A Better Man Than Me. Rest in Peace

The March, 2011 issue of Deckplate (official newsletter of the USS Schofield for those unaware of its existence) informed me of the death of a man, an ex-sailor; a bluewater US Navy sailor who sailed the seas into “harm’s way” aboard warships.

He was many “things” in his life; husband, son, father, friend, co-worker and, adversary.

Sitting here within my shanty I am reading Steve Nelson’s obituary.

I wondered from time-to-time over the years whatever happened to that guy.

We were never friends but we were never enemies.

Sure, we glared at each other, butted heads in several ways, mostly in verbal ways but “butted” with body language and non-verbal gestures. Only once did we ever get physical but I will go into that later.

First, I want and need to say this essay is very difficult to write.

The memories of interacting with Steve are over thirty-six years old. But, some of the memories from interactions with Steve, both good and bad, remain vivid; as if they happened a week ago.

Also difficult is explaining why Steve and I interacted as we did.

I have attended numerous higher-level classes and read numerous books about human psychology, sociology, etc.

Perhaps the best way to describe Steve and I was two young mountain goats feeling the hormonal flood of youth and butting heads to determine our position, our place and rank within society.

Another goes way back to an episode of the TV show Bonanza where one of the Cartwrights had to fight a logger to determine who was to be the “bull of the woods,” the natural leader of the logging outfit where the firm owner’s appointment was not quite enough to establish that fact

While official Navy rank was in place (Steve had one more stripe than I) psychological and social reality remained with their powerful influence

The previous may not be understood by some or many people but for some it surely does.

Official Preparation

 

When the Schofield was in dry-dock at the Long Beach, California ship repair facility I volunteered for the shore patrol requirement for each ship present for various duties around the base.

Shore patrol was a duty I always volunteered for, thoroughly enjoying it and NOT for any delight in lording over anybody or getting guys tossed into the brig.

That was not my “style.” As I did during numerous patrols in Olongapo, I tried to be helpful; keeping fellow sailors OUT of trouble!!!.

I never “busted” a sailor; helping them instead. Or at least trying to.

In Olongapo I carried a pocket full of pesos walking my assigned area.

Finding a drunk sailor in a bathroom not in the best of shape  I would tip the lad present or nearby trying to earn a bit from tips, to keep an eye on the too-drunk sailor asking him to call for medical help if the sailor’s condition worsened (never did find one so bad off an ambulance needed calling for).

I did the best I could and was proud to have never had a sailor or Marine tossed into the brig.

Until the Schofield’s return from its 1975 WesPac.

Yeah, Steve and I did butt heads, once. In the lobby of the enlisted men’s club (EM club) at the Long Beach facility.

I volunteered for the month-long temporary duty that got me away from those damnable “needle guns” run by compressed air and LOUD!

What a deal. I liked shore patrol and the deafening mindlessness of endlessly and relentlessly assaulting the oh-so thin veneer of paint so firmly attached to steel and aluminum was joyfully left behind as I and others from various ships present headed off for the week-long shore patrol training on base then off to our temporary assignment.

A Pause for Clarity

To make this story complete I feel the need to share from my perspective and Steve’s, as best as I can. Please remember this event memory is mine. I can not “speak” for Steve but perhaps some of his persona will be revealed. Also, be assured I am trying to relate the facts. I am doing all I can to neither add nor subtract to the “worth” or “value” of either myself or Steve.

I want this essay/memorial/remembrance to be Steve Nelsons. Keep him in the forefront with mentions of myself required since I am writing about another person but the events I write of involve both of us.

Back to Long Beach

Luck was again with me. The Marine officer in charge of training and his assistants attempted to awe us, to drill us, to wear us out mentally and physically.

Well, they did, to a certain extent. But the squids present were bluewater fleet sailors. We talked among ourselves. All had made at least one WesPac (WestPac to some but the same thing).

Sure, we were not long-distance runners in prime physical condition but we were young and semi-tough to tough.

After a couple days of exercises, basic grappling and tossing each other around the Marine officer stated he was convinced we were adequately prepared and the Marine sergeant also present agreed. So, training was over.

Report for shore patrol duty at the on-base club next Saturday afternoon at 1500 hours for briefing and assignment stations.

I knew salty sailors were present when the requisite “That’s three o’clock PM, isn’t it sir?” was tossed out.

All laughed, even the officer. “Get outta’ here you squids. Go have some fun. You’re off duty and free until three o’clock PM this coming Saturday.”

