THE RAMBLINGS OF AN
I am a veteran of the Vietnam War. I sit here
today as an old man. The years have gone by quickly and those who served in Vietnam
are old and will soon appear on a listing under "DECEASED". Many Vietnam
War Veterans did not want to talk about their experiences for many
years. Many of them still do not want to talk about it. I often think about the days of the Vietnam War
and the people I served with back then. I sometimes wonder why some of us have lived to
be old while so many others died as youths in Vietnam. The Vietnam
experience was sad but those who served have many memories (both
good and bad) and we should be proud. I believe
it is time to talk about it.
I am proud of the 23
years I served with the U.S. Navy, which included my tour
aboard the USS HANCOCK (CVA-19).
Our government made a big
mistake by committing our military services to fight a war in
Vietnam. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines take an oath to
protect and defend the constitution of the United States and
carry out the orders of the President and the officers appointed
over them. We all did our duty.
The Vietnam War impacted the
lives of many thousands of young men and women - whether they
were in the military services or not. I was one of them. It was a
tragedy for our country but I think most of us who were alive during
those times can look back on it now and smile, as we think about old
friends and some of the crazy things we did back then.
After serving 23 years in
the Navy, things tend to get a little muddled and confused when I
start thinking back on it. Some of the most vivid memories I have
about my years in the Navy come from my service aboard the USS
HANCOCK (CVA-19). It was a special ship with a special crew.
My reason for writing all of
this is to show how the Vietnam War was for us sailors who stayed
off shore on the aircraft carriers and other ships of the U.S. Navy.
I do not intend to glorify what we did but I want to "tell it like
it was". I do not want to take
anything away from the combat veterans of the Vietnam War - I give
them all my heartfelt salute for doing what they did over there. I did not serve "in country" in
Vietnam at any time, and I was never in combat. I was certainly not a war hero. But I
served in the Vietnam Theater of Operations, in a hostile fire zone,
and I did the work that I was assigned to do, in
supporting the war effort.
I quit school after I failed the seventh
grade and started over a second time. I was probably about
half way through that second stint in the seventh grade when
I quit. I know it is unbelievable to think that a child
could quit school so young but it was fairly common back
then. I can't blame it on any one thing - it was a
combination of different things. As I have written, I felt
that some of the teachers showed partiality to the richer
kids back then. I still believe that was the case. But I was
hard headed and a little rebellious. I was a troubled
youngster - not easy to deal with. I think I was 14 when I
walked out of school for the last time. I did not stop
learning there - I kept reading about everything that
interested me, so my education continued on. But after that
- my life lacked structure and discipline. I was starting to
get in trouble before I joined the Navy right after I turned
18. I think joining the Navy was the best thing I ever did.
It put structure and discipline back in my life. Anyway - I
wish it was not that way. I wish I had stayed in school to
go on to college. The world started wobbling on its axis in
1965 - too much was happening too fast. It was a bumpy ride
for all of us for several years after that - Vietnam, the
Age of Aquarius, the hippie revolution, bouts with heavy
drinking, Watergate, Nixon's disgrace, the Fall of Vietnam, more bouts with heavy
drinking, and on and on. It was about 1977 before things
finally settled down for me.
After I quit school, I didn't sit around
the house and do nothing. I was always outdoors - if I
wasn't working I would be out exploring. I did some nasty
jobs - cleaning out a chicken house was probably the
nastiest job I did. All of that dust and the stench of it.
Andy Shipp and I contracted that job for $10 ($5 each) - it
took us about 10 hours of steady hard work to do the job. I
chopped cotton, pulled cotton, worked as "throw back hand"
in a big trailer that was towed behind the cotton strippers
in those days, set up and mended barbed wire fences, rescued
new born calves in the middle of winter, worked in a cattle
feed lot, worked on windmills, plowed with a tractor, picked
up bales of hay, shocked feed, loaded semi trailers, drove a
delivery truck and the list goes on. My hourly wage ranged
from $0.65 to $1.25, depending on the job and the generosity
of the person that hired me. By the time I reached 18, I
realized that I wasn't cut out to stay on the farm and I
needed to go see the world. I had the work ethic, but I
lacked education and had no special skills. I needed
discipline and structure in my life. I joined the Navy -
partly because my older brother Stan pushed me to do it. I
promptly went to Vietnam. I didn't serve in country there
and I was never in combat, but it was still an unpleasant
place to be. I often thought about home and I longed to be
back there. After a few years, the Navy got in my blood. I
liked the Navy life - especially the travel and adventures.
I served 23 years. I could have done a lot worse - like
serving prison time. Life has some strange twists and turns.
I am not writing this as an intellectual or
"subject matter expert". I am writing as a person
who lived through those times. I am not here to pass judgment on
anyone but I will express my opinions as honestly as I can. The opinions expressed here are my
own and I do not expect everyone to agree with me. So be it.
Like many others, I did not did not try to
stay in touch with old friends from those times. Since I've had
this website up I have made contact with several old shipmates.
I hope to hear from others as time goes on.
Thanks for your service!
I was an ordinary sailor. I served on the old aircraft carrier USS
HANCOCK (CVA-19) from October of 1964 until June of 1968. During
that span of time, the USS HANCOCK made three cruises to the Western
Pacific. When we were deployed, we spent most of our time operating
off the coast of Vietnam. All of us knew we were there to keep the
ship running with all vital systems operating and the war planes flying.
I made a
contribution to make that happen, as did every other man on board
the carrier. In South Vietnam, we operated in the South
China Sea on "Dixie Station". Our mission was to protect friendly
ground forces and disrupt enemy communications. Our aircraft
provided close air support for the friendly ground forces and
conducted bombing missions to destroy waterborne craft in the South
China Sea and the inland waterways, destroy roads and bridges and
generally kill the enemy wherever we had that opportunity. In North
Vietnam, we operated in the Gulf of Tonkin on "Yankee Station". Our
aircraft conducted bombing missions against designated military
targets in North Vietnam, usually in coordination with the Air
For us serving on the ships,
it didn't matter much whether we were operating on Dixie Station or
Yankee Station. It was all the same to us. It was hard to believe
that we are in a war zone. When we were operating on Yankee Station we received Combat Pay - $55 a month as I
remember. We also got free postage on the letters we mailed home -
when we could find the time to write them. The aircraft carriers
almost always stayed 25 miles or more away from the coast. We ran up
and down parallel with the coast, within our assigned sectors,
launching and recovering our aircraft. We rarely saw land and when
we did it was just the higher mountain peaks. At night we could
sometimes see flashes from the shell bursts in country, but that was
not common. It was always hot and miserable. In the daytime, we could sometimes see the black puffs from the
enemy flak bursts as their gunners tried to shoot down the planes coming back to the
aircraft carriers. We saw planes come back all shot up and we saw
pilots being lifted out of the planes covered with blood from
wounds. We knew we were in the war but it was sometimes surreal for
us. It was not a pleasant place to be. As far as combat is
concerned, It was not likely that we would ever be shot at. But life aboard an aircraft carrier is
extremely dangerous, at any time, especially when we operated in
Captain came over on the ship's announcing system almost every night just
before taps (lights out) to update us on the days actions - usually
a tally of how many straw bridges we blew up and how many sampans we sunk.
I was just a kid. I joined
the Navy in June of 1964 because I dropped out of school and there
was not much for me in the little town in Texas where I grew up. I
was having problems at home - I was under the legal age and still
drinking heavily, I couldn't keep a steady job, and I was always
being criticized by my parents and older brothers. I had never been
in jail but the local police knew more about me than they needed to
and kept a close watch on me. I was headed for trouble if I stayed
there. I needed to get away from there. I needed to
learn a trade, earn a living and start being independent. I needed
to get motivated, set goals for myself and work hard to achieve
them. In short - I needed
to grow up.
Joining one of the
military services was part of the process of growing up for most of
us young men coming of age back in those days, at least up until about 1965.
Some of us saw it as an
opportunity and a way to better ourselves but most of us just saw it
as a way to get away from Mom and Dad and have some adventures on
our own - away
from home. That is the way it was for me - I joined the Navy as a
"way out". I had no real plan for what I wanted to do with
It was mostly a case of the "luck of the draw" for me.
I always knew I would go in the military as soon as I could. I
admired soldiers and I wanted to go in the Army. I had things all set up to join the Army right after I turned
17, but my mother refused to sign the release papers at the very
last minute. I had to wait until I was 18 to enlist, without
parental consent. I turned 18 in May of
1964 and immediately contacted the Army again. But they must have
met their quota because the Army recruiters didn't seem all that
interested in me at the time. They kept putting me off. Out of
frustration, I contacted the Navy and their local recruiter jumped
right on it. I enlisted in the Navy two weeks
later. I have often pondered what would have happened if I had
joined the Army in 1963 instead of the Navy in 1964.
A few months after I joined
the Navy, one of my best friends from back home joined the Army.
After boot camp, he went through Army Paratrooper School and was
assigned to the 173RD Airborne Brigade. Around March of 1965, I
started getting letters from him. The 173RD had been staged on the island
of Okinawa, for further transfer on to Vietnam. They were one of the
first major Army units to be deployed to Vietnam, for combat
service. My friend was just a scared kid, like the rest of us who
found ourselves over there. The 173RD Airborne Brigade saw heavy
action in Vietnam. My friend made it through all of that and he is
now an old man living about thirty miles from where we grew up.
