A sense of family aboard ship

Vivian Blevins - Contributing Columnist

When Joseph Goetz of Piqua was a small boy, he read about the adventures of John Paul Jones. As influential as that was, the story of his great great uncle, Brian Douds, as told to him by his grandmother, Bessie O’Day Douds, was even more important — and she had a pistol that belonged to her grandfather.

Douds served with the Union Army during the Civil War for a total of 30 days, and records show he bought his way out of that branch of service so that he could enlist in the Navy. He served aboard the USS Grampus, stationed in Cincinnati. The function of those aboard the steamer was to assist in stripping ships for gunboats to be delivered to the Mississippi Squadron.

Goetz, born May 3, 1933, in Columbus, served in the U.S. Navy for four years from 1952 until 1956 and for two additional years on active reserve and two years on inactive reserve.

Proud of his service during the Korean War Era, he has collected volumes of materials about the period and in the 1970s commissioned a model ship builder in the Philippines to construct a three-foot replica of the ship on which he served, the USS Exultant AM 441.

That ship was a minesweeper, and Goetz is rightfully proud of the mottos of such vessels, “Where the Fleet Goes, We’ve Been” and “Wooden Ships and Iron Men.”

Goetz boarded the ship in February of 1952 at the Charleston Naval Shipyard, and early in that experience headed out with three other sailors to a tattoo parlor. Goetz had “Patricia and Joe,” along with two small hearts, tattooed on his right upper arm.

After the lapse of 60 years, Goetz reports with conviction, “I became a part of that ship. I lived with the crew, knew more about them than their families knew about them. It was a 24/7 deal for all of us.”

He indicates that the first commanding officer of the USS Exultant was Lt. Robert T. Gregory from June 1954 until March 1955: “He was not happy about being assigned to such a small ship (172 feet) without a full complement of officers.”

With the change of command in March of 1955, LCDR John Hawkins took over, and Goetz is eager to describe him. “He operated very much by the book. He was a Mustang, had been a signalman in World War II, went to Officers Training School and worked himself up to lieutenant commander.

“He was very fair, knew his job and was a better signalman than those on board. He kept them on their toes, had them studying after they failed his quizzing of them, made them better signalmen.”

“Man overboard!” Hawkins had a dummy named “Gentleman Jim” which he would periodically throw overboard. If the men missed the fact that the dummy was overboard, they would be forced to make a new one.

The ship was run in an orderly fashion by Hawkins and was always prepared for fire, collision, or attack with the men knowing to go to their stations and Hawkins radiating a calm when emergencies occurred: “We lived by his rules, and they worked. He smoked Winston cigarettes, and we knew when he was mad: he’d turn, grit his teeth, and almost bite his cigarette in two.”

According to Goetz, all the chiefs aboard the ship were qualified in their ratings and areas of responsibility and had served in World War II.

There was, however, a little humor when a new seaman with little training “arrived from the hills” and introduced himself, “My name’s Robert, but all my friends call me Smiley.” Robert’s assignment was dishwasher, and “he was always happy. When he received orders from the captain, he would respond, ‘Okey, dokey, captain.’”

Goetz smile broadened as he says, “Smiley was a nice guy, a good kid about 17, and he played a left-handed guitar. He’d lie down on the ropes in the aft steering area and play and sing country songs like Hank Williams’ tunes. He told us he had a car at home on jacks and he used it as a chicken coop.”

Aboard a minesweeper with its role to detect anything metal, the crew was screened thoroughly regarding any metals in their possession. As Goetz tells it, “Smiley wanted to bring his guitar on board and was making his case to the captain. The captain’s response was, ‘If you promise to say Yes, Sir and No, Sir, I’ll let you bring it aboard.’ Smiley said, ‘Okey dokey, Captain.’ The captain said, ‘Get the hell out of here.’”

After Goetz left the U.S. Navy, it was back to Piqua to the French Oil Company and then on to the Norton Company, a global design firm who assigned him to Shanghai, China, where he built a plant and finally back to Piqua to serve as city commissioner, vice mayor, and mayor.

Oh, yes, he and Patricia have five children who have settled in the Miami Valley with their families. No need to have that tattoo removed or hidden.


Vivian Blevins

Contributing Columnist

Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or vbblevins@woh.rr.com.

Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or vbblevins@woh.rr.com.