“We Stand By You”

“We Stand By You”

An incident took place at sea on 14 September 2001, just a few days after the attacks on New York and Washington.

In the time leading up to 11 September 2001, the USS Winston S. Churchill was in port in Plymouth, England, where it was moored next to the SMS Lütjens of the German Navy.

During their time in port together, the officers and crews of the USS Churchill and the SMS Lütjens had combined for a number of events in the generous spirit of friendship and brotherhood.

After the attacks, however, the USS Churchill immediately got underway to perform a number of drills while waiting for further orders.

Onboard the USS Churchill an Officer (Ensign) sent an email to his dad and his dad in turn sent it to the local newspaper. Below is a portion of that email:

“Dear Dad,

Well, we are still out at sea, with little direction as to what our next priority is.

The remainder of our port visits, which were to be centered around max liberty and goodwill to the United Kingdom, have all but been canceled. We have spent every day since the attacks going back and forth within imaginary boxes drawn in the ocean, standing high-security watches, and trying to make the best of our time.

It hasn’t been that fun I must confess, and to be even more honest, a lot of people are frustrated at the fact that they either can’t be home, or we don’t have more direction right now.

We have seen the articles and the photographs, and they are sickening. Being isolated as we are, I don’t think we appreciate the full scope of what is happening back home, but we are definitely feeling the effects.

About two hours ago the junior officers were called to the bridge to conduct Shiphandling drills.

We were about to do a man overboard when we got a call from the LUTJENS D-185, a German warship that was moored ahead of us on the pier in Plymouth, England.

While in port, the USS WINSTON S CHURCHILL and the LUTJENS got together for a sports day/cookout on our fantail, and we made some pretty good friends.

Now at sea they called over on bridge-to-bridge, requesting to pass us close up on our port side, to say good-bye.

We prepared to render them honors on the bridge wing, and the Captain told the crew to come topside to wish them farewell.

As they were making their approach, our Conning Officer saw through her binoculars and announced that they were flying an American flag.

As they came even closer, we saw that it was flying at half-mast.

The bridge wing was crowded with people as the Boatswain’s Mate blew two whistles- Attention to Port- the ship came up alongside and we saw that the entire crew of the German ship was manning the rails, in their dress blues.

They had made up a sign that was displayed on the side that read “We Stand By You.”

Needless to say there was not a dry eye on the bridge as they stayed alongside us for a few minutes and we cut our salutes.

It was probably the most powerful thing I have seen in my entire life and more than a few of us fought to retain our composure.

It was a beautiful day outside today. We are no longer at liberty to divulge over unsecure e-mail our location, but we could not have asked for a finer day at sea.

The German Navy did an incredible thing for this crew, and it has truly been the highest point in the days since the attacks.

After the ship pulled away and we prepared to begin our man overboard drills the Officer of the Deck turned to me and said ‘I’m staying Navy.’”

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Wunder Beach During the Battle of Hue

Wunder Beach During the Battle of Hue

By John Nesbit

Chief,

These photos were all taken by me on May 24, 1972. I was an ET aboard USS St Louis (LKA-116). My Condition 1-Alpha station was aboard one of the Mike boats to service the PRC-45 radio aboard. Our Mike boat carried a bunch of young Navy UDT sailors to Wunder Beach. Their job, upon hitting the beach was to conduct sabotage, primarily wiping out the electrical grid.

B-52’s had softened Wunder Beach for us, as you can see in a couple of these photos. We got our UDT boys to the beach under enemy mortar fire. They ran up the beach and disappeared into the bush. I was a peacenik from California while in the Navy.

When they lowered our Mike boat over the side on the davit, our XO leaned over the side and hollered at me “Hey Nesbit? do you have a sidearm?” “No Sir,” I replied, and so he leans over and hands me a .45 caliber pistol. And my outlook on the war changed.

Mike boat from St Louis with bomb bursts on the beach in the background

Prepping for insertion

USS Newport News (CA-148) The last of the 8 inch gun WWII Heavy Cruisers

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War Veterans

War Veterans

By Garland Davis

A few years ago, I had an appointment at the Internal Medicine Clinic at Tripler Army Medical Center. This was before I began to manifest the symptoms of my Parkinson’s disease. As I entered the elevator, an Army officer in a camo uniform rushed past me into the nearly full elevator. I noticed an elderly couple also nearing the elevator and stopped the door to hold the elevator for them.

