A Fine Mess You Got Us Into This Time, Albert

­­A Fine Mess You Got Us Into This Time, Albert
by CAPT John Wallace (USN retired)

In summer of 1964, a team of specialists and I embarked aboard a nuclear-powered submarine and set sail on a classified mission. Broad guidance for execution of the mission was to transit to the operating area, execute the mission, and return undetected by either friendly or hostile forces.

The modern attack nuclear submarine is particularly well-suited for such a task. It has an exceptionally sensitive sonar system which allows it to detect, and usually, classify, noises in the water at great distances. This capability, coupled with highly sensitive electronic systems which alert it to radar signals, allows the submarine to avoid, or investigate, targets long before the submarine comes within range to be detected by the target.  Our platform for this particular mission was unique to the US Navy, not only the longest at 402 feet but the only submarine ever built with two nuclear reactors and originally classified as SSNR (Nuclear attack Submarine Reconnaissance).

The transit to station was routine, with periodic excursions to periscope depth for radio traffic or to investigate contacts. The approach to the mission area was conducted at a speed and depth to maintain the mission’s covert status. The long transit time offered an opportunity for the ship’s crew to conduct training and emergency drills. My team also used this time, to check and recheck equipment and to review details of the upcoming operation.

Once in the operating area, all contacts were considered hostile and evasive tactics were used. However, as contacts became more numerous, evasion often consisted of remaining quiet and deep while hostile units passed over us.

One evening, as we were attempting to maneuver our way clear of a concentration of hostile surface contacts, we found ourselves boxed in, with no clear course to steer to vacate the area. Using the “quiet and deep” tactic appropriate in such situations, we anticipated our slow speed would gradually carry us beyond the problem area or that the surface ships would eventually move on. The great thing about nuke submarines, I remember thinking, is that they can stay down forever.

That’s when the lights went out.

When a ship loses its electrical load, battery powered battle lanterns automatically click on in all the compartments and the ship’s intercom shifts to battery backup. In the dim light of a solitary lantern, I could barely make out the rest of my team as we all froze in place, waiting for some indication of the seriousness of the problem. The unmistakable voice of the Commanding Officer erupted over the intercom, “Will someone tell me what the hell’s going on?”

The chilling response from the engine room: “Captain, we’ve just scrammed both reactors.” This announcement was accompanied by a wailing siren in the background — a sound whose memory gives me visceral twinges 50 years later.

A reactor scram is, simply put, the automatic shutdown of the nuclear reactor and complete loss of primary power to the submarine. (I don’t know if “scram” is an acronym; but if it is, it probably stands for “Stop Chain Reaction, Avoid Meltdown!”) A brief layman’s explanation of this process might be useful. A nuclear reactor is a furnace, fueled by radioactive material. The heat from the reactor turns water into steam, which makes the screws turn and the electricity flow. The intensity of the reactor’s output is controlled by graphite rods whose retraction from the reactor core allows more nuclear reactions and more heat, and whose lowering into the reactor has the opposite effect. A scram occurs when sensors recognize a problem in the system that is so severe, the rods are automatically dropped into the core, shutting down the reactor.

When the cause of the scram has been identified and corrected, the reactor is brought back on line by slowly withdrawing the rods. If circumstances dictate (e.g., consequences of lost propulsion may be worse than the risk of bringing the reactor on line without first isolating the cause of the scram), a fast scram recovery can be initiated.

As forward momentum is lost, depth control is lost. Like an airplane, a sub must either have lift across its control surfaces to control its rise or fall or by strategic use of its ballast tanks. Without depth control, a sub either pops to the surface (broaches) or sinks.

Getting back to our story, while broaching might seem a preferable alternative to sinking, our situation made that less attractive. To broach in the midst of hostile units, without power or propulsion, would not be a fun thing. Had we not been ballasted heavy, we would have broached no matter how opposed we were to that option. Instead, we slowly sank, stern down, at about a 15-degree angle.

Meanwhile, fast scram recovery procedures and attempts to start the Electrical Propulsion Motor (EPM) were initiated. Unfortunately, the EPM, an emergency backup motor, refused to start. And we continued to sink. As the boat went down, the tension level in the boat went up.

Fast scram recovery was successful; but before we could muster a collective sigh of relief as the reactor was brought back on line, the wailing of sirens again pierced the dim interior of the boat…a second reactor scram. And we continued to sink. I recall thinking at the time that Einstein’s calculations must somehow be flawed and we were going to be the unfortunate guys to prove it. (“Look at this equation again…Albert forgot to carry the 1…”). The consequences of an uncontrolled descent can be disastrous — USS Thresher and USS Scorpion were both lost in peacetime accidents when loss of depth control plunged them to crush depth.

Our situation was serious, but by bubbling air into the ballast tanks we were able to slow our descent considerably and not alert hostile units above. Through this maneuver, we finally reached a depth equilibrium and hung suspended well above the danger point. The surface units gave no indication that they were aware of our presence and gradually moved their center of activity away from us. After an eternity, the engine room announced (unaccompanied by sirens), “Captain, making turns most reliable on Reactor number One.”  But stomachs and jaws didn’t unclench until lighting was restored and we began our withdrawal from the area.

We went on to complete our mission successfully and had an uneventful return to port.

I came away with my confidence in nuclear power shaken, but with a renewed respect for the skilled submariners who willingly drop through that deck hatch day after day and year after year and go in harm’s way.


Entered the Naval Air Reserve out of high school in 1955, serving with VF-782 as an AT striker at Los Alamitos NAS, CA.
After graduation from college attended OCS and was commissioned in March 1961. His duty assignments included USS Polk County (LST 1084)as Deck and Gunnery Officer; Navy Language School in Anacostia, MD, studying the Russian language; ACNSG Fort Meade, MD. as a submarine rider; NSGA Bremerhaven, Germany as Communications Officer; Vietnam as OIC of Special Support Group to MACV SOG; NSG HQ in Washington, DC; Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA; NCS Rota, Spain as Operations Officer; NSG HQ; ACNSG at Fort Meade; CINCUSNAVEUR London, UK as Deputy DNSGEur; NSGA Puerto Rico as Commanding Officer; NSA Fort Meade; NCPAC Hawaii as Deputy NCPAC.
Retired in January 1989 and remains in Hawaii.


Memorial Day

Memorial Day

By:  Garland Davis

Unfortunately, many Americans have come to confuse Memorial Day with Armed Forces Day, where we celebrate those Americans presently serving in the Armed Forces and Veteran’s Day where we celebrate those who have served and are no longer serving.

The Memorial Holiday Weekend is not about new car or mattress sales.  Nor is it about baseball games or automobile races, picnics or campouts.  It is a day set aside to remember and honor the hundreds of thousands of Americans who gave their lives to the United States while serving in the Armed Forces.  Many Americans have relatives or know someone who lost their life in service to the United States.  A cousin I never knew, was lost flying fighter planes over Italy in WWII.  Another cousin died in Korea attempting to bring the wounded, under his care, to safety. I remember my good friend and shipmate CS2 Ronald Muise who is still at sea in USS Thresher.  Those of us who served in a carrier know of someone who gave his life on the flight deck, “the most dangerous six acres in the world.”  And we all know someone who gave his life in our generations war, Viet Nam. Many of us know someone suffering from the ravages of Agent Orange, a person killed in Viet Nam who just hasn’t died yet.

In 1866 a Northern town in New York and a Southern town of Georgia began the practice of memorializing their war dead.  The towns of Waterloo, New York and Columbus, Georgia remembered their lost sons by placing flowers and plants upon their graves.  On May 26, 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation recognizing Waterloo as the birthplace of Memorial Day and became an official holiday in 1971.

Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed services. The holiday, which is observed every year on the last Monday of May, originated as Decoration Day after the American Civil War in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois, established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, celebrated on different days, had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.

Our National Cemeteries, on Memorial Day, have nothing to do with the sweep and grandeur of history, nor the gigantic commitment of resources to battles and wars; nor grand strategies and brilliant tactics. They are places where – and the day when – we remember the individual men and women who were killed at Bull Run, and Belleau-Wood, at Iwo Jima, on Omaha Beach, and in Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and Iraq and all the other un-locatable places with unpronounceable names where we have too often sent young men and women to fight and, too often, to die.

