1957

Operation Sea Orbit

By Ronald E. Baker '57

The following is my story which was to launch the media presentation of this historic cruise and is one of the highlights of my Naval flying experiences.

I awoke one sleepless night aboard the USS Enterprise, CVAN65, with this story going around in my head....”The Spirits of 76 Show Our Colors To the World”. VA76, my squadron, also known as “the Spirits of ’76”, flew a light, single engine jet attack  aircraft, the A4D SKYHAWK.

A special firepower demonstration was performed for the dignitaries of the various countries that we would pass during Operation Sea Orbit. Operation Sea Orbit was a 65 day circumnavigation of the world by the three nuclear-powered surface ships, the USS Enterprise (CVAN65), the USS Long Beach (CGN9) and the USS Bainbridge (DLGN65). The ship’s crew constructed a “green house” on the island of the Enterprise from where the dignitaries could view the firepower performances.

Prior to the start of Operation Sea Orbit, several pilots of VA76 were doing formation aerobatics after their daily missions, while awaiting recovery on the carrier. A team was formed with CDR. Dick Boyd, XO of VA76 who was the leader. Lt. Langston flew the left wing, LTJG Dixon flew the right wing and I flew the slot position of our diamond formation. (see picture). Our performance would be the “closing curtain” of the fire power demonstration. It was determined that the slot was too dangerous and I was removed from the team. However, being second senior, I wanted to fly. So, it was ordered that on one performance I would fly the left wing and the next one I would fly the right wing. (Since we did our rolls always in the same direction, I was an accident looking for a place to happen…totally opposite control operation from one wing to the other.) We approached the carrier’s bow, stepped up on the lead aircraft, very low to the water at 600 knots and would pull up into a loop. Coming out of the loop we would do a roll over the carrier, then circle around and head straight for the “green house” and do another roll over the ship. During these maneuvers the aircraft streamed red, white and blue colors. To stream these colors from our aircraft, our squadron crew members had to come up with the material, mechanics and systems to make it work.

The ingenuity of the American sailor is second to none. They can do anything asked of them. (see picture). First there was a need to carry the liquid to spray the colors. A 300m gallon drop tank would to be used and hung on the center line weapons station of the aircraft. The men then cut a hole in the rear of the tank and rigged a valve covering the hole that would open when the pilots pressed the trigger on the control stick that operated the aircraft’s 20 millimeter cannons. Once this task was accomplished, a way to color and stream these colors was the next problem. At first water was tried ...to no avail. Then fuel was used and that made the streamed trail. Everything was tried to make the colors, including food coloring from the ship’s kitchen—nothing worked.

The Commander of Air Group One sent a message to the Blue Angels and was informed that they used a fuel soluble dye. With a priority one message, the dye was sent to VA76. Our flight now became known as the “cool-aid kids”. When the tanks were being filled, now and then they would get overfilled and the red, white and blue fuel would run down the deck of the carrier looking just like spilled cool-aid.

My story got passed to my commanding officer, who passed it to the commander of the air group, then to the Captain of the Enterprise and finally to the mission commander, Rear Admiral Bernard M. Stream who decide that this story and the performance of the “cool aid kids” would launch the media coverage of Operation Sea Orbit. One afternoon, the admiral ordered the three ships into a formation abreast of each other. A helicopter was launched with a photographer aboard and pictures were taken as we performed rolls over the formation streaming the red, white and blue colors. (see picture).
I received permission for commercial publication of this story along with the pictures. I sent it to the major magazines at the time—Look, Saturday Evening Post, Life, Readers Digest, etc. I received rejection notices from one and all. They reasoned that this was not what their readers were interested at this time. It was 1964…the War was in Viet Nam.

 

Sea Stories: USS SIRAGO (SS-485), fast-attack submarine

By the late Capt. Harry M. Yockey, (USN Ret.), USNA Class of 1957

Written in 2003 for the USS Sirago newsletter

“Lovelies” of a Different Shape, Style or Hot Cocoa Capers – “Lovely Kids” Strike Again

On board USS SIRAGO in late '61 or early '62, CDR Raymond Anderson (a great CO and with a type "A" aggressive personality) had relieved CDR Bernie Peters (quiet, efficient and highly respected) as CO. (Anderson's first sentence in his standing orders was, "I like angles!" and he demanded that all diving officers use maximum angles-plus when changing depth.)

LCDR John Mackenzie was XO, LT John Roberts (USNA, '56) was Engineer and I (USNA '57) was Communicator-Electronics-RPS Custodian. ENS Ken Savage (USNA '60) had just reported aboard from Sub School. He was among the first group of submarine officers who did not have to first qualify as OOD underway on a surface vessel before applying for submarines, i.e., he was rather wet behind the ears.

