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Anti-war Protest Aboard the USS Truxtun DLGN 35
By Mushroom Montoya
In July 1973, I stood at muster on the USS Truxtun DLGN 35 helo deck. My Navy dungarees flapped in the wind, fanning the anger that raised the hackles on my back when the Chief told us that our ship would return to clean up unfinished business in Vietnam. Business? Bullshit. We were going back to continue the senseless killing of people who were no threat to the US. The Vietnam War had been declared over in March. I had already spent my time on another ship, bombing Vietnamese villages, killing children, their mothers, and fathers, the year before. I didn't want to return; no one on the ship did.
We were told we would be back in early November, in time to be with our families for Thanksgiving. I had my doubts. The Truxtun was stationed between the aircraft carriers and the Vietnamese shoreline. We were too far away to see the carriers and too close to the Vietnamese beaches for my comfort.
Several times a day and night, choppers landed on our helo deck. I was the fire scene leader, with a crew of firefighters ready with charged hoses in case of an accident. The Marines would jump off the chopper as soon as it touched the deck and come running to me to tell me what they had just done and witnessed. I hated being their sounding board, their "father confessor."
Every night, I witnessed the choppers whop, whop, whopping over the trees, shooting their machine guns like death rays in the dark. "The war is supposed to be over," I would yell into the darkness.
In early November, they told us we would sail to Japan and then home for Thanksgiving. We were given a bunch of new restrictions and orders for inspections, the need to have polished shoes, clean white hats, and regulation haircuts. The Captain imposed a new rule forbidding anyone to be outside the skin of the ship between ½ hour after posted sunset and ½ hour before posted sunrise. We were not given a reason for the new rules other than to be ship shape when we returned to our home port in Long Beach, California.
When we were about 100 miles from Okinawa, we were told that the ship was ordered to return to Vietnam and that we would not be home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, either. None of the new rules or restrictions were lifted. Needless to say, the crew was pissed off.
A large number of the crew got together and decided to have an anti-war protest on the helo deck the next night. They chose me as the leader. After I accepted, the seriousness and ramifications hit me squarely. However, I had already accepted the leadership role. I was not going to back out. The next day, several of the "lifers" and "warhawks" were talking about this being an opportunity to throw some of those "peacenik hippies" overboard. That got me very concerned.
After dinner, well before sunset, a large number of the crew assembled on the helo deck. We chanted, "Hell no, we won't go!" and other anti-war slogans. We sang anti-war songs. Some of the "warhawks" started harassing us. I went inside the ship to talk to the Executive Officer (XO) to ask him to come out and speak to us. He told me that what we were doing was technically a mutiny, and the penalty for mutiny in a war zone was death. I was hoping that he was saying that just to scare me. He told me that the ship would not disobey orders and that he could not lift the new restrictions. I told him about my concerns with the "warhawks" and the danger of sailors being thrown overboard in the dark. He agreed to follow me and talk to the protesting sailors.
The Master at Arms force had secured the doors. Those inside could not get out, and those outside could not get in. The XO walked out onto the helo deck. I stood next to him. He ordered everyone to go back inside, telling them that a ship is not a democracy and that they were disobeying orders. No one moved. One of the sailors yelled, "You can't send us back to the fucking war without lifting these stupid restrictions! What the fuck! We won't be home for Thanksgiving or Christmas!"
The XO repeated his order for everyone to go back inside. He said no one would be sent to Captain's Mast (prosecuted) if we obeyed his orders. Still, no one moved. I stepped in front of the XO and told the crew that the XO would have to talk to the Captain. It was obvious to us that we were returning to Vietnam. If no restrictions were lifted, we would return tomorrow night to protest again. The XO, again, ordered the men to go inside. No one moved until I asked them.
The following morning, a few of the restrictions were lifted. But all those protesting were sent to Captain's Mast and charged with violating the rule restricting us from being outside ½ hour after posted sunset. The Captain was not about to admit that he lost control of his men and that they held an anti-war protest on his ship. Each sailor was charged and fined or reduced in rank, or both. When I stood before the Captain, he asked me how I pleaded. I said, "Not guilty. I was inside, talking to the XO." The Captain threw a fit, calling me all sorts of expletives. He asked the XO what he could do to me. The XO told him he could only give me an oral reprimand. The Captain threw another fit, and now that oral reprimand sits proudly in my Navy record.
Mushroom Montoya served two tours of duty in Vietnam. The first was aboard the USS Trippe DE1075 in 1972 and the USS Truxtun DLGN 35 in 1973. He wrote Vietnam Body Count, a fictionalized account of his first three months in Vietnam aboard the USS Trippe. He was discharged as a Conscientious Objector. He is a retired architect. He is now a shaman, healing the planet one person at a time.