By Roy Burner
Life in the military for the most part was a happy memory after my completion of 20 years service. My heart goes out to those who are faced with sad memories and to the families of those who suffered loss of their loved ones through military actions.
I have been in circumstances where I could have been a statistic. I do not regret my decision to remain in the military as a career. I do not recall having questioned the places I served (including Vietnam) but accepted the orders as received. I retired from the military in 1982 as a Chief Petty Officer (E-7). When I joined the U. S. Navy; I set out to see the world as a young man, and I certainly accomplished that goal. (Comment)
Joint Service Commendation Medal - Navy Achievement Medal with gold star - Combat Action Ribbon - Navy Unit Commendation (Dominican Republic) - Meritorious Unit Commendation (MCB TEN Detail X-ray) - Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Commendation - Fourth Good Conduct Award - National Defense Service Medal - Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal with Bronze Star (2nd Award - Korea) - Vietnam Service Medal with Two Bronze Stars (FMF Combat Insignia) - Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation - Vietnam Campaign Medal with Clasp - Sea Service Deployment Ribbon - Rifle Marksmanship Award (SS).
Authorized to wear the Fleet Marine Force Combat Operation Insignia on the Suspension Ribbon Bar of the Vietnam Service Medal for support of United States Marine Units in the I Corps Tactical Zone, Republic of Vietnam.
Letter of Commendation from Commander Amphibious Squadron TEN, U. S. Atlantic Fleet for outstanding performance of duty CARIB 2-65 during 1 April through 29 June 1965 played a significant role in the evacuation of over three thousand U. S. and foreign nationals from the Dominican Republic.
Letter of Commendation from Commanding Officer, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion TEN on 1 October 1969 for service in connection with services rendered in Advance Party to Camp Wilkerson, Republic of Vietnam.
Letter of commendation from Commander United States Naval Forces Vietnam for outstanding performance of duty while serving against North Vietnamese and Viet Cong communist aggressors in the Republic of Vietnam from December 1969 to September 1970.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC - EQUATOR CROSSING (Become a Shellback) - FRANCE (Marseilles/Toulon) - HAWAII (Honolulu/Pearl Harbor/Waikiki) - HONG KONG - ITALY (Genoa/La Speiza/Naples) - JAPAN (Yokohama/Yokosuka) - KOREA (Pusan/Seoul) - MALTA (Valletta) - OKINAWA (Camp Shields) - PALMA - PHILIPPINES (Baguio City/Cubi Point-Detail X-Ray/Manila/Olongapo City/Subic Bay) - PORTO SCUDO - PUERTO RICO (San Juan) - SANTA MANZA - SARDINA (Aranci Bay) - SINGAPORE - SPAIN (Almeria/Barcelona/Mazaron/Rota) - STATESIDE (Alameda/Camp Pendleton/Great Lakes/Norfolk/North Island/Oxnard/Port Hueneme/San Diego/Virginia Beach) - VIETNAM (Danang/Camp Wilkerson-Hue/Phu Bai)
The picture, on the right side, is myself (upper left corner) and some boot camp buddies of mine. I joined the Navy when John F. Kennedy was President of the United States, W. C. Bebow, BMC was my Company Commander and I was Company Clerk. I had been to Business College, and could type, so I was elected. We went through processing, clothing issue, indoctrination, ordnance and gunnery, damage control, seamanship, physical fitness, etc. We become familiar with barracks life, a religious program of our choosing, recreation, and finally graduation.
The areas I remember especially well were fire fighting, physical fitness, life as a booth (considered the lowest form of life in the Navy), and of course the good old booth camp haircut. Let's us not forget one's loss of privacy. Booth Camp was a new concept in living, after having enjoyed civilian life, and entering into the gates of the Great Lakes Training facility. I was from Illinois so I did not have to travel far too get there.
The fire fighting training involved actually fighting a fire. I remember being the third man behind the nozzle man who led the way towards the fire. He froze and could not perform his task. I was hoping the next man could so I wouldn't find out how I measured up to the task. He had no problem so I was saved from finding out. I was later to realize the need for this training when I was in a major fire on an aircraft carrier that was at sea.
Boot Camp Training required that we get a taste of what tear gas was like. I escaped having to do so through a friend who told me to make sure I was the last to enter so I would be one of the first to leave. I managed to hold my breathe, after we removed our gas mask, to avoid feeling its effect as others did who were not as fortunate.
There are some stories about Boot Camp best left unsaid as I am sure any person having attended Boot Camp can attest too. It was very beneficial towards what I would experience later after graduating. Some did not finish and were ushered out of the Navy for one reason or other. I would never had suspected that I would make the Navy a career and retire after 20 years.
I had planned on leaving the Navy when my first enlistment was up but my foster dad wrote me a letter, concerning my getting out that made me so mad I reenlisted for another four years! He asked me what I going to do draw rocking chair money; where he got that from I do not know because I have always been a worker from day one. However, looking back now I realize he did me a favor by saying what he did. I am still benefiting from that action today. It is surprising how one can affect your life, one way or the other, by their actions.
