MEET OUR VETERANS:
U.S. Navy – Vietnam (1969-1971)
Raymond Smith was born in Irving, Texas on November 21st of 1950. He had two brothers named Robert and Ronnie and a sister named Rita. Robert served in the Seabees in the early 60’s and was in for ten years.
His dad was named Ellis and his mother Edna. His dad served in the Marine Corps in both WWII and Korea. “He wouldn’t talk about his military service at all,” said Raymond. “He gave me a book one time and it talked a lot about why he didn’t discuss his time in. He had been shot in the back and I am sure he suffered from “shell shock.” He just never discussed it with me.”
“Until I was 3 years old we lived where Texas Stadium was torn down. I went to Irving High School and played some football. I played as a guard on the offensive side of the ball for about two years. I ended up quitting school and went into the Navy.”
“I volunteered for the Navy when I was 18 years old. All of the things that were going on in Vietnam, I didn’t want to go into the Marine Corp. I really wanted to go into the Navy, I like the water and I like boats. I water skied and fished up until a few years ago. My education was part of the reason. Without a High School diploma all branches of the military wouldn’t take you. My dad went to a Navy League out of an airbase in Grand Prairie and he helped me get into the Navy. I took a test and made a high score and they took me even though I did not have a High School diploma. Later I went a few months to Tyler Junior College and took Air Conditioning and Refrigeration,” said Raymond. I enlisted on June 25th 1969.
“I went to boot camp in San Diego, California. It wasn’t the first time I left Texas. My family did a lot of travelling when I was young like New York and the Grand Canyon in Colorado and all over the state. We did a lot of camping out in those days. We had an old 56 Nash Rambler and slept in the back. Up until about five years ago we had a diesel camper,” Raymond recalled.
“Boot camp was great. I spent eight weeks there. I remember we took a lot of smoke breaks and letter writing breaks. We would go out and watch the Marines hump it around the course. We would laugh and holler at them. I was a Boatswain mate in the Navy. My job was to lower and raise the anchor on the ship. Sometimes we would load and unload on the gun deck as well.
From boot camp I went straight to the Vancouver (LPD-2). She was based in San Diego. We had two days of R&R and then we headed to Vietnam. It was about a 14-day trip.”
1969 (Aboard the LPD-2)
That employment lasted until early in February 1969 when she began the first portion of her regular overhaul at San Francisco. That phase of the task was completed in mid-April and, after a brief return to San Diego, the ship entered the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for drydocking. The refurbishing was finished near the end of May, and Vancouver returned to San Diego on 28 February. Following two months of inspections and refresher training, the ship loaded vehicles and cargo at San Diego and got underway for the Western Pacific on 1 August. She made a three-day stop at Pearl Harbor from 8 to 11 August; then resumed her voyage and arrived at Okinawa on 21 August. After unloading cargo at Buckner Bay, she got underway for Vietnam on 24 August. Upon arriving at Tau My, South Vietnam on 27 August, Vancouver unloaded cargo there and at Da Nang before departing Vietnam that same day.
She arrived off Da Nang two days later and entered the harbor on 10 September to unload more cargo. On 12 September, she and her group participated in Operation Defiant Stand by staging an amphibious operations about ten miles south of the actual landing beaches to draw off defenders while ARG Alfa stormed ashore. The task group completed its deception early that morning and headed back out to sea to steam around until needed again. That routine, punctuated by brief visits to Da Nang and a series of amphibious and other exercises, occupied her until late October.
On 20 October, Vancouver began a new phase in her participation in the Vietnam War. Operation Defiant Stand had been the last amphibious operation of the war. On the heels of President Nixon’s announcement of the staged withdrawal of large numbers of American troops from the war, the amphibious ready group began carrying out the withdrawal. On 20 October, Vancouver moved from Da Nang to Cửa Việt Base and began loading elements of BLT 1/4. She completed Operation Keystone Cardinal on 22 October and set course for Okinawa the following day. She disembarked the Marines at Okinawa on 25 and 26 October but remained at the island for liberty until 2 November. After embarking BLT 1/9, she headed for Subic Bay where she disembarked the marines on 4 November.
