Section II, The Military and Me

"I do not wish to have command of any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way."

 

John Paul Jones

War is much too serious a thing to be left to military men."

 

Charles Maurice DeTalleyrand-Perigord.

The Military and Me

OCS WAS NO PICNIC  
KAWASAKI, SEÑOR...  
WE FOUND THE ENEMY...AND HE WAS US...  
ALL IS QUIET NOW...  
COUNTERBATTERY  
   
   
   
   
   
§§§§§
   

OCS WAS NO PICNIC

Newport, Rhode Island, is a picturesque New England town. It is an old seaport and a summer playground for the rich. The summer "cottages" of people like the Vanderbilts and the Bouvier (as in Jacqueline Onassis) are there. Yachting is a summer pastime for them.

Newport is also the home of Officer Candidate School for surface Naval officers. The OCS for air Naval officers is in Pensacola. My cousin, Officer Candidate Gainer, from Chipley, is in Newport (1989)—enjoying the invigorating climate and learning the "right way" to do things—the Navy way.

The surface Navy, as you may know, is a completely different animal from the air Navy. For instance, the air Navy will not allow its officers to carry parrots around on their shoulders. And they do not pay the crew with pieces of eight. All in all, the air Navy is not nearly as exciting as the surface Navy.

But Navy OCS is bad news for any poor soul—be it in Pensacola or in Newport. I remember it well. I am a graduate of that institution (barely). In the summer of 1970, I found myself in this place I learned to hate—OCS.

The poor Officer Candidates get up at 4:30 a.m. every day and run for two miles. Then they are allowed five minutes to shower, suit up, and report for breakfast, which lasts for at least another five minutes. Somebody is assigned the job of yelling at these bedraggled candidates for interminable periods of time. If the "yeller" can find a way to frustrate them and make them feel as if their I.Q. is three points less than a rock, he will do it.

My cousin has a sense of humor, which is good. But OCS is a place so bereft of humor that a person with normal hormonal humor levels will approach death in a matter of hours. A recent letter from my cousin confirmed the worst: OCS has not changed.
Officer Candidate Gainer reports that "Q-Tips" are ideal for cleaning out window tracks. Life will never be the same unless the garbage can is exactly four inches from the radiator. Polishing shoes becomes second nature. A qualified Officer Candidate can strip a shoe down blindfolded, polish it, and relace it with only one hand. The Communists had better think twice before they invade!

Besides all the harassment, Officer Candidates attend school eight hours a day, learning things like navigation, engineering, fire fighting, radio and signal flag communications, and relative motion.

I never did get relative motion down: If the wind is blowing 15 knots at 063 degrees, the bogie is on course 254 (bearing 171 degrees), and the combined populations of India and China equal that of the rest of the world, what is the current speed and heading of your vessel?

I'm glad they made me a communications officer. At least I had turned on a radio before.

In November my cousin will begin her career as a Naval Officer. She will be a good one. And, when Stephanie has a chance to breathe, I hope she will take a look at the beautiful scenery of New England.

Of course, I am no longer in the Navy. It was a brief career for me. A few years of taking orders was all I could stand.

I have to go now. My wife wants me to take out the trash, vacuum the carpet, and clean the bathroom.

§§§§§

KAWASAKI, SEÑOR...

I studied English as a second language in high school. It was a requirement for graduation in those days. My native language is "Dixie," of course. My English teacher in high school, Mrs. Louise Driggers, faced an enormous challenge.

"Duh rayn en Spuhayne fawls muhainly own du puhlayn." We said it over and over again.

Occasionally, I have an opportunity to speak English with a true Brit, but it is a rarity. I have a good friend, Charlie, who is a Scot. He can't speak English well at all. Another friend, Lloyd, is Australian, and he speaks "Aussie"—not English.

"G'die Mite (Good day, mate)," says Lloyd.

I now work with a German company (1985), and many of my friends are, of course, German. Most of them speak excellent English, but it (English) is still a difficult language for me. Working with a German company in New Jersey creates a unique set of problems. The Germans speak English, the Yankees speak "Joisey," and I speak "Dixie."

A Jerseyan might say, "Let's go wark the dwag in the park." (Let's go walk the dog in the park.)

A Southerner might say, "Let's git duh dawgs and go fishin or sumpin." (Let's get the dogs and go fishing or something,)

"Sprechen Sie Deutsche?" (Do you speak German?), ask the Germans
.
"Nein, Ich spreche 'Dixie'," (No, I speak Dixie), I reply.

