MY SERVICE IN USS HANCOCK (CVA-19)
8 September 1974 to 7 January 1975
by the Late
NCCM(SW) C. R. "Corky" Johnson, USN
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On 24 April, between the time of our operations in Cambodia and Saigon, we had been put on alert to assist in the escort of some South Vietnamese Navy ships, but it never came about. A flotilla of 26 fleeing South Vietnamese Navy ships, with an estimated 30,000 refugees on board had been sighted in the South China Sea. Eventually, the destroyer escort, USS COOK (DE-1083), and tank landing ship USS TUSCALOOSA (LST-1187), were detailed to escort this flotilla. This group of South Vietnamese ships included tank landing ships, landing craft, gunboats, patrol gunboats, and Coast Guard cutters. However, a Filipino official stated they would arrest any military and government officials of the former South Vietnamese regime who arrived at any American military base in the Philippines. This supposedly had to do in some way with our base treaties, but they did not say what they would charge them with? I never did find out what, if anything, happened to those people as we were at sea when they would have arrived. However, I do recall seeing many of those beat-up, rusting, South Vietnamese Navy ships berthed and nested together in a back-water anchorage at Subic Bay. Many were old U.S. World War II Navy LST's. When I returned on another ship two years later, they were gone. While tied up at Cubi point, we nearly got a chance at another "adventure." The SS MAYAQUEZ, a merchant vessel, had been boarded and captured by some rogue Cambodian Communist forces at Poula Wai Island, off the coast of Cambodia. They had taken the crew captive, and the ship lay dead in the water. We had begun some much needed upkeep and repair work at the pier, when the order suddenly came for us to get underway. We did so on only two screws! We retained some yard workers onboard, made some emergency repairs at sea, and soon were steaming on all four screws again. However, it was all for naught! The following days we received orders to reverse course and return to Subic Bay. The carrier USS CORAL SEA (CV-43), was closer to the action, so she was assigned to the operation. Some of our aircraft took part, however, assisting with air support, so we were not left completely out. The USS HAROLD E. HOLT (DE-1074), had been on station nearby, and turned out to be a major player in this operation. A little trivia about the HOLT: She was one of a very few U.S. Navy ships named for a foreigner. She was named for Prime Minister Sir Harold E. Holt of Australia. As Prime minister, he placed increased emphasis on Australia's role in Asia and the Pacific, believing his country could no longer isolate herself, and that her interests required her participation in efforts to defend South Vietnam from Communist aggression. He was a hardy swimmer and skin diver, and was reported missing while swimming in the sea near Melbourne, Australia, on 17 December 1967. He was presumed dead two days later, and his body was never recovered. His widow, Dame Zara Bate Holt, D.B.E., was the ship's sponsor, and christened her on 3 May 1969. USS HOLTs insignia shows the Coat of Arms of the Australian state of Victoria emblazoned on the breast of an American eagle, symbolizing the spirit of unity and dedication to common ideals shared by our two countries. At the conclusion of the SS MAYAGUEZ Operation; Dame Holt sent the following message to the President of the United States, and the Captain of USS HOLT:
"Hooray, Hooray for the USA, my loving admiration for the USS HAROLD E. HOLT and all who sail in her"
Ah...but I have digressed for the sake of history! Back to the HANCOCK! On that short, four day trip from Vietnam to the Philippines, as I talked to and assisted in caring for many of those refugees, I had considerable time to think and reflect on what I had just witnessed, and about the entire war in general. Something I had really not taken the time to do before, besides I had seen war before... .war in it's dirtiest, nastiest, bloodiest best! This was just another damn war that had dragged on too long. I admit to having a few mixed emotions. I thought to myself. that even with all our help over the years, all our sacrifices and 58,000 young Americans dead or missing, along with all the miseries of war, these people squatting around me had lost their country! Why? Was it the loss of will to fight the enemy? Perhaps. But, I believed then, and still believe, the damn politicians lost the war for us, and them... .our politicians and theirs! I also believe the press and the Jane Fonda's of the world sure as hell didn't do us any favors, and certainly helped the enemy, and the unwashed protesterís at home too many times as well. Those who marched up the steps of the Pentagon in their filthy dungarees, throwing their medals on the steps, and spitting in the faces of those of us who served! Those who refused to serve their country in any capacity, and skipped off to Canada and Sweden, leaving hundreds of thousands of their fellow American's to serve and die in their place... .it all just gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach! It was amazing to me... .we had never been beaten on the battlefield, but had lost the war! At that time I had been in the military nearly 30-years, and had not seen us really WIN anything since World War II. I had just been mingling with and talking to all these people who had lost everything. Many having seen family member and comrades-in-arms tortured, butchered, and executed for wanting to be free. They had lost their country which they undoubtedly loved, being forced to leave it with nothing but perhaps a suitcase, and the clothes on their backs. As I thought about it, it hit home to me once again what people will do and go through for freedom. I recall thinking that God forbid that something like this should ever happen in the United States of America. We Americans, in the main, take our precious freedom much to lightly. Perhaps one has to spend a lifetime in the military, seeing the suffering and degradation in so many other countries to truly appreciate what we have, I would hope not, but I don't know? What I do know is that Freedom is not free! Many good men, some shipmates and comrades-in-arms of mine have suffered and died to preserve what we enjoy and take for granted in our great country. It made me damn proud to stand on the deck of that great war ship as an American Bluejacket! Another thing I know is that we had damn well better appreciate what we have more than we do, or some goofy bastard is going to jump out of the weeds one day and try to take it from us. To preserve our freedom, and our way of life, we must stay strong and vigilant militarily. If nothing else, Pearl Harbor should remind us of that. In my Navy career I always enjoyed going to sea.... I looked forward to it. I enjoyed the adventure and most of the countries I visited around the world. But I also remember that great feeling when we steamed back into home port again!
