Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In the Navy

From March of 1968 through December of 1971, I served in the U.S. Navy. During that period of time the Vietnam War was its height. As we are losing our young men in Iraq and Afghanistan today, so too were we suffering fatalities back then.

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.

...And then there's the girl back home.

When I returned home from that cruise, I proposed and she accepted. (Note my Navy peacoat hanging in the background.)



Jack K. said...

Ahh, the fond memories of service to our country. I am reminded of my service in Nam. That was the only "exotic" place I was ever stationed. If it is any consolation, I did two tours there. Thankfully they were both in Saigon.

The first tour as an MP Company Commander and the second as a Narcotics Staff Officer at MACV HQ PM shop.

There may be a posting or two in those experiencs. Or, if you are interested, you could go to my blog and click on the war story label and links.

(I was unable to "enbiggen" the photos.)

Skunkfeathers said...

Great photos, and thanks to you (and Jack K) for your service!

bronxbt said...

love the photos, the memories you've shared, and i actually managed to learn a few things too.

fantastic post. due to medical reasons, i've never been able to 'serve my country' tho i would had i been allowed.

guess the only thing i can do is take care of loved ones around me and whatnot, eh?

thanks for swinging by fuzziechadsrule too! always a pleasure to see ya!


kenju said...

What was the home port of that ship? And who was that hunk on your right?
You still a pipe smoker?

We were in Norfolk until August of 1969, so if you were there, our paths could have crossed.

My dad's brother went to Gitmo, and his family had to be sent home from there whenever the crisis was. I can't remember the year. txhowai

Hale McKay said...


I have read some of your War Story posts, and they are interesting. I never saw action per se, but I sure witnessed enough overseas anti-American sentiments.

Hale McKay said...


Can you believe that all of my photographs back them were taken with a small 110 Instamatic camera?

I had a lot of film that I never got back the pictures - apparently lost in the fleet mail between the APO and our ship wherever we might have been.

I never got back those taken in Paris, Sweden, London, Palma de Majorca, Izmir Turkey, Sfax Tunisia, etc.

I have some Rome and the Vatican City and Athens, Greece that I'll post on another date.

I have a lot of "at sea" pics of operations such as refueling at sea, ship-to-ship personnel transfer, etc.

Hale McKay said...


There were those back home during that era that did appreciate what the American serviceman was doing.

I enjoy the cute pictures you use in your fuzziechadsrule cartoons.

Hale McKay said...


I actually did spend three months in Norfolk after the Damage Control school in Philadelphia. I was assigned to the Destroyer Tender Sierra, AD-18 for about 6 months (Jun 68 -Dec 68) before being transferred to the Warrington DD-843 in Newport, Rhode Island.

I liked being in Norfolk. I was close enough to go home on the weekends to West Virginia . Also, I had an uncle who lived in the Sherwood Forest area of Norfolk. He was a retired Navy Chief and he worked for the Bay-Bridge Tunnel. I went fishing with him several times out in Chesapeake Bay.