U.S.S. Altair AKS-32

Fond Memories of the Altair!

The NEW Navy is nothing like the OLD Navy. Here are a couple of experiances from the OLD Navy.

I can remember standing watch on the starboard side of the Altair bridge on a cold windy rainy mid watch when Lt Kenefick came out and asked me if I saw anything. I replied "no sir" and he said keep your eyes open. In about 15 minutes a gray shape of a smaller freighter showed. We passed with no problem. Our radar showed the other ship very early. The big question is "what the hell happened aboard the Fitzgerald? I guess an inquiry will find out......Charles

In 1956, I was OOD and had the conn during the midwatch when a large merchant was approaching from astern a slight angle starboard. Watching the slow approach on our old surface radar which indicated it to be on collision course, I finally called the Captain (CDR Bailey) to the bridge. As we were the ‘Privileged Vessel’, we were hoping the ‘burdened’ merchie would slow or veer off but she continued on. As she got closer we blasted on the horn and flashed spotlights up to her bridge as well as calling on the radio, all to no avail. Assuming “in the jaws of collision”, we eased to port so she’d pass us on a parallel course, which is what safely happened. We assumed she was on autopilot with no one on the bridge.

I remember the Altair running aground on the Rock of Gibraltar.

I was a RD3 in the spring of 1968 onboard Altair headed for Naples. I was on the bridge about to go to chow in very heavy seas off Cape Hatteras. The bridge area was very crowded because of the foul weather. As I made my way to go below I moved between the Helm and the binnacle and caught my foot in a fluid line and at the same time we fell off a rather steep 30-40 foot wave and I ended up doing a flip and landed on my back on the deck in front of the “old man”. I was in a lot of pain. We did not have a doctor on board but a Chief Corpsman, Chief Ferguson (I think). They put me in that chicken wire stretcher and carried me to sickbay. The Chief said he thought I had 4 or 5 broken bones and commenced to put a very large and heavy cast on my leg, toe to hip (I found out later his first leg cast). We were only two days out of Norfolk with another 10 or 12 days to go to get to Naples. The next day the Engineering Officer had a cabinet fall on his foot that had broken away from a bulkhead in the same storm. He came hobbling into sick bay and the Chief told him he was OK, nothing wrong and take a couple of pain pills. We finally get to Naples and they send me and the Engineering Officer to NAS Naples for x-rays, the engineering officer came back to sickbay everyday complaining about his foot and the Chief kept telling him he was fine. It took several cutting blades to get my cast off, after x-raying both of us, I had no broken bones in any part of my body let alone my leg and the Engineering officer had 5 broken bones in his foot. On our cruise over to Naples I won the Best Skater Award, no port and starboard duty.      All the Best, Charley Tull
  While I was the Deck YN I worked for Lt Furey and CWO Downs. Then when I was transferred to the Personnel Office I worked for Chief Guthrie. Of course we all remember XO CDR Woodward. One amusing incident about CDR Woodward - myself and another Personnelman was at the ladder leading from the main deck (inside the house) to the 2nd Deck our area of responsibility. We were discussing about painting the area, comment was made as to what color the XO wanted the area painted and from the 2nd deck came "I don't care what color you paint it as long as it comes out white" of course this was the XO. When I was the Deck YN, I was talking to LT Furey and he told me that during WWII when he was a enlisted BM him and Captain Colbert served together. Captain Colbert was an ENS then.
Terry F Chatfield, PN1, USN(Ret).

  I recall a time when I was basically a new member of the IC and Electrical group. I was told that since I was the junior member of the team that It was my responsibility to replace a bulb on the yard arm signal lights. We were underway at the time, sun going down and I started to climb the stack and mast to get to the yard arms. Luckily the seas were not too bad but up on the mast it sure looked like we were rolling pretty good. Had no idea that the stack gasses were very lethal, just held my breath as I climbed past the gas from the stack. Finally got to the yard arm and went out, changed the bulb and got the hell out of there. After I got down, I found out that this is only suppose to be done in port after the boilers were shut down. I guess just young and lucky. Wouldn't trade these experiences for anything. Regards, Dan Douglas

