I hope you have all enjoyed this amazing document. It’s rare to have primary source history from such an amazing individual, especially one of such modesty and understatement. Once again I’d like to thank Ron StJohn for his efforts and generosity. Enjoy…
In 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred that kicked off the Vietnam War. I was on duty for days at a time. Admiral Sharp was CINCPAC at the time having relieved Admiral Felt shortly before. I got along real well with Admiral Felt. I remember the first time he sent me down to see Admiral Savvy Sides who was CINCPACFLT. He told me to show Admiral Sides a chart of what he intended he wanted done in the South-China Sea. I went down and checked in with their Ops Officer, a Captain. He took me up to a Rear Admiral who headed their Operations Division and finally to Admiral Sides. When I got back and reported to Admiral Felt, he asked me why it took me so long. I told him who I had contacted. He bawled me out and said, “Hereafter when I tell you to see Admiral Sides, you go directly to his office!” (There are many movies on Video reel No. 2. See card listing all the scenes.)
I got orders to the USS PIEDMONT (AD-17), which was in the Philippines, reported about Oct 20, 1964. (Vietnam action was warming up. McNamara did not want to use the carefully developed Contingency War Plan for that area. He made CINCPAC come up with a new plan that met his fancy). I no sooner boarded the ship when a passing typhoon forced us to move to a safer berthing area. I was rusty handling the ship. Fortunately, the XO, who was acting CO until my arrival, was a big help. We made the usual ports in WESTPAC. While in Yokosuka, we had to have the destroyers moored alongside us shifted over to inner harbor piers. We rode 75-knot wind out, moored fore and aft. Fortunately, the surrounding hills lessened the wind force. We had to keep the engines turning over all night to ease the strain on the mooring wires attached to the buoys.
We had a nice five-day visit to Hong Kong, and then returned to Subic. I worked a deal with the Base Commander to let us moor alongside a pier near Cubi Point, that the yard craft were using. They had plenty of room to make a berth for us by doubling up. It was a big help not only to the PIEDMONT, but also to the destroyers moored alongside, as it cut out a tremendous amount of small boat traffic, and saved a lot of time for all concerned. We rigged volleyball and a softball diamond close by the pier area. While up in Yokasuka, a Japanese film company that had shot the Olympics that summer, came down and showed same two hours each of two nights. All enjoyed the films. They had an interpreter, as the sound was in Japanese. The film was top notch with great close-ups and slow motion shots,
We sailed from Subic in early December and took a great circle track directly to San Diego. The trip took l8 days. We skirted the Ryukus, Japan, the Kurile Islands, the Aleutians, Gulf of Alaska, down the West Coast, and finally San Diego. We had heavy westerly gales in northern waters, but the seas were following in general, never rolled more than 15 degrees. We got home in time for Christmas. COMCRUDESPAC shifted his flag to the PIEDMONT, so we had to keep spit and polish going while he was aboard. We moored at the Naval Station and it was back to repair work again. I got along well with Admiral Dornin and staff.
Before long it was time to redeploy to WESTPAC. A repair officer who re-ported for duty wanted to get rid the assistant Repair Officer. The latter put in for retirement. He was well liked and respected. The Repair gang’s morale was at low ebb with the new Repair Officer. He had not been feeling well. Doc sent him up to Balboa Navy Hosp for a good checkup. Word came back that he would not be able to make the WESTPAC tour. I asked the Asst Repair Officer if he would like to become Repair Officer. He said he would. I went to the Force Maintenance Officer. He opposed a LT being Repair Officer as it called for a LCDR. I went to the Chief of Staff, said it was my responsibility as CO, and that I would like to have him as my Repair Officer. He got on the phone to BUPERS and asked them to cancel Al Aspenwall’s request to retire, and cut new orders as Senior Repair Officer. Best thing I ever did as Al won the ship all sorts of accolades for repair work while we were in Subic Bay, and the Vietnam buildup. We had a great Engineering Officer, Tom Ahalen (Lt) and topnotch Supply Officer LCDR Klatt. I started a plaque that was kept at the brow. On it, I listed the leading man in each rating. In that manner when someone came aboard and wanted to see a leading man, the watch knew just who it was; it was a good morale booster.
