Vietnam Return Cruise Remembrances
Rich Thrash, Brass Team
USS New Jersey fired her last observed mission of her Vietnam deployment
on the evening of March 31, 1969 against an enemy bunker complex 3½
miles northeast of Con Thien. The aerial observer reported seven bunkers
were destroyed. An additional 50 rounds of main battery and 815 rounds
of secondary battery were fired unobserved through
the night. The
on station until 0600 on April 1st, finishing her
deployment where she had started more than six months
Those final rounds fired brought the total
ordnance expended to nearly 12,000,000 pounds in 120 days on the
gunline. Total rounds expended were 5,866 16-inch and 14,891 five-inch.
The number of main battery rounds expended
during her deployment to Vietnam was only
1,500 short of the total she had fired in World War II, two cruises to
Korea, and several midshipmen cruises combined!
should also be noted this was accomplished with a crew
that was about half the
size of her World War II complement. About his crew Captain Snyder said,
"The men on today's New Jersey are not afraid to experiment, to
innovate, to reject old and begin new traditions. They are linked to
their heritage yet not chained to the past. They are younger, better
educated, and more individualistic than the men I knew as a junior
officer on the Battleship Pennsylvania 25 years ago. The New Jersey crew
is undoubtedly the finest and most professional group of men with which
I have ever had the privilege of serving."
After departing the gunline the ship made stops in Subic Bay and
Yokosuka, Japan and on April 9th she set a course for home, scheduled to
arrive in Long Beach, CA at 1000 hrs. on April 19th. On the morning of
April 15th, when she was only 1,800 miles from Long Beach, USS New
Jersey received a message which was clearly not part of any drill. The
Officer of the Deck, received a voice signal to change course and detach
immediately. The conning officer, gave the order to the helm,
"left standard rudder, steer course 290" and
the battleship was headed back to the Western Pacific.
A few hours earlier an EC-121 reconnaissance plane, flying on a
routine mission, had been shot down by
aircraft in international air space. A total of 31 American lives were lost
in the Sea of Japan. As an immediate response
to the incident, the president ordered a Naval
task force to be formed and proceed into the
Sea of Japan. To that end the USS New Jersey
was ordered to Sasebo, Japan, in the event she would be needed. The ship
proceeded at 25 knots, with an estimated time of arrival of first light
on April 23rd.
It goes without saying this sudden turn-around surprised the crew,
especially when they were just four days away from a long awaited
reunion with family and friends, but the crew accepted it, this was
duty. On the way to Japan the ship refueled
from USS Kennebec (AO-36)
the 19th. While alongside she received a message from
Commander Seventh Fleet changing her destination from Sasebo to
Yokosuka, Japan. She arrived at 0951 on the 22nd, received fuel, stores
and provisions, and departed seven hours later,
amid much speculation as to her destination. In 13 days she had steamed
7,042 miles, averaging 22.4 knots!
Her real destination was a 100 mile in diameter operating area
centered about 175 miles Southeast of Yokosuka. Shortly after reaching
this area, the battleship was directed to
rearm from USS Paracutin (AE-18), which had left Sasebo only hours
earlier. She headed southwest to expedite the rendezvous and on the
afternoon of the 24th she began what would become the ships largest
underway replenishment of the cruise. In ten hours alongside, she
received 837 tons of 5-inch and 16-inch ammunition.
Following replenishment the battleship returned to her operating
area, steaming at eight knots to conserve fuel. She arrived at the
perimeter of her area at noon, thirty minutes
later she was directed by Commander Seventh fleet to "Commence transit
to CONUS." At 1235 the Officer of the Deck ordered "right full rudder,
all engines ahead full, indicate turns for 22 knots, steer course 090."
For the second time in less than
three weeks, the battleship was again on her
way home from WESTPAC. As she departed, she
received the following message from Vice Admiral William F. Bringle,
Commander Seventh Fleet:
"I again bid you farewell. Your ready response to the unceremonious
turnaround, your comprehension and discreet execution of orders and keen
insight into the circumstances are most gratifying. Please extend to
your officers and men my most sincere thanks for their forebearance and
devotion to duty. I wish you all fair winds and following seas to
expedite your delayed reunion with families and friends. Another well
The trip home this time was fast and
routine, and at 0900 on May 5th, the battleship arrived at her "home"
berth at Pier E, where she was met by thousands of
family and friends. This ended the ships Vietnam service and put her on
a path to being decommissioned and placed into the reserve fleet for a
Below are some remembrances from crew members about the cruise home from
Subic Bay Liberty
Subic Bay was a wild and wooly town. What can I say… it was a place to
blow it out! Colorful jitneys everywhere, available to take you
anywhere, for the right price. Young Virgins a plenty… or so the
advertising goes. I remember the alligator pit outside of Pauline’s Bar.
Lesson learned there. Holy cow… watch out for the Butterfly knives.
Run to Korea
After our deployment to Vietnam, the New
Jersey headed back to the U.S. in company with a carrier and a
destroyer. We were to stop in Hawaii for a few days of liberty, then
head on to our homeport; Long Beach, CA. Everyone was anxiously awaiting
a reunion with their loved ones, many of whom would be awaiting our
arrival on the Navy pier.
As the world knows, a U.S. Military
plane was shot down over international waters by North Korea. While
steaming with the ships in our formation the New Jersey received orders
to terminate electronic transmissions (EMCON E), turnabout and make a
certain course… no destination given. We could still monitor radio
traffic, listen only, but not transmit. The carrier in our company
wanted to know what we were doing, where were we going. The signal
bridge flashed them with signal lights that we were obeying higher
No one aboard could notify wives, family or friends waiting in Long
Beach of our change in orders and that we would not arrive at our
homeport as planned. We needed fuel, food and ammo replenishment, so
supply ships were sent to specific coordinates to meet us. When a
helicopter brought shore bomb charts for North Korea,
we pretty well got the picture.
After maneuvering in a specific holding area for several weeks, we were
then released to return to our homeport, Long Beach, CA. Upon arrival, I
was notified to take emergency leave and return home; my mother was in a
near fatal automobile accident and in intensive care.
I was the JA (Captain's Battle Circuit) phone talker, port side, during
the storm. It scared me because the waves were actually breaking over
the bridge up to the Fire Control Radar (05
level), and as the water washed back down, visibility out the windows
was completely obscured. I was watching Japanese merchant ships
disappear into troughs and then reappear ten
minutes later somewhere else. I could just
picture their crewmen running around in fear.
When a huge wave slammed into and gutted the
starboard forward quarterdeck shack, that set
off the general alarm. Simultaneously, someone in Combat said to me over
the sound powered phone, "man overboard."
I reported it and the OOD (Lt. Seay)
who looked at me dumbfounded, almost like
frozen in time! I said, "that's what they're telling me!" That event
really frightened me because all I could envision was the motor
whaleboat and crew getting lost at sea. To this day, I don't know what
really caused that bogus report.
Quite the experience!
and Bob McCann