The Fun Starts

 

Our uniform required all-black shirt and pants. If my memory is correct I wore the belt and baton (ebonite club) from the Schofield’s armory; fancier than the norm other ships provided.

I thought I looked sharp, almost professional, even with my beard and my relatively long hair that was present via numerous ignoring of demands and orders to “get that hair cut, sailor!!!” “Yes sir,” or “okay” I would reply, depending if the order-giver was an officer or enlisted man. Both being ignored until the orders became threats.

And even then I tended to wait until the threats became growls of rage and I knew I had not only “crossed the line” but was entering dangerous territory and further resistance was futile.

Hey, I was young (18-years-old and bullheaded with so much yet to learn and I still am thankful for those aboard the Schofield, especially those within 3rd-Division, who tolerated AND taught this then young guy so much).

With the Olongapo experience (and other locales but those were short-term very temporary events) behind me the club duties were simple and easy. No patrolling streets and alleys in tropical heat. The club was air-conditioned! Yippee!

The Club

The EM club at Long Beach had two “wings.” One was for officers only and the other was where the “herd” converged, the enlisted bunch. I don’t recall if the chiefs (CPOs) had their own club elsewhere.

With several paired-off shore patrol inside of the EM portion (none in the officer’s section) one pair was always in the front foyer, an area where the two wings met with some fancy stuff covering the walls and some chairs and a couch.

A podium with a guest book atop was used to record names and info about non-military guests brought in.

Military folks showed an ID card, even if in uniform, and, according to regs (regulations, you landlubbers reading this), had to pass our eyeballing, supposedly having to be presentable whether in uniform or “civvies,” (civilian attire).

Yeah, as if a smudge on a captain or admirals brass would have us refusing him entrance but I only saw junior officers make an appearance at the “O club.”

I never stopped anybody from entering. Hey, red lead paint upon a uniform was, to me, a mark of pride. A working man’s proverbial “red badge of courage” in a shipyard!

For the record, when paired off with another sailor for shore patrol duty, never a sailor from the Schofield, I naturally took charge.

Not to be the “big man on campus” or to “lord over others.” No!!!

It just happened!!

And I never heard a gripe or complaint from my assigned companion. Not at Subic (Olongapo) or anywhere else.

Factually, every sailor I was paired off with seemed relieved I took the lead.

Sure, the “other guy” was present to guard my back when the surprisingly rare “rougher stuff” occurred but they held back when drunk and/or rowdy sailors needed a stern talking to and set straight in their behavior and actions to ensure their night remained problem-free, fun-filled and so they could be at muster the next morning to enjoy their aching heads from the prior nights revelry.

My “gift of the gab” was relied upon and was extremely useful in stopping and preventing problems during shore patrol (guess what ethnicity “Kelley” is but there’s some Dane present, also (ever hear of Viking barbarians?).

German is also mixed in there, whatever that is worth.

The mixture though, is “calico.” I suppose I am a Calico-American or to simplify, American will suffice.

I believe my many years growing up fighting the local Chicano gangs was the best practice. Luckily it was the days now termed “OG” for “old gangsta,” due to fists and feet being, by FAR, the most common method of determining disputes and determining who was the “bull of the woods.”

Steve Nelson (an assumption by me)

 

It was likely inevitable. Steve was neither pansy nor a wimp. A good man to have at your side or watching your back I assume(d).

If the fertilizer hit the fan I would want Steve Nelson alongside to assist, even with our natural antagonism keeping us from being pals, buddies, whatever.

Heck, most of my friends were/are not hard-core. I haven’t met that many men in or out of uniform that could be relied upon to do what needed doing when the “winds of war” of any type blew in a guy’s direction.

Aboard the Schofield I knew if “bad stuff” happened Steve could be relied upon.

I wonder if, perhaps he felt that way about me?

Not that Steve Nelson was the only one aboard I believe would jump into any fray that came our way or exert themselves that extra bit to assist but assist he would, I believed, even that little extra that makes that “extra” not so common.

The Main Event

His timing was not the best.

Two civilian clothes-wearing officers entered the foyer.

They stopped at the podium showing their IDs. Peeking quickly I spewed the “yes sirs” and the brief greeting of “Welcome to the club. Enjoy your stay, etc.”

There’s nothing wrong with being pleasant. Some of the officers were decent guys! Especially the junior officers who generally, it seemed to me, did not have quite as much burden to bear and who, perhaps, could be a bit more jovial towards us enlisted guys.