I’m not saying that you should not celebrate the holiday weekend. Watch the car race, go to the beach, have a cookout, I only ask that you pause for a minute and remember that

Some Gave All

By:  Billy Ray Cyrus

I knew a man, called him Sandy Kane
Few folks even knew his name
But a hero, yes, was he
Left a boy, came back a man
Still many just don’t understand
About the reasons that we are free

I can’t forget the look in his eyes
Or the tears he cries
As he said these words to me

“All gave some and some gave all
And some stood through for the red, white and blue
And some had to fall
And if you ever think of me
Think of all your liberties and recall
Some gave all”

Sandy Kane is no longer here
But his words are oh so clear
As they echo throughout our land
For all his friends who gave us all
Who stood the ground and took the fall
To help their fellow men

Love your country and live with pride
And don’t forget those who died
America can’t you see?

All gave some and some gave all
And some stood through for the Red, white and blue
And some had to fall
And if you ever think of me
Think of all your liberties and recall
Some gave all

And if you ever think of me
Think of all your liberties and recall, yes recall
Some gave all
Some gave all

In Flanders Fields

By:  John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


My Vietnam

My Vietnam

By: GMGCS Charles Knowlton

The Americal was reactivated 25 September 1967 at Chu Lai in Vietnam from a combination of units already in Vietnam and newly arrived units. Its precursor, a division-sized task force known as Task Force Oregon was created in Quảng Ngãi and Quảng Tín provinces from the 3rd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division, the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, and the 196th Light Infantry Brigade (all separate brigades that deployed to Vietnam in 1966). Task Force Oregon operated in close cooperation with the 1st Marine Division in the I Corps Military Region. As more US Army units arrived in Vietnam the two divisional brigades were released back to their parent organizations and two arriving separate brigades were assigned to Task Force Oregon, which, was in turn, re-designated the 23rd Infantry Division (Americal). The division was composed of the 11th, 196th, and 198th Light Infantry Brigades and divisional support units. Both the 11th and 198th brigades were newly formed units.

On 13 April 1967, half of the 148th MP Platoon, 18th MP Brigade and half of the 544th MP Platoon, 196th Light Infantry Brigade came to Chu Lai, Republic of Vietnam with Task Force Oregon under the operational control of the Provost Marshal’s Office. On 8 December 1967 the platoons joined, first as the Americal Division Military Police Company and then the 23rd Military Police Company, Americal Division. Attached to the company at that time were about 25 Marine and Navy personnel who worked as MPs on Joint Patrol with their US Army counterparts. Later the 6th MP Platoon, 11th Light Infantry Brigade and the 265th MP Platoon, 198th Light Infantry Brigade joined the company. The 23rd MP Company then had 4 platoons. 1st, 2nd and 3rd Platoons attached to the 11th, 196th, and 198th LIBs respectively, and HQ and Security Platoon at Americal Division HQ. The platoons were widely dispersed on firebases, LZs, and Cities throughout southern I Corps. HQ Americal Division left Vietnam in 1971 and stood down at Ft Lewis, Washington on 29 November 1971. The unit, now the 23rd MP Company, 196th Light Infantry Brigade remained in Vietnam. On 28 June 1972, the 23rd MP Company furled its guidon and stood down in Danang. During almost 5 years of service in I Corps, Republic of Vietnam, the 23rd MP Company participated in 13 campaigns and received two awards of the RVN Cross of Gallantry with Palm as a unit citation. The 2nd Platoon, attached to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, received the Army Valorous Unit Award for combat action in the Hiep Duc Valley on 11-31 August 1969. Thirteen warrior police of the 23rd MP Company gave their lives in defense of freedom in the Republic of Vietnam.

I want to honor all who made the ultimate sacrifice as this Memorial Day comes before us. My prayers go to all the warriors within the 23rd MP’s, Task Force Oregon & Americal 23rd Infantry Division who didn’t come home. I wish you all “fair winds and following seas.” May you never be forgotten.

CHAZ “Bore Clear”


Drinking Beer with Hitler

Drinking Beer with Hitler

By: Garland Davis


I was told by my doctor that the Parkinson’s meds may cause strange dreams. I tell you, some of the shit I dream.  I wonder where it comes from.  I dream of smoking cigarettes and I haven’t smoked for the past twenty years.  I dream of driving a taxi and trying to talk to the dispatcher to get calls.  I dream of the aircraft carrier and trying to find my locker and get into the proper uniform.  Or I am looking for a head that isn’t secured because I have to piss.  I finally wake up and go piss.  But the weirdest dream I have had is drinking beer with Hitler.

He says, gesturing toward my Miller Lite, “How can you drink that weak piss?  There is nothing better than a hearty German beer.  But then everything German is superior.”

“I think the U.S. military proved you wrong,” I say.

He goes into a tirade screaming in German cursing incompetent German Generals and Soviet peasants.  Then he changes back to English and tells me if the Donne wetter German Navy had prevented the resupply of the Kommunistische, Stalingrad and Moscow would have fallen and the Reich would have prevailed throughout the world. He said, “Some ideas are good and never die.”

“I’ll admit that German beer is good, but I prefer American or Japanese beer,” I said.

“Ach, der Japanese. They were a grobe enttauschung, a huge disappointment.  They should have pursued the attack on Hawaii.  But why waste time on beer and past events when there are more important matters to ponder?’

I looked around the bar.  No one seemed to be paying any attention.  They didn’t seem surprised that I was drinking beer with Hitler.  “What important matters,” I queried der, Fuhrer.

Hitler looked directly at me for the first time.  He was wearing the gray uniform of the Wehrmacht.  He glared at me over his nose, his toothbrush mustache twitching.  His hand trembling slightly from the Parkinson’s disease.  Is that why I am dreaming of Hitler?  Because I have Parkinson’s disease.  I know that he had it.  I say had it because I know he is dead and this is but a dream.

“We have a responsibility,” he said, “a responsibility to the future.”

I could see cars passing on the street outside the bar and the people watching a soccer game on TV.  I could see, but the only sound I heard was Hitler speaking.

“We all have a part to play in the drama of life,” said Hitler as the bartender placed a fresh beer in front of me, but I don’t recall ordering. The bartender drifted down the bar and back to the TV. “Whatever role one is assigned or chooses to play.”  He sipped from his beer.  “One’s destiny determines the role he is to play.  How the man plays the part, determines what kind of man he is.”

I took a long drink from the glass.  Strange, I don’t remember shifting from bottled beer to draft.  Doesn’t matter it is still Miller Lite.

“Tell me, what kind of man are you?’ the Nazi leader asked.

“I am a sailor, but I guess it depends on who you ask,” I replied. The bartender, his name tag said Brad, came back to ask, “Another?”  He never asked before. Why could I hear him now?

“What’s the story with fucking Hitler here?” I ask Brad.

He glances at Hitler for a minute and says, “He comes in every now and then.  Orders a beer, drinks it and leaves.”  He took a couple swipes at the bar with a stained towel. “You’re the first person, I’ve ever seen him talk to.”  He turned back to the ball game, looks back at me and says, “Doesn’t tip for shit.”

“I can imagine,” I said.

I thought over the hundreds of hours I had spent drinking in bars.  They were places where perfect strangers will talk about anything, everything, and nothing.  Places where fucking Hitler can accost you about your choice of beer and your manhood and your plans for the future.

“I asked you something,” he said rather firmly as if on the edge of another tirade.

“That’s it,” I slammed my glass down on the bar, silently.  I could not hear any noises other than Hitler again.   You come in here all decked out in that old Nazi uniform, sounding like Colonel Clink and spouting incomprehensible bullshit.”  Hitler stared at me. “The get up looks real and you look and sound like Hitler.  What is the freaking point?”

Hitler stared at me.  I pushed the bowl of nuts toward him.  “Nuts?” I asked.

“Nein,” he said. “My stomach.”

“So what is your reason for this masquerade,” I asked raising my arms as if expecting something.

“My point is, what can you do to improve the future?” he replied.

“How the fuck should I know.”

“Ah, you love that word, Fuck. All you Americans do.  It is from the German you know,” he said. “Perhaps you should think about how you can improve the present. One follows the other, you know.”

“That’s some deep shit there,” I said.

“It is also the truth,” replied der, Fuhrer. “You all have the power.” He motioned as seen on the Newsreels when he was giving a speech. “You have a duty.  A duty to create a better future by changing the present.  You have a duty to make the world a superior place, to banish cowardliness and fear.  The human race can do so much more.”  He took a long pull on his glass. “We could have done much more…”

I think I asked already, but… what the fuck are you talking about?”

