A Brother Nam Vet suggested I post more Navy stuff so, that barely still functioning part of my brain began casting for memories. Then Cabin Fever amplified the effort.
Being underway on a cruiser/destroyer class ship is simply an experience that those Airdales and Bubbleheads in The Navy can only rarely equate to. [grin]
Off to VietNam we go. Getting there was trivial. It was just a cruise. Leaving Long Beach the first time was bad for some though. I was thrilled. It was late ’65 or early ’66 and I was going to war. I worked on them high tech missiles (Terrier/Tartar) and was fresh out of school and ready. I don’t recall the various ports we might have visited on the way. I did visit Hawaii on at least one trip or other… but the dates are jumbled.
Somewhere along the way I first discovered that our wake could glow in the dark, and that I could count the stars. Don’t let that memory of mine disappear as trivia, please, because the night at sea factors heavily into the rest of this post.
Once on station (Gulf of Tonkin) we spent our time at what was then known as Condition Three. Some may know it as “Port and Starboard”, basically 12 on and 12 off. I still got to visit the Fantail at might though.
Once there our aft missile house became pretty much useless at night. The Airdales decided to land a helo on the fantail. After that we spent most of our time “up-north”. Got an official piece of paper that says we picked up 18 downed airmen that cruise.
Other cruises on different ships followed and our missions were varied. But one thing was a constant – most nights at sea. Standing on the fantail with a vibration from the screws permeating everything. The critter lit wake fading into the darkness as the disturbed water slowly settled down. We operated frequently under “darken ship” rules so I could only barely see my hand in front of my face. The only light that of the wake and the stars. It is an almost out-of-body experience.
One night WAS different though. Up near the DMZ, as I recall, we were just a few miles off shore and I noticed a flash out of the corner of my eye. My first thought was that a shore battery firing at us… again. Then, before GQ could sound there was another flash and then many more. The flashes expanded into orange fireballs and faded. No sound over the ship noise and vibration, mind you, just the lights ashore. Scuttlebutt was that it was a B-52 ARClight raid. I dunno for certain, but I am glad I wasn’t on the ground there.
I could ramble on with memories, and memories OF memories, but for this sailor those nights at sea were special, and have likely been special to all those sailors who left port and found themselves far from land – at night.