In 1973 I was involved in a multinational naval exercise in the Pacific. My ship, the destroyer USS O'Callahan, issued fleet formation directions to destroyers from Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. I was the communications officer and spoke the captain's commands over the radio.

"Formashun tern bairing tooh seavuhn zeerow dugreez and foam a lahn abreaust."

The New Zealanders complained loudly over the radio that they could not understand my version of English. "Sigh agayne mite, owvir," (Say again, mate, over) they said. "We can't understand you Yanks.

I quickly informed them that I was no Yankee. I repeated the command several times, but they never got it right, and they would not turn until they did.

The Canadians turned the wrong way, and the Australians simply waited to see what we did. We needed an interpreter, or at the very least a common language.

It was when Lloyd, my friend from Tasmania, Australia, visited us a few years back that I hit upon the new universal language. I now find that I can converse with people of any nation simply by employing the "new standard."

"Kawasaki, Lloyd San," I said. "Oh! Honda!" he replied.

"Pana-sonic, akai, so-ny," I offered. "Seiko, fuji, nikon a subaru," he answered.

"Honda! Hai! Hai Haibachi, sansui toy-ota," I countered.

"Toyota?"

"You got it, Toyota."

So, for an upcoming business trip to Germany, I feel well prepared. I speak very poor German and not so good English. But everybody understands the "universal language" of Japan. "Ah so."

§§§§§

WE FOUND THE ENEMY...AND HE WAS US...

Bedroll

Soldiers and sailors throughout the land struggled to reach their units.

Crowds pressed them and jostled them in large cities and small towns. Sometimes people spit on them. Sometimes people threw rocks. It was common to receive an unkind, vulgar gesture from the natives. In some areas, they were simply shunned. People pretended they did not exist.

The uniforms were a dead giveaway. These soldiers were tools of U.S. military imperialism. They were not welcome. The times were troublesome. It was a dangerous country for American servicemen.

In peril, the young soldiers and sailors pressed on to join up with their comrades.

Some anticipated the hostilities. They camouflaged their appearance with civilian attire. They hoped to blend in with the nation's populace. Often as not, civilian clothes were merely a temporary ruse; the short hair, the innocent youth, and the green sea-bags were telltale identification. They were marked military targets.

Small battles took place. One-on-one encounters between an intellectual pacifist and the kid in uniform. The intellectual, who was probably a student of defunct world cultures returning to school after a weekend of revelry, sincerely tried to spark the ideal of pacifism in the young gladiator's heart.

Self-anointed moralists chastised the evil sailor, who was armed only with a comb, a cigarette lighter, dog tags, and his heavy (very heavy) sea-bag. " Warmonger!"

In crowded transportation terminals, the boy soldier was accosted by young religious devotees clothed in saffron robes. The youthful saffron inductees lectured the innocent military inductee about the evils of war. They asked for a donation to help the cause of peace. The soldier donated a dime. Later, another tribe espoused world peace. He donated a nickel. By the third time the poor soldier was asked for a donation to promote universal peace, his vote came down decidedly in favor of war.
Were it not for a generally silent but sympathetic underground network of people who cared, many American soldiers and sailors might have been lost before they could rejoin their units.

This was America in 1972.

I recall the summer of 1972. The USS O'Callahan crew returned to their ship. Sailors rebounded from their final shore leave. One pink seaman apprentice, with a smattering of adolescent whiskers standing defiantly at attention between the mountainous pimples on his cheeks, marched aboard with a Bible under his arm. It was newly purchased from a street vendor hawking the imitation leather-bound Book. The sailor had paid an extra twenty dollars to have his mother's name embossed on the cover in imitation gold. Others struggled aboard with the odor of a distillery clinging to the air about them.

The captain ordered the bow line cast off. He ordered the engine back one third. The ship's horn sounded one long blast, followed by three short blasts. We backed into the San Diego Harbor.

The O'Callahan steamed past Point Loma and made for open sea. Most were apprehensive, but the apprehension was tempered with a sense of adventure. We steamed west to join the 7th Fleet and do battle with an enemy. It felt good to be among our own kind, having passed through a nation of hostile strangers.

It was an odd time to be in uniform.

Years have healed the animosity among fellow Americans in those times. Today, there is a healthy respect for people in uniform.
That is as it should be.

§§§§§

ALL IS QUIET NOW...

New Year's Day, 1973. A cease fire. A small task group of destroyers and frigates was assigned to shore bombardment in the DMZ area of Vietnam. It was a quiet but busy time.

