by DS2 William Gary Pickens
Finding the USS Chicago CG-11
I reported aboard the USS Chicago CG-11 in early February 1972, after flying across the Pacific in early January. I had about a month of Shore Patrol duty while waiting at Subic Bay, in the Philippines, for a Navy ship that could take me out to the Chicago, which was then on duty as PIRAZ station “Red Crown” in the Gulf of Tonkin. This was the Chicago’s fifth Vietnam deployment. (She had been instrumental in developing the PIRAZ concept on her WestPac cruises in 1966 and 1967-68, according to Wikipedia.)
I finally got a place on a food resupply ship, the USS White Plains AFS-4, where John Pelkey, a friend from NTDS School, was stationed. (He is the young man in the blue shirt, mugging for the camera.) I enjoyed seeing John again, and looking at the computers he worked on. They were programmed for inventory maintenance, similar to a commercial business setup.
There were about a half-dozen other sailors aboard the USS White Plains who were also bound for the USS Chicago. The food ship first resupplied a small task force, consisting of an aircraft carrier and its escort ships. (The series of pictures I posted below shows some of the intricacies of this operation.)
After this, the White Plains resupplied a few single ships, and then it finally reached the Chicago, where our small group got off. We were transferred by helicopter, a Boeing CH-47 Chinook. (This was the only time I have ever been on a helicopter.) There were two bench seats running the length of the helicopter, where we were crammed together, each of us with a bulky sea bag. I had a seat by the window, and it was interesting to see how smoothly the ascent and descent happened. A graceful arc between two ships, simple and elegant–although extremely noisy.
Reporting Aboard the USS Chicago CG-11
Once aboard the USS Chicago, I got out and looked around to get my bearings. A sailor came over, ducked under the spinning helicopter blades, and said, “Watch your head and follow me.” He took us down to the chow hall and told me to wait for someone to come to get me. The chow hall was a maelstrom, filled with sailors carrying boxes from the supply ship, and other sailors coming to meet the new arrivals.
Finally, George Hemmert came and led me away to my new station. I discovered that he was sometimes referred to as “Big George” in our division, because he was our senior Petty Officer on this cruise, the person who was really in charge of things in the ON division that was my new assignment. LTJG Jansen was officially our Division Officer, but Big George was the one who kept tabs on things and gave us our assignments. As far as we were concerned, Big George ran things in our division.
Daily Life Aboard Ship
I was swiftly integrated into everyday life on the USS Chicago. At first I was assigned to all the dirty jobs that sailors have to do when they are new on a ship. I scrubbed the latrines, including some very dirty urinals. When new supplies came aboard, I stood in a long line, called a “loading party,” where we handed boxes from person to person. I collected trash and threw it out over the fantail — the back end of the ship. There was a secluded platform with a small bench near the fantail where, if I was free, I liked to go in the evenings and write letters to my girlfriend/future wife.
The USS Chicago was operating the PIRAZ Station with the call sign Red Crown. This was a radio station guiding U.S. aircraft in the Gulf of Tonkin and North Vietnam. We were assigned rotating 8 hour shifts, working for 8 hours, with 16 hours off. Each week we shifted to a new 8 hour slot, which meant that our workdays shifted forward by 8 hours. It was disorienting. We never knew if it was dark or light outside, and many people never went outdoors.
I tried to go out daily, because I was still a farm boy and I liked to see what the weather and the sea were doing — and sometimes I just needed a break from the dense crowding inside the ship. I found the time changes of our working shifts very tiring. It took me about three days to get used to each new time shift, and after four more days, I had to do it all over again. It was like being jet-lagged all the time. The other men were grumpy and hard to get along with, too.
Changing Work Schedules in NTDS
All of us generally stayed in our work space when we were not sleeping or eating, and we would help each other out if anything came up. So after a couple of months we talked to Big George, and asked if we could switch our work schedule to 12 hour shifts. Each of us would just follow the same 12 hour shift during the time when we were between ports. We worked out the shifts among ourselves, and I chose to work from 6 p.m to 6 a.m., or from 1800 hours to 600 hours in military time. (The rest of the ship was still on the rotating 8 hour shifts, of course.)
