By Captain M. W. Newman ’71, USN (Ret.)
The old salts say that the two best ships in the Navy are your last ship and your next ship, but you never forget your first ship. My first ship was USS GOLDSBOROUGH (DDG 20), out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. She had something less than a stellar reputation within the Pineapple Fleet, and her sailors liked it that way. They spoke with pride of the day, in-port Pearl, when a torpedo was fired into the Navy Exchange Mobile Canteen. On liberty, GOLDSBOROUGH sailors had an attitude. They could bitch about the ship all day long; but let some sailor off another ship say one disparaging word, and all hell broke loose. GOLDSBOROUGH was, in many ways, a junkyard dog; and all who sailed in her loved her for it.
We often referred to our ship as DDG 20.5 because for several years, GOLDSBOROUGH was on a deployment rotation with USS COCHRANE (DDG 21). When one would come home from Vietnam, she would crossdeck all of her gun ammunition and spare parts, half her Gunner’s Mates and half her Boilermen to the other who then would leave for WestPac. GOLDSBOROUGH made seven cruises to Vietnam in the eight and one half years between November 1964 and May 1973. On her third cruise she fired over 10,000 rounds of Naval Gunfire Support (NGFS) while avoiding over 800 rounds of hostile fire. I don’t know who was counting the incoming. The ship and its crew were awarded a Navy Unit Commendation. I was onboard for WestPac numbers six and seven between August 1971 and May 1973. On my second cruise, we also fired over 10,000 rounds of NGFS and were awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation. Nobody counted the hostile fire except for the one round that hit us the night of 19 December 1972.
Before the ship left on cruise, I had been relieved as DCA by Fast Ed Snyder and was designated to become the Navigator after ASW Air Controller School in San Diego. I was thrilled to be going to the mainland and missing the long transit to WestPac. However, about the time I got to my school, the news reported that Secretary of State Kissinger was in Paris negotiating with the North Vietnamese. I realized that peace could break out at any moment, and I still didn’t have any hero medals! As soon as the school was over, I dashed up to Travis AFB for a flight to the Philippines. From there, I hoped to get out to my ship on the gunline. At Travis, I fell in with a First Lieutenant of Marines with orders to be XO of the Marine Detachment in the carrier MIDWAY. We had all manner of adventures working our way across the Pacific, but that’s another story.
I was lowered onto the fantail of GOLDSBOROUGH from a helo in early November. The ship had already been in several gun battles with North Vietnamese shore batteries because President Nixon had ordered a resumption of Linebacker Operations. These ops involved air and naval bombardment of targets in the north to encourage/pressure the Communist to negotiate in good faith at the Paris Peace Talks.
Relieving as Navigator, my General Quarters station was now on the bridge where I had a great view of all the goings on. During my first cruise, we had received only random fire from the beach and never had the chance to engage the shooter. Now we were conducting multi-ship raids along the coast of North Vietnam, and the enemy had all manner of gun emplacements defending the very same places we wanted to blow up. Our raids always took place at night. We would form up with one or more destroyers just before dark, steam north at high speed until we were abreast of our target. On signal, we would turn together toward the beach, charge in as close as we dared for fear of running aground, turn again parallel to the beach, unmasking all gun mounts, and cut our speed in half. All ships would fire on their designated target(s) and any shore batteries that might try to engage us, then declare victory and withdraw at high speed to deep water.
My first night raid, I was thrilled with the light show from the beach. The muzzle-flashes and tracers were as good as any Fourth of July spectacular. The next night, they started shooting as soon as we turned toward the beach; and we drove well into their range before we got to our next turn point. When the near-misses started to splash water on the pilothouse windows and shrapnel began to ping off the bulkheads, I suddenly realized these guys were trying to kill ME! I lost all concern for hero medals, and began to think maybe I would be better off with Fast Eddie down in DC Central where I had spent the first cruise. Then I learned that the snipes were listening to the concussion of the close-aboard shell bursts against the ship’s sides, BELOW the waterline. This was more adventure than I had bargained for, but we kept doing it almost every night.
On the evening of 19 December 1972, we left our holding area with the destroyers HOEL and SHELTON heading for an area further north than we had ever been before. Our targets were on a bay, and we would have to pass a small island at the entrance to the bay going in and coming out. The enemy gun emplacements were on that island. We slipped by them on the way in, but they were wide awake when we tried to slip back out. GOLDSBOROUGH was the closest ship to the island so the NVA gunners concentrated their fire on us. We had all four boilers on the line and were doing over thirty knots. Shells were splashing all around us, and the Captain kept ordering course changes to drive through the last splash. I never knew if that was standard procedure for such situations, but I would have preferred for him to just run a straight line and get us the hell out of there as fast as possible.
Suddenly, we heard a shell burst and felt a slight shudder through the deck. The report came up from weapons control that we had been hit in the after part of the ship around mount 52. Damage Control Central reported fires in the Repair III area but had lost communications with the repair locker. Repair V, in the center section of the ship, was sending investigators out to locate the damage and to assist Repair III as required.
