I haven’t done a Military Monday since 2018. One-hundred, fifty-nine years ago, today…~Vic
In 1861, Virginia joined the Confederate States of America. Fearing that the Confederacy would take control of the [Navy yard] facility, the shipyard commander Charles Stewart McCauley ordered the burning of the shipyard.
[The USS Pawnee was] dispatched to Norfolk to secure the ships and stores of the Gosport Navy Yard. Arriving at Norfolk the night of [April 20], she found that all ships, save [the] USS Cumberland, had been scuttled […]. [So], an attempt was made to destroy the Naval stores and the dry dock. Their efforts were largely unsuccessful but, she took Cumberland in tow and saved the frigate.
On Saturday evening, at 9 o’clock, the Pawnee arrived from Washington with 200 volunteers, and 100 marines, besides her own crew […]. [At] once, the officers and crew of the Pawnee and Cumberland went to the Navy yard and, spiked and disabled the guns, [plus], threw the shot and small arms into the river. At 10 o’clock, the marines, who had been quartered in the barracks, fired them and came on board the Pawnee. A party of officers, [in the] meantime, were going through the different buildings and ships, distributing waste and turpentine, and laying a train, so as to blow up the dry dock. At this time, the scene was indescribably magnificent, all the buildings being in a blaze, and explosions, here and there, scattering the cinders in all directions.
The Confederate forces did, in fact, take over the shipyard and did so without armed conflict through an elaborate ruse orchestrated by civilian railroad builder William Mahone (then President of the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad and soon to become a famous Confederate officer). He bluffed the Federal troops into abandoning the shipyard in Portsmouth by running a single passenger train into Norfolk with great noise and whistle-blowing […]. [T]hen, much more quietly, [he sent] it back west […]. [He returned] the same train, again, creating the illusion of large numbers of arriving troops [with] the Federals listening in Portsmouth across the Elizabeth River (and just barely out of sight).
Burning of Gosport Navy Yard (The New York Times)
The History of Norfolk Naval Shipyard (The Virginian-Pilot Online)
This Day in Naval History (US Navy Website)
How Fear, Deception and Indecision Nearly Destroyed Norfolk Naval Shipyard (USN History)
Norfolk Naval Shipyard (Wikipedia)
Clip from Hearts in Bondage (1936)
Last year, I did a post on World War I for Veterans Day as it had been 100 years, exactly, since the end of that war. I also covered how other countries memorialize and/or celebrate and, ended the post with two poems. I’ve written in a previous post about my almost Army brat status and referred to my significant other in this post.
Ken’s first foray into the ‘military’ was the Hargave Military Academy in Virginia. His mother sent him there for summer school to assist with grades after a poor eighth grade year. He stayed for his ninth grade year and did very well. Unfortunately, it was extremely expensive and he returned to regular high school for tenth grade.
At the end of his junior year, he’d had enough of regular high school and made it clear to his mother that he wanted to go into the Navy. The military was all he was interested in. So, at the tender age of 17, his mother signed him into service. He went into the reserves for two years and began to train as a Corpsman. His sea duties were aboard the USS Robinson (DD-562), a Fletcher Class destroyer, the second ship in the Navy to be named after Captain Isaiah Robinson (Continental Navy). The “Robbie” received eight battle stars for World War II service and appeared in the movie Away All Boats.
After two years of training, he went active duty…and the Navy lost its mind. Orders to report to his new ship in hand, he was sent to Charleston, SC, to be assigned to the USS Canisteo (AO-99), a Cimarron Class fleet oiler, named for the Canisteo River in New York and the only ship to bear that name. It’s crew received nine medals.
Unfortunately, upon his arrival, there was no ship to board. The Charleston Naval Base had no record of it being there and, in the meantime, he was sent to the transit barracks. While waiting, he volunteered to be a lifeguard for a week. The remaining time was spent waiting at the barracks. After three weeks, the Navy adjusted his orders and sent him to Norfolk Naval Base, the home port of the Canisteo. Upon arrival, no ship. He was, again, assigned to the transit barracks…until they could find the ship. After a four-day wait, the Navy adjusted his orders a second time and he was sent to the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard. The shipyard had no record of the Canisteo being there so, he was sent…a-gain…to the transit barracks. His ship was finally found at the Todd Shipyards in Red Hook Brooklyn, a civilian shipyard. With his orders in hand (now, a rather large portfolio of paperwork), stamped by the Navy (adjusted a third time), he headed to his ship. He reported to the Officer of the Deck and was told that he had been reported AWOL. The OOD examined the orders, informed him that his Corpsman striker slot had been filled due to his (unintended) absence and, just like that, he was transformed into part of the deck force, wiping out two years of training. He became a Bosun’s Mate striker. *facepalm*
He left active service in 1964 and rolled into the IRR, waiting for the end of his contract to expire. On March 8, 1965, Marines landed near Da Nang, marking the beginning of the ground war in Vietnam. Ken was working a full time job and was watching what was going on. By the summer of 1966, he decided that he was going to go back to the Navy, interested in the River Patrol (and PBRs) and went to see a prior service recruiter. The recruiter told him that the Navy would not give him his rank back. Ken left his office and was stopped by a Marine recruiter in the hallway. He told him to go back in and ask about the Seabees. He did so and the Navy prior service recruiter changed his tune. Off he went to Camp Endicott in Rhode Island for training. He was assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74 and sent to Gulfport, Home of the Seabees.