Perhaps some day I will share the tale of the ever-unnamed officer who politely stood back from our small crowd upon the foc’sle (the pointy end of the ship ye shore-bound non-squids) sharing a doobielicious delight in-port one dark night. He politely refused the offer of a toke but thanked us for the offer (Steve not present at those affairs). It WAS a different era back then. Remember the Z-grams?

Back to the Show

 

With the two officers still standing in front of the podium, my partner to the side and behind, Steve stormed out of the EM club to my left and commenced ranting and raving, propelled by the few beers he had consumed.

He was loud and using harsh language; some that would cause a commotion pert-near anywhere.

Yeah, those beers loosened his tongue and clouded his judgment but I knew it was the natural antagonism between us that led to his outburst.

Even then I knew it really wasn’t a personal matter; it was our age, our social essence, a natural thing. I felt no “hate” within me and did not detect within Steve; just one of those “things.”

My Gab Gift Fails Me

I tried, tried the best I could.

With those two officers standing there, obviously shocked, staring, watching to see what would happen, what I would do in response.

I tried every “trick in the book” to inform Steve his timing was bad, to back off and make the event appear to be merely an off-the-wall comedic method of two friends doing the “You old SOB” style of greeting.

But Steve did not “get my drift.”

He continued insulting and threatening me with physical attack.

I tried to make it appear to be joking and accepted it as such and “joked” back in a soothing manner.

I tried everything I could but my hints and suggestions were not registering and were ignored, disregarded and as the threats became more profane and descriptive and grew louder and as he reached arm’s distance I feared he might be feeling “good enough” due to the beer and might actually become physical.

I was also taking peeks at the officers and their “shock and awe” to borrow a more modern military-related term led me to take an action I did not want to perform but felt was necessary to protect both Steve and minimize any “damage” to both of us.

Hey… Steve was from my ship, my division.

That meant something, then and now.

Thinking quickly I thought of the few options left to me.

I had to appease the officers present.

I had to stop Steve.

What to do; think quickly my mind shouted out to me, so I did and performed what I thought was the best evolution to use.

The Remedy

 

With Steve inches away I quickly bent over, grabbed him at the waist, pulled him onto my right shoulder ran across the foyer and dove onto the empty couch.

My shoulder was upon his belly when we landed upon the well-cushioned couch (sofa to some?).

I heard a “whoosh” of forcefully expelled air but he was still moving a bit. So I released him and stood up.

Looking back the officers stood there, mouths agape, along with my shore patrol partner.

I quietly begged to Steve to stop moving; to just stay put until the officers left but… no, Steve collected his breath and started moving in a way I interpreted as an effort to stand upright.

This time I firmly stated for him to quit moving and remain in that position.

In a much hushed voice I begged him to just stay still.

He didn’t and the officers kept staring.

What to do?

What could I do? Thinking quickly I followed through. I sat on him. His squirming increased so I reached down, grabbed the underneath portion of the couch to increase the downward force to ensure Steve remained upon that couch.

Wanting to get the officers on their way I informed them I was sitting upon a friend who, when he had a few beers in him, simply had an unusual way of showing our friendship, but that tactic did not get those officers moving into their section of the club.

There I sat. A squirming Steve beneath requiring all my strength pulling on the couch to keep him in place and waiting… “Leave,” I thought and wished. ‘Go into your part of the club. Just get OUT OF HERE,” I mentally begged.

But… no, there they stood. The impediment to what likely would be a minor affair to get Steve calmed down after he declared his supremacy a bit; that he was the “top dog” and hopefully, after agreeing and reminding him I was only doing the job regs required and reminding him my actions were forced upon me, I believe the odds were good he would depart and I would continue my tasks and all would be fine until the minor “head butting” commenced later when alcohol (a small amount within Steve at the time) did not increase the natural and normal friction between Steve and I.

Knowing I could not hold him there for too long and with his “breath” coming back I knew his efforts would eventually wear me down and with my ongoing verbal efforts to rid the area of on-looking officers failing AND the possible harmful-to-Steve actions he might take when I tired and Steve freed himself I could think of no other alternative.

Call the on-duty Marines, as we had been instructed to do.

I was hopeful the presence of the Marine unit always on duty to assist the shore patrol would allow control to be restored, Steve to be calmed, and with my intervention on Steve’s side that a stern talking to by the Marine Corps officer that led a called-upon assistance force would result in a happy ending for all.

