USS Oriskany

D

uring my 30 day leave at home I visited Jeff Warhol, who was now out of the Navy and his fiance in Gardena and went to a party in my home town given by a friend that had a cousin stationed aboard the Oriskany. I didn't know it at the time but it was at this party I met Kim, the girl who would someday become my wife. After my leave was up, my parents drove me to San Diego where I was to report aboard the USS Oriskany for duty in the Dental Dept.

This was taken at my parents when I came home from Hawaii

I caught a water taxi to North Island where the Oriskany was tied up and reported to the OOD after I rendered a salute to the colors and requested permission to come aboard (I had to think back to what I learned at boot camp). He called the Dental Dept for one of the DT's to come up and get me. I was surprised when I saw Ernie Trotter appear. He was a classmate of mine at the Class "A" Dental Tech School. From him, I found out that another fellow classmate, Richard Synesael was also aboard. Ernie led me down to the Dental Dept and also showed me where I would be bunking. I arrived on a Sunday and Ernie had the duty. Everyone else was on the beach so I didn't meet anyone else until the following day. One of the first things that struck me when I went below from the hanger deck was the smells and noises. The smells were a combination of paint, av gas, and black oil and there was a constant hum and vibration of machinery. (Many years later when I visited the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, those smells were there to some degree and it brought back a flood of memories.)

Like the Dental Clinic in Hawaii, there were three dentists aboard Oriskany. There was Dr. Ken Fortman, Dr. Jim Killinger and Dr. Hodgson, the senior dentist. There was also a small prosthetic lab for making crowns and bridges and doing repairs.

Dr. Hodgson
Picture from the 1965 cruise book
Dr. Fortman & Ernie Trotter
Picture from the 1965 cruise book
Dr. Killinger & I
 This is a very nice shot of my right ear

The next morning, Monday, I met the rest of the dental techs and doctors. There were 7 dental techs aboard including myself and I discovered I was the 3rd ranking enlisted man in the dept. Rank didn't mean much when I was stationed in Hawaii but aboard ship things were much more military. Besides myself, there was chief Pipkin, Misa, a 2nd class who worked in the prosthetic lab and 4 other guys who were all DN's; Ernie Trotter, J.J Brodie, Richard Synesael and Tom Whisler.

The Dental Dept for the 1966 Far East Cruise

 
I was saddened to learn on Dec 9, 2015 that Cmdr Gerald Hodgson departed this life at the age of 98. I've included his obituary here for anyone that would like to read it.

The image below shows a plan view of the dental dept. Where the ladder is (in orange) leading down to the dental dept. is where the 'waiting room' was. What the drawing shows as dental operating room #1 was actually the office where chief Pipkin worked and where patients were handled and records kept. Operating room #2 is where Cdr Hodgson and Tom worked, operating room #3 is where Dr. Killinger and I worked and #4 is where Dr. Fortman and Ernie worked. Misa and Richard worked in the prosthetic lab and J.J. worked for chief Pipkin.

The Dental Dept. on the 3rd deck, port side of the ship

It would be several weeks before the ship made it's next deployment to the Western Pacific (WestPac) and we went out to sea quite a few times doing Carrier Qualifications in the meantime. This gave me some time to learn my way around the ship or at least to know where the head, showers and the mess decks were. I quickly learned that one of the advantages of being a dental tech aboard meant that we had head of the line privileges at the mess deck. We also had what they called 'watch standers' liberty cards. For most of the crew, while in port the ship was on a 4 section duty rotation. For those not on duty, they could go on liberty but they would otherwise have to turn in their liberty card.. We were able to keep our liberty cards all the time. This meant we could leave the ship anytime we wanted to.

One bonus of being aboard the Oriskany I discovered quickly was the price of cigarettes. A carton of cigarettes was going for about $3.50 back in 1966 but at a Navy Commissary, they sold for about $2.00 a carton. Aboard ship, that same carton went for $1.10 once the ship was beyond the three mile limit.

Before deploying on the next cruise, the Oriskany had a Dependents Day cruise. We could invite family or friends to go out on the ship for a day to see what life aboard an aircraft carrier was like. I invited a girl I met through Jeff and his fiance from the Bay area and I enjoyed the cruise very much too. The ship put on an air show for the guests including low level flybys and a demonstration of firepower. Parachute flares would be dropped and our fighters would fire sidewinder missiles at them and they would drop bombs into the water from about a mile away from the ship. When one 1,000lber exploded and moments later shrapnel could be heard striking the ship where we were all standing, it was decided the dropping of bombs at even a mile away was not a good idea.

