Hurricane season is upon us, and we hear all the warning messages telling us what to do in case of a storm.
People in Northeast Georgia do not pay those warnings much attention. By the time a tropical storm comes this far inland, and collides with our North Georgia hills and mountains, most of the wind is gone. We do, from time to time, get a heavy rain that causes some flooding. But in general, we give the storms less thought and preparation than our more southern neighbors.
I have had only one encounter with such a storm, and I was on a troop ship in the middle of the ocean at the time.
In August of 1962, I received orders to end my deployment to Germany as a member of the United States Army. I packed my personal items in a wooden box to be shipped back home, helped train my replacement and caught a train north to Bremerhaven. There I boarded the USNS General Alexander M. Patch for the ride home. There were nearly five thousand Army men on board along with a crew of a thousand or more. It was a big ship.
The Patch was 17,100 gross tons, length 609 ft by beam 75.5 ft, two funnels, two masts, twin screw, with an average speed 19 knots. It had two funnels, two masts and numerous cranes and hoists. It was launched in 1944 and served as a U.S. Army transport during the last months of World War II, and then brought thousands of American soldiers home after the war ended. It continued in this role in the Atlantic moving men and equipment between New York South Hampton in England and Bremerhaven Germany until 1967 when it was transferred to the navy’s reserve fleet, then later sold for scrap.
On Sept. 12 1962, Tropical Storm Celia evolved from a depression in the central Atlantic and started moving north through the center of the ocean. At one point she reached 70 mph, just below hurricane status. On Sept. 19, she was in the North Atlantic with 45 mph winds. The USNS Patch with myself onboard, arrived at the same place at the same time.
Now as I said, the Patch was a large ship and was fully loaded. Waves from a 45 mph windstorm would normally be no threat to a ship that large, except for one little problem. The waves were hitting the ship broadside. The Captain took mercy on us landlubbers and turned the ship into the waves so that it pitched up and down, rather than roll from side to side. So we bounced up and down, somewhat like a large cork for most of the day and the following night.
There were still some problems, of course. At supper, I would stab a fork at my food each time the plate slid by. I bruised my toes and head on the support chains by sliding up and down in the bunk. My morning shower was interesting because the water tanks were on opposite ends of the ship and we got scalded by hot water when the ship pitched down, and frozen by cold water when it pitched up. But the part of the ride I remember most is trying to sit on the commode and having it come up to meet me!
I am those of you who served in the Navy will laugh at this story. My brother Howard, a Navy veteran, had no sympathy for me at all. But I was Army. My training involved keeping my combat booted feet firmly planted on the ground! I suppose I can take pride in the fact that I never became sea sick.
That was my one great voyage. Since then, I have only experienced rides in bass boats on lakes Hartwell and Russell, and I am satisfied with that.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His website can be accessed at http://www.frankgaillispie.com/gillispieonline.