Fireworks at Sea

Fireworks at Sea

Tawakoni Celebrates Fourth of July

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These are the remembrances of Lt. Richard Gano, commanding officer of the USS Tawakoni, and his supply officer, Ens. Ned Lundquist.


Gano:  We had been ordered to start our five-month deployment to WESTPAC from Pearl Harbor, our homeport, on 2 July 1977 with a transit to Guam where we would undergo some engineering modifications. Now the Glorious Fourth was a big deal in Hawaii in those days with tons of fireworks set off all over the place, and we were going to be disappointed to miss it. We were only a small ocean-going Fleet Tug of 205 feet length and a 69-man crew, but we had a big heart – we were the Big T.


Somebody, quite possibly Ned, came up with the idea that we could purchase some fireworks for our own at-sea show using some of the crew's welfare and recreation fund. Of course, Ned was the guy. You see he was, while not a Supply Corps officer, trained via the Line Officer Supply Training program (LOST – an acronym whose irony was not “lost” on any of us) course to be our little ship's Supply Officer. You might say Ned was also the SLJO.  The welfare and recreation committee was rounded up and rubber-stamped the idea with a flourish, and Ned was loosed upon the community to come up with the goods.


Lundquist:  Lt. (j.g.) Chuck Monsen, the Operations and Diving officer, and I went to a fireworks wholesaler in Honolulu with an armload of soda machine profits, and told the proprietor we wanted to spend our $50 to create a modest aerial display. I was amazed by the selection, especially as a kid who coveted even a single pack of illegal salutes in Massachusetts.


We didn’t want to buy just any firecrackers.  People could get hurt, or somebody might sneak some and save them for future mischief.  So we purchased conic fountains, smoke bombs, happy fireworks, smoke wands, worlds of silver, rainbow fountains and rocket parachutes.  We bought dancing butterflies, whistling tornadoes and morning glories.  We bought moon traveler rockets (with report).  We bought flower scattering child rockets, gold sparklers, whistling fountains, and emerald meteors.  We got a fifty percent discount.  It cost us just $50.


Gano:  What with the hubbub on getting prepared and then underway for our deployment, I was not much involved with what would to my mind be a minor side show involving some fireworks.


The Fourth found us at sea with a fine day on our hands. Seas were pretty calm and we were plowing along with a gentle breeze at about 12 knots on two of our four big Caterpillar D399 main engines.


The Welfare and Rec committee, with Ned leading the way, had a fine agenda for the “steel beach” afternoon. There were cockroach races, balloon tosses (actually condoms supplied by Doc, our corpsman), and various other activities including grilled meats, etc. All in all a fine success for a bunch of guys stuck at sea a couple of hundred miles or mile from and home and getting farther away every turn of the 14-foot propeller.


Lundquist:  We began our holiday activities with skeet shooting.  We relaxed the uniform requirement, as well.


Our cockroach race was a diversion that involved the entire crew.  Each of the four departments (Operations, Supply, Engineering and Deck) had caught a cockroach and marked same in some way so as to distinguish their entrant.  The teams proudly displayed their cockroach, except for Ops.  They refused to show it to anyone.


We drew a large circle on the deck back aft.  Inside that circle was another smaller circle.  Each cockroach would be released from inside the smaller circle.  The first one to cross the outside circle would win. 


Wagering was lively on race day.  I would sometimes post entries in the “Plan of the day” that warned against the evils and illegalities of gambling, and on the next line announce “Bingo tonight on the mess decks.”


When it came time for the first race, we discovered the strategy employed by the Ops guys.  They had kept their cockroach in a box that had been used for photo paper, lined with black light-absorbing paper.  Since the medical corpsman mustered with Ops, the Doc provided a squirt of pure oxygen into the box just before race time.  When the race began, and the cockroaches were released, the Ops team held up the inside of the box, presenting a large, dark target for their cockroach had had just been released into the bright sunshine.  Their bug raced for the black box, and won easily.


My department, Supply, came in second.  Engineering’s entrant came in last.  We had another race, and the advantage was now lost on the Ops bug.  Supply came in second again.  Engineering was disgusted with their cockroach and eliminated their bug.  Supply won the final race.  We also had condom races, which were essentially water balloon races, where you had to put the water balloon between your legs, waddle down to your shipmate, transfer the water balloon, and back to the starting line, several times, without anyone using their hands.


Gano:  After the fantail was cleaned up and everything was put away, Ned started setting up his fireworks display for the after-dark entertainment. It should be noted here that the TAWAKONI had been designated as a “lift of opportunity” meaning that various Naval activities in the Pearl Harbor area with items to ship to Guam could contact us and arrange to have them lifted aboard. There were a number of large wooden shipping crates involved, two of which contained new diesel generators for the modifications to the TAWAKONI, and they were all stored right aft on the fantail, very conveniently located for Ned to use as launch platforms for his fireworks.


Lundquist:  I was the FCO (Fireworks Control Officer).  I had our hull technicians weld steel launchers for our rockets.  I had three launcher teams; a distribution team; two fountain teams; a “special” rocket team (with rockets we modified by taping three or four kinds together, along with a few sparklers), and a communications team.  I was a big believer in letting everyone participate.  The special rockets were pretty cool, but they had a habit of making unscheduled course changes, and turn around to head right back at us.  We also had several agents on the bridge, with the Very pistol, used to launch flares and Para flares.  As the FCO, I would direct Rocket Team One to launch two rockets, followed by fountain team two to light a whistling fountain, for example.  We had all teams expend all remaining ordnance for the grand finale, while we fired flares from the signal bridge, sounded the ship’s whistle, rang the bell, buzzed the cease-fire alarm, turned on all of our task lights, fired the M-14 and the riot shot gun, and turned our blindingly bright 24-inch carbon arc searchlight on the oversized “holiday colors” of “Old Glory.”


Gano:  At the appointed time, various and sundry wondrous works of gun powder were sent into the heavens, and we all oohed and aaahed, that is until the word can to the bridge that there was a class alpha fire (wood in this case) on the fantail. So now we were burning up our own new generators and other folks' cargo to boot! I thought that rather than call away General Quarters and all the attendant hoorah, that we'd let Ned and the boys handle the problem with the fire hoses they had laid out as a precaution.


About a half an hour later Ned appeared on the bridge with soot smudges all over his face and uniform to report the class alpha fire was out! Whew!


Lundquist:  The Skipper is mistaken.  Yes, we all enjoyed a fine steak barbeque that day, but I recall no fires that required reporting to damage control central or the captain on the bridge.

Gano:  Have him tell you the story of the rubber raft and canoe race and how I nearly had a heart attack thinking wild natives were attacking my miscreant boat crew.




Lt Gano went on to complete his Navy career in 1989 as a Surface Warfare Commander.  His last sea duty was as Weapons Officer in USS IOWA, and his final duty station was with Commander Naval Surface Forces Pacific as leader of the Cruise Missile Tactical Qualification Team.  He currently lives in Panama City, Florida, where he works for ManTech, conducting Ship Radiated Noise Measurement Surveys.  Ned Lundquist retired from the Navy in 2000.  His last assignment on active duty was as commanding officer of the Naval Media Center.  He currently supports the Navy Surface Warfare Directorate as an employee of Anteon Corporation.  Lundquist lives in Springfield, Virginia.

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