GMCS Hector Harold “Red” Larkin
Gunner’s Mate, Senior Chief
USS Fletcher DDE 445, USS Intrepid, USS Kitty Hawk
Korea – Vietnam
Mr. “Red” Larkin spent 20 years in the Navy. Like Forrest Gump, he seemed to find himself at critical moments in history — witnessing the first hydrogen bomb test and picking up one of the original “Right Stuff” astronauts who had just splashed down after orbiting the Earth. But before those episodes in his naval career, he had quite a few adventures on the USS Fletcher.
“I was living in Monticello, Arkansas when I joined the Navy. We went to Little Rock and took our physical and went into the Navy and they put us on a train and sent us to Los Angeles – as I recall, three or four days getting out there. When we got to Los Angeles, they put us on a bus and sent us down to San Diego and that’s where I went through boot camp.”
“The second week I was in boot camp, I got in a fight with one of the sailors and I broke my wrist — my left navicular bone.I was put in the hospital and they put a cast on it [from below the elbow to midway of the hand]. And I was in the hospital for two weeks. But after the first week, they gave us liberty, or time off, to go ashore.
“Well let me back up. I had a step brother, named ‘Lil’ Ed’ who had gone in the Navy in World War II. And he came home out of the Navy and he had tattoos all over him. I mean, that really impressed me! So when I got in the Navy, I was gonna get a tattoo.”
“So I got a cast on my arm and – as soon as I got on the beach, I went to a tattoo parlor and I said [pointing to his right forearm],’Give me a tattoo right here.'”
“And the guy said, ‘No, you can’t do that. There’s a federal law that if a person has a cast on, you can’t give’em a tattoo anywhere.'”
[He grins] “And I went back around there and had him put this tattoo on [where the cast had been on his left forearm] and this one.” [points to his right arm]
“That was on a Saturday and when the doctor come in Monday morning. Well this arm here [the one that had the cast] had swollen up like Popeye with the big forearms. And that doctor had a fit. Well he couldn’t put a cast back on it. So he kept me there I think another week or two in the hospital before he sent me back to boot camp.”
“I had to go back and pick up with another company. My brother and I had gone in the Navy together. And of course he stayed in the original company, graduated, and went on the ship I eventually went on. But I was about two or three weeks behind.”
“You know, being from Arkansas, we were fairly modest and getting in boot camp was a real shocker . You get in big rooms to take a shower and everybody’s nude. That didn’t set well.”
“Another thing in boot camp was – I’d always heard as a youngster at home that if you ate fried fish and drank sweet milk, it would poison you. Well in boot camp, every Friday you’d have seafood. And on the first Friday I was there, we had a real straight line where we’d go in, and I watched these guys. We had fried seafood and you had your choice of iced tea or milk. Well all the guys were getting milk. And I sat down and watched two or three of these people drink milk and eat fish and before I’d eat any, I’d see if any of them’s gonna die.” [he laughs]
“I graduated they assigned me to the USS Fletcher. It was a destroyer and it was stationed out of Pearl Harbor. But at the time it was over in Korea.”
“But a few of us that were going overseas — they put us on a seaplane and sent us up to San Francisco to get on a troop transport [ship] and we rode it over all the way. Now THAT was exciting. [sarcastically smiles] Mostly what was on there was soldiers going to Korea, sailors and other branches.”
“And I was fortunate – those bunks were nine high on that thing and I was on the top bunk, or somewhere close to the top.”
You’d just have to climb up the sides of the bunks?
“Yeah. Step on each other. [laughs] But that turned out to be a good thing, because as soon as we got out of the bay there in San Francisco, the ship would rock and roll all over the place and I think everybody including me got seasick. And they started heaving, and it was about 6 inches deep on the floor there on that deck.”
[He grins] “Another interesting thing is they didn’t have seats where you eat. They had these big poles and a board that would run about twenty feet, and that would be our mess table. You’d get your tray and set it down and hang on like this [with his left elbow on the corner of the plate] and stand there and eat – and a guy’d get sick and lean back and there’d go his plate! So you didn’t get to eat very much except a lot of crackers.”
