(To enlarge images, click on highlighted narrative)
The squadron returned to Okinawa about the middle of June. We had a month to rest and get ourselves put back together before our next adventure, the USS Valley Forge. Our standard procedure for going aboard ship in the past was to land on the flight deck as it was steaming in open waters. This time the ship came to us and we climbed the gangplank at Naha. I believe a decision was made to only ruin one compliment of planes with the corrosive effects of sea water.
The UH-34D was made from magnesium to give it more lift, as it was lighter weighing 2/3rd that of aluminum. A problem magnesium has with shipboard life is that it is derived from saltwater. It always wants to go back to its original form when it comes in contact with this medium again. Once at sea, the planes start corroding immediately and require constant attention to keep them from turning into white powder and blowing away. There were three Marine squadrons in the Orient during our tour, one on ship, one in Vietnam, and one in Okinawa. During our tour, the planes stayed put and the squadron personnel moved to the different locations. The new planes we brought with us to Okinawa stayed there and we got to use them for a short time on 3 different occasions. One thing our squadron had learned, during the 9 months of carrier duty during the atomic tests, was that waxing the planes really helped to slow the corrosion. The toughest spots were always under rivet head. You couldn't get the wax under there and it was a good hiding place for the moisture. The standard procedure in fighting corrosion was first to scrap the metal clean to bright metal. You would dab it with acid to eat out any remaining traces of corrosion followed by neutralizing this acid. To cover this bare area, first a coat of zinc chromate was applied to give the finish paint a bonding surface. The zinc chromate was chartreuse in color and was a real clash with the olive drab final coat the Marine Corps like to see covering their equipment.
Starting out from Okinawa, we didn't know how extensive this corrosion battle was going to become, we were excited about all the exotic places and fun that were horizons ahead of us. This cruise was to take us to Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, and possibly Hong Kong on the way back to Okinawa. We had met a number of sailors from the New Zealand navy when we were in Hawaii during the atomic tests and they had wet our appetites. They told us that most all the men had to serve in the navy from 18 – 26 leaving women of that age pretty lonely. W.W.II had endeared this island country to Marines and they were still held in high regard. We were even told their mothers would welcome us with open arms. We were on our way to Marine Corps heaven.
We left the port of Naha, Okinawa on July 24th and for the next couple of days worked to carrier qualify our pilots. Most all of us had prior carrier duty, so we fell right back into the routine. The landing sites in Vietnam were pretty small and hazardous, but at least they weren't moving, rocking and pitching all at the same time. Our flight gear has traded, the flak vest for a “Mae West”. Both are designed to save your life, but for different reasons. We eased into this new flight pattern with daylight training and by the 27th we were at Koahsiung, Taiwan.
Koahsiung is an industrial city that sits at the southern tip of this Chinese National island fortress. It is an industrial city, but the harbor will not take a ship of our size requiring us to anchor in deeper waters. The anchoring was not bad, but made it tough for a night on the town. The days of not worrying about your attire while in Vietnam gives way to inspections of the uniform of the day. Everything had to be squared away to get off the ship. Shined and creased we went down the ladder to a waiting landing craft, our taxi to shore. The squared away look was soon washed away as the spray from waves hitting the square front ramp rained down on us. It almost felt good as it was stinking hot and humid along with being shoulder to shoulder all the way in. So much for being squared away just to get on the landing craft, we looked like we swam from the ship by the time we hit shore.
Once on shore, we wondered why we had expended the effort. At one end of the street was the dock and the other end was the EM Club. All areas outside of that main drag were not authorized and patrolled by the MPs. It was like liberty on a large bowling alley with hardly a spot from one end to the other that didn't contain a bar trying to get you inside. All I can remember was how humid and hot it was and how good the cool beer tasted. The weather was ready made for all these bars. You tried to keep your military bearing with your uniform and then just gave up, you were soaking wet with sweat all the time. At least we didn't have to wear the tropical worsted with a tie; we were all cotton with short sleeves and open collar. The barracks hat was not easily stored on ship and was thankfully substituted with the fore and aft “piss cutter”. It was so hot the polish just ran off your shoes and soaked into the edges of the sole. By midnight, the dock was covered with fallen down Marines and the ones standing were relieving themselves of all that beer. The waves woke up the fallen down that were loaded on board and their stomachs didn't like the rolling trip back. You tried to find a corner out of the way of sick and disorderly. The next day I went in to just take pictures for the cruise book and came back in the early evening, a good lesson learned. All I can say about Taiwan is we stopped in for a beer and the women were very good looking.
