A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam) – Installment 30

Notes from the Southwest Corner:

A Sea Story                                                                                                              1/12/2009

by Jim Jewell

SAN DIEGO – An advantage of the Southwest corner for me is “sea story synergism.”

When I am in Tennessee, I regale folks with sea stories. But they are mostly repeats.

In the Southwest corner, it is different. At lunch last week, Pete Toennies and I reminisced about the deployment of Amphibious Squadron Five in 1979 and 1980. Lieutenant Toennies was the Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) advisor attached to the squadron staff. I joined the staff in Hobart, Tasmania and relieved the Current Operations Officer. We rode the flagship, U.S.S. Tripoli (LPH 10), one of nine ships in the squadron.

For Pete and me, our sea stories fit like an old baseball glove.

Then we wandered to other anecdotes. I remembered long forgotten events. So did Pete. We fed off each other. It was synergistic.

Here’s one I recalled.

In the summer of 1969, I reconnected with my OCS roommate, George “Doc” Jordan when the U.S.S. Hawkins (DD 873) changed home port to Norfolk. Doc, on the U.S.S Guam (LPH 9) and I hooked up to discuss our future. We were reaching the half-way point of our obligations. We could stay where we were or request reassignment. We both preferred the latter but pondered where.

One evening over a cheeseburger and beer, Doc announced he was requesting Vietnam. I was stunned. Doc was the hippie’s gift to the Navy.

“Why would you, of all people, volunteer to go to Vietnam?” I asked.

Doc replied, “Well I’ve been thinking about it and regardless of how we feel about what’s going on, this is our generation’s war.

“If I don’t go, I have missed that part of history.”

After a few minutes of contemplation and another beer, I agreed. I was 25 and had absolutely no good sense.

Separately we called our ‘detailer,’ who coordinated new assignments.

The detailer, who will remain anonymous to protect the guilty, informed us separately an officer cut was pending. Doc was told he would remain on active duty. I was told I would be getting out. At our favorite tavern, we compared notes and scratched our heads.

The reduction was by commissioning date. We missed the cut by a month. The detailer informed us the reduction was only half what was needed. He told Doc the next cut would not affect him. He told me I would certainly be let go. The next cut was by unnecessary billets. Again, we were not cut. Again we were puzzled.

The detailer reported the reduction again missed the needed number and one more cut was imminent. Again Doc was told he would miss it. Again, I was assured I would be gone. Poor performance dictated the last cut. Again, we remained.

We began our transfer discussions in earnest. Doc’s command refused to let him transfer.

Converted by Doc and the beers, I volunteered for Gunline Liaison Officer (GLO) in Vietnam. The detailer was elated. No one else had asked for that billet. A GLO goes past the front lines and relays targeting information for aircraft and artillery fire, not a highly sought assignment.

He informed me I must extend my active duty for two months to have necessary training and a full year in Vietnam. I informed him I was crazy but not that crazy. I would not extend so I could go risk my life. I would do it for ten months, no extension. He said no.

We discussed other options. Finally, he found an opening for executive officer, Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) Group One. I asked what it was. He didn’t know but would find out. When he came back to the phone, he told me I would be the only Navy personnel aboard an MSTS ship carrying military personnel and dependents to duty stations in the Pacific Rim, and should visit every major Pacific port in the year, adding I would have to extend a month.

I told him, “No problem.”

When I finally reached my new job in early January 1970, I sent the detailer a radio message. It said, “Every major port in the Pacific is Sasebo, Japan; Pusan, Korea; Qui Nhon, and Nha Trang, Vietnam. The Unit has not just me, but two Navy line officers, two doctors, one chaplain, and 18 enlisted. The military personnel are Republic of Korea troops. There are no dependents.

Several months later, I heard Doc had been released from active duty.

It was quite a year.


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