USS Chicago Ordered Back to PIRAZ
By the middle of April 1972, the USS Chicago was scheduled to start heading back to our home port in San Diego, so we left the Red Crown PIRAZ station and started towards Subic Bay for repairs and replenishment. The USS Long Beach, CGN-9, was scheduled to come in and take over the Red Crown PIRAZ station.
However, before proceeding to assigned duty at the PIRAZ station, the USS Long Beach was also required to go through some “combat readiness” tests. The ship had failed to meet the standards, we were told, and so the Long Beach was sent to the South China Sea for more training and preparation, and the USS Chicago was ordered back to the PIRAZ station, to take up the Red Crown position again.
We USS Chicago men were all pretty ticked off by this. We had been well on our way to Subic Bay (in the Philippines) when we were ordered to turn around and return to the Gulf of Tonkin. We were not going home after all. I had already written to Marilyn, telling her that we were heading to San Diego, and she had spoken with St. Paul’s church, and had set our wedding day for May 20. Now I had to write again and tell her that this was not happening.
Communicating with Marilyn
There was no good way to communicate back to the states in those days. All I could do was write a letter, which might reach San Diego in two weeks, but now, with the Navy’s change of plans, might take longer. But I fired off a letter anyway and hoped it would make it in time.
We did get another chance to go to Subic Bay several weeks later, when we finally resupplied the ship. I called Marilyn as soon as I could get off the boat and find my way to a pay phone. It was a very short call, because back then international calls were very expensive. Basically, we agreed that I would contact her whenever the ship got to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, because we would be safely out of the WESTPAC area by then, and about a week away from our home port in San Diego.
A Wedding in July!
Marilyn had moved our wedding date from May to June after getting my letter, but she canceled that after my phone call. We were finally married on July 22, 1972, and the wedding invitations were given out by telephone after the USS Chicago was safely in port at San Diego. My parents in eastern Colorado were very busy with harvesting the wheat crop on the farm at that time, and they had to work very hard to finish it up and get to San Diego before our wedding day. My brother Ken stayed home to watch the farm, and my parents and my brothers Rodney and Bruce came to the wedding. Rodney was my best man, and Bruce was an usher.
Of course, at the time that our ship was ordered back to the Gulf of Tonkin, every man on the USS Chicago had homecoming plans and there were several other guys who, like me, were planning to get married. We all felt that this unwelcome change in our orders was completely the fault of the Long Beach for not being ready to do her duty, and causing us to be forced to do it for her.
In retrospect, I now think that the plans for mining Haiphong Harbor were already laid out when we had started for home, and the Navy wanted an experienced ship manning the Red Crown PIRAZ station during the battle. But we didn’t know this at that time.
I should also note that the Long Beach was a fancy new nuclear-powered ship that required fancy new repair materials, whereas the USS Chicago was a modernized World War II ship that could be repaired more easily and more cheaply. This may have been another factor in the decision not to send us home. (Please check out the links below for more background information about the USS Long Beach. Leroy Jones writes specifically about the difficulty of getting repair parts.)
However, at the time, from the ordinary sailor’s point of view, it was the ineptitude of the crew of the Long Beach that had kept the USS Chicago posted to her duty station long after she should have been home. And after this, the men of the USS Chicago were always extremely unhappy whenever they happened to meet the men of the Long Beach.
Trouble in Guam, 1974
The worst trouble between the two ships that I can I remember was during the end of our WestPac deployment in 1974, when the USS Chicago was in port at Guam, and the Long Beach came in and tied up right beside her. The layout of the mooring situation required that the men of the Long Beach walk across the deck of the USS Chicago whenever they went ashore.
