During my first tour on the USS Stein, we made a Western Pacific Cruise and in those days, WESTPAC meant Viet Nam. We got to the combat zone right at the end of the designated war. I say it that way because if you were alive then, you will remember that the hostilities did not stop because Henry Kissenger said they did. After doing a few weeks of Plane Guard for what ever carrier we were assigned too, the decision was made to begin taking the mines out of Haiphong Harbor. We were assigned to guard the little wooden MSO's. These Mine Sweepers were totally made of wood, so as to be non-magnetic. A good idea if you are looking for magnetically actuated mines! The escorts were us and an LPH. I believe it was the Guadalcanal, but I may be wrong on that. In any case, two events stick out in my mind from that time.
First, a brutal Typhoon came out of no where. At that time, ships had no weather forecasting capability. There were few satellites looking at the weather and the ships did not get the imagery anyway. Yes, the carriers had Aerographer's Mates (AG) who we called weather guessers. But forecasting the weather was as accurate as predicting the next mail call. So, this Typhoon caught all of us off guard. The LPH was really getting beat up. They lost a number of CH 46 helicopters off the flight deck from waves crashing over the deck. Us on the Stein were getting the snot kicked out of us. Let me give you a visual picture of riding a small ship in a Typhoon, or Hurricane. Get in your bath tub. Fill it half way up. Put a small toy boat in the water. Now, thrash your legs and hands as hard as you can. Look at how the toy boat rides. That's a small ship at sea in a Typhoon. Now, if you can imagine, the MSO's were about one fourth the size of our little Destroyer Escort and made completely of wood! I was on the bridge, watching the storm, and listening to the radio communications from the mine sweeps. One transmission said, anything connected to the deck or the overhead, isn't connected anymore! The ships could not make any headway no matter how much engine they used. So, we were all doomed to ride it out. The storm lasted about 36 hours and when it was done, we were all still there, battered, damaged, but still intact. That was a memorable storm.
The second memory is directly related to Operation End Sweep. We were protecting the Mine Sweepers since they had very little self defense capability. Pretty much, a couple of .50 caliber machine guns. We were steaming in Condition Two, which was called War Time Steaming. The gun mount was fully manned 24 hours a day, in two shifts. The rest of the ship's combat systems were manned also, and the ship had most of the water tight doors and fittings closed. I was in my rack, since I was in the off section, and at 2230, (10:30 PM) the General Quarters alarm was sounded. I jumped out of my rack, as everyone else did, grabbed what I thought were my pants, and ran to the Carrier Room, my GQ station. As I got in the Carrier Room, I heard the FTG3 who was on watch in the MK 68 Director stuttering and trying to give gun commands. This FTG3 had the same problem as the late country singer Mel Tillits. He could sing and not stutter, but he stuttered terribly when he talked and even worse when he was excited, and boy was he excited! He would shout "Mow, Mow, Oh Shit!! Mow." The GMG2 on watch in the gun was equally confused so I took over and started all of the hydraulic motors that operated the gun mount. Finally, an FTG 2 took over and I found out what was going on. It seems three North Viet Nameese, Soviet made, "Commar" missile boats had come out of the Delta at a fast rate of speed radiating "Styx" missile radar on us. Thanks GOD the WLR-1 operator was good! The Captain was on the bridge and called the Admiral on the LPH. The rules of engagement were extremely tight at this time, so shooting was done only with permission. The Admiral on the LPH said, Wait One". The Commodore was on the bridge by this time and the Captain said to the Commodore, " You see the situation, I need to shoot first to defend the ship and the MSO's. If I wait, we will be sunk before we can shoot. The Commodore told the Captain, "You heard the Admiral, Wait One". The Captain did something I will admire him for, forever. He told the Commodore," This is my ship, I request you leave the bridge, Helmsman, right full rudder, Mount 51 to remote!" At that time, I out the gun in the control of the Fire Control system and we began to track the missile boats. The Captain was must about ready to shoot when they turned away and ran. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that his BOLD move of turning into the aggressors shocked them and saved our lives. Now that's leadership!
PS- Remember those pants I grabbed. They were not mine. They belonged to the skinniest guy in the division! I froze my tail off in the carrier room during that 2 hour GQ!