These stories are from Crewmembers of the USS America. The stories and accompanying photos from them are used with permission. Thanks guys, for your service and dedication.
For a brief definition of some of the terms undefined in these stories, there is a footnote at the bottom of this page.
Also please note that stories are added as they arrive, so the new ones are at the bottom of the page.
Thirty years have passed and I still remember that day. It was the summer of 1968. I am on the USS America, the Navy's newest and largest attack carrier. We are somewhere in the Tonkin Gulf. The Viet Nam war is in full swing.
Today the ship will rendezvous with a tanker to take on fuel. Nothing special, I thought, we did this every few days. Although quite impressive to see, "Underway Replenishment" became routine, and I suspect, taken for granted by most.
I worked on the flight deck. I was there for two reasons. My primary function as an Electronics Technician of Attack Squadron 82 was to maintain and troubleshoot the systems of the A7-A aircraft. Secondly, to help the ordnance men move bombs and arm each plane. Since it was impossible for the small number of ordnance men to load thousands of pounds of bombs on each plane for each sortie by themselves, men of all rates and specialties were called upon to help in this capacity.
The tanker maneuvered into position on the starboard (right) side of the carrier. The lines were shot across, and the refueling began. The America had two Destroyer Escorts with her at all times. They needed to refuel also. While the big ships maintained speed, one destroyer pulled alongside the America on her port (left) side and we shot lines to it. The second destroyer pulled alongside the tanker's right side. Lines are shot to it from the tanker. Now the ships are steaming, four abreast, and refueling. An amazing feat I thought, but just routine for these skilled crews.
Now I have to take a moment to explain that the Navy has many traditions. The fact that we were at war does not negate them. One of these being, that while you are refueling, you show your appreciation to the tanker crew by entertaining them with music. Now, an ordinary ship would play records on a loudspeaker toward the tanker. But the America was no ordinary ship! Being a floating city of 5000, we had on board, among other things, a BAND! A live music treat for them.
When the refueling is done and the lines are freed, the ships "BREAKAWAY", that is, they veer off in different directions and the host ship plays its theme song. The theme song of the America was, what else, "AMERICA".
From its vantage point on the flight deck, 80 feet above the water, the band played on as we prepared our aircraft for the next mission. The planes were fueled, the bombs were loaded and we were ready to go. The underway refueling was taking a long time today. The pilots are on the flight deck now. The pilots man their planes. The engines are started and we are all waiting for the refueling to be finished. For safety reasons we can't launch aircraft while refueling. What's taking so long today? There is a plane on each of the four catapults straining to be launched. The "Air Boss" wants the aircraft launched. The four ships are still connected together. Our guys on land need us! They are screaming for our bombs! Finally! The refueling is over, the lines are disconnecting. The order to BREAKAWAY is given. The band starts playing "AMERICA". I brace myself as the 97,000-ton ship turns into the wind..."Launch Aircraft!".....The four ships peel off in different directions, simultaneously jets loaded with bombs are screaming off the flight deck as fast as the catapults can go. And while all this action is going on, all I can hear is..."America, America, God shed His grace on thee..........Was I the only one with a lump in his throat?
Robert Carroll ATN 3
This from Robert Delgado
"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself".
John Stuart Mill
English economist & philosopher (1806 - 1873)
One day aboard a carrier on deployment is just like another. You wake, you eat, you do your job the best you can and hope that you don't screw up and somebody goes home in a body bag because of it. September 13, 1972, was just another day. As a plane captain with VF74, you looked at the flight schedule, you saw who was flying and you prepared your aircraft for the scheduled cat shot. Once the time comes, your plane is spotted on the deck and you and your second mech stay with the plane. You remove the extra tie-down chains to a 6-tiedown with chocks. When the Pilot and RIO show up, you do a walk around with them and a preflight. The RIO goes up first followed by the second mech to help him strap in. The pilot goes up next, followed by the Plane captain to help him strap in. The last thing you do is pull the safety flags on the ejection seat for the pilot, then its down the ladder and await a hot start. Once the engines are started, you are positioned next to the plane in front of the intake and through hand signals with the pilot, you go through a routine of checking the flaps and boundary layer controls, the tail hook, the chaf doors. While you are in front, your second mech is in back watching all the movements. The AO's come up to the plane (ordnance men) and you signal the pilot to put his hands over his head while they make the bombs and missiles hot. You pull the remaining safety flags and show them to the pilot and then you turn your aircraft over to the yellow shirt aircraft handlers. You render your salute and you head to the line shack to await your aircrafts return.
Day after day this is a repeated dance, at least it was until September 13, 1972, and your plane doesn't come home. It's been over 30 years and the sounds and smells and sights of the flight deck are still in my ears, my nose and my mind. I see them on the news, the green shirts, the yellow shirts, the purple shirts and the brown shirts. It is a choreographed dance that goes on the same today as it did then.
Robert "zip" Delgado
Plane Captain (2nd mech. Joe Anon)
Westpac,USS America, Vietnam 72-73
Med cruise, USS Forrestal, 73-74
Carrier air wing 8 and 17
Robert Delgado is now a Senior Chief in the United States Coast Guard.
This story comes from Lewis Evans
Lew Evans, AE-3, served 18 months as a combat rescue air crewman, aviation electrician, aboard the USS AMERICA with Helicopter Combat Support Squadron II (HC-2, Fleet Angels flying the SH3G), part of CVW-8. (Incidentally, Lew helped design the above squadron patch) During leave in 1972, he got an emergency recall notice to return to base for urgent deployment and found himself on his way to WesPac and the war in Vietnam.
