Cpl. Warren R. Smith (63-64) Remembers




Thanksgiving 1963
  I went back to my diary to see what I had to say about this day when we were starting out on our great adventure. I will list the days as I wrote them in 1963:

Nov. 19 Slept most of the day. Watched football game on TV and wrote some letters. Ship suppose to be here tomorrow.

Nov. 20 Ship arrived and they have started loading. We moved out of the conference room and what a mess it was. We all went to the docks and waited till about 1400 to board. The ship is real clean and the racks are not bad. The rest of the squadron came aboard about 1830 and we had to guide them aboard. I called home and talked to everyone. Some of the guys liberated some beer that was in the warehouse and everyone was walking around half plowed. One of the guys got to wild and we had to throw him in the ship's brig.

Nov 21 We left port today about 0500 and it was pretty smooth sailing.

Nov 22 Had duty today and it was getting windy and rough. Everyone is getting sick including Haupert. I had the 12-4. Slept in till 1000. 3 of the 6 Cpl of the guard are sick, so I had to take one of their places. Still rough and more guys are getting sick. Had to tie the guys on the flight deck together so they would not blow over the side.

Nov 23 Water smoothed out today and people are starting to feel better. We got word today that President Kennedy was killed in Texas. Everyone pretty shocked and numb most of the day. I had the 12-4, but it went fast.

Nov. 24 I read most of the day. Had 2 movies tonight that I watched.

Nov. 25 Had the 4-8. Seas calm.

Nov. 26 Crossed the International Date Line and had initiation ceremony.

Nov 28 Thanksgiving Day. We lost Nov 27 because of the date line. Had big meal with all the fixings. Got certificate commemorating our crossing of the date line. Took some pictures with Haupert.

Nov 29 About 2000 miles to go. I have the 12-4, am picking up Tokyo and other Jap stations on my radio.

Nov. 30 Day off. Slept late and read most of the day. Sea calm.

Footnote to above:

I was part of a security detachment to Long Beach to guard our equipment prior to the carrier arrival and they used us in the same capacity on the cruise to Okinawa.

Everyone have a great Thanksgiving. We have a lot to be thankful for.


I was looking at the photos I took in the story about Sgt. Phat's letter, 3/20/64, and saw an innovation Marines came up with to protect our oil cooler and tank. If you look at the picture of Sgt. Phat standing by my doorway, you can see the bent plate that was bolted to the belly in the critical area of the oil cooler and tank. We had self sealing fuel tanks in our forward fuel cells, but one round in the oil cooler or tank could bring you down pretty fast. We sacrificed some payload with this extra weight, but it was the 34's flak jacket. I read about how innovative the current military personnel have been in Iraq by welding extra plate on their vehicles and thought to myself, this has been done for generations in all the wars and has a lot to do with "Yankee Ingenuity". Click here or photo for larger image.

Warren Smith


I am traveling through some of my prior experiences with my daughter as she now is the same wonder age of 21 that I was when we went overseas in 1963.  She was relating her recent sedate New Years experiences in Northern Minnesota  and I had to tell her where I was on my 21st New Years.

I Remember the Christmas of 1963 was pretty lonely.  We always knew that we could get home if we wanted while stationed in Santa Ana, but Futema, Okinawa was on the other side of the world and leaves were not being issued to go stateside.  Our family was our buddies and we hung out together, especially at these times.  It seemed like you should be with someone this time of the year and we didn't  work on Christmas Eve day.  None of us had any presents to wrap for the tree and there weren't any carolers coming around, so a we decided to visit our favorite bar in town.  When we got to the bar, to our surprise, all the girls were dressed in formal dresses.  They said they wanted to make it special for us as we were a long ways from home on this special day.  It was almost like being at a high
school formal dance with some very exotic dates.  They truly made it a special day for us.

New Years Eve 1963 found Larry Haupert and I in Hong Kong.  We had flown down a day or two prior on the R4D assigned to Futema.  It took a little longer in this old bird, but we always felt safe in a flying machine that had already flown thought WWll and Korea.  Okinawa was an exciting experience entering us into the Orient, but Hong Kong bombarded us with this culture.  We were emersed in the masses of Chinese from the very poor to super rich and we were the definite minority.  For two 21 year olds from Indiana, we were pretty wide eyed everywhere we went.  Even though the Chinese New Year was to come later, the city was going wild everywhere we took our celebration.  It was almost safer to walk in the street as strings of firecracker were being lit and dropped from windows above as we went from bar to bar.  I don't remember going back to our room at the hotel that night with the whole night lost in a swirl of bright neon lights and way to many
toasts to the New Year.  My New Years in Hong Kong has been the standard bearer of all others to come.  Maybe being 21, single and a Marine in this wonderfully hub of the Orient had something to do with it.