“It took us about twenty-one days to get over there from Frisco to Yakuska [Yokosuka], Japan. We finally got over there and we got off of that ship on the beach, onto a shore station, and they put us on a little narrow rail train that wasn’t but about six or eight feet wide. There were two rows of wooden seats down each side and there were no windows in it. We went from Yakuska down to Sasebo and we were on for about a day. And when they’d go through a tunnel all that coal smoke would come in and get all over you.”
“So we went down to Sasebo and my ship at the time, the Fletcher, was out at sea in Korea and I caught a ship — one that would take groceries out to the fleet and they’d replenish [the supplies] by highline (that’s when they would pull a rope across from one ship to the other) and I went aboard the Fletcher [via the highline]. That’s my first experience on a high line. It’s rough out there! That high line would go up and down — you don’t get down to the water, but you get so close!”
Is it a basket you get in?
“Yeah, it’s a chair. You get in the front of it and there’s a seat in it, then they strap you in and there’s a hook on top. That’s what rides on the line. And the chair is about six or seven feet tall and you just sit in it. It’s a metal cage is what it is. And that’s what they transfer you back and forth in at sea.”
“So I was part of the deck force when I first went aboard. We kept up the hull of the ship – painting, scraping – constantly doing that. My brother – we were both in the deck force at the time.”
What year was this?
“This was 1950. It was cold. I think it was December when I got over there.”
“Then we stood as lookouts. You’d be on each wing of the bridge and you’d be out there looking for mines in the water.”
“The Koreans had mined the waters in all these areas out there and our responsibility was to go up and down the coast back and forth – probably about 50 or 100-mile range and back. We’d be firing those guns on shore at different targets. They had spotters over there that would give us targets and we’d fire at it.”
“But it would be intermittent fire – like fire one now, another five minutes later, and then another one fifteen minutes later. And fire maybe one and then two minutes later fire another one. But just spread the times out so there wasn’t any sequence that they could follow.”
“We’d be on lookout out for mines and it was so cold out there you couldn’t stand out very long. You’d put every bit of outer clothing – foul weather gear that you could get on – as many layers – and the only thing that was uncovered was your mouth, but we had a little thin thing over that.Ten minutes time out there, and we’d rotate. There was about eight people on each wing.”
How cold was this?
“I would say about close to zero, but out there at sea with that wind blowing on you, it felt much colder than that. We were only allowed to stand ten minutes”.
Oh gosh! Were you way up high? So you weren’t getting wet too.
“You were as high as you could get on the ship on what they call the wings of the bridge. The captain had a chair on the port side – the left side – of the ship that he sat on and on the starboard side there was just a platform area out there that when you are at sea in nice weather, the officers would usually stand there, but the lookouts stood there as well. We’d stand out there with a pair of binoculars and looked for mines.”
What would you do if you found a mine?
“We shot at it. There were twenty-millimeter gun mounts on each wing of the bridge and if we saw a mine, we’d shoot it and blow it up.”
I’ll bet that was fun.
“Then I got to be a gunner’s mate striker. Before you make petty officer, you’re a striker.”
“It was cold and we stood watches in enclosed batteries – single five-inch 38 gun mounts. At that time, we were standing four hours on, four hours off and we’d do that for thirty days then we’d go in port.”
“We’d get in those gun mounts and they had electric heaters in there but steel and metal all around you, it was COLD. I mean it was FREEZING.”
“So after the first two or three months, we were able to get my brother into the galley as a mess cook – cook striker. He was glad to get in there and we were glad to get him in there. He was a baker on the night shift. So everybody wanted to be on the same gun crew that I was on cause I could go up there and get hot bread and butter.” [we laugh]
“But, I was over there two different times. The first time I caught the ship in ’50, and then I went back in either late ’51 or – anyway we made two cruises over there ‘cause the war was over in ’53.”
“So it was late ’51 and early into ’52 and that’s the time that this guy named Kentucky – his name was Jim Harvey, but he was from Kentucky so we called him Kentuck – big old guy — just think about a big hillbilly — that’s what Kentuck looked like.”