“My uniform disturbs you, does it not?” the Nazi asked.

“What gave you that idea?” as I glared at him. “But…yeah.”

“Are you tainted with Jewish blood?”

“Jesus Christ,” I said.  I’m Scots-Irish with a touch of Cherokee Indian and probably some other stuff.  But if you believe the scriptures we are all descended from the Jews.” Brad wandered up and asked if I wanted another.  Hitler’s glass always seemed full, although I hadn’t seen Brad serve him one. “Why not,” I said.  I turned back to Hitler and said, “So what are you getting at?”

“So, you are a Druid and a Celt mixed with a savage,” he sneered.  “And some other stuff.  America is a mongrelized melting pot.”  He got a pensive look in his eyes.  “I used to hold forth on this subject at length.”

“Yeah.  Sociopathic dictators do tend to drone on at times.”

He slammed his hand on the bar and glared at me as I took a long pull on my fresh draft.

“You do not understand,” he snapped.  The winners write history.  But, many winners’ victories are temporary. The true final victory is the power of an idea to organize the present to change the future.”

“You give me a headache,” I said, motioning to Brad for a fresh draft.  Hitler’s stein was still full. “I am about tired of this shit.”

“You become tired when confronted with your duty and responsibility?” Hitler said motioning as if emphasizing a point

“The only responsibility I have is to drink this beer and return to the ship at anchor in the bay.” I almost yelled.  As before, no one was paying any attention to me and the man in the German uniform.

You have a responsibility to yourself. To challenge yourself to achieve the most and best of the future.  His fingers caress the twin lightning bolts embossed on the cuff links.  “You must see beyond the lie that is draped over the truth of an idea.”

“Tell me what is this idea that is so truthful.”

“Obedience.  The power of obedience,” he told me.  “The obedience to be driven and clean the present of those things holding back the future. You must find the means to cast off the chains of the anchor holding you back. You must live as a man among other men.”

“Obedience,” I said.  “Sounds like some TV holy roller preacher prompting the masses for repentance and donations.  Does it come with cattle prod or a whip?”

Hitler smiled, a widening smile as if he had won a game. “You make jokes, but you do love being commanded.  Your lifestyle requires that you be commanded and obey.”  You love someone commanding you.”

“No, you’re wrong,” I said.

“Of course, I am,” says the Kraut. “You think for yourself and would never simply do what you are told.”

“Fuck you, man.”

“Are you man enough to face the challenge?” asked Hitler.

“Fuck you, man,” as I stood.  “I’ve finished with this bullshit. You ought to be locked up for wearing that costume. And talking that shit pushes the boundaries of free speech. It just ain’t cool.”

“What isn’t cool?” he asked.  “My ‘costume’ or my speech.”

“Fuck you, man!  Drop the act!”  I could hear the silence of the bar and the other patrons around me.  I looked around.  No one was paying any attention to us.  “What kind of head case goes out dressed like that and grooming himself like Hitler.  You should be fucking committed!”

“I am committed. To an idea.” He focused on my face. “Are you committed to anything other than drinking watered beer?”

“Drop the fucking act,” I yelled.

“I am not acting.  Are you?”

I clenched my fists, considering taking a swing at him when I noticed the butt of a Lugar type pistol in an oiled leather holster at his waist.

“Which of us is acting,” the Nazi asked.  He stood posed like a statue from a horror gallery of last century.

“Perhaps that I am truly a servant to an idea, rather than the freak you believe me to be.” He took a drink from his beer.  ‘If that is true, why am I here drinking this piss water beer in this dump with you? And why am I even trying to talk with you?”

“Who are you?” I asked with a queasy squirming in my stomach.

“I wander through these times,” he said looking into the back bar mirror. “When I look into my reflection, I see a man out of place waiting for the right to return”

“The right time for Hitler to return?”

He gave me a pitying look. “I am already here.  The time is waiting for rebirth. Perhaps with another face.  Patiently waiting.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Perhaps not. But you understand enough history to know that an idea doesn’t die until the last believer in it dies,” He replied.

He drew his right hand over the holstered Lugar, reached into his pocket and pulled out a bill and coins, laid them on the bar.  He stood for a minute facing me.

“The time may come sooner than you think,” and with that, he turned and went out the door.

Slowly the sounds of the bar returned.  Brad drifted along the bar and palmed the money Hitler had left behind. “What did I tell you?” he said. “No fucking tip.”

And Then I awakened!




The Sculpin’s Lost Mission

The Sculpin’s Lost Mission: A Nuclear Submarine in the Vietnam War
By Admiral Charles R. Larson, U.S. Navy (Retired), with Captain Clinton Wright, U.S. Navy (Retired), and Paul Stillwell

One would expect that Cold War “special ops” involving U.S. nuclear-powered submarines are shrouded in secrecy. Other American sub-activities during that era, however, are also hidden, one for a very strange reason.

In 1971, after he had spent two and a half years of duty in the White House as naval aide to President Richard Nixon, Commander Chuck Larson was ready to go back to sea. He was ordered to be executive officer of the attack submarine Sculpin (SSN-590), under Commander Harry Mathis. For several months, the boat went through workups off the coast of southern California to prepare for a deployment to the western Pacific. That deployment included active participation in the Vietnam War.

After leaving the West Coast in January 1972, our first assignment was a classified special operation that lasted about two months. It went very well. The mission helped us hone our ship-handling and intelligence-gathering skills and made us confident in our capabilities and feel good about the way the ship was operating. Although it is still classified after all these years, it’s safe to say that it was intelligence-gathering targeted against the Soviet Union. Years later, Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew’s book, Blind Man’s Bluff (New York: Public Affairs, 1998), described Cold War submarine operations. Because of security concerns, I can’t specifically discuss the contents, but the book is a good read.

After the special operation, the Sculpin went into Yokosuka, Japan, for some liberty, and my wife, Sally, met me there. I had grown my beard while at sea and that, combined with my black hair and pale complexion after the extended period underwater, made me look—according to Sally—like Rasputin, the mad tsarist Russian.

In March, shortly after we began our second operation, patrolling the South China Sea, we were diverted for a specific mission. The U.S. government believed supply trawlers were operating out of Hainan Island, off the southern coast of the People’s Republic of China. They were running arms, ammunition, and supplies from the northern part of the Gulf of Tonkin down to the Vietcong in the IV Corps region, the southernmost portion of Vietnam. U.S. forces discovered this when ground troops caught the enemy in the act of off-loading a trawler on a South Vietnamese beach. The incident sparked a big firefight, creating the legend that the trawler crews were elite forces willing to fight to the death. It also initiated a concerted effort to stop the traffic by convincing the enemy that it could not succeed.

Each of the trawlers could carry about 100 tons of munitions. Several suspect ships were photographed, so we knew generally what they looked like, but as long as they were in international waters, we had no means to interdict them other than to turn them around by making low passes with a P-3 Orion patrol plane or a close approach by a surface ship. This was complicated by the fact that so many legitimate trawlers like them were in the area. Several gunrunners had been turned around, but this would not stop the at-sea resupply effort. To convincingly discourage the effort, it would be necessary to destroy them in the waters off South Vietnam before they could land their cargo. The plan that evolved was to use a submarine to follow one from Hainan to South Vietnam and finger it for our forces to destroy. We were selected for this mission.

We took up a patrol station off Hainan on 10 April. After referring to a book with images of the different types of trawlers and what we could expect, we picked up our quarry on 12 April. The wardroom was divided on whether she was a good prospect. However, the ship resembled photographs of other known suspects, and her projected track was taking her toward the west coast of the Philippines, which did not make sense for a fisherman. So we took off in trail. Not long thereafter, the trawler turned to the south, and that was the clincher for us. She had an extremely distinctive shaft rub and propeller sound, which our sonarmen could easily discriminate from background noise. We relied completely on passive sonar to avoid being detected. The active sonar in the Skipjack -class submarines wouldn’t have been reliable because of the reverberations in shallow water.

The ship we followed was probably 200 feet long, a large trawler, certainly suitable for open-ocean fishing. We did, of course, identify her by periscope before we started to trail, but we weren’t able to follow her totally by periscope and maintain visual contact. We didn’t want to take the chance of having our periscope seen in the flat, calm waters of the South China Sea. Also, she was making a speed of advance through the water of about 11 knots. That meant that if we were going to do our periscope operations every now and then, get out radio messages, and do our required housekeeping evolutions, we were probably going to have to run an average of about 18 or 20 knots submerged to keep up with her. We also had to include time for ocean analysis and tactical maneuvering to make certain we were staying with the correct target.