We set sail for the Philippines and spent the 31st with more carrier qualifications. As in Vietnam, getting into the air is a relief from the heat. The temperature at 2,000 ft. is just about right and the slipstream blowing in at lower altitudes makes it comfortable. Riding the air is always better than riding the waves. It has only been a few days and we are ready to feel solid land under our feet. We arrived in the Philippines on August 1st and were docked at Subic Bay by 1400 hours. We flew a number of the planes to Cubic Point and part of the squadron went ashore to live in barracks. Some of us have real beds with mattresses and you don't hit your head on a bulkhead when going to the mess hall. There isn't room for all the squadron, but the plan is to rotate everyone so we will have this break in living accommodations. This major 7th fleet naval base had all that was needed to keep us happy. There were a number of clubs, PX, movie theater, bowling alley, dairy, grill, and the land was lush with trees and flower beds. The heat had followed us to the Philippines and you could understand why Filipinos wore those large loose fitting shirts. We found out it was so lush because it seemed to rain every 15 minutes. It was a pretty nice place if you discounted Olongapo located just outside the main gate. Olongapo has to be one of the nastiest towns of the Orient.
It was back to work as we pulled out of port to work on night carrier qualifications. We would put to test the skills polished on the way down from Okinawa. Nighttime carrier operations push everyone to a higher plateau. The ship is darkened including the ready room and corridors leading to the flight deck. Great concern is taken not to wreck the night vision of the pilots. It takes a high degree of skill, concentration, and a great trust in those directing you down with a couple of lighted wanes. This is especially true if you are trying to slide in between the buzz saw of a tail rotor in front of the cockpit window and a set of 5” guns on your tail as you are cozy your main landing gear up close to a dark catwalk running 60 feet above the sea. The operation is complicated by this activity being duplicated at various landing spots along the flight deck. As soon as a plane is shut down, it is moved to the rear to make the spot available for another plane. The darkness makes everyone's job a little more hazardous. We have good pilots, tested by enemy fire. Those of us that ride in the belly don't carry much fear with us; we know our planes and trust our pilots. They have already flown us through some pretty tough sky getting us to this point. We are schedule for 3 days of night qualifications.
I don't know what time it was, but I definitely felt the ship hit something. I got dressed and went topside to see what was going on. To my amazement, we are back in Subic Bay and docking. It is very early this August 5th morning, but there is already a flurry of activity everywhere. The harbor is full of ships from Special Landing Force 76 and Marine “grunts” are everywhere with their equipment. We start loading them aboard along with all our equipment and people that were staying at the barracks. We are on 4 hour alert because of a crisis that has developed in Vietnam. We are to learn later that North Vietnamese PT boats had attacked a couple of our destroyers. It was referred from that point on as the Bay of Tonkin Incident. As troops and equipment are being loaded, the ship is taking on as much fuel as it will hold. We leave port that afternoon at 1800 hours with some APAs, LSDs and subs. The port is emptied and we are all headed due west as fast as the task force can steam.
We are still headed west with calm seas. The situation is getting more serious as the ship sends up 100 rounds for each gun mount, more watches are set, and we are running with darken ship.
The corpsman take battle dressing to all aid stations. We can no longer dump trash and garbage at will over the side at will. The whole force will dump at the same time and garbage will be ground up and discharged in front of the props. The theory is that when a task force dumps trash randomly, it sends a long trail behind which can be tracked by the enemy. I thought the Russian subs would use a little more sophistication.
These new rules help us understand why we were billeted in our current location. We are next to the garbage grinding equipment room and all the ship's garbage is piled next to the compartment till it is time to grind. The Navy doesn't love us as much as those wonderful ladies we were to meet in New Zealand and Australia. We eat with our nose day and night. With our next-door neighbor, a lot of sweaty bodies (it never got below 90 degrees in the compartment), and crowded space, many of the flight crews lived in the planes day and night. With a door open and windows removed in the cabin and cockpit sections you had a good breeze. It seemed when you were wide open like this, with a nice breeze blowing through the plane, is when the Navy would conduct a procedure known as "blowing the stacks" which cleaned the accumulated oil and soot from the boiler up through the smoke stack. This process rolled a thick cloud of sticky black smoke through the plane and over all the inhabitants. Brushing your teeth in the morning doesn't quite get rid of all the sulfur taste. The troop seats gave you about the same room as the rack in the ships squadron compartment.
