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Sea Tales

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JJ Marolds’s Sea Tales – LST-1067

Reading through the Sea Dragon pages, I noted the mention of LST-1067. I had just gone on watch in CIC when the CICWO briefed me on an LST that was north of the DMZ. We looked up LST-1067 in one of the pubs in CIC and found her tactical call sign was “Page Boy Hotel”. We started calling her on all the normal frequencies U.S. ships used but there was no answer from the ‘T’. Soon, she was steaming under the NVA guns of Cap Le and we knew we had to get her out of there. We had no radio comms and she didn’t answer our flashing light so we steamed in close to her, flying flags for “you are standing into danger, follow me” fearing the guns up on the cliffs would open up at any time. By going in close, we also learned that she was no longer an American ‘T’ but South Korean, one possible reason for not answering our radio calls for “Page Boy Hotel”.

After she had followed us out of range, the Command decided to send a boarding party over to her to find out what she was doing this far north and to try and get her up on communications. We also noted her radar wasn’t moving, so I was chosen to be the party’s radio operator. As a “versatile” ET, I could get her comms up and check out her radar. The OPS Officer, Lt. T.A. York was selected as the boarding party officer. I went down to the port side to pick up my PRC-10 backpack radio and whatever else they wanted to load on me. Meanwhile, the Gunners were rigging a 50 Cal machine gun onto the bow of the motor whaleboat. Everyone in the party would wear the old kapok lifejackets. Someone else decided we’d wear flak jackets. So I had on a flak jacket, kapok life jacket, and the PRC-10 and batteries. If I’d fallen in the water, I wouldn’t have slowed down until I hit bottom. Fortunately, the XO came down and saw what was going on. The flak jackets came off and we made off for the ‘T’.

As we climbed up her side, we found a U.S. Army artillery unit was on board and they were curious as to what was going on. Someone, perhaps Ops, told them the DMZ was a few miles south of here. The Army’s faces got very white very fast. The South Korean officer meeting us, took us up to the bridge. Lt. York had them break out charts so he could show them where we actually were. I believe he brought some of MANSFIELD’s charts with him just in case. It seems they had been heading for their base up the Cua Viet river probably at Dong Ha. With their radar out, they had gotten lost and passed the inlet to the river during the night. They had been heading for one that looked very similar, possibly at Vinh – North Viet Nam. I verified the radar was down and since I had never seen that model before, I thought it best not to touch it. I went to their comm shack and found they only had one radio on line. It was tuned to 2716 kHz – the HF harbor common frequency. Since it was HF, they were having no problem communicating with their base south of their current position. Fortunately, LT. York got them turned around.

Two good things happened besides saving the ‘T’ and the Army artillery unit from capture or worse. We had gotten pretty soaked on our way over to the ‘T’ from the ground swells. The Koreans gave us Korean Chicory coffee. We dried out in an instant and it was all I could do to keep from taking my shoes off to see if hair was growing on the bottom of my feet. Then, when we returned to MANSFIELD, Captain Griffin authorized us to have “medicinal alcohol”. Doc broke it out and we stood on the starboard bridge wing and each in turn, killed a little miniature of something alcoholic. There were some very relaxed sailors on MANSFIELD that afternoon.

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JJ Marolds’s Sea Tales – Snoopy

Like most SUMNER class Destroyers, MANSFIELD was outfitted with DASH (Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter) built by Gyrodyne Corp. of St. James, New York. This was a radio controlled unmanned aircraft designed to fly out to an area identified as having an enemy submarine. It would then drop a homing torpedo. The sub wouldn’t know it was under attack until the torpedo hit the water at which time, any evasive maneuvers would just add to the homing torpedo’s input. All the controls for the DASH were in Radio Three on the main deck starboard side.

In conjunction with Raytheon (I believe), Gyrodyne decided to make the DASH more valuable to the Navy by installing a camera and miniature (for that time) television transmitter. This transformed the DASH into “Snoopy”. The Navy could then fly the DASH over desired targets ashore and watch our shell fall. We could adjust guns to hit the target without having a human spotter placed in danger. This was also good for areas far north where ground spotters couldn’t go and airborne spotters became targets themselves. At least that was the theory.