One more challenge was that the trawler was heading south, right through the “dangerous ground.” On charts of the South China Sea, an area about 180 nautical miles wide and 300 miles long is simply labeled dangerous ground. Our charts had one track of soundings through that area—taken in 1885. We assessed that the terrain was fairly level, but the depth was 200 feet or less in most of this area. So we were in a position of running up to 20 knots in 200 feet of water, with between 30 to 80 feet under the keel at that high speed. Our ship could react very quickly to plane (control surface) movements, so we had only our most experienced officers of the deck, diving officers, and planes men on station. Our chief petty officer diving officers controlled the ship’s depth by supervising the planes men. They did a superb job.

As the trawler headed south, she vectored a little to the east and went into an area in the dangerous ground where we couldn’t go. Up to then, although we were in the dangerous area, we felt secure in knowing the bottom was fairly level. But now she went into an area that was littered with rocks, shoals, and shipwrecks. I wondered then if the trawler’s crew was smart enough to do what we called a “sanitization move”—go where even surface ships wouldn’t follow. She doubtlessly believed that if she went through there she would come out the other side well clear of any tailing vessel.

I was absolutely convinced that the trawler was unaware of our presence (that became clear later when we intercepted a radio message). We believed the ship’s course change was simply a safety move. While we were able to use our fathometer to plot the bottom and know the depth under our keel, the device looks only directly down; it doesn’t look ahead. We were genuinely worried about what we couldn’t see ahead—an undersea mountain, a wreck, or something else.

When the trawler had entered the dangerous ground, we requested cover from an on-call P-3 Orion. Although we were under the operational control of the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) in Saigon, we had the ability to call the shots on the scene. We wanted the aircraft to remain covert, so it would not scare the trawler back into port by making low passes near her. During the ship’s voyage through this very shallow, wreck-strewn portion of the dangerous ground, the plane, remaining at high altitude to minimize the chance of being seen, kept track of her by radar and visual observation. We dodged around the area by hauling off to the west, then south, and finally back to the east, to an area where we predicted the trawler would emerge, still in the dangerous ground. As the P-3 turned the contact over to us, the trawler appeared just about where we thought she would. We picked her up from the distinctive shaft rub and propeller sound and got in close enough to get a good positive periscope observation. We then went back in trail.

As we headed south in the South China Sea, we approached a new hazard. We found a large number of oil-drilling platforms near the coast of Borneo. We first became aware of this hazard through the prolonged tracking of a diesel contact, which prompted the CO, Commander Harry Mathis, to go up to periscope depth for a look. We spotted an uncharted platform. If the rigs were operating, that was no problem; we could plot the location of their noisy diesel engines. We found some charted, some not, some operating and others not. Our concern, of course, was about those uncharted and not running. We made frequent periscope observations to avoid the platforms, which forced us to run faster to maintain the quarry’s speed of advance. We continued south at higher speeds for longer periods of time, sometimes with barely 20 to 30 feet of water beneath the Sculpin ‘s keel.

As our target passed between the Great Natuna Islands, we made an end run around North Natuna. After that, our quarry was on a beeline for the Gulf of Thailand, passing through the busy sea-lane between Hong Kong and Singapore. The density of the large shipping traffic in this lane was incredible. Crossing it was like running across a busy freeway. It was night time, and sonar was useless amid all the traffic noise, so we crossed at periscope depth following our quarry’s stern light, maneuvering to avoid the large ships bearing down on us from both directions.

The Gulf of Thailand presented a new challenge. The water was hot, 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and shallow averaging 110 feet deep, and the bottom was flat. The surface was a dead calm mirror with fishing buoys and nets everywhere, not to mention small fishing boats of every description. It was also very hazy and so hot that the horizon was somewhat obscure. Such were the wartime circumstances that our operation order authorized us to operate in water as shallow as six fathoms. Who says nuclear-powered submarines can’t operate in the littorals?

During this time we half-jokingly talked about “the hump.” We were trying to visualize what the Sculpin looked like on the surface, running at 20 knots, with maybe only 40 feet from the top of the sail to the surface. We visualized a hump—the water displaced above the boat’s hull—roaring through the South China Sea like a mini tidal wave, with observers wondering what it was. We assumed the ship left some sort of trail but were certain one would have to be very close to be able to see it.

An incident when I had command duty got my attention. I brought the Sculpin up to periscope depth and saw what I thought was a periscope going by. My first reaction was, “Holy smoke, there’s another submarine up here.” Then I realized it was a small water-saturated log that was floating vertically. Just for a moment I thought there were two submarines staring at each other and wondered which one was going to blink first.

As the trawler moved farther south, she made a distinct turn to the west and then to the northwest. We were absolutely sure she was a gunrunner, going into land and off-load her ammunition. Then, two things happened. We were ordered by MACV to photograph our target and alerted to prepare to execute a provision in our operation order for us to sink our target with torpedoes.

The photographic mission meant leaving our trail position and speeding up ahead of the target to take pictures as the trawler cruised by. The risk of detection was great because of the flat calm sea and our hump as we repositioned at high speed. To avoid this, we had to go as deep as possible. Commander Mathis selected 90 feet keel depth, leaving 20 feet between the keel and the bottom. We limited periscope exposure to 6 inches for less than ten seconds. We did get good pictures and apparently were not detected, although one photograph revealed three men on deck looking in our general direction. The depth control skill of our diving officer chiefs was extraordinary.

Immediately after the trawler made the northwest turn, and just before we communicated with higher authorities, we lost contact for about two hours. Up to that point, our target had been somewhat predictable, cruising on a straight course to the northwest near the center of the Gulf of Thailand about 100 miles off the coast of South Vietnam, with the familiar shaft rub being tracked by sonar. It was night with a full moon, and we saw her lights through the periscope. The horizon was indistinguishable. Suddenly, sonar reported she had stopped, and while the CO watched, the trawler turned off her lights. Blind and deaf, we then lit off the radar and made several sweeps that revealed nothing. This was not too surprising. When a radar hasn’t been used in months and is not tuned, taking it out and rotating it a couple of times doesn’t guarantee a high probability of picking up a small target. We were not sure whether she had stopped for the night or was moving away in a new direction at slow speed.

We reported the lost contact, which threw the operational command authority in Saigon into a panic. They had been moving South Vietnamese naval forces along the coast to maintain a blocking position based on our updates, so the whole operation threatened to unravel. Commander Mathis and I huddled and decided: “Well, we’ve got to assume that she’s making a run toward the border up there. Let’s just go down and run as fast as we can and get about 30 miles ahead of her predicted track and set up a barrier.”

So we moved up and waited for her farther up into the Gulf of Thailand. We made that sprint at 20 knots with 20 feet under the keel. At first daylight, we contacted our on station P-3 aircraft and described our quarry, particularly her white color. We requested the Orion’s crew search the area from where we lost contact to the Vietnamese coast. They reported several widely separated contacts; only one of them was white. The CO authorized a low-altitude identification pass, and the P-3 made a positive ID. They reported to Saigon, and we closed the target. As we neared, we regained that familiar shaft rub and when we took another periscope look, it was her—positive identification, both sonar and visual.

Originally, MACV requested authorization for us to sink the target with our torpedoes, but this was not approved. For years, I assumed that the National Command Authority in Washington, D.C., disapproved the request. However, several years later, Harry Mathis, who by then was a captain, was commanding officer of the Submarine Base Pearl Harbor. He regularly played tennis with retired Admiral Bernard “Chick” Clarey, who had been commander-in-chief Pacific Fleet at the time of our operation. Admiral Clarey remembered the operation very well because he and Admiral John McCain, commander-in-chief Pacific, had followed our progress closely in daily briefings. Admiral Clarey told Mathis that he had argued vehemently in favor of having us shoot, but Admiral McCain was not convinced it would work. Instead, South Vietnamese naval forces were called in to do the job on 24 April.