The USS O'Callahan was in the company of the destroyers Morton, Rupertus, Hollister, Tucker, Blandy, and Wiltsie. Their five-inch gun barrels were blackened from action. They were peeling paint. All made use of the quiet time to re-arm and refuel.
Mr. Kissinger would sign an agreement with Le Duc Tho a few weeks later. When that happened the United States would end its direct involvement in the tragic war. The news was full of talk about negotiations. We anticipated some kind of ending very soon.

Meanwhile, the forces remaining in combat were to put as much pressure on their adversaries as possible. Our objectives were to force North Vietnam to sit in negotiations. We were also to impress South Vietnam with our unswerving allegiance to their cause. It seemed neither objective was being met.

On New Year's Eve, the Hollister was riddled with shrapnel. It ventured within range of what appeared to be a 105-mm enemy battery deployed on a hill overlooking the DMZ and the Gulf of Tonkin. I watched the Hollister's punishment with my shipmates from a few miles away.

I have imagined a North Vietnamese officer in charge of that gun. I've envisioned him dressed in a muddy uniform with a rotting pith helmet atop his head. He was probably barefoot. The sighting and ranging device for his artillery piece was probably a half circle of sticks in the mud, a few yards out from his position. A second stick nearer to him would line up with one of the sticks in the half circle. Firing positions could be plotted from this arrangement. When a ship ventured in range and fell in line with his sticks, he would merely swing the gun to a predetermined angle and let loose a barrage of fire.

Of course, our weapons systems were more sophisticated. Our group commander aboard the Morton was determined to teach this enemy artilleryman something about American technology. He made plans with the Blandy to approach the beach as soon as the cease fire lifted. They would "smoke out" the culprit—tempt him to expose his position. Plans were discussed over a secure radiotelephone. Those of us who could understand the "Donald Duck" talk (voices scrambled and descrambled over the "RED PHONE") were privy to the plan.

The Blandy's plan was to approach the beach with The Morton "riding shotgun" a few hundred yards astern, off the port quarter. The Blandy would draw the fire from our adversary. All hands aboard both ships would scour the mountains with high-powered binoculars, infrared sensors, fire control radar, and various electronic wonders. When The Blandy came under fire, The Morton would pinpoint the flash and "nail the sucker" with computer-controlled rapid-fire, five-inch/fifty four naval guns.
Air support was never considered. Any destroyer sailor will tell you the Naval Air Corps is simply not effective in combat. Besides, this was a job for the "Real Navy."

The cease fire was lifted at 1800 hours. The Blandy approached the coast, steaming at four knots. The slow speed allowed for accurate computer-generated target data. The Morton was close behind. They came in range—sleek, grey, computerized machines of destruction, built to go in harm's way.

Splash, splash, splash, splash, and more splashes!!!

Both The Blandy and The Morton were covered with spray from the enemy artillery fire exploding in the sea around them. Neither ship fired an effective round. Gunsmoke covered the gulf waters. For a moment, the heart-stopping scene was totally obscured by the smoke and spray. Both ships turned on their heels and raced for the open sea as fast as their engine order telegraphs could ring up "FLANK SPEED."

So much for technology.

§§§§§

COUNTERBATTERY

"We have a loud explosion on the port side of the engine room," reports the Engineering Officer, Ensign Morano.
Even as I hear his voice over the sound-powered phones on the bridge, Ensign Shanline orders the helm to come about, 180 degrees: Steady on course 080. The rudder is right— 35 degrees.

Spray from a shell splashing not 50 yards off the port bow is already turning to a fine mist and a permanent memory.
Ensign Shanline commands the engine order telegraph to full speed. The ship responds and heels to starboard, making a sharp turn. We gain speed, increasing from four knots to twenty-five knots in seconds that drag on for hours. The ship's turbines scream loudly as the 1200-psi boilers make steam to turn them.

Another explosion is report overhead by Signalman Second Class Talamante. He is in the signal shack above the bridge. Ensign Machino, in the fire control radar cockpit over our heads, ducks—as though the six inches he can move will protect him—and reports the same explosion.

Ensign Shanline has the "Conn" this night. My job is that of Bridge Communications Officer. I report the Captain's orders to fire over the sound-powered phones. I feed internal communications of the ship back to the Captain. The ship's captain is Commander Dunham.

Our mission: Coastal bombardment; nighttime harassment; interdiction of enemy activity (H&I in military shorthand). Our position is "Point Allison, Station Papa." Four other destroyers are strung out along the coast, separated by about two miles.

These are the last days of the Vietnam War. South Vietnamese Marines have established a beachhead at the mouth of the Cua-Viet River, near the DMZ. They need the protection afforded by seaborne firepower.

