammunition. The Suez Crises
had broken out and the fleet was being deployed to the South China Sea.
Ammunition was loaded around the clock 24 hours a day.
The Virgo was
loaded in record time, and departed San Francisco on 4 January 1956.
We arrived in Honolulu on January 10th and proceeded to
West Locks to take on an additional cargo of Special Weapons.
We departed the next day at 1300. for Yokosuka, Japan, arriving 23
January. The weather was bad
and it was a difficult crossing. The
Virgo received forward structural damage due to the heavy waves.
On the 6th
of February, The Virgo proceeded to Chichijmi, Iwakuni and onwards to
Sasebo, Japan. In 1956 there was a large Naval Facility in Iwakuni and we
did off load some of our cargo including part of the Special Weapons
25 February 1956,
the Virgo departed Sasebo for Manila, for 3 days of R&R and then to
Subic Bay. On 9 March, The Virgo joined up with a battle group and spent
the next 5 days replenishing the task force.
Some of the major ships were:
USS Bennington, USS Roanoke, USS Los Angeles and the USS Bon Home
19 March 1956,
the USS Virgo, tied up to buoy in the far South of Hong and on the 21st
sailed on to Keelung, Formosa (Taiwan), where we off loaded cargo at
night. We than return to
Sasebo where the Virgo was buoyed for 31 days, in a cove 25 minutes from
the Naval pier. (Oh the joys
25 April 1956 The
Virgo sailed up to Yokosuka and on to some R&R at Nogoya.
At Nogoya, someone in the Port Authority, assumed or was
misinformed, that because our ship had an AKA designation that our cargo
consisted of general stores. We
were shown a berth, next to the Woolworth 5& 10 cent warehouse.
After about 3 days, the mayor and his delegation visited the ship
to kindly ask us to leave. We
were on 3-section liberty, so you know it took us two more days to round
up the crew.
On 10 May 1956,
we departed for the states by way on Yokosuka and Hawaii were we unloaded
our Special Weapons cargo at West Lock; returning to Port Chicago 30 May
56 after 146 days, 21 hours.
P.S. The Mr. Roberts palm
tree was still on the wing of the starboard bridge.
We also had two dignitaries aboard.
Ens William Wrigley Jr was the Gunnery Office (Wrigley Chewing Gum
and Ens Atwater, heir to the Scott-Atwater Outboard Motors was the
In October 1956, the USS Virgo departed from Port
Chicago for WestPac with a full load of munitions.
This trip was relatively uneventful.
Her ports of call were: Pearl Harbor, Yokosuka, Sasebo, Subic Bay,
Hong Kong, Kobe, Yokosuka, Pear Harbor and home.
There were two fleet replenishment exercises.
We had extended stays
(over 30 days) both in Sasebo, where is was extremely cold and at Subic
Bay, were it was, as normal, very hot. The
Mr. Roberts palm tree on the starboard bridge was surviving.
The Virgo returned to Port Chicago in February of 1957.
In April 1957 the Virgo
went to the Mare Island Naval Ship Yards for an overhaul and face lift.
All the 20mm canons were removed.
Her paint job was fantasticshe never looked so good.
We got new captain: Capt.
Earl W. Logsdon, USN. I make
mention of him now because he was a great captain as you will see in Part
I was an FT2 assigned
to the 3rd Division or Ordinance Division so one can
understand my interest in the ships guns and associated fire control
The Virgo class of cargo ships carried:
Cargo Ships Armament vs Virgo Armament
1 ea 5/38
1 ea 5/38
4 ea 40mm
4 ea 3/50
12 ea 20mm
12 ea 20mm
(removed in 1957
5 ea MK 51 Gun Directors
4 ea MK 51 Gun Directors
1 ea MK 54 Fire Control System
Some time between 1946 and 1951, the Virgo was reassigned to serve as an
To accomplish this, the USS Virgo underwent several major changes.
The 440mm guns were removed and replaced with 4 3/50s and
a MK 54 fire control system was installed on the flying bridge.
This armament is characteristic of the sister AEs.
You will not find World War II production of AKA cargo ships in Janes Book of Ships with 3/50 guns and a semi-automatic radar
controlled fire control system. To
the trained eye, the Virgo was a unique ship.
A wooden deck was installed over the metal plates as
a safety precaution in case the munitions were dropped in the loading and
off-loading process. However, none of the cargo holds were modified to
secure ammunition as is normally found in the AEs.