The surface forces—led by a South Vietnamese destroyer escort—challenged the trawler, which hoisted a Chinese flag and an international flag signal designating they were fishing. The South Vietnamese commander was hesitant to take action because he was concerned about creating an international incident. Fortunately, we established communications with the U.S. liaison officer on board the destroyer with the UQC underwater telephone. His first question was whether we could verify this ship as our trawler. We told him, “Absolutely, this is the one without a doubt.” We then went to periscope depth to observe.

The trawler tried to convince the South Vietnamese destroyer that she was an innocent fishing vessel. We spoke once again with the liaison officer and with higher authorities and said: “We are absolutely sure that this ship came out of Hainan flying a PRC [People’s Republic of China] flag. We have tracked her 2,500 miles to this position, and in our opinion, she is a gunrunner making a run toward the border and certainly is not a fisherman. We can verify who she is, which should allow us to take whatever action is appropriate.”

As we later learned from the intercepted communication, the trawler at one point said, “I think there is a submarine out there.” This was the first indication that the trawler crew was aware of us as we coordinated with the destroyer. Based on our identification, the destroyer escort ordered the trawler to stop, and when she failed to comply, began making intimidating runs at her, finally opening fire from a standoff position with her 3-inch guns. The trawler was hit and began burning, running in a circle as if the rudder was jammed hard over. We watched through the periscope, and our crew gathered in their mess to watch on the TV monitor. Suddenly, with a thunderous roar, clearly audible through the Sculpin ‘s hull, the trawler exploded and disintegrated as its cargo detonated. Flames leaped hundreds of feet in the air, accompanied by the cheers of our crew.

At this moment, Commander Mathis asked the crew over the 1MC for a moment of silence. Enemy or not, they had perished doing their mission. Later, we were pleased to learn that 16 of the trawler crew had been rescued and they spoke Vietnamese, not Chinese. The captain and the navigator were among them and able to provide valuable intelligence about their operations. One of the few casualties was the political officer.

Our communication with command headquarters, through the loitering Orion during the urgent final search, was vital. Only later did we learn that, because of atmospheric conditions, the communications link with Saigon consisted of the P-3 aircraft on station relaying to another P-3 revving up its engines on the ground at its airbase while parked next to a phone booth. A flight crew member would run out to the phone and relay the messages between Saigon and us.

One other significant factor made the mission possible. It could only have been done by a nuclear-powered submarine. That experience gave me great admiration for the diesel-boat crews and skippers of World War II. We had more margin for error than they did because of their speed limitations owing to low battery capacity. If we made a mistake on the Sculpin , we could make it up through speed and repositioning, which couldn’t be done with a diesel boat. Certainly our speed came in handy, not only in the basic trail, trying to stay up with a ship doing 11 knots and do all the things we had to do, but also during that period when we lost them. We were able to run quickly forward, reposition up the track, and get a chance to pick them up again. But that blackout period was a low point. We had trailed the ship 2,300 miles and thought we’d lost her.

The trawler’s crew verified that their ship was a gunrunner. They had on board enough arms and ammunition to supply the Vietcong in IV Corps for at least 60 days. Her destruction thus made a significant contribution to the safety of U.S. and South Vietnamese troops in the area and set back the enemy’s military operations there.

The surviving crew was North Vietnamese. They were split up, with U.S. and South Vietnamese intelligence each interrogating half and their stories compared. It was determined that the navigator’s responses were credible because he provided interrogators with exactly the same track we plotted.

The United States learned much about the North Vietnamese at-sea resupply strategy. It also learned that the trawler crews were not elite forces that would resist until death. One engineer told of being at his station when the political officer came to the engine room hatch, told him the enemy had arrived and ordered him to stay at his post. The engineer, no doubt considering the nature of the cargo, said, “I immediately went on deck and jumped into the water.”

It was an unusual operation. We spent more time submerged inside the 100-fathom curve than any U.S. submarine since World War II. Crew training, equipment reliability, ship control, navigation, sonar, communications, propulsion plant—everything and everyone performed superbly. We could not have asked for anything more. For that operation, the Sculpin earned the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, the only U.S. submarine during the entire Vietnam War to receive that award.

The Sculpin was also nominated for the submarine combat patrol pin, and our individual awards for the combat “V.” If that had been approved, she would have been the first submarine since World War II to get the combat patrol pin. Instead, the nomination was disapproved somewhere up the chain of command. I assume it was probably rejected by a World War II submariner who thought the operation wasn’t nearly as hazardous as what he did during his war, and it didn’t measure up. I can’t argue with that, but the crew had great hope that they could proudly wear the pin for their contribution, particularly to the safety of our troops. Another consideration, however, might have been that those pins would have raised questions and possibly compromised an operation that was still classified.

We covered a huge distance in trail during that operation. Someone asked me later how I slept at night. I said, “With a pillow under my head, up against the bulkhead in case we hit something.”


Admiral Larson went on to serve on active duty for 40 years. His senior position was as commander-in-chief of all United States military forces in the Pacific. Captain Wright served 26 years on active duty. He was commanding officer of USS Puffer (SSN-652) and operations officer for Commander Submarine Group Seven. Mr. Stillwell, the former editor of Naval History and the U.S. Naval Institute Oral History Program, has written the ” Looking Back ” column since 1993.


Asia Sailor Westpac’rs Reunion

Asia Sailor Westpac’rs Reunion

By:  Garland Davis


“The most fun you’ll have with your clothes on.” – Dave McAllister

The 2016 Westpac’rs reunion was, by far, the best one yet.  This is all from my memory of events.  I will not guarantee that events are as I describe.  I was pretty shitfaced much of the time and may have been hallucinating.

I arrived in Branson two days before the official start of the reunion.  Ski picked me up at the Springfield airport as has become his custom.  I tell him we have to stop meeting this way as people will start to talk.  The one-hour trip to the Clarion Hotel was akin to coming home.  After checking in and taking a quick shower, I went to the Jungle Room, the site of our annual mayhem, where I found Mac, Kathy, and, lo and behold, a cooler of beer. Graz arrived a couple of hours after me. The afternoon and evening were spent catching up on events since last year and, of course, hoisting a number of cold ones.

Tuesday morning Mac and Kathy began setting up the memorabilia table and the table displaying the raffle prizes. I was of little help because of my “Motion Impaired” ass.  But I lent moral support by quaffing numerous Bud Lights during the evolution.  Finally, they were finished with the hard work and another afternoon and evening were spent drinking, telling jokes and sea stories.  And laughing until my sides hurt.

Wednesday saw the official start of the reunion as each arriving member was rang aboard by the quarter deck bell as they crossed the gangway.  The ringing became cacophonic as more and more Shipmates arrived.  Asia Sailors greeted old Shipmates and were introduced to others and settled down around the tables to catch up, drink beer, tell no shitters, and laugh. Ron Bay, a Shipmate I last saw forty years ago arrived.  Spent a little time catching up. A group of us stayed up all night just to make sure that breakfast was on time.  Biscuits and gravy, Yum!

Many of our shipmates added beverages to the stock of beers offered.  A number of members donated “Corn Flavored Kool-Aid’ to the festivities.  Ski brought his usual ten cases of that nectar of the Philippines, San Miguel, and Red Horse Beer.  There were a number of bottles of excellent wines donated that were probably wasted on a group with an Akadama palette.  These wines only helped to fuel Neal Hightower’s descent into winoism. Probably the cause of Neal’s trip to Kansas on the way to Branson from Texas. Mike Brenders said that Neal was navigating.  I saw Mike a couple of times between cigarettes.

By Wednesday evening, at least six tables of six or more Asia Sailors were adding to the cacophony of laughter and sea stories.  Sea stories fed on each other.  I am not going to say that anyone was stretching the truth, but I believe the old adage, “The first liar doesn’t stand a chance” may very well have applied during the week at Branson.

I met Jim Hampton also known as “Hambone.” We seemed to feed upon each other’s zaniness.  I haven’t laughed so hard in years.  Bosun Willoughby says the Navy dodged a bullet by keeping himself, Hambone, McAllister, and me off the same ship at the same time.  He is probably right.

By Thursday things kinda become a blur.  I know the fellows with the Buffalo rifles and other varied and assorted weapons went to the range to practice their shooting.  I would have gone with them, but loud noises weren’t conducive to my wellbeing by this time.  If I recall correctly, I drank Diet Dr. Pepper this day in a futile attempt to repair the damage brought on by beer and no sleep.  There were a couple of evenings when I had a good dinner and Warren and I went out for a midnight breakfast one evening.  But mostly I survived on the snacks that people contributed.  I remember that a group of us dined on Lay’s potato chips one evening.