When you come aboard you are given a canvas with ringlets every 6” and a length of rope. In the compartment are numerous aluminum rectangles made from tubing. They fold down from each side of 2 steel posts and there is about 18” height between them. You take the canvas and lash it to the aluminum tubing with the rope and this becomes your home till you leave. You learn that the tighter the canvas, the more comfortable it is. You are constantly tightening it like a drumhead. During the day, this bare bones bed becomes a storage area for your sea bag and other possessions. There is no need for sheets or blankets because of the temperature.
The Valley Forge was built for W.W.II and ventilation
was via air ducts without air conditioning. Our sheet metal guys
came up with a valuable modification to make the compartment more bearable.
They made some flat scoops that could be inserted in the ducts coming through
our compartment by just removing a few bolts in the bottom of the duct.
It would block a lot of the flow and redirect it into our compartment.
These air bandits would be removed in the morning when the ship's heating
and ventilating guys were trying to figure out why the
sailors downstream were complaining. We are located below and beside the aft center elevator. If you leave the access door open, the compartment gets a great blast of air every time the elevator drops. Stale air is sucked out on its return trip to the flight deck. Marines are taught to make use of the environment around them.
The metal shop was also making gun mounts they had perfected at Da Nang for all the aircraft. The flight crews drew flack vests, pistols and rifles in the afternoon. We are now 80 miles off the coast and awaiting word to land troops. The grunts have been issued ammo, which they are busy cleaning along with a lot of bayonet sharpening. They are getting ready to charge the flame-throwers. It looks like we are back to the shooting war again. Our prior experience makes us calmer than the “grunts”, they are really charged up and have a grim look about them. My plane is still waiting for parts and hasn't flown since coming aboard. If we launch, I may fly as a back up with another crew. I hope that doesn't happen, as it would mean that they had been killed or wounded. There is the possibility of landing the “grunts” as a show of force but there is concern they are so charged up they might shoot some innocent people and create a larger mess than we already have. Washington is working late and feel they know best from where they sit.
We have two choppers from HMM-162 fly in from Da Nang with some “brass” and some parts we needed. We rip out all the seats from the planes and install gun mounts. The carrier meets up with a tanker and takes on fuel.
Generally they dump a whole tanker into the carrier and then the carrier supplies all the destroyers and support ships around us. It allows the tanker to get back for another load quicker. The refueling can take all night of steaming next to one another connected from side to side with large black hoses. To start the process a sailor with a shotgun shoots a projectile connected to a light line to the carrier. This in turn is connected to lines of increasing size. At the end of the process there is a heavy pulley system between the 2 ships, which can be used to transfer hoses, cargo and even personnel. When the tanker pulls up to us it is very low in the water and the next morning they have grown out of the water. The fuel is good ballast for us and replaces the sea water that displaces the fuel as it is used removing the explosive atmosphere. This constant displacement of fuel with sea water makes it doubly important to sample fuel before it is pumped into the planes. We had an incident where sea water was actually pumped into a plane requiring the total disassembly of the fuel system. It was caught as part of the preflight sampling of the plane's fuel. Trying to fly over sea water with sea water for fuel is asking to become a fish. We like to see any ship pull up as it might have some mail for the squadron.
The mail is the lifeblood of morale. No incoming mail today, but they took our letters and got them started toward home. Writing letters in the service is like planting seeds. The more you write, the more you receive. It is something to look forward to and a root to home. You need to watch for guys that aren't getting mail and find out what the problem is. They can get pretty deep in the dumps and you need to be vigilant on the flight deck.
We finished installing the gun mounts and had 4 planes take off at 0600 returning at 1300. They must have gone to Da Nang. The task force is increasing. We joined up with 2 attack carriers and 8 destroyers in the afternoon and picked up our APAs, LSDs, and oiler in the evening.
The daily routine was shaken up with a sounding of general quarters. The difference with this one from the many we had listened to in the past was this was for real. It was mentioned a number of times that “this is not a drill, I repeat, this is not a drill”. I have never seen the sailors move so fast to their stations. Drills are typed on the “orders of the day” and most of the time the sailors are already at their stations before a drill is sounded. I seem to remember that you go forward and up on the starboard side and aft and down on the port side. Trying to do otherwise in one of these drills is impossible with everyone on ship moving at the same time in great haste. You learn to go down ladders (the naval term for stairs aboard ship) by grabbing the handrails and sliding with the control of your grip to the bottom. Running down the corridors can be hazardous if you get out of the rhythm of ducking your head as you jump through the bulkhead doors. If you miss, it could knock you cold or bust your shin. You have to get to your battle stations fast because the sailors start closing these bulkhead doors to seal sections of the ship from each other in case of a breach in battle. This allows only one section of the ship to fill with water, smoke or fire and the rest of the ship is saved. The “grunts” are generally held in their compartments below deck and it can be miserable. All ventilation is shut down to keep smoke and toxic fume transfer to a minimum. The flight crews are generally on the flight deck in their planes with plenty of fresh air. In this particular case, a reconnaissance plane had spotted a couple of PT boats traveling at high speed from the north toward us. It was thought they might be North Vietnamese making a run at the fleet. They were later identified as PT boats, but belonging to the South Vietnamese Navy. It was nice to see our destroyers take position between them and us.
We sailed all day without a destination and had night flying. It was a scary evening as the rudder on the carrier stuck in full starboard and we about ran over one of our escorting destroyers.
We sailed the coast again today with the task force around us. We get air cover from the fleet and today we watched as some A-1, Skyraiders practiced strafing our ship wake. It was a little scary not knowing what they were doing as they started their dive on us. We are glad the enemy doesn't have aircraft in the area.
We had 12 planes go into Da Nang today and this allowed us to get some mail out. 700 lbs. of mail was brought back, but none was for the squadron. We are a delivery service for the fleet. At least we can go get the mail if it is close. We have a special attachment to the destroyers as they are rescue agents for downed aircraft and can keep the PT boats and subs at bay if needed.
We now have 12 other ships with us, APAs, AKAs, LSDs, oilers, and destroyers. We took on more oil and gas today and it was announced there might be an enemy sub in the area. That would most likely be a Russian.
August 14 – 25th.
The days are all running together with monotony. We have had only 2 mail calls since leaving Subic and the task force is up to about 20-22 ships. We play a delivery roll for everything. One morning, way before sunrise, the watch wakes me for a special mission. My thought go back to another early morning “special mission” that was a long day waiting to fly into Laos for a downed pilot. I get my 1st mechanic, Larry Henderson and we go to the flight deck to spread the blade and preflight the bird. Soon the pilots are there and we are waiting for cargo. The cargo is carried to us by sailors and consists of large cardboard boxes. It is pretty apparent once loaded that this is a “cream puff” mission. The plane is filled with the smell of fresh baked donuts and we are going to make breakfast special for our destroyer escorts. It does prove to be somewhat of a dangerous mission, as we have to hover in the early light over the stern of the boat as it pitches around in the sea as I lower the donuts down with the hoist. There are appreciative sailors below to catch the cargo and let us back off as soon as possible. While hovering, we are dangerously close to the antennas and communication cables of the destroyer.
I had another similar mission of service to the destroyers and this time it was on Sunday morning. The smaller destroyers didn't have chaplains on board and we had to take the chaplain from the carrier to them. This was a delivery and a pick up and the human cargo left less chance for error. I thought losing a man of god would definitely be bad luck. We had more light with the chaplain, which helped the pilots, but it took a lot of coordination between the pilot and crew chief to get him on that small drop zone. I always remember the look of fear on the face of the chaplain and his faith was tested as we pushed him out into the air. He would be sitting on the edge of the door clutching his equipment and I would raise the hoist, give him a push and then hit the down switch so he would clear the plane. It all got down to timing from here on. He would be swinging back and forth across the stern of the destroyer and I would lower as he came across each time till until a couple of big sailors could essentially tackle him. I think he prayed all the way down. Only once did I give him a small baptism. I got him a little low as we swung over a wave and we dragged some salt water. We would give them plenty of cable when picking up and the sailors would hold him till I got the slack out and when I saw the boat roll toward center I would hit the up switch and pull him straight off the deck.
We have been told what crew members have qualified for Combat Air Crew Wings. I found a place in the Leatherneck Magazine that sells them and have taken orders from all those that want them before we get back to Okinawa. Everyone thinks they will really look nice on the uniform and set us apart when we get stateside.
flew to the USS Kitty Hawk for parts and mail
as they had the ability of aircraft range. They could send planes
to Cubic, Saigon, or Da Nang, no matter our location. They had a
small jeep on the flight deck for transportation as the deck covered 4
½ acres. We now know how the destroyers feel when next to
the Valley Forge. We are an oddity on their flight deck with our
Marine choppers accented with zinc-chromate, but also seem to have their
respect as the word gets passed we are combat tested.
