Survivor Gary Brummett Speaks Out
The day of June 8, 1967, found J. P. Newell and me (Gary W. Brummett) working on our coffin pump. This was a back up pump for our two main feed pumps. These are the pumps you could hear all over the ship when they lost suction and hammered instead of putting water in the boiler.
J. P. and I had worked non-stop twenty three hours repairing this pump. The last time we tore the pump down to add another 1/5000 shim, I forgot to bleed the drain line down and was burned when I pulled the drain line off.
After removing most of my clothes and one shoe and standing in front of the distill tank letting cool water lessen the burn, J. P. helped me to sick bay.
After this J. P. returned to the fireroom (hole as we called it), and put the pump back together and thank God it worked. Larry Thorn from the machine shop had made these shims for us. Thanks Larry.
Ya'll are all wondering, why is this fellow talking about a coffin pump and saying thank God. More later in this letter. I went to the compartment and took a cold shower and then applied some more burn ointment and went to bed. J. P. and I got to sleep till around eleven o'clock (1100 hours) that day.
We got up and ate early chow and didn't do too much until our regular GQ drill. After GQ was over, the Captain had come on the ship's PA system and announced hostilities on the beach. J.P. and I went up to the port side behind the super structure and observed black smoke on the beach and the Minaret of El Arish.
We went to the (hole) fireroom to start work on a main steam line on the port boiler. We had put our coveralls on and sat down on grading under the steam line trying to decide how to fix this leak. This was a 450 lb. Main fed line. We had only been there a few minutes when the first missile hit and the deep SHIT started.
I jumped up and was looking up at our up-takes trying to see if a steam line had blown up. Within seconds GQ went off and I could smell what seemed to be burnt gun powder. I thought, who could be so stupid to fire on an American ship, under normal conditions this would be declared an act of war.
We all went to our GQ stations closing port holes and hatches. Robert Clyde Kidd and I had the port side 0-1 level of the chief's quarters, I believe. By the time we got back to the mess decks a triage was being set up there and the horrors of combat hit this twenty year old 3rd class petty officer like a freight train. Prior to this, the only thing I had ever seen with blood and pain was a bad car wreck.
Repair three which was made up solely of people out of engineering went back to the hole. J.P. had lighted off the port boiler with a 42 sprayer plate and the largest we were suppose to use was a 44 plate, and this was in a hot boiler. Normal light off would be done with a 51 plate but HELL, we had to make steam as quick as possible. When I got back to the fireroom the 2nd 42 was being lit. I at this time made up two more 42 plates in the burner barrels. I do not recall who placed the last two in the boiler and fired them.
This may all sound quite simple but let me tell you doing this with our largest burner plates in a cold boiler could very easily blown the floor in the boiler apart and also damaged the front refractory in the burner faces. All the drain lines were open so when this boiler came on line, there would be no water or condensate in the lines which could create havoc on the generators. Also, the noise caused by these drains being open so long created a loud noise I could only compare to a jet engine. Add this to the missiles and our spaces filled with smoke, our job was pure Hell and I was certainly scared as I imagine everyone else was.
At some point and time, I retrieved some rags and ran water over them from the distilled tank and passed these rags around because of the smoke. Everyone in the fireroom did a great job that day and deserve a big thank you.
Because without our steam, the main engine won't turn and if the main engine doesn't turn, neither does the shaft and screw and we don't move. Steam ran the generators, fire and flushing pumps which makes the fire mains work and the commodes flush. The galley cooked with steam and the laundry used it to clean your clothes. We all had an important job as part of one Hell of a team. Think about it. We all did good that day.
Remember the coffin pump, and thank God!! Mr. Golden had the machinist mates drop (drain) the DA tank, so we BT's had to pull a cold suction with a hot pump and that just won't work. Robert Kidd and I took a fire hose and were trying to cool the bottoms (water side) of the main feed pumps and other BT's hollered we have got to have some water. At this point, I thought oh Lord, is this damn coffin pump going to work when I cut the steam to the pump and heard a high pitch noise for maybe ten seconds and then a deep hum and I knew we had really fixed this pump and our boiler's also got their water with very little time to spare.
A real problem for us was solved and moments later one of our forced draft blowers that put air to the fire box to provide proper combustion of the heavy crude we burned was dancing out of the deck or so it seemed. Kidd ran up the stairway and the problem was water had gotten into the blower and after draining the blower, it worked fine.
We had another problem with the starboard boiler but didn't realize this till the morning of the 9th and we secured the boiler and was back on a one boiler plant. That was really all we needed. The attack had caused some hand hold plates to come loose and they were leaking water inside the boiler.
We had a senior Chief BT come over from the U.S.S. Davis and found the problem straight off and helped us remedy this problem. The senior Chief stayed with us to Malta and he and Chief Brooks fixed our fire and flushing pump. Us BT's liked this guy. He was an E8 BT and yes Brooks was nicer to us for a while. I asked the Chief to ride back to the states with us and keep the MM in line. "Didn't happen".
When we received word that a torpedo was going to hit us starboard side and stand by to abandon ship, I personally knew I would never see my friends in Louisiana again or drink another cold beer. At twenty, those are important events. I blew my life vest up and didn't use the co2 cartridge and awaited what I thought would be some what like a crawfish boil and us BT's were the crawfish. But the CT's got it and my life was spared for the moment and for sometime I truly felt survivor's guilt. Why was I spared?
The U.S.S Liberty was truly blessed with a lot of very fine young men and officers and such a needless death. "ACCIDENT-my Ass". The men in my division stayed in the fireroom knowing death was on the way and we were only doing our job but I feel the BT's should of at least been considered for a Bronze Star. Mr. Golden had sent all the young men of the machinist mate spaces, but Chief Brooks and Fireman Benjamin Ashe and himself to safety some decks above. This isn't sour grapes-just a passing thought.
After all the attacking planes and PT boats had left, our fires top side had been extinguished and the wounded were being cared for, we started our westward limp to safety.
Many things happened the night of the 8th and early morning of the 9th. Thirty-five years later and the pictures in my mind seem only days old. The wounded on the mess decks when I went for ice at midnight. A truly tragic sight. Later Mr. Watson brought a bottle of Seagrams Seven to the fire room and we mixed it with orange juice and we made a fine drink. Later Mr. Golden came down with a quart of rum and a thank you for the fire room crew. Then we got lucky, the smoking lamp was lit. I must of chained smoked a pack and drank dirty coffee cup full of Mr. G's rum and yes it did feel good to be alive.
This article was written by Gary W. Brummett.
Jim Ennes and Joe Meadors
Jim Ennes and Joe Meadors