Marines to the Rescue

 

I asked for my fellow shore patrolman to “make the call,” not wanting to elicit any extra reason for those two pesky officers to stay but stay they did.

“Sir, nothing else going on here, just following written procedures. Does the officer’s club have a “happy hour” with reduced drink prices?” (hint hint).

I guess not as they stood there, akin to ticks attached to a dog. Pesky critters.

Within a few minutes a squad of Marines arrived led by a junior Marine officer.

Part of the training session before commencing our duties informed us of past events and how things were handled now, based upon prior affairs such as semi-riots within the club with large numbers involved and the regs the base commander set in place to ensure those type of affairs were stopped QUICK..

The Marines arrived prepared and equipped for dealing with a large crowd and to squash any who resisted; in a way Marines not only enjoy but long for.

I was about as safe as a guy could be so released my grip and stood up; a rather angered Steve following and there we stood, Steve and me.

I wasn’t mad at Steve and I sensed Steve was not truly angry with me.

It was a “young guy thing” and as we stood next to each other I believe we felt more “kinship” with each other than I felt towards the Marines.

If Steve had “acted a role” I would have played along and tried to convince the officer it was all a BIG mistake.

I hinted to Steve as best I could but he didn’t “get my drift.”

He didn’t say a word as I tried to make the event appear via words to be a huge mistake. That everything was under control.

The officer looked at me, at Steve then turned and approached the two civilian-clothed officers and talked to them.

In hushed voices the officers talked together, using plenty of hand gestures and one bending over and acting out my grab and carry and jump upon the couch event.

With a dozen or so enlisted Marines a few feet away, ready to strike akin to a hungry animal, obviously hoping for a chance to smack a few squids,  I could not think of anything to “save the situation.”

Steve and I stood there silently. The officers talked and the enlisted Marines glared at Steve and I silently.

After a brief time the officer returned and ordered his troops to take Steve to the brig.

He didn’t resist, didn’t say a word. The smartest thing he could do.

As the enlisted Marine squad left the Marine officer returned and demanded I tell all.

Trying to Diminish the Event

 

Just a shipmate with a couple beers in him having some fun I told the Marine officer.

The Marine grunted that from what the other officers watching said it wasn’t that minor.

He appeared angered and upset and was glaring at me; staring straight into my eyes.

Sigh……..

I told the officer of the minor natural competition between us and that after Steve wound down he would be good to go.

I was told Steve would be held until the next morning and would undergo some “training” as required to ensure his future in-club behavior would never cause a commotion again; especially of the type requiring the Marines to have to waste their time hustling over to the club and interrupting their otherwise usually peaceful duty time as shore patrol back-up.

That officer was not happy and I feared that Steve was not going to have a good night.

“Yes sir, thank you sir” was all I could say.

I saluted and he returned it, despite being indoors where the Navy doesn’t salute if my memory is correct. But that officer was so stern, so gruff, so obviously unhappy with having to rush over I felt compelled to salute.

Maybe there was something good on TV he was missing.

End Results

The Marines left and the two observing officers finally left, leaving me and my shore patrol partner alone in the foyer.

Our relief pair of shore patrol arrived and we rotated to a position inside the enlisted men section to keep an eye on the crowd in there.

As my partner and I talked about the event he mostly stated in several ways that “Man that was so cool!!!!”

He agreed with me that I had done all possible to calm the situation, to keep Steve out of trouble but events led to the outcome.

So there we stood until a half-hour or so after midnight.

The club closed at midnight and the remaining patrons sent away but our orders, based upon past troubles, was to be present inside and outside until the crowd dispersed and left the area.

At 12:30 shore patrol was free to go and off I went to the Cherry Street “hippy drop house” where I was allowed to live free due to the calming effect upon the few trouble-makers who arrived at times but who quickly behaved when a husky guy with all-black uniform, helmet on head and black leather belt with a three-foot-long club hanging upon it entered the place.

It wasn’t unusual, at times, for some recently-arrived guests/users to run out the back door.

The regulars and those in-the-know remained, laughing at the antics.

They figured those running off were assisting the semi-communal crash-pad by leaving.

A portion of supper awaited me in the fridge and I ate, relaxed and slept, wondering how Steve was doing.

The Next Day

 

I didn’t see Steve for awhile. I had heard he was released from the brig after a night’s stay but he had nothing to say about the events after his incarceration period.

