In Waters Deep

In Waters Deep

By Eileen Mahoney

In ocean wastes no poppies blow,

No crosses stand in ordered row,

Their young hearts sleep… beneath the wave…

The spirited, the good, the brave,

But stars a constant vigil keep,

For them who lie beneath the deep.

‘Tis true you cannot kneel in prayer

On certain spot and think. “He’s there.”

But you can to the ocean go…

See whitecaps marching row on row;

Know one for him will always ride…

In and out… with every tide.

And when your span of life is passed,

He’ll meet you at the “Captain’s Mast.”

And they who mourn on distant shore

For sailors who’ll come home no more,

Can dry their tears and pray for these

Who rest beneath the heaving seas…

For stars that shine and winds that blow

And whitecaps marching row on row.

And they can never lonely be

For when they lived… they chose the sea.

 

In Flanders Field

By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

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.

 

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A Sailor Died Today

A Sailor Died Today

I have seen this poem around as “A Soldier Died Today” and as “A Veteran Died Today.”  I took an author’s license to change it to “A Sailor Died Today.”

Our shipmate Dave Petersen crossed the bar last week.  Save me a seat at Fiddlers Shipmate.

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He was getting old and paunchy
And his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the FRA,
Telling stories of the past.

Of a war that he once fought in
And the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies;
They were heroes, every one.

And ‘tho sometimes to his neighbors
His tales became a joke,
All his buddies listened quietly
For they knew whereof he spoke.

But we’ll hear his tales no longer,
For ol’ Joe has passed away,
And the world’s a little poorer
For a Sailor died today.

He won’t be mourned by many,
Just his children and his wife.
For he lived an ordinary,
Very quiet sort of life.

He held a job and raised a family,
Going quietly on his way;
And the world won’t note his passing,
‘Tho a Sailor died today.

When politicians leave this earth,
Their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing,
And proclaim that they were great.

Papers tell their life stories
From the time that they were young,
But the passing of a Sailor
Goes unnoticed, and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution
To the welfare of our land,
Some jerk who breaks his promise
And cons his fellow man?

Or the ordinary fellow
Who in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his country
And offers up his life?

The politician’s stipend
And the style in which he lives,
Are often disproportionate,
To the service that he gives.

While the ordinary Sailor,
Who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal
And perhaps a pension, small.

It is not the politicians
With their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom
That our country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger,
With your enemies at hand,
Would you really want some cop-out,
With his ever waffling stand?

Or would you want a Sailor
His home, his country, his kin,
Just a common Sailor,
Who would fight until the end.

He was just a common Sailor,
And his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us
We may need his likes again.

For when countries are in conflict,
We find the Sailor’s part,
Is to clean up all the troubles
That the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor
While he’s here to hear the praise,
Then, at least, let’s give him homage
At the ending of his days.

Perhaps just a simple headline
In the paper that might say:

“OUR COUNTRY IS IN MOURNING,
A SAILOR DIED TODAY.”

 

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Battle at PIRAZ

Battle at PIRAZ

‘Battle at PIRAZ.’

The hostile engagement between North Vietnamese MIGs and USS Biddle, a US guided missile DLG/CG, on July 19, 1972. Five MIGs attacked the Biddle. Two were shot down and three chased off by the ships Terrier AA missiles and guns.

Thanks owed to Mr. J Treadway, for his suggestion and advice on this work.

Prints will soon be available www.marineartbydale.com

Don’t Fiddle With the Biddle

As of 18 July 1972 no North Vietnamese aircraft had attempted to attack a ship on PIRAZ duty, even though the ships were positioned only about 30 miles off their coast. This was probably due to their desire to avoid the ships’ surface-to-air missiles, not to mention the barrier combat air patrol (BARCAP) fighters always circling near the PIRAZ ship. This situation was about to change, however. USS Biddle (DLG 34), under the command of Capt. Edward W. Carter, was on PIRAZ station that night, and even though bad weather resulted in few U.S. flights over North Vietnam, Biddle’s CIC crew noted lots of NV air contacts. Sometimes Biddle was tracking up to 15 MiGs simultaneously, and they seemed to be practicing at a probable dive bombing range.

