VT-9 Meridian, Mississippi

Written by: Leo Lawton

Right after Thanksgiving 1966 my brother Dell and I and our families left Northern New York for our new duty stations. Dell and his family were headed to Pensacola, Florida, while my family and I were going to Meridian, Mississippi. We traveled together in separate vehicles. We spent a night in Covington, Kentucky. We then proceeded to Eutaw, Alabama where we spent a second night. The following morning, with promises to get together soon, they headed down US 43 toward Pensacola, while my family went more westerly toward Meridian on US 11.

Wanting to get my wife, son, and daughter settled before I reported for duty, before nightfall I had bought a new mobile home, and had made arrangements to have it delivered and set up for living the next day. As our furniture and belongings were yet in transit between Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Meridian we had nothing to move into the home other than what we carried in our suitcases. We purchased a few necessities, and on December 2nd I reported to the Meridian Naval Auxiliary Air Station for duty, only to have a young personnel man tell me I didn’t belong there.

I said, “I choose to differ with you. In my hand I have a set of orders to report here, and here I am.”

He insisted VT-9, where my orders told me to go, had no record of my being ordered there. I insisted my orders said exactly that. After a very short conversation with him, I informed him, “I am a Chief Petty Officer and I expect to be treated like one. Where is the Chief in charge of this office”?

You could have heard a pin drop on the floor. No one cared to say anything for a moment. Then from an inner office a Chief appeared asking, “What seems to be the problem”?

Although that Chief was senior to me by virtue of a longer time in the pay grade I’m certain, we were on equal footing. Chiefs do not argue with each other, at least not openly. When I showed him my orders, he asked, “Did you just become a Senior Chief”?

I said, “I’ve never been informed of that.” After all I’d been on leave for a month, how was I supposed to learn of it while in a back woods hunting camp?

He said, “I believe I recall that you have been awarded Senior Chief, and that your orders were cancelled to this Squadron, and you are to report somewhere else. Let me check on it.” He checked some file and upon his return said, “Senior Chief Lawton, the good news is, you have been a Senior Chief since November 16th. The bad news is, your orders to VT-9 have been cancelled and you have a new set of orders to Key West, Florida.”

I asked to be signed in which stopped my leave while this whole matter was straightened out.

This created a couple of problems. My furniture and belongings were in transit to Meridian, and the Navy allowed but one paid movement in any given year. I would have to pay for shipment of my household goods from Meridian to Key West. I also would have to pay for the movement of the new mobile home I had just purchased from Mississippi to Key West, and none of this was from anything I should be responsible for. I had done exactly what I had written orders to do.

I asked for permission to speak with the Commanding Officer of VT-9, and permission was granted as I knew it would be. I explained to him the entire situation and he agreed I should not be penalized for following orders. He asked for the Personnel Chief to come into the office with us. He then asked the Personnel Chief, “Can you find what possible relief can be given to Chief Lawton and report back to me, dismissed.”

I was authorized to go home for the remainder of the day, and to report back to the Personnel Office the following morning which I did. The Personnel Chief asked me into his office while he made a phone call to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, D. C. In a short while he was connected to another Chief, at the Bureau, that was in charge of issuing orders to a certain section of personnel which included me. As the Chief at Meridian tried to explain the situation to the Bureau Chief he was interrupted. The Chief in Washington asked if I were present. When told I was there, he said, “Put him on the phone please.”

It was a fellow Chief that I personally knew. He said to me, “I was afraid this could happen when I issued that order change, but I had hoped for the best. Apparently that didn’t happen. What is the best way to rectify the situation now”?

I told him, “The best way for me would be if I could remain here at Meridian for a year. Then I could be transferred to Key West at the Navy’s expense, which is the right thing to do.”

“Done,” he said, “let me speak with the Personnel Chief please.”

I thanked him and handed the phone back. In less than a minute he hung up the phone. He smiled as he told me, “Senior Chief Lawton that is the first time in my entire Navy career I ever knew a man to write his own orders for a duty station.”

I smiled in return, as I said, “Remember me-that is the way I operate.”