At the end of our Vietnam tour we had to wait a few days for a C-130 to Okinawa and had nothing to do for a change.  Marines without a mission is a devils playground.  We could stay up all night and sleep in the next day.  What a change.  Everyone got stinking drunk and they had to break out the "grunt" riot squad a couple of times.  They were pretty sympathetic and didn't lock anyone up.  All they did was drag those that had passed out off the compound road so they wouldn't get run over.  Tempers flared and there were a number of fights to pass time.  A few days prior you were to busy and tired for this activity.  Broken nosed and black eyed we landed at Kadena to rest up for our next overseas adventure.


I remember how difficult it was to do bench press weights while underway on the Valley Forge.  You always needed a guy at each end of the bar to catch it if the ship started to roll while you had your arms extended.

I remember if you needed to know something you could usually find the answer on the mess deck.  All the various factions of the ship passed through there throughout the day and they became a filter and consolidator of information.  They became known as MDI ( mess deck intelligence) and RCC ( rumor control central).

I remember different announcements over the PA on the Valley Forge that were repeated a number of times.  One announcement came just before lights out and said, "sweepers start your booms, make a clean sweep down fore to aft and haul all trash to the fantail for dumping".  Another was repeated over and over whenever a tanker pulled along side, we heard " the smoking lamp is out between frame ___ and Frame ___ while loading Black Oil".  One announcement heard only once and I never saw the sailors move so fast, was when some PT boats were spotted racing toward us from the North after the Bay of Tonkin incident.  It said " general quarters, general quarters, man all battle stations and close all water tight compartments, this is not a drill, this is not a drill, I repeat this is not a drill".


I remember how difficult it was to do bench press weights while underway on the Valley Forge.  You always needed a guy at each end of the bar to catch it if the ship started to roll while you had your arms extended.

I remember if you needed to know something you could usually find the answer on the mess deck.  All the various factions of the ship passed through there throughout the day and they became a filter and consolidator of information.  They became known as MDI ( mess deck intelligence) and RCC  ( rumor control central).

I remember different announcements over the PA on the Valley Forge that were repeated a number of times.  One announcement came just before lights out and said, "sweepers man your booms, make a clean sweep down fore to aft and haul all trash to the fantail for dumping".  Another was repeated over and over whenever a tanker pulled along side, we heard " the smoking lamp is out between frame ___ and Frame ___ while loading Black Oil".  One announcement heard only once and I never saw the sailors move so fast, was when some PT boats were spotted racing toward us from the North after the Bay of Tonkin incident.  It said " general quarters, general quarters, man all battle stations and close all water tight
compartments, this is not a drill, this is not a drill, I repeat this is not a drill".


I was just letting Larry Haupert know we were planning a cruise out of Florida in April and remembered a sensory displeasure from years past.

When we were cruising, military style, on the Valley Forge, accommodations were basic survival.  It was so hot in the compartment, we would sleep in the planes if they were on the flight deck.  If you took the windows out and left the door open, you could get a pretty nice breeze moving through the plane. The only problem was being chained down on the fan tail and in the middle of the night sailors blowing the stacks. This procedure consisted of releasing a large volume of steam inside the base of the smoke stack.  This release of steam along with the existing exhaust would purge the stacks of loose carbon and oils.  It would come billowing out of the stack like a coal mine back firing.  Most of the time it would roll down the deck and swirl around and through the planes.  It would wake you from a sound sleep gagging for breath and swear you just swallowed your chemistry experiment. You would spit sulfur till morning and then have to spend the day cleaning your plane inside and out.  I can see those sailors on the bridge waiting for just the right time to make those releases so we could be a part of it.  There use to be more of of us in flight suits going to the head of the chow line than were ever on flight status. This didn't endear us to the boat drivers.  I guess it all comes out even in the end.


It seemed like there were a thousand 10/32nds bolts in the floor of a UH-34.  Taking them all out and removing the floor board was the only way to start repairing a leaking fuel tank. Once down to the fuel tank, you had to be very careful with tools and various foreign body contamination.  The tanks were made a very thin, rubberized, neoprene. They were very light and worked great when all the connections were bolted with the same torque and a grain of sand hadn't gotten between the aircraft skin and neoprene.  When this happened the vibration would wear a small pin hole leak that left that tell tale purple stain on the belly of the plane.  Small oil leaks could be lived with till the next overhaul or inspection, but fuel leaks of 115/145 aviation fuel were to scary to let go.  Every preflight required a fuel sample from each tank's sample valve, so leaks were always caught pretty early.

