Chinese Island Bases in the South China Sea

Chinese Island Bases in the South China Sea

Nothing New

By Jim Barton

The ghosts of Christmas past! In February 1972 when I was Operations officer aboard USS George K. MacKenzie (DD-836) we trailed a Chinese intelligence trawler to the Paracel Islands in the vicinity of Lincoln Island. We observed a lot of activity on the island, likely the first instance of occupying this and other places.

From the photo in the article looks like even more activity today.

Vietnam and China had armed conflict over these places. Looks like the Chinese have prevailed. Maybe we should have done something about it 46 years ago. We might be a little late to the party.

The ship was in Hong Kong when the intercept order came out. They had earlier passed close to the Philippines having come from the Malaysian Peninsula. After calculating the trawler position and projected course and speed aided by intelligence, we made a high-speed transit to Subic Bay, refueled and intercepted the trawler right where we calculated we would.

And these are the days before satellites. Really good celestial navigation (LORAN, in my opinion, was useless).

In transit to the Gulf of Tonkin for operations on Yankee Station or to our NGFS stations along the coast, we always gave this area a wide berth. Too many shoals. What was interesting about this transit is that the Chinese trawler made a beeline for Lincoln Island and passed over the Macclesfield Bank which is an underwater area of sunken atolls and reefs. They obviously knew the area better than we did. As they passed over it we circled around it and kept them on radar. We picked them up again between the Bank and the island.

After observing them for awhile, the trawler got underway again. We were directed to follow them even though we recommended staying close to Lincoln Island. They headed toward and through the Bank. This time we trailed them keeping a close watch on the fathometer and hoping our charts were accurate… After a day of this, they returned to Lincoln and anchored there was a large sailing junk which the Chinese used for resupply. There was lots of activity ashore. Ultimately we were relieved on station by long-range maritime patrol aircraft operating out of Cubi Point. We departed and headed to Yankee Station for plane guard duties. Soon after the Easter Offensive of 1972 began.

Our operation was highly classified at the time. I have omitted details respecting that even though 46 years have passed and our navigational positions are available from the Deck Logs.

My point at the outset was to show that the occupation of the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands have been a long process. The Chinese had a presence there even before this but they began to consolidate control over an area which they see as their territorial sea. Except for the South Vietnamese who fought a battle and lost with the Chinese in 1974, there has been no attempt to forcibly try to remove the Chinese. It will never happen now. We do not have the presence anymore and the others who claim the islands are too weak to mount a challenge. Some of these installations and port complexes are literally fortresses not unlike what the Japanese were doing throughout WWII.


Labor Unions

Labor Unions

By Garland Davis

A conversation about unions reminded me of a story told me by a shipmate. His name was Jack and he was from my hometown. A few years older than me. We knew some of the same people but had never met before the Navy.

Jack was on his second tour. He worked on the flight line driving the yellow gear and moving aircraft. He had taken a discharge after his first tour and returned to Winston-Salem. He was lucky enough to get a job with the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. He worked on the loading docks, driving a forklift, loading cigarettes into rail cars and unloading paper and packaging material for the rolling lines.

Now, in the fifties and sixties, a job with RJR was the epitome of success in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. High school graduates considered themselves fortunate if they were hired by the company. Many people spent their entire working life dealing with making and selling cigarettes.

I asked Jack why he left and came back in the Navy if he had such a good, well-paying job. He told me it was because of the union. He had joined the union because it was required by the agreement with the company.

He said, almost from the beginning, he was cautioned by his fellow workers for working too fast or too hard. They were loading a string of boxcars. There were only four pallets left when the lunch bell rang. He said he went ahead and loaded the final car before lunch. The rail workers buttoned up the train and moved it out and moved a new string of cars in. The Union steward and his fellow workers gave him hell. If he had stopped for lunch and loaded the car afterward, they wouldn’t have had any work while the cars were moved out and another string of cars moved in.

He said the unwritten rule was only a certain number of cars were loaded or unloaded per day. They worked at a speed that supported that number.

He told me on his day off he went to the recruiter and reenlisted. He returned to the job to quit and tell the union steward and his fellow workers to go fuck themselves.

BTW, he retired as a Master Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate.