Following a week of repairs at Subic Bay, she reembarked BLT 1/9 on 12 November, conducted an amphibious assault exercise on 13 November, and got underway for Vietnam on 14 November. The new line period, unlike those before, consisted entirely of steaming well off the coast outside the territorial waters of Vietnam in order that the amphibious ready group’s presence not be construed as a violation of President Nixon’s troop reduction in Vietnam. She continued steaming in the new operating area until 23 November at which time she retired toward the Philippines. She entered Subic Bay on 27 November. Another practice landing in the Philippines followed on 1 December and Vancouver repaired storm damage sustained during the transit from Vietnam to the Philippines.
1970 to 1971 ( aboard LSD-2 Vancouver ).
On 6 December, the ship once more got underway for the coast of Vietnam. She arrived off Da Nang on 9 December; but, four days later, she left the combat zone for visits to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Okinawa. Vancouver returned to the Vietnamese coast on 31 December 1969. 1 January 1970, however, brought her departure from the area on her way back to the Philippines. She entered Subic Bay on 11 January and remained in the Philippines until 20 January when she started a round-trip voyage to Okinawa. The ship returned to Subic Bay on 27 January and remained in the area until 4 February when she headed for Taiwan. After a patrol of the Taiwan Strait, she entered port at Kaohsiung, Taiwan, for a four-day visit. She returned to Subic Bay on 21 February and began turnover operations with her relief ship Denver. On 4 March, she departed Subic Bay for Okinawa where she delivered cargo on 6 March. Continuing her voyage on 7 March, she stopped at Da Nang on 11 March, unloaded cargo, and headed back to Okinawa where she refueled on 14 March before continuing on toward the United States.
Vancouver arrived in Del Mar California on 27 March and, the following day, moved to the San Diego Naval Station for drydocking and repairs. Repairs were completed early in June, and the ship departed San Diego on 10 June with United States Naval Academy midshipmen embarked for their summer cruise. She arrived in Yokosuka on 24 June and departed again on 29 June. The ship visited [Hong Kong between 4 and 8 July and stopped at Da Nang on 9 and 10 July to load cargo bound for the United States. On the way back home, she stopped at Pearl Harbor from 24 to 27 July and then reentered San Diego on 1 August. Local operations out of San Diego, including LVT training and amphibious refresher training, occupied the ship’s time through the end of the year and for the first three months of 1971.
On 30 March, Vancouver put to sea to return to the Western Pacific. She made a two-day stop at Pearl Harbor at the end of the first week in April and arrived in Subic Bay on 19 April.
On 25 September, she embarked upon a roundtrip voyage to Okinawa and returned to Subic Bay on 9 October. On 14 October, Vancouver set out on her voyage back to the United States, stopping in route at Okinawa and Pearl Harbor before arriving back in San Diego on 5 November 1971.
“We were a transport ship and we hauled Marines in and out of Vietnam. We carried all of their supplies and everything they needed. We could carry a thousand Marines in the lower deck. We would sit about a mile and a half off shore in the harbor where we did the loading and unloading. We would take the Marines and their equipment into Da Nang. We offloaded both large equipment like tanks and Deuce and a 1/2s and a lot of pallets full of beer. There were about 50 cases of beer per pallet. Pearl and Black Label were the most common beers we shipped to the Marines.
In the later part of 69 we went thru a typhoon (A hurricane in the Pacific ).
The Vancouver is a flat-bottomed ship. It doesn’t do well in large ocean swells. It had a balancer on her and it kind of helped. The ship was dipping plumb under the water, splashing up over our heads.
The waves were fifty foot or higher. I was on watch and I had myself tied in. It was more survival than it was watching. First couple of days I was aboard ship I was really sick. I couldn’t eat nothing but crackers and they wouldn’t stay down. During the Typhoon, however, it didn’t seem to bother me. Just about everybody on board was sick. We had about 600 men aboard the Vancouver,” Raymond said.