The guided missile frigate USS Biddle (DLG 34). U.S. Navy photo

The following night, the 19th., started just as quietly. It was totally black outside with no moon and a high overcast. Again there was no U. S. air activity over North Vietnam except for the flight of one carrier based A-6 Intruder ground attack aircraft that had made a bombing run and was returning – damaged and copilot wounded. Commander Task Force 77 told one of the two BARCAP fighters to escort the damaged A-6 back to the carrier Midway. With half of the BARCAP gone, Lieutenant Ralph Muse, Biddle’s CIC Ship’s Combat Evaluator, radioed the Seventh Fleet command center aboard the carrier Kitty Hawk to ask that two ‘alert’ fighters be launched to fill in the gap. Seventh Feet replied back that the next flight of regular BARCAP fighters were to be launched within the hour, so the alert fighters would not be needed. The Seventh Fleet watch officer noted there was nothing going on that night anyway. That left the Biddle CIC crew feeling a little more vulnerable to air attack and heightened their lookout for suspicious air activity.

Most PIRAZ ships carried a detachment of U. S. Naval Security Group translators whose job was to constantly monitor NV voice radio communications and let the PIRAZ ship’s CIC crew and Seventh Fleet know what they were hearing. They were universally called ‘spooks.” Lt. Muse called the spooks and asked if they were hearing any unusual NV voice conversations. Their reply was, ‘check the area south of Hanoi on your radar.’ Muse told his ship’s weapons coordinator (SWC) to check the area and he immediately picked up two oncoming targets that could only be MiGs. They were over the water, moving fast, and headed straight for Biddle. While on PIRAZ duty, guided missile frigates normally had two Terrier missiles loaded on the launcher rails and ready to fire. Biddle was ready. Within seconds the SWC had the two Terrier radar directors locked on to the leading MiG.

The MiGs were into less than nine miles, and a warning signal went off telling the CIC crew that the ship was being painted by MiG fire control radar. Lieutenant Muse passed the word on the ship’s general announcing system, “Captain to the CIC please,” but he knew he was going to have to take action before the CO could get there, and he definitely did not have the time to radio the Seventh Fleet watch officer to get permission to fire. He was going to have to “bet his bars” that they were MiGs, and fire the missiles. His next command was on the general announcing system, “Clear the Fo’c’sle” – where the Terrier launcher was located. Next commands were: “Fire One” and “Fire Two, ” after which he called for the ship’s general quarters alarm to be sounded.

Next, Muse ordered the launcher reloaded, and the fire control radars shifted to the second MiG. The launcher was ready again within thirty seconds, and by that time Capt. Carter had arrived in the CIC. Almost simultaneously the bridge watch saw an explosion on the horizon and the lead MiG disappeared from the radar. The missile kill apparently convinced the second MiG pilot it was pointless to continue the attack, and the eavesdropping spooks confirmed that the pilot had radioed his controller that he was returning to base.

The destroyer escort USS Gray (DE 1054) was Biddle’s ‘shotgun’ PT boat destroyer during their Battle at PIRAZ. U. S. Navy photo

About fifteen minutes after the second MiG had turned away, Biddle’s NTDS surface search operator called out that three targets were approaching Biddle ‘on the deck’ at 500 knots, and only seven miles out. Seconds later the operators of both air search radars detected the targets, and the lead target was assigned to a Terrier fire control radar. At the same time Capt. Carter radioed their escorting ‘shotgun’ destroyer, USS Gray, and told them they were relieved of motor torpedo boat protection duty, and to protect themselves from the MiGs. The MiGs were so low that the Terrier fire control radars were having difficulty getting a lock on.

Capt. Carter ordered a turn so that the MiGs would be broadside on the port and ordered the five-inch gun mount at the stern and the port side three-inch gun amidships to fire at zero degrees elevation. It was called ‘barrage’ fire. Finally, they got missile system radar lock and two more Terriers were fired at the close-in MiGs. There is some question whether they scored a hit because by that time five-inch and three-inch projectiles were exploding to port, triggered by their radar proximity fuses. The spooks called the CIC and told them one of the MiG pilots had radioed his controller that he had the ship on his fire control radar and was going to ‘kill’ it. The five-inch gun crew fired 54 rounds without pause until the cease-fire was given. The three-inch gun fired an estimated 28 rounds before jamming.

