U.S. Navy 1952-1975
Wills Point, Tx.
“There was a HUGE mushroom cloud and it slowly kept rising. It was detonated from 11,000 feet. It seemed like a day and a half before the first “Ripples” came up. It got so bright, I put my hands up to my face, and could see the bones right thru, like an x-ray.”
Jim’s words on “ROMEO” Nuclear Explosion March 26, 1954, Bikini Island.
Jim was born in Hopkins County (Sulphur Springs, Tx.) on February 22nd, in 1933 (89yo). His father’s name was Maurice and his mother’s name was Lena Azzalee Stone. He had two brothers and one sister. The oldest one, Wayne and Michael was his second brother. His sister’s name was Gayle. Michael was in the U.S. Navy and enlisted in January 1967 as an E-4.
His father was a farmer and a barber. (picture on left is of Barber College his dad (r) attended) There was 12 kids in his dad’s family and 8 kids in his mom’s family. Jim was about one (1) years old when his dad bought a small farm, 74 acres, in the small town of (Pickton, Tx), seven miles west of Winnsboro. The family grew cotton, corn, sweet potatoes and after the war they started growing row crops. They grew green beans for a couple of years and then went to cucumbers. “I worked on the farm a lot when I was growing up,” laughed Jim.
“In the Fall of 1935 we had a small porch at the corner of the house and some cotton was piled up but not enough for a bale. We had a small dog. Me and my brother, Wayne, were playing on the cotton. My brother was about 5 and I was 2 ½ years old back then. Our dog came up and bit both of us. My mother came out and he bit her too. My dad killed the dog and took the head to the Sheriff of Sulphur Springs. That was sent to Austin and they said the dog tested out positive for rabies. My dad and uncle put us all in a Model-T with no top and drove to Austin about 210 miles. We were put into quarantine. We got our 14-daily-shots in the stomach. My dad got his dad’s Model-T and got special bushes of peaches and he sold those to buy the gas, I guess. We stayed in Austin for about three weeks,” Jim said.
“When I was about six years old by older brother, Wayne, let me milk the cow. I didn’t like it. But he made me milk it. It wasn’t too long after that I started picking cotton. We had a mule and a horse and dad took the horse to the neighbor. He had a “Jack” and bred the horse and got a jack. My dad castrated that mule and got infected and died. I got on the mule before he was castrated and must have dug my heals in him and he threw me off. I never got back on him. This all happened during the Depressions. It was tough times.
My brother graduated from High School in 1948 and moved to Dallas. My dad bought a Farmall tractor in January of 1949. I was about 16 and started driving the tractor when I got home from school. Along with the tractor we still used the horses and mule and did all the farming in the row fields. We didn’t have much time for extracurricular things with all the farm work.
“In about 1938 or 39 we got a radio in the house and it was run off a battery. We did not get any electricity until about 1946. My dad had a barber chair in his shop near the wood burning stove In the house. He cut a little at night but most of the guys would come over on the weekend and my dad would cut their hair. He started out charging a nickel a haircut. He bought some new trimmers and he had to apologize when he went up to a dime per cut. He finally had to stop cutting hair when the officials starting requiring a license.
DECEMBER 7TH,1941 THE BOMBING OF PEARL HARBOR:
Jim graduated from High School in 1951. In his Junior year he and two other boys joined the National Guard Reserve at an Army Reserve Unit (49-Division) in Sulphur Springs, Texas. “I took my physical and was accepted.”
Jim graduated from High School on a Friday and on Monday an Air Force recruiter picked him up and took him over to Sulphur Springs and then to Love Field in Dallas. I was not qualified because I had a hernia, even though the National Guard had qualified me in my Junior year. After my rejection, I went to the Coast Guard and they rejected me, so I went over to the Marines and they rejected me. Come to find out, I had an “inherited hernia.” It was from my mother’s side. I went to Dallas and started working for Sears Roebuck on the 6th floor.
On my fifth try, on a chance, I went to the Navy recruiter. Remember, since the 3rd grade I wanted to go to active duty. I took the written test and passed. They never found the hernia. The year was 1952. I signed up for four (4) years in the U.S. Navy. The next day I was headed to Amarillo on a train. We picked up more recruits and headed to NTC, San Diego, California for Boot Camp (Company 175). I was in boot for 12-weeks graduating on May 10, 1952.. I asked for submarines, but I didn’t get a “A” School. There was more money in submarines. But, I was rejected.
