USS Hancock is Home for 70 Viet Nam Strike Planes

Editorís Note: Ronald Ross, the Minneapolis Tribuneís Far East correspondent, has returned to Saigon, South Viet Nam, from a visit to the aircraft carrier Hancock, which is one of three U.S. Carriers operating off Vietn Nam. This is the first of several news dispatches from the Hancock.

By Ronald Ross
Minneapolis Tribune
Far East Correspondent

Aboard the Carrier Hancock ~ As the F-8 crusader shuddered to a stop, a rocket shot out from under it, skittered across the deck and into the water.

A Lieutenant gasped. "It gets a bit dangerous around here sometimes," he said.

No one else seemed overly concerned. The pilot folded up the F8ís wings and it was trundled off to its mooring spot at the edge of the flight deck several stories above the choppy ocean.

THE NEXT plane in, an A4 Skyhawk blew a tire on landing and had to be manhandled over to the portside elevator, where it suddenly dropped from view. Down on the main, or hangar deck, a cavernous place, the wheel quickly was pulled off and replaced.

When the "recovery" was completed and all the planes safely on deck, wings folded neatly over fuselage, men swarmed around them readying them for the next "launch."

A hatch on the starboard side near the stern opened and men in red shirts wheeled bombs over to the empty racks of the planes.

"Red shirts," the lieutenant said, "are for those that work with ordnance. Brown are for the crew chiefs. One per plane.

"BLUE IS for plane pushers and movers. Green, catapult and arresting gear handlers. Violet, or maybe itís purple, is for fuels, and the men in yellow are plane directors and flight deck supervisors."

This is the U.S. aircraft carrier Hancock cruising slowly 50 miles off the coast of South Viet Nam.

The Hancock, which just last month, celebrated itís 22nd birthday, is one of the three carriers the United States is operating in the Viet Nam war zone. The others are the Kitty Hawk and the atomic-powered Enterprise.

A few days before, it had arrived on "Dixie Station," off South Viet Nam, after a tour of duty on "Yankee Station," off North Viet Nam.

The Hancock is a veteran of these waters, first coming on the scene in October 1964. When it left in May 1964, it was a dirty and weary ship much in need of overhaul, but proud of its record of being the carrier from which the first air strikes against North Viet Nam were launched on Feb. 7, 1965.

The Hancock returned to action last December.

THE CARRIER had a complete range of conventional rockets, missiles and bombs for itís 70 planes. And like most, if not all American aircraft carriers operating off Viet Nam, atomic bombs are stored deep within its holds.

Jamming the flight deck and the hangar deck are two squadrons of F8 Crusaders, two squadrons of A4 Skyhawks (a deadly little fighter-bomber designed to carry atomic bombs), one squadron of A1 Spads, and several other aircraft, including the two RF8 photo reconnaissance planes, two bulbous E1bs (A radar plane known as the "Willy Fud"), and a C1A or "Cod" an eight-seater cargo and mail plane).

There are some 3,000 men on the Hancock, of whom about 125 are pilots, and no matter where the big s hip is, itís a Ďround-the-clock operation to keep it in fighting shape.

"Weíre taking on something almost every day," said its commanding officer, Capt. James C. Donaldson, who, like most sailors, is hard put to tell you just where he considers "home" to be.

"Ammunition and fuel ships run alongside every third day or so," he said, adding "weíve heard an awful lot of talk about a shortage of bombs, but we havenít noticed it."

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