“Well I was on a 5” gun mount that was enclosed down below and we had two twin 3” 50’s up there and I was the gun captain — I had already made third class by then.”
“So we were coming in and we had been out there for thirty days and it was on a Sunday and we were on our way in – a day off – and everybody was topside. It was a beautiful sunny day and really enjoying Sunday. And we had the Officer of the Deck which was the senior officer, and then we had a JOOD – Junior Officer of the Deck. He had the Con which means he was in charge at a particular time even though there was a full lieutenant there (OOD) and he was a JOOD. They had turned it over to these junior officers, training them to be Officer of the Deck.”
“Well we were on our way in and there was a little island out there and normally we’d go around that island and go in chartered waters, but this area closer to the beach which was less than a mile from the beach, well it was unchartered.”
“And this JOOD had the Con and the lieutenant – I don’t know what he was doing. I was down below in my bunk and all of a sudden we could just feel the shake of – well he had taken the ship between this small island and the beach. “We were still in Korea – and it ran aground. We were stuck out there. We couldn’t move. And everyone had run topside to see what was going on.
“Well the 5-inch – they could get down that low and shoot, but the 3-inch were anti-aircraft rifles. They didn’t shoot down low. They had boundaries that would stop ‘em before they got any lower than somewhere on the horizon. So they were of no value whatsoever. And we were on them and they were wide open. No protection at all on them.”
“So we were getting down behind whatever we could, and this one old boatswain name Jim Harvey [Kentuck] – he jumped down off there on what they call fenders – and they weigh four or five hundred pounds, cause it takes 4 or 5 men to move one of those things. It’s a great big ole buoy looking thing. And Kentuck went over there and he moved that thing!”
“They store them against the outer bulkhead and tie it down. He got over there and somehow or another he picked that thing up and moved it out of the way and got behind it and got between that and a steel wall and the rest of us are up there dodging around!” [we laugh]
“So we got back in off of that trip and were going into the ship yard in Japan and stayed there I guess a month and had to get a new propeller to put on our ship — or we called ‘em screws – and went on back to a port.”
“The ship we got on, we were going to refuel, but it was too rough and the ships were moving [too much]. So we kept going further and further away trying to get around the storm. It kept shifting around and finally we got to the point where our fuel got real, real low. And in war time, you’re not allowed to get below 50 percent. Not only does [the fuel] balance the ship, but all that weight keeps the ship running level in the water. We had gotten so low down to – I don’t know the exact amount – probably 10 or 15 percent of what we normally have, so the ship was riding high and the seas were rough.”
“And the ship would turn and it’d go over and roll. It’d get to the point that it’d almost go all the way over. Well you had two screws [propellers], one on each side, and one screw would be out of the water and it’d be going and the ship would just shake at that point. And it seemed like forever – probably only three or four minutes, or two minutes or so, and then it’d go back. But see, if it would have gone all the way over, water would have got in that [smoke]stack and got in that hot boiler and blow the ship up. That’s happened before.”
“Well you don’t normally do this, but the tanks that were empty of fuel, they filled ‘em up with salt water, which is normally taboo, but you almost had to to get the ballast back down after a few of them rolls, the captain did.”
“And you’re sitting there and it’s so rough, that they had what they call bunk straps, that when you got out of bed in the morning, you’d take your mattress and tie it up. And on normal ships they had three bunks high. All the bunks would be triested up and there they’d set. But it was so rough at night that you’d have to put those straps across you to be kept from being thrown out of your bunk while you were asleep.”
[For the 1952 daily log of the USS Fletcher DD 445, click here.]
“So after that last cruise we got back into Hawaii and we weren’t in but a week or ten days and then they said we’re gonna have to go back out.
“‘You’re going to Enewetak.'”
“They were gonna test the first hydrogen bomb. And we were assigned to duty to go down there.”
“[As we got underway to Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands where the first hydrogen bomb would be tested, we found out that]“…one of the sailor’s kids had measles and he came down with measles. Well our ship was quarantined when we got there so we couldn’t go ashore with anybody else.”
