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USS Franklin D. Roosevelt Rotating Header Image

1972 Life on CVA-42 ~ Mike Stacey

Life on CVA-42 by Mike Stacey
Life aboard FDR on a daily basis
This is from an Enlisted Man’s perspective.
FDR was not a cruise ship by any means. The habitability of the Midways was one of the criticisms of the class. Their seakeeping abilities were minimal (and rockin’ and rollin’ is part of habitability). These ships had a higher roll rate tha…n the ships that came along later. Upward motion of the ship also affected flight operations. So FDR was a lively ship in heavy seas. A carrier rolls quite slowly in comparison with, say, a destroyer. At one point during the “hurricane” in the Bay of Biscay, FDR took a 28 degree roll. That is a large roll for a carrier!
As far as esthetics are concerned, there were none. The only pictures on the wall (bulkhead) were usually out of PLAYBOY. Everything inside was painted a sort of light green. Exposed electrical cabling and water/steam pipes were everywhere. The compartments were just large enough to house whatever was in it, but not spacious by any stretch of the imagination.
Sleeping quarters were spartan at best. Each person had their own bunk (called a rack). No more hammocks anyway. When you went to bed, you usually said you were going to “hit the rack” or “get some rack time”. The racks were stacked 3-high. The lower rack had to be raised and locked in the up position each day so that the deck below it could be cleaned. This was called “tricing up”. The middle and upper racks did not need to be triced up. Our locker was part of the rack. The lid of the locker was the platform on which the mattress sat. To get into the locker, you raised the lid and used a prop rod to hold it up. The mattress was fairly thin, but not too bad. I was able to do some serious sleeping in my rack. There was not much room between racks, so sitting up in bed was totally out of the question. A person with very wide shoulders would probably have had difficulty rolling over. Our locker was about 10″ deep and the size of a standard single bed. Actually, there was sufficient room for pretty much anything that you needed to stow. The locker had a hasp for a padlock on it. There was a curtain around the rack that afforded some privacy and shut out the light if you were trying to sleep (the lights stayed on pretty much all the time in the compartment). The compartment housed about 90 sailors.
Bathroom (head) facilities were adequate. They were not co-located with our sleeping quarters. To get to the head from where I slept, I had to go up a ladder and down a passageway about 50 feet. In the head were about 20 toilets, 10 urinals, 20 washbasins and 20 showerheads. These were to serve somewhere around 200 men. I worked nights aboard ship and we had a small (4 toilet, 2 shower) head just across the passageway from our shop, so I generally used that one. Water for showering was a consideration. The evaporators allowed for short Navy showers. You’d get in, get wet, shut the water off, soap up, and then turn the water back on just long enough to rinse the soap off. Or you could take a salt-water shower (few did). From what I hear, the nuclear powered ships have nearly unlimited fresh water.
One thing we did not have to worry about was laundering uniforms. That was done by ships personnel. All our clothing was labeled, so they usually got the clean stuff (unpressed, of course) back on the right rack when it was done. The laundry was all done in salt water, but other than being just a little bit stiff, was not bad at all. Dress uniforms and our civilian clothes went out to a dry cleaner. When we pulled in to a port, a civilian laundry/dry cleaning business would come aboard and usually got the stuff back to you within a couple of days. This was at our own expense, of course.
Eating facilities (messes) were located one deck below the hangar deck. There was a forward mess and a larger aft mess. There were enough tables and chairs in the messes to accommodate roughly 1/10th of the crew at a time. Lines were long every meal. Often, one would wait 30 minutes to get through the food line. Working nights, I generally ate the evening meal for breakfast, and then had breakfast at MidRats (Midnight Rations) at around midnight. MidRats were always served in the forward galley. I often skipped breakfast since I would soon be going to bed. The mess decks were also the bomb assembly area. Nothing improves your appetite more than having people fusing 500 lb bombs 20 feet from where you are eating! Actually, after a while, you become immune to it. Food aboard FDR was not exactly what one might call gourmet cuisine. We had roast beef a lot. It was overcooked and high in salt and fat. Of course, back in ’72, nobody thought about salt/fat content. I guess my favorite meal aboard FDR was probably MidRats, because it was breakfast food–eggs and such. Fresh milk and eggs were available only for the first few days after pulling into/out of port. After that, we had to put up with the powdered stuff.
Each crewmember was assigned to a specific division (and all had a designation, such as S1 or OI, etc) which handled certain jobs aboard. Some of the jobs were aviation-related, while others dealt with ships boilers, habitability, ships store, barbers, laundry, etc. Pretty much any job needed in civilian life in any city was also needed aboard ship. There were, of course, some jobs specifically carrier-related.
FDR had a closed-circuit television station. During certain hours of the day, they ran movies or TV shows. Many shops had a television set in them (ours did) that was turned on most of the time. When not running movies or TV shows, they showed flight operations. While launching aircraft, they trained a TV camera on the bow and while recovering aircraft, the camera was aimed at the arresting gear or the catapults. After a little while, we stopped watching that, too. They showed a fair selection of movies on WFDR, but it was the only channel available, too. The Captain also used the TV for announcements.
At sea, we worked 12-hour days, 7 days/week. During our off-hours, there was always something to do. There was perpetual Acey-Duecy (similar to backgammon) games, card games, and TV. I would imagine that DVD’s and satellite TV are common aboard ships now and movies can probably be rented at the ships store, but we didn’t have those luxuries in ’72. There was an observation deck high up in the ship’s island for watching flight operations. I used to go up there at night for launches. The sight of an F-4 with both afterburners lit is awesome (so is the noise level). But, after a while, the constant launch/recovery process becomes sort of ho-hum to watch. I used to enjoy going on deck at sunset. We saw some spectacular sunsets at sea.
The most welcome time of all at sea is mail call. Sailors (and I would imagine any serviceman away from home) are very excited to receive mail. The COD (Carrier On-board Delivery)plane would land and the speculation would begin about how much mail had come aboard. In some areas of the world, mail delivery can be very intermittent; in others, fairly regular. If you know someone who is serving their country (and you), write them ASAP. Mail is SOOOO wonderful to get and such a disappointment when there is nothing.
If I have made FDR sound like a really bad place to live, I apologize. Most of what I have described is stuff that you get used to rather quickly. Nobody expected the Swanky Frankie to be a cruise ship. In truth, we had adequate facilities, for the most part. When not on the flight deck, the portion of the ship that I lived and worked in was well heated/air conditioned. We could hear and feel the catapults every time they launched an aircraft. I soon learned to tune that out as well.
Although not the fancy accommodations that we all would have loved, FDR got us there and back in safety and relative comfort. Aboard Roosevelt, I got to places and saw things that I would not otherwise have been or seen. We worked hard aboard FDR. On a ship that old, there is always something needing repair, upgrade or routine maintenance. But when we finished our cruise, we all felt a sense of accomplishment in what we had done. We all did our respective jobs professionally. The 520 days that we spent aboard FDR were an experience that none of us is likely to forget. It’s funny, but now,40 years later, the memories are fonder than they were at the time.