What Ed Jensen of Englewood, Fla. remembers most about his four year hitch in the Navy was the eight month cruise he took aboard the Fletcher class destroyer USS Caperton (DD-650) through the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
For a 21-year-old sailor in 1955 it was his chance to see the world.
“I think we saw 27 different countries during our cruise,” the 79-year-old retiree said. “We sailed right after Christmas of 58-59 and returned before the holidays in 59-60. We left for Europe and the Mediterranean to start with.
“I remember we were in Parma, Spain on Good Friday and there was a religious parade. At the time I was a young guy and not very religious. But the parade was real interesting and something I’d never seen before.
“Me being in my early 20s seeing all these different countries and different people was interesting. It was something different.
“The most beautiful place I visited on our cruise was Beirut, Lebanon. We spent 14 days there and much of the time I was on shore patrol. We went everywhere around town on our rounds as part of the shore patrol,” Jensen said.
“Beirut was a big city with lots of nightclubs. We couldn’t go to the nightclubs because we were on Cinderella liberty. We had to be back aboard ship by midnight. The floor shows at the nightclubs didn’t begin until midnight. They ran until 5 a.m.
“I remember we sailed to Gibraltar from there. What I recall about Gibraltar was that there were lots of caves and there were big guns near these caves. The guns were used during World War II. Gibraltar controlled the entrance to the Mediterranean.
“We sailed on through the Suez Canal and on to Saudi Arabia. We visited the oil fields where a lot of Americans worked. They lived in an Americanized compound—families in one section and single men in another. The single men were a bunch of alcoholics because they had nothing to do over there except sleep and work.
“The wives of the Americans working in the oil fields treated us like gold. They had been in Saudi Arabia for a month to 18 months and knew nothing about what was happening back in the States. They wanted to hear from us what was going on back home,” Jensen recalled.
“We told them what was happening even thought we had been gone four or five months,” he said. “The wives put on a feed for us. We were like millionaires over there.”
Throughout the cruise Jensen’s skipper wrote a letters home to the wives and families of the sailors aboard the Caperton telling the families whai their loved one was doing and seeing aboard ship. These letters arrived about every six weeks.
In a letter from the skipper of the destroyer dated 13 Aug. 1959 he writes:
“All of the areas we visited were supported primarily by one item—oil. Take away the oil and the American and British settlements would soon disappear along with the sprinkling of western civilization they have implanted in these spots.
“The biggest problem we’ve had in this part of the world has been fighting the heat, humidity and desert dust storms. On board ship the temperature climbs to 120 degrees. Because of the heat we have resorted to some unusual procedures which aren’t exactly military. At sea our dress consists of the barest minimum — mainly short-shorts, made by cutting off trouser legs and a pair of shower shoes.
“The sea water is so hot, 91 degrees, it greatly reduces our ability to produce fresh water aboard ship. Hence, we have established stringent rules for the use of water.
“Now we are eagerly looking forward to leaving this hot, humid area and returning to the Mediterranean, which we shall do in about a week.
You shall hear from me again soon.
Eventually Jensen and the USS Caperton returned to Newport from the cruise. At dockside waiting for the six destroyers were thousands of wives, children, moms and dads.
“The place was mobbed. They had a big luncheon for everyone,” Jensen recalled.
The Caperton, his ship, was put out of commission and he was sent to Mayport, Fla. and went aboard the USS Hunt, another destroyer, used as a training ship for Naval Reservists.
“We would take out 30 Naval Reservists for two weeks at a time. Once we cleared port they would run the ship with supervision from us,” he explained. “On the weekend they would sail into some liberty port. Come Monday we would take them back to sea and bring them back to Mayport a week later.”
Jensen was part of the reserve training crew aboard the Hunt until he was discharged from the Navy at Jacksonville Naval Air Station in July 1960.
“When I got out of the Navy I used my Naval education to get a job with Scott Paper Co. as a boiler man at their plant in Portland, Maine,” he said. “I worked there almost 35 years until I retired in 1994. My first wife, Josephine, died in 1996 and I moved to Florida in 1997.
Jensen has one daughter: Dian. Another daughter, Judith, died several years ago.
Name: Edward Jensen
D.O.B: 26 Oct 1936
Hometown: Portland, Maine
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: Joined Naval Reserve in 1953, active 17 Jan 1955
Unit: USS Caperton, USS Hunt
Commendations: Good Conduct Medal
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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