In 1952 I was assigned to the LST-1146 Ship in San Diego that was in drydock. They were cleaning (2) two tanks to put fresh water in. We were headed to Alaska. You could take a three (3) minute shower once a week, except the cooks and mess cooks who could shower every day. We were in port for about 6-weeks before we went up to San Francisco and Seattle. We were supplying fuel services to Alaska Prudhomme Bay where the Alaska Pipeline is in and Northern Canada. Our first stop was Port Hueneme, San Francisco (Treasure Island), Richmond, Vallejo and Pier-91 in Seattle for July 4th weekend. Monday morning, the BAREX-52 convoy of 12 ships were underway for the norther shores of Alaska, Pt .Barrow, and Prudhoe Bay (now the north end of the Alaska Pipe Line) and Yukon, Canada to deliver supplies to the Dew Line Bases.
I have seen a lot of snow but never like I did up north in the July of 1952. We were coming back from Prudhoe and got caught in an ice float. We stayed there for a day and a half before a Coast Guard ice-breaker came and broke our ship from the ice. You couldn’t see the bow from the stern of the boat. It was snowing so bad. We still had to man our 4-hour shifts. Fortunately for me I was mess cooking for the Chief’s Quarters on this first trip on the 1146. The mess deck Master of Arms was from Texas and he sent me down to be a mess cook. Sometimes it’s good to be lucky. I was mess cook for 3-months.
In July 1952 I have a picture of me withe a tribute to the great Will Rogers and Wiley Post. The two were killed in a plane crash in 1935 near Barrow, Alaska. Wiley Post was a pioneer aviator and was born in the community of Corinth in Van Zandt County.
In the late 1920’s Post obtained his flight training and made his first solo flight around the world. Post also invented and developed the first pressurized flight suit, explored the Stratosphere flight and used an early Sperry Autopilot Mechanism. He worked withe the U.S. Army Corps on an experimental automatic direction finding (ADF) radio compass and was a pioneer in the use of liquid oxygen for high altitude flight.
The U.S.S. Summit County (LST-1146) was nicknamed “The Galloping Goast of the Arctic Coast,” (1947-1955). She got that name by the sailors who were on board back and forth in the summer to Alaska.
GUNNER’S MATE SCHOOL: Bainbridge, Maryland
“On the return trip to Seattle, the LST’s made a port call at NAS, Kodiak Island. I left the ship in San Diego (2/14/53), flew to Chicago, Washington D.C. (my first flight) and a train ride to an Open-Air Train/Bus stop to NOWHERE where my sea bag froze to the deck. I went to Gunner’s Mate School in NTC Bainbridge, MD until May of 1953. I visited several cities in the area before the school ended. I then flew back to San Diego, but the ship was in Seattle. It was the July 4th weekend and I couldn’t get a travel voucher until Monday. I only had enough cash for a Greyhound Bus ride to Seattle and I arrived Sunday afternoon, checked aboard. The BAREX-53 Convoy of 12 ships got underway the next morning to the norther shores of Alaska and Canada, AGAIN.
I was now an E-3 gunnersmate in the Navy. We had twin 40mm guns on the LST-1146. There was a 2nd class who was, during General Quarters, in charge of the weapon back-aft of the ship. I took over his job. The chief was up on the bow. I manned the twin-40’s on the bow.
Jim’s LST-1146 ship (commissioned in 1945) was home ported in Long Beach, California when they got orders to ship to Korea. The ship had several malfunctions and was in dry-dock for several repairs before getting orders to ship out.
In November of 1953 Jim’s ship received orders to Korea. The ship docked in Pearl Harbor for three days before going to Japan. As we arrived near the Atoll’s in the South Pacific we were ordered to go ashore on these Atolls with several other LST’s in our convoy. We were armed and looking for any habitation on these islands. We didn’t find any and don’t know of any of the other ships did or not.” Later, Jim would understand why they were looking for anyone on the islands.
“On this WESTPAC tour you had to be an E-4 or above. We had four gunners mates on the ship and I was one of the E-4’s.
When we got to Korea we never docked staying off the coast. Our ship[ was on high alert and was ready if we had to make a landing. We had 40s and 20s on the 1146. Some days we painted a magazine or cleaning it and standing watches. Most was routine patrolling the coast. The war was winding down so we didn’t have a lot to do. Mostly on standby. There was still some shooting going on, but mostly talking.