“They have a little island down there [in the Enewetak Atoll] called Japtan Island. It was a little small island – probably a mile in any direction. But when we went on liberty, it couldn’t be anybody else on the island. We had it to ourselves.”
“I don’t know why, but the admiral that was in charge of the fleet out there had a jeep on that island. And that’s where Harmon comes in — we’d go to this one island and it was just a bare island. It was nothing on it – maybe a hut or two, a few palm trees but mostly it had a real nice beach and that’s where we stayed mostly.”
“But they would give us all the beer we wanted to drink and usually they wouldn’t let you drink more than three cans. But they put a lot of formaldehyde in it back then. So we’d get over there and get drunk.”
“Well Harmon got the admiral’s jeep over there and he was wild. He’d run around that island in that jeep. Everybody’s trying to get him – officers chasing him and he finally ran it off in the water [he laughs] and got out and left it there.”
“Well I was there, present at the first two hydrogen bombs that they tested after World War II. It’s called Operation Ivy. They had one [“Mike”] that they set on a small island that was about a mile square and it blew that island completely up. It completely destroyed it. There was nothing showing there when it left.” [“Mike” shot video]
“The next one they dropped [“King”], it was what they called an airburst. That other was a surface burst. The one they dropped from an airplane blew up probably a thousand feet above the ground or water, and I saw that.” [“King” shot video]
How far were you away from the explosion?! “We were just over a mile away– that was the outer limits [from] the total destruction, about one mile.”[Log of the Fletcher states they were about 30 miles from the center of the explosion]
“They said, ‘Now don’t look at it. You’ll go blind if you do.’ ”
“Well they should never have told you that.” [he smiles]
“So we, uh – they really didn’t know then exactly, you know, a whole lot about it. We were more guinea pigs. Our ship got contaminated. We were running and the wind shifted and we seemed like we couldn’t get away from it.”
“There were about four destroyers out there [Fletcher, Carpenter, Radford, and O’Bannon]. And then there was a mother ship [Curtiss] plus there was a cruiser. But this mother ship had all the scientists on it and everything. And then the cruiser had the admiral and his crew. And they had the four destroyers — and we were circling around the island, one behind the other. I guess security of some kind – guarding for submarines or something coming in there.” [Then it exploded.]
“You can’t imagine how powerful it was. And you feel the wave and heat. And by that time, we were over a mile away [from the area of destruction]. They really weren’t sure what would happen there. They wanted to be as close as possible and yet, not be in any danger.” [PDF download – Analysis of Radiation Exposure for Naval Personnel at Operation Ivy]
‘But when you first see it, it was kind of slow motion. It started out as a mushroom and started rising like it would never stop. I don’t know how high they must have gone. First several hundred feet in the air and then the mushroom started. And boy, it was beautiful to see!” [PDF download – Operation Ivy Report]
“That was in 1952 and then when we got back, it wasn’t too long after that, that I got transferred to a ship in the states – the Cunningham 752, a bigger destroyer in Long Beach, California. I rode that about a year – year and a half. And then my enlistment was up and at that time, they would send you to the closest military area to where you joined the Navy. And for me it was Little Rock, so they sent me to Corpus Christi, TX.”
“I was there three months. You’re supposed to be there the last three months you’re in the Navy and then you’re discharged to go home. But I got there and instead of getting out, I shipped over for six years.”
“I had not planned on re-enlisting, but I got there with a wild bunch like I was with on the Fletcher down at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi and so to separate me and the other guys, they sent me out to Padre Island.”
“We had four targets out there that we trained pilots on. That’s when they first came out with these nuclear weapons. Normally to drop a bomb, they would go in [a dive] and drop their bomb and then pull away. But those nuclear weapons are so powerful, they had to learn to do a slingshot. They’d go in a dive and as they started up, they’d release their weapon and it would [arc away as the plane continued to pull up.]”
“So we were training them to do that and we had four targets. Now the first target was where the main barracks were — where we slept and then we’d have trucks that would take us to each target. Each target was about 20-25 miles apart down the beach. The furthest one away was probably close to a hundred miles from the gate where you come into the island. ‘Six-bys’ were our transportation back and forth.”