To provide a cushion between a new tank and where you rested your arms during installation, I would lay down layers of clean "red rags".  It was difficult doing some of the interconnecting baffles and piping because you had to have your arms in different tanks to properly tighten the through bolts. You were generally working blind most of the time.

I was particularly satisfied with myself for finishing one of these tank jobs early one evening.  I had all the bolts in place, my tools accounted for in my tool box, and looked for a "red rag" to give my brow and hands a final wipe.  Not one could be found and I had started the job with about 3 bundles.  It was not uncommon for a crew to borrow this item when left unattended and in the open, but I had been at the plane the whole time.  The rags you got in a bale never wiped like a "red rag". This was especially true when greasing a rotor head.  Many of the rags in the bale just smeared the grease around and made more work for you.  The question I had was, "where would I have use that many rags"?  No sooner than I asked myself the question, I knew the answer. THEY WERE ALL STILL INSIDE THE FUEL TANK.  As much as I hated to do it, I had to start unbolting all the inspection covers to retrieve the rags.  It was another late night at the flight line and only myself to blame.  The only positive part  of the job was I hadn't fueled the plane before I discovered the problem and I was on the ground instead of airborne when the solution came to me.


I remember the differences in perspective between the plane pushers on an aircraft carrier and the crew chief, especially when it came to positioning on the elevator going between the flight deck and hanger deck. From the pilot's seat in the cockpit, a crew chief had a great view of the sea rushing along the ship and under the elevator. You also knew if you allowed the plane pushers to get a momentum going you would be the one riding the aircraft to that salty fate as they stood and watched. There was constant yelling by the pushers to get off the brakes and the crew chief for them to slow down. The crew chief would accommodate their request as the ship's elevator rolled skyward and renege as it dove for the sea. The pusher's ear was only inches away from the main landing gear brake pads and wouldn't be fooled with even the slightest of toe pressure applied from the cockpit. The correct position for the main wheels, so as to clear the tail from the main deck, was right at the front edge of the elevator. I never believed the safety net was suppose to stop the plane, they were there for my tormentor, the plane pusher. The pressure of the situation was always worse when the squadron was having multiple plane launch and recovery operations as the Flight Deck Officer was a tyrant for getting the planes off his active deck.

It always amazed me how much easier it was to get on the elevator from the hanger deck. The position for the front wheels and the end fate was the same, but you didn't have to deal with all that open air and additional 60 feet to the water. Today, I hate using those elevators that go up the side of a building and there must be some kind of carry over. My wife asks, "how could you ride around all those years in the door of a chopper and have a problem with this"?  I told her I knew the pilots and their skills but never met any of the guys that built that damn elevator.


I remember trying to teach Vietnamese pilots the technique of being rescued from the water using a chopper and hoist. We spent quite a bit of time with “ground school” trying to teach how to get into the horse collar, deflate the “Am West” and hold on while being pulled out of the water. It was always amazing how difficult the procedure was to understand. They could almost tie themselves in a knot with that bulky collar and still not have it around them correctly. We would say “keep the fat part on your back” or ”come up through it and grab your arms around the part attached to the hook”. We would demonstrate, hand the collar to them, and it immediately changed into a puzzle or a snake. I guess we should have known it would not get any easier when we added water.

The pilots would be dumped into Da Nang Bay with their flight suits and “Mae West”. We would come into a hover over them and lower the hoist with the horse collar attached. The water pushed the mind a little closer to fear and in some cases panic would start taking control. There were generally a couple of decent attempts or stabs at the collar before the violent thrashing began. There were a number of variations on the correct procedure. There was the one arm I'm riding the subway attempt that dropped them back in the water after a short trip, the one leg through – I'm busting my crotch attempt that was remembered the next day, the I’ll dive through with it around my belly and have no way to hold on attempt and then there was the make no attempt at all, just blow me around the Bay with the rotor wash. When you would get one that got into the collar correctly, most of the time they forgot to deflate the “Mae West” before we started to lift. I thought on a couple we might loose them from passing out, as they were blue by the time they got to the door. Without the “Mae West” deflated, the collar would push the vest up around the neck and shut off the ability to breathe. The fear of drowning was controlling that air valve on the vest.

One individual I felt sorry for did everything right, but we blew a hydraulic line on the hoist with him half way up. We couldn't go up or down and he didn't want to go back into the water. We let him hang and flew to the beach so he could step out of the harness. We had a problem with those external lines to the hoist pump. Somewhere it was determined if a rubber coating was applied to the outside of the hose, they would hold up better in the wet climate of Vietnam. What it actually did was hold the moisture inside and caused the hose to deteriorate faster.