The LST returned to Yokosuka, and the Gun gang won the “March of Dime” drive and won a weekend liberty to Tokyo. We didn’t see much of the town, just the hotel and the Armed Forces “Rocker-4 Club,” (E4-E7). There were nine of us shore. Later, the ship moved to Kobe, Japan for Christmas and to Kure, Japan that was well stocked with very good Australian beer. Some of us took a short train ride (20minutes) to visit the city of Nagasaki, Japan on new Year’s Eve of 1953. There is a four (4) block squared off area just like when it was bombed on August 9th, 1945. I remember a history book photo when I was in school and there was this earthquake and that place reminded me of that picture. In 1966, I was in Naples, Italy and we went to the Pompei Volcano. It brought back memories of Nagasaki. We stayed in Korea until the last week of February 1954. From Korea we left to go to the Bikini Islands.
MAR 1954 – APR 1954 JTF-7 Operation CASTLE – Nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll
“We had gotten word on the LST that at 0600 that morning there was a “BRAVO” shot, part of the JTF-7 “Operation Castle” nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll,” Jim said.
Between 1946 and 1958 the U.S. Military conducted 67 Nuclear Tests.
INFO: CASTLE BRAVO was the first in a series of high-yield thermonuclear weapon design tests conducted by the United States at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands, as part of “OPERATION CASTLE.” It was detonated on March 1, 1954, a device was the most powerful nuclear device detonated by the U.S. and its fist lithium deuteride fueled thermonuclear weapon. Castle Bravo’s yield was 15 megatons of TNT, 2.5 times the predicted 6.0 megatons, due to unforeseen additional reactions involving lithium-7, which led to the unexpected radioactive contamination of areas to the east of Bikini Atoll. At the time, it was the most powerful artificial explosion in history. Wikipedia.com
This day, I had the 2000-2400 Quarter Deck Petty Officer of the watch. The movie would run on the main deck around 2030-2045 (when it got dark) and I knew that I would miss out on any refreshments. Shortly after I relieved the watch, the XO came to the QD, handed me a note, and said “read this,” and I did. “Form a line on the fantail and go thru the chow line and draw your refreshments. It went on to read, “go to the head of the line and get yours.” The movie starts, I am standing on the QD, off the starboard side, with the loaded 45 strapped on and with a cold one in my hand and a second one sitting nearby. With the entire crew ( CO, XO and all hands) sitting on the main deck watching the movie and enjoying a couple of cold ones. This routine only lasted a few days. I still have a few shipmates living that can vouch for this,” he laughs.
Before we arrived in Guam, all hands that didn’t have a SECRET CLEARANCE, was busy filling out that 5- or 6-page form for the clearance. Once the forms were checked by an Officer it was forwarded to the FBI. When we arrived at Guam on the 6th of March, six shipmates were transferred off because they were not cleared. We were in Guam, less than 48 hours, on our way to Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands, six days later. We trained and ran drills all day, every day in transit. We anchored near the USS Curtiss (AV-4),/ Joint Task Force Seven (JTF-7). We had a “Washdown” system on our ship, but we never used the system to wash anything after the detonation. We were 70-miles away and they didn’t think we needed to wash down the ship.
Two days later we loaded a large crate under a tarp with armed Marine guards with rifles surrounding it and when we arrived at Bikini we off-loaded that tarp onto the shore. We put the ramp down from the ship and later was loaded onto a barge. The Marines and the cargo left the ship. It was placed in the same place on a barge as the BRAVO shot. What was under that tarp I asked? I speculated it was a bomb, we never saw it,” said Jim shaking his shoulders. The bomb exploded on the barge March 26th, the experiment was called “ROMEO,” part of the Operation Castle experiments. It was in much deeper water that the BRAVO shot”
I saw it explode from the ship,” said Jim. “We were 70-miles from Bikini, anchored off Eniwetok Atoll, and it went off at 0630 in the morning.