This was to prove to be major hazard.
Loading the Virgo was a tedious job.
Wooden decks and shoring had to be added to each roll and layer of
the cargo. Heavy timber was
used but the job was time consuming. As an example, the 2000 lb bombs were placed on a wooden deck
of 2 x 12s over 4 x4s. The
first deck was over the steel floor and then the bombs were lined up in
rolls over the wooden deck. On
top of the bombs, a new deck was built with the same 4 x 4 and 2 x 12
construction. This continued
until there were 6 layers of bombs.
During the October 56
crossing the Virgo hit heavy seas and was experiencing 30° rolls.
The rolls of bombs were like a roll of unsupported marbles and
popped out of the shoring and rolled to the leeward side.
The Virgo listed and the sea was forcing her over to 40°. It was an all hands emergency.
The Capitan turned the ship into the storm and the cargo was
stabilized. This was the
worst example, but on each of my three cruises, we did experience the
cargo shifting and/or breaking loose.
Australia here we
The 1956 Olympics were
held in Melbourne, Australia. The
carrier task force consisting of the USS Bennington represented the U.S.
Government. The task force
paid a port of call visit in Sydney before returning to their assigned
station. The welcome and
hospitality shown by the Australian people was great. The skipper of the Bennington and the skipper of the Virgo,
Captain Logston, were fellow class mates and after discussing the
Bennington voyage, Capt Logston believed it was necessary for the Virgo
crew to experience the life down under.
- - An ammunition ship with 8000 tons of high explosives going to
Australia?? Where there is
a will there is a way
After a few phone
calls, it seems that the Sydney Zoo was in need of an American brown bear
and a Pacific seal. And it also just happened that the Seattle Zoo had an extra
baby brown bear and a Pacific seal. And
it also just happened that the USS Virgo was in the process of departing
for Asia and that Australia was not that far out of the way. However Captain Logsdon believed that Seattle was defiantly
too far out of our way, so it was decided that the bear and the seal be
flown to Hawaii for pick-up by the Virgo. In August of 1957 the Virgo set
sail for Sydney and a new category of special weapons cargo was to
be pick up at Pearl Harbor.
The baby brown bear and
seal were picked up as scheduled and the Virgo set sail for Sydney.
As luck would have it, the bear got immediately sea sick and then 5
days later got constipated and died.
He was given a full military honors funeral at sea.
We were scheduled to
cross the Equator on the 11th of August and the ship was
preparing for the customary Shellback initiations and celebrations.
On the 10th of August, the pollywogs held a mutiny.
They locked all existing enlisted Shellbacks in the brig after
shaving their heads and then took over the ship for about an hour using
fire hoses as the weapon of
choice. Unfortunately, in the
melee, the Mr. Roberts palm tree was thrown over the side.
Pollywogs have no respect.
Two nights later, the
Virgo picked up a distress radio signal.
A Swedish cargo/passenger liner the SS Milos had gone aground
in the Santa Cruz Islands West
Pac was notified of the Milos situation.
The Virgo was three sailing days from the Milos and due security
reason if was felt that we could not render assistance.
WestPac thought differently and order the
Virgo to proceed and render aid.
The wind had blown the
SS Milos unto a reef just off of Vanacora Island.
The high winds and coral reefs were treacherous.
It was going to be a difficult task.
We walked our anchor chain to the stern and with the help of
a small inter-island boat the chain was ferried over to and connected to
the anchor chain on the bow of the Milos.
Both chains were let out as far as possible and we had just enough
time to make one run before dusk. Slowly
the Virgo pulled along side the Milos and out to the open sea, dragging
the chain behind. As pressure
built, the chain came out of the water, once, twice, and on the third time
--- it broke! We felt
dismayed. Then the Milos blew her horn!
The tug was just enough to free her from the reef and she was under
full steam for Sydney.
When we reached Sydney
harbor, the story of the rescue preceded us.
Fireboats were shooting water in the air.
There was a flotilla of boats with the press and excited people.
The owners of the SS Milos had organized an open house at one the
major hotels and one entire floor was available to the crew for the 5 days
of our stay. Everything was
on the house..
The rest of this cruise
was mostly uneventful. We
made the rounds to Subic Bay, Sasebo, Yokosuka, Hong Kong, Pearl Harbor
and home. We did have a band
welcoming us at Ford Island. This
was a first and it was related to the Milos incident.
In October of 1957, we
got word the USS Virgo would be retired.
