My Navy Experience
PACFLT (Pacific Fleet)


Light My Fire
by The Doors

Boot Camp Training Center PACFLT Task force 71/117 Homeward Bound

I drove straight through from San Francisco to Independence, Missouri. Somewhere in the mountains between California and Salt Lake City, the road was under construction and it had been raining. I could not stop for fear of being stuck in the mud and the windshield became covered with mud. It was the wee hours of the morning and I had to stick my head out the window to see. That was when the semi went by and splattered mud all over me and into the car. I picked up a couple hitchhiking outside of Salt Lake City, Utah that were going to Topeka, Kansas. He helped me drive and we all took turns sleeping in the back.

The really memorable event of that ten day leave was the wedding of Dean and Eddie in Cameron, Missouri. I took Jeff's girlfriend and enjoyed sitting near the front of the ceremony with her and listening to Muff try to sing while she looked at us.
 
I reported for duty at PACFLT-San Diego on the 25th of June 1967 to commence continuous sea duty aboard the USS Canberra (CAG-2) Ships Bell (USS Canberra - Wikipedia) (Battle of Savo Island) (USS Canberra Unofficial site - popups)


Letter Home 28 June 1967

Our quarters consisted of a good sized room with bunks or racks, as we called them, for 70 personnel

 
(Ralph Justice: Talk about someone whose life is intertwined with another. We attended Bristol Grade School in Independence, Missouri together from kindergarten through 7th grade

and Van Horn High School from 8th grade until I left after the 10th grade. The next time that I saw him was on the Canberra in the chow line. I didn't see him after that until I was out of the service running the restaurant and he was the meat cutter at the market where I picked up the meat for the restaurant. He later bought the house that I had grown up in.)
My "continuous sea duty" began with a trip from San Diego To Long Beach, California for an extended dry dock stay.
 
I started reading a lot and wrote letters to everyone that I could think of, old girlfriends from grade school and all the relatives and friends that I could remember. I even had to "acquire" an extra locker for the books that I wanted to read. I tried to stay in contact with buddies from high school: Ron Hughes (he spent three years in the Marine Corps and 14 months in Vietnam) and Bob Farr (he spent four years in the Army including a year in Vietnam working in communications) from Raytown High School. (Bob Farr stated at a high school reunion that "His fondest memory was heading for the root beer stand after football practice in Mike Stone's convertible".)
Letter home - 8 September 1967
While in dry dock, our group spent the days chipping paint and painting. If we spent the night on board ship, we were up at 5:00 am to scrub decks (the Canberra had teakwood decks). A few of us started hanging out together


and spent many a night ashore in all night movie houses with a bottle of Peach Brandy to help us sleep. We soon pooled our resources and rented an apartment.

I became really close to a couple of guys, David Hathcock

and Jerry Lefler
.

We made the best of our time in Long Beach.

The Canberra pulled out of Long Beach early on a Monday morning and headed for Seal Beach where we took on ammunition.
I was tired from standing watches and loading ammo.
And, it was difficult at first to get my "sea legs".

Letter home - 19 September 1967

 
The Canberra finally left San Diego for West Pac deployment the first week in October 1967.

This was its fourth deployment in the Vietnam Campaign.

The watches that I stood were on the bridge and I enjoyed "driving the boat". There were four of us at a time and we alternated every hour for four hours on the watch between steering, manning the engine settings and the sound powered phones to the various lookouts stationed around the ship.
It took us about a week to reach Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Those of us that didn't have duty went ashore and had a wonderful roast duck dinner at a fancy hotel in Honolulu. The Canberra was only in port for one night.

The next leg of the trip took two weeks and we stood our watches and continued ships duties. There was still off duty time
 
and the weather was wonderful as we sailed
 
from Hawaii to the Philippines.
We arrived in Subic Bay after a little over 3 weeks.
We were in port at Subic for about a week before leaving for the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam where we would spend the next five weeks.
We steamed past "Yankee Station" and took up our position in the Tonkin Gulf between Hainan Island and the coast of North Vietnam where we rejoined the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club and Operation Sea Dragon to assist in the interdiction of sea going supplies to the insurgents in South Vietnam.
My duty station (special assignments for battle stations) during GQ or General Quarters (when General Quarters was sounded, everyone on the ship, 1200 men, would be in their assigned station within five minutes) was the 3" mount.
 


Letter home - 3 November 1967
We became accustomed to what was called "high-lining", the process of replenishment or transfer of personnel at sea. The personnel were high-lined to the Newport News, on one occasion at night. The Heavy Cruiser USS Newport News was an awesome site. It had three automatic 8" gun turrets with three barrels each. (An 8" projectile is equivalent to a 250 LB bomb and leaves a whole in the ground about the size of a football field) The Newport News could deliver its entire load of 750 rounds of 8" projectiles before the first one hit.

The "high-lining" operation involved a lot of men on both ships to control the lines transferring whatever the cargo may be. I was on the line controlling the transfer of personnel.