Friday morning brought the “All Hands On Deck” show. A totally enjoyable depiction of a World War Two War Bond tour and radio show, right down to Maxwell House Coffee commercials.  This was followed by lunch at a BBQ restaurant where I enjoyed an excellent lunch with Marvin Bucholz and his lovely bride (forgive me Dear, but my excellent memory draws the line at names).  Afterward, we went back to the Jungle Room and a futile attempt to catch up with those who had been drinking all morning.  Back to the bullshit and sea stories.  A group of Asia Sailors went off for an evening of Karaoke at a local Pub.  Unfortunately, my condition was such that I had to take a nap and missed this event.  I drank instead. I think this is the evening I dined on potato chips.

A group of us did another all-nighter and went to bed after biscuits and gravy.  After about three hours napping, I went to the Jungle Room to find the party still in session.  Eventually, we moved out into another room while the hotel staff prepared the room for our dinner.  We used some time getting buffed up and dressed for the dinner and festivities.  At 1730, we lined up to be bonged aboard.  The Quarterdeck watch consisted of local Boy Scouts who announced each member as he or she crossed the gangway.  Appropriate bells were struck for each member.  The Boy Scouts also trooped the colors and led us in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.  Our thanks go out to them.

An excellent dinner was served under the supervision of Kathy McAllister and Joe Cuna.  The dinner was followed by a raffle where donated items were raffled off to raise money for the Asia Sailors Westpac’rs Association’s support of the Fisher House charity.  Entertainment was provided by the “Not Quite Right Quartet” which has anywhere from three to six members, depending upon their level of sobriety. We did a simple Happy Birthday song for the Jeepney lady, Letty Veltkamp. The quartet climaxed their show with Mac’s revision of the Bellamy Brothers hit Old Hippie rewritten as Old Sailor.  At some time during the evening, a video compiled by Mac was shown depicting many of us on liberty in Asia.

Sometime during the week, a group of the ladies, fueled by wine, painted a number of pictures.  It has been my honor each year to act as auctioneer and auction these masterpieces to their husbands.  The monies from this endeavor go to support the Wat Sa School in Thailand.  The proceeds from the auction and direct donation totaled in excess of one thousand dollars of which a thousand dollars was matched by an anonymous donor and an additional two hundred fifty dollars was donated by our shipmate Lee Thayer who lives in Thailand and administers the actual delivery of the donations to the students and the school.

I will say this about my antics as auctioneer.  I have the audience that every comedian would love to have.  A group at the height of sobriety.  I love it when I can make you laugh.

Sunday morning, the last day of the reunion was a solemn occasion.   First, Kurt Stuvengen explained the meaning of the POW/MIA table that had sat throughout the reunion and dinner. Then each member pours a tot of rum and stands respectfully as a two-bell ceremony is conducted for each who has passed on during the year since the last reunion. After the names are read and the bells struck, we toast them with the sailor’s drink of rum. I admit that I shed a few tears as the names of missing friends were read.  I also saw a number of my shipmates wiping their eyes.

The end of the Memorial Ceremony marks the end of the reunion.  Goodbyes are said as members leave, some to start the long drive home and others to rest up for the next day.  A group of us, hating to see it end, lingered drinking, talking and laughing.  Slowly people left until there was just David Mac, Kathy Mac and myself.  We officially ended the reunion at 0100, 23 May 2016.

The Asia Sailor Westpac’rs reunion will reconvene on 17 May 2017. The next one is always better than the last.

I want to take this opportunity to thank David McAllister and Kathy McAllister for all that they do and the many hours they devote to making the reunion a success.  I also wish to thank those of you who donated potables, snacks, and items for the raffle table. I also thank all of you for just being there.

See you next year!



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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.



SpV1 Barbara (Bobbe) Stuvengen

The following is a short history of Mom’s career in the United States Navy in her words. — Kurt Stuvengen

SpV1 Barbara (Bobbe) Stuvengen (December 7, 1924 ~ May 23, 2016)


My older brother by 10 years had joined the Navy when he graduated from High School and was unable to find a job because of the Depression. As a young child, I was very impressed with my “sailor brother” and the friends he brought home with him on leave. That love of the Navy has not left me to this day.

December 7, 1941, was my 17th birthday, and before the day was over we knew in our hearts that it meant America would soon enter the War. I can vividly remember making the statement that if they ever started a branch of the Navy for women, I would enlist. Of course, they did just that in July 1942, but unfortunately made the ruling that you had to be 21, or 20 with a parent’s permission before you could join. At the earliest possible moment, three months before my 20th (1) birthday, in September 1944, I took my physical and signed the papers to become a United States Navy WAVE.

My father signed for me, feeling that I must be serious, not having wavered for nearly three years, but my mother was dead set against it. In fact, she took to her bed with what we called the “vapors” for three days before I left for boot camp. My brother, who had re-enlisted earlier, was also against it, as were many people, especially the majority of servicemen. Family pride won out on that one.

I took my basic training at Hunter College in New York, and for a young, sheltered 20-year old from New England, it was a real education. As tough as it seemed at the time, I have never regretted a day of it. We had bits and pieces of training in all the fields open to women at the time, and I desperately wanted to be either a Control Tower Operator or a Link Trainer Instructor. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t even consider me because of my “strong Boston accent”. I then said, OK, but I wanted anyplace except Washington, D.C. and any job except Yeoman. Of course, because of my secretarial training and work experience, that is exactly what I did get.

I was assigned to Naval Communications and ultimately became Yeoman to the Legal Assistant to the Chief of Naval Communications. One of the more interesting assignments we had during my tenure was preparing the paperwork for the Captain, who was my boss, to give his daily presentation to the Congressional Committee which was holding hearings on how and why the Pearl Harbor disaster happened.

In due time, that Captain went on to another assignment, and his replacement was another Captain, one who had spent the entire war commanding ships at sea, so I was the first WAVE he had ever had under his command. He was a wonderful man to work for, and soon adapted himself to dealing with a “woman sailor”.

One of the most popular assignments for WAVES was that of Flight Orderly with Naval Air Transport. Because of that, the billets were filled quickly. When we enlisted we enlisted for the “duration and six months”, and when the war was over, it was first in and first out on a point basis. Because of this Flight Orderlies were among the first to go, and the ranks thinned quickly. Those of us who were lower on the release list were given the opportunity, by testing, to go to F.O. School at Patuxent River, Maryland for six weeks, and were then sent to the various squadrons. My assignment was Moffett Field, California, and for the rest of my tour, I flew between Moffett and Honolulu. This was great duty. Our flight schedules were erratic – sometimes we would fly over and fly back again 8 hours later. At other times, we would have several days layover and were able to spend time sightseeing and swimming off the sunny beaches.

I was released in June of 1947. I went back to my home in Massachusetts to visit my family, but soon returned to San Francisco, and went to work for Standard Oil Company of California. I stayed in the Reserves until 1949 and then took my discharge. In November of 1956, I met my husband, who was in the Naval Reserve (he finally retired in 1986 as a Chief Boatswain’s Mate, with 43 years of service). I then rejoined and we served in the same unit at Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco. We were married in 1957 and our first son was born in 1959. In those days, of course, we were automatically discharged when we became pregnant.

In 1965, we moved to my husband’s hometown in Wisconsin, and both became active in The American Legion. Over the years, I have served as Post Commander, State Historian for 10 years, and National Historian for 1996-97.


Bobbe…We wish you fair winds and following seas, deep green water under your bow, your main rifles trained in the posture of peace and a gentle breeze at your stern. — Garland Davis






By:  Jim Barton

For nearly 3 weeks we had been attacking installations along the North Vietnamese coast with essentially no air cover. On April 23rd, we had gotten the word that carrier aircraft had severely damaged a North Vietnamese coastal freighter which was partially aground in somewhere between Ha Thien and Dong Hoi well south of Vinh. The ship was loaded with weapons material and its cargo was a priority target.

The recomposed northern SAG was tasked by COMSEVENTHFLT to go finish the job and destroy the waterborne logistics craft (WBLCs) which were offloading from it. This was a job better left to aircraft we thought as we closed the coast without air cover in daylight. It was a three ship mission.