I survived booth camp and was sent to Corpsman School (my promised military school) to be a Corpsman. I found it was not my cup of tea though I have respect for those who chose to stay in that field. The only reason I was chosen for this particular school was the military's need for more bodies in that field and because of my administrative ability I was a prime candidate. They started teaching me, among other things, to give bed baths, shots and enemas and I knew my departure from that place was needful.
I first asked the Chief Petty Officer about getting out of Corpsman School; his answer still rings in my ear when I recall it! He did however give me permission to take it to the Commanding Officer. The Commanding Officer said that I would probably end up on a destroyer in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean if I transferred out. I told him I did not care just get me out of Corpsman School!
I received orders to San Juan. I walked up to an older sailor with a lot of years in the Navy (one could tell by the amount of hash marks on his sleeve) and asked him what ship the San Juan was. He looked at my orders and in amazement said, "That is shore duty in San Juan, Puerto Rico; not a ship!" I had believed what the Commanding Officer of the Corpsman School had told me and was expecting a ship! However, Puerto Rico almost become my downfall!
A medical officer in San Juan described my alcohol consumption behavior in the following manner: "This individual when highly intoxicated resembles a caged animal." What a slap in the face towards my upbringing. San Juan was where I lost any remaining virtues I may have had.
Have you ever heard of one becoming so intoxicated that they tried to swim out of a mud puddle? Of trying to direct traffic in a drunken condition? Of waking up from a night of drinking with one hand hanging over the edge of a three or four story building's roof? Of waking up, when the sun arose, out in the middle of nowhere, with only a minimum amount of clothing on? Of being swung at by a pimp, then being backed out of a bar by a policeman using your chest as a tattoo spot for his nightstick?
Of being chased by the shore patrol through an outdoor movie theater with the Commanding Officer of the Naval Station in attendance; then within seconds after that situation come within a fraction of a second of being fired upon by a Marine Security Guard at the main gate? To awake the next morning behind bars in a Marine Corp brig? Then face three military judges at a Special Court Martial for disrespect to a superior officer, assault, breaking apprehension, and drunk and disorderly? The court martial sentence was four months at hard labor (which would have been at the Gitmo Marine Base in Cuba), a bust to E-1, and a $200.00 fine!
When my case was reviewed it as reduced to two months in the Marine Corp brig at Puerto Rico, no bust, and a $100.00 dollar fine (which amounted to a month's pay). My work record saved the day from the original sentence. I spent 50 days in a Marine Corp brig (ten days less for good behavior). A Marine Corp brig is not the most comfortable, or enjoyable, place to be. Welcome to my life in San Juan, Puerto Rico during a two-year hair-raising period!
No wonder the 40th Psalm means so much to me: "He brought me up out of an horrible pit, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. And he has put a new song in my mouth, even praise to my God." One Shore Patrolman, who had used his nightstick on me, saw me after my transfer from Puerto Rico. He could not believe that I was still in the Navy! We serve a wonderful Savior who is able to clean our act up but that was to come much later in life.
During my time in San Juan I attempted to drown out past memories through alcohol only to wake the next day with those memories still being there. Many times I could have slipped out of this life to face the terrible consequences of a literal burning Hell. I am so thankful for the saving grace of God, through His Son, and a Savior, Jesus Christ, who would one day give me that inner peace I was searching for.
Many cancer patients bear the message "I am a survivor." Of my tour of duty in San Juan I can say that I truly was a survivor because of one who was watching over me, even though I had not yet acknowledged Him. A book could be written concerning my misdeeds while serving in San Juan, and elsewhere. I have much to be thankful for!
I reported about the USS Boxer (LPH-4) for staff duty with COMPHIBRON TEN. I received a Top Secret clearance in order to perform the task I had been assigned. The USS Boxer was a flagship for Commander, Amphibious Squadron TEN. One day I thought I would use my own ingenuity when given the task of making coffee. It was a good ways to where the water was so I decided to utilize the Commodore's cabin that was next to flag plot where I worked. Unfortunately, the Commodore decided to come into his cabin at that moment and things did not go well. I never utilized that source again!
During my brief stay on staff I did experience some moments of reality of military duty. The USS Boxer, and other ships deployed with COMPHIBRON TEN, helped evacuate some 3000 U. S. and foreign nationals from the Dominican Republic during an uprising in that country. I saw, through intelligence reports, what remained of many who having been thrown over a cliff into the sea; after the sharks had finished what the rebels had started. It was an eye opener towards the reality of warfare and its nasty business.
I saw the U. S. Marines depart the ship in good spirits but return with solemn looks on their faces. Some came back wounded and a call for volunteers to give blood was given. I went to donate my blood and while there I witnessed one Marine, who could have been not been more than 18 or 19 years old lying in front of me with his shirt off revealing a tiny hole in his chest about the size of a pencil in diameter. A Navy Chief Petty Officer said, "He's meat throw him in the freezer." I thought that comment to be cold and insensitive and did not realize that the rigors of warfare might prompt such a response.