It was on this operation that I saw the largest hammerhead shark that I've ever seen swim right between the ships.
Letter home - 12 November 1967
Our mail is flown in by helicopter every day.

Sometime the weather|
would cause a break in the routine and sometimes it would be something else, like the time we helped search for two men washed overboard from the USS Pratt.

Our hunter/killer tactics sometimes took us very close to shore of North Vietnam.
I once caught poison ivy after being at sea for several weeks, we were so close.
Sundays were usually reserved for some relaxation between GQ's and high-linings.
Some people even put together a band for entertaining on the fantail, under the helicopter landing deck. while there might be a boxing match above on the missile launching deck.
After Thanksgiving 1967 the Canberra returned to Subic Bay for a two week respite.

This time in Subic I went into town with David all gussied up in our dress whites.

Once we crossed the bridge to Olongopo City
it was like going back in time, much like what I would have expected in the old west in the U. S.
We soon learned to carry a handful of small change for the "shoe shine boys". One would come up to ask you if you needed a shine (our shoes had to be shinning immaculately in order to get off the ship) and when you said no, they would come at you with black polish in their hands to rub on your uniform, if you said yes, there would suddenly be 5 or 6 of them to shine your shoes. So, as with the federales in Mexico, you throw some change in the air and run.
It only took one trip for us to learn to use the Jeepneys.
I met a girl, Evelyn,

and later, a bunch of us partied at a hotel in town.
 

The girls worked one of the local bars. Their job was to get us to buy drinks for ourselves and them. Their drinks were tea, but we paid for mixed drinks for them. That's one of the ways the bar made money.
I liked Evelyn, and I would go to her bar first to find out when she was getting off so that I could take her out for dinner and sometimes a movie. Like a real date. After I found out when she was going to be available, I would find a woman to take care of my needs then meet Evelyn for dinner. I usually gave her the money that I intended to spend so that she could work a deal and keep the difference. After our "date", I would end up with another woman that would see that I was fed and got back to the ship fairly sober.
One weekend I went with Evelyn to meet her family. They lived out in the country. My liberty pass restricted me to the town proper and I had to be sneaky about getting out of town. Evelyn smuggled me back into town on the floor of a cab.
I later thought that my camera had been stolen, but in fact, I had left it in the country with Evelyn's family and they took these pictures:

After two weeks of R & R, the Canberra and her crew headed back to the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club.
Things had heated up in the Tonkin Gulf and we spent more time off shore bombarding truck parks and bridges. The Canberra had a mortar mounted aft that was manned by marines when we went in close.
  It's function was to fire chaff (tin foil) in the air to confuse the radar on the enemy shore batteries. It was an awesome sight to see the guns blazing when we went in for a run close to shore. The destroyers that operated with us would run between the Canberra and the shore with 5" guns blazing to help distract the shore batteries while the Canberra opened up with it's 8" guns to throttle supply routes as far as seventeen miles inland. On several occasions this was done at night,
and in one instance, even while taking on stores during a high-lining operation. We really lit their fire!
Sometimes, while taking on groceries during a high-lining a gallon of peaches or other fruit would spill from a case and the sailors would "cart" it off to enjoy later.
 
The Canberra also had 50 caliber and 30 caliber machine guns stationed around the ship.
Just in case the many sampans in the water got feisty.
After about two weeks of this steady bombarding, we headed to Hong Kong for few days respite.
Hong Kong was a spectacular city with a beautiful harbor.

A bunch of us got dressed up in our dress blues  and took one of the harbor taxis
  from the ship to the city dock.
Where we immediately embarked on a climb to Victoria Peak. (what a view)  The trip required us to use the local transport

and a steep rail climb up the mountain.

The panorama afforded by Mt. Victoria was spectacular.
That evening of the first day in Hong Kong we explored the night life
and not only discovered how to save ones drink

 but were also able to afford a look at more peaks and valleys.

Our buddy Norman, Norman Sice,
was on the last cruise. He is the son of a Navajo Indian Chief and had met a girl in the White Horse Saloon. He arranged for her to go to the states and live with his parents. She had gotten a job in the states and saved enough money to join him in Hong Kong this tour. We didn't see much of him during the four days we were in Hong Kong.
On the 2nd day in Hong Kong we toured the city
and did some shopping on our way to the south side of the island to dine at a restaurant in the "floating city". We encountered an iconic Chinese man and followed him for blocks trying to get a good picture of him. Unfortunately this was the best we could get.

The city was truly floating
and we all enjoyed a good meal.

That evening we returned to Lockhart Road to enjoy more of the night life. I spent the next day with a Hong Kong Bunny (the one on the left) that I had met. I picked her up at her home, a two room flat in one of the high rises where she lived with three generations of her family. None of the flats in that building and probably most of the high rises had doors, only curtains. (Imagine New York City with no doors on the apartments and families of 8-10) She and I went to a movie. A John Wayne movie in Chinese with English subtitles.
I had duty aboard ship on the fourth day and we returned to the Tonkin Gulf the next day.

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