He arrived in Vietnam in July of 1967. His base was Camp Haskins on Red Beach in Da Nang. The Marines were on Monkey Mountain across the bay and at Da Nang Air Base in the opposite direction, across the highway. At the beginning of the Tet Offensive, the bombing of the Air Base in January of 1968 nearly knocked Ken out of a guard tower. He was designated a builder and did his share of such but, spent most of his time running patrols with the Marines.
On November 3, 1967, a fellow Seabee had an accident with a saw while cutting some wood. A sawhorse shifted and the man injured himself, accidentally. The blade cut an artery in his thigh and Ken’s Corpsman training kicked in. He, literally, stuck his hand into the guy’s thigh to clamp the artery with his thumb and forefinger. When the rescue helicopter arrived, the coagulated blood on Ken’s arm prevented him from being able to remove his hand from the guy’s thigh. Ken got a free ride in the helicopter to the hospital with his charge. A life was saved (the actual details are pretty gruesome).
And, this concludes my long-ass tribute to my Fleet Navy/Vietnam Seabee veteran. If you have a veteran in your life…hug them. ~Vic
[Addendum: When I moved in with Ken some years ago, I was looking at his DD-214. He swore he only had one and I saw from the data that he had two. We sent off for his records and, sure enough, there were two. I discovered that, when he went to the prior service recruiter, the guy didn’t bother to check to see if Ken was still on contract. He was and, had he checked, Ken could have returned to the Navy, with rank intact, and left for Vietnam as part of the Brown Water Navy…and most likely died. The life span of PBR guys was fairly short.]
A suicide bomber drives a truck packed with explosives into the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. military personnel. That same morning, 58 French soldiers were killed in their barracks two miles away in a separate suicide terrorist attack. The U.S. Marines were part of a multinational force sent to Lebanon in August 1982 to oversee the Palestinian withdrawal from Lebanon.
In 1975, a bloody civil war erupted in Lebanon, with Palestinian and leftist Muslim guerrillas battling militias of the Christian Phalange Party, the Maronite Christian community and other groups. During the next few years, Syrian, Israeli and United Nations interventions failed to resolve the factional fighting and, on August 20, 1982, a multinational force including 800 U.S. Marines was ordered to Beirut to help coordinate the Palestinian withdrawal.
[Following] the massacre of Palestinian refugees by a Christian militia, [the] next day, the first U.S. Marine to die during the mission was killed while defusing a bomb. Other Marines fell prey to snipers. On April 18, 1983, a suicide bomber driving a van devastated the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people, including 17 Americans. Then, on October 23, a Lebanese terrorist plowed his bomb-laden truck through three guard posts, a barbed-wire fence and into the lobby of the Marines Corps headquarters in Beirut. [He] detonated a massive bomb killing 241 Marine, Navy and Army personnel. The bomb, which was made of a sophisticated explosive enhanced by gas, had an explosive power equivalent to 18,000 pounds of dynamite. The identities of the embassy and barracks bombers were not determined but, they were suspected to be Shiite terrorists associated with Iran.
Serious questions also arose over the quality of security in the American sector of war-torn Beirut. The U.S. peacekeeping force occupied an exposed area near the airport but, for political reasons, the Marine Commander had not been allowed to maintain a completely secure perimeter before the attack.
On February 26, 1984, the main force of Marines left Lebanon, leaving just a small contingent to guard the U.S. embassy in Beirut.
This one hits home. One of the Marines killed in that bombing graduated from my high school. He graduated in 1982 (two years ahead of me) and I never got to meet him but, I knew his younger brother whom was a year behind me. Many years later, I wound up married to the Corps for 12 years. My ex and I visited the Beirut Bombing Memorial in Jacksonville when he returned from Iraq War duty. I took pictures but, I don’t remember what happened to them. ~Vic
Burlington Times-News Article (Johnny’s name on the wall…)
Yesterday, my friend Ray and I went to see The Wall That Heals. It came to Wake Forest, NC, over the weekend, sponsored by the Wake Forest Purple Heart Foundation and held at the E. Carroll Joyner Park.
In a previous post, I talked about nearly being an Army brat. I also could have potentially been fatherless as 2nd Lieutenants had short life spans in Vietnam, but…that was not my fate…nor, the fate of my father.
I do not personally know anyone that died in Vietnam. I have no names to scratch for my own memories but, my partner, my ‘significant other’ knew many that perished as he was in country 1967-1968 with the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74 (PDF) at Camp Haskins-South, Red Beach, Da Nang . There will be a future post on him.