I remember having my parents send me .22 cal wire bore brushes to clean the AR-15 we got from the Army Special Forces.  We parked the M-14s immediately in the barracks rifle racks as they wanted to climb up through the rotor blades when on full auto.  Thank god we didn't have a night attack because I think we kept the ammunition at the flight line armory.  Most of us had personal arms of preference we carried back and forth.  It was almost standard to rescue weapons from Special Forces outposts following a visit by the Vietnamese pay master.  The defenders left their 12 Special Forces advisors with all that firepower and went to town.  In the process of returning the weapons to DaNang for safe keeping, we would always survey the pile for something better than what we were carrying.  On one occasion during a formation and rifle inspection of the M-14, one of the officers came in front of Cpl. David Weber noting him at present arms with a M-1 carbine. Cpl. Weber took a little grief for this presentation until it was discovered he was sent to a combat zone without a weapon.  Cpl. Weber had turned his
weapon in at El Toro and was on his way to a Marine Detachment at the University of Wisconsin when stopped at the gate as he was leaving for this assignment.  HMM-364 had lost one of their clerks to an emergency leave and Cpl. Weber had been assigned to take his place.  We shipped out immediately and he never had a M-14 assigned to him.  It didn't take long after that inspection to get Cpl. Weber the correct issue.

The level of unauthorized firepower in the barracks area must have become a concern to the Command structure. One day, on the excuse of a lost camera, we had a stand down of locker boxes in the barracks.  All weapons not issues were noted but not taken.  A few days later, a notice came out of weapons, supposedly, unaccounted for by the South Vietnamese Army.  It just happened the serial numbers match those of our aerial appropriated weaponry, a perfect fit.  I seem to remember this happened at about the time someone blew a few red tiles off one of the barrack roofs with an out of control Thompson.

03-24-00    Skive Call
I remember mail call took only a few minutes to hand out those cherished lines from loved ones, but the "skive call" aboard ship was an odyssey.  All the dirty clothes from the squadron were washed together at one time at the ship's laundry.  The whites were separated from the utilities and socks, but they came back in these large bags 3 ft. x 6 ft.  The bags would be brought to the sleeping area which was already crowded with personal sea bags and sleeping racks stacked 4-5 high.  I don't remember these areas ever having a temperature below 90 F.  Now add to this, all the members of that compartment, the excitement of getting some clean underwear, and the fear of possibly not getting any back, and you have a couple of hours of hell.

The bags would be opened and a couple of individuals would start looking for a stamped name on each piece.  The names would be called out and required a quick response from the direction it was to be thrown.  Sometimes the item would land on the head of the person in front of you or sail right by you.  As the readers and throwers became familiar with the direction of your name the activity speeded up.  The hot, muggy, air was full of noise, waving arms, and flying underwear. Any name not legible, would be dropped in the "come look for yourself pile".  The quality of your sewing was always tested by the laundry.  The dark socks required the sewing of a white tag on the tops for a place to stamp your name.  If they came off in the wash, maybe you could find a set in the "orphan pile."  Those that had been through this a time or two, brought along net bags that all your socks could be secured. they came with a large panel on the outside for you name.  If everyone had done that we could have shaved an hour off the distribution process.

There were occasions when all the bags didn't come back at once.  You waited through that miserable din only to come away empty handed.  It was almost as bad as getting a "Dear John".

This process took place every week to 10 days as the climate took its toll on clean clothes.  As miserable as anything was, someone somewhere in the service had it worse.  I remember going aboard some subs in Pearl Harbor and seeing only a couple of showers.  I asked how this basic hygiene function was performed at sea with limited water and facilities.  I was told, "we all try to shower at first and then after awhile we all sort of get used to each other".

Retrieving your skives was not fun, but being on an aircraft carrier instead of a sub was definitely a plus.