It is possible the Terrier missiles accounted for one of the three MiGs and likely that a second MiG was brought down by barrage gunfire. In any event, all participants agree that the third MiG passed directly over the ship – but there was no explosion. One can only conjecture why. Possibilities are a wounded pilot, a pilot distracted by intense gunfire, he was over the ship before he could react, or the bomb was a dud that landed nearby in the darkness but did not explode. Crewmen on the shotgun destroyer Gray told them that watching Biddle in action was like the fourth of July – with the huge flashes of missile launches, gun muzzles blazing, and projectiles exploding out over the water.

For a complete account of Biddle’s ‘Battle at PIRAZ’ the reader is referred to James A. Treadway’s book Hard Charger! – The Story of the USS Biddle (DLG-34), published by iUniverse, Inc., New York, 2005, ISBN-13: 978-0-595-67313-1 [Author’s note, Jim Treadway was an NTDS data system technician aboard Biddle at the time of the Battle at PIRAZ.]

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HARDHAT HEROISM

HARDHAT HEROISM

September of 1925 had been a bad month for our Navy. Early in the month, a Navy flying boat carrying CDR John Rodgers on the first trans-Pacific solo flight from California to Hawaii disappeared. With Rodgers still missing, the Navy’s impressively massive airship SHENANDOAH (ZR-1) crashed in a storm over Ohio killing her commander, LCDR Zachary Lansdowne, and 13 others. Thirty-two more sailors died on 25 September when S-51 (SS-162) accidentally collided with a commercial freighter off Block Island and sank. Public dismay in the face of these disasters demanded action, and though the technology of the day was inadequate to the task, an effort to recover S-51 and her entombed crewmen was begun.

CDR Edward Ellsberg headed the salvage team, but the mass of the sub and the 130-foot depth to which she had sunken was beyond the capacity of crane derricks to lift. So, Ellsberg hatched the idea of running steel cables under the sub to form a sling, then lifting it with six air-filled pontoons. To sling the cables, hardhat divers would have to tunnel under the sub as she lay on the hard blue-clay bottom. The tunneling operation was laboriously slow as the divers were encumbered by bulky suits, heavy gloves, murky water and a weak fire hose for digging. Divers worked in pairs, one headlong in the tunnel, the other assisting outside. By early May a twelve-foot tunnel only large enough to admit a prone diver coursed under the sub’s port side. The morning of May 10th found seaman Francis Smith twenty minutes into his hour-long digging shift, deep out of sight in the dark tunnel.

“I’m in a very bad position, Mr. Ellsberg,” came a message over Smith’s phone to the surface. “Should I turn off the [fire hose]?” queried his line tenders. “For God’s sake keep it going!” yelled Smith, “The tunnel has caved in behind me!” Diver Joseph Eiben, working aft, was directed to assist, but it had taken weeks of digging to advance the tunnel to Smith’s location. Now he lay buried beyond any conceivable rescue! A pang of dread gripped everyone. Minutes slipped by. All stood helpless. Smith’s labored breathing could be heard over his telephone.

A second hose was hastily rigged and dropped to Eiben. Then unexpectedly, Smith signaled from the mouth of the tunnel. Entrapped in a coffin-sized shaft, Smith had managed to manipulate his hose in between his legs. Inching his way feet-first and backward, Smith had excavated his own escape! “I’m all right now, Joe. You go on back to your own job,” Smith was heard to say to his partner. He sat a few minutes near the sub catching his breath, then picked up his hose and turned to the black hole from which moments before he had escaped only by the grace of God.

Sometimes heroism occurs in quiet solitude. No act of bravery in the heat of battle outshines Smith’s deliberate return to his task this day, in the face of death, deep in the cold Atlantic.

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Sea Fever

Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

 

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

 

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

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