MANSFIELD was one of the ships designated to try out the system. A parabolic dish antenna was placed on each side of the ship on the 02 level. ET’s were “volunteered” to man the antennas. We were supposed to point them at the DASH for maximum television reception. That was pretty easy as long as the ship wasn’t bouncing around too much and we could see the DASH. Once the ship turned and the other side had to try and pick up the signal from a now invisible DASH, things got pretty hairy. This eventually led to mounting the antenna on the fire control director. The fire control radar could track the DASH and the Snoopy antenna would automatically be pointed at the right spot. Before that happened though, we flew the DASH out over jungle (black and white pictures then) and we noticed a lot of white flashes. The next thing we knew, we were looking at sky through the camera. And then the video feed stopped. Snoopy had been lost. Apparently those flashes were rifle fire and Snoopy made a good target. After we returned to Yokosuka, a Japanese friend of mine showed me a picture she had saved out of a Japanese paper. The picture showed North Vietnamese regulars loading a smashed up DASH onto a flatbed truck. The DASH’s serial number was easily read. Yup, her last home had been MANSFIELD.

And most of us (from ’67 – ’68) remember the time we flew the DASH out and when we brought her back, put her on a parallel course to ours. That was the last command she obeyed. After that, she flew straight and true but we’d lost control of her and instead of moving the ship under her (where a crash would damage the ship), we just let her go until she ran out of fuel. In the drink she went and our motorwhale boat went out to pick up the pieces. Who can forget Ens. George Bates standing in the bow of the boat holding up a piece of broken rotor looking, for all the world, like Washington crossing the Delaware?

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JJ Marolds’s Sea Tales – AN/VRC-46

Being homeported overseas, MANSFIELD, like her DESRON Nine sisters, received many systems ahead of the rest of the fleet. One such was an FM VHF transceiver known as the AN/VRC-46. This gem of a radio was already in use by Marines and Army units in country but most ships had nothing to cover that frequency band. MANSFIELD had been using a backpack radio known as the PRC-10 to talk to spotters ashore. To do this, the RD’s in CIC would set the battery operated radio on the DRI (Dead Reckoning Indicator) and connect a jury-rigged cable with a jury-rigged antenna on the other end tied to a hand rail on the signal bridge. This worked but required a good supply of batteries and was subject to the vagaries of ship motion and bad weather. The PRC-10’s low power was considered the cause of many of those problems. So the AN/VRC-46 a thirty watt transceiver, was supplied to the ship in order to (hopefully) alleviate the problems of the backpack radio.

The VRC-46 required approximately twenty eight volts DC to operate and when the ship received the transceiver, no power supply was provided with it. After much head scratching, my ET colleagues located a source of the DC voltage, the torpedo firing circuitry. After a quick hook up, the noise of spotters calling firing missions soon filled CIC. Now the VRC-46 had two power output modes. Low power would put out between one and five watts. High power was a good thirty watts in a properly aligned radio. Has there ever been an operator who would use low power when high power was available? Keyed and transmitting, our RD’s were calling spotters and other ships for radio checks when the word over the 1MC was passed “fire! fire! fire in the Captain’s passageway!”. That’s where the transformer for the torpedo firing circuitry was located. It just couldn’t handle the load. Someone should have known that but hey, when you get a new toy, who bothers reading the book? We soon had a power supply of our own, one that when energized would cause the lights in CIC to dim and had an inductive kick that could be heard in after steering. We left it on all the time.

Along with this transceiver, came a whip antenna with a tuner base. These were designed to mount on a vehicle with wheels but the signal bridge hand rails right over the pilot house proved to be an adequate mounting place. Since this thing had an antenna tuner under it (a small rectangular box), two cables had to be run from the transceiver to the antenna. One was the standard RF coax like that connecting your TV to the cable, and the other was a multiconductor cable that carried the information to the tuner telling it where to tune. We pulled these through CIC and the pilot house and up to the signal bridge. This antenna tuner did it’s thing with a rotary switch that was moved by a stepping or ratchet motor. This was rather noisy but since we remained on the same frequency most of the time, the motor didn’t operate very often. That motor was a “ground seeking” motor. That is, it would run until it found a ground and then it stopped.