  I was on the port side of the boat deck painting the overhead while underway. Commander Woodard came by and spotted the paint on my shoes and called me to attention. He instructed me to remove my shoes and throw them overboard, which I did without hesitation. I would have probably jumped overboard had he ordered me to do so. In my mind, he was the Vince Lombardi of the fleet. I cannot imagine Commander Woodard surrendering the Altair to a bunch of rag tag pirates or the recent swift boat incident with the Iranians where the crew were taken prisoners without a fight. I personally blame this on Obama and the cowardly administration we have today. What has happened to the navy we were in? We were not on a battleship or Carrier. We were on a cargo ship with only 40 mm's and a few small arms. However, the leadership and the men under them, would have stood tall and never given in to the boarding of our ship or small boats to the likes of the Iranians or anyone else. Not a day goes by that I do not think of my shipmates and Commander Woodard. AS Vince Lombardi would have said, "WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON OUT THERE" Tommy Lee BMSN, USS Altair AKS32 1961-1964

  One of my favorite took place over in the Mediterranean probably back in 1954 as we were getting ready to start replenishing some of the sixth fleet. We were hoping to once again see the "BZ" fly which back them was spoken, Baker Zebra. The bridge noticed we were making some black smoke and told the engine room and they promptly over corrected a bit causing the bridge to tell the engine room they were making white smoke. Just as the engine room began to acknowledge the message, you could hear in the background the voice of the mustang Lieutenant Engineering Officer, say "Tell those goofy bastards on the bridge they are the only two colors we have". We were the best and had a lot of fun too. Don Leypoldt LTJG (SC) 1954-1955


 At the Todd Shipyards in Brooklyn, NY, when they sank the dry dock, the Altair sank too. Someone forgot to close the sea cocks.

  While resupplying the U.S.S. Boston, the Altair lost power and the BM on the Boston could not break the pelican hook connection. We collided and the "Liquor Cabinet " for the entire 6th Fleet aboard the Altair was destroyed. The deck was awash with liquor with sailors on their hands and knees lapping up the liquor.

  GuppySnorkler.jpg (33508 bytes)While anchored near Palma, I was lucky enough to spend the day aboard the U.S.S. Piper (SS409). That was quite an experience bunking with a torpedo above and below me for a few hours. In February 1956, the Altair was overhauled at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York. While there, someone removed a "Keep Shut" tag on a forward fire main; and, it was open! When I returned from liberty, the deck was awash and water pouring out of the ammo hatch at the 01 level. The whole forward section of the Altair was flooded. (Second sinking in dry-dock!)

  Copy of PaperBoat.jpg (31534 bytes)While home ported in Barcelona I befriended a young deaf Spanish boy. His family owned a restaurant and we all became friends. The young boy made me a paper ship which I treasure to this day. His father wrote on the side of the paper ship "Barcelona 13 de Febrero de 1960."

  In early 1956, after Refresher Training, the Altair entered Bermuda at dawn via the wrong channel and ran aground on a coral reef. After the inquiry, the Skipper and Navigator lost their numbers. With help from the Altair's LSTs and the Coast Guard, she got off at high tide.



Care of Fleet Post Office
New Your, New York

31 October 1961

  This "Familygram" is our of keeping you informed of the current whereabouts of your fiance, son, or husband, aboard the U.S.S. ALTAIR (AKS-32), Service Force, Sixth Fleet, and to provide a summary of information about the different places he has been. Also highlighted are the aims, missions and accomplishments of this great Navy of ours in the Mediterranean.

  During the last month we have made a fairly complete tour of the Mediterranean, coming to port in seven different cities, in four different countries. To start with, we were in our homeport of Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona is the capital of the province of the same name, and the principle city of the region of Catalonia. It has a population of over 1,500,000. It is situated between the Besos and Llobegat rivers, with the Montjuich and Tibidabo (1,745 feet) rising behind it. Barcelona is a typical European city with its narrow, winding streets in the old quarter, and handsome boulevards in the modern part. Scenic areas are provided from the Ramblas to the central Plaza de Cataluna, the heart of the city, for those who enjoy sightseeing and picture taking. We generally spend about 25 to 30 percent of our time in Barcelona. The remaining time is spent replenishing the Sixth Fleet and anchoring at other ports around the Mediterranean.

