The Beginning of WestPac 1968

Based on the experiences of Melvin Bien and Art Francis

I received a note from Melvin Bien shortly before Christmas 2015. In the note Melvin related the story of a submarine that Yorktown chased on the way to Pearl Harbor in January of 1968, and when one sailor tells a story it reminds every sailor within earshot of something with a connection.

As Melvin relates, the Yorktown left Long Beach for WestPac 68 on the morning of December 28, 1967. I don’t know how many sailors missed the ship’s movement or how they caught up to us, but we had a few chipping paint and laying carpet in the Career Counselor’s Office as “extra military instruction” for returning late from Christmas leave.

But back to the connection with Melvin’s story about the sub chase. By Christmas I had been aboard nearly four months. I had become acquainted with a fellow who came aboard as a nondesignated E-3 and had been sent to the mess deck as a mess cook. This fellow’s name was Gordon, and while Gordon was not a shirker, he was sharp and it was not long before he was the yeoman for the S2M Division.

On evenings after the ship deployed on December 28, 1967, Gordon and I would stand at the rail on the fantail, watch the phosphorescence in the water, and feel the vibrations of the screws as they dug in as we rode westbound over those long Pacific swells. He had a pint of Southern Comfort and we would nurse it a little and cry on each other’s shoulder about what we were leaving behind. About the time the Southern Comfort ran out, Gordon’s entrepreneurial talents became manifest in a grand scheme. A slush fund of sizeable proportion.

As the ship sailed along toward Pearl, the schedule had us in port before the next payday. As a very silent partner, I invested a few bucks and Gordon tapped a few other trusties. He had quite a wad in a few days and “The Gordon Land and Cattle Company” was ready to do a land office business.

I don’t remember the rates, but I seem to recall that they were near logarithmic. A loan of one dollar returned two while a loan of three bucks returned five. Whatever the returns were, investors in the venture stood to clean up.

Just when all was ready for a financial killing, disaster struck. The ship started chasing that submarine Melvin mentioned in his note and by the time the ASW effort was skunked a payday had rolled around. Because of an absence of customers all investors received their deposits back, but because of the technicality of the submarine business, there was no return on the investment and the grand scheme was dissolved.

Melvin completed his note by describing his bridge watch duty as helmsman while the ship maneuvered to maintain contact with the submarine contact. Through regular 1MC announcements, Captain Bennett kept the crew apprised of the hunt. January 1968, how I would like to go back and relive those days so long ago.