Just before the detonation the crew mustered on the main deck. We waited. The ship started the countdown at 10 on the loudspeaker. There was a HUGE mushroom cloud and it slowly kept rising. It was red and yellowish in color and I have never seen Moses part the Red Sea, but if I had that cloud matches it. It seemed like a day and a half before the first “ripples” came up. It got so bright, I put my hands up to my face, and could see the bones right thru, like an x-ray. I turned away pretty quick. About 15-20 minutes later we felt this warm breeze come over us. It has really affected me over the years. I don’t know why they felt like they had to rush all those tests. They knew it was “radiated,” but they didn’t know how to control it. BRAVO was so much stronger than the engineers anticipated”
When we arrived at the Pearl Harbor base I was with a storekeeper and he gave us some “film badges,” to test radiation levels. I turned mine into the 2nd class storekeeper. They haven’t located them yet. Our film badges were black and round at one end. It was designed to absorb levels of radiation. We had two crewmen on the ship and all they did was radiation. They had a machine in their cubicle. There was a jacket in your military record and that is where your results were catalogued. It was done monthly. It was accurate. I got my readings from North Las Vegas. Years later I was told the calculation from the ship was not correct because they did not use the right calibration,” laughed Jim.
I have been tested over the years. At that point in the interview Jim looked down at his hands and was looking at the scar tissue. “In 1963 I had a tumor removed that was benign and in 1964 I had a squamous carcinoma cell removed. In 2006 I was diagnosed with non-Hoskins lymphoma. I was put in the Tyler Hospital for 101-consecutive days. My wounds were still draining one year and nine months and one week before it healed. The Oncologist didn’t want me going to the Dermatologist while my wound was open. I have had several cells removed from my back. The hair on my arm from here to here gets four inches long,” Jim explained showing me his arm. When I was in the service I went to a Dermatologist every six-months. They were treating the exposure of the pre-cancer stuff. I am still being treated 57-years later.”
The Veterans Administration has admitted that his cancer was related to his presence at Bikini Island and Eniwetok Atoll in the 1950’s and is and has been compensated for his exposure. The VA refers to these vets as, “The Atomic” Veterans.
You get some radiation on our nuclear submarines,” explained Jim. “I wore a film badge the whole time I was with the Ethan Allen.
I made a WESTPAC run on the GRAYBACK, the first submarine deterrent patrol. The only ones who got film badges were the Nuclear Weapons Officer and the Technician. Even the Commanding Officer did not wear one. Sometimes I leveled at a 4 or 5 on my film badge. Normal, I guess, would register a ZERO,” laughed Jim. “I didn’t ever know I would be exposed to radiation or being exposed to something that would have given me any medical condition. I never gave it a thought.
They told us, “DON’T TALK ABOUT THIS.” After we witnessed the detonation we signed a release paper and it was after I retired in 1975, that we were able to discuss what we had seen. Once I signed the release papers I have NEVER seen them again. I never saw any readings from my film badges.
BIKINI became HOT all Naval Personnel were moved aboard ships and away from the Atoll. Then they began filling our Tank Deck with material and equipment that was no longer needed in Bikini and moved back to Eniwetok and NO paperwork with anything we hauled. The “walk in” chill-boxes were loaded, door-to-door and “ITEMS” from the EM clubs were moved into the ships chill boxes. Tons and tons of concrete were poured and even today the area is still “hot” with fallout contamination. The natives of the islands have NEVER been able to go back to their homelands.
INFO: The De Haven, another destroyer where dozens of ships assigned to the operation at Eniwetok Atoll, Bikini Atoll and Johnston Island. It would be their crews’ initiation into the ranks of hundreds of thousands of service members now known as “atomic veterans.”
What seems like a story long tucked away in history books remains a very real struggle for those veterans still alive, the radiation cleanup crews who followed and their families – many of them sick and lacking not just the federal compensation, but also the recognition they believe they deserve. There is no commendation or medal for being an atomic vet.
The magnitude of the De Haven’s mission became clearer even before the crew reached Eniwetok. As they reached an area near where tests already had been underway, they sailed into heavy showers. Radioactive rain poured down and “hot” seawater contaminated the ship’s wash-down system. The sailors were ordered to decontaminate the ship by scrubbing the decks with long-handled brushes. Then, as they closed in on Eniwetok on May 12, Brooks spotted a far-off flash in the distance: a nuclear blast.
The next morning, a countdown blared from the De Haven’s PA system. A nuclear test – code name Koa – was being conducted from a barge in the lagoon of Eniwetok Atoll. Its blast would release at least 75 times the power of the bomb that killed more than 130,000 people in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.
Brooks, a slender Texan, had enlisted in the Navy a year earlier at 17. That morning, he manned his gun station on deck. He had no special goggles or clothing. He and the other sailors wore long-sleeved shirts and tucked their pant legs into their socks. They did as they had been told, turning away from the blast site and putting their hands over their eyes.
