Dial a Sailor

by Patrick Costello
Talmage, Nebraska, USA

Dial a Sailor

In August 1976, the USS Truxtun, CGN-35, sailed out of San Diego, Calif., for a nine-month Western Pacific deployment. After a brief stop in Hawaii, the ship headed south of the equator to our next two stops: Wellington, New Zealand, and Melbourne, Australia.

At that time, many citizens of the two countries wanted their part of the world to be a nuclear-free zone — they wanted nothing to do with nuclear power or nuclear weapons. This ideology put the Truxtun square in the middle of the controversy on two counts: my ship had a designation of CGN. The “C” stands for cruiser, the “G” for guided missile, and the “N” for nuclear power. Having guided missiles with the potential to carry a nuclear warhead was bad enough, but being a nuclear-powered ship was too much for the protestors.

The Truxtun arrived in Wellington on a cold and dreary day. The reception we got from the protesters went hand in hand with the weather. Close to 100 boats greeted us with signs of protest. They wanted us and the ship out of New Zealand territorial waters. As Captain Tally eased into port, he was told the dock workers had gone out on strike, and we would not be able to tie up to any of the piers. This forced us to anchor out in the port waters. The crew would have to shuttle into Wellington across somewhat choppy water using small boats.

Then the ferryboat crews decided to strike. New Zealand is primarily made up of two large islands, and the ferries are a vital link between them, so just by being there, the Truxtun had inconvenienced an entire country. These events made the crew a little anxious about going ashore for liberty. As it turned out, our fears were unfounded.

First, the Wellington Police arraigned for several covered launches to shuttle us to and from shore. A phone line was brought into the Shore Patrol shack so residents could call the “Dial a Sailor” line and invite crewmen over for a meal or to attend a gathering.

My friend Tom and I picked out a family from the Dial a Sailor list and spent the day with them. They picked us up from the pier at about noon. We drove around Wellington seeing the sights. They asked as many questions about life in the U.S. as we did about life in N.Z. After the sightseeing, we ended up at their home for a wonderful meal. We ate and talked into the evening hours before returning to the ship.

That family’s generosity sailed with us for the rest of the cruise. Many years have passed since, but not the warm feelings I have for the people of Wellington. They opened their hearts and homes to the crew of the USS Truxtun. Not only that, the whole story was repeated when we arrived in Melbourne, Australia. We were greeted with protests and then overwhelmed by kindness and generosity.

Originally published as HeroicStories #100 on Dec 28, 1999
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 2.

6 thoughts on “Dial a Sailor”

  1. I love how this story highlights the basic goodness of people no matter what country you’re in. It echoes my experiences in almost every place I visited during my time in the Navy. International disagreements tend to disappear when regular people get a chance to meet each other.

    As Mark Twain said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

  2. Talk about deja vu. I loved reading this because I was on board the USS Bainbridge and along with the Enterprise and Long Beach, forming Nuclear Task Force One in August 1964, we also anchored in Wellington. Nasty, blustery day. My mate and I went ashore and an older lady came down the pier and asked us if we wanted to have dinner at a private residence. She took us out to the street where a boy of 18 and his dad met us. I was aged 24 then. While Hugh had friends that were anti nuclear, he was a member of the New Zealand-American group that looked upon America as friends that saved them from the Japanese in 1943. The dad and I became close friends and he was indeed my best friend for the next 30 years until he died.

  3. As a Kiwi, I am proud my country citizens showed such hospitality. I think it has contributed to how Kiwi’s are viewed in other coutries around the world…, at bleast by my experiance. I have travelled several places. It feels good to be welcomed anywhere I travel. I’m glad to represent New Zealanders’ & hope my small attempts contribute so that others would benefit in the future too. There’s many of us from here who travel around the planet. It is a small island paradise… I hope you will come some day…

  4. The vocal minority of idiots meet you on boats with signs, but the silent majority meet you with friendship and openness. It’s always been that, and always will be. Sadly, it’s not often talked about so well.

  5. I am glad that your visit during out to be a happy one in the end. While no one likes war I am glad we have missile cruisers out there even though I hope we never need them. My thanks for your service.


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