Finally the day arrived when we departed for the Far East. We left San Diego on May 26th with Pearl Harbor as our first stop.

Getting ready to depart - we say farewell to our loved ones

It took five days to reach Pearl Harbor and we arrived on June 1st. I visited some of my friends that were still stationed there. It was odd to be there as a sailor ashore on liberty in uniform rather than living there and wearing shorts and aloha shirt like I was accustomed to.

Waikiki ~ 1966

We departed Pearl on the 6th of June and steamed for Yokosuka, Japan. Somewhere I found a large map of the Pacific Ocean and taped it to one of the walls in my operatory. Each night, I would call the bridge and get our position from one of the quartermasters and plot it on the map. At some point in our crossing of the Pacific, we ran into the 'doldrums'. This is when there is no wind and the water is flat as glass as far as the eye can see in any direction. I remember going up to the island structure and watching the dolphins and flying fish playing in our bow wake then. It was an eerie feeling to be sure. Samuel Taylor Coleridge described the Pacific Doldrums in his "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner".

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

 

On the 8th of June, we crossed the International Date Line and I earned my "Domain of the Golden Dragon" certificate. I remember we crossed the Date Line going west on a weekday which added an extra day (as in two Tuesdays). On the return voyage, we crossed the Date Line on a weekend which meant we lost a day (as in no Sunday). Navy efficiency at work no doubt.

We finally arrived in Yokosuka, Japan on the 14th of June. Since this was my first cruise, I let the others in the Dental Dept. be my guide. The first thing we had to do before we went on liberty was to exchange our US dollars to MPC or Military Payment Certificates. It looked like Monopoly money to us. The idea was to keep US currency off the Black Market. Next, we stopped at the Commissary Store on base to purchase liquor. I was told we had to provide our own alcohol at the local bars and they provided the mixers. While at a favorite bar, we would be joined by 'hostesses' and the first thing they would always ask was "You buy me drink?" Of course, the drinks they were served was tea made to look like a cocktail. It was a bit frustrating when the girls would start chattering to each other in Japanese so a buddy of mine and I on one visit to "our" bar decided to put the shoe on the other foot. He spoke French Canadian and I had two years of French in High School. When the girls started to talk to each other in Japanese we'd start talking in French...they didn't like that! So we told them "You speakee English, we speakee English". That took care of that.

Military Payment Certificate Typical bars of Yokosuka
They always knew what ships were in port.

I was also encouraged by my buddies to have a Hotsi Bath which I have to admit was very relaxing and helped to...err relieve  built up tensions. I never got the chance to visit Tokyo but I did take a bus tour to the resort town of Hakone which was also very nice. The main thing we did while in Japan however was shop. I only wish I had more money saved up by the time we got to Japan. I bought a NikonF PhotomicT 35mm camera and 200mm telephoto lens, lots of knick knacks and stereo components. In 1966, the big thing in stereo was to buy each piece of a sound system as a separate unit. For my system, I bought a Sansui receiver/amplifier, a Dual 1019 turntable, Teac reel to reel tape deck and speakers.

NikonF Sansui receiver Dual turntable Teac reel to reel

Another item I bought while in Yokosuka was a coffee mug which I still have. It's been dropped and broken but I've managed to put it back together again.

This cup got a lot of use the rest of the time I was on the Oriskany.

We departed Yokosuka, Japan on the 21st of June and sailed directly to Subic Bay, Philippines arriving there on the 26th. Subic Bay would be our Home Port while overseas and we would visit here several times during the cruise. Just outside the base gate was the quaint city of Olongapo.

 

USS Oriskany at Subic Bay Olongapo
Girls of Olongapo "Watch out for that bumper sticker"

