VVAW: Vietnam Veterans Against the War
About VVAW
Contact Us
Image Gallery
Upcoming Events
Vet Resources
VVAW Store


Page 15
Download PDF of this full issue: v54n1.pdf (43 MB)

<< 14. Bird (poem)16. How I Joined VVAW >>

1964: From "Spookville" to the Tonkin Gulf

By Joe Miller

[Printer-Friendly Version]

The year began with my being outed by one of my language school buddies, CT First Class Baker, the senior enlisted man in our barracks at the Shu Lin Kou base. He discovered my relationship with Hui-fang, one of the waitresses at the Linkou Club in Taipei. These waitresses were official Taiwan Defense Command (TDC) employees.

We dated for six months, even though I knew the restrictions on Communications Technicians (CTs) interacting with the local population. Our Officer-in-Charge, then Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Norman Klar, ordered us to have no personal relationships with individuals or families.

Once CT Baker learned of my relationship, he felt duty-bound to report it to the top. I first met with our Operations Officer, Lieutenant Dickey. At that meeting (and a subsequent one with LCDR Klar), I was told to end the relationship. Then, I would be transferred overnight, never to see Hui-fang again. If I refused, I would be removed from the Naval Security Group (NSG), lose my clearance, and be sent to "regular" Navy duty.

I chose Hui-fang, and we decided to marry before I could be transferred. We feared we might not have time to complete all the paperwork for permission to marry.

The US Naval Attache to Taiwan, Captain David Bryan, was a schoolmate. We had been students together at the Army Language School. I decided to plead my case with him. We had a long talk about my situation, and he decided to see what might be done to get the TDC off my back. He went directly to Vice Admiral Melson, the TDC Commander, with my case.

As inquiries began coming down from the Admiral's office, my action did not win me any friends. My transfer orders came through quickly.

Since this was a permanent change of station from overseas duty, I was entitled to thirty days leave before reporting to the USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14). The Personnel Office at Headquarters Support Activity (HSA) asked for my home address, thinking I would be going back to the States for leave. I told them I would stay in Taipei for the whole period. We might just be able to complete the necessary paperwork to marry.

Everything was done five days before my departure date. We were married on June 9th, 1964, at Holy Family Catholic Church in Taipei by Father Jacques Bruyere, a Jesuit missionary.

Two days later, on June 11th, Hui-fang and I said our goodbyes at Sung Shan Airport. I boarded the flight to Japan, where I was to report on board the Ticonderoga. She was now left to complete all the paperwork for her eventual travel to the US. A couple of my buddies, still in Taipei, would assist her.

When I arrived in Yokosuka, I was told the ship was not there, and no one knew where it was. What? The Navy "lost" an aircraft carrier? Say it isn't so! I spent the next three days swabbing floors and doing general duties until they could locate the ship.

Finally, word came that the ship was heading for Manila, almost two thousand miles South of Japan. I wondered how the Navy would not have known this and sent me to the Philippines in the first place.

I was back on a plane from Japan to Clark Air Force Base. Then, the "plan" was to put me on an Air Force bus to Manila. After a couple of days hanging around Clark, word came that the ship would NOT be going to Manila! What now?

I would be flown out to the carrier on the next COD (Carrier Onboard Delivery) flight, that is, with the mail. I packed up my seabag and headed for the airfield. On arrival, a C-1A was sitting there waiting for me. I was the only passenger.

I strapped in, facing the rear of the plane. The engines revved up, and we began to taxi. 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 ship was currently in the midst of air operations.

It was June 17th, 1964, and I had been trying to get to this new duty station for six days. As we flew over the sea, I thought about what it would be like to be stationed on board a ship for a couple of years. I had forgotten all of the recruit training about life aboard ship. Now, I would relearn it all on the job, whatever that might be.

It was an hour or more before the ship came into view. It looked tinier than any toy boats I had as a kid. We were circling overhead. We had to wait for all the ship's planes to land before approaching. As we circled, we flew lower and lower. The ship began to look a little bigger with each pass. Then, the ship disappeared from my view. We were on final approach…I hoped.

As I looked out the small window, it seemed like we were only a few feet above the water. I had no way of knowing how close we were to landing or to slamming into the stern of the ship. Suddenly, I felt the bounce and jolt of hitting the deck and being stopped by the arresting cable. I was slammed into the back of my seat, and I realized why I was facing to the rear.

I grabbed my gear. The hatch opened, and suddenly, there was noise, heat, and the smell of aviation fuel. A Chief Petty Officer awaited me as I stepped off the plane. He shouted directions at me due to all the noise of a busy flight deck. He pointed out the yellow footprints on the deck and told me to follow them and him very closely. These make sure that no one stepped into a propeller or got sucked into a jet intake. As the Chief guided me toward the superstructure, I tried to keep from looking around to avoid making any wrong moves.