In January the USS Virgo sailed her last voyage to Tongue Point
Naval Station, Astoria, Oregon for preparations for decommissioning.
She was later towed to Pier 91 in Seattle for dry dock work and
then back to Tongue Point to join the mothball fleet.
My five months in Oregon were the worse days of my naval career.
It rained every day! How
and why Tongue Point was chosen to mothball a ship was beyond my
comprehension at the time. The
USS Virgo was decommission on 3 April 1958
From James Arwick
Submitted by: Debi Clark,
Former Crew Members and Shipmates
James (Jim) Arwick MM2/C
I first went aboard, I did the regular routine in the operations of the
Later, I became the throttle man.
Our chief engineer officer was a Lt. whose name
He had been a former Destroyer Officer and apparently felt that all
ships could develop the speed of
He told me that I was to answer all bells from the bridge by
getting up to speed quickly.
Being an obedient sailor, I would open
or close the throttle valves rapidly, causing the main steam pressure to
go crazy - up and down.
The water renders in the fire room would have to really scramble to
try to hold the pressure at 450 lbs. It didn't make them happy or me
method of operation caused some anxious moments on a trip from Frisco to
Stockton, CA up the Sacramento River.
The Skipper, I heard, felt that he could turn the ship 180 degrees
without the help of tugs.
I was on the throttles, the C.E. was standing by me.
The assistant engineer, a Warrant Officer named Krogstad was
wearing head phones and handling the enunciator.
After numerous bells and raising cane with the steam pressure, our
RPM's were at 1/3 speed.
A new order came on the enunciator and the needle swung back and
forth and then hung down, useless.
The operation chain from the bridge had broken.
As I mentioned, we were at 1/3 speed ahead.
the chain broke, Krogstad received a verbal order by phone and hollered
Naturally, I responded as per orders from the C.E. and slammed the
throttle open, dragging the pressure way down.
I didn't know the order had been two thirds BACK.
So here we are, surging ahead into the river bank.
We could hear and feel the crunching begin and Krogstad was
hollering full BACK.
The C.E. and myself were scrambling to close the forward throttle
while the warrant was opening the Astern Throttle.
These valves were large with stem wheels approximately 24"
took two hands to operate them.
I heard later that the anchor detail on the bow of the ship,
dropped their tools or whatever and ran when they saw what was happening.
I was sure that yours truly would get at least a captain's mast and
probably lose a stripe, but they must have blamed it all on the enunciator
chain, because I was not called up or chewed out.
Luckily, we were able to back off the bank under our own power.
It would interesting to read the entry in the ships log about this
possible point of interest is that while on a trip, I don't recall where,
there was some uncharted shoals discovered.
On being reported to the Navy Department they were named, Virgo
Shoals, by the Navy.
They are no doubt showing on charts now.
in Subic Bay, Philippines, we were given R & R on the beach.
We were also told that a nearby village was out of bounds.
Telling that to a sailor was like telling a hungry dog not to eat
Needless to say, many swabbies went through the jungle brush to a
small stream and either waded or rode native boats across to the village.
Out of nowhere came the Marine M.P's. and rounded up those who were
not able to get away.
One of our guys climbed a palm tree to escape detection, but when
found and asked what he was doing up there, he said he was looking for
I guess that was all he could think of to say.
As a result of this escapade, the entire crew was restricted to the
ship for the remainder of our stay.
division aboard ship had to have a "Joe" pot and we were no
However, we had the misfortune of breaking our Silex pots by them
falling off the hot plate while the ship rolled.
Not to be daunted by this catastrophe, we made a "pot" by
using the bottom half of a large coffee tin (the square cans the coffee
We would heat the water in the tin and take any rags from the rag
barrel and use it for a coffee sack and toss it in.
The coffee was unmentionable, but it sure kept us awake on the
midnight to four watch.
electrical panel consisted of large open knife switches and while cleaning
it with a paint brush, one of our E.M.'s accidentally made contact with
the metal band on the brush across a switch.
The resulting flash caused his arm to get burned from fingertip to
at that, he was lucky.
I remember him, but not his name.
He was the one who
managed to get a second fan for the engineers compartment by
telling the supply officer that there were 69 stinking butts and only one
our trip to Manus Island, the Shellbacks were making canvas tubes and
stuffing them with rags and soaking them in sea water.
When dry and hard packed they became solid as a baseball bat.
These guys took great pleasure in telling us "Pollywogs"
what they were to be used for.