“We lived in quonset huts and they were building the barracks when I first went down there. That place was infested with rattlesnakes. They were all over the place. And they built us that big barracks down there and we were assigned a third class cook and he could go in every week and get any kind of grocery we wanted.”
“They couldn’t pay us hazardous duty pay, but believe me, it was hazardous duty. They would drop mini bombs that had dye in the nose of it and they would do their maneuver with the aircraft and sling it.”
“Well we had a big target that was probably half a mile circle and it would have rings in it and we’d have spotters on each side and it was our responsibility to be in those little buildings – elevated like a hunting stand. We’d be in there with the binoculars to tell the pilot where they hit. They had one observer who was in charge that would tell them where they hit. Well the trainees would come in and drop their bombs and he would circle around up there to see how they are doing. But a lot of the time, the bomb would hit the hut we were in!”
“They couldn’t so give us hazardous duty pay, so they gave us whatever we wanted to eat. They would go to town take orders from different bars down the beach. We had a big-ole, nice, walk-in chill box and freezer. You could go in that thing anytime you wanted and there’d be twenty or thirty cases of beer. [He laughs] Over in the corner there might be three or four sticks of bologna – a few eggs. [He chuckles] But all we ate was lunch meat, or sandwiches, and eggs for breakfast. That’s the only food we had in there. The rest of it was beer. That’s the kind of crew we were with.”
Why couldn’t they give you hazardous duty pay?
“We just weren’t entitled to it. They said even though it was hazardous duty, we had to be in a war zone to get hazardous duty pay.”
“After I re-enlisted and they brought me back up to the air station. I may have made second class just before I left there. Back up at the air station, I started going downtown and got a job down there. I was in Corpus for over a year. I got a job working nights for a tire and battery company. They stayed open til 1:00 in the morning. I’d come in around four in the afternoon when I got off at the base, change into a little uniform and go over there and work. I worked there for about a year.”
“I got married while I was working at the tire and battery place. I worked nights and she was the accountant. Then I got orders to go to gunners mate school in Great Lakes, Illinois. She was pregnant at the time so I was going to pick up a class, and sometimes you’d have to wait a few weeks.”
“So while I was waiting on a class – during the day, my ankles would swell. They’d get about [6 inches wide]. And then when I wake up in the morning my face would be swollen. It went on like that for about two weeks and then they gave me a date that I was to start school. And that morning when I woke up, my eyes—I couldn’t get’em open. So I had to press around them just to get a slit to where I could see out of them.”
“And [my wife] was about eight months pregnant and we were going to stop by sick bay to get me a shot so I could go ahead and start class. So I went in and the doctor checked me and they put me in a bed immediately. They went back out and told her that she could go back home, that he was going to be here a while!”
“So I had gotten a kidney infection — that was from all that drinking. That was 1957 and I was in the hospital nine months with that.”
“The first three months, I’d lay there like a zombie and move my head from side to side. The next three months they let me sit up a couple of times a day, and then towards the end of that, I was sitting on the side of the bed.”
So your wife had the baby during this time?
“Yes, she had the baby. I didn’t see Steve until he was three or four months old. They couldn’t bring him to the hospital. And finally in the last three months they’d let me walk a little bit. I had gotten down in weight and I was skinny already.
‘This picture was when I had first made Chief and I had gained a lot of my weight back by then.”
“I finally got over that. Went back and finished six months of school and then I went and caught the air craft carrier – the Intrepid.”
“On the Intrepid I did pretty good till, [regarding his drinking habits] I made Chief [Petty Officer] and started back and got crazy [drinking] again.”
Were you just bored? Or that’s just what people did? “It was a different life. Chief Petty Officer of the Navy in those days, they just really had it made. We kind of did what we wanted to. We would run our division or whatever we were in, but nobody fooled with you. You had your own quarters. You had your own cooks. You had people there that cleaned your compartment – took your clothes to the laundry. You know, you’re pretty well served there. About the only thing they didn’t do was make up your bunk, I guess. [He smiles] But they’d change your sheets – take the ones off your bunk and put fresh ones on there for you.”
