‘A floating gas station’

Russellville veteran describes service aboard USS Hassayampa

By Jeremy P. Amick

As the co-owner of a restaurant, Dana Frisby is fortunate that he is able to engage in an activity for which he is very passionate—preparing meals for others.

Many years ago, however, his journey toward restaurant ownership was nowhere in his thoughts when he chose to pursue a trade through the United States Navy.

Graduating in 1972 from high school in Lebanon, Ill., Frisby enlisted in the Navy the following summer—a decision partially motivated by father.

“Dad had served in the Navy, so that had some impact on my choice,” said Frisby, 60, Russellville. “The draft was also happening and I didn’t want to be in the Army or Marines; with the Navy I believed there would be more of a choice in my career.”

The recruit traveled to Great Lakes, Ill., to complete his boot camp. Several weeks later, he reported to Philadelphia to begin his advanced training as a hull maintenance technician.

While in training, he recalls his introduction to shipboard firefighting, carpentry work, plumbing and an array of other maintenance skills such as patching damaged hulls and the replacement of watertight doors.

“We were the ship’s handymen,” he said, “and it was our job to keep the ship afloat during a crisis. (The school) would simulate damage from torpedoes and we would have to scramble to perform the necessary repairs.”

In the summer of 1973, with several months of military training behind him, Frisby was sent to Pearl Harbor and assigned to the USS Hassayampa—a fleet oilier, which according to online naval sources, was designed to transport bulk petroleum and lubricants to other naval vessels.

Commissioned in 1955, Frisby notes that the Hassayampa essentially operated as “a floating gas station,” and would refuel the ships in the Navy’s Pacific Fleet.

For the next two years, the young sailor participated in two western Pacific tours, visiting such locations as the Philippines, Guam, Samoa and Taiwan. While aboard the ship, Frisby worked in the shipfitters’ shop and was in charge of all of the onboard plumbing.

His acquired skills were later refocused on welding, and he spent the majority of the next two years working with all forms of metal, including cutting out and replacing doors and deck plating.

Though his brief tours did not expose him to direct combat, he asserts that his time on the high seas was not completely devoid of interesting encounters.

“While we were down in Tahiti there was a civilian ship that was out of fuel,” Frisby said, “and France was preparing to do a surface atomic bomb test … so the ship needed to get out of there.” (Tahiti is part of the French Polynesians.)

As the veteran explained, refueling between naval vessels was a rather routine task as the Hassayampa’s 8-inch refueling hoses were designed to insert into receptacles on the ship receiving the fuel, while both ships continued to sail side by side.

The civilian vessel, Frisby said, was not equipped to receive the Navy’s fueling attachments. The Hassayampa had to travel at the same speed and to the rear of the civilian vessel while the refueling was accomplished through the adaptation of 2-1/2-inch fire hoses.

“We broke several (fire) hoses and it took us 72 hours to finish,” Frisby said. “But it worked.”

Though the veteran “liked being at sea,” he grew somewhat disaffected by the ship’s leadership and sought a change in his career. In August 1975, he left the Navy after three years of service.

The former sailor later worked in the construction trades and spent time as an ironworker, applying many of the welding skills he had refined while on a ship, but after later developing heart problems, he left the construction industry altogether.

Frisby moved to Mid-Missouri in 2000 and worked many years at a local convenience store, in addition to cooking at several local restaurants. Recently he became the co-owner of The Vault Pizza and Sandwiches in downtown Russellville.

Even if the job he now enjoys is not something for which the Navy directly prepared him, Frisby maintains that the brief time he spent aboard a ship serves as an example of direct benefits derived through the armed forces.

“I truly feel that all of the kids who may be leaving high school and are looking for a little direction in life, like I was, should consider serving in the Navy … or one of the other branches of service since it provides training that might not be available in other places.”

He added: “I … myself was able to learn how to weld in the Navy, and that is a very useful skill for a person to have; one that I used all of the time I worked in construction and has benefitted me in other jobs over the years.”

Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America

Silver Star Families of America
Cell: (573) 230-7456

Jeremy Amick

Jeremy Amick is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE