I know many branches of the service experienced a different war–the Navy supplying men, supplies, and cover, the Army and Marines with boots on the ground, the Air Force with North Vietnamese bombings and POWs shot down, etc. I always remember an article that compared former Secretary of Defense and Senator Chuck Hagel’s experience in Vietnam as an Infantry Squad Leader in country with that of Senator John McCain who flew sorties over Vietnam until he was shot down and then tortured in a POW camp.
This series has prompted a lot of conversations with family and friends. In particular, it made me revisit where my father was in the Navy when I was born. Before he passed away in 2013, he sent me an email on my birthday saying exactly what he was doing when he got the news that I had been born. (My mother, alone, was a long way from her family and support system when she was pregnant with me, as well as a precocious six-year old and a three year old. I was also 3-1/2 weeks overdue.)
At birth time, I was far away, in fact 9,000 miles or so away in Subic Bay Philippines. I was the third ranking officer on the destroyer USS Eugene A. Greene. The ship left Virginia in May for an 8 month deployment to Vietnam. In October, on a transit south from Sasebo, Japan to Vietnam while doing a high speed, a most unusual accident happened–the port shaft broke and slipped back with the propeller wrapping itself around the port rudder.
Fortunately, no one was injured. Several medals for bravery were later presented for heroic actions by the after-engine room watchstanders for preventing worse damage. October is the height of the typhoon season in the Pacific Ocean and we were virtually helpless as the ship could only go a maximum speed of about 4 knots. After a brief stop in Taiwan where underwater experts tried a makeshift repair, we limped into Subic Bay. The captain was promised immediate dry docking by the repair facility but, alas, a delay and complications developed. The ship was tasked, inter alia, to offload all explosives. Since we were outfitted for war, this amounted to a lot of ammunition.
As Weapons Officer, I had to arrange a barge, organize the crew of 250 men to safely offload all of the ammunition plus other explosives. I had never done anything like this before. The operations officer made arrangements for the barge and the ship got underway before dawn on October 22nd to head out to the designated ammunition anchorage which was as far away from the base as possible for safety reasons.
“All hands” meaning everyone on the ship began the task of moving the ammunition up via narrow ladders from the bottom of the ship where the magazines were located and then over the side and down to the barge which was tied up along the starboard side. Chiefs and junior officers were posted along the route as safety officers.The sun was blazing down in the clear morning sky and it got very hot. I was running to and from various points making sure all was going well.
Sometime in mid morning a messenger from the Radio Shack came running out with a telegram from the Naval Hospital in Virginia that my wife had given birth to a healthy baby girl. The happy mom was doing fine too. An announcement was made on the ship and the crew clapped and shouted hurrahs. By early afternoon the big job was successfully done and the ship headed into dry dock with a sweaty, tired crew.
Per my dad: to be a destroyer line department head (Operations, Engineering or Weapons), a young officer had to have graduated from a relatively new school such as: Naval Destroyer School, Newport, RI. This six month (4 1/2 in the classroom and 1 1/2 at sea) course was the best school he ever attended. He learned the maximum before taking the Weapons Officer job. He was eventually ranked 17th out of 60. Class standing was used for each student to pick (1) homeport (2) DD type and (3) Department Head job.
I’m fortunate that my father excelled at documenting his life experiences. I would love to be discussing this documentary with him now since many of the interviews and footage have never aired before. I recently brought home a few boxes to sort through, and I found the original cable they sent to him on the ship announcing my birth.