Hans Streuli and the Battle of the Bus
A young man called Hans Streuli was a DS2 in our ON division on our 1974 cruise who had the distinct misfortune to be caught up in the animosity between the USS Chicago and the Long Beach. He was a nice guy, very tall, with a great smile. As I remember, he was originally from Liechtenstein. When Hans joined us, the USS Chicago was headed for an extended cruise across the Indian Ocean with several escort ships, a journey designed to diplomatically “show the flag” and counter the growing Soviet presence in the area.
Hans was not a regular member of the crew. His country—or his family—was sending him to learn military service with numerous other countries. Before the stint with us, he had been with an Australian army unit. I once asked him (as a joke) if someday he would be someone important and I would see his picture in the paper, and he said no.
As an aside, when Hans left our ship, he told us that he was going to a private island in the Mediterranean where clothing was optional. All of the sailors really liked that story, whether it was true or not! Marilyn met him once, and she thinks he might have been Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein. Of course sailors have always traditionally told “tall tales” about their past, so I took his stories with a grain of salt. He was really interesting and I enjoyed hanging out with him.
DS2 Hans Streuli had the misfortune of being assigned to Shore Patrol (Military Police) duty on the night when the bad feelings between the Long Beach and the USS Chicago came to the boiling point on Guam, during the last part of our 1974 cruise. (Shore Patrol was a common duty assignment for the men in my division when we came into port. I had done it numerous times myself.) As a temporary member of the Military Police, Hans was given the job of keeping order on the bus that took the sailors from their ships to the Enlisted Men’s Club on the base, and back again. Most of us had done this job with only minor problems, considering that the Enlisted Men’s Club was basically a bar, but Hans was not so lucky.
Sometime around midnight during his Shore Patrol shift, a particularly drunk and rowdy group, composed of about equal numbers of USS Chicago men and Long Beach men, left the Enlisted Men’s Club. When they got on the bus, a big fight quickly broke out. Since Hans was currently acting as a Military Policeman (though he was armed only with a baton), it was his duty to keep order. He first tried to break up the fight, and then he radioed for reinforcements from the base Shore Patrol. However, when the base Shore Patrol came and saw what was happening, they decided to just hold the doors shut and let the combatants duke it out. They arrested everyone after it was all over.
Poor Hans came back to the ship with two black eyes, and he was covered with cuts and bruises. The medics bandaged him in several places. He looked terrible for weeks. He had not even been aboard the USS Chicago when (from the ordinary sailor’s point of view) the inept crew of the Long Beach had forced us to extend our assignment in the Gulf of Tonkin, which had gotten us into two extra-intense months of fighting. I felt so very sorry for him.
From the ordinary sailor’s point of view, we men of the USS Chicago had worked hard and had done our time, but the military unreadiness of the Long Beach had forced us to stay at our duty station long after we should have been home. And that is why the crew of the USS Chicago did not get along with the crew of the USS Long Beach, at least during my time in the U.S. Navy.
Blog about the USS Long Beach CGN-9, from Master Chief Douglas Haley. Has interesting stories about sleuthing for repair parts.
Official description of the USS Long Beach CGN-9.
Stories from Leroy Jones, the officer in charge of maintaining the radars (and obtaining repair parts) on the USS Long Beach CGN-9 :
Overview of U.S. naval mining strategies during the Vietnam War, written by CPO Michael Gonzales, Jr. :
Webpage about Le Levant, Europe’s only nudist island :
Wikipedia article about Hans-Adam II, Prince of Liechtenstein, including a picture of him in 1974, which Marilyn thinks looks similar to the man in the picture in the USS Chicago’s cruise ship, but with longer hair, a better tan, and no beard. (Whoever he was, it took a lot of connections to post a foreign sailor on our ship.)
Wikipedia article explaining Shore Patrol
Wikipedia article about the history of the USS Chicago CG-11. (I was on the fifth Vietnam deployment and the first post-Vietnam Cruise.)
Here is a story of my experience working with the shore patrol while station on the USS Chicago.