The President of Vietnam has been overthrown and the whole task force is steaming at top speed for Saigon. Everyone had to test fire their weapons off the rear of the flight deck. The lazy days are getting tense and serious again.
The conditions are worse in Saigon and all over Vietnam. We strip all the planes of extra gear and bring all aircraft to the flight deck. We are on 2 hr. stand by to launch. The crew chiefs are briefed on landing in Saigon if needed to evacuate. We fight corrosion while we wait.
August 28, 29th.
We are still on stand by for Saigon. The days and nights are long as we wait for the excitement of an assault and evacuation.
Today is payday. I draw nothing, as money has no value when there is nothing to buy. Paydays aboard ship are always a marvel to watch. There are checks and rechecks of the ID, pay sheets, and amount being drawn. There are multiple counts of the cash before the draw is given to the individual. All involved are heavily armed with usually extra guards standing behind or to the side of the pay table. It must be ship protocol as I always wondered where an individual would go aboard ship if he pulled a heist. It was all so very serious that I never asked the question or made jest of it while in line.
We have had no resupply other than fuel since we left and all the pop and candy machines are empty. The pop machines had there own personalities relative to the movement of the ship. I think it jammed the cups when we rolled a lot. You would put in your coins only to hear all the correct sounds except the cup drop. You would then watch your coke dispense to where ever the overflow goes. After a while you smartened up and carried your own cup to collect the liquid if a cup didn't drop. That problem went away when the pop ran out. There was a snack bar on ship with frozen custard and ice cream, but they sold out long ago. With 1,800 Marine “grunts” on board, these items go pretty fast. They have less to do than the flight crews and seem to come out of one meal only to go stand in line for the next. These lines stretch from the mess deck up the ladders and wind around on the hanger deck. When asked what is being served, no one in the line has any idea. Those coming out of the mess deck donut know either and they have just eaten. The cooks are getting real creative with what they had left, but they seem to be concentrating on putting together things that will cook into some kind of a whole for transporting some food value to our bellys. To wait in the chow line that goes on forever is miserable, but when you are doing it with no knowledge of what is at the end of the wait, fasting is an option. The solution is to put on your flight suit and pretend you are on flight status, which gets you to the head of the line. The line bends and winds so many places through the ship; all the crews can jump to the head of the line without those behind getting suspicious. We notice that the flight suit draws a lot of derogatory comments when worn throughout the ship. Guys are pulling out money at the chow line trying to bribe the servers for larger portions or an extra piece. The supply personnel go from ship to ship bartering for raw materials to make our next mystery meal. You hear them call up from the small launches, “we'll trade you 3 bags of flour for 2 bags of sugar. Everyone is losing weight. I am down to 145 lbs., which is a 15-20 lb loss. The negative aspect of being next to where the garbage is ground up is becoming asset. After each meal, the spoils of the kitchen are hauled up to our living area in GI cans. It becomes a test of taste on how many layers of pancakes are pealed off the top of the breakfast can to eat. No one knows how many layers from bottom soak up the really bad stuff below them. It is decided that if you can pick it up without it coming apart in your fingers, it is good enough to eat. A sliver of peach in the bottom of a tin can is like finding a gold nugget.
Our planes always need to have corrosion removed and we use high-pressure sprayers to wash the salt off. We replace water volume for pressure to get the job done. Fresh water is saved for the most critical jobs and functions. Most of the time we use waterless cleaner to conserve water and leave a light coating of oil on top of the wax. We do get distilled water to drink, but the showers are saltwater. They feel so good when you are taking it, but pretty itchy when the salt dries on your skin. Being a “salt” is not as neat as we thought as a recruit. We had watched the sailors take their blue jeans tied to a rope and drag along in the sea to give them the salty look on earlier cruises. We now know all this does is allowing you to buy utilities at a greater frequency. We have learned you earn the rank of “salt” through what you have done in the service and it does not come from a covering. We wish we weren't so salty.
our dirty clothes are sent to the ship's laundry in large squadron bags.
Getting the clean clothes back is a big day
in the squad bay, but like everything else aboard ship, a little more difficult.
It wasn't long ago that we had house boys that picked up, washed, pressed,
and delivered at the foot of your beds the laundry of the day before. (See
I Remember, 1964, Warren Smith, 3-24-00, Skive Call)
Money loses its value and card games draw some unbelievable pots. Tempers are starting to flare and minor irritants draw up the fists. Saturday night “smokers” are run on the hanger deck to settle the arguments in a more civil setting without doing a lot of damage. Grudges between groups and service branches are also settled. It is fun to watch the “haymaker” thrown in a rising sea and both combatants fall to the deck. Those that learn the rhythm of the ship can use that momentum to floor an opponent. It is fun to watch these warriors train with the weights as they prepare for their Saturday night battles. Laying on your back bench pressing a heavy lift can get out of control and dangerous on a rolling ship. It is best to always have some assistance next to each end of the weight.