I have met up with him a few times since we served in Vietnam but he
never wanted to talk about his experiences there. That is typical of most
The draft was in effect and I received my draft notice,
with orders to report for induction into the U.S. Army, two months
after I turned 18, while I was still in the Navy's Boot Camp. Again
- it was the "luck of the draw for me". Looking at
the Vietnam War Killed in Action listings for 1965 through 1968,
mostly Army and Marines, I see that the majority of them were
between 18 and 21. If I was drafted by the Army, there is a high
probability that I would be one of the names on that list.
Vietnam was bad news. The region of southeast Asia where Vietnam is
situated had been a world trouble spot for many
years but things really started to heat up in the summer of 1964,
while I was in the Navy's boot camp at San Diego. Two incidents
allegedly occurred in the Tonkin Gulf off the coast of North Vietnam
in early August of 1964, involving attacks on U.S. Navy ships by gun
boats from North Vietnam. You can read different accounts about what
happened back then by visiting other websites, using the search
query "TONKIN GULF INCIDENT". It was all very confusing and I
guarantee that if you read ten different accounts about it, in the
archives of the major news services, you will
notice some differences in all of them.
In August of 1964 the Tonkin
Gulf incident set the ball rolling that caused things to happen that
would start a real shooting war in Vietnam. President Johnson
started running his mouth and making threats against North Vietnam.
North Vietnam was not going to be intimidated by him and they
continued to take hostile actions against the American service
people stationed in South Vietnam, using the Viet Cong. Every time
they did something. President Johnson would get on his soap box and
start running his mouth. I truly believe that President Johnson
wanted to go to war in Vietnam, even before the Tonkin Gulf incident
happened. I also believe the leaders in North Vietnam wanted
to wage war in South Vietnam, to eventually obtain ownership of it,
even if it meant going to war with the Americans. In any case, Ho
Chi Minh (another old man) and his compatriots in North Vietnam were a plucky
bunch. They were not going to be
intimidated by President Johnson.
I graduated from
boot camp in early September of 1964, with orders to the USS HANCOCK
(CVA-19) homeported in Alameda, California. I was processed for "on
the job training" in the engineering branch of the Navy and designated as a Fireman Apprentice. That is another way of saying
that my scores on the battery of tests the Navy gave new recruits
were not very high and I was not considered to be worthy of going to an apprenticeship
training school before I went to
the fleet. Instead, I would be sent straight to the fleet for on the
When I checked in to the Alameda Naval Air Station
in the San Francisco Bay I was told that the HANCOCK was out on fleet
operations for an indefinite period of time. I had to bide my time
for several weeks in Transient Status - which meant that I was
assigned to whatever jobs needed to be done, such as cleaning toilets
or picking up trash. It was a blessing because it gave me a little
time to calm down and get used to being in the real Navy. It also
gave me time to get over some of the homesickness.
In the middle of October of 1964, I was
flown from Alameda Naval Air Station to North Island Naval Air
Station in San Diego in a crotchety old plane with two wing mounted
propeller engines. We left Alameda very early in the morning and did not land in San
Diego until around 3 that afternoon. The plane carried six to eight
passengers and the seats in it faced the rear of the plane. We
landed at two or three places enroute to San Diego. At the terminal
at North Island NAS, there were 80 to 100 of us gathered in the
lobby, all bound for the USS HANCOCK. Most of us were
"newbies", young sailors right out of boot camp or apprenticeship
training schools. There
was one chief petty officer and a few petty officers. They were
detailed to keep us all in line. We were bussed over to the pier
where the HANCOCK was scheduled to tie up. Around 5 PM the old ship
made its approach and finally docked just before dark. I was totally overwhelmed by the size
of it and I couldn't believe that something that big could actually
As I remember it, we were in port in San
Diego for about a week after I reported on board. We then set sail for a cruise to the Western Pacific
on October 21, 1964, by the official records. That was the beginning of the Vietnam War for
After the Tonkin
Gulf incidents in August of 1964, things continued to go downhill in
Vietnam, which caused great concerns for the President of the United
States. Lyndon B. Johnson. I will go to my grave believing that the
war in Vietnam was fought mainly because the ego of one old man (Lyndon B.
Johnson) was bruised. He could not understand how a little third
world country like North Vietnam could challenge the power and
authority of the mighty United States of America and him. He was not going
to let them get away with it. He set out to teach them a lesson and
"put them back in their place". I do not want to
beat up on President Johnson - he had enough criticism when he was
alive and I believe he suffered enough. He was probably one of the best qualified men who ever served as
President of the United States but he let his pride and ego get in
the way. He made some very bad decisions regarding Vietnam.
THIS WE KNOW: From January 1, 1961 to August
10, 1964, 181 Americans military people were killed in Vietnam - by
the end of Lyndon Baines Johnson's term as President of the United
States, almost 36,000 American military people died in Vietnam.
One thing stands out in my
mind that still leaves a sour taste in my mouth. It makes me believe
that the Vietnam War was premeditated - the Johnson administration
had things all planned out. During our transit
across the Pacific, around December of 1964 or January of 1965, I remember attending
a briefing which was given to us by one of our officers. The
briefings were mandatory for everyone on the ship, with no exceptions. These
briefings were scripted affairs. For the most part, the officers read word
for word from a white paper that was provided to them by "higher
authority". The gist of
it all was to get the point across that communism had to be stopped
in Vietnam to prevent a "domino effect" from occurring. If action
was not taken by the U.S. to stop communism in Vietnam then it was
almost certain that all of Asia (or a great portion of it) would be
under communist control within a few years (the domino effect). They
also talked about Vietnam being of great importance to the U.S.
because of the rubber tree plantations located there. The bottom
line is: We were being prepared to go to war in Vietnam and these
briefings were a big part of the propaganda package. I think it was
a form of brain-washing. The officer who gave the briefing I
attended did not seem to have his heart in it - he was very nervous
and there were some uncomfortable pauses as he read from that white
the white paper for that briefing was written by someone near the
top in the Johnson administration - possibly Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense. I am not sure why they thought it was necessary.
I assume that
members of the other military services were given similar briefings
around that time. It was obvious the the politicians were setting the stage for a
shooting war in Vietnam. I believe President Johnson made up his
mind that we were going to war in August of 1964. Plain and simple,
it was propaganda.
Here is an official government pamphlet, published
and distributed in 1964:
Struggle for Freedom
This is very similar to the what we were told in
that briefing. Keep in mind that this paper was written before
the United States committed large scale ground forces to combat in
South Vietnam or started the bombing raids on North Vietnam
I must confess that I was
more confused after the briefing than I was before I heard it. I
have thought about it often and I still wonder why our government
decided that such a briefing needed in the first place. I was
bothered by it because whoever wrote it seemed to think that we were
all stupid. I was naive
but not stupid. To make it worse, many of the officers who gave the
briefings were well aware that it was propaganda and it showed.
The days before the Vietnam War turned hot in 1964 were similar to
those before the first President Bush launched Operation
Desert Storm. The big difference was that President Johnson did not
give the Generals and Admirals the freedom to plan things out
properly or the authority to make decisions and run things in
Vietnam. President Johnson tried to do everything from
Washington D.C - BIG MISTAKE.
It was a very complicated situation and we all
knew that. South
Vietnam was not a pleasant place to be in those times. It had been at war for many
years before we got involved there. It was primarily a Civil War, after the
French were defeated in the 1950's. It is true that things were out
of control in South Vietnam and it had been that way for many years
. The government of South Vietnam was not stable and there was
wide-spread corruption. In many cases the people in South
Vietnam had good reasons fro being unhappy. Some of its citizens were
being brutally murdered by other citizens, who were influenced by
communist agitators from North Vietnam. It was a big mess -
it was a place we Americans
should have stayed away from. I think President Johnson was
sympathetic with the people in South Vietnam and honestly
believed that we could go in there and "straighten up the mess".
He believed we could stop the violence in South Vietnam quickly. Instead,
adding our military forces to the mix there just caused a huge
explosion that could not be reversed. In a short period of time, we
were committed to a terrible war. Sadly, our presence there only added to
the misery of the people in South Vietnam
only speak for myself. I was an 18 year old kid. I was gung-ho
and ready to go to action. I took this oath
when I enlisted in the U.S. Navy :
"I, Dalton Ray
Phillips, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and
defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies,
foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to
the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the
United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me,
according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
So help me God."
I had been raised to "wave the flag". My attitude was: "Ours is not to
reason why. Ours is but to do or die." I really didn't need a pep
think it was that way for most of us. I was ready to do my
duty and follow orders. I did not need all of the propaganda to inspire me.
To say that I was naive would be an
understatement. To me - if our President said it was the right thing
to do then it had to be right and his wisdom should not be
Blind faith can be dangerous.
this brings to mind some of the statements made by members of the
German Waffen SS after World War Two ended ... "I was a soldier" ...
"I followed my orders" .... "I did my duty for my Fuhrer".
The large scale bombing raids on military targets
in North Vietnam started in February of 1965 and continued into 1967. Shortly after the
bombing started, the U.S. committed
Army and Marine Corps ground
forces to combat action in South Vietnam on a large scale and beefed
up the presence of the U.S. Air Force in South Vietnam and nearby
countries. All of that required the involvement of many more
ships and people from the U.S. Navy. Things escalated very fast in
1965. The rest is history - we were engaged in a full scale shooting
war without having clear objectives.