The remainder of our eventful, but unusual cruise was spent in training. In Operation "BLUE SKY," HANCOCK operated with the Republic of China (Taiwan) Air Force, and in Readiness Exercise 1-76, which was a large-scale simulated battle at sea. In between various training exercises we had some well earned port calls and liberty at Hong Kong, Subic Bay, Manila, and again back at Pearl Harbor. Our visit to Hong Kong was probably the most memorable and waited for liberty for several of the married officers and enlisted in the crew. A contingent of HANNA wives had come over to meet their husbands for some well earned leave, including mine. We remained at sea a little longer than expected, so when my leave date came around we were still steaming somewhere in the South China Sea. I thought for awhile I would have to postpone going on leave Then a fortunate turn of events changed that disappointing predicament I was facing. A Chief in Operations called me around midnight the night before and told me he had an extra seat for me on the COD going to Hong Kong, if I wanted to go? At 0600 I was on the flight deck with my bag packed! After all those years it was to be my first experience being catapulted off a carrier deck. There is nothing else quite like it! I did take quite a razing from several of my "black-shoe" shipmates, however They just couldn't quite figure out why an old Surface Sailor would want to subject himself to such mental anguish! But then... .their wives weren't waiting for them in Hong Kong either! It wasn't bad, on the COD you sit facing the rear, so you just see where you've been... .after you open your eyes!
On the morning of 20 October 1975, a seven month, two day deployment ended when USS HANCOCK steamed back under the Golden Gate, and into the carrier piers at Naval Air Station, Alameda, California. We had steamed over 40,000 miles, launched and recovered our aircraft over 6,000 times. Not bad for a grand old girl "who was getting tired." "Fighting HANNA" had made her last trip once again defending freedom. As one old Sailor looking back on that, just one of many adventures, I'm glad I was allowed to be a part of that gallant effort, and do it on a gallant ship!
It seems I wasn't quite finished with the HANCOCK yet. I had transferred to the USS KANSAS CITY (AOR-3), shortly after HANCOCK's last deployment, and the KC was tied up at Naval Station, Hunters Point. After a few months, I returned to take one last look at "HANNA" before she was to towed to San Pedro, then on her way to be made into razor blades, or Japanese automobiles! There were only about 50 men still onboard. Walking the decks inside a dead warship is really an indescribable experience unless you have done it. This was my second time. It's like walking through an empty stadium after the big game is over, or walking over an ancient battlefield. There is deathly silence, but there are also strange creaking and groaning noises like some big giant taking it's last breath. It's an eerie feeling... .a feeling of pride in having served in her... .it's memories, not only of your shipmates, but of all the Sailors who have walked her decks, flown her planes, fired her guns... .in peace and war. Many feelings that seem to run together in your head. She was a brave old warrior who was about to be laid to rest. The salvage people were down on the pier selling all manner of gear to ex-crewmembers and anyone else who was interested. They were peddling everything from chairs and brass port holes to bunks. The 1,620-foot anchor chain was for sale for $50. I didn't buy anything, as I had obtained a few momento's before I left. I just walked back down the pier, and never looked back... .somehow, I was a little sorry I came for a last visit.
We received the following messages upon completion of Operations "Eagle Pull" and "Frequent Wind":
From the Secretary of Defense: "As the withdrawal of Americans from Vietnam takes place, it is my special responsibility to address to you a few words of appreciation on behalf of the American people. For many of you, the tragedy of Southeast Asia is more than a distant and abstract event. You have fought there; you have lost comrades there; you have suffered there. In this hour of pain and reflection you may feel that your sacrifices and efforts have gone for naught. That is not the case. When the passions have muted and the history is written, Americans will recall that their Armed Forces served them well. Under circumstances more difficult than ever before faced by our military services, you accomplished the mission assigned to you by higher authority. In combat you were victorious and you left the field with honor. Though you have done all that was asked of you, it will be stated that the war itself was futile. In some sense, such may be said of any national effort that ultimately fails. Yet our involvement was not purposeless. It was intended to assist a small nation to preserve its independence in the face of external attack and to provide at least a reasonable chance to survive. That Vietnam succumbed to powerful external forces indicates neither the explicit purpose behind our involvement... .nor the impulse of generosity toward those under attack that has long infused American policy. Your record of duty performed under difficult conditions remains unmatched. I salute you for it. Beyond any question you are entitled to the nation's respect, admiration and gratitude.
