USS William H. Standley DLG/CG-32 Association

AN/SPS-48 Oil Can Incident January 1971

I am not much of a writer, and this event, occurring some 27 years ago, has understandably faded from my memory. For those details for which I may have strayed from the facts a bit I apologize, but the balance of the story still stands.

The Oil Can Incident, As I recall:

As Petty Officer 3rd Class (Fire Control Missile), assigned to maintain the AN/SPS-48 search radar, one of my regular tasks, was to change the Oil in the radar antenna gearbox. The 48 radar antenna stood high on the forward mast. Looking like a big black square, it was really quite large when up close and personal. When on line, the antenna spun around in a continuous search, scanning the skies. It was so large and heavy in fact that there were two rather large electric motors in the base of the thing, and a hatch in the top with enough room inside to perform maintenance. Changing the Oil in that gear box was a pain. The space was cramped and was in the hot sun. One of the problems involved climbing up the forward mast ladder and at the same time hauling up a heavy five gallon can that the oil came in. The old oil have to be drained, and the new oil had to go in a small input port using a funnel and required three hands in a cramped space. It was greasy, smelly and hot; well you get the idea.

Being an enterprising sailor, I figured there MUST be some way to make that job easier. Since one five gallon can was good for a couple of changes, I had the bright idea that I didn't really have to carry that big can up and down the mast every time. Why not just stow the can up in the antenna base, and there it would be for the next round of service? My local Qlube oil change franchise would have been proud. Not a bad idea in port I suppose, but once we went to sea, everything changed. I had the common sense to lash the can down, after a fashion, and I WAS a Boy Scout. So there should be no problem, right? The only thing was, in heavy seas, with the ship taking heavy rolls down at weather deck level, way up at the antenna, the movement was WAY too outrageous for my lashing skills.

I can't remember exactly where we were going back in about 1971 or so, but it was raining like hell in heavy seas when that can broke loose and started rolling from side to side in the antenna pedestal beating the crap out of everything in sight. It was almost dark and very stormy when I was rousted from a card game (or something), with the urgent news that oil was streaming down from the 48 antenna, and the rain was spreading it all down and aft like pee down a Giraffe's legs. Normally, we would not have been allowed to "go aloft" under such conditions, both underway and heavy seas, but this was an emergency. I went from bridge, to radar rooms, to radio, and CIC with my "emergency Going Aloft Chit" to get all the equipment up on the masts secured so that I could climb up there and see where the oil was coming from. It was about that time that I started to have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and it wasn't the heavy seas. It was the fact that I was beginning to remember that damn can, and the brilliant shortcut I took. I was accompanied aloft by a concerned officer, Fire Control Officer Gunner Mitchell.

We took all the precautions we could, I had a safety harness on with a giant clip with which to fasten to the ships superstructure so I wouldn't be washed away in the rainy, pitching and rolling that was going on. Slowly and carefully, we made our way up the forward mast to where the large access cover was bolted to the base of the radar antenna. With one hand to work, and the other hand to hold on with, the cover came off to expose the innards of that antenna pedestal. There, crashing from side to side, was the battered remains of what used to be a five gallon can of Navy issue gear oil, gushing lubricant from multiple openings. The sorry remnants of my substandard lashing attempt swung uselessly from the pedestal support structure. At some point, Gunner sized up the situation, his analytical mind took in the scene, and produced a summary so profound, that I remember it to this day. Realizing what I had done he said "Godammit!!! Just Godammit!! He thoughtfully spared me from whatever formed in his mind next until everything was buttoned up, back on line, and everyone was safe.

I was sure that I would be reduced to E1 and set to scrubbing oil off the signal bridge for the remainder of our trip with a toothbrush, but it was not to be. Somehow I was saved by the same storm that had tormented me earlier, the storm washed away the evidence of my transgressions like a good Baptist minister. And the radar, God love it, was back in action none the worse for wear. And Gunner; well I think he was thinking about what kind of report he was going to make to the Captain about this. I think he was a little embarrassed to have to report what happened, and maybe he cut me some slack because he was an enlisted man too at one point in his career. It's also possible that he remembered something original he had tried in times past that seemed like a good idea at the time, but ended up with holes in it like that oil can. We may never know for sure. But I think the real reason I didn't get in BIG trouble was that he was in love. It was about that time that he was so much in love that just about everything he did was influenced by his lovely new wife Peg.

So it is to Peg that I dedicate the "Oil Can Story" and to all my shipmates wherever they may be, from one of the finest ships to ever be on station, USS William H. Standley.

Steve Angley, 29 August 1998


The only thing that I can add to the story is that:

(1) - We were enroute from Rodman, Panama to Pearl Harbor, HI in Jan 1971, and had been in a typhoon (exercising hurricane evasion tactics) for about two days. It was about 1500 or 1600 in the afternoon, and it was dark topside because of the typhoon.
(2) The oil can had been beaten so badly, that ALL of the paint was gone, the surface was bright, shiny, and crinkled (the largest dimple was about 3/4" in diameter). The oil was weeping out of about a half dozen pin holes.
(3) The reason that no further action was taken against you or the PO in charge of the AN/SPS-48, is that I was the one responsible. I could have tried to pass the buck, but one of my heroes was the Chief Engineer of another Cruiser. We were at GQ in the waters off North Viet Nam, and someone pumped some fuel oil (NSFO) over the side. The CO came up on the Sound Powered Phones (JC circuit), and demanded to know "Who's responsible for this?" The Chief Engineer, a mustang with over 28 years of service immediately responded "The Chief Engineer". The CO never mentioned the incident again. Following this incident, the entire Engineering Department would have followed the Chief Engineer into Hell. A lesson in leadership that young Naval Officers and Petty Officers should heed. The Chief Engineer mentioned is LCDR Jim Ward, now retired and living in the Pensacola, FL area.

Charles F. Mitchell, 29 August 1998