I was born and raised in the small towns of the Midwest, and soon grew bored of cornfields and cruising the one-ways on Friday nights. When I graduated from Hayes Catholic High School in Muscatine, Iowa in the spring of 1969, I joined the navy to see the world. I wanted to be just like Steve McQueen in The Sand Pebbles – a seabag on my shoulder and fire in my eye.
After boot camp and BE/E School in San Diego, I attended electronics technician “A” school in Treasure Island, California. While waiting for my Nuclear Power class in Vallejo, California to open up, I had temporary duty on the USS Seminole LKA-104 in San Diego. When the navy decommissioned the Seminole, I transferred to the USS Tulare LKA-112, where I got my first taste of WESTPAC. We visited Okinawa, Subic Bay and Singapore. I practiced my Steve McQueen swagger as I walked down the muddy streets of Olongapo in my liberty whites. Five minutes later, a pickpocket stole my wallet.
In January 1971, I flew to Vallejo to begin Nuclear Power School. However, I did not last long. The Navy washed me out of the program because of poor eyesight and I found myself buffing floors at the transit barracks in Treasure Island awaiting orders.
However, the navy gave me a second chance. Sign a waiver form and I would be reinstated into the Nuclear Power Program. But I was 19 years old and knew all there was to know. I refused and received orders to the USS Tutuila ARG-4 within the week. When I arrived in San Diego to meet my ship, the Tutuila wasn’t in port. A couple of old salts heard that she was painted green and hidden in the jungles of the Philippines. Others were convinced that she was rotating around her anchor on a river in Vietnam.
When I received the full range of shots and orders for Saigon as my destination, I knew my fate was sealed. I left Travis AFB for Saigon in May 1971. The old salts were right – the USS Tutuila ARG-4 was anchored in the Saigon River, where we repaired PBRs, Alpha Boats and Mike Boats. I stood watches at night on the pontoons lashed to the ship, throwing grenades in the water to discourage sappers. The Vietnam War was winding down and all the boats we worked on were turned over to the Vietnamese navy. The Tutuila traveled to Singapore in September 1971 to have her generators overhauled, and then on New Year’s Day 1972, we left Vietnam for good. We visited Hong Kong, Subic Bay and finally Kaoshiung, Taiwan, where we turned the ship over to the Nationalist Chinese Navy on February 21, 1972. This was the same month that President Nixon visited China. Tension ran high. I am now working on a novel about my experiences onboard the Tutuila. Stay tuned.
Back in the states, I attended radar repeater school in San Diego and received orders to the USS Joseph Strauss DDG-16 at Pearl Harbor. She was in WESTPAC, so I flew to Clark AFB in the Philippines and took a bus to Subic Bay to meet her. She was not in port, so I found myself in transit again. During my time in transit, the Philippines experienced the worst monsoons in years. There was massive flooding. All of us in navy transit helped in rescue efforts. Throughout the summer of 1972 I searched for my ship, first on the USS Denver LPD-9, then on the USS Mars AFS-1, and finally on the USS Waccamaw AO-109. My pay record made it to the Strauss, but I was stranded in Subic – with no pay. Finally, in August 1972 the Strauss pulled into port. She was on her way home to Pearl Harbor.
While on board the Strauss, we went on a WESTPAC from May 14 to December 7, 1973. In the winter of 1974, the Strauss went to Bremerton, Washington where she went into dry-dock for overhaul. I received an honorable discharge in Bremerton on May 9, 1975.
After my six-year hitch in the navy, I attended Iowa State University (ISU) where I earned a journalism degree. While there, I published two short stories about my navy experiences in the university’s literary magazine. When I graduated in 1979, I wrote for a small newspaper called Solar Utilization News in Estes Park, Colorado. When that paper ceased publication in 1985, I got a job at the Estes Park Public Library where I worked as a reference librarian. After 22 years, I will retire from the library on August 31 to pursue writing full time.
While working at the library, I wrote a novel about my WESTPAC on the USS Joseph Strauss DDG-16 entitled “Steve McQueen Would Be Proud.” Check it out at http://www2.xlibris.com/bookstore/bookdisplay.asp?bookid=12719.
I now live with my wife Lori five minutes from the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. Our son Jeff is a senior at the University of Colorado in Boulder.