During those early days of the war, all
targets to be bombed in North Vietnam had to be personally approved by
President Johnson. At that time, I think it was like a big game for
him. He bragged that "an out-house can not be bombed
in North Vietnam without my personal approval". He liked
the power and control. He set the
stage for running the war from Washington DC, which was a major
blunder. Throughout the years Johnson was in office, most of the
important decisions about the war that should have been made by the
military professionals were made by the politicians and
President Johnson later had to accept
responsibility for making some very bad decisions, many of them against the
advise of his Generals and Admirals.
The bombing of targets in North Vietnam was
not as effective as it should have been because of the many
restrictions imposed by President Johnson. Surface to aIr missile (SAM) sites
construction in North Vietnam and we knew about it early. They could not be bombed because President Johnson
was afraid Russian's would be killed. We knew they were being
constructed but did nothing to stop it and that was probably one of
the biggest mistakes we made during the period of the Vietnam War.
Our planes were not allowed to attack the SAM sites unless there was
convincing evidence that U.S. aircraft were being illuminated and
targeted for SAM attack. These SAM sites later became
totally operational, which caused the loss of many American aircraft and
There is an old saying in the Navy : "Piss Poor
Planning Produces Piss Poor Results". That applies very
well to the
situation in Vietnam under the leadership of President Johnson. If
we did not learn anything else from the Vietnam experience, I hope
we learned this: IT IS NOT THE WAY A WAR SHOULD BE FOUGHT.
During that cruise, USS HANCOCK made the transit across the
Pacific, stopping off in Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines, before we
took up station off the coast of Vietnam sometime in January of 1965.
February of 1965, Camp Holloway and the U.S. controlled Pleiku air
field, in South Vietnam were attacked by Viet Cong communist
insurgents and 8 Americans were killed. Within 12 hours, President
Johnson ordered retaliatory bombing strikes to be launched against
military targets in North Vietnam from the U.S. aircraft carriers
USS CORAL SEA and USS HANCOCK. It was called Flaming Dart. Rear
Admiral Edward Cobb Outlaw was in command of the Naval Air Forces
participating of the raid and he had his headquarters on the USS
I think it is important to point out that in
1964, Lyndon Baines Johnson had the full confidence of most
Americans. He had been an important political leader for many years.
There was no reason to question his judgment.
I did not know Lyndon Johnson personally, but he
had been an important man in Texas as far back as I could remember. I had heard
about him all of my life. He had been a U.S. Senator from Texas when
I was growing up there. He was quite a hero for us. I admired
him In some
ways - I used to think of him as a real life Foghorn Leghorn type
of character, with his Texas drawl and bigger than life persona.
He was obviously a man with a huge ego. He
liked power and he liked to be in control. He liked to be the center
of attention and he loved to run his mouth. He also
surrounded himself with "yes men" - advisors who gave him inaccurate
information because that is what he wanted to hear.
On that fateful day in February of 1965 , I believe he honestly thought that
ordering the air strike on North Vietnam was a quick fix that would
cause them to back down and show him the respect that he so richly deserved.
There was a great deal of
excitement on the HANCOCK when we got the word about the air strike.
Most of us were glad we were playing a part in making history
by retaliating against the communists in North Vietnam. As I remember it, there was only one air
strike launched from the HANCOCK that day and there were not that
many of our aircraft involved in it. From what I have read - there
were a total of 49 Navy aircraft involved in it. We were finally going to take
action against North Vietnam and we all cheered about that.
We didn't know what to
expect from North Vietnam and all of the ships involved were placed
in Condition Three - Wartime Cruising. Both of the aircraft carriers
were steaming in the Tonkin Gulf in relatively safe waters off the
coast of North Vietnam. The aircraft carriers accompanied by several
destroyers and other escort ships.
it was intended to be a show
of force that would convince North Vietnam that we meant business.
It didn't work. It was like swatting a big wasp nest with a small fly
swatter - it just stirred things up. Within a few days, they hit us again in South
Vietnam. Over 20 more Americans died. President Johnson made up his
mind to pour many thousands of Marine and Army ground troops into
Vietnam and plans to do that started immediately.
I didn't keep a diary but I believe we
only stayed in Condition Three status for about three weeks. That becomes
a grind in a hurry. The number of watches that had to be stood by
the sailors was basically tripled. It seems that we were either on
watch or working, and there was little time for sleep, writing
letters or recreation.
All critical stations (normally not manned) and the Damage Control parties were manned up
at 1/3 strength
24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
North Vietnam did not have a Navy to speak of
and they posed little threat to the American aircraft carriers, as
long as we kept them far enough away from the coast. They made
a few attempts to send patrol boats and MIGs out to attack the American ships but
the radar picket escort destroyers and fighter jets from the
aircraft carriers took care of them with no problems. Admiral Outlaw
decided that it was not necessary to keep the aircraft carriers in
Wartime Condition Three.
The excitement of it all dwindled
for us after a few
days. Then the monotony and grind of it set in. We were all very happy when things were
and we went back to normal peace time cruising again.
Operation Rolling Thunder
officially started in early March of 1965. From that point through
about 1972, the U.S. Navy kept from two to four aircraft carriers stationed off the coast of
Vietnam and missions were launched around the clock. Hundreds of
other U.S. Navy ships also served in the Vietnam theater. The Air
Force was also launching continuous bombing strikes against targets
in North Vietnam from their bases in South Vietnam and with the B-52's
There are those who believe that us old Navy guys
who never did time "in country" in South Vietnam should not claim to
be veterans of that war. I can appreciate that viewpoint, to a
certain degree, but I believe those people would see things from a different perspective if they had served
where we did. The Navy played a very important role in the Vietnam
War - especially the Aircraft Carriers. I think we all did our duty and worked as a team to
contribute to the war effort in Vietnam. We obeyed our orders and
did our duty. That is what American soldiers, marines, airmen and
sailors are supposed to do. I believe I earned my stripes in Vietnam.
No one knows
for sure what President John F. Kennedy had in mind when he started
meddling in the affairs of South Vietnam while he was in office as
President of the United States in the early 1960's. We know JFK had
a special interest in Vietnam. There are many different opinions
about that. You can read many different
commentaries about that on other websites, written by people who are
much smarter than I am. In any case, by early 1965, I believe it should have been
clear to then President Lyndon Johnson that he had a tough choice to
make - swallow his pride, abandon South Vietnam and pull all Americans out of there
immediately or beef up the American presence in South Vietnam and
stand and fight. With typical Texan bravado, he chose the stand and
fight option. (I can say that - don't forget, I am also a Texan.) Hindsight is 20/20 and we all now know that he made the
The Vietnam War was caused by a
stubborn old man who could not swallow his pride.
Things were complicated in America in the middle 1960's. Most of the
working class adults came from the "greatest generation" - those who
had endured World War Two. Their off-spring were the "baby boomers"
and let's be honest here - many of us were pampered spoiled brats. Around 1964 - the whole
world seemed to go nuts with all of the changes that took place.
Although it was in the news every day, what was going on in Vietnam
was of little importance to the average American. The older folks
yawned it off - even after the shooting war started they thought of
it as a "small war" that didn't matter much anyhow. After all -
in their minds, it
didn't cast a shadow against what had happened during WW2.
Besides, they had other things to worry about.
"BEAVER" CLEAVER GONE BAD!
The Hippie Movement was starting and all of the
baby boomers were impacted by it, in one way or another. It was
supposed to be about "being your own person" and "doing your own
thing" but I believe most of the baby boomers who became hippies
were like little sheep - following along after the herd. Those of us
who resisted the Hippie Movement were labeled as "squares".
We were all under pressure to take sides -
continue to be a square or drop out to be a hippie.
Obviously, I believed in what we were trying
to do in South Vietnam so I chose to be a square.
I was a country boy when I arrived in San
Francisco in 1964. I wasn't prepared for the the things I saw in
'Frisco. I was like a real life "Gomer Pyle" in many ways. I spent the next
four years in and out of 'Frisco and I saw
the hippie movement progress from a few "gentle people" and "flower children" to huge
mobs of dirty, long-haired, screaming fanatics. It all started out
quietly enough but within a few years, the hippies were protesting
against everything - especially the Vietnam War. The hippies were
"anti-establishment". They wanted changes but they did not
always know what
changes they wanted. They were especially active in the California
cities situated around the San Francisco Bay. They tried to blockade
the Armed Forces Induction Centers and other government buildings.
They demonstrated at the gates leading into military bases and tried
to block traffic. By 1967, I was still
dedicated to doing my duty in the Navy, but I was not happy with the
way things were going in Vietnam. I was starting to have doubts of my
own about our ability to win in Vietnam, unless the rules of
engagement were changed. I was still very much against what the
hippies were doing.
By 1967 things in America were in very sad shape. The Vietnam War was
only part of the problem, but it became the focal point. Our
President had lost control, our value system had deteriorated and
the whole world seemed to be turned upside down. It seemed like
everyone wanted to pick on us in the military services and blame us
for all of these problems. It didn't matter what uniform you wore
- Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy or Marine Corps. We were
treated with total disrespect. We were heckled, spat at and generally
ridiculed in public places, such as the airports. Most of the action
was done by the hippie anti-war protestors. They were very hateful
and assertive and they liked to make noise. Everyone else seemed
to ignore what they saw happening around them - they just turned
away and pretended not to notice. I can honestly say
that I preferred being overseas to being in America back in those
days of social turmoil. When we visited Hong Kong, there were always
many older tourists there from Australia. They always treated us
with great kindness and told us how much they appreciated what we
were doing in Vietnam. We almost never heard words of praise like
that from the older folks back in the United States.
