Driving from the Long Beach Naval Shipyard to the LAX Airport

The U.S.S.Chicago CG-11 had a ship’s vehicle, an old gray van. It was wrapped in a gray Navy canvas and was lashed to the side of the ship when we were at sea. The van provided the land transportation for the general needs of the ship when we were in port. Taking the ship’s vehicle off the ship was always one of the very first things we did when we got into port. And putting the ship’s vehicle back on the ship was one of the very last things we did when we left port. (We also had a captain’s car that was lashed down on the other side of the ship, but I never got to ride in it.)

The old gray van looked about ready to fall apart. It had rust spots from all its exposure to salt water, and in general it was in pretty bad shape. After all, it was driven by young sailors who were always in a hurry.

To use the ship’s vehicle, you needed a legitimate reason for using it — and running over to the club did not qualify. You would go up to the quarterdeck and explain to the officer of the day why you needed it, and how long you needed it for. Your credentials would be checked, and if the vehicle was free, and not previously reserved, you would be given the key. It was generally parked by the forward gangplank. You would pack the things you were transporting in it and head out.

The stories of the problems of the ship’s vehicle were legendary. One story in particular stands out in my memory. On one of his duty days, a friend of mine, DS2 Tom Benton, was the designated driver, meaning that he had to run any errands that were required for the day. Of course he would be using the ship’s vehicle. At this time the Chicago was in the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for an overhaul, and we were posted to Long Beach. On the day that I remember, the ship got a call that someone (maybe a contractor) was arriving at LAX, the Los Angeles International Airport, and needed a ride to the ship.

So Tom checked out the ship’s vehicle from the quarterdeck, and then he drove off the base, got on the 110 freeway, changed to the 405 freeway, and headed out on a 40 mile trip north to the LAX airport in the old gray van. As anyone knows who has driven on the freeways in the Los Angeles area, the traffic was heavy at about 9 AM, but at least it was moving fast. Tom moved into one of the faster lanes and was cruising to the airport easily, when suddenly the hood on the van flew open, and bounced up and obscured his view.

Tom was really startled and scared. He started slowing down, and he tried to see what was ahead of him. First, he tried to look through the gap under the hood. There was only a small gap where he had limited viewing. He quickly started rolling down the window, and got it down far enough to lean his head out and see around the hood. He maneuvered the van across several lanes of traffic, with horns blasting, angry fists shaking out of windows, and a lot of profanity filling the air.

Finally, he got the van off the freeway, and found some wire to tie down the hood. Then he continued on his trip to pick up the passengers.

Tom reported the incident when he got back to the ship. As far as I know, the wire held the hood closed from that day forward.

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