A Sailor’s Surprise
By James Cosgrove, Army
Writing Type: Prose
During the Korean War, when I was a sailor attached to the Battleship Missouri, the following situation presented itself. One particular day fellow crew members were under my guidance, removing a large motor up from the electric deck on a #316 gun turret through very tight hatch openings.
As I reached the main deck hatch I noticed a Marine standing at the bottom. In a booming voice, he asked if I was Electrician Mate Cosgrove. I answered yes. He then ordered me to wash my hands and face and follow him, because the admiral of the fleet requested my company in his sea cabin. Speedily I followed the Marine sergeant the entire length of the ship, up through the officer’s company, with all eyes watching intently as we passed. I must say I was getting nervous as we approached the Admiral’s sea cabin. The sergeant knocked and announced, “Cosgrove is here, sir.” Then he stepped back, leaving me alone to face the admiral, who was sitting there enjoying a mug of coffee.
“James, I’ve been looking for you for quite a while,” he began. “I knew all your uncles, including your namesake, Uncle James, but especially your father, Albert. We grew up together and were real pals. We rang the bells at St. Joseph’s Church every Sunday morning. We did almost everything together until I got an appointment at the U.S. Naval Academy. Your dad joined the U.S. Army.”
“James, what got you on my battleship?” he inquired. I told him that I had been a graduate student when the Korean War started and also a member of the Naval Reserves, so I was called to serve immediately.
The admiral said that he would call my father and let him know we had met each other and had enjoyed a nice visit. He’d also assure him that I’d come home in good fashion when my time was up in his command. At that time, little did I realize what he was really saying. Along came May, the month that I was to be released, return to civilian life, and continue my G.I. Bill of Rights.
I had a watch station the night before. On that particular morning I was stepping in when suddenly there were three chiefs lined up in front of my rack, telling me to hurry. I showered, shaved and dressed and they took care of the rest as they packed my sea bag and suitcase.
This is really it, I thought! I followed the chiefs right by the enlisted men’s gangway, all the way forward to the Admiral’s deck. There he stood, holding my orders which he read, transferring me to the main side of Norfolk for discharge. He came forward and saluted me; I returned the salute. The boatsman was right there with side boards and piped me ashore just as though I was a four-striper or above. It was unbelievable! Then I descended down the gangway to the Admiral’s gig, a real fancy boat. I turned and saluted the American flag on the stern as we passed away towards shore. I felt the tears on my cheeks as the Missouri BB63, the most famous ship afloat (except for the Constitution “Old Ironsides”), moved along.
On the way to the fleet landing, the ensign said that I must have influence in this man’s navy in order to get this kind of treatment. I just replied, “You’ll never know. You’ll never know.”
He dumped me and my gear at fleet landing, put my gear in a jeep, and off we went to the administration building where I got another Honorable Discharge. By train I arrived in Boston, Mass., and my Dad was waiting with the family car.
Epilogue: In three years they had a special day in Lynn, Mass., called Red Rock Day. A wreath was tossed into the ocean commemorating all sailors lost at sea. The guest speaker was my Admiral, now retired. I got the three of us together (Dad, Admiral and myself). It was closure to a wonderful experience at a very young age. I can close my eyes and in the back of my mind see it all wind down like a movie. This was one of the very good memories, among many others.
Notes: Writing Aide/Typist: Rose Fournier