When I think back on those times, it still
leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
Despite all of the hostility that was shown
toward us back then, coming back from a lengthy WestPac deployment
was always a pleasant experience for us. It was great to be back in
the USA. You can't believe how great
a simple McDonald's hamburger or a big cold glass of real milk
tastes after you have been away from such things for almost a year.
We learned to appreciate the simple things in life. It was always
good to come home.
After we completed our cruise to Vietnam in
1967, I was convinced that we were not winning and we would never
win the war unless we changed the way we were doing business. There
were too many restrictions and "rules of engagement" imposed by the
politicians. The war was being managed from Washington D.C. The Generals and Admirals were not running the war -
the politicians were in control.
War makes people crazy. By the end of 1967, I
was all for a full scale invasion of North Vietnam because I
believed it was the only way we could hope to win the war to end the
madness that was going on in Vietnam. I wanted it to end but I
still wanted the U.S. to win. To give it up was unthinkable to me.
I was called a "baby
killer" for the first time at the airport in San Francisco by some
little hippie guy who was backed up by about 20 of his kind. They
often roamed around in the airports - looking for
opportunities to harass military people who
were walking alone. If there were two or more of us walking
together, they usually kept their distance because they were
cowardly. But if you were walking
through an airport in uniform by yourself, you could count on being
harassed by the hoard of hippie agitators.
I hated to go around airports back then. We were
required to travel in uniform and that just made us easy targets for
the hippies. I travelled by Greyhound bus a few times to avoid the
hassles at the airports. At the airports, we would go to the seating
areas near the boarding gates and gather in little groups. There
would be people there from all branches of the military services -
officers and enlisted people. It was mostly men in the military back
then, but there were sometimes a few women in these little huddles. We
were basically treated like social outcasts. We were more comfortable in
the company of other military people.
Several big name celebrities from Hollywood had joined the
anti-war band wagon by 1967, including Jane Fonda. She is the one we
hear about most nowadays but there were many others. They helped to
keep things stirred up among the hippies. I do not think they
performed a public service that was of any great value, as many of
them like to take credit for nowadays. They were just more
noise-makers and agitators and their fame gave them a special place
in the scheme of things.
The draft dodgers who ran away to Canada and
other places got more sympathy from most folks than the military people
who came back from Vietnam wounded. Former President Bill
Clinton was one of the draft dodgers, if what I read about him is correct.
We had orders to ignore the anti-war agitators and it was understood that we would be punished if we were
involved in a confrontation with the hippies in a public place. I
got in the habit of trying to look as mean as I could when I was in
airports and other crowded public places. I figured if I was going to be
treated like an asshole I might as well act like one, and I usually
did just that.
War is a horrible thing. We all knew that
innocent people were killed every time we launched a bombing mission
against heavily populated areas in North Vietnam. I truly believe we
tried to focus on bombing military and industrial targets but I know
there were innocent casualties. On the other side of the coin
- we knew that innocent people were routinely being slaughtered in
South Vietnam by the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese invaders. I
am certain there were many more innocent casualties in South Vietnam
than there were in North Vietnam, although there is no way to tally
it all up. Babies and other innocent people should not be killed but
it happens in every war. As General Sherman said, "War is hell".
Jane Fonda and others took a very one-sided stand
about the war - especially the "baby killer" thing.
She got that started and went
way too far with it. In my mind, she was guilty of grand treason
because she openly aided the enemy of the United States at that time
and caused great hardships for many American prisoners of war held by
that enemy. Jane Fonda went on to live a successful life and
as far as I know she has never apologized for what she did. To this
day - I still will not watch a movie or TV show if Jane Fonda is
one of the actor's in it. I have no respect for the lady.
I am happy to see that our military people
today are shown appreciation when they return from deployments.
During the Vietnam War, there were no "Welcome Home" banners or
other displays of appreciation for us when we came home. If we were recognized at all,
it was to be heckled by agitators. We tried to make ourselves
"invisible" as much as we could.
I didn't have a problem with people being against
the war in Vietnam by 1967, but tormenting the people in uniform was
just plain wrong. I never could understand that. It got worse as time went by. If we are
not happy with the way things are going, as citizens we have a duty to try to make some
changes. The best way to do that is by being involved and voting for
the right pepole. We need to
watch what is going on and stay involved to keep the politicians in
line - from the President of the United States down to the local County
I was one of those squares who believed in HONOR, DUTY and
COMMITMENT. I have no apologies for that.
The Vietnam War ended Lyndon B. Johnson's
political career. He did not run for re-election as President in
1968. After he turned over the keys to Richard M. Nixon in January
of 1969, he left Washington and stepped out of the political
spotlight. For the rest of his life, I believe he was haunted by the
ghosts of all of the people who died in Vietnam because of the
decisions he made and the military actions he ordered while he was
President. I believe he was a broken man in his later days. He died on his ranch in Texas in January of 1973.
I believe he was a good man who was tormented by what happened in
Vietnam and the negative impact it had on America. He was
shamed by it all because "it happened on his watch"
and he had to accept that responsibility.
In 1964, I think all of us in the American
military services were over confident. We could not imagine being
defeated by a third world country like North Vietnam. We did not
understand what we were up against.
This is the way I see it, for what it is
The morale of all of those serving in the
military services during the Vietnam War suffered and was at an all
time low when the war finally ended. It took several years for the military
services to recover from the Vietnam experience. After Johnson, we
went through the years with Nixon, Ford, and Carter serving as
Presidents of the United States without much improvement in the
morale of the military services. President Ronald Reagan
finally helped restore "pride in service" when he took
office in 1981. That trend continued through the term of
President George H.W. Bush but started a decline again when Bill
Clinton took office as President in 1993. There was some
improvement during the term of President George W. Bush from 2001 to
2009, but I believe President Barack Obama is not good for the
country or the military services and he needs to go. Needless to say
- I did not vote for Obama the recent National Election. We have some of the finest airmen, soldiers, marines and
sailors in the world serving in our military services today but they
are being taken for granted, spread too thin and pushed too hard.
President Obama wants to make big cuts in the defense budget over
the next several years, which includes major force reductions. He
also has the tendency to control the war efforts from Washington
D.C. In my opinion, President Obama is quick to take credit
when things go well but rarely accepts the blame when things go bad.
I do not give him high marks as our Commander in Chief but he won a
second term as our President fair and square and we are stuck with
This YouTube clip says it better than I can.
I have fond memories about John Wayne. While filming the movie "The
Green Berets" he spent about three days on the HANCOCK. He didn't
put on a show or anything like that. He walked around the ship,
accompanied only by a young marine escort, letting himself be seen
and occasionally stopping to chat with ordinary sailors. One of his
favorite places to hang out was a sponson weather deck off the hangar deck.
He would stand there, gazing out at the sea - enjoying the view and
the fresh air, probably sneaking a cigarette when he could get away
with it, although smoking was always prohibited in those areas.
Sometimes one of the older Chiefs would go out there with him and
they would stand there talking.
had several USO shows come on board the ship - the ones I remember
are Bob Hope, Danny Kay and Martha Raye but there were several
others. They all put on nice shows but most of them stayed up in the
wardroom or in officer's country, when they were not performing. We
enlisted men rarely saw any of them out walking around the ship, and
when we did, the Captain or another high ranking officer was with
them. But John Wayne was different. He ate all of his meals in the
crew's mess, seated at a table with some of the youngest sailors.
One day I was in the medical ward, working on installing a drinking
water fixture in one of the passageways. I heard a commotion and
looked up - there was John Wayne walking toward me. I had to
step aside to make room for him to pass. He had a big smile and he
said simply, "How are you today?" as he walked by me, in that
gravelly voice of his. He was a very tall man. I am six feet one
inches tall and I had to look up at him. He did not put on airs and
we all felt like he was approachable. He
acted like one of the guys. He didn't have a message and he didn't
give any speeches to talk about the war or the politics involved
with it. He just had a smile and a few kind words and that meant a
lot to us. I will never forget that.
Our pilots were the real heroes. There are no
braver men on earth than the Naval Aviators who flew off the decks
of the aircraft carriers during the Vietnam War. They risked their
lives every time they flew a sortie. The planes that flew attack
missions from the HANCOCK were all single-seaters - the A-1's, A-4's
and F-8's. We still had a wooden flight deck and could not handle
the more modern F-4 Phantoms and A-5 Vigilantes. We lost many
pilots. - I don't have an exact count. Many others managed
to make it back to the ship and land their planes - although some of
them were badly wounded. We still flew the old A-1's from the
HANCOCK. The old propeller driven planes were extremely accurate as
bombers but they made good targets because they were so slow. The
Navy finally stopped using them on the bombing raids in North
Vietnam around 1966 because of the heavy losses. They continued to
use the A-1's for support
missions in South Vietnam for a few more years after that. The A-1
pilots were a special breed. They wore khaki flight suits that
looked like something left over from the Korean War, with 45 caliber
pistols worn in shoulder holsters. Many of them sported colorful
scarves around their necks - Red Baron style. They hammed it up and were not about to
let the jet jockies jet the best of them. One night, an A-1
came back all shot up and crash landed on the flight deck. The Crash
and Rescue team managed to get the pilot out but he was badly
wounded. To get him to the medical ward, they had to bring him
through the berthing compartment where I lived. I remember seeing
that big burly young pilot strapped onto the stretcher - all bloody
and writhing around in pain. A few hours later, it was announced
that he had died. The sight of that young pilot is still in my mind.