We later found out for ourselves.
don't know if Guinness has a record of the longest pinochle game, but we
had a marathon game going on the Virgo.
When it came time to go on watch, a player would leave and another
would take his place.
This went on and on.
I imagine a good deal of the crew was in on the game.
had some good times aboard and ashore.
I remember the time at Maui when we had to leave the ship for a day
Several of us spent the day at a little tavern down the road from
the Pier. We were having a good ole time!!
I won't mention any names, but you will know who you
are.....remember that girl's "panties"??
We had a good laugh, but I'm sure you were embarrassed.
The USS VIRGO AK 20 has a fascinating history. You capture that
history grandly. One thing I might mention, however, is that the
VIRGO served as an ammunition ship throughout the Korean Conflict.
I know, I was assistant to the cargo loading officer, a pin-strip
warrant named Smith. In point of fact, the VIRGO was outfitted to
handle ammunition at the Long Beach Naval
Shipyard the last of 1950 and early 1951.
I went aboard the VIRGO
was still at Long Beach, as a Seaman fresh out of Storekeepers School.
Again, in point of fact, the VIRGO served as the only ammunition
ship in the
area for roughly seven or eight months until joined by the VESUVIUS and
FIRESIDE. During that period the ship worked nonstop loading and off
ammunition (also bunker fuel and provisions from our number three hold) to
ships at sea as well as to the Marine Air Groups ashore.
went up a
river to service a Marine Air Group (MAG 33, I believe) and a storm came
In turning around to head back out to sea the ship almost capsized. On
another occasion we fired on a ROK vessel that would not identify itself.
Our Captain was a man named Samson. My battle station was JA Phone
I'll never forget that assignment because Captain Samson had a very soft
voice and he liked to stand on deck and talk into the wind. I'm sure
not interested in all this but seeing your web site makes me reminisce.
Incidentally, I have pictures of the ship loaded with 250 and 500 pound
on deck. If you would like, I would be happy to send you a couple.
thing, during the Korean Conflict the ship remained USS VIRGO AK20,
though it served as an ammunition ship. After the Conflict, I'm told
on the USS ALSTEAD by then) the ship hauled sand to Subic Bay in the
Philippines to be used in building the airstrip there.
By the bye, is there any truth to the rumor that the USS RELUCTANT VIRGIN
Mr. Roberts was based on the USS VIRGO? This was the scuttlebutt
while I was
aboard the ship.
Myles B. Knape, SK2
What a Real Sailor Is
Submitted by: Rick McConnell
I like standing on the bridge wing at sunrise with salt spray in my face
and clean ocean winds whipping in from the four quarters of the globe, the
ship beneath me feeling like a living thing as her engines drive her
through the sea. I like the sounds of the Navy -the piercing trill
of the boatswains pipe, the syncopated clangor of the ship's bell on
the quarterdeck, the harsh squawk of the 1MC and the strong language
and laughter of sailors at work.
I like the vessels of the Navy - nervous darting destroyers, plodding
Fleet auxiliaries, sleek submarines and steady solid carriers. I like the
proud sonorous names of Navy capital ships: Midway, Lexington, Saratoga,
Coral Sea - memorials of great battles won. I like the lean angular names
of Navy 'tin-cans': Barney, Dahlgren, Mullinix, McCloy - mementos of
heroes who went before us. I like the tempo of a Navy band blaring through
the topside speakers as We pull away from the oiler after refueling at
I like liberty call and the spicy scent of a foreign port. I even like all
hands working parties as my ship fills herself with the multitude of
supplies both mundane and exotic which she needs to cut her ties to the
land and carry out her mission anywhere on the globe where there is water
to float her.
I like sailors, men from all parts of the land, farms of the Midwest,
small towns of New England, from the cities, the mountains and the
prairies, from all walks of life. I trust and depend on them as they trust
and depend on me - for professional competence, for comradeship, for
courage. In a word, they are "shipmates." I like the surge of
adventure in my heart when the word is passed "Now station the
special sea and anchor detail - all hands to quarters for leaving
port", and I like the infectious thrill of sighting home again, with
the waving hands of welcome from family and friends waiting pierside. The
work is hard and dangerous, the going rough at times, the parting from
loved ones painful, but the companionship of robust Navy laughter, the
'all for one and one for all' philosophy of the sea is ever present.