“We did have a lot of R&R in places like Hawaii, Taiwan, Okinawa and in the Philippines. We would spend about a week in Vietnam, unload and move to another port. We would go to Hawaii, Danang and then to the Philippines and back to Danang. I did go on land in Vietnam once but it was just for a haircut. I left the fighting to the Marines. We made about three trips into the Harbor. A marine ship was mined once while we were in the Harbor and was sunk. Gun boats would always protect the Harbor. They did get the diver who planted the mine. These were the same gun boats that would come by the ship and had a skier behind it. A good way to blow off some pressure in a war zone.
Our ship was on a “need to know” status. A lot of times I did not know where we were docked and a lot of times I didn’t want to know,” said Raymond.
“There was a place on Grandy Island in Subic Bay. It was just a short boat ride over to the Philippines. It is just one big ole bar that was open 24 hours a day. You could go skin diving out in the Bay. There were a lot of girls there and not enough and there were always fights breaking out,” he laughed. “We ran liberty posts day and night. We usually stayed there for about two weeks. The Philippines had lot of bars but I liked to take a ride up into the private islands and watch a baseball games. I got to go to Manilla while I was there.
I didn’t do much fishing in shore but a couple of friends and I did catch Hammerhead shark on board ship. It weighed 65 pounds. It took five of us to get it in. We got it on board, processed it and cooked the fish. The shark tasted good but I much rather have had a hamburger,” smiled Raymond.
“Captain Brown had worked up thru the ranks and was a great skipper. He told us we were going to have a fun time and it wasn’t going to be all work,” said Raymond.
There was a memo sent out to the crew of the USS Vancouver and Raymond kept it all these years. It reads:
TIME TO SMILE
From: The Skipper
To: All Hands
SUBJ: Command Policy on Special Liberty
There are 365 days in a year. The average sailor takes 30 days annual leave per year, leaving 335 days. There are 104 Saturdays and Sundays which are non-working days, leaving 231 days. Of these, 8 are legal holidays. The average Sailor spends one hour and fifteen minutes drinking coffee which is approximately 19 days per year, leaving 204 days. He spends ten days a year on emergency leave. He also sleeps on the average of 8 hours a day or 122 days a year, leaving 77 days. Of these he averages 15 hours a week, or 33 days on authorized liberty during working days, leaving 44 days. Of this he spends 2 hours and 45 minutes per day eating, or 43 days. This leaves only 1 day per year for working and I’ll be damned if I’ll give ANYONE that day off !!!
We continue our Interview:
“I met a friend named “Weights” who was a mess cook for the officers. Another friend was Keith Smith from San Francisco. We called him “Little Smith” and they called me “Big Smith.”
“I loved the experience of being on the Vancouver. I played a lot of basketball in the “well deck” of the ship and ran track around the top deck. We had “swim call” now and then where they lowered the back end of the ship and we would fill it up with water and go swimming. I had mess deck duty for a while, about a week. I liked that because the cooks always made a nice meal and we got to eat before everyone else. A lot of good steaks and fieta salads. We even played football on the deck until we lost the ball over the side of the ship,” he laughed.
“I did get to shoot the 50-caliber machine gun on the ship once. Our ship hit a whale and did some damage to the front of it. We had to turn around the shoot it to get it out of its misery.
One of our life boats got torn off during the typhoon. It was next to the ship. It took the 50 cal to sink it, but we did. We tried to retrieve it but the water was too rough.
I did a lot of painting on the side of the ship. My job was to maintain the front quarter of the ship. We had to take care of the maintenance of the anchor and the anchor chain. The chain lengths were 80 pounds each. The anchor weighed about 16,000 pounds. We had to chip out the rust and repaint it Navy gray. We had to hang out the side of a ship hanging from a chair with a rope tied over from the top. There were a couple of guys who came to the end of the rope and didn’t realize it and took a dip,” he laughed.
“I served 20 months active duty in the Navy and it was all on the Vancouver. I signed up for two years but when we got back to San Diego we were getting ready for another cruise and I would have to re-enlist for another six months or be discharged. They would not give me any more rank than what I was so I decided to get out. I served another 28 months on in-active reserve. I did learn to say “yes sir” and “no sir” in the military. I recommend everyone to get their education. I was fortunate to not have an education but to make something out of life. I made it thru the military.