I don't know his name - I wish I had made a note of it.
Walking around on the hangar deck, we saw the
damaged aircraft almost every day - an A-4 with the nose section
cleanly shot away, an F-8 with several bullet holes in the tail
section - small holes on one side, large jagged holes, with danling
debris, on the other side, an A-1 riddled with bullet holes
throughout and something that looked like a spear imbedded in the
Many of our pilots were captured after ejecting from their damaged
planes in hostile territory. Many of them spent years as prisoners
of war in North Vietnam. I believe some of them are still listed as Missing In
I did not see the horrible things in Vietnam that many combat
veterans saw. I was crushed when the Vietnam War ended the way it
did. I was very bitter about the Vietnam
experience. I tried to put it out of my mind for many years. I did
not want to think about it or talk about it. I don't feel shame for
my service in support of the war in Vietnam and I never have. I still feel
great sadness and some anger about the way it was handled by the
politicians and the lack of support we got from the folks at home.
I feel like we let down all of those people who died in Vietnam. It was something I wanted to put out of my mind.
hope we never put our young men and women in uniform in that kind of
situation again. For starters, we must keep a close watch on the
politicians to prevent them from getting us entangled in another
mess like that again. When we do commit our military forces to go
into one of these cesspools, the politicians must let the military
professionals control what goes on there. The Generals and
Admirals should run the war - not the politicians. We should have
clear objectives and our troops should have everything they need to
get the job done. If we need to make budget cuts in other programs to pay
for that, then so be it. We should always fight to win. If we do not have a plan and do not know what we are doing
there or how we are going to pay for it or how we can win then
we should get the hell out of there. The President of the United
States, as Commander in Chief, sets the pace. We need to keep a
President in office who cares about our men and women in the
military services. We can all use our votes to make that happen.
Most important of all - our military people must have the full
support of the people here at home. If we have issues about what is
going on, then we should put the heat on the President and the other
politicians to get it set straight. I am now an old man but if I ever see some 20 year old kid in
uniform being picked on and humiliated in an airport or any other
public place by a bunch of agitators, I will start knocking on some
heads with my walking cane.
I regret that so many good people had to die
in the Vietnam War.
I hope we learned some lessons from the
Vietnam War so we do not make the same mistakes in the future. First
and foremost - I hope we learned that we can not solve all of the
problems in this world by using military force. When we have to
fight - we have to fight smart. We are fighting some of the
most fanatical and cruel bastards on this earth. They have no "RULES
OF ENGAGEMENT". Their objective is to kill the Infidel Americans -
soldiers and civilians, old and young, men women and children.
They give no quarter and they expect none in return. It is an evil world and we have to
continue to fight el Qaeda and the other terrorists to keep them
away from the U.S. But we must be smart and innovative. The bad guys
need to know that we are as determined as they are, and that we can
be just as ruthless - when it is necessary. We should not impose
unrealistic Rules of Engagement for our soldiers. Our troops in
harm's way over there should not have their hands tied. War is a
cruel business and people get killed. Our commanders and the troops
in action are well trained and we have to trust them. The news
media looks for cases where innocent people are killed over there
and they blow it up when they report it. They do that because it
makes makes good news print and good news print is their bread and
butter - it is how they make their money. We need to make the bad guys afraid at all
times - always on edge, looking over their shoulders, afraid to go
to sleep at night. We need to show up when and where they do not
expect us, kill as many of them as we can, then vanish
quickly. We need to make maximum use of the remote controlled
drones, smart missiles and bombs, and all of the other high tech
gadgets we have at our disposal. We have to wear the bad guys down.
Our enemies are not stupid. They keep informed about our Rules of
Engagement and they take advantage of the situation when they can. The days of planting large numbers of people
on the ground in places like
Afghanistan and Iraq are over. We need to carefully choose the areas where we
commit our troops on the ground, along with all of the
vehicles and equipment that goes along with them. That makes a good
show of force but it is not effective, over the long term. Our troops
arrayed for conventional ground warfare - make easy targets for our enemies and that is not what we want
to do. We need to be ready to put those large forces in place quickly, when
necessary, then pull them out just as fast. Everything needs to
be kept mobile. In these times of unrest ant turmoil around
the world, we certainly should not be talking about force reductions.
Life aboard the HANCOCK was not easy. It was
an old ship (built in the early 1940's) and had a distinguished record back to
the days of World War Two. It was hit by a Japanese Kamikaze off the
Okinawa in 1945, when about 45 sailors died. I was reading up about it: of all of the aircraft
carriers in the Navy record books, the USS HANCOCK is tied with the
USS ORISKANY for making the most deployments to Vietnam. (I believe
they both made 12 combat deployments there.) We were all very
proud to serve on the HANCOCK. It had a reputation for being a "work
horse" and when one of the newer aircraft carriers was broke down
and laid up in a shipyard for repairs, they always called on the
HANCOCK to take up the slack.
Here is a quick sketch of the way it was for us:
The U.S. Navy had many more ships in service
than it does today. Unfortunately, most of the ships in those days
were built during World War Two and were seriously outdated.
Our existence was mostly mundane. We got up at
6 AM, we routinely worked 10 to 12 hour days, we caught naps
whenever we could but almost never got a full night of sleep, we
stood a 4 hour watch during our "off time" ... then it all started
over again the next day.
Only a few places on
the ship had air conditioning in those days. The berthing
compartments, where we slept, were very Spartan. There were no
chairs or other pieces of furniture. Those items were "missile
hazards" and not allowed. We sat on the deck to write letters, play
cards, or just shoot the bull. We slept in canvas bottom racks
which were equipped with mattresses about two inches thick. Space
was at a premium and the bunks were arranged in tiers vertically and
spaced about two feet apart. There would be three bunks in each
vertical tier - sometimes even four or five high. There was forced
air ventilation throughout the ship but the output was limited to a
few discharge points in each compartment. We did not have air ducts
or fans at our bunks. The berthing compartment where I slept was
actually a passageway right under the hangar deck. People were
walking through there at all hours of the day and night.
Sometimes that was a good thing because the movement of people
walking by would stir up a little breeze. There was a hatch
nearby which opened onto the hangar deck and every once in a while
we could feel a puff of air coming from that. When we were operating
off the coast of Vietnam, it was always miserably hot and sultry.
There was very little air moving around inside the ship and we would
lay in our bunks and sweat. Sleeping was not easy. We worked ten to
twelve hours a day and stood watch for four hours a day, so we did
not get to spend much time in our bunks. By the time we got in our
bunks, we were usually almost exhausted and somehow managed to drift
off to sleep - despite the noise and the discomfort of the heat and
lack of ventilation.
In those days - being deployed on a Navy ship
meant that you would be out of touch with your loved ones for
several months. There was no television or radio. The internet
would not come into being for several years. If you could manage to
get a good short wave radio on board you could sometimes pick up
a broadcast from "Hanoi Sally" or something very garbled coming out
of Red China. That was all Communist Propaganda. I do not remember
hearing an Armed Forces Network (AFN) broadcast while we operated off the
cost of Vietnam. I only tried to listen to a radio there a few
times. I did listen to AFN broadcasts when we were in Japan and the Philippines
- those were good "liberty port" and we had better things to do
than sit around listening to the radio. Letter
mail normally took at least two to three weeks to get though to us -
sometimes much longer.
we could get away with it, we would go out on a sponson weather deck or to the
fantail, where we could just stand and look at the water and breathe
in some fresh air. It was beautiful, especially in the early
mornings and late evenings. it was a good place to have some
quiet time and gather your thoughts, but those areas were off limits
most of the time. We would sometimes sneak out there anyway. We had
a storeroom and workshop on a platform deck on the fantail, right
under the flight deck. That gave us a reason to go back there. I
remember sitting back there, watching the planes approach and land
just a few feet above us. At night, the propellor wash would
sometimes stir up phosphorous, which made the water look like it was
glowing. It was an eerie green light and it was pretty spooky. There
was also heat lightening at night. There wouldn't be any clouds but
sometimes there would be bright lightening flashes. I never heard
thunder but the propellors made a great deal of noise back there.
The work shops were very
important for us because we often hung out there when we were not
working. The shops were the hang-outs. Several of us had
reel-to-reel tape players and we would hook those up to play our favorite music. We sometimes had two or
three of them going at the same time, as I remember it, so we got to
listen to country, rock and roll and pop music - all at the same
We were supplied with "Stars
and Stripes" newspapers when the parcel mail could get through but
they were usually several weeks old by the time they got to us.
Parcel mail typically got through to us every four to six weeks but that all
depended on the tempo of operations and where we were operating. The
parcel mail was usually delivered to us by one of the replenishment
ships. We had letter mail delivered more often. It usually came to
us on the COD (Carrier On Deck Delivery) aircraft.
Our Ships Office printed out a daily newsgram
consisting of a couple of type-written pages. Several copies of it
would be copied off and distributed around the ship every morning, along with the
printed copies of the Plan of The Day. Those newsgrams were sacred
for us. The radiomen would tune into some of the news services
using their high powered equipment to get the latest news, which was included in the newsgrams. Each copy would be
passed from person to person until it became so dog-eared that it
could no longer be read.