In a line abreast with USS Benjamin Stoddert (DDG-22) in the center, USS Hamner (DD-718) to its starboard side at 1000 yards and USS George K. Mackenzie (DD-836) to port at the same distance, we approached the coast for the mission. It was a very clear morning, free of the usual dust and smoke which normally filled the air. Firing was to commence at a range of five miles but we were to approach the coast as close as two miles. We wanted to see what we were killing.

The plan called for Stoddert as the point shooter to begin firing on the way in with Hamner and Mackenzie watching for counter-battery fire and engaging, we were then to simultaneously execute a turn south at the two-mile point while Stoddert continued to fire. This was slightly different than the tactic we had used from previous raids. The idea was to maximize rounds against the WBLCs and then get out. In this area, there were no known coastal artillery fixed sites so approaching that close was a risk the OTC was willing to take.

I had the Deck and simply suited up with my flak jacket and helmet as we went to General Quarters as I was also the GQ OOD.

Digressing a bit, by now “Duke” had been stenciled on my flak jacket. This came from an earlier incident, my first in evasive maneuvers when encountering enemy incoming. “In Harm’s Way”, a John Wayne flick, was one of my all-time Navy movies. After Pearl Harbor and aboard the old sway back, John Wayne told the OOD to evade enemy incoming by steering for the last splash. This resonated with me I suppose.

On the way out of an earlier run at Vinh, we were encountering incoming and I broke from the zig-zag and steered for the last splash. The next one hit where the previous one had hit close aboard. The CO asked me what in the H*ll I was doing. I of course mentioned “In Harm’s Way” and the John Wayne tactic. A nervous chuckle came from bridge watch personnel when the Skipper yelled the H*ll with John Wayne and get back to your random weave. Lesson learned. Never again. But next GQ, the stencil was on my flak jacket and it was there to stay. I was now Duke.

On the way in on this raid, Stoddert commenced firing as planned with her forward 5″/54 gun in rapid fire at the surface contacts. Upon direction from Stoddert and not receiving any hostile fire, Hamner and Mackenzie followed suit each firing from the forward gun mounts as well at the WBLCs. There were lots of rounds exploding in and around the target area with good effect.

From my position on the Bridge, I noted about four minutes into the mission what appeared to be dust in an area along a hillside just north of the target area and from another to the south. It was a hilly area and it looked as though dust was coming from a couple notches in the hills. The signalmen and lookouts reported it as well. We were pretty close to the beach by now. WBLCs were scattering everywhere, what was left of them anyway. Lots of smoke filled the target area from the WBLCs and the freighter now pretty much ablaze.

As I tried to discern what this strange “dust” was with my binoculars it instantly dawned on me what we were dealing with as I made out shapes in the notches. We are talking literally seconds. I alerted the Captain that this was not dust at all; but rather smoke from discharging coastal artillery firing in the direction of the formation. The Signalmen using the Big Eyes confirmed it as well. They were 4-5 mobile artillery pieces apparently positioned to provide protection for the WBLCs and grounded freighter, and they were now firing at our formation from locations north and south of the target area. We called out counterbattery shifting from the primary targets and engaged the southernmost artillery. Hamner did as well to the north.

Immediately, I observed several splashes in close proximity to Stoddert. And suddenly from my location position less than a half mile on the port beam of Stoddert, I watched three rounds land near Stoddert, and one incoming round penetrated Stoddert’s port bow obliterating the second painted “2”. A signal came up from the OTC over secure voice and we were ordered to withdraw at high speed and execute a zig-zag. Mackenzie was initially blocked from firing counter-battery by Stoddert. Hamner began its turn and commenced firing with its aft gun mount toward the north. Rather than hauling out abeam of the smoking Stoddert, the OTC directed us to provide covering fire for Stoddert and Hamner as we were now closest to the target area. I ordered a turn to starboard and we rolled in behind Stoddert as it turned away to the southeast on the egress course with smoke billowing from the hole in the bow. Hamner was on Stoddert’s port beam by now also running a zig-zag but also firing. As we passed behind Stoddert and Hamner, we drew fire from the artillery. Although damaged, Stoddert continued to fire at the WBLCs on the way out. We were now northernmost ship with clear firing bearings at all the coastal artillery.

Now in a good position to provide cover fire, we concentrated with both barrels each from our forward and aft gun mounts at the artillery ashore with some effect. This was direct fire controlled from the Director but if I am not mistaken initially both gun mounts initially engaged using mount-controlled local fire. Bags Baggett can confirm or deny that one. Then we began our own egress. At high speed on the way out the mounts were under Director control. I was too busy to pay attention to the details of the guns as I was busy conning the ship.

Although I turned the ship away from the coast and commenced a weave at high speed, we were able to keep Mount 51 out of the stops and bring it to bear on the targets. As the closest unit to the action now, most of the incoming was being directed at us with numerous splashes aft ahead and on each beam. Unlike the area near Vinh, there were few fishing stakes to avoid and the accuracy of the coastal artillery while close aboard and intense was not accurate. As we were executing the egress first to the northeast and eventually east-southeast to catch up with Stoddert and Hamner, the volume of incoming rounds, however, was high. I spied a number of fishing vessels ahead of me, so I steamed directly through them. In doing so, the artillery ceased fire long enough for us to adjust away from the coast at high speed. We were clear of hostile fire except for a few rounds.

The three ships proceeded to the holding area off the coast and Stoddert began making repairs to its bow. I watched into the evening the light of welding torches at work in Stoddert. The shell struck Stoddert forward in the windlass room. Although it was put out quickly, the resulting fire destroyed a medical storeroom and the degaussing cable requiring repairs by ship’s force. Thankfully no one was killed. Stoddert continued with her mission and later that night the three of us refueled and rearmed.

Around noon the next day (24th of April), Mackenzie was detached from the SAG to proceed independently to join USS Long Beach (CGN-9) for PIRAZ Shotgun duties in the Tonkin Gulf well north of 19 degrees Latitude for a few days. While this was serious work as well, to many of us the break in action almost seemed like a vacation of sorts.

We would soon return to Freedom Train/Linebacker as this was non-stop action against the north. We were now past the time we were supposed to have headed home from WESTPAC. Three more months would pass before we actually returned to San Diego.
The point of all of this is that daytime destroyer missions without air cover was foolhardy. We finally figured it all out. But nighttime strikes were hazardous as well.


The author is a retired career US Navy Surface Warfare Officer whose assignments at sea include duty in all Line Departments in the Destroyer and Auxiliary Forces up to and including command of a Frigate. Ashore he served in key national policy positions on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations.





By:  Garland Davis


They say the best ships a sailor serves in are his last one and his next one.  How many times have you departed a ship feeling the anticipation of something new? A new challenge awaits.  Your old ship has become monotonous and a grind and you find yourself glad to put it behind you.  Even as your stride lengthens when you walk away, you feel an underlying regret to be leaving.  There are men, and, I suppose in our new, ever changing Navy, women with whom you have shared some rough seas and hard times and some of the best of times.  You are going to miss them.  But this time, you will keep in touch.

But you eventually lose track. As the years and water pass under the keel, you forget names and which ship.  You remember the good times.  You’ll start a sea story with, “Me and this fucking Radioman, damned if I can remember his name…” all too often.  You’ll tell stories about sailors from other ships that you met in the bars and clubs.  Guys who know some of the same people you know.  You never served together but now you are shipmates.

Finally, you reach the end of your run and retire to a civilian life that you have no fucking conception of.  It is more strange to you than boot camp was when you first enlisted.  You had seen the movies and TV shows and had some idea of what to expect.  Coming into civilian life as an adult, a civilian life that you had only lived in as a kid is a fucking traumatic experience.

It  brings to mind to an old joke.  A Marine Sergeant Major, the epitome and recruiting poster picture of the perfect Marine reaches retirement.  After the retirement ceremony, he dresses in a three-piece suit as a successful civilian does and departs the base.  A few months later one of his subordinate Sergeants meets him on the street.  He is appalled at the Sergeant Major’s appearance.  The once perfect Marine is unshaven, ungroomed, dressed in wrinkled clothing, has shaky hands, and is scurrying along the street looking around as if he had seen a ghost or something was chasing him.

The Sergeant asked, “Sergeant Major, what in the world has happened to you?  You were the perfect Marine.  What happened to change you?”

The Sergeant Major replies, “You know, there ain’t nobody in fucking charge out here!”