My Chaplain, CDR Hershberger, and I flew up to Baguio R&R Camp for a few days. The CO of Cubi Point made the arrangements. On Christmas Eve, the Chaplain rounded up a gang of volunteers, put his organ in the 50′ motor launch and sailed around the bay serenading the many ships at anchor. He even had luminaria all around the gunwales. I rode with them, and we sang Christmas carols. All the ships enjoyed it. On way out to WESTPAC we stopped at Pearl and invited Admiral Persons, COM l4, aboard for lunch. I had many dealings with him when we were both on CINCPAC’s staff. He asked me if I would like to be his Inspector General after the PIEDMONT duty. I said yes. So sure enough, I got the orders and was relieved in Subic Bay, 24 Jan ’66. It was my last ship command and as always, it was sad to leave a ship you have commended. (I have many pictures of PIEDMONT officers, etc. The same goes for ISHERWOOD, WALLER and SPANGLER and a few of HARWOOD). I reported to COM l4 on I7 Feb ’66.
(Back to CINCPAC tour). We use to get a steak dinner for $1.00 and drinks for 25cents at Hakalapa “0” Club. There was a barbershop there. Steve didn’t like getting his haircut there, as the Filipino barber (Navy type) cut it very short. The Club had a great Sunday brunch, as did Fort Shafter for $1. In ’64 I tore a ligament in my knee joint and had to have the cartilage removed. While on crutches, Pat came over from USC on summer leave. He was on crutches also, from an injury in an inter-fraternity touch football game. (There is a picture of both of us with Steve between us). I got my injury surfing at Haleiwa. I fell down the stairs twice while on crutches, both times with no further damage. I only missed one day of duty at Cincpac.
In early Nov ’65, Jim McCormick and I were ushers at Makalapa Chapel the Sunday President Kennedy attended Mass there. We were assigned quarters at Pearl Harbor Naval Base. Very old building, built in 1915, roomy and airy. One problem was the stack gas from the ships moored about two blocks away, and the traffic noise on weekdays. However, we were only a block or so from Pearl Harbor “0” Club and the officers’ 50-yard pool. We went to some great Mardi Gras parties there. Steve went to Bedford HS, graduating in ’69. He then went to Chaminade College, a Catholic school by St Louis Heights. He transferred over to Aiea Community College after one semester at Chaminade.
We had a pup by name of Barkley. He was cute playing with our kitten. I was Chairman of the Pearl Harbor Youth Carnival. We raised $l6,000 plus profit. I was Admiral Person’s executive for conducting the Combined Federal Campaign. I had to coordinate all the military services and some 50 Federal agencies. We tallied some $2 million, more than double the previous record. Admiral Persons was delighted, as his home of residence was Honolulu, he had married a haoli girl there at beginning of WW II. I made two trips to Washington to discuss the campaign with United Fund officials, as they are the recipients of what CFC raises.
As Naval Inspector General, I had to inspect various shore facilities, including Midway and put out the paper work for the Admiral on Area Coordination matters. I was host officer to visiting foreign warships. One time HMAS CANBERRA, flagship of Australian Navy visited. Before arriving at Pearl, they reported a case of measles on board. Admiral Lynch, who had relieved Admiral Persons, was concerned. Actually, it we Lynch’s wife that was concerned, as she gave birth to a child exposed to measles and was retarded. She didn’t want the ship to come in, as she was worried that some of the women attending the various receptions for the CANBERRA might be affected. To calm her we sent the DISTRICT MED OFFICER out by helicopter to evaluate the case. He did, and radioed back that it was okay, as there was only one case and the sailor was in isolation. She wanted the Admiral to notify the hundreds of VIP’s not to bring their wives if latter pregnant! Hell, 90% of them were beyond childbearing age! The ship moored, and we had a great reception on board. They put on their famous “Tattoo” ceremony on the flight deck. I had seen one of them in Hong Kong years ago, quite stirring. Eunice and I were invited for lunch aboard one day; there is a picture of us leaving CANBERRA.
