by J R Taylor , ATN2, 2nd Tech, Crew 5, VP 50
About a thousand years ago I joined the Navy right out of high school for many reasons. Adventure, sure. To get out of the place I grew up in, sure. But mostly I was just sick of going to school and wanted something different. No college for me, no more books, no more studying, no more sitting in class.
Well……. the Navy, not paying any attention to what I wanted, proceeded to send me through 18 months of boot camp, A school, equipment schools, radio school and finally VP31. So much for no more schools.
I actually asked for, and got, seaplanes and Asia. Young as I was I figured out that seaplanes had to land somewhere other then aircraft carriers at night – and that somewhere had to have land, people, restaurants and bars nearby. Turned out that this was not always the case but still it was a lot better then living on an aircraft carrier.
Now you have the thirty second version of how I landed in VP50 Crew 5 as electronics tech. To all of you who were not selected for VP50 I’m sure you all did something useful too. There were lots of other squadrons, ships and bases that I assume served some purpose for the Navy – but we were in VP50.
In 1965 when we were getting ready to ship out for our first deployment to the Philippines and Vietnam the CO assembled the whole squadron in the North Island auditorium and told us that we were going to war and that some of us would very likely not make it back. We should have been scared, but we weren’t. We were quiet as we walked out but we were more excited then scared. Being young does that. We all just knew WE would be ok.
The Philippines were exciting. They were different and loud and colorful, it was freedom, but most of all it was exciting. We trained, we flew, we lived in old WW2 Quonset huts, and sometimes we even ate old WW2 boxed rations. We knew they were WW2 rations because the boxes were dated 1942. Our flight rations were older then I was. That was not always the case, sometimes we got decent box lunches and sometimes we actually cooked steak on board. But – sometimes we did get WW2 rations. My dad, or one of my uncles, might have taken a box out of the same shipment twenty five years earlier. That’s a little scary these days when everything has an expiration date on it, but we just shrugged, ate the good stuff, and tossed the rest. We were young and life was good.
We flew patrols in the Taiwan Straights and the Tonkin Gulf. Both were hot spots and both were dangerous but Vietnam was different. Vietnam was a beautiful country but in Cam Ranh Bay there were houses made from flattened beer cans. As flight crew we were lucky and didn’t have to see it up close and personal like the guys in the field. Flying seaplanes did have a few benefits. We anchored out in the middle of a gorgeous bay and we sat on the wing at night watching the stars in the sky and the tracers on land.
In Cam Ranh our officers lived on the tender but not the enlisted guys. We mostly lived on the plane and only used the seaplane tender for showers. We stayed on the plane, stood watches, slept up on the wing, swam in the ocean and lived on “supplies” we brought with us. Maybe in officer’s country on the tender everything did not taste like diesel fuel but it sure did in the enlisted quarters. The guys on the tenders had a tough job and they did it very well but where we got to come and go, they stayed, and stayed, and stayed. We could not have operated without the tenders but not one of us wanted to change places with them.
Our job in Vietnam was to stop arms shipments so we flew, we patrolled, we watched loaded ships going north and empty ships returning south. This is where I started to understand that politics and politicians often have agendas that defy logic or understanding, or even reason. But: our job was to fly, and so, we flew. We flew north and we flew south, we flew by night and we flew by day, we flew in good weather and we flew in bad weather and we got to know the Vietnam coastline pretty good in two tours. One time in 65 they even sent us up a river doing searchlight runs on enemy positions. The bad guys protested this by machine gunning us. You know, tracers really look just like they do in the movies. I still think they only missed us because they had never seen a seaplane before and we were so slow they misjudged our speed in the dark. As far as I know this was never tried again which was probably a really good decision. In our regular patrol route there were the islands where we usually were shot at – although the powers that be claimed it was cooking fires winking through the trees – Yah right. There were lots of fishing boats all just going about their normal business of fishing – Yah right. We challenged those ships heading north and they all responded as friendly – Yah right. We challenged the same ships returning south and they were still friendly – Yah right
In VP50 I made both the 65-66 and 66-67 deployments to the Philippines and Vietnam. I still believe that we did good by establishing our watch net along the coast but I also believe we could have done a lot more if we had been allowed to. We helped stop the takeover of Southeast Asia but Vietnam could have been saved too.
Vietnam was beautiful and tragic and exciting and boring and dangerous but we were young and this is what we did. We flew seaplanes and life was good.