My duty on the staff of COMPHIBRON TEN was short lived due to continued liberty violations during port visits and excessive use of alcohol. I became termed a "security risk" and lost my Top Secret clearance. I then became of no use to the position I held on staff. I was transferred to the USS Telfair (APA-210), a amphibious ship that was assigned to the same squadron.
I reported to the USS Telfair (APA-210) which was going on a Mediterranean Cruise from October 1965 to March 1966. During this cruise we went to Marseilles, France - Genoa, Italy - La Spezia - Palma - Malta - Naples, Italy - and Barcelona, Spain. I have many memories of the Telfair, some are vague, but others quite clear. I fell head-over-heels for one girl in Marseilles, France and when we went to Barcelona, Spain I took a train back to Marseilles to see her again. At the border crossing, going from one country to the other, I could not cross the border in a military uniform. I took off my hat, rolled up my pant legs, put on my rain coat, and crossed in that manner. After my reporting this incident when I returned to the ship they authorized future travelers to wear civilian clothes.
I had a Chief Petty Officer, and a First Class Petty Officer, who attempted to straighten me out from my wild liberties but with little success. Alcohol had a terrible grip on me and I was unable to turn loose of such a partner and its controlling influence on my life. However, again due to my work record, I was able to reenlist for an additional four years while about the USS Telfair. My Top Secret clearance was reinstated to me and I was transferred to staff duty in Yokohama, Japan in August 1966.
During my tour of duty with the staff of COMSTSFE in Yokohama, Japan, I would do really well for a period of time, then go out on liberty, and tie one on. It usually brought me to the attention of my superiors through a Shore Patrol (Military Police) report. The Shore Patrol and I became very familiar with each other. The red light district and I as kin to each other and I certainly do not say this with pride. As I pen these words I do not encourage anyone to attempt to imitate my actions, prior to my salvation, but rather to adhere to God's Word; to shun that which is evil and cling to that which is good. May these words help someone to avoid the pitfalls I experienced in my own life and introduce someone to a better way through Christ Jesus.
In Japan I came to a crossroads in my life when I ended up in a Naval hospital with my life on the line, after another bout with alcohol and its affects. It is not with relish that I reveal this but hope it will somehow be a benefit to someone. Many aspects of my life I have chosen not to reveal and will take to the grave with me.
One night I indulged in an extremely excessive amount of alcohol that nearly cost my life. Looking back now, I believe that numerous times in my life I have escaped loss of life through the amazing grace that I now sing of. That night I was so far gone in an alcohol stupor that I could not even recall all that happened until it was told to me later. It is as if my memory had blacked out until I sobered up through sheer pain. I was in a bar and a Japanese bartender was angered by my actions towards a female relative of his. He thought I was too big to fight so he evened the odds with a butcher knife. I had on a suede jacket and when he drove the knife through it into my side, withdrew it, and then launched in again, the knife entered close to the same place twice.
I took a cab to my friend's house in Navy housing. When my friend heard me cry out his name late at night he thought he was dreaming. When he awoke the next morning and seen a bloody hand print on his screen door he knew it was no dream. I left his house on foot. In the meanwhile the taxi driver who had taken me to his house noticed I had left a large amount of blood on the backseat and notified the police. The Shore Patrol found me a short distance from my friend's house.
The pain in my side, and their appearance, is the first thing I remembered of the whole incident, other than a vague memory of being in the bar that night. The Shore Patrol looked like giants to me due to my condition. I was immediately taken to the Naval hospital in an ambulance, some distance away, with its siren going and red lights flashing. I had suffered a large amount of blood loss. When they later returned my clothing to me my trousers were blood soaked from the waistline to the knee area in blood.
I now have a scar on my left side where the knife had made its entry. I carry this reminder of what God brought me out of. I also have a scar across my belly, still visible today, where they performed exploratory surgery to see what damage had been done. I readily remember, even today, that it was a lonely time in my life lying on the operating table not knowing what would happen. I turned to the God of my childhood and made three promises; if He would spare me: I would quite drinking, quit using foul language, and become more religious. Four months later, to my shame, I was drinking again.
I was told that I was fortunate to be alive. God did His part but I for ten years reneged on mine. I do not encourage anyone to take such a chance for no one knows the hour in which they will leave this world. I thank God for His mercy, that was extended, but I believe I most assuredly pushed it to the hilt.
I was in the hospital for 18 days. I felt ashamed that I was in a ward filled with Vietnam vets who had been wounded in action and the reason for my being there. Three of us, a member of the Navy Seal team, a Marine, and myself were in a room reserved for chest patients.
One day Bob Hope came into the room, unannounced, and asked if we had seen the girls yet? We said no and he sent three of them in to speak with us. The one who stood by my bed was Penelope Plummer, an 18 year old blond from Australia, who was Miss Universe of 1968! Later Bob Hope noticed a tube exiting my chest, and asked if that is where I got hit. I was too ashamed to admit what really happened to me and simple said yes. What amazed me is that Bob Hope looked as if he had just stepped out of one of his films; because He did not look any different in appearance when he entered into that room!