What can I say about Olongapo City? My first impression was that it made Tijuana, Mexico look like Paris. To get to Olongapo from Subic, one had to cross a bridge over the 'Olongapo river' which was more a sewer than river. Small children would be swimming in the river hoping coins would be tossed in the river and they would dive for them eagerly. Walking down the main road of Olongapo, we would have small kids come up and begin hitting us with a small plastic hammer while begging. I think the idea was if you gave them money, they would leave you alone...wrong...if you gave them money, you would be pelted by that many more kids. I even got brave enough to buy bar-b-que'd monkey meat sold on a stick. Most of my time spent at Olongapo was in a bar. Like Japan, each ship and I think even each division had their own bar. It wasn't wise to go into a new bar, especially alone. We had 'Cinderella Liberty' in the Philippines which meant we had to be back aboard the Oriskany, or at least back on base by midnight. Many times we would head back early just for the entertainment of going to Sickbay and helping the corpsmen sew up busted lips, heads and various other body parts caused by a bar fight. I was also fortunate that as a dental tech, I never had to stand shore patrol duty either. What shopping I did do in town was for wooden carvings such as a cigarette case and book ends. More stereo equipment was purchased at the Navy Exchange on base.

 
I still have the cigarette case from the Philippines   I bought a Zippo at the ships store

We departed Subic Bay and arrived at "Dixie Station" on June 30 then moved north to "Yankee Station" on July 8th. The South China Sea off of South Viet Nam was designated as "Dixie Station" and North Viet Nam was "Yankee Station".

While Oriskany was launching air strikes, first off South Viet Nam then later off North Vietnam, in the Dental Dept. it was 'business as usual'. At sea we worked six days a week, although to be honest I don't recall what we did on our day off. We did hold sick call on Sundays.

This photo was taken just prior to the sinking of the Oriskany.
This photo and others were provided to me by Jim Philips from MBT Divers

While at work, we would have our stereo equipt set up to record albums onto tape in the operatories. This way, we had music playing while we worked. Ernie was big on Jazz and I had a lot of Kingston Trio records that we would trade. Somehow I got some Percy Faith, Henry Mancini and Montovani in the mix too...must have been Dr. Killinger's.

There were few areas on the Oriskany that were air conditioned. Fortunately, the Dental Dept. was one of them. The weather in the South China Sea was always hot and humid. I felt sorry for the guys coming up from the engineering spaces for their dental appointments. It must have been 115� were they worked. At night, we would drag our mattresses down to the Dental Dept from our berthing area on the deck directly above to sleep then drag them back up in the morning. There was a small wall mounted desk in my operatory that I used to write letters home on in the evening too.

My operatory with the wall desk in the background
 This photo also taken just prior to the sinking of the Oriskany.

Movies were shown every night on the Sick Bay Ward for the patients. So naturally, myself and a few other dental techs would watch the movies there too. Occasionally, we could get a case of steaks from one of the cooks on the Mess Decks and would fry them up in the Sick Bay Diet Pantry which had a cook top. We would also manage to have some liquid refreshment. The fuel used in the torches in the Dental Lab was 190 proof ethyl alcohol (Also known as "torpedo juice"). We would get some and 'cut it' with apple juice, also from the Mess Decks. This made for a pretty good 'cocktail' but we had to be very careful raising our heads off our pillows the next morning...oh brother, what a hangover!

Sick Bay, Sick Bay Ward and Diet Pantry

Our routine alternated from conducting combat operations at Yankee Station for weeks at a time and spending a few days at Subic Bay. Finally, on 15 September, following five days at Subic Bay again, we sailed for Hong Kong for liberty. We were really looking forward to visiting Hong Kong. While underway, we conducted cross-deck operations with the British carrier HMS Victorious and, on the 16th, helped rescue the crew from the British freighter "August Moon", which had run aground on Pratas Reef in the South China Sea because of a Typhoon.  Despite high winds and heavy seas, the three UH-2B helicopters from the HC-1 detachment in Oriskany flew rescue operations, plucking 44 crewmen from the stricken cargo ship.  During the operation one helicopter was engulfed by a huge 65-foot wave, knocking the bird into the sea.  Quick reactions from the other helicopters saved all three crewmen and the entire operation came off without loss of life.

Aircraft from the HMS Victorious aboard USS Oriskany
"August Moon" aground on Pratas Reef

I remember when HMS Victorious was at Subic Bay when we were. I managed to exchange my jumper with a British crewmember for his. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to talk him into swapping hats. Surprisingly, I was able to get back aboard Oriskany with no problems. The rule was they didn't care what we looked like coming back aboard as long as we looked ship shape when we left the ship on liberty.

We arrived in Hong Kong on the 17th of September and were there for about 5 days. Hong Kong was a fascinating city of contrasts that might see a Rolls Royce on the road next to a man powered rickshaw or a high rise apartment complex with shanties made of cardboard and tin on the hills behind it. Hong Kong was a great city for shopping and was noted for it's inexpensive clothing and tailors. I bought some clothes there including a blazer and wool sweater. I may still have that sweater somewhere.