The AMERICA was on duty up north in the Gulf of Tonkin, just off shore. The USS Goldsborough (DDG-20) was our destroyer escort. We had just completed flight operations for that day. It was about 3 a.m We had been in the rack for a short time when the alarm went off.
"GQ GQ GQ! Launch emergency BARCAP!* Set circle william! All hands to their battle stations!" Our escort had been struck by a missile on the fan tail.
Granny and I had the BARCAP duty. The BARCAP consisted of one helicopter, two fighters, one tanker and one recon aircraft. Their primary mission was to protect the AMERICA and escort her until the carrier could launch a full battle squadron.
We donned our flight gear, and away to the flight deck. We launched and started our survey of the immediate area, while monitoring the status of the destroyer Goldsborough and her crew. We received a radio call from home plate to go to guard radio and stand by for combat instructions. The radio command to our helicopter was to fly a mission x number of miles, 360 degrees from home plate and identify any ship within these waters. If we could not ID these ships we had to fly down over them, turn on our landing flood lights and ID them. The remaining aircraft in the BARCAP was our cover. Our helicopter was rigged for rescue/transport, with no fire power. In other words, we were the bait and sitting duck waiting to get blown out of the sky in North Vietnam waters by the ship that had fired upon the Goldsborough.
Every time we found a ship to ID, we would sweat and pray it was not the enemy. The fear we felt is something hard to describe. We spent six hours completing this mission. I think the whole crew was relieved when we made it back to home plate. The USS Goldsborough had casualties and injured from the missile attack.** We medivaced them the next day. We also transported the less fortunate ones, for their final flight home.
The next time Granny and I were on R&R together we had a few for ole times.
Author's note: "The man I crewed with while in Vietnam, Gary (Granny) Granberg, AD-3, means more to me than a brother. Our duties brought us face to face with the ultimate challenge of fear itself. The opportunity to save lives and carry out combat missions meant only for our own memories was a blessing. Together Gary and I prayed in places no priest would know possible - The fire that destroyed #1 and #2 catapults, the strike on USS Goldsborough, the hit on the USS Newport News where 19 sailors perished. I transferred more military personnel than lived in my hometown (4,768). I am very proud to have served and defended our country." Lew Evans
*Barrier Combat Air Patrol - A type of defensive mission flown between the battle group and the direction from which it is most likely that enemy attack will come.
**In December 1972, The USS Goldsborough was hit by coastal artillery fire that put a hole five feet wide through an upper deck. The Goldsborough was built by the Puget Sound Bridge and Drydock Company in Seattle, Washington, and was commissioned at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington on 9 November 1963.
ACTION ON THE FOC'SLE
It is quiet on the foc'sle. The men of First Division man their sound powered phones and wait for word from the bridge. Finally the words "Let go!" come over the line and signal the release of 60,000 pounds of steel anchor. A deafening roar fills the air as the massive chain plays out, sending the huge anchor plummeting to the sea.
The job of anchoring a ship the size of AMERICA is rarely witnessed by most of the men aboard. For First Division, it is a job that must be done exactly right each time and somehow is never quite routine.
When the announcement, "Set the special sea and anchor detail" rings throughout the ship, the men of First Division prepare for their speciality.
Anchoring is a complicated process of communications between the foc'sle and the bridge. Absolute silence is mandatory. A mistake in anchoring could cost a boatswain's mate his life or result in massive damage to the ship.
The process consists of releasing a hook, called the pelican hook, which secures the anchor chain to the deck. One man, who wears a harness, strikes a pin with a sledge hammer releasing the pelican hook and in turn the anchor chain. Men hold a line connected to the harness. When the man in the harness strikes the pin to release the hook, his shipmates pull him out of the way of the massive chain which runs free. Soon the entire area is engulfed in dust pouring out of the chain locker as the wildcat spins and the chain plays out.
An anchor watch is set around the clock when AMERICA is anchored. Reports are made every half hour to the quarterdeck concerning the strain and angle of the anchor chain.
The famous words, "anchors aweigh", are used to report the anchor breaking away from the bottom when hoisting as opposed to the dropping of the anchor.
Story by SN Lance S. Spicer
From the Nov - Dec 1968 issue of American Spirit
Photo: SA E. Ford backs off as FN P. J. Tillman begins his swing which will release the pelican hook and 30 tons of steel anchor. Dust flies as each 360 pound link roars out of the chain locker and down the hawse pipe.
This story edited in part and taken from the 1968 Nov Dec issue of the American Spirit.
Photo by PH1 D.W.Chernousky
Click here for the full page, which has two more pics.
23 Feb 2007 For a great USS America story and photos from Clinton J. Deemer, click here.
The Persian Excursion.
13 Mar 2007 An article and photos by Dave Parsons, click here.
The NATO Exercises, Ocean Safari. This page opens in a new window.
24 Feb 2008 Gary Clift of the Royal Australian Navy sent this article telling of a close encounter with the USS America in 1981.
Some terminology defined.
VF74: fighter squadron (group) #74
RIO: Radar-Intercept Officer
Plane Captain: Plane captains spend 12 to 15 hours per day with their assigned aircraft. In addition to the constant inspections, brown shirts check fluid levels, prepare the cockpit for flight and ensure there is no foreign object debris that could damage the "bird." Prior to handing the aircraft over to the pilot, the plane captains act as the final set of eyes.
Foc'sle: The forecastle, or foc'sle, is the area of the ship where the equipment to raise and lower the anchors is located.