One Sunday morning Billy Graham, unannounced, came into our room. This was the second time I had seen him in person. The other time was in Booth Camp but I could not see him well at that time because I had left my glasses in the barracks and he was a good distance away speaking to us recruits. Those visits made a great impression on me and are as clear today as if they only recently happened. I received a Summary Court Martial for misconduct in regards to the stabbing incident but was cleared of the charges.
I was sent from Japan to Korea as a temporary replacement for a Chief Petty Officer in the capacity of a Naval Boarding Officer for MSTSFE. It was a plush job. The first time I went to Pusan I flew from Seoul in a small aircraft that I thought was going to fall apart coming into Pusan from over the sea. The second time I was sent to Pusan I endured an eight-hour train ride from Seoul to Pusan to avoid that hair raising flight. I never did get use to flying but had to endure it while in the military.
I remember one rather humorous incident while at Pusan. I was sent to meet a Naval MSTSFE vessel carrying Korean soldiers returning from Vietnam. I went to the assigned berth where the ship was to tie up but the ship was nowhere in sight. A Korean soldier speaking in broken English asked what I was doing there. I tried to explain, the best I could, that I was waiting for a ship to come in. He said, "no ship coming, no ship coming, you go." He had a rifle, was getting very insistent, and needlessly to say I was relieved when just at that moment the ship came into sight!
As previously mentioned I made two trips to Pusan to fill in as the Boarding Officer of MSTSFE. It was a unique place to serve and had many perks for serving in that capacity. I did not feel qualified to fill in for the CPO position but must have done well for they sent me back the second time! I was able to add Korea to my list of places for having visited while in the service. While there I was introducted to a Korean woman and came real close to making it a permanent commitment but it did not come to the fruition expected. I was not committed to setting down until later in life.
When I returned to Japan I renewed my relationship with the Japanese girlfriend who I had known prior to my departure for temporary duty in Korea. One night I had a real sobering experience for she slit her wrist right in front of me due to an argument. Prior to that she hit me over the head with her spiked heel. We both shed some blood that night but obviously her situation required more immediate attention than that of my own. I had grown quite fond of her and when I returned to the United States I sent her a quilt my mother had made along with other gifts. Eventually, with the distance and separation that romance faded away.
It would be unfair to leave out a description of a country that I had spent three years of my life in. It had a charm about it that was unique from any other. It had its places of splendor as has America. Its people were polite and courteous but it did have some practices that seemed a little unorthodox to me at the time. I tried out one of its community bath houses. The men were on one side and women on the other. On the men's side one went into an area where there were individual faucets coming out of the wall. That was where one cleaned themselves prior to going into the pool with everyone else. I prefer the American tradition of bath or shower!
When one assumed the role of driving in Japan they automatically become a "Professional Driver" and was to act accordingly. My professionalism did not fair so well. On one occasion, when I found myself, along with my Japanese girlfriend, driving in a one-way tunnel - you guessed it I entered in the wrong way! She became very excited in trying to communicate this to me. Thank the Lord we made it safely through! Then an equally disturbing incident happened on a narrow Japanese countryside road. My large American car decided to quite running and blocked the road. A large number of Japanese, in other vehicles behind me, begin to blow their horns wanting through.
I had witnessed what some Japanese had done in response to someone holding them up in traffic. In that incident a cab driver was having it out with the driver of a truck behind him. Suddenly from the back of the covered truck came about four men who grabbed the cab driver and pulled him into the back of the truck with them. It now seemed that this was going to be replayed for my benefit! Several Japanese got out of their vehicles and headed my way. But they were as polite as they could be and helped push my car aside so they, as well as others, could get by. They did render what assistance they could before departing.
While in Japan I also experienced idol worship, both in my girlfriend's home, and at a Buddhist temple at her invitation. It was an unusual type of worship I witnessed in their worship of a false god. They were all kneeling on the temple floor. Their worship increased in intensity to the beat of a drum. I still recall the chant spoken at the time.
A friend of mine, another sailor, who spoke Japanese, attended the worship of a fertility god. He gave me a replica of the symbol of such worship enclosed in a small wooden carved case. If a Japanese couple could not have a child this was the god they turned too. I thank God for my Christian upbringing that would keep me from being influenced by such falseness. Parents your bringing up a child in the way they should go is not in vain. Somewhere down the road of life it will bear fruit according to God's Word.
My next set of orders from Japan carried me back to Stateside Duty with the U. S. Navy Mobile Construction Battalion TEN (Seabees) out of Port Hueneme, California. I found out that they were to be deployed to Vietnam and it made me revisit a recurring dream I had. I would dream of a enemy soldier cornering me by a fence and just when he was ready to use his bayonet on me I would wake up. After finding out that NMCB TEN was going to Vietnam I had to wonder if it would bring a climax to my dream. After serving in Vietnam I never had that dream again.