Anchored in Hong Kong Oriskany as seen from Victoria Peak Looking towards Kowloon
 
Takin' it easy while they can   Hong Kong water taxi

We were back online at Yankee Station beginning on Sept. 24th and were scheduled to make a second visit to Hong Hong  around the 15th of October. The USS FDR, one of two other carriers rotating with us (the USS Constellation was the other carrier), had mechanical problems and had to return to Yokosuka for repairs. This extended our time online and our new departure date for Hong Kong was set for October 27th.

Wednesday, October 26, 1966

Wednesday, October 26, was our 44th day at sea. This was the longest sea period we'd had for the entire cruise and we were all looking forward to returning to Hong Kong in the next couple of days. Around 7:30 in the morning, I was sitting on my rack putting on my boondockers getting ready for another day at work in the Dental Dept. when I heard the announcement over the 1MC; "This is a drill, this is a drill, fire, fire...". Almost immediately, the announcement was changed; "This is NOT a drill". Fire is not that uncommon on a ship, especially one of this size so I didn't think much of the fire call. The compartment number or frame number given certainly didn't mean anything to me. A few minutes later, I went down the ladder to the Dental Dept. and had just walked in when the call to General Quarters was sounded. I looked over at Tom Whisler, who was already there and we both knew then that something serious must be wrong.

Tom and I had the same general quarters station, battle dressing station #4, in the forward part of the ship along with Dr. Killinger and a couple of corpsmen. We immediately headed up the ladder back to the 2nd deck, went to the starboard side and then up to the hanger deck. We were instantly drenched by the fire sprinkler system that had been set off. It was like being in a torrential downpour. Running forward, we could see smoke and fire balls billowing out from the area we needed to go. It was obvious we would not be able to get to our battle dressing station.

Fire sprinklers in the hanger bay This drawing shows where the fire began and battle dressing station #4 Battle dressing station #4
This photo also taken just prior to the sinking of the Oriskany.

Tom and I helped roll a couple of carts with bombs on them over the port side when Tom suggested we get back to sick bay where we would be more help. The fire doors separating the hanger bay must have been closed because I remember we had to go up to the flight deck then climb down the outside of the ship to the starboard sponson. From there, we were able to get back into the hanger bay and down to sick bay. Shortly after we arrived at sick bay, they brought in the first fire victim. I didn't know who it was but he was an officer and appeared to be deceased. A call was put out that corpsmen were needed at the starboard sponson where more fire victims were being brought out. Tom and I ran back to the starboard sponson where Dr. Killinger and a couple of others were there already. They were attempting CPR on someone when Tom and I arrived. More victims were being brought back to this area and we began to apply CPR on them as well. I have no idea how many victims we worked on at the starboard sponson that day. Of the men we did see, they were already beyond help.

 
 
 
This is the starboard sponson about where we were, just forward of the escalator
Click the play button to view
  Rendering CPR
This photo shows Dr. Killinger (wearing the ball cap) and Tom (center, facing Dr. Killinger).

Last year, Dr. Killinger sent me his recollection of how he wound up at the starboard sponson too.

I have never put on paper before now, the answer to your question about the fire.  As I recall the events that happened, I was alerted to the fact that we were having a fire that was more serious than we had become accustomed to experiencing.  The fellow, who had lived next door to me, was an ordinance officer for one of the squadrons.  He had come back to his room for a pack of cigarettes, when the fire alarm went off.  I grabbed onto the back of his belt, and we went up the ladder to the next deck level.  It was fairly smoky in the area at that time.  I went into the officers ward room, and heard the GQ announcement immediately.  When I realized that going to my GQ station was not the best idea, I went out to the sponson where we all eventually found ourselves.  I remember almost falling over the Catholic priest, LCDR Garrity, he was the first person that I saw, and that was why I stayed where I was.  You are right, that it was uncanny that we all ended up at that spot. 

I remember that people just kept bring us the men, and I have never had any idea how many men we saw that day.  I do know that we did CPR on all of them, but it was several months later, that I finally accepted the fact that they were all dead when we saw them.  I don't remember, or if I ever knew who took the bodies away, or where they took them.  I didn't ever go to the morgue, where ever it had been set up.