No Pearl necklace

No Pearl necklace…

By Brion Boyles

When I was a young lad in the Navy, I was engaged to a Japanese girl named Hitomi… a bargirl in my ship’s homeport of Sasebo, Japan. She had a crush on some obscure German rock guitarist and had her room completely plastered with his posters. I had never heard of him… Michael Schenker? Anyways, fast-forward … I had been at sea for about a year away from Hitomi, and my ship had dropped anchor at Pattaya, Thailand, for some well-deserved R n’R before heading home to Sasebo. On our first day in Pattaya, shipmate Chuck Fisher and I were riding in a Thai version of a jeepney… just him, me and some long-haired, blonde guy with two Thai hookers. He was dressed head-to-toe in black leather (it was at least 95 degrees F), sweating like a fountain and obviously drunk off his ass, but he looked familiar and I told Chuck so. Anyways, we got off the jeepney at a bar and spent the rest of the day carousing the streets…until we found ourselves in a live music joint around midnight. THERE, again, was the leather dude… half-passed out, at the table in front of us.
After a few beers, the bar-owner climbed onstage, grabbed the microphone and announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a surprise guest here, who has agreed to play for us! Please welcome….Mr. MICHAEL SCHENKER!”

Well, to my surprise, this clown got up and beat a guitar for a few minutes… and then fell off the stage. They brought him back to his table of hookers, and I mustered up the nerve to ask him for an autograph. I didn’t have anything to write on… nothing but my beer-soaked tab. I told him about Hitomi and how thrilled she’d be to have a personal note. He scribbled something illegible on the tab like “Tnks, Hmito!” and signed it… again, illegibly.
I stuffed it into my wallet and thought “What are the chances?!?!? Run into THIS loser guy, of all guys, and TWICE in the same day!”

I wrote and told Hitomi I had a very special gift for her… I think she was hoping for pearls or something….and when we arrived back in Sasebo a few weeks later I pulled the wrinkled, stained beer-tab out of my wallet and said, “Here’s a personal autograph…from MICHAEL SCHENKER!”
She gave me the look of Death and threw it in the trash.
Not too sure if I was lying or not, she later retrieved it… but she ended up marrying some lieutenant who gave her a diamond ring the size of an ashtray…

Postscript: Apparently, Michael Schenker was in the bands “UFO” and “The Scorpions”, as well as having his own “Michael Schenker Group”…and known as “a legendary figure in the world of rock guitar”…

I still have no idea who he is.


In Memoriam

In Memoriam

This Memorial Day. An ever-growing list.

John Doe ― Died of a gunshot fighting the British during the siege of Fort Schuyler next to the Mohawk River, New York in the war of Independence. 1777. Plus 4,434 others.

John Doe ― Captured by Barbary Pirates off Libya and was executed in a Tripoli prison after a year of imprisonment prior to being sold into slavery during the First Barbary War. 1802. Plus 33 others.

John Doe ― Killed by flying debris when USS Lawrence was destroyed by British cannon in the Battle of Lake Erie. 1813. Plus 2,259 others.

John Doe ― Was one of the first to die in the battle of San Jacinto against Santa Ana’s Forces in the war with Mexico. 1836. Plus 13,282 others

John Doe ― Killed by a Rebel sharpshooter at Gettysburg while attempting to preserve the Union. 1865. Plus 828,000 others.

John Doe ― Killed by a Yankee cavalryman’s sword thrust at Manassas while fighting for his State’s rights. Plus 864,000 others.

John Doe ― Killed by Sioux arrows while attached to Lt. Col. Custer’s 7th Cavalry in one of over 40 Western Expansion wars. Plus 19,000 white and 30,000 native Americans

John Doe ― Killed in the explosion aboard USS Maine while she was tied up in Havana Harbor, Cuba. 1898. Plus 2,445 others

Jane Doe ― Died in a French church which was shelled by German artillery as she tended to the wounded in World War One. Plus 116,515 others.

John Doe ― Killed when USS Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese torpedo. Can’t determine if his death was due to explosion, drowning, or sharks in World War 2. Plus 405,398 others.

John Doe ― Killed in defense of the Chosin Reservoir in Korea against the Communist North and their Chinese Allies. Plus 54,245 others

John Doe ― Killed in his bunk in the truck bombing of the barracks by the ‘Islamic Jihad’ in Beirut. 1983. Plus 265 others.

John Doe ― Killed while on Operation Silver Bullet in the Battle of the Ia Drang during the early days of the war in Vietnam. 1964. Plus 58,208 others

John Doe ― Killed during the capture of Panama City Airport, Panama. 1989. Plus 39 others

John Doe ― Killed on rescue Mission in Grenada, West Indies. 1983. Plus 18 others

John Doe ― Killed in Baghdad, Iraq during the Iraq War. 1991. Plus 1,564 others.

John Doe ― Killed on a rescue mission in Bosnia. 1997. Plus 11 others

Jane Doe ― Killed when her Humvee was struck by a roadside IED in Afghanistan. 2003. Plus 2,356 others so far.

