LCDR Marcus Arnheiter and USS Vance DE-387

LCDR Marcus Arnheiter and USS Vance DE-387


BUT DID YOU KNOW….that there was actually an incident in the Navy like the one in the movie…..however, it happened approximately 12 years after the movie came out in 1966 off the coast of Vietnam?!

In 1951, former Naval Officer Herman Wouk completed his novel “The Caine Mutiny”.

The book swiftly became a bestseller, as well as the basis for a stage play and a successful motion picture.

Wouk’s fictional mutiny was not in the classic style, in which a rebellious crew takes over a ship. Instead, USS Caine suffered a “virtual mutiny,” in, which support from the commander’s junior officers eroded to the point where control slipped from his hands.

A strikingly similar situation developed on a destroyer escort named USS Vance while the ship was on station off the coast of South Vietnam in 1965-66. As a result, LCDR Marcus Arnheiter was relieved of duty and his career was crippled.

LCDR Marcus Aurelius Arnheiter took command on 22 December 1965.

LCDR Arnheiter had graduated from the US Naval Academy with midclass standing. As his career progressed, he received some less- than-outstanding fitness reports, which delayed his promotions.

When he was assigned to the USS Vance at age 41, he was one of the oldest officers in the Navy at his rank, and he had a burning ambition to rectify that situation.

USS Vance sailed for the Vietnam coast on 28 December 1965.

Early on, LCDR Arnheiter ordered the replacement of a black toilet seat in his quarters with a white one. This started a series of jokes circulating around the ship.

LCDR Arnheiter also began to tighten discipline in the wardroom, insisting upon neat dress and correct table etiquette. He had a strong dislike for coffee stains and spilled ashes, and he also protested the pinup pictures from “girlie” magazines plastered on the bulkheads.

LCDR Arnheiter told his crew on many occasions that he would “take them where the action was.” As part of his preparations, he acquired a secondhand fiberglass speedboat to augment the ship’s assigned single-motor whaleboat. He used the ship’s recreational funds to buy the powerboat an action that in itself could have been sufficient to justify LCDR Arnheiter’s firing.

LCDR Arnheiter’s alleged peculiarities started to emerge.

One consisted of having the crew awakened in the morning by a fife-and-drum reveille, rather than the customary bosun’s call. The new reveille was called “Hellcats’ Reveille.”

LCDR Arnheiter also established a “boner box” in the wardroom for officers errors, which included failure to maintain proper dress or permitting lax discipline in their divisions.

Officers were fined 25 cents for each infraction, and the offenders were not happy when they had to pay fines. LCDR Arnheiter also issued detailed operations orders at the wardroom table, and he was always ready to berate or fine junior officers for trivial matters, such as misplacing cutlery.

USS Vance’s officers began to avoid the wardroom and LCDR Arnheiter’s lectures.

When LCDR Arnheiter initiates “character-building sessions”, his crew began comparing Arnheiter’s behavior to that of Captain Queeg of “The Caine Mutiny”.

These sessions were held on the fantail and usually commenced with “Prayers at Sea,” taken directly from a US Naval Institute manual.

LCDR Arnheiter normally followed with an address, touching upon the heritage of figures like Stonewall Jackson, George Washington or George Patton. The sessions closed with the rendering of “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” a familiar hymn without reference to any specific religious persuasion. These apparently innocent meetings became the match that set the powder train afire.

The real trouble started with the Operations Officer (OPSO). His complaint, which he privately discussed with his colleagues, was that he believed the sessions were thinly disguised Protestant services and the OPSO was Catholic.

One of the sessions was conducted by the XO standing in for LCDR Arnheiter. XO spoke of God and the universe, but no hymns were sung.

OPSO wrote a letter of complaint, addressed to LCDR Arnheiter, and handed it to the XO for delivery. The XO declined to forward the letter to LCDR Arnheiter and advised the OPSO to “seek counsel off the ship.”

OPSO filed a letter of complaint with the Catholic chaplain at Pearl Harbor.

During one gunnery mission, LCDR Arnheiter, wearing a helmet and an ivory-handled revolver, reportedly ducked behind a splinter shield when ricochets began to fly. That prompted another round of disparaging remarks among the junior officers.

During another mission, LCDR Arnheiter allegedly failed to issue orders to the helmsman to change course. The record kept by the OPSO noted that the XO had to rush to the bridge to order a change, of course, to avoid running the vessel aground.

The records kept by the OPSO became known as the “Mad Marcus Log” by the crew.

The complaints listed in the Mad Marcus Log came to the attention of higher headquarters staff, through the chaplain corps.

Three months after LCDR Arnheiter assumed command, HQ ordered the USS Vance to Subic Bay, Philippines for refitting, and LCDR Arnheiter was summarily relieved.

In an attempt to clear his name, LCDR Arnheiter sought a court-martial from the Navy, but the Navy never took any additional action against LCDR Arnheiter.

LCDR Arnheiter swore out formal charges against the Navy and was not so much as reprimanded for charging that the Rear and Vice-Admiral in his Chain of Command had themselves been guilty of gross violations of the UCMJ regarding his case.

LCDR Arnheiter said that either way he should be the subject of a court-martial – for his alleged actions on the USS Vance or for his related charges against selected superior officers.

The Navy completely ignored his requests.

LCDR Arnheiter went as far as to participate in formal Congressional hearings on the matter, and still the Navy ignored his loud and very public demand for redress in any official capacity.

On repeated appeal, his case was repeatedly dismissed.

At the time….according to a Time magazine article: “We all have a little of the Captain Queeg in us,” admitted one officer. “But LCDR Arnheiter had more than his share.

Journalist Neil Sheehan wrote a book titled The Arnheiter Affair in 1971, including a little-known indicium that Arnheiter, prior to his enrollment in the Naval Academy, had briefly been enrolled in the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.

The Arnheiter Affair was well received. Litigation, however, brought by LCDR Arnheiter for libel and slander caused the book to be removed from print.


5 thoughts on “LCDR Marcus Arnheiter and USS Vance DE-387

  1. howard nakamura says:

    I reported onboard the USS Haverfield (DER-393) in the same squadron in January of 1967 and was told of the Vance’s CO’s exploits. I remember the book being in print but didn’t know that it had been pulled.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jim Blanchard says:

    I have read “The Arnheiter Affair” a number of times and as a DER sailor in the same squadron as USS Vance, I can relive some of the memories of Yankee Station in Viet Nam assigned to Market Time Operation’s. This book is a “must read” for anyone who was there. I served aboard USS Falgout DER 324 as a Snipe in B2 Main Control.


  3. Brion Boyles says:

    “The Caine Mutiny” was required reading when I was an instructor at the NROTC Unit The George Washington University in the ’90’s.
    Timeless lessons in leadership…and I still enjoy watching it from time-to-time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Glenn Stang says:

    I was on the Charles Berry DE1035 in 74 and was on decom crew. The book 99Days on The Vance was also read around that time. Interesting story. Scary too.


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