Vietnam 65

As told by Frank Voras:

If I may, I'd like to submit an account of our Ship's first Vietnam tour in the very beginning of it all , early 1965.

After the first yard period in mid 1964, the Towers operated off San Clemente Islands that Fall. There were daytime and night-time gunnery exercises . The cruiser Canberra CAG-2 was firing her 8" guns, which made our 5" sound like a bang compared to the ka-boom of the Cruiser. Also Joe Meeker FTM3 of Radar 2 was sent to a blockhouse on the beach of San Clemente with another fellow to observe the hits of our shells and the Cruiser . He came back amazed at the huge craters the 8" made compared to the 5" shells. This was all a preparation.

 When January 1965 came we left with the Canberra and 15 other destroyers and DLG's for West Pac(there was no knowledge of Vietnam until we got over there). Toward the end of January we arrived at Subic and stayed there a couple of week's I believe. While there it became known that things were happening over at Vietnam and one of the Carriers was launching air attacks following orders from President Johnson. Thus began the Vietnam War in earnest.

A Carrier came in for an overnight stop to pickup a jet fighter and sailed off the next day to join the air attacks. Meanwhile at Subic the Base was busy with Marines with vehicles and tanks. Army soldiers were aboard some Military transports too. After a while one day the Marines all lined up in formation along the pier in a ceremony. Next day they were all loading onto LST's and LSD's and they were on their way to Vietnam. A day or so later we departed with a couple of other Destroyers and caught up with and passed those ships on our way North.

 During our stay a Subic we received a manned communications box on our signal bridge that was used to intercept enemy communications etc. off the Vietnam coast.  We arrived off Vietnam a couple of days later. Actually it was off Da Nang, just some mountains to the west , a good 20 miles away. There were a few LSD's in a small group in the area and nothing else.

We immediately set sail for duty with an aircraft carrier. We spent about a week with the Hancock CVA-19 for some air attack launchings. Then a couple of weeks with the Coral Sea CVA-43. After that spent a little time doing Market Time mostly in the Nah Trang Area. Towers' duties for all carrier work during this tour was not plane guard but missile and radar picket. Usually this put us about a few miles off the carriers port bow at all times when launching north into Tonkin at Yankee station. So many of the planes launched flew over us or nearby low over the water. One Skyraider ( I did not know the term Spad until years later.) pilot waved back to me when he was passing down the starboard side. I could make out his face . One F-4 flew by with a one 6000 round cannon pod under one wing. And the A-4's had bombs underneath too.

All in all, Towers operated in a period from March-April 1965 with the Carriers Hancock, Coral Sea , and Ranger CVA-61 for the Flaming Dart II attacks on Dong Hoi and Vihn Linh .( Daily Carrier operations entailed racing into the Gulf , launching aircraft, slowly start south, retrieve later, then fast south to catch a tanker when available either at 9pm, 11pm, 5am whatever. Most of all activity in our tour was constant work and setting GQ faster and faster) Then we departed for a couple of weeks for SAR with DD-947 Horton. There we shadowed spy trawlers as well as the Russian supply ship with the hammer and sickle on the stack. The Skyhawks loved to buzz the trawlers at mast level. Then we went after a downed pilot off the Island of Hainan. This belonged to Red China and they had a few patrol boats looking us over from on the near horizon. Our ECM was picking them up and visually were little bumps on the horizon.

Then one other time both us and the Horton had to crank it up to 30 kts because a pilot was down off the coast near Dong Hoi. I was on condition III on Radar 3 with a long headphone cord and was standing outside the radar room watching what was going on. Toward land was a thick golden haze and the only sign of getting close to the coast was the silt lines we were passing. Then land started to appear through the haze. On the water were many war junks looking for the pilot. Behind them on land was rising black smoke from exploding bombs. An A-4 or an F-4 was climbing up out after dropping bombs . A Skywarrior bomber was just going into its dive. This whole scene was within 5 to10 miles of us. But yet out at sea it was silent. No boom from the bombs. General Quarters sounded and within a half hour or so the pilot was picked up by an Albatross. That happened at Hainan, also. That was the only time I actually saw a war going on while there, during the daylight , however.

After SAR we spent a week in Hong Kong. That was the only Liberty we actually had while in the combat zone , the whole West Pac cruise. Subic was the only other stop to and from the area. So for 90 days in the combat zone, we spent 83 at sea. We all looked it too. When putting back into Subic the sides had to be painted before going to the pier.  After Hong Kong we went specifically for Market Time at Nah Trang again where we spent the rest of our tour til May. Then we went through Sailor Hat , the ship's 39 radar got damaged and no return to Vietnam . The Ship was preparing for gun support if we returned. During the last time at Market time we supplied US patrol craft , something that looked like a coast Guard craft with a wood deck. A farely new craft. We supplied them with food , maybe ammo, and BEER. We took on supplies from refrig ships for us and for them. We were like a mother ship.