I like the serenity of the sea after a day of hard ship's work, as flying
fish flit across the wave tops and sunset gives way to night. I like the
feel of the Navy in darkness - the masthead lights, the red and green
navigation lights and stern light, the pulsating phosphorescence of radar
repeaters - they cut through the dusk and join with the mirror of stars
overhead. And I like drifting off to sleep lulled by the myriad noises
large and small that tell me that my ship is alive and well, and that my
shipmates on watch will keep me safe. I like quiet mid-watches with
the aroma of strong coffee - the lifeblood of the Navy - permeating
everywhere. And I like hectic watches when the exacting minuet of
haze-gray shapes racing at flank speed keeps all hands on a razor edge of
I like the sudden electricity of "General quarters, general quarters,
all hands man your battle stations", followed by the hurried clamor
of running feet on ladders and the resounding thump of watertight doors as
the ship transforms herself in a few brief seconds from a peaceful work
place to a weapon of war - ready for anything. And I like the sight of
space age equipment manned by youngsters clad in dungarees and
sound-powered phones that their grandfathers would still recognize.
I like the traditions of the Navy and the men and women who made them. I
like the proud names of Navy heroes: Halsey, Nimitz, Perry, Farragut, John
Paul Jones. A sailor can find much in the Navy: comrades-in-arms, pride in
self and country, mastery of the seaman's trade. An adolescent can find
In years to come, when sailors are home from the sea, they will still
remember with fondness and respect the ocean in all its moods - the
impossible shimmering mirror calm and the storm-tossed green water surging
over the bow. And then there will come again a faint whiff of stack gas, a
faint echo of engine and rudder orders, a vision of the bright bunting of
signal flags snapping at the yardarm, a refrain of hearty laughter in the
wardroom and chief's quarters and mess decks.
Gone ashore for good they will grow wistful about their Navy days, when
the seas belonged to them and a new port of call was ever over the
Remembering this, they will stand taller and say, "I was a Sailor. I
was part of the Navy and the Navy will always be a part of me."
I got a twenty dollar bill that says the letter addressed to your parents
about the commissioning of the Virgo as an ammo ship was done when several
chiefs and officers were 'recruited' to help address envelopes. How
do I know this?
There is no way the letter to your parents was addressed by anyone other
than my old man....
My father had a peculiar habit .. he always laid down a ruler and wrote
in the back slant... I was 14 that year and even though thirty plus years
have passed (I hate to talk about it getting closer to FORTY years), the
Old Man still hasn't changed his handwriting style...I even have a letter
that he wrote me in that same year.
You may remember that CAPT Macmillan had a son in the Sea Scouts... I was
also a member of the Sea Scouts, but the change of command took place
before I joined the unit. Just for fun, look at the
change-of-command ceremony in the pics you posted... do you remember any
strange rumors about the cake that is being cut by both Captains (CAPT
Macmillan and CAPT Carrier)? About how the shipfitters were summoned
at O dark thirty to remove a hatch in the galley because one dumb SOB had
not measured the hatch... and the cake was too big to fit through the
hatch? This story is even worse... that one dumb SOB happened to be
the Chief Stewburner..and later CMAA? If you do remeber "Chief
Bake-a-Cake" please let me know... I would welcome a rebutting sea
I most appreciated your posting the Cruise Book on the website.... I
recognized a bunch of the kids...and my old man, Mr. Gossard whose son
Larry was one of my best friends, and of course..a certain petty officer
in the Supply Division. By the way...were there any more pics of the
Chiefs? Only six of sixteen appeared on the site... My Old Man was
one of them.
If you haven't guessed by now, I am the son of CSC Robert M. Winters -- I
did not follow in my father's footsteps in total... I was a soldier for
many years, then joined the Naval Reserve as an HM1... and I do have many
stories from the Goat Locker..as related by my Old Man, and Chiefs Kell,
Beaird, and Delara. Thank my Old Man and Chief Kell for the fact
that tarps were finally installed on the liberty boats so that the kids
didn't have to get wet while going ashore....
Robert M. Winters, Jr.
(former 1SG, USAR; HM1, USNR)
I wanted to
let you know that the USS VIRGO (AE-30) Sideboard @ 15 feet long
with the stainless steel or chromed letters is proudly displayed in the
US Navy Museum at the US Navy Yard here in Washington, D.C. -- But no
one I talked to knew she was the "Reluctant" or the Mister
Roberts real life association. I'm sure someone there must know --
but it was really great to see our ship's sideboard proudly displayed
with many other famous ships in a really great museum.
John S. Proctor