COMING BACK TO VAN ZANDT COUNTY
Raymond worked for the State of Texas for forty years.
I am retired today and am dealing with Parkinson’s. I got that from the exposure to Agent Orange while serving off the shores of Vietnam. I never knew I was exposed to the defoliant until I was tested. They told me I couldn’t get it because I was aboard a ship out to sea. When the planes flew over and spread “that stuff” it spread over several miles. I am a disabled vet with high blood pressure and suffer from diabetes.
NOTE: Raymond took a break from our interview at this point when he could only whisper and grabbed some water.
“I have been disabled for the last 10-15 years,” said Raymond struggling to talk and coughing. We took another break.
“I was diagnosed in 2009,” said Raymond after calling his wife on the phone. “She is a history book,” laughed Raymond.
“I could never understand why we were there. It was where our leaders thought we needed to be. I don’t regret what I did and how it went. If I had to do it over again, I would do it right now,” Raymond said emphatically.
Raymond proudly showed me with pride of all his family pictures of military on his wall. “My families military history goes back to the Civil War,” said Raymond pointing at a picture on his bedroom wall. “My mother was a genealogy nut. She travelled all over the United States with my father. They had it loaded with computers and printers when they travelled. She has copies of our history going back to the 1600’s.”
There is a picture on the wall of a German sub with his grandfather, Robert Reeves, standing on the deck with the number UB88 on the side. (That picture is located in the WW1 display case at the Veterans Memorial Museum in Canton, Texas).
“My mother gave me that picture a couple of years ago and told me about it. She told me who it was and put the name on the back of the picture. It was her father, so I am sure she knew. He worked for the railroad when he got out of the service.
SM UB-88 WW1 German Submarine
UB-88 was surrendered to the United States on 26 November 1918 in accordance with the requirements of the Armistice with Germany. She was refurbished and did an exhibition tour in 1919 from New York, down the East Coast, and up the Mississippi River before passing through the Panama Canal and touring the West Coast as far north as Seattle, Washington.
After having all useful parts and salvage stripped from her, she was sunk as a target on 3 January 1921 in waters off Los Angeles County, California. The propellers were saved and placed on display in the city of San Pedro but were stolen in 1923 by metal thieves and were never recovered.
The wreck of the vessel was found in July 2003 using publicly available sonar data from the Pacific Seafloor Mapping project. She sits upright approximately 7.5 miles (12 km) south of the entrance to the Port of Los Angeles at a depth of 190 feet (58 m). The outer hull has corroded revealing the inner pressure hull. Divers have entered the wreck and found the interior to be almost completely bare. As she was given a special commission to the United States Navy, she is protected by the Sunken Military Craft Act.
AFTER THE MILITARY
Raymond moved back to Irving when he left the Navy. He wanted to make sure his two kids grew up in a country school so he and his newly married wife moved to Van Zandt County. “I worked for the state of Texas when I moved to Canton,” he said. “I worked on a “roader mill,” which ground up the old road and loaded it into the back of a truck. We were recycling and using it a lot for washout areas. I worked mostly in Smith, Wood, Henderson and Van Zandt County. I spent forty years working for the state and then retired. It was a good job and had some good bosses and supervisors. Of the two though, I would rather be back on the ship,” he laughed. “I kind of missed those days in the Navy. I did work on repairing sewing machines and sold some tools for a friend on First Monday Trade Days. The Parkinson’s makes it hard where I can hardly do anything. I have been retired for about ten years now and it has been nice spending some time with my wife,” he smiled.
I really have no regrets, I have had a pretty good life. The military is taking good care of me. I receive 100% benefits with a 90% disability he said pointing down to his stomach. I can’t eat it unless I can drink it thru a tube. I wish I didn’t have to deal with this. I really want to pray for our veterans. A lot of them come home without arms and legs. Just pray for them,” he said.
Raymond, thank you for your service to our country while serving in the United States Navy. Your courage and bravery 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
(ALL photos on this Facebook page are ©2020, Phil Smith and Van Zandt County Veterans Memorial. NO unauthorized use without permission) All Rights Reserved.