Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fireman Bauer's Bayonet

Fireman 1st Class
Maurice Bauer, USN, Ret
Soldiers returning stateside from the Pacific Theater in the Autumn of 1945 weren't supposed to bring weapons home with them. Pistols, rifles, bayonets--none were allowed on the USS Texas (BB-35) as she transited from Hawaii to California as part of the "Magic Carpet Ride," a flotilla of warships enlisted to bring as many men back home from the war as quickly as possible. But there it was, a contraband bayonet left on a hatch cover as Fireman 1st Class Maurice Bauer was making his rounds.

How it got there, he didn't know. And didn't care--it would make a swell souvenir of the war, he thought. And so he secreted it away in a closet compartment near his berth on the battleship below deck.

Warships are quirky vessels.
They've got personalities, and they've got mysteries, and somehow, that bayonet didn't stay hidden in Fireman Bauer's closet for long. The ship claimed it, and it fell through a void into the engine compartment below. The engine compartment where Bauer served as Fireman 1st Class, "running around the engine, just making sure it was all running right," he described.

Port-side Steam Engine controls, Battleship "Texas" (BB-35)
Photo Credit: Brent Clanton
The steam engines on the "Texas" are massive, mechanical wonders. They're the only ones of their type still in existence, and on a vessel that's still floating in the water. The pair of triple-expansion reciprocating steam engines of the "Texas" sit side by side in the mechanical space of the warship, below the waterline, aft of the boilers. Spinning her twin screws at 120-rpm, the "Texas" could make 22-knots of speed on her first day in the water...and on her last.

Cylinder-heads of Battleship "Texas" Port-side steam engine
Photo Credit: Brent Clanton
Fireman 1st Class Bauer tended those engines with all the love and care any seasoned Navy man would, and on her final day as a commissioned warship in the US Navy, it was Bauer who pumped her engine cylinders full of cosmoline grease to preserve them against the ravages of time.

Nearly 70-years later, as the "Texas" was undergoing major repairs to her structural members, including the supports for those massive steam engines, Fireman 1st Class Bauer's contraband bayonet was discovered by engineers with Taylor Marine working to disassemble the vast network of pipes and tubing that fed the machines. Only it was no longer contraband--the bayonet was now an historical artifact.

"We found your bayonet," Ship's Manager Andy Smith said to Maurice Bauer in a recent phone call.
"Can I have it back?" Bauer asked.
"Nope," Smith replied. "It belongs on the Battleship as a piece of her history," he explained.
And so Bauer figured he'd never get to see that souvenir again.

Maurice Bauer's family woke him early on Saturday and said, "Get up and shave and shower. We have a surprise for you today."
"I have to do both?" he complained.
"Yes, it's something pretty special," they said.

The Battleship Texas is tied to twin floating moorings that allow her rise and fall with the tides and the wake of passing freight vessels twice her size. On the gangway to the Quarterdeck, Fireman 1st Class Bauer received a replica bayonet, identical to the one he'd hidden away so many years ago.

(L-R:) 1st Texas Volunteer, Ed Curry; Ship's Manager, Andy Smith;
Maurice Bauer; Julius Taylor, Taylor Marine
 "The real thing still belongs in the museum," explained Smith gently. It will be displayed along with other historical artifacts from the Battleship's rich legacy of service from two world wars. Julius Taylor, CEO of Taylor Marine, extended the bayonet to Fireman 1st Class Bauer, who cupped it in his hooks. Because, you see, Bauer has no hands now. They were lost in an accident after the war.

The Bauer Bunch tours the mechanical space of Battleship "Texas"
Bauer's family descended to the engine room to view for themselves where their father and grandfather had labored during the war. They were astounded at the sheer size of the engines.  "They were pretty quiet, really," Bauer said. "The loudest sound down there was a fan for ventilation," he recalls. "I could speak to the next guy at the other end of the engine in a normal voice," he said.

But it was too loud to hear that falling bayonet as it slipped from Bauer's closet to the floor of the engine room, seven decades ago.

Brent Clanton serves with the 1st Texas Volunteers, an organization dedication to the restoration and preservation of the only surviving Dreadnought Battleship, the USS Texas (BB-35). The group also conducts guided "hard-hat" tours to spaces on the warship that are generally off-limits to the general public. To book a hard-hat tour, visit the Battleship Texas Foundation website

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