Summary: In order to reach the other shore you must lose sight of this one.
In order to get to the other shore you have to lose sight of this one.” Quote by Steven Tyler on American Idle.
I admit I am a fan of American Idle. I have been for a few seasons now. But as I was watching on Thursday night, April 19th, I never expected to hear such wisdom come from the mouth of Steven Tyler. April 19th was the 40th anniversary of a naval battle that I was involved in.
In the early seventies young men were being drafted into military service to fight in a very unpopular war in Vietnam. I knew my days were numbered so I made the decision to join the Navy. I assumed that the Navy was not involved in the fighting as much as the other branches. Plus the Navy guaranteed me a bed at night and three square meals.
After completing RD A School I became a radar man and was stationed in San Diego, California. I was assigned to the USS STERRET (DLG-31), a guided missile destroyer.
Life in San Diego was great. The weather was perfect most of the time. There was the most beautiful beach one could imagine. Amusement attractions were near by. I had a great bunch of friends and living off-base made going to the ship almost like a regular job.
But then our orders came to sail. We were to leave San Diego the 1st of November for a seven month deployment, destination- Vietnam. We would be on station about 20 miles of the coast of North Vietnam and our purpose would be to control the aircraft leaving the carriers on bombing raids into Vietnam.
Suddenly there were a lot of things that needed to be accomplished. Personal belongings needed to be sent home. It was time to move onto the ship and out of the apartment. Leisure time was gone as we prepared to leave port.
Finally the day come for departure. There were tearful ‘goodbyes’ from loved ones. The ship was towed by tugboats into the open sea and I had one final look at Pier ‘6’ where we had been moored. As we steamed away from the west coast San Diego began to vanish until we were surrounded by water.
Half way across the Pacific Ocean we were engulfed by a typhoon. Never have I been in such a storm. When caught at sea by a typhoon a ship has no choice but to ‘ride it out.’ We were unable to sleep in our beds due to the motion of the waves pounding headlong into us. We were not able to eat any cooked meals though the majority of us could not have eaten anything anyway. The water-tight integrity of the ship held fast but there was structural damage on the outside that needed repair.
Soon we were on station. I had no idea at the time that things were going to escalate in the war to the point that I would even see a shoreline for 72 days. That’s 2 ½ months.
On April 19th, 1972 I had just finished my time on duty and decided to grab a nap. As I lay in my bunk I was jolted by the rocking of the ship as two Terrier missiles were launched. We had never fired missiles before. Suddenly the alarm for battle stations was sounded. I hurried to my station in the CIC room next to a radar were my job was to decode and deliver any messages received to the proper authority. Upon arrival I discovered we had destroyed two Russian Migs being flown by Vietnamese pilots. As I looked at the radar I began seeing other contacts representing planes and gunboats with one common cause, to destroy my ship.