A Night of Terror aboard the USS Hancock

An Emergency Breakaway from USS KAWISHIWI (AO-146) during an At-Sea Replenishment
Bill Shipley, HM1, USN

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Recollections of a Former Kawishiwi Shipmate on the "Emergency Breakaway" during Operation 'Frequent Wind' in '75 as reported by Doug Covill (Kawishiwi), William John Miller (Hancock), and NCCM "Corky" Johnson (Hancock).

(Thanks Bill for fostering this discussion - Jake)

Bill Shipley's Retirement Photo"I was a corpsman striker on the HANCOCK in 1975, Operation Eagle Pull and Frequent Wind. We had an Emergency Breakaway full blown. She had to go into port for awhile to repair her side. We would have had a disaster on our hands if it hadn't been for the great job of whoever was as the wheel during that time*. There were two occasions where I could not have fit my foot between the two ships, but we never collided. I was amazed and terrified at the same time. The Hangar decks were covered by Marines, and supplies were everywhere. Marines were laying by or near stuff that would have crushed them like flies had we collided that night. I remember that night and the ones of  the operations off the coast of Nam. I was corpsman on duty at an 'unrep station'."

"An Emergency Breakaway  is when a ship must, for some reason, break contact with another ship that has come along side while either is taking on supplies from the other, which could be a Supply ship, fuel, food, what ever.

"It was night and the sea was pretty rough. These ships have to stay side-by-side or you're likely to have one hell of serious at-sea collision.

"Well, that is what almost happened. For some reason the other ship started away from us and we had a heck of a lot of lines, pipes, nets and all types of stuff connecting us. We also had a bunch of Marines lying all over the ship, under things that would smash them like flies, if the ship hit something and caused these things to fall... Every thing that was connected between the two ships- fuel lines, jet fuel lines, food and supply cables, even the sound power phones --- they all snapped and fuel flew everywhere. Cables lashed out; my sound power man on the station I was corpsman at, almost went overboard and would have been squashed by the ships.

"I grabbed the head set and ripped from his head, while he was headed for the side. I was coated with JP jet fuel. The other ship came back into us and we were less than a man's foot apart and the ship went out and then back and then finally it went out and stayed away. I want you to know that our Quartermaster did a hell of a job!  No one died that I was aware of. Our large fuel lines were ripped out of our side and some other damage occurred and we went into port to get fixed up.

"That is what is called an Emergency Breakaway, and did you know that when  I went down to sick call, covered in oil and jet fuel. The fellows there wanted to know what the heck happened to me and, "...don't get the white floor dirty...."


"My next story is about the vents going off in the boiler room and the lives that were saved that day- a day in living, burning , hot hell--boiler hell...

"Over 40 or so men were brought out of there, passed out from heat, and being a former combat Marine just a few months earlier, I was at home in that heat! I honestly stayed a very long time in there getting those guys up, and when a man is passed out and limp, he is one heavy dude. I am talking too much.

" I have never told anyone that stuff, especially the one in the boiler room or my sound power man. Just a bit of memory that makes me feel good and scared at the same time.



I have a lot of good stories that have a sense of humor to them. My Commanding Officer, Captain of the ship, was called Capt. Fellows---We called him Field Day Fellows. We worked for days trying to clean this very old ship, but we did the best we could. I also invented a favorite drink, alcohol type, on the ship that got out of hand and I was told to stop making it. It was great. Thanks again for the profile. I hope that everyone knows that I wasn't a born in Navy Boot Camp shipmate. I had to learn alot on the ship, in fact when I went on board the ship the first time- I went up the Officers Brow, but they saw the medals and thought of me as an oddity. But I cared about those men and it was a very interesting cruise. Catch ya latter

- Bill Shipley

Jake's Comment: Bill originally enlisted in the Marine Corps, and eventually enlisted in the Navy as a Navy Corpsman, hence all the campaign ribbons and hash marks.. A true 'Lifer' worthy of our respect and admiration!

Bill, I am glad, and I am sure that all those who read your account will be glad also, that you finally came forward and told the above stories about what life aboard a Fighting Ship is like, and what courage you had during the time. It brings to mind the Courage, all those who go down to the Sea in Ships, or those who put on the Uniform of our Military, face, not only during wartime, but also during peacetime as well. Courage is at the very Heart of what it means to be a Serviceman in our Nation's Armed Forces. And to them, I tip my hat for a Job well done, and I thank you, Bill, for sharing your story with all of us! - Jake

I'd like to perhaps clarify what an "Emergency Breakaway Procedure" is.. When there is any cause that would end an At-sea replenishment, whether it is caused by storm, high seas, or enemy attack, there has to be an "Emergency Breakaway Procedure" that will enable both ships to part quickly. This is what an Emergency Breakaway is, I do believe. If I am wrong, please someone chime in and let me know, and I'll change this statement to reflect it. - Jake

* Quartermaster 2nd Class Fred Shacklett, was at the helm this fateful day and tells his own account of this 'Emergency Breakaway. We were greatly blessed to have Fred find this Story and send his own comments to us!

This Event seems to still be causing conflicting views - Jake

Follow the Thead of this and other Emergency Breakaways by going to this Link

Another KAWISHIWI Sailor's Perspective on the Emergency Breakaway

Website XO Dennis Milliken offers us more on an Emergency Breakaway

Read Bill's amazing story of How he inadvertently saved a Sailor's Life

Bill's Marine Corps Story

The "American, the Fall of Saigon and a Guitar" - Bill has contributed this story which your Yeoman feels is a great Spiritual uplift to those who think our efforts in Vietnam were wasted efforts.


U.S.S. Kawishiwi AO-146 Fleet Oiler

Click here for some Off-Site info on Emergency Breakaways