After a few weeks at sea in the South China Seas, leadership started distracting us from what was soon to be a long haul … 10 weeks plus at sea … where the majority of the ship would not see land for the entirety. So morale was a potential issue.
And what could be more fun/ distraction than picnics on the flight deck every Sunday? For 3000, including 2400 Marines and 600 sailors and a few contractors.
April 1975. USS Okinawa – LPH-3.
This was not usual by any means.
This was the lead up to Operations Eagle Pull and Frequent Wind. Otherwise known as the evacuation of two US embassies … first Phnom Penh … and then Saigon.
Yes, Miss Saigon, that last helicopter, was headed back to the Oki Boat. For the record.
The USS Okinawa in Hong Kong Harbor (Victoria Harbor) 1974
After the evacuation of Phnom Penh in Cambodia we flew our 3000+ guests off the boat to the P.I. and we turned and headed to the coast off Saigon in South Vietnam to get 3000+ more. And then fly them off and turn back to Subic Bay in the Philippine Islands (P.I.), our home port away from our Home Port back in the USA.
I stood for hours on the outside of the Bridge that day that we evacuated the Saigon embassy, and watched many helo takeoffs and landings. Even saw landings while take-off operations were going on. We had loaned our allies so many helos that they then used to escape … and we (all of the US ships off the coast) were the only game (landing decks) in town.
And they needed to land when they needed to land – even if during our normal flight ops for taking off. How no accidents occurred that day was beyond me … as I witnessed this happening several times. Desperate times. Be flexible. Being Real.
Saw many helos pushed off the deck … and into the sea … because we had already taken on so many additional helos from land bases and simply had no where else to put the constant stream – or so it seemed – and so into the sea they went. Millions a pop. Being flexible. Being real.
I have some 35mm slides with photos of that from that day where helos are being tossed off the side of the ship to make room … just as I saw my 2 yo grandson sweep his toys off of the boat and into the lake … not too long ago. 35mm slides that I mean to get digitized someday … soon.
One side of our immense Hanger Deck, before the storm. A photo from 1973.
As the ship’s Journalist I ran the CCTV (closed circuit TV) system. I and my shipboard buddies ran cartoons on that system … and its 75 TVs … 24/7. For our guests spoke a variety of languages, but not always English. And cartoons speak to all … sound or no sound … in your language or not.
EVERYONE in the enlisted ranks gave up their sleeping spaces/racks (beds) and slept in their working spaces. I do not know who slept in my rack – the top rack of 3 – who stared at the dusty cable runs that ran less than 36″ over my sleeping head most nights. But not these nights. We were all being flexible. Being real.
Good times at lousy pay? See the world.
Old and New – Hong Kong – 1974
A big time learning experience – if reflection is used – and one was sober most of the time to have memories to reflect upon.
Some of my takeaways from my 3 year tour, was how management (ship’s command) bent many rules while at sea. No one ever got hassled about their hair on top of their head, the sides, or their beards … until close to port. The older crew on our ship told us of it being way looser when they sat off the coast years earlier for months and months and months … until they turned toward port. Then it all changed. With the circumstances. Being flexible. Being real.
About day 2 or earlier we were told in boot camp that there was a right way and a wrong way and a Navy way. And we would be doing things the Navy way.
The Navy way, in reflection, seems to have been: be smart AND flexible – which upon further reflection seems redundant. Tom Peters in the 1970s called this loose-tight and tight-loose. As a counter balance to reengineer all processes and make each and every one of them air-tight with zero variation … an impossibility … and less than desirable most of the time. Be flexible. Be real.
My thoughts on this experience … back in the day … as the editor of the ship’s Cruise Book … think HS yearbook … on my first of two Western Pacific Cruises (WestPacs) … the cycle before these 2 evacuations…
Be flexible. Be real.
And … hire a veteran.
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