Reading helps pass the time, but paperbacks are at a premium. Few thought we would be at sea this long to be prepared with these ”boredom breakers”.
We all need some activity with a goal or end in sight.
It's a wonderful day as we are resupplied with food and mail. Everyone volunteers out of boredom and to get the important raw materials to the cooks. Human conveyor lines are set up throughout the hanger deck, down the ladders, and corridors to the reefers and storage decks below. 29 cases of frozen strawberries head down the line to the reefer deck and only 3 make it to the end. All along the line there are guys that look like they have lipstick on. I see a guy really enjoying himself eating a pound of butter. A rule on deck is that broken cases are shared with these volunteer stevedores. Guys raise cases of oranges above their heads and smash them to the deck. The human line evaporates as all run for these juicy delights. They fill their pockets with as many as they can only to squash them as they pass nondescript crates and boxes down the line. Smiles are starting to return to the faces of the troops. Tomorrow will be a better day. A loud cheer goes up as some SP’s chase someone racing to a hiding place with a box of food. Everyone seems to have a hiding place and they are full of food. Security is searching without a lot of enthusiasm and everyone is thinking, “I won't be hungry again”. The cooks work their butts off to turn this new raw material into something special. We now have full stomachs and a letter to read. Life has taken a turn toward the good.
A new month stars, but the same old activity. We are up at 0500 to spread the blades on the planes and fold them back up at 1800 hours. We are on stand by all day, so there are no flights. We want to conserve all the planes for maximum launch if needed.
We receive some more mail. The supply system is finally starting to catch up to us. I am happy with the 3 letters I get. Letters get read over and over till the next arrive.
Another no fly day filled with the regular corrosion fighting activity. The planes are starting to look a little strange. We have plenty of the yellow green zinc chromate primer, but no olive drab green topcoat. We never had any to start the tour and haven't received any with the supply orders. I thought olive drab paint in the military had the highest of priorities. The big military machine could not move forward unless it was painted green. The guys are getting creative with the primer adding some here and there to give personality to the corrosion battle. We sure look rag tag. I hope the next squadron appreciates our efforts and continues where we left off. The smelly planes in Da Nang don't seem so bad now.
The 1st Sgt. is brought before a review board for inappropriate activities and relieved of duties.
We take on oil and gasoline in the afternoon. We are fueling more support ships around us and so see the tanker on a more frequent basis. A wooden hull minesweeper comes out from the Mekong River to take on some JP-4 for their diesel engines. They keep the shipping lanes clear from the coast to Saigon. Later, we find out this caused quite a stink, because while we were filling up the minesweeper, a Marine fighter squadron was down in Japan due to lack of JP-4. Maybe they have some olive drab paint to trade for the JP-4.
September 6 – 30th.
Begins a period lost to boredom. We cruise up and down the coast while the various governments play politics. There seems to be a tormentor in flight control. We move the planes fore and aft for no reason except to exercise the elevators. One day I move on the flight deck fore to aft, down the elevator to the forward hanger deck, to the rear or the hanger deck, back up the elevator to number 2 spot only to be repositioned aft for the night. Each stop requires placement of at least 4 chains. There seems to be a mixture of movement to and from an active launch spot requiring the spreading of the blades. We don't need the practice, but it keeps us busy. I keep extra taper pins in the plane. Occasionally, when you rap it to remove, it pops out through your hand and over the side of the ship. I am glad I am a crew chief and not a plane pusher. I get to ride the brakes, but feel vulnerable on the outside elevators. In heavy seas, 6-8 chains are required. If you are walking a watch on the flight or hanger deck you always are checking chains that are loose. If a strut is losing pressure or fluid it will lower the plane and loosen the chain. When the seas get heavy this is not a fun job. All doors and opening are closed on the hanger deck with the planes as tight as you can get them. They are leaking and venting gas fumes. With this mixture to breathe and the rolling ship your stomach wants to empty its contents. A full stomach of soda crackers is the best defense. Concentration on the chain tensioning takes the mind away from talking to your stomach.
One day I had the opportunity for a flight to Saigon.
