Personal accounts of the 1968 action

 


We were shot at alot on Sea Dragon Operations. The North Vietnamese had accurate azimuth but lousy ranging capability. I was told but never saw that they would place stakes in the water off-shore as an aid in ranging their guns. Most often what would happen was their rounds would go over you, then under, and then you better be on your way. We just managed to run into one of the 'over' rounds with the tallest thing on the ship. My General Quarters assignment was at the vertical plotting (VP) board in the 'Air Picture'. (I spent alot of time standing in the dark writing backwards.) I remember the sound of the round exploding overhead and the shrapnel raining down on the Signal Bridge deck above me. The ship was already at flank speed, as was normal for a Sea Dragon run, and turned to get out of range as quickly as possible while the rear 5"-54 fired at it's maximum rate. It sounded like the gunners were going to empty the magazine at the shore line. I remember thinking that I had never heard so many rounds fired from that gun without it breaking down.

My least favorite job on ship was painting the mast; however, it did give me a good excuse to climb up and checkout the damage once we arrived in Subic. You can see the hole in the pictures I'm sending. The deck around the antenna was heavily perforated and was replaced. On the Signal Bridge I recall seeing a few gouges in the aluminum superstructure and in the railing around the deck. 'Someone' said that one crewman was cut on the hand by a piece of shrapnel. I never saw or heard who it was or, if it actually happened. Our taste of 'Combat Action' was, thankfully, not fatal to anyone. Later everyone on ship was presented with a Combat Action ribbon. (Oddly enough my DD-214 makes no mention of it.)

Steve Stronach RD3

 


My GQ Station was the radar counsel for missile radar #3. I can remember a lot of stuff about the day we took that hit just don't ask me what day it was). I have some real memories of listening to the TDT Operator yelling into the sound power phones about all the guns he could see shooting at us and yes the sound of the shrapnel bouncing off the roof of the radar room.
When we were doing the Navel Gun Fire Support thing I was in Mount 51. Great place to stick an FT inside a gun mount.

I have an FT friend on the USS Blue. The Blue was the DD that was with us. From his view point the Buchanan disappeared in a cloud of brown smoke. When we came out of the smoke he told me that seeing the bow come out with that big bow wake was a real pretty sight. Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder.

Ken George FTM 1

 


In May of 1968 we were sent in to destroy a "WBLIC" repair facility in North Vietnam. "WBLIC" stood for Water Borne Logistic Craft (barges mostly) that carried supplies south and were moved by Tug's.

Before going in toward the target, They split the lookout crew in half. One half was put in the barbet below the Mk 68 Gun Fire Control Director. This was a precautionary measure, and this was the only mission they ever did that, so don't tell me we did not expect counter battery. The officers knew what was coming.

The layout in front of us was a coastal plain to the left with distant hills. Sand dunes at the edge of the coastal plain where it met the water. Just to the south of our position, was the entrance to a river which went north behind the sand dunes. North of us was a peninsula with a high hill on it. I can only assume that the river opened up into a basin where the repair facility was, behind the hills on that peninsula. We were told that we were going to use Super-Elevation mode to lob the shells up and over the hill to hit the boat yard.

I was the port TDT operator (on the side towards the beach). I could see everything that was going on and was involved in a lot of it. As we went in at about a 45 degree angle to the sandy plains on the left, the MK68 GFC director was given a reference point to keep on. This point was further out on the shore of the peninsula ahead of us. By referencing the range and bearing from the reference point to us, we knew where we were, Exactly to the foot. And since the target area was fixed in reference to the reference point, the fire control solution could be made. I believe MT51 fired 3 or 4 rounds in shore bombardment mode using super-elevation mode, not sure and really wasn't paying much attention to it.

What I was paying attention to was a shack located 2/3 of the way up the hillside. After just finishing some of the most intense school (32 weeks "A" school, 26 weeks "C" school). for radar and electromagnetic stuff like antennas and wave guide, I recognized this shack had a lot of antennas on it. My guess was a spotter shack. The only question was what was he spotting for, just an air raid warning, or gun fire control? I got Weapons control on the circuit and reported my findings about the shacks presence and the communications antennas brisling from it. Weapons Control (Lt. Feodor?) told me to assign MT 51, I flipped the switch on the MK79 Control Unit which connected MT51 to my TDT. Weapons Control asked if they saw the target and they respond positively. They were instructed to go into local and take the shack under fire. As this occurred, the ship turned about 45 degrees to put us parallel with the beach, head towards the land mass ahead of us at about 5 knots. This allowed MT52 to come around and fire toward the boat yard. I don't believe she got any rounds off that I can remember, before MT51 started firing. I was at my binoculars watching the fall of shot around the shack, never saw it get hit. About the time the 3rd or 4th round hit around the shack, all hell must have broken loose. I heard someone say counter-battery and took my eyes away from the TDT. Then I saw a splash off the Starboard bow (between us and open water). Then the mast above me was hit, and the shrapnel of the 3" projectile and the antenna came raining down on us. You could see the pieces bouncing off your helmet and flack jacket. About that time one of the lookouts broke out of MK68 Director barbet and got a cut across the palm of his hand from debris from the an/sps37 radar antenna (later the Doctor came up and said it was not "serious" enough to report for a Purple Heart).