Being in the administrative field did not preclude my having to go to the Marine Corps Base, at Camp Pendleton, California for advance training prior to being deployed to Vietnam. It was a unique experience that has not been forgotten. While there I qualified as Sharpshooter on the M16. We trained in the use of hand grenades, digging up mines, learning about booby traps, etc.. On the booby trap trail I was the first one to set one off a small charge. I was looking down when I should have been looked up and tripped a device that set it off.
When we went to throw hand grenades we begin with some low charge hand grenades to get the feel of them. Then we went to a different range to use the regular hand grenades. The guy in charge said that about a month before an instructor had his arms blown off, and the guy who froze, after he had pulled the pin, had died. With this still in my mine; I threw my hand grenade and hit the dirt. Then it was the guy's turn next to me, in a different enclosure, and I heard him yell loud & clear, "I can't do it!" Believe me, if I could, I would have dug deeper where I was. I then heard "He's right he could not do it," and fortunately he had not pulled the pin!
One night, after a long hike to the mountains, we were told that we would be attacked by a Marine Corp outfit that night. It was about 2:00 AM when the attack came. I had been trained on a M16, was given an M14 of which I knew very little about, and it jammed when I attempted to fire blanks on the Marine aggressors. Had it been for real I would, like the booby trap trail, been a goner. The training was very realistic and an eye opener to what one may have had to face in Vietnam.
NMCB TEN deployed to Vietnam with 800 men. I was on the advance party, that left a month early, to help prepare the way for the Battalion. We flew on the Flying Tigers Airline to Danang in Vietnam. From there we boarded a C41 Cargo plane. It was just an empty plane - no seats - and we had to sat roll after roll across the belly of the plane (with one seat belt across each row of Seabees) as we headed to the Phu Bai airport. After that, believe it or not, we went in what looked like cattle trailers to the Seabee base (Camp Wilkinson) at Phu Bai.
I sort of felt belittled as an America fighting man and wondered what in the world had I gotten into. When we arrived at the base I was using one of the outdoor bathroom facilities (a piece of tin in front for privacy) when I heard a tremendous explosion that shook the ground. Not knowing what was happening, I actually stopped in mid-stream what I was doing. I found out later it was only an outgoing round from a huge artillery piece near our camp. We did not have the latest bathroom facilities but did have a four seat outhouse in the camp. We were next to the 101st Airborne Camp (Camp Eagle).
Vietnam was 48 years ago and I can picture it readily in my mind but not all the details. Thank God, I have no unspeakable moments to withhold as do many who were there. We did have one Seabee wounded when he ran over a land mine, with his caterpillar, but by the time we returned to the States he was alright. I felt fairly snug in my administrative duties until one day the Executive Officer said: "Petty Officer Burner you haven't been with me, have you?" I was told to get my M16, flax jacket, helmet, etc., and come along.
I was to be drive his jeep to various job sites. We drove along Highway One. I did enjoy seeing the scenery of Vietnam and getting away from our camp for awhile. I heard he was going to visit a job site close to North Vietnam. I sort of felt like another time, later in life, when I was volunteered to drive a fire fighting truck in the mist of a grass fire (I was just a passerby or so I thought until being drafted) and found out we were to go into an area where there was a fuel storage tank. I felt a little uncomfortable about that situation but did not have to go there because some other firefighters had got there already. Neither did I have to go to the job site near North Vietnam because the Executive Officer decided there wasn't sufficient time.
One man in the Battalion always carried full clips of extra ammo, that aroused my curiosity, and I looked into his service record to see why. He was a quiet person and never said much. But I found out he had earned the Silver Star, in another deployment, when the enemy had overrun part of the camp he was in. He had run out of ammo and had to fight hand to hand combat after that. I assumed he wasn't going to get caught in such a situation again; if he could help it. I did not reveal it to any one but was awed by what I found out. He had been there, seen that, and was close mouthed about it all! As previously stated, so it is with many who do not like to recall their experiences.
We had a Seabee come to our office one day, shaking like a leaf, who had a narrow escape as a driver on a supply run to Danang. He had become accustomed to the run and when the convoy was attack, at Hai Van Pass, he jumped into a ditch alongside his truck without his M16. A South Vietnamese soldier noticed he wasn't firing; thinking he was out of ammo, exposed himself to bring ammo to him.
The Seabee also seen a Vietnamese woman wounded in the stomach in the attack. I do not clearly remember all the details that were related that day but he had only one month left in his enlistment when this incident took place. I seen a similar reaction on an aircraft carrier when a man, from the engine room, came up to the office shaking like a leaf. He had been sprayed with gas, and had just vacated the area, when an instant later a fire burst forth. Had he been there, a few seconds earlier, he would have become a human torch.
