Grandpa's Vietnam Story in the U.S. Navy
For my first Veterans Q & A Blog, I asked my grandpa "advisors" to tell me about their service in the armed forces and specifically, "What does Memorial Day mean to you?" My grandpa who served in the U.S. Navy during Vietnam sent me this response:
Thanks for asking. During the Vietnam war era, all men had to register for the military draft at age 18. The military draft was like a lottery where every male at 18 was assigned a draft number. Each person was then given a chance for deferment of the draft for physical ailments, college, marriage or critical skill or other Government Service. The local draft selection committee then sent out letters advising these men of their draft number. I was deferred during my college years but was reassigned upon graduation. I applied for a deferment because Grandma and I had applied for the Peace Corps (a government service) but Grandma was not accepted because of allergies. The draft committee reassigned me 1A, the highest class and I was sent a draft notice to appear for my draft physical on 29 April 1966. I applied to the Air Force and to the Navy for Officer Candidate School (OCS). I was accepted at both but chose the Navy.
On 22 August 1966, I reported to Newport Naval Base in Newport Rhode Island for OCS. Grandma could not live with me on the base during OCS so we found a small apartment in East Greenwich so she could be near me. She could only visit me on Saturday afternoon for the first 3 weeks but after that I could spend Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning with her. After four months of training on 16 December 1966, I was commissioned as an Ensign in the US Navy.
On 6 January 1967, I entered Engineering Officers School (EOS) in San Diego, California at the San Diego Naval base. I found an apartment for us to live before entering school, but Grandma had signed a semester contract in Providence, Rhode Island because we thought I would go straight to a ship on the East Coast. We came home to Nebraska for Christmas but Grandma went back to Providence when I left for EOS. Grandma joined me after about three weeks when her contract was finished. I graduated first in my class in EOS and helped some of the other students learn about boilers and steam turbines.
On or about 15 April 1967, I joined my assigned ship, the USS Gyatt, DD-712 a destroyer based in Norfolk, Virginia. I was the Main Propulsion Assistant reporting to the Chief Engineer. My duties included inspecting the boilers, engines and the rest of the equipment necessary for ship's power and propulsion. My division contained about 30 enginemen and boilermen who operated the engines and boilers, respectively. I also had to muster the men (get them all together) each morning and give them the plan of the day, that is what the ship would be doing that day. After 18 months, I was promoted to LTJG, (Lieutenant Junior Grade). Shortly after my promotion, I received orders to report to the USS Satyr, ARL-23 in Vietnam.
On or about 15 October 1968, I left Norfolk for a one week training session at Mare Island Naval Base in San Francisco, California. From there, I flew to Vietnam and traveled up the Bassac River by an Alpha Boat, (a small gun boat made especially for Vietnam) to my ship. I was the Chief Engineer on the Satyr responsible not only for the propulsion and power division but also the damage control division. I had more than 50 men under my command. The Satyr had many diesel engines which required a lot of maintenance as it was an old ship. Though we were in a war zone, we did not receive any damage from the war. In May 1969, the Satyr traveled to Sasebo, Japan for a one month repair period. I did not have much time to visit Sasebo as I was responsible for all the ship's repair orders and their proper completion. On 24 November 1969, I was relieved by the new Chief Engineer and left for home in Norfolk. On 17 December 1969, I left active service in the US Navy but was still in the US Navy Reserve and attended monthly meetings for nearly 3 years. Auntie Lara was born while I was in Vietnam. I saw her for the first time when she was 9 weeks old in Hawaii.
Memorial day reminds me that many people served and many died to defend our country from foreign aggression. But Memorial day also reminds me of all our ancestors, like my Father and Mother, my Grandfather and Grandmother. Memorial day brings back memories of our times together and how grateful we are for all we have here and a chance to visit relatives that we don't see often.