02-21-00    SSgt. Jim Shepherd was the crew Chief of our VIP aircraft YK-1.  Jim was an excellent teacher. He taught me to spend all my free time taking care of the plane. We constantly inspecting every bolt fitting and hose. It was so clean you knew when you had a new leak after the first drop. He told me that a pilot shouldn't have to inspect an aircraft. They should be able tell how it is maintained just by how the plane and crew looks walking up to it.  I remember Major Jannell landing in the desert outside of Yuma after asking me when the last time I waxed the plane. I told him it was just that morning so he didn't want to use the relief tube and dirty the underside.  He took my advise and landed in the desert.  Unfortunately he caused me 4 times the work cleaning all the sand out of everything from the rotor head  down. Jim also let me fly as the crew chief a lot so I would get to know the sound and feel of the plane in the air. You got so the plane was a part of your being. You could be dozing on a flight and a plug misfire would bring you to an immediate alert. I am sure Jim was a instrumental in helping get me promoted to Cpl. E-4 with only 18 months in the Corps. 
01-27-00    I remember buying a suit tailored for me at a shop in "Dog Patch".  All the basic dimensions were correct such as sleeve length and inseam, but when I tried it on it was almost like a wet suit.  Apparently, the tailors were not used to the "bulk" of the Americans between the ankle and hip and wrist to shoulder.  The one thing that did feel good after assembly was the shoes.  They were measured and built for "your" foot and they wore that way.

01-06-00    Beer at the EM club was 15 cents a bottle, the alcohol ration was 2  qt. of whiskey  and 4 cases of beer a week, and there was charcoal broiled steak on Wednesday and Sunday.  It all helped to smooth the rough edges off some of the tough days. Everyone always used up the ration and stashed the bottles because it was good bartering material for R&R excursions.

11-08-99    I remember when L/Cpl. Billy F. Jamison sang "Danny Boy" at a Vietnamese USO show at the flight line fire truck barn.  Besides being a tall Texan with their special drawl, he did pretty well on that song.  His only problem was it was the only song he knew and the Vietnamese audience wanted much more.  You would have thought Elvis had hit the stage for all the excitement he caused.

I remember the little brown malaria pills in the white bowl at the end of the chow line almost had a chocolate taste.

I remember what a nice light blue color the exhaust had coming out a properly tuned and warmed up Pratt &Whitney  R-1820.  It generally had to cough and clear it's oily throat first.  Standing there early in the morning  with the fire bottle listening to the engines start up down the flight line into a crescendo made the hair on the back of your neck stand at attention.

I remember the only music I could get at night with my portable radio was French.  Today when I hear that music it immediately takes me back to writing letters home late at night.

10-11-99    By agreement with the South Vietnamese government, we could not fly the American flag in our compound or on the flight line. We were advisors serving under their flag. The closest thing we had representing our colors was the star and strips insignia on the side of the plane.  I didn't realize how much I missed the symbol of our country and what it stood for until on R&R in Bangkok.  We had to go to the U.S. Embassy and there in front was the most beautiful holiday flag I have ever seen.  We must have looked strange to the employees because we all went over to the flag pole and just stood there for the longest time looking up and drinking in the sight.  It gave you a warm feeling almost like being at home.

Today there is always a flag flying from my porch. 
08-15-99    I remember when taking a shower late at night, in the old French compound at DaNang, you wanted to throw a stick of wood into the open shower area to scare the rats out.

I remember that as you walked back to the barracks from the shower on the bent up marston matting it would slap the mud puddles under it and cover your feet with muddy water. There was a barrel of clean water next to the barracks door with a can so you could rinse yourself a second time.

I remember all work stopped on the flight line when Air Vietnam landed.  The call "show time, show time" rang out and all of us would run over to the barb wire to watch the passengers get off and walk to the terminal. Ever once in a while we would be rewarded with a good looking Vietnamese woman in a traditional dress (Ao Dai) or the bonus of a "round eye".  I always wondered what they thought looking back though the wire at that wide eyed group of young Marines.

I remember the terrible hang over you got from drinking that French beer called "33" or bom de bom (sp) ( I believe it was French for 33).  I was told they used formaldehyde as a preservative.

I remember how proud I felt as we air taxied to the fuel bladders once after a long day.  I looked out and saw a whole class of young Vietnamese school children standing at attention saluting us.  The rotor wash was really blasting them, but they held their ranks and their salute.

I remember how glad we were that they piled the garbage next to our sleeping quarters when the Valley Forge ran out of food.  The challenge was how far did you dare to go in layers to supplement your diet before that layer was contaminated by what was below it.

I remember the tin shop making inserts to slip into the duct work aboard the Valley Forge to grab air from the sailors. They would be taken out each morning and re-bolted driving their ventilation department crazy.  It never got below about 96oF in the compartment. If you left the maintenance door open to the center flight deck elevator, you would get a good blast into the compartment when the elevator moved aircraft from the hangar deck to the flight deck or the reverse process.

I remember worrying about the haircut I was going to get from the guy assigned to be the squadron barber aboard the Valley Forge.  He had never cut hair before in his life. I got some "salty" advise from one GySgt., "don't worry about it Smith, the difference between a good hair cut and a bad is about 2 weeks, because that is when you will get another".



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