San Francisco Chronicle Friday November 27, 1970

Sailors' Hard Life Aboard the "Green Weenie"


"How'd you like to hold up a slice of bread, the only bread available, and count the weevils?" "How'd you like to work 12 to 15 hours a day average, sometimes to 18 to 20 a day, and get about two hours liberty in seven months?" These are young American sailors talking, crewmembers of a ship they derisively call the "Green Weenie" - - most of them are hopelessly depressed, and angry. So depressed, in fact, that more than 50 men, including some officers "who care" took a big chance, and talked to newsmen while the Green Weenie was in the U.S. Navy Base at Yokosuka, Japan, for repair this month. "We'da had 100 here," said one crewman, "but some were scared to come. But believe me we're telling it straight." They told not only of extreme work loads, poor food, and almost non-existent liberty, but, to superiors who simply told them "Do or Die."

The Green Weenie's real name is the U.S.S. Satyr, a specially designed ship with the sole purpose of repairing Vietnamese Patrol Boats along the Upper Mekong River, near the Cambodian border. Most of the men had been on the Mekong from three to ten months of the required 12. One got off early. He collapsed from overwork, crewmen said. Others needing medical care simply had to grit their teeth. "We put up with a lot, but damn, I think we'd even bear that work schedule if our life was more livable", said one seaman. "we've got nothing to look forward too. They told us if we'd bear no liberty, we would get extended liberty once we got to Japan. In one week, we worked 5:00a.m. To 5:00 p.m. and the easiest schedule we've had is 8:30 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. And yet, despite weevils in their bread, little if any fresh milk, few fresh fruits, and vegetables, a single projector that often doesn't work, lack of parts for their machinery and so few eating utensils that late-commers to the mess hall have to eat from other men's bowls and dishes -- despite all this -- there is a remarkable pride among the 175 man crew.

They were asked what their reputation was among the group of three such repair ships anchored within two miles of each other on the upper Mekong, the answer was immediate. "Number One, man," said a crewman who'd been aboard eight months. "We're Number One. Most of us like the VN's (Vietnamese) and were proud to help 'em. Hell we almost live with 'em but it's pretty bad being Number One, because we do most of the work and get little or nothing for it, not even enough beer. There's plenty on the other ships." "We do the work in one week that the other two ships do combined," said an officer. The men put up a sign along the river that reads 'Satyr Body & Fender Shop ...... 25 Hours a Day, 8 Days a week."

Some reasons for the Green Weenies 2 to 1 work ratio over the nearby ships are related to its forward position on the river, but the men could find no reason why a rotation system wasn't possible to even the work load. "We have different supply sources," explained one officer. "It's easier for the other repair ships, therefore to get spare parts, food and things we can't get." The crew didn't buy that. "I'll tell you the reason, " they said, "it's 'them', that's who." "Them" are a special breed referred to in the service as "Lifers", men who are in the service to stay. "There are two kinds", explained a petty officer, "career men, and lifers. A career man will listen to your complaints and try to help. A lifer will only harass you, and if he has to, he'll come down into the bilge's (the lowest level of a ship) to do it." The crew charges that the lifers if they wanted to could improve conditions aboard the Satyr until they were livable. "I think we're going nuts," said one young crewman. "We finally got a mirror put in our head (toilet) and shower room to replace the one broken one we had, and you know what? We're tickled to death. For us that's a big thing." Some men have written their congressmen letters of complaint. There have been two inspections by naval teams, but no action. More than 25 other crewmen, in an apparent attempt to get the "Green Weenie" off their back, openly smoked marijuana, and are now under detention at Yokosuka. "At least I'm off the ship," said one. The Satyr's captain Lieutenant Commander C. M. Giganti would not comment on any of the charges. One officer conceded that "the men may have exaggerated some details, but, basically what they say is true." But all they can do now is wait for their 12-month tour to end. This month, they're going back to the Mekong.

Courtesy of Richard Pettit, USS Satyr ARL-23 (69-70)