The Bell Tolls At Barstow
by Robert Jackson, Marine Corps
Logistics Base Barstow
June 29, 2019
I’ve been standing watch aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base
Barstow for almost 20 years, near as I can figure, hardly noticed by
those who walk past me every day.
Records say I’ve been here
since July 1999, standing in the same place through the hottest days
of summer and the coldest days of winter. I’ve been soaked by the
occasional rain storm and, every now and again, a little bit of
I’ve watched VIPs come and go the likes of General
James L. Jones, 32nd Commandant of the Marine Corps, as well as the
33rd, 34th and 35th commandants. I’ve also caught a glimpse of a
couple of Sergeants Major of the Marine Corps like Alford McMichael,
John L. Estrada, and Michael P. Barrett. There have been other VIPs
coming on board for a visit or tour; almost too many to name.
Haven’t figured out who or what I am yet?
I’m the bell
that’s posted at the front entrance to the Base Headquarters,
Building 15. Surprised? Do not be, fact is, I’m on loan to MCLB from
the Naval Historical Center.
Though I stand barely noticed and barely used these days, you may
also be surprised to know that at one time ... I had a very active
career aboard the USS Luzerne County (LST-902) that was
launched in December 1944 and commissioned USS LST 902 in January
1945 at Algiers, Louisiana.
She was a beauty, displacing 1,625
tons, with a speed of approximately 12 knots, and a compliment of
seven officers and 104 enlisted personnel. She could also
accommodate 16 officers and 147 enlisted.
We did some time in the South Pacific, after the commissioning,
discharging troops and cargo to Saipan, Eniwetok and Okinawa. We
even sailed to the Philippines to pick up occupation troops and
headed Yokohoma, Japan. After that, the Luzerne County headed to
Guam to pick up roughly 600 war veterans before sailing back to the
United States. This was accomplished between January and December
After a short stint in World War II we headed back to
San Francisco, via Pearl Harbor and San Diego, only to go through a
3-month overhaul in Portland, Ore., decommissioned in and entered
into the Pacific Reserve Fleet in August 1946.
I thought we
were finished until the Department of the Navy called upon us again
to serve. So in January 1952 the Luzerne County was recommissioned
and after completing a shakedown and required training, we headed
for the Far East to begin supply runs in support of military
operations in Korea.
We continued making supply runs and
supporting troop operations in and out of Japanese and South Korean
ports until called upon to support the French withdrawal and
“Passage to Freedom” operations from North Vietnam, in October 1954.
Wouldn’t you know it? After making a few more supply runs and
training missions, in November 1955 the Luzerne County was
decommissioned again and relegated to the Pacific Reserve Fleet.
Later, in 1963, we were recommissioned again prior to service
with the Atlantic Fleet. We were ordered to Little Creek, Va., to
train Naval Reserve units for the rest of 1963 and throughout 1964.
Sometime in 1965 we joined naval operating forces to help stabilize
a crisis in the Dominican Republic.
USS Luzerne County (LST-902) underway on the Mekong River, Vietnam, 1968. (U.S. Navy courtesy photo)
Not long after that we
were reassigned to duty in the Pacific to support naval operations
in Southeast Asia. We departed Norfolk in January 1966, transited
the Panama Canal, made a couple of other stops before arriving in
Saigon in April. We off-loaded an LCU (Landing Craft Utility) before steaming to Da Nang the next day.
Operations for us
were constant, almost non-stop, throughout our time in Vietnam. From
delivering military stores from Okinawa for delivery to ports in
South Vietnam, to hauling cement from Taiwan to Phan Rang, to
rescuing a grounded merchant ship or two off the reefs. We did it
all until having to sail to Sasebo for repairs and overhaul. Upon
completion of the repairs we spent the remainder of the year hauling
supplies to Vietnam from Taiwan and Okinawa. We continued to perform
these duties until 1969 when the inevitable happened; decommissioned
for the final time.
Now, that you know where I originated from
let me explain what my function is according to naval tradition:
Before the advent of the chronometer, time at sea
was measured by the trickle of sand through a half - hour glass. One
of the ship's boys had the duty of watching the glass and turning it
when the sand had run out. When he turned the glass, he struck the
bell as a signal that he had performed this vital function. From
this ringing of the bell as the glass was turned evolved the
tradition of striking the bell once at the end of the first half
hour of a four hour watch, twice after the first hour, etc., until
eight bells marked the end of the four hour watch. The process was
repeated for the succeeding watches. This age-old practice of
sounding the bell on the hour and half hour has its place in the
nuclear and missile oriented United States Navy at the dawn of the
Twenty-First Century, regulating daily routine, just as it did on
our historic vessels under sail in the late Eighteenth Century.
Safety and Communication
The sounding of a ship's bell found
a natural application as a warning signal to other vessels in poor
visibility and fog. In 1676 one Henry Teonage serving as a chaplain
in the British Mediterranean Fleet recorded, "…so great a fog that
we were fain to ring our bells, beat drums, and fire muskets often
to keep us from falling foul one upon another." Ringing a ship's
bell in fog became customary. In 1858, British Naval Regulations
made it mandatory in that function. Today, maritime law requires all
ships to carry an efficient bell.
Navy Ceremonies and Events
The bell is used to signal the presence of important persons. When
the ship's captain, a flag officer, or other important person
arrives or departs, watch standers make an announcement to the ship
and ring the bell. This tradition extends to major naval command
transitions, often held aboard vessels associated with the command.
Bells In Religious Ceremonies
The bell's connection to
religious origins continues. Originating in the British Royal Navy,
it is a custom to baptize a child under the ship's bell; sometimes
the bell is used as a christening bowl, filled with water for the
ceremony. Once the baptism is completed, the child's name may be
inscribed inside the bell. The bell remains with the ship while in
service and with the Department of the Navy after decommissioning.
In this way, an invisible tie is created between the country, the
ship and its citizens. Bells have been loaned or provided to
churches as memorials to those vessels; this practice has been
discontinued in favor of displaying bells with namesake states or
municipalities, with museums, and with naval commands and newer
the bell is maintained by the ship's cook, while the ship's whistle
is maintained by the ship's bugler. In actual practice, the bell is
maintained by a person of the ship's division charged with the
upkeep of that part of the ship where the bell is located. In such a
case a deck seaman or quartermaster striker or signalman striker may
have the bell-shining duty.
To Me, The Bell of USS Luzerne County
There you have it; where I came from and
traditionally what my function is. As mentioned in the beginning I
have been here since 1999. As I recall, the last time anyone heard
my ring was during a memorial service honoring those first
responders and people we lost during the 9/11 attack on the Twin
Towers in New York. Since then I’ve been silent. Still standing
watch. Still weathering the heat and cold. Awaiting another time to
Editor’s note: Information for this article was
obtained from the
The U.S. Marines |
Marines - The Few, The Proud |
U.S. Marines Gifts |
U.S. Marine Corps