Note: I and my shipmates disagreed with some of the Secretaries analysis. We were not beaten due to a lack of our will to fight and win, but for many other important reasons. One of which was due to the press showing all the blood and carnage of war to the American people, day after day, each evening at their supper tables. We were beaten by the traitorous acts of "peace demonstrators" at home, and in foreign countries. (Strange how the Communists and Fascists always use the theme of "peace!") We were beaten because of so many of our rubber-legged and gutless politicians in our own Congress who, by their continuous, needless, interference, would not allow our military professionals to do what we are trained to do, and what we can do so well! (NCCS JOHNSON)
From the chairman, Joint chiefs of Staff: "Execution of Operation Frequent Wind is a tribute to the courage, professionalism, and devotion to duty of the air crews, ground security forces, ship's companies and support personnel who participated. This final humanitarian action, culminating a long military commitment in Southeast Asia, was accomplished under the most demanding circumstances."
From Commander-in-Chief Pacific: "This was a tough one. The job was uncertain, unprecedented, dangerous beyond measure. It demanded the last ounce of endurance and fortitude and savvy, and you gave it that and more. To the exhausted but tireless aircrews, ground crews and deck crews, ships and bases, all credit. The rescue was a tremendous and joint enterprise, under the most difficult conditions. Performance of all hands superb... Well Done!"
From the Secretary of the Navy: "The performance of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in the evacuation of Americans and Vietnamese this week was outstanding. Those who participated have earned my lasting respect for their professional competence in conducting the final military mission of our nation's Vietnam experience. This particular effort was typical of the many heroic acts of Sailors and Marines throughout the years of involvement in the Southeast Asia conflict. I express deep appreciation to all men and women of the Navy and Marine Corps for their dedication to duty in whatever location or assignment they have had during these difficult years. Great personal sacrifices have been made as a matter of routine. These sacrifices are keenly felt at this moment. Whatever our heartache at the outcome of events, we must now look to the future. Our Navy and Marine Corps must remain strong. Our personal allegiance to our course must not be forgotten. God bless you for being great Americans."
Recollections of a Former Kawishiwi Shipmate on the "Emergency Breakaway" during Operation 'Frequent Wind' in '75 as reported by Doug Covill (Kawishiwi), Bill Shipley (Hancock), and William John Miller (Kawishiwi).
In regard to HM1 Bill Shipley's story on the "emergency breakaway." It was a little more than that... .it was a full blown collision, than an emergency breakaway. I recall this young man HM1 Shipley... well, he was a young man then, because of all his ribbons. I imagine he worked for my good friend and shipmate, HMCS Lansang?
During my naval career, I was involved in two collisions at sea, and one is the one referred to by HM1 Shipley. HANCOCK was steaming in the South China Sea during flight operations, and we were also engaged in taking on stores and fuel during an underway replenishment (UN-REP), from the Fleet Oiler USS KAWISHIWI (AO-146). I was on deck on one of the sponsons with some other Sailors observing this evolution on the starboard side, aft of the island. All of a sudden, we saw all the Sailor's on the main deck of KAWISHIWI start to run like hell from the port side to the starboard side, many of them yelling and pointing, and I heard "emergency breakaway" called out over the 1-MC. Then it happened! Our rear elevator on the side of the ship I was on struck the KAWISHIWI just aft of her CPO Quarters on their port side. It made a loud scraping noise, and scraped along the deck a ways, wiping out some gear on their main deck. By this time, we had broke-off all hoses and lines between us, and began to pull away from the KAWISHIWI. I heard later that KAWISHIWI had temporarily lost power and veered into us. Apparently this must have been what happened, as after the investigation neither commanding officer was relieved, which is usually what occurs when you have a collision at sea. Most of the time it just ruins the hell out of a Skipper's day! We did quite a bit of damage to KAWISHIWI, but just bent some parts of our elevator, and tore off some side screening on it. Luckily, no one was injured.
U.S.S. Kawishiwi AO-146 Fleet Oiler
Other References to this Emergency Breakaway
This Event seems to still be causing conflicting views - Jake
Corky Johnson's Memoirs are Copyright Material © 2003 Any copying without written consent is unlawful and highly inappropriate. Please honor Corky's Memory by seeking permission - Jake
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On that, her final deployment, USS HANCOCK (CVA-19), earned the following awards, plus many individual decorations for heroism and other achievements.
One Battle star for Action in Vietnam War
Navy Unit Commendation
Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation
Humanitarian Service Medal
Bronze star in lieu of a 2n Humanitarian Service Medal
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
Bronze Star in lieu of a 2d Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
This Poem by LCDR D. Garvey was contributed to this Website by Corky
Other Official Hancock Poems:
| The Hancock Poem | The Vietnam Era Hancock Poem |
"I must go down to the sea again,
to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
and a star to steer her by."
~ MASEFIELD ~
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Note: Corky passed over the Bar on May 23, 2003 after a long illness. We are sad to see our Shipmate go, but we know he is in good hands. Corky was an honorable man who never did anything unless it was done right and his best effort. You can read Corky's Taps entry on our Taps Page.
What the word "Shipmate" means to a Sailor
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