The flash was so bright that even 20 miles from the blast, Brooks, now 75, said, “When you put your hands over your eyes, you saw your bones in your hands and in your fingers.”
The U.S. crews who took part in the Operation Hardtack I nuclear tests in 1958 are among the hundreds of thousands of service members now known as “atomic veterans. “Credit: Courtesy of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nevada Field Office.
On July 1st of 1955 I got orders from the USS Summit and this was when Yeoman recommended that I go to Guided Missile School. I wanted to go to “Deep Divers” or hard hat school but this Yeoman talked me out of it. Once again, Deep Divers got paid more money, $65. A month, so that was what I wanted to do. I was getting $72. A month at the time,” he laughed. I was a 2nd class gunnersmate. I stayed 2nd class for six years.”
Guided Missile School: Dam Neck, Virginia (Regulus Missile)
For the next eight (8) years of his military service Jim attended several schools for Guided Missile and Submarine schools. He also was attending school to take college Algebra 1st and 2nd years and going to Junior College.
“I went to Virginia Beach, Virginia, an old Army base, for Guided Missile School (Group One), (GMGRU-1) School. There were 21 of us in the class and about two dozen instructors. Only four (4) of us graduated.
The Regulus Missile, we worked on, was constructed in Dallas, Texas by the Chance-Vought Aircraft Company. I was trained on the engine, the hydraulics, the pneumatics, landing gear and it had a parachute when it landed it would stop on the runway before it ran out into the ocean.
NOTE: SSM-N-8A Regulus or the Regulus I was a United States Navy-developed ship-and-submarine-launched, nuclear-capable turbojet-powered second generation cruise missile, deployed from 1955 to 1964. Its development was an outgrowth of U.S. Navy tests conducted with the German V-1 missile at Naval Air Station Point Mugu in California. Its barrel-shaped fuselage resembled that of numerous fighter aircraft designs of the era, but without a cockpit. Test articles of the Regulus were equipped with landing gear and could take off and land like an airplane. When the missiles were deployed they were launched from a rail launcher, and equipped with a pair of Aerojet JATO bottles on the aft end of the fuselage. Source: Wikipedia
From 9/10/1957 thru 5/7/1958 Jim attended Guided Missile Regulus ‘C’ School in Dam Neck, Virginia and later to Submarine School in New London, Connecticut. That Submarine class started with over 500-students. Until the Guided Missile Program got going a class was usually only about 30-40 students. Once we got into the pressurized chamber for training we started losing a lot of those students. The course was six week long. We made several mock runs with different classes. After graduation I was assigned to the USS Grayback.
NOTE: The Regulus missile submarines were a group of submarines operated by the United States Navy (US Navy) capable of carrying the Regulus cruise missile. Between 1959 and 1964, a total of five boats were used to undertake the first submarine-based nuclear deterrent patrols by the United States. Regulus submarines were used for this task until 1964, when sufficient ballistic missile submarines carrying the Polaris ballistic missile became available.
Regulus II had a range of 1,000 mi (870 nmi; 1,600 km), could fly at Mach 2, and was equipped with its own inertial navigation system that required no input either from the vessel that had launched it, or any other vessels or aircraft in route to its target. The size of the missile meant that the new submarines could only carry a pair of Regulus II missiles each, as opposed to four of the original Regulus airframes. In September 1958, six months after commissioning, Grayback conducted the first successful launch of a Regulus II from a submarine. Source: Wikipedia
“They had two (2) JATO bottles on the launcher which played out when they burned out. They had a scope on the back of it, it didn’t move once you got it zeroed in. We would communicate with the pilot and he would fly around it giving signals like, “right rudder, left rudder, flaps up and so forth. The “Trainers” were red and the ones with a bomb on it was coded “Blue.” There was no landing gear. The trainers had hydraulic wings and you would bolt them down on pre-launch. We had a building with a wall about 8-12 inches thick and so was the roof. It had thick glass and you could see the launch pad. Nothing was boring,” said Jim.
“I made one (1) WESTPAC run and was the first man to qualify on the Grayback. Our sub was able to carry four (4) missiles. We were credited with making the first “deterrent patrol” aboard the sub to Japan. The Pacific was angry that year. We could snorkel at 58-feet. We had to run for 23-consecutive days on the surface. We had to remain with 100% communications.