  After Barcelona we went to Naples, Italy, situated in the compartment of Campania on the western shore of Italy, 135 miles southeast of Rome. The city occupies one of the most magnificent sites in the Mediterranean, providing an area of scenic beauty and great historic interest. It is the second largest port and third largest city in Italy, with a population of 1,131,386. some of the places of interest to the men have been the ancient ruins of Pompeii, or the tremendous volcano, Mount Vesuvious, with a cable car journey to the top. Others include: Herculanean, Paestum, Sorrento. Amalfi, Salerno and the beautiful islands of Capri and Ischia, all close enough for the men to visit.

  Next stop on the journey of foreign countries of the Mediterranean was Athens, Greece, a major port in the Mediterranean. Many of the men had enjoyable times seeing the historical ruins which were once the buildings of the great writers, philosophers, playwrights and artists whose works are the foundation of the western culture and society. Athens is the capital of Greece and is situated at the southern end of the plain of Attica. The city is admirably situated: Ringed by a semicircle of protective mountains, it opens up onto the Saronic Gulf, with its excellent harbors and stratagic position on the main trade routes. The modern city, like the ancient, is built around the Acropolis and has a population of about 1,500,000.

  Leaving the mainland of Greece we journeyed about 260 miles in a southeasterly direction among many picturesque islands to Rhodes, Greece, an island lying 16 miles off the coast of Turkey. Rhodes, the largest of the Dodecanese Islands, has a population of 28,000 and , like the other cities of the Mediterranean, has an interesting history as shown in the ancient buildings, statues, etc. The weather, as usual, was beautiful, so many of the men rented bicycles and rode up and down the hills sightseeing and taking pictures of the historical city. Many of the men went swimming in the famous blue waters of the Mediterranean along the many beaches of Rhodes. We found the people there very friendly and we feel confident our visit led to a better understanding between the Greeks and Americans.

  Suda Bay, Crete, was our next stop, not very far southwest of Rhodes. The Suda Bay area consists of an important base of the Royal Hellenic Navy, a small commercial port and the two towns of Suda and Cania. Again we see the remains of the historical past. From 3500 B.C. to World War II the protected harbor and surrounding area have been the battle field of many different countries. Many of the men took pictures from the ship of the old fortresses on the steep mountains surrounding the bay. The various inexpensive shops in Cania gave some of the men a chance to make some terrific buys.

  For the next week we remained at sea replenishing the ships of the Sixth Fleet, after which time we returned to Naples for a few days. During the rest of the month, while at sea, we replenished and were replenished by other ships, but during this one week period every month the Service Force replenishes thy entire Sixth Fleet. These replenishments are the life blood of the fleet and furnish the combatant ships of the Sixth Fleet with all the necessities of human life and material readiness. Food, Clothing, Repair parts, ammunition, oil and gasoline are examples of the tremendous supply of goods issued to the Fleet. The ALTAIR alone supplies the fleet with 20,000 different items. The replenishing is done while the ships are underway, thus allowing the Sixth Fleet to remain independent of all shore based facilities. By this means of replenishment-at-sea, the Sixth Fleet remains a highly mobile force ready at all times to be of assistance wherever needed.

  The British Crown Colony of Gibraltar, a fortress and naval base situated on a peninsula at the eastern end of the Strait of Gibralter, was our next stop. It occupies an area of about two square miles and has a population of about 28,000. A narrow strip of land called the Neutral Ground connects Gibraltar to the mainland of Spain. Over this strip of land thousands of troops have marched in fourteen different sieges of the Rock. Many of the men took a tour of the 1,396 foot rock, seeing the Moorish Castle, the Upper Galleries, St. Michael's Cove and the "Barbary Apes". Gibraltar, being a free port for many items, provided an excellent chance to do some shopping. From Gibraltar we traveled up the eastern coast of Spain to our homeport of Barcelona, the origin of our month long tour of the Mediterranean.

  As your can see, it has been a wonderful cruise for us. We meet many different people from many countries and see their varied ways of life, thus broadening each of us to a better understanding and cooperative spirit toward these people and their countries. the President's People-to-People Program is advanced tremendously by the friendships of Navymen with the people of these lands, and rightly so, in this troubled world of today.

  I hope your fiance, son, or husband on board the ALTAIR has been writing you regularly, and you writing to him. The mail the men receive is a big factor in determining morale. We have mail call at the different ports and also when we receive a mail bag from another ship. Everyo9ne waits hopefully, so keep the letters coming.

Sincerely yours,


     (33508 bytes)