John and Jane Doe ― Killed during the “Peace Time” of the Cold War. Plus 19,955 others killed in obscure, unremembered actions during the history of our country 1945 – 1991

That’s a total of more than 2,423,291 so far. This doesn’t include the ‘secret’ actions engaged in during the Cold War where other lives were lost, never to be spoken of truthfully.

That’s enough to populate a city the size of Houston, Texas, plus Orlando, Florida.

It’s something to think about while you grill your burgers and hot dogs.


The Line


As Memorial Day approaches, I know that all of us will be busy with tributes, ceremonies and parades of honor. At least I hope that we all would be so engaged. The truth is that many will be more focused on picnics and pools, parties and getaways, sales and sports. How far away from our own heritage have we drifted.

I will have the honor of participating in the Elizabeth Parade and Ceremony in Elizabeth PA. The ceremony goes back as far as anyone can remember and has been a regular part of my families tradition for nearly as long. I hope to be able to introduce a new poem written today for the occasion.

This poem is a reflection based on a vision I had about sailors today. I have copywrited the work so if you feel the desire to share, please contact me directly.

The Line

Mister Mac

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I Was Mugged at UPS

I Was Mugged at UPS

By Garland Davis

If you ever considered shipping a stick from Branson, Missouri to Honolulu, don’t do it!

My shipmate and brother Cort Willoughby presented me with a unique cane during the sixth Asia Sailor Westpac’rs reunion last week in Branson. It didn’t fit in my luggage and was too long for the overhead bins in some of the aircraft. I decided to use FedEx or UPS to ship it to my home in Hawaii.

I found the address for the UPS facility and Hambone and I set out to locate it. After the Garmin in his rental car totally confused the hell out of us, we were eventually successful.

I informed the young woman behind the counter of my desire to ship the cane. Now I once shipped a Kindle via UPS to Jerry Juliana in West By God from Hawaii. The sweet young thing in Branson asked me for my zip code and then told me my name and address. Facial recognition?

That sweet young blonde measured and weighed the cane punched a bunch of numbers and crap into a computer and then mugged my dumb ass.

I paid $226.33 to ship a two-pound stick from Branson to Waipahu. It was delivered today.

On the positive side, I am now the proud owner of enough foam shipping peanuts to fill a shitcan.


The Battle of the Bloody Angle

The Battle of the Bloody Angle

By Brion Boyles


I used the battle of The Bloody Angle in my farewell speech to each graduating class of midshipmen, when I taught Celestial Navigation at the NROTC Unit The George Washington University.

It was a commentary on “salutes”… here paraphrased:

“Why a “salute?” Why are they important to you, as young officers? What’s the Big Deal? Here, have some…they’re free…(and I’d flutter my hand over my brow a few dozens times)… You have all been to sea for your training, and you’ve noticed how some men will cross the street for the chance to give their officer a salute, and yet others will duck into the nearest building to avoid “having” to give one… What’s up with that?

“What do YOU do that makes you THAT officer… for whom men cross the street to show their respect?”

“I think on the Bloody Angle… a Civil War battle that was fought but a few miles from here. For 3 days, the Union Army charged entrenched Confederates in a great, bloody battle thought sure to be the death blow for the Confederacy. Union soldiers watched from across fields as the bodies piled up before them…until they could no longer see over them. Every hour of the day, another wave of men would rise and charge into the carnage… By the end of the battle, nearly 30,000 killed and wounded lay over ground no larger than a few football fields….and every one of those charges were lead by narrow-shouldered, pimple-faced, squirrelly little 2nd Lieutenants …just…like …YOU. Young officers who would look over them, raise their sword, and lead them into the smoke….

” What was it about those rank 1st and 2nd Lieutenants that earned them the obedience and faith, that their men would survey the scene in front of them…more than likely certain Death… and yet Image result for sailors saluting images

“The answer is TRUST. You young officers will have plenty of opportunity to earn that trust. Answer your men’s questions. Follow through on their requests. Watch and reward their work. Be fair and efficient, follow your own advice, set the example… but do not hesitate to say “I don’t know” if you do not know, “I cannot” if you cannot. These answers in these instances are NOT faults… but are signs of trust. Be HONEST. Pretend, and they will see right through you…that you care more for your appearances than for them, that you will barter your men for your own ego.

“If you guard the trust your men place in you, then they will guard YOU. You are THEIR officer as much as they are YOUR men. Never forget that… and you will have salutes rain upon you… and they will stand in the ultimate salute when you turn to them and say, “It’s time”.