We went thru a BAD typhoon storm. There was a lot of noise on the Grayback coming from our damages and the Weapons Officer, myself and one Engineer took a come-a-long and we went topside at night. We tried to find out what was making the noise. We spent over an hour in the super structure up forward trying to quiet us down. It was loud enough to be picked up by sonar. We even put mattresses over the missiles while running on only two engines. We had damage on the sub including over 400 square feet on the starboard side and on the aft of the sail we had four sections over thirty feet long damaged. We were in drydock in Yokosuka for a long-time making repairs.
On one “shakedown cruise,” on the USS Grayback, we were scheduled to to to Acapulco, Mexico. President Eisenhower had a mild stroke and his doctor thought some sunshine would do him some good. Our port call was changed to Mazaltan, Mexico, spending three days and nights. The first night, the Missile Officer, the Missile CPO and I were on shore patrol. The police assigned a policeman and car to us. The police car broke down after a couple of hours and we ended up hiring a Taxi cab for the next three nights. The Missile Officer, and another white hat and I were the only shore patrol the next two nights. The tax driver knew the “Hot Spots,” in town better than the policeman and we were able to see some really good shows.
On another “shakedown cruise,” we were in Pearl Harbor and the youthful Monarch of Jordan, King Hussein, visited the submarine. As the party went thru the boat, the King shoot my hand only, and at 25 years old I was a year older than the King.
In 1959, the USS Grayback was the BIG warrior in Pearl Harbor including “Fast Pitch,” softball team. We won the Submarine League and beat the shore base champs. Grayback placed five team members, ( catcher, two pitchers, and two outfielders.). I was one of the outfielders. I made the sub-Pac ALL-STAR team and we won the Military All-Star Tournament.
When I left the USS Grayback after two (2) years, I had launched 12 Regulus-1 Missiles in the Mojave Desert in 1956, 43 more at NAS Pt. Mugu, CA in 1956-57 and another 17 from the Grayback, in 1958-60.
In September 1958 the Grayback launched the ONLY Regulus-II missile from a submarine, I do not know of another enlisted man with that certification,” said Jim. The Polaris Missile Program was just starting to gain traction and had a good record and soon after the Regulus contract was cancelled.
NOTE: The Ethan Allen class of fleet ballistic missile submarine was an evolutionary development from the George Washington class. The Ethan Allen, together with the George Washington, Lafayette, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin classes comprised the “41 for Freedom” that were the Navy’s main contribution to the nuclear deterrent force through the late 1980s.
Rather than being designed as Skipjack-class attack submarines with a missile compartment added, the Ethan Allen’s were the first submarines designed “from the keel up” as Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) submarines carrying the Polaris A-2 missile. They were functionally similar to the George Washington’s, but longer and more streamlined and with torpedo tubes reduced to four. In the early and mid-1970s, they were upgraded to Polaris A3s. Because their missile tubes could not be modified to carry the larger diameter Poseidon missile, they were not further upgraded.
“I did four years on the Ethan Allen,” said Jim. “I did five (5) patrols on the EA and moved up to Chief Petty Officer two weeks before detachment. Eight Missile technicians had been together for about two years, schooling and new construction and we started loading for our first patrol, and the command lets the Chief retire one (1) day before deployment.
and launched “Frigate Bird,” a Polaris (A-1) missile in the afternoon of May 6, 1962. The missile flew westward approximately 1100 miles and detonated at 11,000 feet.
The picture taken of the mushroom cloud was through the periscope of the USS Carbonero’s (SS-377), observed at 1433:27 (2.33.27 p.m.) and was 30 n.m. from ground zero from a position 1200 n.m. east-northeast of Christmas Island: and south of San Diego, near Johnson Island. The re-entry vehicle (RV) and warhead flew 1020 n.m. downrange toward Christmas Island before re-entering the atmosphere 12.5 minutes later, and detonating in an airburst at 11,000 feet. The missile/RV demonstrated an accuracy on the order of 2200 yards. (Armed by: Missile Tech 1, James Harrelson.
New York Times headline: “Navy puts missile in the Pickle Barrel.” A few weeks later an unannounced delivery truck, backed up to the bases’s ship’s office and unloaded a 50 gallon wooden barrel of pickles. Complimentary of the Heinz’s Pickle Company. A Submarine pickle picnic was scheduled and everyone went home from the picnic with left-over pickles,” smiled Jim.
We were in Charleston, South Carolina and moved down to the Panama Canal. There must have been over a hundred ships waiting to get thru the Canal. They closed down the Canal waiting for our arrival where we only met 2 or 3: with a few anchored. There are 3-or-4 locks and a lot of lakes down in there. I was told we made the fastest time to ever make it thru the Panama Canal. Our fastest speed on the surface was 16-knots.