I do not recall anybody asking me about what happened and considered that a good sign.

I remained mum.

I was waiting to be confronted by Steve but it never happened.

I kept my mouth shut and apparently Steve did, also.

Weird.

I wondered what those Marines did to him in that brig.

I did not take advantage of it; keeping quiet, not sharing the event with anybody, as apparently Steve also remained tight-lipped about the matter.

I am proud to declare I did not take advantage of the situation.

I did not antagonize Steve in the least.

We both just went our own ways and the natural urge to compete, to determine who was top dog, who was the proverbial “leader of the pack” dissipated.

We just ignored each other and I could sense that any animosity between us had dwindled down to nothing.

And thus affairs remained until my transfer back to SONAR school not long after.

I never saw or heard of Steve Nelson again. Until reading news of his death via the Schofield newsletter.

Over the decades, at times, I wondered what became of him. Now I know.

To place my ending statement in perspective allow me a short period of possibly perceived self-boasting but Mark Twain supposedly said if it’s the truth it ain’t bragging.

My “career” has been nothing to boast about but it was honest work and I shunned felonious deeds and major misdemeanors and the few I may have been involved in were unknowing and not harmful to anyone I am aware of.

Never did spend any jail time or create undue anger in fellow folks.

I am proud of what the Marine officer said on Guam who, after a shore patrol incident there, pointed at me and another shore patrolman from a different ship shouting for all to hear, “You two shoulda’ been Marines!!!”

Well, I guess that’s a compliment.

Then there was the California Highway patrolman, the fleeing felon and the fight over the cop’s weapon. The cop was tiring. I brought that to a quick finish. It was fun! And the couple hundred or so onlookers remained still, male and female. None assisting.

Buncha’ punks

And the guy dragging the screaming girl out of her apartment at 2 am. I used my voice and words to great effect. The guy fled, the girl whimpered upon the outside sidewalk and, after the guy jumped into his car and fled was when 15 or so males ran out of the shadows to hold and sooth and stroke the cute gal.

Buncha’ punks!!!

A few other affairs but not worth repeating but at some risk to me and provide a legitimate base for comparison between Steve and me… since it was a contest to ascertain who was top-dog, the potential “leader of the pack” competition that caused, I believe, the friction between us.

Reading Steve’s obituary and knowing my own life and weighing both in “the balance’ there is no doubt in my mind that Steve Nelson was and is the “winner.”

It is easy for me to proclaim, “Steve, you were the better man.”

Neither of us were losers but YOU were and are the ‘top dog,” the “bull of the woods” and was a competent competitor.

I am proud to have known you and may you rest in peace.

“Stephen’s final resting place will be in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, Calif.”

For various financial and medical reasons it is highly unlikely I will ever be able to cross the ridges and hollers of the Ozark Plateau and reach San Diego.

It would make a wonderful trip to see the old sights and to gaze upon Steve’s final resting spot and leave a thought; a mental memorial.

To declare in his “presence’ that he is the better man.

If anybody reading this can do so, please remember me and do so for me.

I would appreciate it.

Scott Kelley  “Quasar”

USS Schofield 1974-1976

Third Division  STG-3

Below is the URL to Steve’s obituary

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/idahostatejournal/obituary.aspx?n=stephen-nelson&pid=147895245

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Addendum

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I found the following on a Web site.  I am omitting the link because it leads to a .pdf document that MAY cause problems for some browsers.  So, I copied the entry I believe was done by Steve Nelson a few years back prior to his untimely death.  Since this blog entry is intended to be a memorial to a good man and who was a crew member of the mighty USS Schofield I am placing that entry below:

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Nelson, Stephen J

 Nickname  Gunner

Rate  GMT2

Division  3rd

Spouse  Cynthia (Deceased)

Hometown  Pocatelo, ID

Ship  USS SCHOFIELD (DEG/FFG-3)

Years From  1972   Years To  1978

Civilian Occupation  DOD Contractor

Special Hobbies  Travel, Fly Fishing, Cooking

Favorite Memory   E1-E5 in 5 years. Sailor of the Month, Sailor of the Quarter, Firing ASROC

Worst Memory   5 XO’s Pre-Mast screenings. Shipyards

Children  1

Grandchildren  1

Special Comments

Simply thanks to the Administrators and Organizers for this effort.

*****End of Steve’s entry*****

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Peace health and happiness to all who served aboard the USS Schofield DEG-3/FFG-3

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