I have been trying to cash in a stack of US Savings Bonds to pay for a
Triumph TR-4 I purchased from Cars International in Okinawa. We have
taken a load of frozen steaks from the ship for the PX in Saigon.
From Da Nang, we hauled live meat on the hoof and from the ship we are
now hauling frozen steaks prepared in the States. We are making a
trade for equipment to pass time aboard ship. Radios, cameras, and
tape decks are hot items. I buy a Sony 500 reel to reel for $154
at the PX to beat the rush aboard ship. The PX won't cash my bonds
and I am dispatched to the Embassy. I walk in their front door and
sitting behind a desk in the middle of the floor is Cpl. Viola. Cpl.
Viola and I bunked in the same cube when serving together in 462.
He looks precarious sitting there until he invites me behind the desk.
He is armed with a .45 and has a riot gun and a Thompson in slots where
the drawers used to be. He said that various groups would come just
out front and taunt them to do something. He had seen beatings and
burnings and had to just sit there.
We relate our recent experiences to each other and concede the life we had in Santa Ana was pretty tame. He said the Marine activities in Da Nang are well noted at the Embassy. We go to their barracks and have a few cold beers at their in-house bar. In their day room, I notice a library that is full of paperbacks. Paperbacks are prized possessions aboard ship to pass the time. When I ask if we can borrow some, they strip the whole wall, box them and transport all of it to the flight line for us. It is like Christmas back at the ship with things to buy and read. Paperbacks are read in a unique way to spread the wealth. As a chapter is read, it is ripped from the book and passed to the next reader. There can be 6-10 people reading the same book at the same time. I don't know if there was ever an end where they were put back together or they just wore out. We are extremely grateful to our fellow Embassy Marines and start to understand more how the Corps has been strong for so long. We got the same support from Embassy Marines when needed in Bangkok. Without question, they dug into their own pockets to give us what they had. We had high respect, as within the Corps, few Marines were in a combat role.
During this time, I just about cut Larry Haupert’s little finger off. The guys were throwing a ring of braided rope around in a game of keep away. I was sitting on the sidelines honing my survival knife on my boot when the overthrown ring kept dropping down next to me. One time when this happened, I grabbed it and cut the ring with my knife. Unfortunately, the knife went through the ring just as Larry was reaching for it. The knife was sharp enough to shave with and Larry never even felt it slide through his little finger. He reached down to see how deep the cut was and immediately could see bone. His face went white as the red blood rushed from the fingertip. He asked what we should do and I suggested we should go to sickbay. The navy doctor looked it and asked how it happened. We explained and all he said as he shook his head was “Marines”. He did say that at least you guys keep your knives sharp making my job easier. A few cat gut knots later and Larry was good as new.
We pull into Subic Bay and the night is spent at the Sky Club. We get pretty smashed up and are lucky to find our way home.
We find ourselves coming and going from this our current dockage. Tied up next to us on the same pier is the USNS Breton on her way to Saigon with more A-1Es. We sailed from Long Beach to Okinawa on the Breton to start our tour. Now, with the tour coming to a close we meet again. I sure hope we don't have to make the return trip to the States on her.
All the planes go to the seaplane landing. My
plane has just come out of check and has to stay aboard to preoil.
Had duty today, but was able to go to the PX at Subic, which is close to
Every thing checks out and we fly the plane to the seaplane landing. We fly to Clark AFB which is a large base with an interesting variety of aircraft. We actually see some old B-17s. I try to cash my Savings Bonds, but get there to late. I am beginning to wonder if I will ever be able to convert these savings and I want to make sure my TR-4 is shipped from England on time. Larry Haupert and I plan to drive it home following our discharge. I go to the library for a quiet evening.
We take a couple of planes to Corrigidor. We are given a tip that if we take a few cans of mo-gas and give it to the Filipino soldiers, they will drive us around the island. The tip is correct and we are given a wonderful tour. Most of the original guns are still in place and the buildings are riddled with battle scars. The masonry walls still stand as stark skeletons of a terrible battle. There is not a square foot that hasn't been hit with a direct round or shrapnel. The Jap artillery had the whole island zeroed in and there was no escape. We tour the underground tunnel where the President of the Philippines family, McArthur, nurses and the wounded are kept safe from the bombardment. The nurse's door had bars on it like a prison. There is a club on the island that served cool drinks and you can send a postcard. We get back in time to hit Subic for a T-bone and a flick. It sure is nice to have choppers to see the countries where we are stationed. Another page of Corrigidor photographs.