Information released is very sketchy when talking with veterans aboard a Nuclear Submarine and much of the information is Classified or Top Secret. There was not a lot of information to discuss when Jim was on the Ethan Allen.
Jim had studied hard for his Chief exam and later, put his hat on, two weeks before transfer. Photo is Jim (C) with his bars and was promoted to Ensign as an officer. In Jim’s case I am sure with his two tours on a nuclear submarine the Navy felt he had enough experience to promote him to an officers rank. He was going to get his commission in October, 1964 along with two of his close Navy friends. I wanted to go onto a ship. I was assigned to the USS Holland which was docked in Rota, Spain. The ship was rotating in November of 1966 and by this time he had made LTJG in rank. I lived in Seville, Spain which was about 18-miles from the base in Rota. I loved to go to the bullfights on Sunday’s. You could not order a meal until about 8 or 9 o’clock at night. Everyone ate late there. I watched the “running of the bulls” but never got on the streets with them. I came back with about 12 or 14 beautiful painted pictures and would love to go back there. I also played on the Navy base fast-pitch softball team and we got to travel some. I played right field on the team.
The Navy was looking for Junior Officers for Vietnam: I put my request in and about a month later I got my orders in as a trainer at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It was the worst duty I had in my entire career. It was a two (2) year tour but I got it cut short. The skipper called me up to his office weekly and chewed me out. He was going to give my billet to a guy out of Annapolis. They were related in some way. Last time he called me and I said call my detailer and 10-12 days later I got my orders in 10-days,” said Jim.
“I got to Vietnam on September 12th 1968 and left on October 1969. I did not hear a shot in the Korean War so I wanted to go to Vietnam and I knew a lot of the guys there I had met in the Navy. I met the chief boatswain mate from the LST (1146) the first weekend I was there. He was a full commander and Operations Officer. About a week later Vice Admiral Elmo Zumwalt relieved Naval Forces in Vietnam. I went to his “welcome aboard party,” laughed Jim. “McCarthy, Patton and Zumwalt would have gotten along good together.
I was the Junior Ordinance Officer when I got to Saigon. I would stand duty once or twice a month depending on the number of officers in our command. I was in a small cubicle and was the Command Duty Officer, (CDO). I didn’t get much sleep. The radioman kept waking me up handing me release notices on the number of casualties. When morning came, I had released 48 messages. That was stressful,” said Jim. “If I had to sit behind that desk every day, and not going out with my former shipmates, I think I would have been diagnosed with PTSD. I would have felt guilty that I didn’t do all that I could do over there,” Jim said. “There wasn’t a day go by without hearing explosives, guns or rockets coming in. Our Army ordered 100% tracer M-60 ammo. It burnt out the barrels on the guns. It sure lit up the sky. I don’t know why they did that. We had two ships come into Cameroon Bay with ammunition from the Army which was about 20 miles north of Saigon. We had another ammo dump in Vung Tau with about 12-15 of our guys supporting that dump. We were supporting 2,3 and 4 Navy Corps with ammunition. Da Nang was responsible for supplying 1st Navy Corps.
“I went out on the Light Seal Support Craft (LSSC) boats with the Navy Seals, on occasion. They had two (2) Interceptor Ford engines in them with jacuzzi pumps, with two (2) 250-gallon fuel tanks under the boat with high-octane gas. Most of them had twin 50-calibre on the bow and some with an M60 on the aft and grenade launchers. Sometimes the Seals would send up a red flare and we would have to go in and extract them out.
I had about 12-15 of my friends I hooked up with in Vietnam. To see them, I had to go into the dark at night to talk. They had seventeen (17) Detachments of PBR boats when I was stationed in Vietnam. They would sometimes be on a barge and one of them was about 200-yards from the Cambodian border. We knew the VC, Vietcong, were in there. One night one of the Seals said, “we have a load and I would have to be one of his crews and help them on a mission.” “I said, ok. There was a 1st class Boatswain on a PBR boat. He was the most decorated Vietnam Vet. He got called out about a canoe running down the Mekong Delta. They would sometimes out run a PBR. But, they wouldn’t outrun that 50-calibre. This canoe went up into a canal and we followed him in. The canoe was shooting at the PBR boat and they “Scrambled the Seawolves,” to come in.”
