The fog in Boston harbor wasn’t just thick, it was solid. Cutting off the reflection of light for more than a few feet. With no wind, the sea was like glass and the fog seemed welded to the sea, it was going no where. As the sun rose, it was hardly an improvement.
Three months behind schedule, the captain was fit-to-be-tied. Pushing, screaming and threats had seemed to have little effect on the crew or the ship yard workers. At every turn, something else was delaying the schedule. “Those commie bastards!" They don’t care there is a war on! We’re just lucky we haven’t been sabotaged!” the captain explained even though even he knew it was just a delusion. This ship had no direct effect on the war; she was too old, too small and inefficient for combat operations.
“Man the sea and anchor detail! All hands to their stations and prepare to get underway,” came the boatswain's voice over the loud speakers. Was the old man nuts? The harbor pilot is not going to take her out through the channel in this fog. Up the gang way walked the old harbor pilot, shaking his head as the Chief on the forecastle shrugged his shoulders and turned away to pick up his coffee mug.
Down in the “hole” the boiler tenders lit their fires and the steam lines began to crackle and groan. They old woman was coming to life, oh so slowly, but just as sure has anytime in her last 3O so years. The rest of the ship is busy, the crew anxiously preparing to get out of a place that had been a frozen hell whole all winter. It had been way too long since she had been underway and they were ready to back out to sea. Hell the old man must know what he is doing… maybe up high on the bridge the fog aint so thick. That and a few other excuses were going throughout the crew who mostly didn’t care about the how hard it was to get out into the sea lanes, they just wanted to go back home.
The Chief Engineer made his way through the steel hatch and down the steel ladders to his station in Main Control. The crew in the hole knew it was he. Short and cocky, hard as nails and gruff as they come, the old “Mustanger” always made a lot of noise wherever he went aboard ship. One of the last of the old time Mustangers, he was a growling and smoke belching legend. Most Naval Officers nowadays came directly from college or the Naval Academy, but in the old days, you had a few Mustangers who came up through the ranks by hard work and determination from being the lowest deck hand to the officer class. You had to respect a man like that, and we all did. He was a hard task master, but always knew what he was doing and was always fair.
The old aircraft carrier was coming to life now after spending moths in the birth as cold as the air around her. The crew down below had the boilers and lines ready to go as an argument was fought up on the bridge. “Listen you damned ass, I am the Captain of this God Damned Ship! You will take her through the channel and get her out of this harbor or I’ll do it myself!” the harbor pilot replied, “Your a poppas ass! You couldn’t find your way out of your mother's damned skirt! If you hadn't been born with a silver spoon in your mouth you wouldn’t even be here! I have spent 30 years taking ships through this harbor! I am one of the most experienced harbor pilots on the east coast. Why you pin head... I am the God Damned Chief harbor pilot in Boston! If you think you can get this beast out in this fog… you damned fool… taker her cause I officially refuse do to unsafe conditions!”….
There he went; down the gang way just as they were hauling it back aboard. The Captain turned to his bridge staff and said, “Ok, boys lets get her away from this pier into the channel, tell the tugs to get to work, but not to hang around too long. I’ll get her out of here on her own steam!” The crew on the bridge froze. What the hell is he thinking? You can't even see the deck from the bridge, much less the bow or the rest of the ship.
It wasn’t long before the tugs backed down on the old gray lady was cutting a wake in the middle of Boston harbor. However, down in Main Control things were not too good… “What is it petty officer?” said the Chief Engineer… “No sea main pressure sir, she is falling off fast…we are getting any sea water to the condenser, something’s bad wrong!”
The mustanger knew exactly what was wrong, that damned Captain up on the bridge would never take his word for it. The fog was so think he couldn’t tell the ship wasn’t moving… “Boy’s open the covers to the sea main and you will find it full of mud and crap. Fill me up a couple of buckets with it. Lets bring the boilers down and let off some pressure... we wont need it… this damn Ship is hard aground and we aren’t going to get her off with these engines!”
So, with a seaman in tow, the Chief engineer started climbing out of the engine room on the long climb to the bridge. Busting trough the hatch into the bridge with his hat pushed back on his head and the half eaten cigar clenched in the corner of his mouth, the old mustanger pointed to the deck behind the captain and the seaman dropped the two buckets. He yells “I called you and told you we were aground you fool, but you wouldn’t believe me…look in them damn buckets, asshole, that is mud and this is a damned dead fish! They came from the #2 sea main….WE ARE AGROUND! Get it?”
To say the captain turned pale would not be right… he turned all shades of white and purple then green as his jaw dropped open and the words escaped from his lips… “Awww Shit!” There went his promotion to Admiral. What he didn’t know was that in just a few minutes, a clerk at the Pentagon would be typing him a letter stating he was no longer an officer and a gentleman and this would be the beginning of his new civilian life. The lights went out and all the life was gone out of the old girl. She was dead in the water and would be for 7 days while the crew suffered, fought fires and three died.
Seven foot aground she was, and in a short while she would be without fresh water, electricity and without fire and without steam….and this caused bad problems. Fires broke out, men died and the crew would never forget the next 7 days. The U.S.S. Lexington was aground and it would take seven of the largest tugs you could imagine working for a week to get her back afloat.
She sits as a floating museum now in Corpus Christie, Texas. Once known as the "Gray Ghost" for an earlier encounter with fog, she is a testament to her service from WWII to past Vietnam. In the passage way above Main Control hangs the pictures of all her captains and she has her official records to show her history. But there is no mention of the ill fated trip to Boston. As one of the 1200 or so crew that day, I thought someone needed to say something about it.
This incident is also a testament to the arrogance and hubris of the military brass and how it can lead to disaster. It is also a reminder that they are fallible and can be self-serving while others are part of the backbone of our freedom.