My time in the Cold War Navy
In March 1966 I enlisted in the United States Navy. The recruiter promised me Aviation Officer Candidate school, but he lied (that never happened to anyone else, did it?) and I wound up as a communications technician which was later changed to cryptologic technician. After boot camp at San Diego I went to the Army’s Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, for 37 weeks of training in Russian language before going to Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, TX, for further training.
In September 1967 I reported to Naval Security Group Activity, Kamiseya, Japan, for duty with the Fleet Support Division. My duties as a Russian linguist were all classified at that time and everything I have to relate here has since been declassified. Our division sent detachments of men on temporary duty (TAD) to surface ships, submarines and aircraft. We flew with Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One (VQ-1) out of Naval Air Station Atsugi, Japan, a few miles from Kamiseya. After various survival schools I served aboard EC-121M, EA3B and EP-3 aircraft with VQ-1 and earned Naval Aircrew Wings. I was also promoted to CTI2.
In June of 1968 I went TAD to the USS John R. Perry (DE-1034) operating out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. One month out of Pearl we entered port at Yokosuka, Japan, and I reported back to Kamiseya. Chief Bowie asked me to escort the ship back to Pearl.
“You will have a one week trip to Pearl and a few days liberty on the beach before flying back to Japan.”
When we got to Pearl Harbor six months later, I had seen Olongapo, South Africa, Australia, Pago Pago, and much more of the Indian and South Pacific Oceans than I expected. I had also crossed the equator twice and become an experienced shellback. We also stopped in at a place called Diego Garcia in 1968 to see if it was a suitable place for a future Navy base — I can lay claim to being one of the first CTs to see Diego Garcia.
I left the John R. Perry and went back to my permanent base in Japan and continued flying with VQ-1 for the rest of 1968 and 1969. In our workspace was a Plexiglas board on which the crews were posted for the next day’s flight. I spent many flights on EC-121 #21 and was scheduled on the board for a flight on 15 April 1969.
Fate steps in
However, “rank hath its privileges” and Chief Randall posted himself in my place for that flight. It was a preferred flight as it was scheduled to overnight in South Korea and there would be an opportunity to acquire some local goods much cheaper than in Japan or the United States. We were all shocked and angry to learn that North Korea had shot that plane down, with all hands. The plane was well out over international waters at the time of the shoot down and had never violated North Korean airspace.
These flights did not have fighter protection before the shoot down and only had protection for a few weeks afterward. We all knew the dangers involved but we all took the same oath when we enlisted and were proud to do our duty. I frequently recall CTR3 John Miller from St. Louis, MO, who left a wife and small daughter; CTO3 Steve Tesmer from Ohio who was the communications link between the plane and Kamiseya; Chief Randall who was a kind and gracious professional; SSGT Lynch who was one of the marines attached to our unit, and the rest of that crew of 31 dedicated patriots. For most Americans, 15 April is tax day — for me, it is always a remembrance of good friends who will remain forever young.
In March 1968 I had commissioned a painting of PR-21 from a shop outside the main gate of NAS Atsugi since I had been flying on that plane more than the others. It was delivered in early April and came with a black border rather than the usual white border. I intended to change it but after the shoot down I left it black as more appropriate. That painting has been prominently displayed in my office since 1974 and always rates a toast on 15 April of each year.
I continued flying and finished out my tour; I was discharged in December 1969. I had intended to make the Navy a career but I wanted a commission and needed a degree to get it. I was E5 and eligible to take the E6 exam when I got out (fast promotions for CTs in those days), but I realized I could join the Reserves and probably make E6 and, if I got recalled, I would go as a First Class. Or I could stay out and if I got recalled would go back as a Third Class, since you usually lost a stripe when recalled. It was a big difference between First and Third, so the decision was an easy one: I joined the Reserves, made E6 and went back to college.
Six months before graduation I sent in my application for a Direct Commission but they lost it — we did this three times, complete with all the info for the background investigation that went with the clearance, even though I already had the clearance.
In the meantime, I got married in November 1970, in my senior year I decided to go to law school. I was halfway through law school when I finally received the commission; I was also six months away from taking the Chief’s test when they made me an Ensign. It was probably a good thing, as I doubt I could have passed the Chief’s exam. After graduating from law school I requested to go back on active duty with the NavSecGru but they were winding down after Viet-Nam and didn’t want junior officers.
I remained in the active Reserves and continued with a law practice.
On the Navy side, I completed 24 years active reserve duty with the Naval Security Group, adding to the four years active duty; I retired as a Commander in 1995. I had a wonderful career and continued to associate with some of the finest Americans and most dedicated patriots I have ever known. I was privileged to spend my last two-week active tour on USS Missouri (BB-63) before she went to the Gulf.