After what seemed like an eternity, the picture started to clear up. We had been hit by a large caliber shell. It had struck the top of mount 52 and put a significant crease in the gun shield before it hit the deck just forward of the mount and exploded. A five foot hole was blown in the 0-1 level deck inflicting heavy damage to the after chiefs’ berthing compartment directly below. Tragically, the lounge area of that berthing was where the Repair III locker leader set up his command post. The explosion killed Senior Chief Hull Technician Donald A. Dix, BM1 Robert M. Dow, mortally wounded HT2 Gary L. Boyce and severely injured HT2 Gordon Sundby. Despite his wounds, Petty Officer Sundby rallied the surviving members of his repair locker and extinguished the fires and isolated the damaged electrical circuits with the help of Repair V.
As we continued to run south at full speed, a helo from one of the carriers came over to medivac Petty Officers Boyce and Sundby. With some dramatic airmanship, they were lifted up from the 0-1 level deck between mount 52 and the missile launcher. The pilot actually steadied himself by resting one of his main landing gear wheels on the damaged gun shield of MT-52. Petty Officer Boyce was taken on to the Air Force Hospital at Clark Field where he died of his wounds. Petty Officer Sundby stayed on the carrier where he met up with his brother and received his Purple Heart Medal from the Secretary of the Navy who happened to be passing by for a visit. He did eventually get back to the ship, and we were all happy to see him again. My good friend Jim Lloyd had the gruesome task of putting Senior Chief Dix and Petty Officer Dow into body-bags and storing them in the freezers. It was a long night for everyone.
As the sun was coming up, we entered Da Nang harbor and anchored. The HT’s welded a two-inch thick metal patch over the gaping hole in the 0-1 level aft, and we got under way again as soon as they finished. What we did not know was that on the same night we were hit, the Air Force lost a B-52 over Hanoi so we made the evening news back home. This caused much concern for many of our loved ones including my mother and my future bride, Miss Nancy Poteet. It would be over a week before I got ashore in Sasebo, Japan to call them and tell them I was unhurt.
We joined up with the destroyers RICHARD E. KRAUS and HENRY B. TUCKER after leaving Da Nang, and the three of us conducted more raids on the 21st and 22nd of December. Finally, on Christmas Eve, we detached and headed for the repair facility in Sasebo. That Christmas at sea was a sober and solemn occasion for all of us who were thankful just to be alive. We arrived in Sasebo on the 28th and stayed through the first week of January 1973. Several wives had flown out from Hawaii so New Year’s Eve was a most festive event at the Sasebo Officers’ Club, The Town Club. We almost lost Piggy Lloyd in a freak fire ax incident, but that’s another story.
By 11 January, we were back on station just north of the DMZ engaging targets along the coast. We resumed night raids on the 13th, 18th, 19th and 25th of January with the destroyers RATHBURNE and KING. On the afternoon of Saturday, 27 January, we were waiting in our holding area for nightfall when we would head north to restrike the area where we had been hit on 19 December. The day was rainy and overcast, and everyone was quietly making preparations for the night’s work. I was on watch on the bridge when the Captain and XO came into the pilothouse and asked the Boatswain’s Mate of the Watch to pipe “attention all hands” on the 1MC announcing system. The Captain then took the microphone and told us all that a cease fire had been agreed to in Paris, effective 08:00 Sunday, 28 January. Our raid for that night was cancelled, and we were to move out to sea and rendezvous with the carrier battle group.
I was overcome with relief and joy. I truly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I tried my best not to do either until the Captain and XO had left the bridge, then the entire watch team did lots of both. Minutes later, the clouds literally parted; and we were treated to the most magnificent sunset I had ever seen before or since.
The war was essentially over for us after that. We had a change of command in Manila in February, went to Singapore and crossed The Line in March and then did some more NGFS in the Mekong Delta area (from anchor!). We went back to Japan in April and arrived in Pearl Harbor in May.
The ship’s crest for USS GOLDSBOROUGH was the family coat of arms from Rear Admiral Louis Malesherbes Goldsborough, a Union Navy hero. It showed a pelican sitting on a shield with the family motto on a scroll beneath, “Non Sibi.” A large, solid brass ship’s crest was mounted on the door to the Captain’s in-port cabin. It was the responsibility of the wardroom mess cooks to keep the crest highly polished, and they never failed in that duty. One morning many weeks after 19 December, the new CO, Commander (later Vice Admiral) Walter T. Piotti, came out of his cabin to find a mess cook hard at work on the crest. As it happened, this young sailor had reported aboard just before 19 December and had experienced everything. He greeted the Captain and requested permission to ask a question. Captain Piotti said, “Sure.” The sailor asked, “Does ‘Non Sibi’ really mean ‘no shit.’” The Captain gave him the only answer a GOLDSBOROUGH sailor could ever give, “You bet your sweet ass it does!”
P.S. USS GOLDSBOROUGH had a long and illustrious career after I detached in July 1974. She was finally decommissioned and stricken from the naval record on 29 April 1993. She was sold to the Royal Australian Navy as a parts hulk for their fleet of guided missile destroyers.