Everyone had an opportunity to spend seven days R & R (Rest and Recuperation), in the place of their choice, during their tour of duty in Vietnam. We were given three choices: Hawaii, Australia, and Hong Kong. It is obvious by the title, and picture, which one I choose. I do not remember a whole lots about my R & R trip except a ride on a Chinook Helicopter to Danang. A soldier with a machine gun at the side door and a passenger (from a special forces unit with his weapon handy), let me know I was still in a war zone.
No one clued me in about using ear plugs. When I got off the helicopter I asked for directions and all I could do was see the person's lips moving in response to my question. I had temporally lost my hearing while on the helicopter due to the noise it made. I set down on a bench until my hearing was restored. I had brought $600 with me and spent most of it during my time in Hong Kong. As I had to return to Vietnam, after my R & R, I wanted to enjoy my time while there.
I did one serviceman a favor when we first arrived at the R & R center. I found a wallet loaded with money, as mine was, and turned it into the Reception Center. I am sure that made his day and his R & R a whole lots nicer! I did purchase some gifts, while there, which I sent back to the USA. I also met a girl who showed me some of the sites while in Hong Kong; plus taking some pictures while there. I took the above picture while there.
After returning to Vietnam several of us Seabees got into the back of a large Seabee truck and went sightseeing to the city of Hue that was not far from our Camp. My understanding is that it had once been the Capital of Vietnam and its ruler lived in a palace which we visited. Entering into the city we were greeted by some children who called us some not so favorable names. But that incident was made up by a little boy named Joe.
Joe showed us around, for a small fee, and was a really likeable kid. We all still had to take our firearms with us and since I was recently field promoted to E-6 I was able to carry a .45 caliber pistol rather than the M16. I had never fired a .45 pistol except, when my foster father allowed me to do so at home, while growing up. Had I been required to use it while there it certainly would have been interesting as to the outcome! But it still beat carrying the M16 around especially when it was not likely there would be a need to use it on a sightseeing tour.
This was probably one of the most pleasurable times I had while in Vietnam. I have movies taken while in Vietnam, as I had purchased a 8MM movie camera at the PX. I still have the movies. Another memorable time was when we had a USO show come to the Seabee camp. It was held on the stage of our outdoor movie theatre. A Korean man, and two women, sing and danced. During their performance we had what was termed a maniac minute. This is when all weapons open fire on the base perimeter. I guess the women did not know if we were under attack, or not, because for a moment a look of fright appeared on their faces. They were real troopers though and continued their act in spite of it all.
The time of NMCB TEN's departure from Vietnam was near. Most of the leaders of the Administrative Section went back on the advance party to NMCB TEN's base in California. I, as a brand new field promoted E-6, had to take on a more than normal leadership position. Some of the men decided to take me to task, as a leader, and goof off. I ordered an inspection, the next day, in proper uniform. I found out though a friend that they were planning a blanket party (the covering of an individual with a blanket and then beating the tar out of him) the night before the inspection.
I had this person's assurance (an E-5) that he would be by my side if this did occur. It did not and the men gathered the next morning for inspection in full uniform and there was no problem after that incident. The E-7 who ran the office, prior to his departure, lived in a different place than the men but I lived with those who I had leadership over making it more difficult.
We departed Vietnam via air to Danang and from there a flight back to the States. Looking back I am glad I had an opportunity to serve my country in such a manner. In 2014 I met a Vietnam Veteran who served in the Army. He could not speak but had to write on a slate board what he wanted to say. He had suffered numerous problems due to Agent Orange, used against the enemy in Vietnam, which included the loss of his voice. He had given a lots for his service in Vietnam and was still suffering from his time there. In this causal acquaintance I highly respected a fellow Vet who had obviously given a lots for his service in Vietnam; and was still doing so.
I was a brand new E-6 fresh back from Vietnam with money in my pocket and rented this apartment in Oxnard, California. It was in Oxnard where I meet the lady who stole my heart but I did not realize it at the time. Her name was Sue and she was visiting her aunt in Oxnard. I met her, made a date with her, and it bosomed forth from there. She was truly beautiful and became the apple of my eye. I have many fond memories of her coming into my life, and our times together in Oxnard. I then received orders for a deployment to the Philippines with the Seabees.
I thought our time together had ended but we kept writing each other while I was deployed. She remained in Oxnard while I was in the Philippines. She was full of fun and excitement and it is hard to leave her behind. But all that begins well, often times ends well, as did this situation. As for going to the Philippines it meant another flight which I dreaded; up in the wild blue wonder again, headed for a distant land with another deployment with the Seabees.
Most sailors, who have been to Subic Bay Naval Base, in the Philippines, will remember this bridge that leads into Olongapo City from the base. I crossed this bridge many times during my time in the Philippines. I even had one character attempt to grab my wrist watch right off my hand, as I walked across this bridge, but it had a watch band that wasn't so easily removed! I have many memories of the Philippines; many of them good, some not. While there I hired a Navy car and Philippine driver to see a little of the countryside. I went to Baguio City, and Manila.