We steam a track diagonal to the coast. Computers and navigation aides in Combat Information Center (CIC) plot the next target. Our speed is necessarily slow for accurate target data generation. To avoid unnecessary illumination of our own position, we use flashless powder in our five-inch guns. However, when The O'Callahan approaches within one mile of the coast, with a clear sky and a brilliant full moon, it becomes a target of unrestricted opportunity.

Ensign Shanline responds as soon as the first enemy shell splashes. A monotone, businesslike conversation develops between me and the others connected to the phone system throughout the ship. In seconds a story emerges. Damage control teams mobilize. Guns shift targets to seek out a more pressing challenge, and months of training condense into pure "essence of Navy." It tastes like a lifetime.

"Bridge..CIC," says Ensign Dave Grimes, our assistant CIC Officer of the Watch. "Bridge Aye," I respond.

"Can you tell us where the shells are landing?" "We have one splash fifty yards off the port bow."

"Are there more?"

"Wait one"...(silence).

"Bridge, Engine Room." "Bridge, aye."

"We have a loud explosion on the port side of the engine room." "Damage Control...Bridge, report to the Engine Room." "Damage Control, aye."

"CIC...Bridge, Engine Room reports an explosion on the port side." "Bridge...CIC, any more reports?"

"Wait one."

"Bridge...Signal." "Bridge, aye."

"Signal...Bridge reports an explosion overhead."

"CIC...Bridge, one explosion reported overhead."

"Bridge...CIC, any more reports?"

"Wait one."

"Gun Control, Bridge."

"Gun Control, aye."

"Stand by to fire five salvos, flashless, H.E. (high explosive), after gun mount, target number four three, range...("Nine thousand two hundred yards," said a voice)...nine thousand two hundred yards...at my command." (Only the captain gives the orders to shoot.) The location of the counterbattery was a guess. We could not see the enemy guns.

The Captain commanded, "Shoot."

"Shoot," I repeated the order, speaking to Gun Control, deep in the bowels of the ship. The gunners mate pulled the trigger on a computerized handgun facsimile with a wooden pistol grip.

Five angry salvos responded to the enemy counterbattery. It was surely not an accurate response, but it was at least an answer in kind.

"CIC...Bridge, after lookout reports a splash one hundred yards off the stern."

The O'Callahan moved out of range.

"All stations...Bridge, report damage and casualties."

By now there was a "less-romantic" distance between our ship and the enemy gunners. The USS O'Callahan had sustained a glancing hit on the port side near the Engine Room. Some shrapnel sparked across the open signal bridge. There were no casualties.

We never saw the enemy coastal battery. CIC tried to plot the fall of shells. They hoped perhaps to correlate the splash points with a direction of fire. They were not successful.

Similar actions were repeated with The O'Callahan and with other ships on the "gunline" in those last days of the Vietnam War. Most passed through these periodic shell showers with minimal or no damage.

The South Vietnamese Marines courageously held their beachhead until the official U.S. cease fire was declared on January 27, 1973. But their heroic stand was doomed.

American warships moved out to sea—twenty miles off the coast. There they stood by, passively observing the historic terms of the Paris Agreement. Marines pleaded for gunfire support over the radio. There was no response. The United States was, officially, no longer a part of the conflict.

Within days, the North Vietnamese Army overran the Marines and annihilated them.

§§§§§

THE CHRISTMAS BOMBING...

 

Fellow anthropoids often try very hard to find something in common. When meeting strangers, we search for the thread of common experience or knowledge that will link them to our own small galaxy. People like other people better when they have something in common.

Not long ago, I visited the offices of one of my customers in Birmingham, Alabama. My business contact and friend was Steve Collier. I asked him to join me for lunch. With him was a fellow he introduced as Dave. I asked Dave to join us.
Dave is the corporate pilot.

"Where did you learn to fly, Dave?"

"Air Force," was the answer.

"Air Force," I repeated. "Too bad. Everybody knows the Navy has the best pilots."

"Some Navy pilots are O.K. I applied to both the Navy and the Air Force, but the Air Force offer came two weeks before the Navy bureaucracy could respond. Besides," he offered, "my wife, Mary, and our twin daughters, Karen and Kathryn, think Air Force pilots are the best."

"Sounds like a biased opinion to me. When were you in the Air Force?", I queried.

"From '69 through '74," says he.

"What sort of plane did you fly?"

"B-52."

"Well, at least you had eight engines. Navy pilots get only one engine, sometimes two....Dave, were you by any chance involved in the 'Christmas Bombing' of Hanoi in 1972?"

"Yes, I participated in the 'Linebacker Two' operation."