As the couple entered the elevator, the officer groaned and said, “For Christ’s sake.”

The elderly couple told me they were going to the same floor I was. As the elevator reached our floor and opened the officer pushed his way to the front, upsetting the lady, who would have fallen if I hadn’t caught her. Her husband also clutched my arm to maintain his balance. I helped them from the elevator and asked where they were going. As it happened, they were also going to Internal Medicine. I took my time and assisted them with a couple of stops to rest.

Once we reached the clinic, I helped them to check-in and got them seated. As I completed my check-in, the rude Army officer came from the back and sat down in the waiting area.

I walked over to him and said, “Major, if you don’t mind I would like to talk to you outside.”

We went out into the foyer. I said, “Major you owe that old man and woman an apology. When you pushed them aside exiting that elevator, they both almost fell. I see you are wearing the Combat Infantry Badge which tells me you have seen combat. Did you notice that the old gentleman’s ball cap is embroidered with the Marine Corps device and the words Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa? There are also Gunnery Sergeant’s chevrons, as well as the ribbons for the Pacific Theater, the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.”

He stared at me for a minute, turned and reentered the waiting room, walked over to the couple, knelt and talked with them for about ten minutes. He shook their hands, stood and rendered a hand salute.

He walked to me and said, “Sir, may I ask, what is your rank?”

I told him, “I am a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer.”

He shook my hand, said, “I always heard that Chiefs were a bunch of Hard-asses.” He saluted me and walked to his seat.

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Piss’n in the Bottle Again

Forgive me Waylon

Piss’n in the Bottle Again

By Garland Davis

Well, I think or maybe know I’m in Subic

But I know you don’t really give a damn

It’ s hell of a mess that I’ve got me in

Piss’n in the bottle again

I can’t walk so where is home

No use to talk, she left me alone

Hurry, jeepney hurry, main gate or

I’ll be piss’n in the bottle again

Piss’n in the bottle again

It’s only San Miguel I swear

I hope she didn’t slip me nothin’

Piss’n the bottle again

I tried to quit the wildness for a time

Yeah, I tried to quit but changed my mind

Every now and then, they got me

Piss’n the bottle again

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USS Mars Was There, Part four

USS Mars Was There Part four

April/May 1975

By Glenn Hendricks

May 1st now. Once the helicopter evacuation was over most people back in the States figured that was it. They were wrong.

While the chaos of the past week was behind us things still were crazy off Vung Tau. The carriers were loaded down with civilian refugees and tons of helicopters they’d not expected. While these large units headed back to the PI with their load much of the task group stayed behind. While those who could get to aircraft had made it out, there were tens of thousands still trying to getaway. Many of these people were escaping by boat.

I’ll confess that the timeline is mixed in my memory. While I think the following happened in the days after the helo evac it may have occurred before.

Off Vung Tau the Navy set up what was basically a floating corral. Vessels from small 15-foot-long boats to 150-foot-long coastal steamers were leaving the South in droves. They’d sail east looking for rescue and salvation. Most were grossly overloaded with people fleeing the south. Men, women, and children crushed together in ancient watercraft. We herded them into large areas patrolled by Destroyers. This corral was maybe 10 miles across. From the O3 level, you could just barely make out the other side. It was incredible.

We were sailing independently when we came across one of the coastal freighters. It had a high bow sweeping down to the holding area and a superstructure aft. These were as common as flies in SE Asia and defined the term ‘rust bucket’. The deck was completely covered by refugees. They had no room to sit or rest, they were crowded together in a way I’d never seen before.

The refugees started waving at some distance and the freighter turned to intercept us. Apparently, the bridge and signalmen tried multiple ways to contact the ship but they didn’t respond to the radio, signal lights or flags. We continued on course toward the corral and the freighter followed us, just off our starboard quarter. I was on the fantail watching this going on, I probably had dumped trash over the side and was taking a smoke when all this started.

The freighter was about 200 yards away when they suddenly sped up and turned directly toward us. They were making a beeline toward the fantail and it appeared that they were going to try to tie off. I felt the screw bite deep below me and water churned beneath the stern as the throttleman responded to urgent bells from the bridge.

