BUCHANAN was stationed on the DMZ for last half of March 1972
firing H and I ( Harassment and Interdiction). Reporters came aboard for
few days and wrote article on what we were doing. problem was article was
not published until month later ( on April 17, 1972 the same day we were
hit). By that time we had been in heavy combat for several weeks and the
editor appears to have attempted to update with leading paragraph.
Many members of crew was not happy with parts that we were
just setting at sea bored. I remember we had hard time keeping Jim Fagan
from swimming to Da Nang and dragging the reporter back aboard to show him
just how bored we really were.
When we went to Da Nang to repair Battle Damage, reporters
were allowed on board with cameras. The crew was confined to inside ship
and 6 officers and chiefs escorted reporters outside. The reports that my
family saw on TV said we were in Subic Bay undergoing repairs ( we were
actually in Da Nang). My family was relieved that we were out of the combat
zone and were quite surprised when my letters home said otherwise.
FROM TIME MAGAZINE APRIL 17,
The Sea War: Barrages and Boredom
During the first stages of the North Vietnamese offensive, gunfire
from the U.S. destroyers that patrol the Tonkin Gulf succeeded in turning
back 300 Communist troops from an attempted crossing of the Dong Ha River.
Shortly before the Navy became engaged in the battle for Quang Tri province.
TIME'S Saigon Bureau Chief, Stanley Cloud, was a guest aboard one of those
destroyers. There he was able to observe a vital but underreported U.S.
contribution to the war:
The U.S.S BUCHANAN, a guided missile destroyer, rolls gently in
the waters of the Tonkin Gulf, 5,000 yards offshore of the demilitarized
Zone. Overhead, a full moon slips in and out of wispy tangles of cloud.
Crew members who are not needed to fire the guns or run the ship are down
in the mess deck watching Jane Fonda in BARBARELLA.
One of the BUCHANAN'S two automatic five-inch guns, with a maximum
range of twelve miles, is trained to starboard. A voice rasps over the ships
loudspeaker: "Stand by. Mount 52. Two salvos." Five seconds later,
the gun shreds the night. A pale orange flame shoots from the muzzle, and
a 70-lb. shell whistles through the air en route to a target more than three
miles inland from the Vietnamese coastline.
In the pilot house, the officer of the deck watches the flight of the projectile
on the radar. Then a second round is fired "Bore's clear," comes
the voice on the loudspeaker. "Next target is Number 17." So it
goes until 5:30 the next morning, when 200 rounds of the BUCHANAN'S
"H and I" (harassment and interdiction) fire will have been spent
on 25 targets inside the DMZ. Another night in the U.S. Navy's long war
off the coast of Viet Nam has ended.
U.S. Navy destroyers first began patrolling the Tonkin Gulf in 1961, and
providing gunfire support for troop on the ground in 1965. Largely because
the small North Vietnamese Navy has steered clear of combat, the naval war
has been consistently overshadowed by American fighting on the ground and
in the air. The major exception occurred in August 1964, when two American
destroyers, the MADDOX and the TURNER JOY, reported that they
had been attacked in the gulf by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. the incident,
whose authenticity is still in doubt, led directly to passage by Congress
of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which Lyndon Johnson used as authority
for massive U.S. intervention in the Viet Nam War.
Last week, for the first time in two years, the ships that have been
daily pounding the coast drew return fire from shore-based Communist artillery.
One round hit the U.S.S. LLOYD THOMAS, inflicting minor damage and
injuring three crewmen.
SAILORS IN GUNFIRE CONTROL ROOM ON U.S.S. BUCHANAN
BUCHANAN FIRES AT TARGETS NEAR DMZ
Normally, though, war aboard the BUCHANAN and other destroyers is
an impersonal war. The chief ingredients are radarscopes, computers, control
panels, microswitches and radios - plus movies in wide-screen color. the
only time the ammunition is touched by human hands is when it is loaded
into the automatic hoist. Deep in the bowels of the ship. Fire Controlman
Second Class Jim Fagan of Miami holds the portable trigger in his hand,
nonchalantly squeezing the lever when he gets the signal over his headphones.
"I don't feel like I'm part of this war" says one sailor. "I
never see what we're shooting at, or whether it does any good."
In the style of Admiral Zumwalt's "New Navy," officers and enlisted
men alike sport beards, waxed mustaches and hair long enough to have them
put one report three years ago. The chief disciplinary problems are drug
abuse and racial tension, though in scope they barely match similar problems
suffered in the Army. Boredom is pervasive. As one BUCHANAN sailor
puts it: "I sometimes go topside and stand at the rail, watching the
moon on the water. i just stand there for hours like some damn U.S.O. ad."
It bothers many of the sailors that they are fighting a passive, unseen
enemy. "We've been shooting at the same place for seven years."
says one radarman. "By Now, the Viet Cong must have the area roped
off and posted with signs that say," Keep out, the ship is firing."
Still unlike the ground units in South Viet Nam, the Navy is not setting
an immediate course for home. "When they talk about the U.S. withdrawing
from Viet Nam, "says a chief petty officer, "they don't count
the Navy, because we're not in the country. I figure we'll be staying around