From Vietnam Veterans Against the War,

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Catching up with Tico: Prelude to the Tonkin Gulf Incidents

By Joe Miller

On 11 June 1964, just a day and a half after Linda (Hui-fang) and I were married, I was put on a plane at Sung Shan Airport, Taipei, for my formal transfer from duty with the Naval Security Group to "regular" sea duty on board the USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14). It was to be a wild journey, and then some.

Linda and I fought through all the obstacles (official and unofficial) in order to be married before I would have to leave the island. Before I boarded the plane, we stood facing each other, separated by a wall of glass after I passed through the security gate. She was in tears and I was not far from it; we put our hands on the glass as a final goodbye. She was going to have to work through all the paperwork to get her passport and a visa to travel to the United States. To a great extent, except for a couple of buddies who were still stationed there, she would be doing this alone. I could not say when I might see her again.

I was headed for another unknown—sea duty on board an aircraft carrier as punishment for becoming a security risk due to my relationship with Linda. The plane was taking me to Japan, where the Ticonderoga was supposed to be docked at Yokosuka. The plane landed at Tachikawa air base, and I had to take a train to Yokosuka. When I got there, I was informed that the "Tico" was not there. No one could say where it was. I was ordered to stay on base until they figured out where to send me next. So, I spent about three days cleaning floors and doing general duty while the Navy was trying to locate the "lost" ship. This was not the norm for a Petty Officer Third Class (E-4).

Then, word came that the ship was going to be in Manila. Well, the distance between Yokosuka and Manila is about 1900 miles. That's a pretty broad stretch of ocean, and I wondered how it was that the Navy would not have known this and sent me to the Philippines in the first place. I almost felt they were doing this on purpose, but that would be giving them too much credit. It seems they just did not know.

So, back on a plane to fly from Japan to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. The plan was to put me on an Air Force bus to Manila, where I would meet up with the Ticonderoga. [Some may wonder, why not the Navy base at Subic Bay? I wondered the same thing.] Then, after a couple of days hanging around at Clark—at least not doing any duties of any kind—word came that the ship would NOT be pulling in to Manila, after all. What now?

I finally received official notification that, since the ship would not be pulling into port anytime soon, I would be flown out to the carrier on the next COD (Carrier Onboard Delivery) flight, that is, with the mail. So, I packed up my sea bag and was taken to the airfield, where I saw a C-1A sitting there waiting for me. The plane could hold nine passengers, and I seem to recall I was the only one being "delivered" to the Ticonderoga that day, except for the ever-important mail.

I was strapped in with a harness, facing the rear of the plane. The reason for this would be made clear very soon. The engines revved up and we began to taxi. I'll admit I was very apprehensive about this trip. I was being flown out over the ocean to land on a moving target; a huge target, to be sure, but it would not be like landing at O'Hare Airport. Soon we were well up over the Philippine countryside, heading toward the South China Sea, where the Ticonderoga was currently in the midst of air operations.

It was 17 June 1964, and I had been trying to get to this new duty station for five days now. As we flew over the sea, I began to think about what it might be like to be stationed on board ship for a couple of years. After three years in the Navy, this was to be a real change. Of course, by this time, I had forgotten any bit of information we were taught in boot camp about life aboard ship. Now it would be learned again, on the job, whatever that might be. And, when would Linda and I be together again? Would I be able to see her before she left Taiwan to stay with my folks in Niles? How and when might I be able to do that?

It seemed like perhaps an hour (or more?) before the Ticonderoga came into view. From where I was sitting, it looked even tinier than the toy boats I used to play with as a kid. We were circling overhead, since we had to wait for the ship's fighters to land before we could make an approach. As we circled, we also came down in altitude. The ship began to look a little bigger with each pass. Circling, circling, lower and lower. Then, the ship disappeared from my view. That could only mean that we were now on final approach... I hoped.

As I looked out the window, it seemed like we were only a few feet above the water. That had to be an illusion, right? This pilot surely knew what he was doing. I had no way of knowing how close we were to landing... or to slamming into the stern of the ship. Suddenly, came the bounce and the jolt of hitting the deck and being stopped by the arresting cable. I was slammed into the back of my seat—oh, that's why I was facing to the rear.

The door flew open, and everything was noise and heat and the smell of aviation fuel. There was a Chief Petty Officer there at the door shouting directions to me. I pulled my sea bag to my shoulder and stepped out of the plane. The Chief pointed out the yellow footprints on the deck and told me to follow them and him very closely. This was to make sure no one stepped into a propeller or got sucked into a jet intake. As the Chief guided me toward a hatch to enter the superstructure, I tried to keep from looking around, so as not to make any wrong moves.

We stepped through the hatch, and the noise subsided significantly. The next surprise was... an escalator! That was totally unexpected. We took the escalator down below decks, and the Chief led me through a confusing set of hatches and corridors until we reached the personnel office, where I was to report in. Of course, over the next two years, I would learn well how to navigate those hatches and corridors.

The ship's Personnel Officer, LTJG St. John, checked me in, and we began to discuss where I might be placed in the ship's company. X Division was the basic clerical unit on board, and it seemed the likely spot, since I was to be shifted from Communications Technician to Yeoman. There was some concern that I had no security clearance, given the fact that I had been totally removed from work with any sensitive materials.

That afternoon I was paired up with another Yeoman, Ron Matusek, who showed me around the ship a little more. I recall that the first week or so on board I was assigned to a bottom bunk in an open gangway where people were rushing back and forth at all hours and kicking up dirt and dust. The bunk was only a couple of inches off the floor, so my bedding was always covered with dirt. Nothing at all like the previous bases where I had been stationed. A serious wake-up call as to what was in store.

Soon, the head of the Weapons Department, Commander Parkinson, heard that there was a new Yeoman on board, and he negotiated for me to be transferred to work in his office as Senior Yeoman, since I was an E-4. So, I now had a "home" on board with a bunk inside the Guided Missile Division quarters, well up off the floor and in an air conditioned space.

That's how I began my nearly two-year stint on board the USS Ticonderoga.

Within a month and a half, I would be an indirect witness to the first salvos in what soon became America's Vietnam War.

Joe Miller, US Navy, 1961-1968, Naval Security Group, 1961-1964, USS Ticonderoga, 1964-1966.

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