In Baguio City I purchased a large "hand craved" water buffalo and elephant ($7.00 each). I sent the water buffalo to my sister and the elephant to my foster mother. I noticed another carved item that I have never forgotten. In a store there was a hand carved cross with Christ on it (life size in detail). One could even see the veins in his hands. It was beautifully done and the cost was $300.00. I was not living for the Lord, at that time, but I have never forgotten that cross, and body, which represented Jesus' having died on the cross for our sins and our salvation.
My girlfriend took me, along with the sailor friend of mine, to her home quite a ways from Olongapo City. As we traveled we had to go through checkpoints with guards. Apparently my girlfriend was doing OK, for herself, for she was in the process of building a two story wooded house in a place that mostly consisted of huts. While there we were a little concerned about safety.
My girlfriend, after our arrival, showed me a picture of her brother standing with a gun and some ammunition swung across his shoulder. She said he was a fighter with the rebels. Needless to say we were happy when we departed from there! In this remote area the outhouse was over the edge of the river; the same river where I seen a water buffalo doing his thing, and down a little ways was a woman washing her clothes. Somehow this did not seem to sanitary to me!
When one went to the drinking establishments in Olongapo City there were guards, at many of the places, who had a shotgun standing near the door. One of the Jeepney (a Philippine taxi type vehicle) drivers, whom I had become friends with, showed me that he kept a revolver handy in his Jeepney out of sight but close at hand. Such circumstances did not make one feel comfortable.
One day I was headed, off base, to a place I had rented in Olongapo City, and seen a number of locals ahead of where I was going blocking my way. I took another route just in case they had the wrong notion in mind. Later in life I was to have an extended family from the Philippines, who I have known for a great number of years now, who are doing the work of the Lord, and who have visited me in the USA several times.
I remember one night, while in the Philippines, looking out across the ocean with the stars shining bright. I was later to write a God-given poem "A Mate for Life" revealing how my heart ached for the person whom I had left behind, in sunny California, who was later to become my wife. You can read that poem on my Website page "In Loving Memory of My Wife." I then returned to the States with orders to CINCPACFLT headquarters (Staff Duty) in Hawaii.
I reported for Staff Duty with Commander in Chief, U. S. Pacific Fleet. I enjoyed my time on staff (I am in the upper left hand corner of the picture) and had some good people to work with. I worked directly for a U. S. Navy Captain who later was to be ran over by his own wife's vehicle with her driving it. I happened to be on the scene. She had just let him out at work and instead of going behind the vehicle, as he usually did, for some reason he went in front of it and she flattened him. Fortunately he was not to badly hurt but she was really shaken up by the incident.
I was enjoying my time in Hawaii, working with the Staff of CINCPACFLT, but was to soon receive a very much unexpected, yet pleasant surprise! The love of my life was to come on the scene, literally! The person I thought I had left behind in sunny California had her own ideal. She flew to Hawaii, via United Airlines, to come be by my side. We were married in Hawaii, at the courthouse, in downtown Honolulu on February 16, 1972.
I was blessed with a person who was to be my wife almost 27 years. Cancer was later to take her out of my life. We started out in an apartment in downtown Waikiki. We later moved into U. S. Navy housing but Sue enjoyed living in Waikiki and we moved back. We were within walking distance of all the huge hotels, the Waikiki beachfront and shops, and it was a good environment for a young married couple to enjoy.
I have many pictures, as well as memories, of that period of time. I enjoyed living in Hawaii but I tell people I developed "Rock Fever" while there. Rock Fever; is simply being tired of being on the rock (the island of Oahu) for so long.
Sue won a free weekend vacation for two at a neighboring island of Kauai. All expenses were paid and we considered it our honeymoon. We have fond memories of that weekend which included a flight, staying at the Kauai Resort free of charge (meals included). Later Sue won a free boat ride for two from Fisherman's Wharf in Waikiki.
My favorite assignments during my 20 years in the Navy was when I was attached to the Seabees and my tour of duty on the USS Ranger (CVA 61). I was on the Ranger from December 2, 1974 until January 1, 1978. During my time with the Ranger we went on a "Spirit of 76" Bicentennial Cruise.
(HAWAII) An 7,300 mile trek lay before us. It was a 10-day transit to Pearl Harbor which was my old stomping grounds. I was to revisit Waikiki, walk along Kaiakaua Avenue, Waikiki's main street, and revisit the International Market Place which provided native entertainment. Hawaii, as previously mentioned, provided serenity and beauty, and a place to be remembered.
(PHILIPPINES) During our deployment we went through underway replenishments which provided fuel, food and ordnance for Ranger's 4,000 plus crew. We visited Subic Bay in the Philippines. Again, one of my old stomping grounds. For some familiarity with Olongapo City was a regular when liberty time came. For those who desired to remain on base there was the Subic Enlisted Men's Club, the Station theater, a go-cart track, skeet shooting, and many other attractions.