Then there is the story of a thirty-year sailor who retired to a job in manufacturing.  The fourth day he reported to work, his boss intercepted him and asked, “Hartman, this is the fourth day you have been late for work.  What did they say to you in the Navy when you came into the office ten minutes late every day?”

Hartman said, “They always said, ‘Good morning, Master Chief.’”

But we move on and adapt to civilian life.  Those of us lucky enough to live near an old shipmate or another serviceman, Navy, Army, Marine Corps, it really doesn’t matter have a tenuous connection to the past.  A spark of the old life is there.  Of course, we make civilian friends, but they are not friends on the level that our shipmates and those we called shipmate were.

We often sat around and wondered, “What happened to Old So and So?” But we really had no way of tracking them down.  All one could do was reminisce and wonder.

And then came the Information Revolution and the information Super Highway. Some of us embraced it and others had to be dragged kicking and screaming, yelling, “fucking computers.” There was a miraculous web of electrons where we could communicate via e-mail.  Later came the social sites.  Bulletin boards where those with similar beliefs and experiences could connect.  There were search sites where you could search for individuals.  Slowly we reconnected with a few people.  Then FaceBook exploded on the scene. You could join a group call Tin Can Sailors, or The Majestic and Ancient Order of Shit River and there he was, “Old Shit for Brains”, whom you had spent many hours thinking about, laughing about, and missing.  And he knew where one or two other old shipmates were.  You slowly reconnected with old shipmates and made friends with others who had been there and did the things you did albeit in different ships or at a slightly different time. It was as if the twenty or thirty years hadn’t passed. You built a group from the old life. You even discovered that one of your old shipmates retired in the next town over, an hour’s drive away.

The military sites and Facebook groups are rife with reunion announcements, places, dates and etc.  More and more, old shipmates are driving halfway across the country to spend time with an old shipmate and going to the ships and unit reunions.  Telephone plans are such that you can call anywhere in the country at no extra cost.  Old sailors call other old sailors across the country and talk as if they lived within blocks of each other.

In 2012/2013, five of us started the Asia Sailor website and Facebook group.  I don’t believe any of us served in the same command, but we had served together in Asia at relatively the same time period.  I am in Hawaii, one was in the Ozarks, one in Florida, one in California, and our webmaster is in Thailand.  Using e-mails and the messaging capability of Facebook, we conceptualized and launched the Asia Sailor Westpac’ers Association website and Facebook group. Each entity has in excess of four hundred members.

Barely four months after launching the website, we held our first annual Westpac’rs reunion in April 2013 at the Clarion Hotel in Branson, MO.  For such a quickly planned and put together reunion, everyone agreed that it was an unqualified success. In May of both 2014 and 2015, the reunions were repeated with an overwhelming response.  Shipmates from as far as Japan have attended the past two years and are expected again this year.

This will be the last post in my Blog until May 24th.  I leave Honolulu this afternoon for Chicago and on to Branson.  I will return from Branson with new stories about the reunion, the events and the antics of my shipmates and myself when I resume posting.

While I am away I invite you to go through the menus and read earlier posts.

This was posted earlier in the Blog.  It is a poem I wrote after the 2013 reunion:


The Weight of Our Years

By: Garland Davis


For a time, the old men would tell of years and wars past…

Stories and laughter among a forest of empty bottles

scattered in a graceless pack across the table.


Rain filled the darkness outside the window,

and the tables filled with memorabilia abetted the

desperation with which they yearned for those long gone days.


Reluctant to leave the companionship, once again

found for a few days at the spring reunion

and held close in that bitter pall of tomorrow’s leaving.


But, the thrill of our shared derangement, and stories

true and not that evoked both joy at remembering

and sadness, knowing that one cannot go back.


The old men remain, with their lives caving in around them,

crushed by the weight of years and lost among memories and bottles.



To follow Tales of an Asia Sailor and get e-mail notifications of new posts, click on the three white lines in the red rectangle above, then click on the follow button.  To see a menu of previously published articles, click on the three white lines in the red rectangle above.

A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.




Higher Education

Higher Education

By: Garland Davis


I completed High School before enlisting in the Navy.  I always felt that the greatest benefit I gained from school was a love of books. My grandmother taught me to read and write before I started elementary school.  I couldn’t begin to count the number of books I have read since 1951 when I discovered them. I wasn’t really interested in education in my youth.  Fortunately for me, I never had difficulty remembering information that I read or heard from the teacher in the classroom.  From a very early age, I wanted the Navy.  That was my childhood goal which I attained at the age of seventeen.

At the time I enlisted, the Navy had a program for high school graduates. They were enlisted at paygrade High School Seaman (HSSN).  Which basically meant that I would leave boot camp as an SN instead of SA.  I went into the Navy as an SN (E-3) instead of Seaman Recruit. After fifteen years in the Navy, I decided to take advantage of the on-base programs to go to college.  Within three years I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management with credits earned through classroom work and the CLEP Program.  After spending eight years afloat on forward deployed ships in Japan I returned to Pearl harbor for a twilight tour, I decided to study for a Master Degree.  I earned an MBA before I retired from the Navy.

After retiring, I took a position as a middle manager for a fast food company.  The company had a program that would pay fifty percent of the tuition for managers who were pursuing a Master’s Degree and would repay the manager for his portion of the tuition upon receiving the degree.  The PR Department approved my request to study for a second Master’s Degree.  I took that degree in History.

At the time I took the last Master’s I thought my educational endeavors were finished. But, about three years ago, I decided to take some courses in English and Writing in an effort improve my writing abilities.  I signed up with a New England University that has an excellent online program.  The counselor who interviewed me by phone encouraged me to provide transcripts and select a degree program.  I explained that I was sixty-nine years old and just wanted to take a few courses and wasn’t interested in another degree.  She then started telling me about all the financial assistance available.  I assured her that I would pay for my courses.  She rather reluctantly enrolled me in an undergrad course in creative writing and poetry.

I did well in the course and enrolled in a graduate level course in literature and after that a grad course in creative writing.  When I attempted to enroll in another course, I was informed that before I could take more courses, I would have to provide transcripts and enroll in a degree program.  That, I guess, is the end of further education. I want to take the courses that appeal to me, not to fill some niche toward another useless degree.

I have heard it said that attaining college degrees demonstrates one’s perseverance and devotion to the goal of gaining the degree.  I was thinking that since I am eaten up with ADHD, obtaining the levels of education that I have must really show that perseverance.

Here I sit with almost as many degrees as a thermometer.  Looking back on attaining these educational milestones, I realized that I got much more satisfaction each time I completed a course for advancement, was actually advanced, and graduating as the honor man in the “CS B” school and in the BEQ Managers course. Each of these courses and schools helped me in the Navy.  I cannot say that anything I learned in business school benefited my Navy career at all.

I knew a Third Class Musician with a PHD in Music.  That level of education didn’t improve his ability to play the trumpet and clarinet.  He left the Navy after one tour and ended up driving a long haul truck.  I knew a Captain who went on to Rear Admiral with a degree in Preservation and Forestry.  I doubt that it helped him fly fighters during WWII and jet aircraft during the Korean War.

A number of years ago a Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy proposed that educational achievements become a requirement for advancement to the upper enlisted grades.  The proposal suggested that to be advanced to E-6 an Associate’s Degree would be required; for E-7 a Bachelor’s Degree would be required; for E-8 a Master’s Degree would be required; for E-9 progress toward a Doctorate would be necessary.  Here, I deliberately neglected to use the terms Chief, Senior Chief, and Master Chief.

A group of us, all retired Chiefs, Senior Chief, and Master Chiefs, were having a couple of cool ones in my neighbor’s garage and discussing this.  The consensus of the group was that none of us would have made the Navy a career.  A retired Master Chief who had served thirty years in the submarine force and had been the Chief of the Boat (COB) on two separate submarines, as well as Command Master Chief in a Submarine Squadron remarked, “What the hell will a PHD do for me in a submarine. I already have a PHD.  I spent thirty years in submarines. I already have a PHD. A PHD in submarines.”

I believe the sailor and the Navy probably benefits more from deckplate training of Officers and Enlisted persons in their professional and military duties instead of demanding higher degrees of educational achievement in disciplines that, more often than not, have no relevance to his Navy duty requirements.



To follow Tales of an Asia Sailor and get e-mail notifications of new posts, click on the three white lines in the red rectangle above, then click on the follow button.  To see a menu of previously published articles, click on the three white lines in the red rectangle above.

A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.