Close Encounter at
by: Kerry W. Myers, WS LM-53
(Copyright © 1998)
Vietnam, 1968, During the USS
New Jersey's RVN exploits, I sailed for two years on the USAV Page,
a 338-foot beach discharge lighter, functionally similar to a Navy LST.
We were a bunch of seagoing dogfaces, as "USS" is the designation given
to Navy Ships with Navy Crews, and "USAV" stands for United States Army
Vessel. Anyway, we had just delivered a 2,000-ton load of napalm to
the Air Force in Phan Rang and were sailing at night toward Cam Ranh
Naval security Regs in force at the time
called for all vessels to challenge each other by flashing light signal,
day or night, by signaling "What Ship? Where From? Where To? and the
"word of the day." Ships unable to answer were immediately reported
to Market Time and subject to armed confrontation. Late one night we
picked up a radar contact dead ahead and about three miles out began
challenging by flashing light. No response. At about two miles out,
the skipper called us to General Quarters, while continuing to
challenge the unidentified and unresponsive vessel. At about one mile
out, the skipper spoke quietly to us on the bull horn. "I don't know
what we have out here, but let me say again "Fire only on my command."
I was on the foredeck strapped into a
20mm cannon. The skipper maneuvered us to within 75 feet of this huge,
totally darkened monster of a vessel. As we passed starboard (right
side) to starboard we realized that we had encountered the USS New Jersey
preparing for a night fire mission. We never saw them fire. Don't know
if we messed up their plan. Glad that our guys were not trigger happy
U.S.S. New Jersey duty was
probably the least hazardous duty in Vietnam. Who would want to fire
on a ship with that type of fire power? We were off the coast in December
on patrol between the coast and tiger island. A gun emplacement on tiger
island decided to try their luck and lob a shot at us. I was on the
mess deck when Captain Snyder announced over the loud speaker that we
were going to condition yellow. Then he came back and told the
crew that we had just been fired upon, said it looked like someone had
Teed-up and hit a golf ball at us! Our 16 inch guns were at the ready
and we were told that the battery would fire on the gun position. A
few minutes later we were told that the gun emplacement had been silenced,
permanently. Those 16 inch guns were awesome. I have spoken with
marines that were in country who either heard the shells go over their
heads toward targets or had seen the craters that they left.
The New Jersey received a presidential
citation while serving in Vietnam. A marine fire base was being over
run during the Tet offensive. We were called on line to offer support.
The port five inch batter fired all night long. The marines called for
fire right on top of their position, things were really bad for them.
The morning after, I woke up feeling like I had not gotten much sleep.
As usual, I was up early before reveille. I went to the mess decks and
got a cup of coffee and went topside. I thought it was strange that
the hatch was closed that went up to the fantail from the mess decks,
had to crawl up through the scuttle. When I got up on the fantail, there
were five inch 38 shell casings all over the deck, hip deep. I was amazed,
at what I saw. I asked a gunners mate, picking up casings, what had
taken place. Well he looked at me like I was out of it. Then he proceeded
to tell me that we had been in a fire fight all night long. I had slept
through the whole war! No wonder I felt like I had not gotten any sleep.
My bunk was on the starboard side and that battery had never fired a
round. There are some good photos in the cruise books photos (there
were 3 of them produced The ships cruise book and then another by Neil
Leifer when we decommissioned, I have all three (Being in supply did
have some advantage). Dreadnought returns!