Now anyone who has ever been on the bridge when someone dropped a wrench on the signal bridge knows what a great drum the pilot house was (don’t get ahead of me now). Came the day when MANSFIELD was in close to shore getting ready for a fire mission and that little ground wire decided it was time to break off. We were close to shore, definitely within machine gun range when that stepping motor started stepping. No one in the pilot house could be blamed for diving for cover or at least an elevated pulse rate. ET2 Caraway and I were summoned to stop the racket and fix the thing so we could communicate with the spotter. Disconnecting the multi conductor cable resolved the former but the latter was going to be tougher. We didn’t know the tuner could be manually set so we went about getting tools and all the necessary items to fix the broken lead. By the time we were ready to start work, it was getting quite dark out but we didn’t worry, our trusty Weller soldering gun had a good light on it to solder by. Did I mention we were in close to shore and at darken ship? Oh, it was also starting to rain. My first attempt to solder this one lone wire was frustrated by the rain and a lot of yelling and cursing from the bridge wings about my little white light. ET2 Caraway took off his work jacket and covered me with it while I sat on that wet deck and soldered that now well cursed wire into place and reassembled the connector. I also had the honor of inhaling a huge amount of smoke from the soldering and my eyes took on an interesting shade of red for several days thereafter but the transceiver worked well. MANSFIELD, as always, made every fire mission called and heard every call thanks to the AN/VRC-46.

Incidentally, that radio is only now being replaced in the Navy and many ships still have them on board. On one of my later ships, the USS CLEVELAND (LPD-7) I was responsible for maintaining fifteen of them.

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JJ Marolds’s Sea Tales – Australia

We were in company with the USS REEVES (CG-24) on our way to Australia. Being the squadron flag, REEVES would go to Sydney and we would go to Newcastle. Personally, I think we got the best of the deal. But alas! The squadron leader wanted to keep in communications with us via LF (low frequency) communications. We had the AN/WRT-1 transmitter which, after much effort on the part of ET2 Caraway, was functional (we had never used this thing during our entire time in WestPac). But the antenna wouldn’t tune. This antenna consisted of two wires originating at the tuner on the platform hanging on the aft stack and going to a termination box on each yardarm. As the ship was getting ready to pull in, we had determined that the port side wire was shorted to ground and the only place that could be was in the termination box on the end of the port yardarm. I was “volunteered” (that happened a lot, I must have been easy) to go out on the yardarm and determine what the problem was. I carefully inched my way out on the yardarm as the ship was tying up port side to. There was an anti-Viet Nam war demonstration going on – about thirty people holding a sign reading “Yanks stop the war, be human!”. The Captain passed the word that all hands were to remain inside the skin of the ship until the demonstration was over. That of course, didn’t apply to JJ who was out on the end of the port yardarm and who had better get that antenna fixed. While the guy on the pier made his speech about the U.S. and Viet Nam, I opened the termination box and found the large glass capacitor inside was shattered, probably from the 40000 plus rounds we had fired during the past two years. So I carefully disconnected the antenna lead from the capacitor removing the short and then closed up the box. Now I had two problems. One, if I tried to come down from the yardarm, I might attract the attention of the demonstrators which certainly wouldn’t make the Captain very happy. Two, I was suffocating from the stack gas! I finally decided I’d chance the Captain’s wrath but at least I’d be able to breathe. As I began climbing down, the demonstration ended with an invitation to “visit our homes”. The LF link never did work but no MANSFIELD sailor on board at that time will ever forget Newcastle.

The afternoon we pulled in, I went out just to walk around on dry land and meet the people. On my may back to the ship, I stopped off at a small diner across the street from the pier we were tied up to. I had a hamburger and chips and invited the attractive young lady behind the counter to come over to see the ship after she got off work. She promised to show me a nice restaurant in town after the tour so I returned to the ship for a fresh water washdown. But something was wrong and after about thirty minutes, I was throwing up and had a bad headache. I climbed up into my rack feeling really bad. Some time later, the messenger of the watch came down and woke me up to tell me I had a visitor. But I was sick and couldn’t move and didn’t smell too good either (Doc Danforth diagnosed food poisoning when I told him the symptoms the next day). But my friend the messenger went back and told them I was too drunk to come up to the quarterdeck. My attractive date went off (probably with a shipmate) and I never saw her again. I thought bad thoughts about that messenger for a long time and never ate another Aussie burger – though I did try one of their steaks. No comparison to a MANSFIELD steak but a direct comparison to my boondocker.

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