Making a telephone call to the states was not
practical in those days. After 1966, special telephone centers were
set up at some of the big bases in Vietnam, the Philippines and
Japan. The hours of operation were restricted, there were always
always long lines and it was very expensive. Most of us didn't
bother with it.
We never had enough fresh water. We were almost
always on "water hours". They allowed showers every three
or four days. We would stand in long lines to take a
shower. They had Petty Officers posted to manage the showers - we
were allowed three minutes in the shower - wet down, soap up, rinse
off, get out, towel dry and leave.
The drinking water always
tasted bad - rust mixed with diesel fuel best describes it. Most of us drank a lot of coffee
or flavored "bug juice" and very little
had hot food every day and it was not all that bad. In the military,
food is very important to keep the morale up. I have to praise
our cooks for doing what they did to keep us all fed. We all griped
about the food but we did not miss many meals. Almost everything came out
of a can or a box, and there was no fresh produce. We drank a lot of
"bug juice", which was made with a Kool-Aid like powder. We found
out that it was sweetened with saccharin - which had already been
determined to cause cancer. We didn't care - it tasted good, the
flavoring masked the bad taste in the water. Some of
the decks in our work shops were polished steel and we used the "bug
juice" powder for making up a slurry that we would put down to clean
and shine those steel decks. (That always made the Chief happy.) The only milk we ever had was
mixed up from powder also, there were always big slimey clumps in it and it tasted terrible.
I tried it over dry cereal a few times but I usually stuck to my coffee
or bug juice. The most common
meat was what we called "roast beast". I believe it was actually
veal and it probably came out of a can. They must have had a surplus
of it in the supply system - we usually had something
made from that "mystery meat" at least three or four times a week, along
with reconstituted dehydrated soups and canned vegetables. We also had a
lot of tuna (or chicken) ala king over noodles. an oriental Chop-Suey
like concoction (which I hated) and dishes like that. Hamburgers and
hot dogs also came out of a can. The hamburgers looked and tasted like Alpo dog
food and the hot dogs were like big Vienna sausages. Every four to six weeks a supply
ship would come alongside and we got some real frozen meat - usually
steaks and hamburgers. We might also get some fresh produce.
It would feed us for a couple of meals then it was back to our old
routine. The best meal
of the day was always breakfast - canned bacon, powdered eggs
(scrambled), creamed beef over toast (the famous SOS), reconstituted dehydrated
hash brown potatoes, oatmeal, dried cereals, pastries and bread was
the standard breakfast fare. The cooks sometimes made a tomato based
version of the SOS - which tasted sort of like Sloppy Joe filling. I
really liked the stuff and I have tried to make it at home several
times over the years - can't seem to get it quite right. I have to say that some of the cooks
were real miracle workers when it came to preparing good meals with
the ingredients they had to work with. We had excellent bakers
and we always had fresh hot donuts every morning. Our Chief was in good
with them and they owed him, for some reason. One of our guys would
go to the Bake Shop every morning around 5 AM and they would hand
out a big box of fresh donuts and other sweet pastries. On our
birthdays, we were entitled to a special steak dinner, to be shared
with another person of our choice, if we wanted it. Most of us did
not take advantage of it because it didn't seem right to be eating
steak while everyone else was eating the standard fare.
It was basic and simple food but we always had plenty
of it. The mess decks were open about 18 hours every day and
there was always food available - even if it was just peanut butter
and jelly sandwiches. We were much better off than the grunts
country in South Vietnam.
I did not care much for Chief Petty Officers when
I was a young sailor. Our Chief was a grumpy
guy who seemed like an old man to us - he was probably around 35
years old. We saw him twice a day - at morning muster and at the
afternoon muster, after the noon meal. If we saw him any more often
than that then we knew someone was in serious trouble. The Chief
always looked like he was mad at the world. He made
rounds every night sometime between midnight and 4 AM. On his
rounds, he always stopped by Damage Control Central, where we stood
our watches. He would swing the door open, throw his Chief's hat in,
then he would come in after it - usually cussing about the place
being dirty or something. God help anyone who was caught
dozing by the Chief. He never had anything nice to say to any
of us but when one of us went out and got in trouble, the Chief
would come to bail us out. That happened with me on several
Chief was a "clean freak". To keep the Chief happy, we had to keep
everything clean and neat. We spent a lot of our time cleaning.
Navy Chiefs are a special breed, now as then. There are no schools
to teach someone how to be a Chief. They evolve from a new recruit
up to Chief over a period of several years - some faster than
others. The Chief is very special in the Navy. The Chief has to be
thick skinned - the officers blame the Chief for everything that
goes wrong, the middle grade enlisted people believe they can do
everything better than the Chief, the lower enlisted ranks blame the Chief for everything
that makes them unhappy. The Chief is used to being called names,
such as "dumb ass", "asshole" or "Neanderthal", behind his (or her)
back. It all goes along with the job. But in times of crisis,
everyone turns to the Chief to come up with a quick fix for the
problem. As part of the development process - they learn all the tricks of the trade and by the time
they become a Chief, the
Chief knows everything. "Ask the Chief" is a motto for the
Navy Chief Petty Officers of the Navy.
We hated the Chief as
young sailors coming up through the ranks - then one day we became
"the Chief" (those of us who stayed in the Navy long enough).
It is no wonder that Chief's are so grumpy. I have been retired for
almost thirty years and I am still a Chief, in many ways. The Chiefs
back in the days of the Vietnam War were especially gritty - I think
"meaner than a two headed rattlesnake" is a fair description for
most of them. But a good Chief always took care of his or her people.
The words below are from a wise old Navy
officers don't know what they want and don't know how to ask for
anything. Warrant Officers know what they want but they don't know
how to ask for it. Chiefs know what they want and they are just
plain blunt when asking for it."
CPO Creed" explains it better than I can.
I mouthed off to a Marine Sergeant of the Guard
one day, while standing a parking lot watch. He said I was smoking
on watch and I told him I was not smoking, which was the truth. He
said I was cocky and didn't like my
attitude - I was promptly placed
on report for "insubordination" and "dereliction of duty". That is
serious business for a young sailor. The Chief had a pow-wow with
the marine's First Sergeant and they reached an agreement - the report chit
was discarded within a few hours after it was written, before it went anywhere. Needless to say, it was not a
freebie for me. I gave up two weeks of liberty time, as I recall. I
replaced the canvass bottoms in all of the bunks in my berthing
compartment (about twenty), and if there was any trash to be carried
off the ship, I was the guy who got to do it - day or night. I had a
very disgruntled old Chief looking down my neck all the time. I was the
Chief's personal errand boy. Let me tell you
- I had great respect for Marine Sergeants after that!
The Chief ran our liberty when we were in
port. If he wasn't happy with you for some reason - your
Liberty Card would mysteriously come up missing. You did not leave
the ship without a Liberty Card in those days. Assuming that you
settled your differences with the Chief, your Liberty Card was
"found" after several days. The Chief also controlled our work
load. Extra Duty had to be imposed by the Captain as
non-judicial punishment at Captain's Mast. But the Chief kept a list
of all the jobs that had to be done, and if he needed you to stay
over to work while everyone else was on liberty then he had
every right to make it happen. So we learned early not to get on the
Chief's bad side.
The Warrant Officers from those times were
also colorful characters. My division's Material Officer was an old
Chief Warrant Officer. He was also the ship's Fire
Marshall. Rumor was that he served on several ships that were badly
damaged in battle during World War Two - at least one of them
sinking. He had about 30 years of service in the Navy. We called him
"the Carpenter". As I remember it, he was one of the
most senior Warrant Officers on the ship. He was tall and mean
looking. The Carpenter was hard
on us but he also stood up for us, when it was necessary. I
saw him get in "heated discussions" with Commanders from the Air
Department on more than one occasion. The airdale's on the hangar
deck didn't like us very much because we stored our shoring
materials and some of the other emergency equipment on the hangar
deck, which they considered to be their domain. Understandably it
was a big hindrance for them but it was essential equipment that we
had to keep readily available, in case of emergencies. One day a Lieutenant Commander from
the Air Department was chewing me and another young petty officer
out because a welding machine we were using was in the way of his
though it was parked in an area that was reserved for our emergency DC
equipment. Our old Warrant Officer walked up while we were being
chewed out and he lit into this young Lieutenant Commander.
"Commander, what in the hell do you think you
are doing? If you have a problem with where our damage control equipment is
stored on this ship you can come to my office to talk to me about it. I can
guarantee that you will not talk to me the way you are talking to
these young lads. You don't have enough time in the Navy, son."
Needless to say - the welding machine
stayed where it was. The young Lieutenant Commander made a
hasty retreat, after making some apologies to us. It was clear that
he accepted the crusty
old Warrant Officer as the "alpha male" present that day.
We always had plenty of coffee to drink.
We also used it as "comshaw" when we needed something when we
were in port in the Philippines or Japan. "Comshaw" means to
trade or barter. Our Chief would get
for us from the cooks. The Filipino and Japanese shipyard workers
would give you just about anything you asked for if you brought them
a big unopened tin can of Navy coffee grounds.
Some of my friends got in big trouble for
stealing ice cream one day. A supply ship was alongside and they
passed over several pallets of ice cream in five gallon buckets. A
working party was there with a chain of guys to pass the buckets of
ice cream from the hangar deck down to a walk in refrigerator three
decks down. That was big treasure for us! It was rare
for us to get ice cream. My friends were on the working party. They
heisted several buckets of the ice cream and hid it in a fan room
but they were caught in the act. None of us got to eat any of that
most important things in a sailor's life back then were food and
Monotony was a big
problem for us. Every day was the same. Every once in a while, we had
"Holiday Routine" on Sunday but that usually depended on the mood
the Chief was in. It didn't happen very often for us, since our
Chief was rarely in a good mood.