“But anyway, when you made Chief, you started going to the Chief’s club. Well that was – wild. Can’t even begin to tell you what that was like – not in public. [He grins] But it was bad there.”
“One thing while I was on the [USS] Intrepid – back then, the astronauts were landing in the ocean in those capsules. They weren’t like the “airplanes” they’ve got now. The thing would come down — looked like a little chocolate kiss — they were shaped like that. It would come down with a parachute and land in the water out there and a helicopter would come and hook onto the capsule and they’d get the men out and take’em aboard the helicopter. One helicopter would take’em back to the ship and the other would pull the capsule up and bring it to the ship.
This was in the Atlantic?
“Yeah, [the Atlantic], so they brought him to the ship. Scott Carpenter was the astronaut’s name. And the first picture you see there was when they first brought him aboard. He got out of the helicopter, and then the other picture is of him walking with the captains and the admiral and all of them.
He was the only one?
“He was the only one we picked up. He was one of the last ones they used [that capsule] on. He was either the third or fourth one to go up there.
Those were the Mercury missions then. I think they only had one [astronaut per mission].
“I was on the Intrepid for seven years. I was eligible for shore duty, but there was not shore duty available – what they called, right arm rates. There were not shore duty billets available for Chief Gunners Mate at that time. Before they got one open, this one guy that was living in Navy housing next door to me was a first class personnel man and he was going to Washington, DC for duty.
“He said, ‘I’ll see if I can get you off of the ship,’ because we were going back and forth to the Mediterranean — every three years, we’d make two trips over there. I had made four or five trips at the time.
“In a fleet town, one group of ships was in port while another group is overseas. We’d relieve each other and go eight months over to the Mediterranean and cruise it.
“When we were in, the other set of ships with the carriers was out and all these white hats and above and their wives would go to the chiefs’ clubs. It was made out of an old aircraft hanger and was full of men and women all the time.
“And the ship was leaving to go back on another trip and he got me a set of orders and had me transferred to a submarine tender – the Orion AS 18 in Norfolk. And it was like shore duty. It was a ship, but it never got underway.
“So I went aboard and I was on it for almost a year and a half, while I was waiting on shore duty.
“While I was on the Orion, it was a submarine base, nobody went to sea. So the chiefs club was the same way – everybody drinking. We’d start at 4:00 in the afternoon and stay until 2:00 in the morning.
Oh my goodness…
“Yeah, the chiefs could go to the chiefs’ mess and get anything we wanted to eat.
“I had made Senior Chief by then and you have a special detailer for your E-8s and E-9s – Senior Chiefs and Master Chiefs. I got a call for a detailer and he said, ‘I’ve got you a set of orders. I’m going to send you to White Sands, New Mexico where you’re going to manage the Chiefs’ Club at White Sands.”
“And that was the worse place in the world for me to go. [He laughs] My wife worked for Civil Service and she transferred to White Sands. She was out there for about two months and I still had not gotten my orders — I just had the verbal orders. So I went to Washington and talked to [the first class personnel man].
“He said, ‘Chief, they have cancelled all shore duty orders for right arm rates except gunners mate school as an instructor, or recruiting duty. That’s the only two billets I’ve got for you.’
“I said, ‘Well I don’t want either one of ‘em. I’ll just stay at sea if that’s all you’ve got.’
“I said, ‘Where’s it at?’
“He said, ‘Albuquerque.’
“I said, ‘Where’s Albuquerque in relation to White Sands?’
“He said, ‘I don’t have any idea.’ [We laugh]
“I said, ‘I don’t either, but it’s closer than Norfolk, so I’ll take it.’
“So I went out there to Albuquerque to the University of New Mexico and I was an assistant instructor. I worked out there with Capt. Tony Snyder. [In the next picture] the Marine standing with me was in charge of the Marines [ROTC] and Capt. Snyder was in charge of everybody. Then we had officers in each department.
“I stayed out there for two or three years and then I went aboard the Kitty Hawk. That was kind of a funny experience. I had been Chief Master at Arms on the Orion. I may have been Chief Master at Arms on the Intrepid right before I got on the Orion. It was on my record, but there was no rating for it.
