After six days aboard the USS Vulcan, I was reassigned yet again. This time I was happy to go, and even happier when I reported aboard the repair ship USS Amphion (AR-13), located, not in the main portion of the naval station, but at the D & S (destroyer and submarine) Piers about a mile upriver.
Aboard the Amphion I finally got to work in a shipboard engine repair shop. Located abaft (behind) the mid-portion of the ship one level below the main deck, the shop was small by the standard which I would later come to know. However, it was adequate to the needs of a ship not dedicated solely to the repair of internal combustion engines. The shop was a comfortable environment, the work – that which I was assigned to do – was interesting, and I immediately got along with all the personnel there. Soon thoughts, and discussions, of my requesting a transfer to stay aboard started to occur. Alas, this was not to be; the Amphion had no billet for an additional Engineman rating, and the soon to return Tutuila apparently had need of me.
A feature of the Amphion’s engine shop was the large hatch trunk which took up a fair amount of the shops floor space. A hatch trunk is a large opening, first in the main deck, then in decks directly below, creating a vertical passage by which items large and small may be lowered into, or lifted out of, the interior spaces using the ship’s cargo crane. Under normal circumstances hatch trunks were closed with several removable metal covers, and on the main deck sealed by an additional watertight canvas cover as well.
One Friday, just before lunchtime, working in the engine shop, we heard a loud crash from somewhere below. Almost immediately a call came over the PA system for the ship’s doctor to report immediately to the Metal Hold — a metal and materials storage space two decks directly below our shop.
Very soon thereafter we received a call to remove the covers from our hatch trunk, and I was ordered to help with this task. As we removed the covers — and covers were removed on the deck immediately below — a terrible scene presented itself.
A few days prior, in the Metal Hold, several large thick metal plates, used for patching the sides or the decks of ships, had been delivered and temporarily leaned against one of the ships frame members and secured with a large C-Clamp. On this day a sailor had removed the clamp in preparation for properly stowing the plates. When he did so the plates toppled, trapping him beneath.
It was this scene, and the futile attempts by the ship’s doctor to revive the sailor, which met my eyes; a sight I will never forget.
It was a mournful weekend aboard the Amphion, and appropriately rainy and grim. I recall being awakened the next morning to a memorial message on the PA. For me, the petty annoyances of recent weeks — the loss of my boat engineer job, holey-stoning the decks of the Vulcan, not being able to stay with my new friends aboard the Amphion — were put into stark perspective.
Before going to breakfast that morning I stood along an outside passageway and stared out at the gloomy, rain-swept Elizabeth River and felt sad, and alone, and very homesick.