The Captain scheduled a
recreational day periodically - about every three months, usually on a Sunday.
We called it a "Hootinanny". That was always
a big thing for us. As a special treat, the cooks would break out some
cold cuts or cook hamburgers and maybe even throw in some canned soft drinks, if any were
available. The sailors would
get together to come up with different events to help us entertain
ourselves on these special days - there would be several bands playing,
wrestling or boxing matches, raffles going on,
movies being shown on the hangar deck and different games and contests
going on around the ship that we could get involved with.
I don't remember watching many movies while I
was on the HANCOCK. There was really no space that was big enough to
show movies for the crew.
I don't remember much about our Captains. The
one that stands out in my memory is Captain Streeper. We all loved
Captain Streeper, He was a little
short guy - probably stood about five feet five inches tall. He
liked to get out and walk around the ship, and he always had his
Marine orderly with him. He liked to mingle and would often
stop to chat with sailors as he
walked around the ship. The Marine orderly was a big tall Lance
Corporal. It was funny to see them walking around together - with
the Marine towering over Captain Streeper.
Captain Streeper had "true grit" despite
his small size. He offered to turn us loose
on "dungaree liberty" one day, to go take care of a bunch of hippies
who were trying to blockade the main gate at the Alameda Naval Air
Station. He also took the ship in as close to land as we ever came
one night in Vietnam to help rescue some of our pilots who had been
shot down. He was on the announcing system a lot, saying he would drive
that carrier up the Mekong River if that is what it took to get
those guys out of there. I believe he would have done just that but
an Air Force helicopter finally rescued the pilots before it was necessary.
It was a bad night. The downed pilots were in the water close to the
shore in enemy controlled territory. The VC were trying to get to
them in small boats and we had planes flying over to strafe the
boats. We also had a destroyer in close. Several helicopters were shot up bad trying to get to the
pilots. The rescue attempts went on for a couple of hours. It is a miracle that they were rescued.
Captain Streeper was the most visible of the
four Captains I served under while I was on the HANCOCK.
Almost everyday I would see him somewhere around the ship - just
walking around, looking at things and talking with the sailors. He
always had a pleasant greeting.
I am proud that I
served under him.
ARTICLE FROM JDNEWS.COM,
Carolina December 4,
Retired Navy captain
donates yacht to
Retired Navy Capt.
Harold P. "Jeep"
Streeper had a military
career that spanned 27
years and three wars
including World War II,
Korea and Vietnam. As
the commanding officer
of the aircraft carrier
USS Hancock in 1967, he
faced one of the biggest
challenges of his life.
"On our first day off
Vietnam, during the
first combat air strike,
our air wing commander
was knocked down,"
Streeper said. "He was
leading a flight of 60
aircraft, and he was our
only loss for the day,
but that was a real
In all, 14 men aboard
USS Hancock would be
killed during the
deployment to Vietnam.
"I used to talk with
my men every night over
the ship's public
address system," he
said. "I would tell them
what went on that day,
tell them to try to
conserve water, and tell
them to get some rest. I
wanted to reassure them,
praise them, and give
them the straight
During the year
Streeper served as USS
officer, the ship
launched more than
Streeper, now 87,
lives in New Bern and
"I have to be near
the water, so I spend a
lot of time in New
Bern," he said.
With 7,152 flight
hours and more than 800
Streeper knows the
sacrifices of naval
He enlisted in the
Navy in 1942 after
graduating from the
College of Wooster in
Wooster, Ohio, and was
appointed an Aviation
Cadet and sent to flight
training, whereby he was
commissioned an Ensign
and designated a Naval
Aviator Jan. 1, 1943.
During World War II,
he participated in
combat operations with
both the Atlantic and
Pacific Fleets. During
the Korean War, he was
officer-in-charge of a
detachment of aircraft
that would test the new
installed in USS
Hancock. He would be
Cross for his service in
Even with his medals,
sea stories and years of
being a successful real
estate developer, it
doesn't take long to
realize that Jeep
Streeper has his feet
firmly planted in the
"I don't like what's
happening to this great
country," he said.
"There's a great deal of
selfishness on the parts
of many, and it bothers
and his wife, Evelyn,
recently donated a
56-foot motor yacht to
College in Morehead City
to be used in the
college's marine trades
"We wanted to do
something that would
help people learn a
trade and give them some
real world experience,"
he said. "I spent a lot
of time on the boat, and
it means a great deal to
me that it goes for the
OBITUARY FROM LEGACY.COM
Harold Streeper Obituary
Captain Harold Preston "Jeep" Streeper, Ret. USN, 90,
passed away Thursday, June 23, 2011 at his home. A
private west coast memorial service will be held at a
future undisclosed time.
A native of Bridgeport, Pa., Captain Streeper graduated
from the College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio, in 1942 and
immediately enlisted in the Navy as a Seaman. Shortly
thereafter, he was appointed Aviation Cadet and
following completion of flight training, was
commissioned Ensign and designated Naval Aviator on Jan.
During World War II he participated in combat operations
with both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets and during
Korean hostilities participated in action with Navy and
Marine units. In early 1954, as officer in charge of
Detachment Delta, Composite Squadron Three, he
participated in the fleet test and evaluation projects
of the original steam catapults installed in USS
Hancock. In 1955, he commanded night jet all weather
Fighter/Attack Squadron 194 and in 1961-1962 commanded
Attack Carrier Air Group 15. During these years he was
deployed in USS Essex, USS Oriskany, and USS Coral Sea.
From 1964-1965, Captain Streeper served as operations
officer, Carrier Division One and Task Force 77 and was
deployed again in USS Hancock and USS coral sea engaged
in air strike operations in Vietnam. For this
participation he was awarded the legion of merit. Prior
to taking command of the Aircraft Carrier USS Hancock, he
was the Commanding Officer of Amphibious Attack Cargo
Ship USS Tulare (AKA-112), involved in amphibious
assault operations for seven months in Task Force 76 in
Vietnam. He was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal for
Shore duty assignments include tours as a flight
instructor at Pensacola, participation in the Berlin Air
Lift, Assistant Operations Officer on the Staff
Commander Naval Forces, Far East, Naval Attaché to the
Republic of Korea, two tours of duty on the Chief of
Naval Operations, and Force Training Officer for
Commander Naval Air Force, Pacific. He was a 1952
graduate of the General Line School at Monterey and a
1959 graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed
Additional awards include the Distinguished Flying
Cross, Air Medal with three gold Stars and Oak Leaf
Cluster, Presidential and Navy Unite Commendations,
Medal for Humane Action for the Berlin Air Lift,
Military Order ULCHI (Korean Legion of Merit) and
numerous campaign and foreign medals. Also, the South
Vietnam Government awarded him the National Defense
Decoration, Fifth Class and the Medal of Heroism with
Willow Branch for his three years of participation in
the Vietnamese War.
After retirement in 1973 from the Navy, he was
President/CEO of Rampage Corporation. While expanding
his interests and investments to coastal Brunswick
County from 1988- until 1997, he was an avid investor,
active in listings, sales, and development. He again
retired and spent the next 9 years living aboard and
cruising on his 56 foot motor yacht "Fox Corpen" in the
Great Pacific Northwest, Puget Sound, San Juan Islands,
Canadian Gulf Islands, and Desolation Sound. In 2006 he
brought the yacht around, through the Panama Canal, up
the ICW, and after cruising the following year in the
coastal waters off North Carolina, he donated the yacht
"Fox Corpen" to the Carteret Community College
Foundation, Inc. for use as a "floating classroom." He
continued to maintain a coastal lifestyle for the next
13 months, before Captain Streeper returned to
Greenville in 2007.
Captain Streeper was a member of "The Golden Eagles", a
national elite group of 200 members consisting of early
pioneer contributors to naval aviation. He was one of
the proud founding members of the Navy's Tailhook
Association and a life member of MOAA and ANA.
He is survived by his wife, Evelyn Bullock-Streeper;
stepsons, William Floyd Bullock, Jr. and wife Jane, of
Ivanhoe, and Gregory Christopher Bullock and wife Linda,
of Greenville; and step-grandchildren, William Floyd
"Trey" Bullock III, Patrick and Amy Butts, and Madison
and Max Riley Vinciguerra.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to a
charity of your choice.
Through it all, we had some pretty good times.
Everyone was in it together and we formed close friendships. We
always tried to look out for each other. It is true that there was a
great deal of rivalry between the various departments on the ship,
and even the divisions within the departments. We stayed with our
own kind - Airdales, Snipes, Deck Apes, Weaponeers, etc. The initiation of new
arrivals was great fun - except for the people being initiated. I
remember standing a "Mail Buoy Watch" and looking for a "Sea Bat"
and being sent to fetch a "left-handed crescent wrench" for a senior
petty officer There was always a lot of joking
going on, and we constantly played pranks on each other, but it
helped break the monotony.
We had disagreements and sometimes we fought
with each other. But we were back on friendly terms by the next day.
When we were in port overseas and on liberty,
we were all Hancock sailors. We looked out for each other. If
we heard that a Hancock sailor was in trouble on the beach, we all
went to see if we could help out.
