WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Since he was a child, James Tisdale always had dreams of becoming a truck driver. After he learned the military would help pay for his dream to become a reality someday, he joined the Navy in 1979.
“My younger brother joined the Marines, and I needed a truck driving job, and they said it paid $5,000, ‘we’ll pay for your truck driving,’ so I joined like that,” Tisdale said.
Before he came aboard his first ship, the young sailor’s first duty in the Navy was to perform three-volley salutes at military funerals—a job he was assigned to do all thanks to a bizarre oversight.
“That was my first job for three months ’cause they couldn’t find my ship,” Tisdale said. “Then they said, ‘oh, we found your ship. It’s in the Mediterranean’ I got to the Mediterranean Sea, and then it wasn’t there, so I ended up on the Claude V. Ricketts for three more months.”
The U.S.S. Claude V. Ricketts was a guided-missile destroyer where Tisdale would serve as a boatswain’s mate.
“I had to steer the ship and drive the ship and all this other stuff and ended up doing lookouts and stuff,” Tisdale said.
Thankfully, Tisdale was eventually able to board his originally assigned ship: the U.S.S. Glover. The ship was a Garcia-class frigate used as the first line of defense for larger aircraft carriers.
“[We had] to make sure we got in front of an aircraft carrier before it took the hit from the missile, so we were on a fast frigate,” Tisdale said. “I knew I was on the wrong ship as soon as they said what we were for,” he added with a smile.
Tisdale would also serve as a boatswain’s mate on the U.S.S. Glover, but he also had another equally important task. As a signalman, he communicated with other ships via semaphore and Morse code.
“I had to learn Morse code on the ship, like, ‘what they saying again?’ ‘what was that letter?’ You know? The one word they embedded to me…SOS…you had to learn that fast,” Tisdale said.
Tisdale also recalled the ship participating in war games with 26 other ships off the coast of Cuba.
“Every three months, you’re in Cuba training for war,” Tisdale said. “Our main thing: we could find submarines—that’s one of our main missions. We could find submarines and shoot ’em out of the water ’cause we had a lot of torpedoes.”
Tisdale would serve for two years aboard the U.S.S. Glover. While he wouldn’t change anything about his time in the service, he says he can still recall several moments he faced discrimination at a time racial tensions were growing back at home.
“They’d throw my bedding and stuff in the water, they, you know, turned the hot water on me, what kind of stuff…push me into a rose bush, a big rose bush, I mean, that’s not the military to me,” Tisdale said. “I, I don’t want to get people saying, ‘oh, I ain’t joining the military,’ I don’t want that, but I do want to say, I hope, I pray that things have changed.”
Tisdale’s final ship would be the U.S.N.S. Pawcatuck: a replenishment oil tanker that refueled ships off the coastlines of Europe, the Mediterranean, and Africa.
“These people, they treated me like I was their son. That’s what it was like on the U.S.N.S Pawcatuck, the civilian ship,” Tisdale said. “And I would’ve re-upped if they would have gave me that duty again, but I couldn’t. I was blessed that I made it out of the military, and I was blessed that I became a truck driver.”
After four years in the Navy, Tisdale would work as a truck driver for nearly 20 years.
If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at firstname.lastname@example.org.