He spoke with precision. No word wasted. I guess pilots are like that. I explained to Dave and Steve that my ship, the Navy frigate O'Callahan, was in the area at the time. We were assigned to a search and rescue (SAR) station about 20 miles off Haiphong Harbor, in the Gulf of Tonkin. We were to wait for damaged aircraft that might ditch over the water.

We viewed the world from a circular green phosphorescent radar screen. I asked Dave about his "view from the top," so to speak.

Dave shared with us his experience. Steve and I paid rapt attention.

"The 'view from the top' on December 18 was not so good," said Dave. He had lost No. 7 engine to low oil pressure on the 3400-mile trip from Guam. There was an "undercast." The targets were not easy to see.

I remember this part clearly from the radar picture aboard ship. The planes were in a neat, WWII-style formation. I could see the leading dot (plane) on our scope placing a pattern of aluminum chaff ahead of the main formation. The chaff confused the enemy radar over Hanoi and helped in some ways to protect the bomber formation.

Dave continued. "Over Hanoi, the missiles attacked the bomber formation in salvos. This was not expected, because conventional tactical analysis would say this is a wasteful use of firepower by the enemy. The American bombers expected frugal use of missiles, supported by lots of antiaircraft flak."

"The enemy was not held by convention, however, and the massive, wholesale use of SA2 radar-controlled missiles could hardly miss finding a few B-52 bombers—if only by accident—in such a flock of aircraft."

There was a bumper crop of bombers for the North Vietnamese to harvest.

"The missiles were easy to detect in the morning twilight; first as a white flash beneath the dull 'undercast,' and then like gray telephone poles, punching thought the clouds and reaching for the sky," he continued.

Five missiles had appeared simultaneously under Dave's plane, their radar sensors looking for a home.

"Two missiles on the right. Two missiles on the left. One on the nose!" Formation flying left little room to maneuver. The missiles had him boxed in for lunch. Dave had only one option really—put the throttles (all seven remaining engines) to the "firewall" with the hope of outrunning the hungry beasts.

He almost did.

One missile exploded in an orange burst of fire off the right wing. Shrapnel ruptured a fuel cell. Dave killed his No. 8 engine to avoid a fire.

Steve and I were struck with how calmly Dave spoke of his brush with disaster.

I remember this raid and subsequent ones from the radio chatter we monitored on our ship in the Gulf. It was a tense period. Pilots notified each other of missile positions. When a plane was hit, the pilot calmly reported the damage and status.

Occasionally, one reported his plane out of commission and begin transmitting on the SAR radio network.

In the first December raids, fifteen of the behemoth B-52 aircraft were shot out of the sky or damaged beyond repair. From December 18th to 30th, twenty-six U.S. aircraft were shot down. Ninety-three pilots and crew were lost.

The emergency airfields in Thailand were already booked up by the time Dave's plane delivered its own lethal cargo. He and his crew refueled the scarred 1959-model B-52 from an Air Force tanker plane over the South China Sea. They nursed the crippled bird all those miles back to Guam. Both tanker and bomber were attacked for much of the return flight because the fueling nozzle on Dave's plane was damaged. For a long period, a fog of spilled jet fuel shrouded the bomber as it refueled.

No planes crashed over the Gulf of Tonkin. We destroyer sailors merely watched the show by radar and listened by radio. After the first three days of bombing, no more B-52s were lost to enemy action. The U.S. Air Force decided by then (with insistence from the pilots flying the missions) that antiquated formation bombing techniques were now passé. Besides, the Communists were virtually out of missiles.

A month later—January 27, 1973—U.S. involvement in the war ended. American POWs in the "Hanoi Hilton," who a month before had cheered as bombs fell on the city around them, were soon released.

In a matter of minutes, Dave and I stepped back in time and went half way around the world to Vietnam to find something in common.

"So, where you from, Dave?"

"A little town in the Florida Panhandle. You probably never heard of it."

"Try me."

"Bagdad."

"Nichol's Seafood, Pond Creek, Blackwater River, Garcon Point, Lapeyrouse Grain Elevator. Naw! Never heard of it! You ever heard of Chumuckla?"

Corporate pilot William David Robertson, Jr., taught at Chumuckla High the fall of 1968. (I missed his instruction by two years.) He graduated from Milton High. My Mother-in-law, Kathryn Gatewood, taught Dave in the third grade. (She tells me he risked life and limb standing on the windowsills at Bagdad Elementary School.)

Even more! His Aunt Kate Haynes Robertson of Milton is my cousin. We're almost related. Small world.

 

 

 

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