My Navy Experience
PACFLT (Pacific Fleet)
Sitting on the top of the bay
by Otis Redding
Boot Camp • Training Center • PACFLT • Task force 71/117 • Homeward Bound
Toward the end of February things were beginning to wind
down in the Sea of Japan. Most of the fleet that had
gathered had already left the area. Seems the politicians
had taken over the situation and were arranging for the
release of the captives. We were all glad to be heading
south into warmer weather. Little did we know what was in
store for us. The North Vietnamese had launched the
Tet Offensive at the end of January.
(Tet_Offensive) The Canberra had had her 8" gun barrels
retooled and replaced at the end of 1967
and would we ever need them.
We stopped in Subic Bay for some R & R before returning to the "Line" and the DMZ.
A few of us took a long weekend and went to Manila. The countryside on the way was familiar yet much different from the Midwest of the U. S.
We stopped at a small store
and had lunch while we observed more wildlife.
The city also had some unfamiliar sites.
We went to a cock fight
and had dinner afterward.
The hotel allowed us to pick the girls from a line-up that went with the room.
The next day, before returning to Subic, we toured the Manila American Cemetery & Memorial
Letter home - 16 March 1968
The most intensive firing we had experienced during the
cruise took place during the Tet Offensive. The guns were
firing almost constantly. The 5" more than the 8", but very
intense. Even during a break on Sunday the guns would fire.
During one such break, we were all relaxing and listening to music on the fantail when shells started hitting on the other side of the ship from the shore side. We were supposed to be at least a thousand yards outside the the enemy gun range and here the shells were traveling over the ship and hitting close enough to cause saltwater spray on the ship. General Quarters was sounded and we started firing the 8" back at the shore batteries. Shortly it got real quiet. Nothing happened for several minutes, then we stood down from GQ. Turned out that it wasn't the enemy shore batteries at all, but one of our own ships firing over the horizon for target practice. They didn't know that we were there.
Letter home - 20 March 1968
The whole of the Tet Offensive was intense, but the battle
for Hue was the most intensive for the U. S. The Canberra
came to bear as the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese remnants
were routed from the former imperial capital. The 5" guns
from the Canberra showered the enemy troops with white
phosphorous (willy pete) as they retreated from Hue. Firing
her 8" guns from 10 miles off the coast, the cruiser
bombarded enemy mortar positions and trenches between the
Citadel's southern wall and the Perfume river and also a
section held by the Viet Cong just outside the Citadel's
After the battle for Hue, the Canberra returned to Subic Bay for the last time before heading home for San Diego. The Canberra had spent 157 days at sea during the seven month cruise, rode out 3 typhoons, and fired over 32,000 rounds of 8" and 5" projectiles.
Letter home - 10 April 1968
Not only had we worn out the barrels of the 8" turrets, but
once we ran out of bullets. Not just the Canberra. So many
projectiles had been fired that we had used up the ammo left
over from W W II. The government had to restart production
and we were without projectiles for almost a week. Sometimes
we had run out of food, fresh food, and we all subsisted on
beans and Spam. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. I had helped
move some stores in a forward compartment that was being
painted (worst hangover I'd ever had from the paint fumes)
and had seen the Spam cans dated 1945.
By the time we entered San Diego Bay on the 29th of April 1968 we had logged over 50,000 miles. The choppy seas and fog helped to delay our berthing at pier 4 where more than 800 relatives were waiting. The biggest delay was when we attempted to launch the captain's gig.
The wind and the choppy seas made it difficult to control the descent and the lines broke when the gig hit the water and it sank.
Fortunately the people on board were able to scramble off and didn't get too wet. The wind also kept us from the pier and more tugs had to help nudge us into place. My parents were among those waiting.
My parents took me and the group of guys I hung out with to dinner one evening. It was the best meal we had the whole cruise. They had also reserved a room with two double beds so that a couple of us could stay over. When they woke us in the morning, there were ten of us in that room.
All of us sailors realized rather quickly how much we had missed round eyed women.
While overseas I had volunteered for duty with DESRON 3 which was a Destroyer group to be stationed in Yokosuka, Japan for two years. I had not heard any word on the transfer when we left the Tonkin Gulf. I did move from the deck crew to the gunners mates before the Canberra left the theater of operation.
On the 9th of May 1968 I reported for duty aboard the U. S. S. Mahan.
She had just undergone a major overhaul in preparation for deployment to the Far East as part of Destroyer Squadron 3. We spent a week at a time doing shake down exercises off the southern coast of California and the Baja of Mexico. The shaking down process included exercises designed to train us in the event of a nuclear weapons attack and attacks by multiple threats at once. Most weekends we would be tied up to a buoy in San Diego Bay so that the crew could have liberty.
On one such effort to tie the ship to the buoy, I was one of the three men assigned to the buoy tying party. A small launch from the Mahan took us out to the buoy so that we could fasten a line from the bow of the ship to the buoy. Most of the crew were in their dress whites anxiously waiting to go on liberty. The three of us jumped from the launch to the buoy to find that the sea gulls had been making it home. You cannot imagine how slippery an inch or two of bird droppings can be. We were able to fasten the 6" hawser to the buoy. The problem began when the ship started reeling in the line. The buoy began to spin. I ended up on all fours, backwards. One guy was ducking every time the line came around and the other guy was jumping over the line every time it came around. I think we looked like a Three Stooges act. The whole ships crew was hysterical with laughter. Then we had to tie up the aft line to another buoy.
The wind was high and we ended up with the entire 6" hawser line from the aft of the ship in the water. The line had to be retrieved and let out again. The whole process took several hours and by that time the crew was not so happy.
On one of our shake downs off the coast of Baja, Mexico we were taking on fuel when a pod of humpback whales surfaced around us. One of them came up right under the Mahan. When it hit the ship I was manning the engine speed indicator and controller. The fuel line separated and oil was spewing all over the starboard deck. One of the rudder lines broke and we lost steering. I had to steer the ship using the engine speeds controlling each prop. We never saw the whale and we all felt bad about it.
I turned 21 while in port one weekend. I could finally drink legally off base. All of my buddies had duty and went ashore by myself. It was pretty depressing. Only one bar tender even checked my ID and a gay person tried to pick me up. I was back at the ship early.
Letter home - 17 June 1968
In August I was granted nine days emergency leave to visit my sick father. He had a history of heart attacks and had a really bad one. He survived but told of several "out of body" experiences.
I never went back to the ship. I was transferred to the Naval Air Station in Olathe, Kansas so that I could be close to my family. I was an only child. It was decided that I should apply for a "Hardship Discharge" in order to take over and operate the restaurant.
The papers had already been drawn up but it took me two weeks to convince the base commander to accept them. I was commuting back and forth from Independence, Missouri to Olathe, Kansas during that time. Reporting for duty at 8:00 am till 5:00 pm. with the weekend off was not bad duty. Once the base commander accepted the paperwork from me, it was done and I was granted an honorable "Hardship Discharge" and transferred to the Naval reserve until August of 1972.
Normally, a person would have to wait for the base commander to sign the papers and forward them through the chains of command until finally signed by the Secretary of the Navy. A long and drawn out process. Fortunately for me, my father had fed a starving young lawyer that grew up to be a congressman from Missouri.
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