We take a trip to Manila. A number of our squadron go on a bus tour to the capital. We go to the National Cemetery for the W.W.II dead, which is modeled after Arlington. There is a separate section for each state and each major battle is done in mosaic. We go to the President's palace which really the Philippine White House. There is a section of the Manila suburb that is called Hollywood and looks just like stateside with modern ranch houses, city streets, sidewalks and large green lawns. You actually get a little home sick being there. We visit a few prisons where the Japanese slaughtered quite a few Philippine citizens and US troops because of neglect and brutality. We see the source of the Japanese hatred that still exists in these islands. We are allowed to head out on our own, which is pretty easy with most everyone speaking English. We find a really good out of the way Chinese restaurant with the direction of a some nice Filipino girls. When we get back at 2330, all the ships in the harbor are gone including ours. We hitch a ride to Cubic Pt and stay in our temporary barracks for the night.
We had a great breakfast at the mess hall and then flew out to the ship as they pulled back into Subic. Liberty was called, but I had duty. There was a riot at the fleet landing with all the guys getting back at the same time to return to their ships. Everyone was drunk and a number of guys were getting pushed into the water as the crowd surged forward with every returning boat. The boat had to stop to rescue them. Many saw them getting in the boats ahead of them and jumped in to be rescued also. It was getting dangerous and out of control when they broke out the Marine Riot Squad with fixed bayonets. All of a sudden there was some respect and order was restored. It took till 0400 to get all back to their ship, a number with some good size bumps on their heads.
We pulled out of port again heading west.
We are still sailing west toward our familiar work area this year, Vietnam.
We finally join up with the task force off the coast of Vietnam. We start PT on the flight deck with Lt Bland. We are suppose to be getting in shape for the H and M when we return to Okinawa. The sailors love watching us and are glad no one expects them to be in shape gladiators. Doing exercise on the flight deck in Southeast Asia is hot work to start the day when the relief is saltwater showers.
The plane is moved to the flight deck and we have PT again. Pushing these planes around, chaining them down, climbing up to the rotor head and spreading the blades seems like exercise to me. I guess if it is not organized, it doesn’t do you any good. I don’t see any problem passing my physical endurance test. I sleep most of the day to pass the time as the plane isn’t moved and there is a decent breeze. I help Powers field day the S-1 office. I have been spending time there in the evening practicing my typing and taping music on my new tape recorder. We really break a sweat cleaning, but the place is super squared away. The place looks better than when they moved in.
Our plane is brought down to the hanger deck for an engine change. We switch with YK-16 because ours has over 600 hours and YK-16 is going to Overhaul and Repair soon. We got both engines hung after a lot of plane moving to get them close to each other.
We hooked up the engine and rigged the throttle. We worked till 2000 getting ready for a test tomorrow. Stayed up till 0400 taping music.
I was up at 0600 for flight quarters and finished up work on the plane including pre-oiling. We test hop and the plane takes off like it had an afterburner compared to the old engine. Stayed up till 0230 listening to tapes. My days and nights are getting turned around with all the waiting for something to happen. I send $75 to Cars International letting them know I will send more when I can get my savings bonds cashed. I also get a letter off to Pat.
We get word we are headed back to port for the last time.
We are headed for Subic.
We get the planes ready for tomorrow's launch. The navy is having an efficiency inspection tomorrow also. I pack up my gear and move it into plane. All areas have to be squared away for the inspection and our leaving.
Today is my 22nd birthday. A lot has been crammed into this year since the last birthday. I feel a lot older than I have in the past. My tour of duty is coming to an end and I will not spend another birthday in the Corps. We are up at 0330, launch at 0630, landing at Cubi is done and secured by 1100, and the ship docks at Subic at 1400. I go to the Subic PX and eat 2 banana splits to celebrate my birthday. The waitress can't believe it when I order the second one. You really craved ice cream aboard ship when we didn't even have milk. Cpl. Weber and I go to town and hit a few bars, but come back early. Maybe we are getting smarter.
October 17th – 20th.
We stay on the base at Cubi waiting for the C-130 to pick us up and return to Okinawa. This cruise has not been what it was advertised. The hours and days dragged on, it was hot and disagreeable, we ran out of food, and the big fight was always just out to the front of us. We spent pretty much all our time cruising the coast of Vietnam instead of hitting all the exotic ports of this part of the world. It will be good to get back to Okinawa with good facilities and a known schedule.
Warren R. Smith, former Cpl. USMC