 

Sick bay & corpsmen sleeping quarters This photo was taken just after the fire
You can see water still pouring from the hanger deck. The starboard sponson is shown too.

A temporary morgue was set up in the corpsmen's sleeping quarters where I assisted in identifying the victims, tagging them and carefully wrapping them in sheets. They were then taken to one of the ships reefers until we could return to Subic Bay.

Later that afternoon, all of us in the Dental Dept met back at the dental lab. Up to that time, I don't think we knew whether all of us made it through the fire OK or not.  I believe Dr. Hodgson went to his stateroom and brought back a bottle of booze he had and we all toasted those of us that made it...and those that did not. Two of the medical doctors, one ships company and the other from one of the squadrons had lost their lives in the fire.

We were all able to send a short telegram to our families from the radio room. Mine was just a very brief "I'm OK, will write soon". I also later learned that some of my friends tried to get in touch with me to find out if I was all right. One of them was Kim, the girl I met at the party before reporting aboard. She told the Navy she was my fiance in order to find out how I was.

We arrived at Subic Bay on October 28 and there repairs were begun and the fire victims were offloaded and taken to Clark AFB to be flown to the States. One victim, it was learned, had requested in his will that he be buried at sea so he was returned to the ship prior to our departure back to the U.S. We left the Philippines on November 2nd and after sailing for two days, the Burial at Sea Ceremony took place. During the ceremony, the entire ship was shut down. This was the first time since I first came aboard  that the ship was wrapped in total silence.
 

The somber task of sending our shipmates home Burial at Sea Ceremony

We arrived at San Diego on November 16th and were there for five days before we headed to Hunters Point Naval Shipyard for extensive repairs. We were at Hunters Point until the 23rd of March, 1967 then moved to Alameda NAS which was to be our new home port. I used to fly home every weekend I could on PSA (or Poor Sailers Airlines) out of the Bay Area to L.A. During the week, I kept my 'civies' at a locker club in San Francisco. I don't recall if I took a bus or a cab from Hunters Point to S.F. but Hunters Point was not a good area to be at...especially at night. San Francisco at the end of 1966 and early part of '67 was very interesting to say the least.
 

Hunters Point

San Francisco back then was a mecca of jazz clubs, topless bars and Hippies. The anti-war movement was already going strong by this time. The Purple Onion was a famous hangout for popular entertainers of the day. Carol Doda and her "twin 44's" was the star at the Condor Club in the North Beach section of S.F. By 1967, Haight-Ashbury was the haven for a number of important psychedelic rock performers and groups of the time. Acts like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin.

I had the opportunity to take the test for advancement to 2nd class petty officer but I would have had to extend my enlistment for 4 months. I didn't avail myself of the opportunity and was honorably discharged on June 9th, 1967, almost one month short of 4 years (No good conduct medal for me*). The night before my discharge became official, a party was thrown for me at the enlisted men's club. I remember I drank so much that I didn't have a hangover the next day...I was still high. When I was flying home that day, a girl sitting next to me asked about the ships name patch I had on my shoulder (She thought it said " O So Skinny").  Still being a bit buzzed, I ripped it off and gave it to her. I wonder if she still has it.

After completing Carrier Qualification sea trials, the Oriskany departed for her third combat cruise of the Vietnam War on June 16th, 1967. I was 22 years old and now had to learn how to be a civilian again. One of the first things I did was call Kim...
______

*Update- In October, 2014, at the suggestion of a fellow ex-carrier sailor, a former crewmember of the USS Bon Homme Richard, I submitted a request for a corrected DD-214 in order to see if I qualified for additional service awards not previously included on my form.

4/2/2015 - I just got the response with these corrections. In addition to the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and Navy Unit Commendation I already have, the inclusion of two bronze service stars are now authorized for my VN Service Medal, the Navy Good Conduct Medal and the RVN Meritorious Unit Citation (Gallentry Cross w/palm and frame). This is what my "rack" looks like with these corrections.  I've also been asked more than once why I don't have the Vietnam Campaign Medal displayed. Because of the fire, Oriskany went home having spent fewer than six months in the combat zone. Because of this, we did not meet the criteria for that particular award for the 1966 cruise.

My new "rack" of ribbons

If you haven't requested a corrected DD-214 yet, I highly recommend it. Finally, I can tell my friends that YES, there is a Good Conduct Medal for me!

 


 
 
         

 

   
  Intro Boot Camp Class "A" School COMSERVPAC USS Oriskany