I was telling Emily about my experience in the Persian Gulf War I of 1991. I told her that my ship was to go in close to shore to do shore bombardment. The minesweepers cleared out a path through mine-infested waters two miles wide by ten miles long. We had to stay inside that box, or we could hit a mine.
Wait, she says, that minesweeper game is a real thing? I thought it was just a game!
Yes, I do love my daughter and these special moments we have together.
For regular visitors here, you may have seen some of my drawings from this memory of the first day of the ground war in Operation Desert Storm when Iraqi forces fired Silkworm anti-ship missiles at my ship. Here is a video that was recorded on 25 February 1991 around 0450 am.
This memory is forever embedded in my memory. If you have ever come face to face with your own mortality, perhaps through an accident or a close-call or, heaven forbid, the loss of a close loved one, you know these days.
I was deep inside of an armored WWII battleship. The plotting room is one of a battleship’s “vital organs” so to speak. It is the brains to the ship’s brawn, the 16″ guns. Without the computer equipment in this space, the ship cannot fight, so it is located deep inside the armored belt, right next to the engine spaces, meant to be safe from Japanese and German shells and torpedoes. Even so, with a missile bearing down on you and you can do nothing but stand there and take whatever is coming, you have to wonder if this could be the end?
Fortunately, our battlegroup had some missile destroyers along with us riding shotgun, and the HMS Gloucester shot down the one that came nearest to us. I’ll never forget the name of that ship either. (There is a lengthy article about the missile attack incident you can also read.)
Later in the video, you can see us putting on gas masks because we were warned that a gas attack was imminent. Missiles, now gas? At that point I was wearing a little protective box on my head, inside of a bigger protective box – the plotting room, inside of a bigger box – the armored belt, inside a still bigger box floating in the ocean – the battleship. Claustrophobia anyone?
A couple of weeks ago, Lynda Barry posted about doing a series of twelve images of the same scene. I set out to do just that, not knowing how long it would actually take me or what the result would look like. This week, I finally finished this difficult but gratifying challenge.
The scene was after the ground war had begun in February 1991. The Iraqis had already bugged out of Kuwait, and though we didn’t realize it at the time, the Battleship Missouri had already completed her final fire mission for all time. Something happened, and I never heard exactly what, but the magazine sprinkler system was activated in Turret 2 and everything got doused with salt water. The wiring that came from our computer system in the plotting room to control the guns also got wet, which might not have been a huge deal if not for the fact that this was WWII technology and plastic was not widely in use yet. All of the insulation on the wires were made of a fabric material that soaked the salt water right up. The salt water, being an excellent conductor, shorted everything out. We had to go down to the 7th deck, all the way to the bottom of the ship, and literally crawl into this wiring space with our heat guns to dry everything out. The room was not big enough to stand in. It was dark, cold, and damp. We had to bring our own lighting. The “megger,” a piece of test equipment designed to test the insulation of wires, generated a current of electricity to get the wires to short circuit on purpose. We were making electricity through wet wires, inside of a damp metal crawl space, on purpose!