I never saw action in Vietnam, but I was touched nonetheless by the tragedies of that so-called war. I lost a first cousin and several high school class mates in that place half a world away.
It was a turbulent time both abroad and here in the States. Our incursion into South Vietnam was a byproduct of the U.S.' failure to stop Communism in the Korean War. Here in the States, Americans were burning the flag, and marching in protest to the war no one wanted.
The servicemen returning home were cursed, spat on and had to endure objects thrown at them. There was a military draft then, and serving our country was an obligation - and a rite of passage for some. We were proud of our uniforms and expected a show of respect when we came home. Alas, there was no respect coming. Sadly, there were even some cases of young men returning home from Vietnam only to lose their lives here at home at the hands of violent protesters.
Life in the military is not one I would recommend for everyone, but obligated to four years of servitude I made the best of it. I served most of my time on the U.S.S. Warrington, DD-843, one of the "steaming-est" destroyers in the Atlantic Fleet. I spent more time at sea than I did stateside.
I used to tell my non-service friends that I had seen more lighthouses than they had flashlights.
One thing positive I took from the Navy was the memory of visiting many foreign and exotic ports of call - all over the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic. While on board that ship I crossed the Arctic circle and the Equator in one ten-day period. We had three 30-day+ stints at sea without even a glimpse of land on the horizon.
The following pictures of my Navy days are a random few I dug out of a corner in my cellar. (Click of the pictures to see them enlarged.)
Before I went to sea for the first time, I was assigned to the Damage Control Class A school in Philadelphia. Here I am with two fellow trainees enjoying some off-duty time. That 140-pound hulk in the center is me.
My first cruise was to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, affectionately known as Gitmo, and the current residence of suspected terrorists. Our liberty was limited to the naval base and to a small beach head, surrounded by a fence heavily guarded by Marines on our side and Cuban soldiers on the other.
Those of us not on duty, were treated to a cookout of hot dogs and burgers and plenty of beer. That is my empty beer bottle at the top of the tower of empty cans.
My first footsteps on foreign soil was in Rota, Spain. (The naval base at Gitmo is U.S. owned.) Rota was the home base of the NATO nuclear subs. At this small Spanish town I saw my first and only bullfight. Here, I am enjoying some of the local beer at a sidewalk cafe.
Of course in the Navy it wasn't all play. We had jobs and duty stations too. In the picture at the left I'm on fire-duty while the ship is being readied for refueling at sea. I am wearing an OBA (Oxygen Breathing Aparatus) an essential part of a naval fire-fighter's gear. If you enlarge the picture, note that there are three ships on the horizon. They are Russian - from left to right, a helicopter carrier, a destroyer and a guided missle cruiser.
At the right with an aluminum arc-welder, I am about to mend a porthole hatch.
These two images are of a test-firing of the ship's ASROC (Anti-Submarine Rocket) launcher. It is actually a rocket-launched torpedo. On the left I managed to snap the torpedo being fired from the launcher. The second picture was taken within two or three seconds after the launch. You can see only the smoke trailing the projectile.
One of main jobs of a Navy Destroyer was to track down submarines. On one such ASW (Anit-Submarine Warfare) operation our ship forced a Russian November Class sub to surface. The picture on the right shows the sub breaking the surface and at the left it is at rest on the surface.
This was the first sighting by U.S. forces of this then previously elusive secret submarine. During the Cold War, Russian and U.S. warships often played these cat-and-mouse war games.
Then a Russian PCE, a small turbine powered attack ship sped onto the scene to keep itself between our ship and the sub. It was so close to us that I had to snap two quick pictures to capture an image of the whole ship. These speedy craft were half the size of our destroyer.
When the Russian sub had resubmerged, the PCE sped away. These are shots of it veering away on the right, and leaving us in its wake at the left.
The above four pictures give you an idea what it is like to be in the rough waters of the North Atlantic during an approaching storm. These were shot from ship's bridge overlooking the forward 5-inch gun mount and the bow.
When I returned home from that cruise, I proposed and she accepted. (Note my Navy peacoat hanging in the background.)