I asked Jim if he had an opportunity to ride along with one of the Seawolf Detachments but said they did most of their flying at night and he had a day job and was never offered.
NOTE: There is an interview I did with Captain Tom Crull and door gunner Mike Dobson of the “SEAWOLVES,” in Vietnam. They were an elite group commissioned and decommissioned in Vietnam to run a group of Navy Detachments protecting the PBR boats and Navy Seals operating along the Mekong Delta. SEE MEET OUR VETERANS at www.vzcm.org, click on Navy and SEAWOLVES for the complete story.
I ran into a dozen or more shipmates / friends on my tour in Vietnam. I was an Ordinance Officer at Naval Support Activity in Saigon. It was a desk day job from 0700 – 2100, 24/7.
Most of these shipmate were on various types of river boats and they would come by my desk and invite me to take a “dark night boat ride.” We received new types of weapons like ammo, flares and more to evaluate and reports. I first had to request a boat ride but then I received more invitations than I had new items. My most and best boat rides were on the SEAL Support Teams. They had the fastest boats and best ordinance. I still had my day job to do, but I never turned down an invitation fro that Team. The hunting was always better.”
Did I like Combat? yes I did and was good at it. If I hadn’t been reliable, I don’t think I would have received many invitations. It was a bit more exciting that the desk job making insertions and setting up ambushes.
I learned a lot about myself in Vietnam. I learned I could stand up and risk my life to protect or assist a shipmate / friend under fire and, or, in need of aid or assistance. I never experienced any fear when engaged in fire fights; it was just those times that highlighted my tour…. I did all that I could. In 1975, the Vietnam War was winding down. The North Vietnamese were invading Saigon.
Ships were coming into Guam and they had standing room only. On the north end of Guam they were flying into Anderson AFB. Everyone was getting refugees. In the last two months I was in Guam we had close to 1,100 people aboard ship including crew. We had a guard gate manned by the Marines and you had to show them your ship’s badge to enter.
“When I came back from Vietnam I flew into Travis Air Force Base. The walls of the chain link fence were 18-foot high. They wouldn’t let you leave the terminal with your uniform on. I don’t think we should have gone into Vietnam to begin with. Why did we want to stick our nose into their business? They had protesters on base and were throwing **** and **** on us,” Jim said shaking his head.
Jim spent 25 years, 3 months and 1 day in the Navy and retired as a Lieutenant. On March 1st of 1975 the Navy made me E-9. The best food I ever ate in the Navy was on the Grayback. We got steak five days a week sometimes. Especially when I was mess cook in the Chief’s quarters.
I had about 20-hours of college when I retired so I moved to Tyler and went two years to TJC. I ended up getting two degrees and nine hours in post-grad from U.T. of Tyler. I got degrees in Industrial Technology and Industrial Safety.
Jim had a long and storied military career in the U.S. Navy serving on the LST-1146, served off the waters during the Korean War, witnessed an atomic test explosion on Bikini Island, served on two (2) submarines – USS Grayback (SSG-573) and USS ETHAN ALLEN (SSBN-608), a ballistic missile submarine and served on two (2) submarine Tenders USS Holland (AS-32) and USS Proteus (AS-19) and as an Ordinance officer in Vietnam.
“I didn’t have to go to Vietnam,” said Jim when asked what is active combat like? “In fact, the three years that I pressed aggressively forward to get orders to Vietnam and most likely cost me a promotion or more. I could have used my dolphins to exempt me from Vietnam duty; like hundreds did. I couldn’t live with myself today if I had done that. Our Navy requested Junior Officers for Vietnam duty numerous times and each time I volunteered. My name was always on the list for a second tour.
What do combat veterans have in common? Integrity, trust, loyalty, respect of fellow men; just a few things that pops in my head and much more. But there is a certain something that sets them apart; I can’t explain it. They are willing to risk their life to save others, and other things. It’s more in respect for fellow man that it is bravery, not being afraid. It’s just something they do and would want their shipmates to do, if the situation was reversed.
Jim Harrelson, thank you for your service to our country while serving in the United States Navy. Your courage and 25-years of service will not be forgotten.
NOTE: Meet other Veterans from Van Zandt County by going to the top of www.vzcm webpage and click on MEET OUR VETERANS and click one of the (5) branches of services and the veterans last name first and click to read.
“Every Veteran has a story to tell.” Phil Smith
GOD BLESS OUR VETERANS AND GOD BLESS AMERICA
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