The next surprise was—an escalator! This was totally unexpected on what was a World War II-era warship. I was guided through a confusing set of hatches and passageways until we reached the Personnel Office.

The Personnel Officer checked me in. We discussed where I might be placed in the ship's workforce. Since I had no security clearance, I could not work with any classified material, even to the lowest level of "Confidential." Where could I work, as most offices dealt with classified material?

For nearly a week, I had no official duties. I was assigned a bunk in one of the busiest passageways, where people rushed back and forth at all hours, kicking up dust and dirt. My bunk was only a few inches above the deck and always covered with dirt. I thought this was a severe departure from my two previous duty stations—welcome to the "real" Navy.

The ship's Weapons Officer, Commander Parkinson, came to the rescue. He had been bugging the Personnel Officer about getting a trained Yeoman for his office. He was willing to take responsibility for my working with classified materials without a clearance. Department heads carried a lot of weight on a ship. In particular, the Weapons Department was responsible for deck crews (the real grunts on any ship), gun batteries, guided missiles, and so-called "SpecialWeapons" (think nukes). I could see why people usually jumped when the Weapons Officer spoke.

I finally had a job and was assigned to bunk with the Guided Missile (GM) Division in their air-conditioned quarters. I was now the Weapons Department office's senior enlisted man (E-4), working with three E-3s.

The next month and a half was relatively calm as I learned my new duties and my way around the ship. Of course, I missed Hui-fang. We wrote to each other regularly, and I received mail from my friends who were helping her with the visa process. During this period, the ship visited various ports in the Western Pacific, including Sasebo, Beppu, and Yokosuka in Japan and Subic Bay in the Philippines.

Things changed radically around mid-July. Another carrier was to relieve us from line duty, but a serious boiler issue put them in dry dock in Yokosuka. We had to stay on the line off the coast of Vietnam for another month. In early August, things got "interesting."

We, the enlisted men who worked in the Weapons Office, did not know all the particulars at the time. On the afternoon of August 2nd, 1964, the USS Maddox (DD-731) reported an attack by North Vietnamese PT boats and called for air support. Fighter planes from our ship were already in the air, and they were dispatched to defend the Maddox. The North Vietnamese boats were chased away, and that was that—or so we thought.

Two nights later, our ship received reports of a second attack, this time against both the Maddox and a second destroyer, the USS Turner Joy (DD-951). Again, planes were sent from our ship and the USS Constellation (CVA-64) in the dark of night to defend them. At the time, we all thought this second attack was real. President Johnson took advantage of this to launch an attack on North Vietnam and get Congress to pass the Tonkin Gulf Resolution.

For us on the scene, the Weapons Office was jumping; we were typing up requisitions left and right, more rockets and missiles, more this and that. The "attacks" and the official response seemed to release the pent-up frustrations from our long at-sea period.

Days after the August 5th attacks on North Vietnam, our ship had to refuel the Maddox. As the senior Weapons Department Yeoman, one of my duties was to be topside during refueling operations to time the process. As I looked at the Maddox, I noticed a small group of sailors waving their hats and yelling across the perhaps sixty or so feet separating our ships. I realized they were yelling my name!

I recognized at least two of the sailors were fellow CTs from the Shu Lin Kou base on Taiwan. Then I realized what the Maddox had been doing off the coast of Vietnam: a Desoto Patrol! That's what the attack on August 2nd was all about. This was not just a routine patrol in international waters. These patrols were sent along the Chinese and Vietnamese coastlines to gather electronic voice and signals intelligence from "enemy" facilities on land. They were intentionally provocative. This time, the Maddox got more than they expected. (See Klar below)

Real questions began to rise in my mind. The lies about the Tonkin Gulf opened the way for even greater US involvement in Vietnam. I had to find out more about this.

For the next year and a half, I read everything I could find about the history of Vietnam and our involvement. By late 1965, I was against the war. How could I negotiate those feelings when I had three more years to serve and a young family to support? I had no answers at that time.

See Norman Klar, "How to help start a war" in Naval History, Volume 16, Number 4, August 2002. Klar was responsible for getting the Maddox ready for the patrol.

Joe Miller is a board member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

The wedding. The guys in suits (except for two brothers in law on the far left) are all fellow CTs who were warned by officers not to attend.
The three women on the right were waitresses with Hui-fang. Joe's mother in law is sitting next to Hui-fang.

Pic from the cruise book of the day the Maddox came alongside and Joe's friends called out to him.

<< 14. Bird (poem)16. How I Joined VVAW >>