Subic's "Checkpoint Charlie" was the main gate into Olongapo City. I crossed the bridge between the base and Olongapo many times. After entering Olongapo one could get to their preferred destination by the ubiquitous "Jeepney" (previously mentioned) which were readily available.
(HONG KONG) While aboard the Ranger I spent my time in the Engineering Office working for the Engineer Officer. As I look through the Cruise Book it brings back memories of those I worked with in the Engineering Department. Our next visit was Hong Kong another old stomping ground. I was familiar with Hong Kong as I spent my seven days of R & R there (also previously mentioned). I purchased made out of ivory at reasonable prices. Downtown Hong Kong was a colorful maze of shops and signs. There was even a McDonald's in this Far East city. There was the "Milky Way" of colored lights, of the Hong Kong harbor at night.
(SINGAPORE) Our next visit was Singapore, the busiest trade port in the world. Almost halfway around the world from the U. S., the charm of Singapore was indeed a good liberty port. As Ranger departed from Singapore, the city was waking to another day of business with the merchants of the world.
We had our own TV station aboard the Ranger (KRAN TV). We also had our own Newspaper (GAZETTE). We had our own Police Force aboard (MASTER-AT-ARMS). I remember one incident when there was almost a racial incident in which a person said (Via the Ship's Intercom) there will be a meeting of all "blacks" in a particular area onboard the ship in fifteen minutes. Immediately, the Executive Officer of the ship (Via the Ship's Intercom) said there would be no such meeting and told the Master-at-Arms force to go to that area. There was no racial incident on the Ranger!
(CROSSING THE EQUATOR) The Captain of the Ranger (Captain John L. Nicholson, Jr.) took us about 50 miles off course to see that we made it across the equator so a "Crossing the Line" party could be held for us "pollywogs" who had never been across before. We were initiated by King Neptune and his Court to pass judgment on us slimey pollywogs. It was a day to be remembered and I have a large certificate on my wall saying that I passed the test and was now an official "Shellback." It is unfortunate that I never crossed the equator again to dish out some of what I had received as a former pollywog!
We started out by going through a gauntlet of trusty shellbacks who lined the flight deck to dish out various forms of pollywog punishment during the wild initiation ceremony. Short lengths of firehose became very effective "persuaders" in the hands of the shellbacks. Other stops along the initiation route included crawling through a shut of nasty garbage.
Some pollywogs were marked for "special treatment" (of which I was). We got a taste of some ancient methods of punishment before getting accepted into King Neptune's ancient order of the deep. I spend several days trying to get the grease out of my hair, and other bodily parts, imposed as a form of the "special treatment" process.
We had one person in the office pulled out for "special treatment" shortly after the initiation began. He had a dog collar placed on his neck, with a leash, and if he did not bark loud enough when told too, he was wracked with one of the short lengths of firehose on his buttocks. A very convincing method and he barked real loud! The final stage of the shellback process was the ceremonial ducking. You were asked who you were. During the whole initiation who had to respond with "I'm a pollywog" and until you acknowledged you were a "shellback" they kept ducking you.
(HOMECOMING) Homeport was a welcome sight to those onboard the Ranger after her eight month deployment ended. Families of the crew, and air wing, had gathered on the pier to welcome their loved ones back. It was a happy reunion with many "happy" tears shed. I have many other memories that could be shared during my length of time on the Ranger but some have faded away with time. I tremendously enjoyed, as previous stated, my time on the USS Ranger (CVA-61).
I reported to Staff duty for a NATO Joint Command, at the Headquarters of the Commander in Chief, Western Atlantic Area, under a Canadian Vice Admiral, during the period February 1978 - April 1982. I was also a part of COMOCEANLANT where I was promoted to Chief Petty Officer as evidenced by the picture above. One of my ambitions, after deciding to made the military a career was to make CPO which I accomplished.
There was an initiation for CPO's but it was to be held in the CPO Club. I declined this initiation since I had never been in a place that served alcohol since giving it up in Hawaii. The CPO's, in the division where I worked, gave me an initiation instead and one of the CPO's said it was one of the better one's he had attended.
In 1978 I invited the Lord into my heart and life. I attended a little country Pentecostal church, in Pungo, Virginia, just outside Virginia Beach where my wife and I lived. I decided to retire after serving 20 years in the military. I could have retired with full honors; a Navy car to drive my wife and I to the ceremony, a Naval band, Naval attendees in dress uniform and formation, and a four-star Admiral to present me with my certificate of retirement. Instead, I opted out and chose a quiet office ceremony.
I have never regretted the service to my country. It was a 20 year service in which I had many fellow servicemen who had helped me through the rough spots earlier in my career. If it had not been for them I may not have finished with an honorable service. I had 16 years good conduct thus I was entitled to have a gold rating badge, and hash marks, on my uniform (which I still have today).
I joined the Navy to see the world and I certainly accomplished that. I am thankful also to the Lord, whom I served, besides my country, in the last four years of my military service. I wish it could have been from early age on but I thank God; Jesus and the Spirit of God continual knocking at my heart's door, for never giving up on me!