When on our own patrols, we were no more than a half mile or less at times from the coast, looking over craft and small rice boats etc. The Vietnamese Officers on board acted as interpreters. No boardings, however. At night we came close to shore too and if a small junk or boat came into view our signalmen lit them up with the powerful signal bridge lights. One night a family was in a small boat and we were close enough to hear them shouting as they floated down no more than 20 feet from the port side. They were lighted up by our lights. Then our lights were shining into the woods on shore no more than 500 feet in. Just then an Air Force C-123 with no lights came overhead and lit us up with his underwing straight down taxi lights. Guess we checked out ok. How could he miss. No junks that big!!

Also at night beside seeing plenty of lightning over the water and mountains, I did see red glows and distant flares up in the mountains of the Central highlands west of Nah Trang. All was silent, however, never a sound. During the day the Green mountains were beautiful with the golden beaches. No war there yet. Just saw Army trucks on the coastal highway and occasional Hueys flying by. We occasionally went up to Qui Nhon to meet with an olive drab PT boat which I thought was run by the Army because the Americans wore olive drab. The crew was a Vietnamese crew. It had a 40mm aft and two I thought 50 cal either side of the cabin forward. I believe it was a Korean made boat with aluminum hull. Pretty fast. Later I understand the 50's were 20mm cannons. Also the Army was probably our Riverine sailors. I had no idea of what was evolving at that time with the Riverine Forces. While at Qui Nhon there were one or two camouflaged Skyraiders( Vietnamese Air Force?) circling around the area over the mountains nearby. The Marines and Army were still using the M14. We only had 30 cal machine guns, plus small arms of WW2 vintage(M1's, BAR's, 45 cal MG's). No 50's , chaff rockets, and shoulder launched missiles either. Many a time close into the beach I really felt naked without immediate response of powerful small arms.

CMDR. Penny had plenty of guts. In fact while we were in Vietnam he wore a Green silk Scarf around his neck and a good sized cigar clenched in his mouth.. I swear the scarf is true. I don't think anyone was scared with him in command. We even picked up an occasional stray glass fishing net ball, too. One morning after quarters we were going to our work stations. The ship was in condition III , of course. But we were sailing slowly down a narrow inlet to a small cove. In there was a south Vietnamese Navy minesweeper. Our ship could not make a normal sweeping turn so we had to back around to get out of the cove to the inlet. We were wondering what the heck are we doing in here? Later it turns out that Captain Penny inquired of the minesweeper if they needed our services in whatever they were firing at. The minesweeper replied that they were ok and only having firing exercises. They were only a few hundred yards from the beach and firing into the woods point blank. GQ had not sounded, although everyone was ready. It was a moment that caught most of us on deck by surprise. All of our close coastal work was probably a luxury at that early date in the war, not being fired at. The thought was there , though. The enemy was believed to be in the mountains.

Up further north, the Canberra and other Destroyers had been shelling the mountains at night for some time now. Also we went to Chu Lai too for a stop, a couple of times. We tied up alongside other Destroyers about a mile from the hot beach and temps were at 120 degrees. We could see many swimming on shore as well as LST's unloading and helicopters with nets flying toward the beach from other ships laying off shore. After this we returned to Nah Trang area, listened to Hanoi Hannah and got the word to leave for Sailor hat.

This is how it happened to the best of memory and eyewitness account. We earned the Vietnam Service Medal for Towers first tour in Vietnam. Thank you . Frank Voras  In my area of work, FTM, the concern was if the Tartar missile could be fired at a fast moving patrol boat. The Tonkin gulf incident of 1964 was still fresh. It was thought that the missile might be able to arc down over the boat and explode but never had to be proven. It was not made for surface targets because of jitter in the range gate compared to the steady lock on of the 68 gun system. The only activity of the missile radars during air strikes were lock on to friendly aircraft, B-52's, and a Russian Badger looking the Fleet over, during this 1965 tour. Tracking was short because I realized years later that any of those aircraft would become concerned being tracked by a shipboard SAM, especially the Russian.

The gun system was tracking our fast moving patrol boats and preparing for shore gun support with range finder practice and whatever they had to. So they were ready. Note: My account of Towers during 1965 is only one account, from my vantage point being at the high observation level of the missile radars which afforded me visual witness of things happening around us. Those in CIC and Officers could give a more precise account of the actual operations. Having stood some condition III watches on the Fire Control WDE in CIC on a couple of occasions, I heard RD's involved in handling tricky communication with shore forces as well as handling the trawlers speaking English but could not answer daily codes. Also over the communication speakers could be heard pilots talking back and forth during missions. These would be more specific incidences.


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