When the battleship NEW JERSEY visited Pearl on the way to Vietnam, I was placed in charge of public visiting. I had orders not to let any trouble makers get on the base, worked with FBI, Honolulu detectives and Naval Investigative personnel. Thousands visited the ship, and we had no problems, as Security personnel at the gates kept known troublemakers outside the gates.
I use to pick Steve up at Radford on Wednesday afternoons and take him and a few of his friends to DeRussey for surfing. Steve’s favorite spot there was Kaiser’s. We use to eat at the Snack Shop on Kalakaua, just behind the Royal Hawaiian. It is not there now.
We bought a ’68 new Mustang in ’68 and sold the Chevy Impala convertible to a sailor. About this time, my Detail Officer at BUPERS notified me that I would be going back to Washington for my last tour of duty. At this time the Honolulu Harbor-master, Capt. McManus died and the State was advertising for his replacement. I took the Civil Service tests and was selected. I still think my old shipmate, Jim McCormic, who was then head of the State Harbors Division, had a hand in my getting the job. I then requested retirement from the Navy effective June 30, 1969. We had bought a condominium at Fairway Manor on Ala Wai Blvd near Liliokalani, 1500 sq.ft. There was a beautiful view of Koolau Mountains with rainbows in the afternoons, etc.
Eunice and I sailed on Lurline back to the mainland, and then flew to NY, where I had requested to be retired, as that is where I first enlisted. I retired at COM Hdqtrs. There was a nice retirement reception at Maude Craig’s restaurant out in Great Neck, with all the relatives there (have pictures of same).
We came back to Hawaii and started work as Harbormaster of Honolulu. I had responsibility for The Harbor Police, Cargo Coordinators, Pier Sweeper; Cleaning Personnel for the passenger ship terminals, Kewalo Harbor (used for tour boats and commercial fishing craft), Aloha Tower operators (who controlled inbound and out-bound traffic via signal flags and radio), Pilot Boat Operators, Sand Island Bridge operators and most importantly, the pilots. I had trouble with the latter as Merchant Marine Officers always had it in for Naval Officers. They would pull slowdowns, call in sick, etc., just to make things difficult, and require me to rouse off-duty pilots to fill in with overtime. Finally, a few quit. I anticipated it and had advertised for pilots in a shipping publication, and picked up three young ones from the Panama Canal. They had gone through Kings Point, and were more adapted to working with a Naval Officer. They all had Master papers, which were required for the job. They worked out fine. I was called at all hours of day and night, as there was always something happening around the waterfront requiring the Harbormaster’s attention.
Eunice began to get “Rock” happy in ’71, so we decided to move back to San Diego. She flew back in June; I remained behind to sell the Fairway Manor condo. I finally did, and flew back in August. Through Johnny Regan, then CO of submarine BARBEL, I was able to ship the Mustang and a lot of personal items back to SD in a floating dry-dock that was being towed there from Pearl.
After I resigned from Harbormaster in ’71, I attended the University of Hawaii on the GI bill, and took some courses. I got a lot of surfing in during ‘71 to ’75, and met a lot of older locals surfing at Kuhio. I only had to walk two blocks from condo to Kuhio.
In ”71 I got orders to attend a Convoy Commodores school in San Diego. It put me back on active duty for two weeks. A change was made in the orders so that I took the course in March ’72. Met many Captains I had known previously. The Navy keeps you on the Convoy Commodore list until age ’62. One of the Captains was my former COM l4 Chief of Staff.
Before we left Hawaii, my father passed away Sep 15, 1966. I had visited him two weeks previously when I was back on CFC matters. Therefore, I flew back again for his funeral, poor Maude was devastated by his passing.
This is about as far as I want to go at this time on this biography. The following are sources for further information:
1) See calendars in second drawer of desk facing window in master BR.
2) My Navy files, one folder covering orders, the other, awards, commendations, letters of appreciation, etc. ‘
5) Photo file by years in second from bottom drawer of chest in back BR
4) Photo albums, family, Navy, O’Connell relatives and athletic scrapbook.
Pat and Steve were old enough from ’75 on to fill in events from that year on.
5) Oh yes, Eunice and Dan’s HS yearbooks in large cardboard box back BR closet b; Also see Genealogy file in back BR on bed
7) Also, see Video Tapes with file cards behind LR TV.