It was hard to keep track of
the days. As I remember it, we stayed at sea for around 90 days
straight on one occasion. The typical at sea period for us was
between 45 and 60 days. We would visit a port (Hong Kong, Japan or
the Philippines) for a week or two then
it was "back to the line".
Ships of these times can
stay at sea longer than we did back then, but there is a big
difference in the living conditions.
When we were in port, we
played hard. Drinking and getting drunk was our favorite past-time
when we were on liberty.
Drinking was even encouraged, it was all a way of life for sailors.
I remember going to a big party. I got there about four and was
drunk by five. I kept going until around eight, when the Shore
Patrol carted me back to the ship in a Paddy Wagon. They carried me
on board. I woke up the next morning with vomit all over me and a
terrible hangover. I was wearing my new gabardine dress blues that I
had just bought in Hong Kong. I had taken the jumper off at the
party and I never saw it again. Apparently I was raising all kinds
of hell at the party, but I don't remember any of it. That is only
one incident - there were many others.
The ports we visited most often were Subic Bay
(Philippines), Yokosuka (Japan) and Sasebo (Japan). They all had
shipyard facilities so we could have major repair work done on the
ship during our port calls. We visited Hong Kong less frequently,
and sometimes other ports. Our main port of call was Subic Bay. It
was a real oasis for us - it was a nice base with clubs, restaurants
and recreational facilities of all kinds. The big attraction was
Olongapo - a sprawling town just outside the main gate of the Subic
Bay Naval Base. It is hard to describe the sights, sounds and smells
of Olongapo but any sailor who has been there will never forget it.
It was a dirty place and most of the people lived in utter poverty.
But they loved American sailors and most of them were good people.
The main street (Magsaysay Boulevard?) was lined with wall to wall
bars. During those days we were only allowed to go for three
or four blocks on that main street - everywhere else was off limits
to us. But we sometimes went there anyway. The streets were muddy
and there was sewage and filth everywhere. The main way to get
around if you did not want to walk was to "take a jeepney". There
were sometimes hundreds of those brightly colored jeepneys on the
main street, running up and down. They liked to honk the horns. They
were old World War Two vintage jeeps that had been turned over to
the Philippines when the war ended. They were sold to private
individuals, who modified them so they could be used as taxis. The
Filipinos took great pride in keeping the jeepneys in good running
condition and "looking sharp". There were street vendors
on the sidewalks selling everything from "barbecue on a stick" to
watches, jewelry and other trinkets. We called the barbecue "monkey
meat" - and it probably was just that. There were young boys
wandering the streets to snatch money, watches or other valuables
from the drunk sailors, when they had the chance. The Filipino
police were always on patrol in large numbers and I saw one of them
shoot a young boy in the back one night for stealing a few dollars
from a sailor. There was always a crazy carnival like atmosphere
there - a combination between Dodge City in it's heyday and
the French Quarter of New Orleans during Marti Gras.
The biggest danger we faced while operating
in the Vietnam Theater was fire. The aircraft carriers in those days were called "Floating
Zippos". They carried hundreds of tons of explosive ordnance and
over a million gallons of fuel - including high octane Aviation Fuel. A small fire could quickly turn into
a catastrophic conflagration - which happened on several of the
aircraft carriers operating off the coast of Vietnam. To this day,
U.S. Navy aircraft carriers are one of the most dangerous ships to serve
things have changed in the Navy since those days but I have great
respect for the young sailors of today.
It took a little over two years for me to make
third class petty officer. That was a big milestone for me because I
made third class about the time I had two years of active service so
my pay jumped from a little over $100 a month to about $220 a month.
About three months after that, in late 1966, several petty
officers from my division were ordered to go in country in South Vietnam to support a
new Mobile Riverine Force that was being established in the Mekong Delta.
That left several open billets. One morning, my Chief woke me up
early to tell me that I needed to put on a second stripe before I
showed up in the shop for work because I had been promoted to
second class petty officer. That jumped my pay up by another $30 a
month or so. It was officially labeled as a "command meritorious promotion"
but we called it a "Ho Chi Minh promotion". It is the only time I
was promoted in the Navy without having to work for it and pass a
Sadly - two
of my good friends were among those selected for assignment to the
Mobile Riverine Force in South Vietnam. I lost track of them, but, as far
as I know, neither of them was killed in Vietnam. (Their names are
not on The Wall.)
Not long after that, the River Patrol Boats (PBR's) in the U.S. Navy
Force started catching hell over there but they dished plenty of it
out in return. They earned a distinguished reputation for their hard
fighting and the Navy was very proud of them. The bad guys in
Vietnam hated them and we heard that a nice prize was given out to
anyone who captured a PBR crewman.
In 1967, my best friend was John Henry King.
He was from Greenville, Texas. We took leave at the same time and
both of us went back to Texas to visit. I flew there and he drove.
The plan was for him to stop by Sweetwater, Texas (where I was) on
his way back to California, so I could ride back with him. A few
days before he was scheduled to pick me up, his sister called to
tell me that he died after a car wreck. He was 21 years
King drove a fairly new Ford Falcon. It wasn't
a sports car but he always drove fast on open roads - as fast as the
Falcon would go. He was driving lickety-split on a two lane highway
out in the country when he lost control of the car in a curve. The
car flipped three or four times. He was taken to a nearby hospital
with severe head injuries. He drifted in and out of consciousness
but died after a few hours in the hospital. During one of his
periods of being conscious, he told his sister to call to let me
know that he wouldn't be there to pick me up. There were two
hitchhikers in the car with him when the accident happened. Neither
of them was hurt. There was some talk about foul play being involved
but I believe it was just his time to go.
John Henry King and may he rest in peace. He was a good friend.
He was a hard drinking hell raising kid. If you were his friend, he would do anything for you. He was very patriotic. As I get older, I think about him often
- along with several others I
knew back then, who are no longer with us.
John Henry King was a tall, lanky cowboy type.
If he was still alive today, I think he would look something like
the actor Sam Elliott. He liked to play "The Yellow Rose of Texas" on the jukebox at the
pubs we visited overseas. That was a standard in the country and
western bars we hung out in back then. When it came on, King would
loudly demand that everyone in the place stand up to honor "his anthem".
Well - that didn't go over very well with some of the people and on
a few occasions we had
to leave in a hurry. He was normally good natured and easy to
get along with, but when he drank too much, he was loud and
sometimes downright obnoxious
I am proud of my service on the USS HANCOCK
from 1964 to 1968.
I have guilt feelings about never serving
"in country" in Vietnam. Around 1969, the Navy asked for volunteers
to go to Vietnam, to serve as special advisors to the South
Vietnamese military services. There were plans on the table to wind things down and
start withdrawing Americans. I volunteered for that. It required
going to a special language school, to learn some Vietnamese. I was tested
and I think I scored about "6" on the foreign language aptitude
test. Obviously, I was not a good candidate and I was not
I think most of us sometimes feel guilty
because we are still alive while so many others died young in
Vietnam. I sometimes think that part of me died in Vietnam. The good
die young is a thought that comes to mind as I think about them. I
have lived a lot longer than I ever expected and getting old is no
cake walk. I am now an old man - I have good days and bad days but I
can deal with the aches and pains of old age. When I think
about complaining, I think about all of the others who died so young
in Vietnam. I lived a full life and I got to see children and grand-children.
I left the USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) in June of
1968 and went to a ship operating in the Mediterranean Sea. I did
not see service in the Vietnam Theater of Operations after that but
I always kept track of what was going on there.
I was deeply depressed and angry when the war
ended the way it did.
I don't think those of us in the military
services lost the war in Vietnam. Looking back, I don't think we
should have been sent there in the first place. Hindsight is
always 20/20. The war was managed
by bean-counters and politicians and that is always a bad combination. We
in the military services never had the chance to "fight to win"
in Vietnam. For the most part - we were just a bunch of scared kids
who were sent to a very unpleasant place on the other side of the
world to lay our lives on the line. Many of us never
very bitter for a long time. I felt like we had been duped. After
wallowing in self pity for several years I decided to get over it.
As it turned out - we Americans have
survived okay since we pulled out of Vietnam in 1975, despite being
deprived of all of those rubber plantations.
I worry about some of the younger ones coming
of age today. It seems that too many of them are looking for
"entitlement programs" they can qualify for to get free
stuff (education grants,
medical benefits, food stamps, etc.) Understandably - times are hard
in this economy but we have to draw the line on some of the
entitlements. Unfortunately - work is not a high priority for many
of our young people today and there is not much being done to turn that
trend around. Over the years, the media has planted the idea in the minds of
many of our youngsters that "the government is obligated to take
care of me". Very sad.
The Vietnam War was a tragedy, in more ways
than one, but we must never forget
those who died there or those who served.
I stayed in the Navy until 1987. The 3+ years
I served on the USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) were undoubtedly the most memorable
of my Navy career. Our contribution to the Vietnam War effort
is something I am very proud of.
When you get old, you have a lot of time
to think and reflect. As I look back on my life - I think
about those I used to know and all of the good and bad
times. As for the self evaluation - I made my share of mistakes and I
have regrets. I also helped people and did some good
works. Career wise, I think I did pretty good for an old
Texas country boy, who quit school in the 7th grade and left
home at age 18 with two bucks in my pocket and the clothes on my
back. I think we have some fine young people coming up
today. My advice to them is: get a good education, work
hard, stay sober and use your time and talents wisely.
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