We dug away from them, opening a gap of a couple of hundred yards. The OOD then slowed the ship again and allowed the freighter to move closer. The signalmen and radiomen were still trying to get them to follow us to the corral, but they mistook the signals as permission to come alongside. We pulled away again. I think this happened a couple of times before they got the message and took up station off our stern. I know it happened at least twice while I stood there. I headed back to the hole.

Later that day and for a couple of days we sailed near the corral of refugees. Slowly they were transferred from the smaller boats to something more robust. We returned to Subic once our supplies had all be unreped.

In Subic, Grande Island recreation area was turned into a refugee camp. There were thousands of people camping there. The base had patrol boats constantly on station around the island to keep the Vietnamese on and to keep everyone else away. We spent some time in port waiting for our next orders.

On May 7th, President Ford announced that the Vietnam War was officially over. “The period beginning on February 28, 1961, and ending on May 7, 1975, in the case of a veteran who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period.”

For the refugees and for some of us cleaning up after the war would continue for several weeks. For others, the war has never ended.

We were given orders to find a spot 1/3 of the way between Subic and Guam and start sailing in circles. We were serving as lifeguard for ships loaded with refugees on their way to the States. Over what I remember as being the next ten or twelve days we’d steam in circles as ships crowded with people would pass by. They never needed anything from us so we’d watch them cross the horizon from the west, sail past and then off toward the east.

After the last ship passed we turned north to Sasebo. I don’t remember when we got home, I do remember that the pier was lined with families.

Coda: My sister’s dentist was one of those boat people. As a small child, he was in the evacuation. She mentioned in passing that I’d been in the fleet and he told her “I thank God for the US Navy. Without them, I would not be here today”

We done good shipmates. We done good.

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USS Mars Was There, Part Three

USS Mars Was There, Part Three

April 29/30 1975

Glenn Hendricks

We were steaming as part of a carrier group for the next couple of days. We had unreped most of the group and were standing by to deliver more supplies as needed. I recall we were with the Enterprise (but I could be wrong on which carrier) with the carrier on our starboard side. We were all moving at about 16 knots when the first of the helos showed up. The first batch was mostly heavy-lift Sikorsky C-53s. We usually didn’t see many of these in normal circumstances. We didn’t know it at the time but they were bringing in people from the embassy in Saigon. Everything was falling apart.

As we watched the helos came on in normal order, they’d approach the carrier from the stern and fit into the arrival pattern. They’d unload, fuel and take back off heading west. This was in no way a precursor to the chaos of the later afternoon.

The CO had the Airedales and SKs clutter the helo pad with cargo and gear. We didn’t know it at the time, but his decision would make sure we had a viable landing area for the next week.

M division was on three-section duty and my watch was on the 4-8s. MM1 Rosy Beckett was top watch, MM3 Cliff Farsje was lower level, I had the throttles and FN Ed Amato was the messenger. We had breakfast after watch and turned to in the hole. Somehow we always seemed to find a reasonable reason to make our way to the main deck for a while to see what was going on. It was incredible to watch.

We were maybe a mile away from the carrier and just abeam of them. The initial helo landing started changing as the Sikorsky’s were replaced with Hueys with ARVN markings. The normal routine flight operations of the morning transitioned to a swarm of helos around the carrier. I counted 4 or 5 at one time with more coming in from the west. You could see them as far as you could look, small specs heading toward salvation.

Once the Hueys landed most often everyone bailed out, including the pilot. They were loaded with men, women, and children. Civilian families of the pilots, friends, and hangers-on. It seemed like every helicopter ever flown in Vietnam was heading our way.

A couple passed over us, but the decision to block the pad kept them off. We would need that helo deck in the days to come.

Our watch gathered at the starboard rail around 1520 or so. We’d taken a break and catching a smoke before we had to go back for the watch. The starboard side of the ship was lined with people watching the show. The carrier had started pushing Hueys over the side to make room for the next incoming group. You’ve seen the video and the photos, but I have got to tell you, the impact of watching those aircraft going over the side and hitting the water was amazing. It will stick with me for the rest of my life. One after another they pushed them over.

I stood there with a Winston, watching history. I knew I was seeing history being made in front of my eyes and that I was fortunate to be able to watch it rather than being in one of those choppers trying frantically to escape the unknown future in the hands of a generational enemy.

Then I tossed the butt into the sea and we went down to the hole for the 1600-2000 watch.

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