About that time I got back on the TDT, swung it around toward the beach and started looking for the counter-battery flashes. At the same time the ship kicked it in the ass and turned away from the land to head out to open sea. The ship was zig-zagging allot. as we went out I heard people yelling my name and looked up from my binoculars. Everyone but me had taken cover behind the director barbet at the urging of ENS. Lund (think that was his name). When I realized I was the only one standing out in the open and I was being ordered to take cover, I started to move towards them. Never took my phones off, and when the cord snapped at me when I reached the end of it's length, it also snapped me back to reality. The drill for counter-battery was not to hide behind the barbet, but to find the flashes and kill the counter-battery. I called for FTM3 Stone to re-man his TDT and look on his side for the flashes, With the two of us on station, the Lookouts re-manned their station and they found the counter-battery. It was found by the Starboard side, not my side. MT52 where, Cage was the mount captain (called him that because he was from Louisiana), started firing in local at rapid continuous. He didn't stop firing until the shells were falling in the water off the beach as we had run out of gun range of the target.

As for FTM3/2 Ken George's report of TDT operator yelling about the guns shooting at us, that had to be Stone on the Starboard side. We were on different phone circuits and I never saw a flash. As the ship turned out to sea and did it's Zigzag routine, the superstructure was between me and the guns, I never saw them.

FTM3 Michael J. Heffernan Port TDT Operator May 1968


Addendum to the above remarks and comments by Michael Heffernan FCC (ret). writen on 6/4/2009

Since my writing of the comments above I feel it necessary to make some statements about some of the other statements I have read here and connect them with the reality of hindsight. When we went in on this mission Ens. Lumm split the AA station crew (the lookouts/aircraft spotters/Counter battery spotters) and told one half of them to get into the lower section of the MK 68 Gun Fire Director barbet, presumably for protection., although no explanation for this action was given. We had gone in on several Sea Dragon missions into North Vietnam in the past and they never took this precaution in the past. They were expecting to be fired upon! But that was not widely disseminated. Who knew is unknown, but precautions were taken as if they either knew or suspected we would be fired upon. They never did this again on any other mission after this.

I have received e-mail from three other people telling me that my rendition of events is the most accurate they have heard. One of these was an EW who said prior to us getting shot at that the EW shack was able to identify that we were lit up by at least 5 radar guided guns. I can not confirm this as I am not an EW nor was I in the EW shack or on that Sound powered phone circuit.

As for Kenneth George's assertion that the USS Blue was with us.....yes many times did she ride cover for us keeping their heads down while we attacked the main target, but not on this mission. I assure you we were absolutely alone on this mission. There were no other ships in the area or doing suppression fire. After they destroyed our primary long range air search radar (the SPS 37) we moved out to sea where we rendezvoused very shortly with a DLG ( don't remember for sure if it was the Double ender form North SAR) whose presence I suspect would have been to give us some cover from unfriendly aircraft until we finished assessing our damage and capabilities before we headed south and out of North Vietnam's waters to the relative safety of South Vietnam.

If anyone would like to see what it looked like from my point of view, here is a video of the McCormick getting shot at as we did. This video shows Counter battery of about 250 rounds taken from the Newport News which stated the NVA batteries seemed to be concentrating their fire on the McCormick  (View Video)

Another Counter Battery Event can be viewed here!


Last but not least Does anyone know Bayless........Doc Harmon says he should have gotten the purple heart and we would all like to see him get the medal he deserves. Read my correspondence below:

DocÖ.Turns out someone recognized his picture from the link I gave and identified him as Bayless. Donít know who started this, but unless someone knows where he is or can locate him, our discussions are for naught.

Michael


From: Mike harmon [mailto:kfl@centurytel.net]
Sent: Tuesday, November 22, 2005 12:25 PM
To: Michael@heffcomm.net
Subject: RE: Battle casualty

Baylor does deserve the P.H. At the time I treated him, I was aware of only two individuals that had The P.H., that was HMC Slover(sic) and myself, HM2 Harmon. My recommendation for eligibility was wounded, not the severity of the wound( see awards manual). If I can help, I will /can send  a WIMC.

Regards;

Mike Harmon   


From: Michael Heffernan [mailto:Michael@heffcomm.net]
Sent: Sunday, November 20, 2005 4:01 PM
To: kfl@centurytel.net
Subject: Battle casualty

Gentlemen (and Sailors),

I was on the signal bridge when ENS Lumm or Lund (whatever) split the lookout crew and put half inside the barbet below the MK 68 Gun Directory. When the Shells started coming SN Bay.. (could have Baylor or something like that) came out of the barbet. As he did he received a gash on the palm of his hand (if I remember correctly) or at least that is where the blood was. The squadron doctor went up to the signal bridge after the action and checked his hand, went back over to the wing of left side and looked down at Capt Congdon who was on the bridge wing waiting for a casualty report. The squadron doctor then called down that it was "not serious enough for a Purple Heart". I thought that was wrong. He was wounded in action, and I didn't care if the blood was from un-dogging the hatch or shrapnel. He stated immediately after the incident that he put his hand up to shield his face coming out of the hatch to the barbet when we took the hit. I, myself, had shrapnel from the projectile and antenna it hit raining down on my battle helmet and flack jacket about the time he got wounded. But I was not even scratched. Everything hit the helmet (which was rather large as sound powered phones had to fit under it) or the flack jacket.

So the recommendation not to award the Purple Heart was from the squadron doctor to the CO. The CO would have awarded one if not for the doctor's recommendation that it was not serious enough.

 Michael Heffernan FCC (USNR-R Retired) 

Back to Buchanan Home Page