“[For Chief Master at Arms,] what they would get is the most military, professional looking, and acting chief and make him the Master at Arms — and I got that.
“But anyway, I went aboard the Kitty Hawk, the First Class checked me in and said, ‘Senior Chief? The personnel officer wants to see you.’
“So I went back there and they got a lieutenant named Don Winslow andsaid, ” XO wants to see you.’
“The XO is the executive officer of the ship. Well I knew some guys on the Intrepid and I said, ‘Maybe it was some guy that was on there that I knew or something.’
“I asked who it was and he told me so I went with him down there with him to [the XO’s] cabin, and he knocked on his door.
“And he said, ‘Come on in.’
“And the XO was standing there and didn’t have a stitch of clothes on. He had a towel and was drying his back like the Chubby Checker dance. And the lieutenant said, ‘XO, this is Senior Chief Larkin.’
“Well he dropped that towel and held his arms out like [give me a hug]. I didn’t know what to think!
“He said, ‘My new sheriff!’ [He laughs]
“What he meant was I was going to be his new Chief Master at Arms. The Chief was leaving and I was going to be the new sheriff, as he called it.
“So I talked to him a minute and I said, ‘XO, I really don’t want to do that. I’d rather get in my rate. I’ve been out of it awhile.’
“I don’t know why I said that because there were no guns on the Kitty Hawk — all missiles. But there were gunners mates on there — there were aviation ordinances – bombs and rockets and things.
“There was a Senior Chiefs Boatsmate named Joe Dyke and he wanted to be Master at Arms and so Winslow told him.
“But since Joe Dyke was leaving in a few months and they were getting ready to go overseas to Vietnam, the XO made him agree that the minute Dyke got his orders, that he would hang the Master at Arms badge on Senior Chief Larkin. So he did.
“And I went down to ordinance control. Well my orders when I went aboard was to go aboard as ship’s gunner which was a warrant officer billet. And so when I got there, they had already filled that billet with another officer – an ensign. So I wasn’t going to be the ships gunner in any respect. I was, but I didn’t have the title. The ensign had taken the title and I was his assistant. So I worked in the armory. We were handling the bombs and missles for the bombers and bullets for the airplanes. We would store them in the magazine and then take ‘em up and put them on the aircraft before their strike to shore.
“I did that maybe a year and then Joe got his orders. So it was in the afternoon and he came and gave me that badge. [He smiles]
“I became Master at Arms. That was the last job I had on there. I would escort dignitaries when they came aboard ship.
“The president of Vietnam came aboard ship and I escorted him and his wife, who was a Vietnamese movie star, aboard ship. And he came to New Orleans! In fact he was here after they evacuated Vietnam. He came to New Orleans and he owned a fishing fleet. I didn’t realize it until I was reading the paper and it showed a picture of him and all the boats that he had.
“So I rode the Kitty Hawk then and that was my last duty station – Chief Master at Arms.
[Afterwards Mr. Larkin went back to Fort Smith, Arkansas and decided to begin attending college, but a horse accident laid him up for a month and he missed the beginning of classes. So he started flipping through the phone book to see what he could do in the meantime, and he saw the heading, “Sprinkler Systems.”]
“Well one of the things I had done while I was ship’s gunner on the Kitty Hawk was – they had a new type of automatic sprinkler system on there and nobody knew anything about it. It had been out of operation for months. The people who knew about it had transferred off and nobody had re-trained for it. The magazine didn’t even have sprinklers in it. It had been shut off. I was fooling with the [instruction] books and I got ‘em all to working like they were supposed to. And the officer in charge recommended me for a commendation medal for that. So that was the picture of him pinning that medal on me — the commanding officer, Capt. Davis.
[So when Mr. Larkin saw “Sprinkler Systems” he said, “I know a little bit about that.” He called them and they hired him. So he went to work for a sprinkler company in Arkansas. That began a career path that would lead him to start his own sprinkler system company in 1976.]
“And here we are! So that was my Navy career.” [He smiles]
Thank you so much for your service to our country, Mr Larkin!