We were operating with ASW Task Group ALFA on two-week cycles (out 2, in 2) and we had 10 officers (2 extra) due to the SSBN training pipeline. It was usual to leave one officer and several crewmembers ashore each underway period to alleviate "hot" bunking.

In those days, many in the crew really enjoyed a CPO cup filled with cocoa mix, powdered cream, sugar and hot water which became known as a "lovely" -- a great cold weather substitute for a black and bitter. Shortly after Anderson relieved Peters, we had an all-officers meeting in the wardroom, all with our coffees and the CO with his usual black and bitter while smoking his "El Presidente" cigar.

The stewards mate entered and delivered a "lovely" that ENS Savage had asked for before the meeting began. When the CO saw this frothy drink he asked what it was and, instead of saying hot cocoa, ENS Savage said, "A lovely, Sir."

Anderson nearly went ballistic! He claimed that "lovelies" were not manly. After a short tirade he outlawed lovelies on the ship. Many of us thought he was a joking until the next underway period a few days later.

ENS Savage had the 4-8 watch on the bridge. The CO had a set routine in the AM. Wake at 6, coffee and cigar in the WR at 0615, followed by a trip to the bridge (surfaced) or conning tower (submerged) then breakfast at 0700. Of course the "no lovely" decree had become common knowledge with the crew. And, as you know, the crew as a whole on a tight-knit diesel boat has quite a sense of humor.

So, after the CO went to the wardroom, the chief of the watch, who was also the COB, had the messenger of the watch prepare a "lovely" for ENS Savage. He held it until about 0628 when he had it delivered to the bridge. ENS Ken was thrilled that the crew liked him enough to be so considerate and thoughtful. 

Until about two minutes later when "CAPTAIN TO THE BRIDGE" came over the 7MC from the QM of the watch in the conning tower. Ken Savage should have heaved the cup overboard! The poor Ensign Savage was chewed out royally as soon as the CO spotted the lovely. And of course the CO chewed out the XO for not carrying out his order banning lovelies. It was gradually sinking in that he really meant it!

John Roberts and I had a talk about this. We still were skeptical that anyone could outlaw the consumption of a harmless food product. So we decided that some fun could be had by depositing a package of cocoa mix along with a note signed, “The Lovely Kid,” where the CO would be certain to find it. We figured that with two of us it would be extremely difficult to pin the "crime" on either one.

I would plant (usually in the COSR under a pillow or on the desk) while Roberts was on watch and he would reciprocate. We even got our wives involved. We operated with a carrier so we got mail drops at sea. We would prepare a mailing envelope "FOR CO's EYES ONLY" and have it mailed a few days after we were underway, and both of us on board, so the postmark would cover our tracks.

The CO would become furious and rail at the XO. But, we were never caught. Finally, John Roberts got out of the Navy (I relieved him as Engineer) and I thought I had better cool it because I was going to be aboard another year. I did about two more Lovely Kid plants after John left so his good name would be protected.

By the way, the late Ray Anderson was a great CO. Because of him I qualified for command during my first submarine tour and was first in USNA '57 to do so. Also, I've never "publicly" owned up to this charade, which got a lot of laughs on board for many months. John and I are the only ones who knew beside our wives. We couldn't trust bringing anyone else in on our secret.

Warm regards and God Bless,

Harry


SEALS, ADM Exonerate Sirago’s “Grounding”

After the '65-'66 ROH, CDR Frank Talbot had command, fresh from PCO school where a brand new CINCPACFLT had laid the law down about what to call things. Running aground was grounding (not touching bottom), a collision was not "bumping" another vessel, missing quarters was AWOL, etc.

During shakedown in the Caribbean, we were assigned to operate between Puerto

Rico and St. Thomas in about 120 feet of water opposing a sortie of the carrier task group from Roosevelt Rhodes.  We had to choose a nice depth to avoid the keel of the carrier (40 feet) and the bottom. With our 50 feet from sail to keel, we opted for 105 feet to give us 15 feet above bottom and 15 feet below the carrier's keel.

We were proceeding at about 8 knots when suddenly there was a bang on the hull and a big up angle. The skipper concluded that we’d hit the bottom since there were no ships in sight! I was ENG/NAVIGATOR and wanted to send a diver over to see if there was any damage before we sent any report.

But, of course, the CO was greatly influenced by the PCO school warning about using correct terms. He sent off an "immediate" incident report to COMSUBLANT that SIRAGO had grounded at LAT/LONG, DATE, NO CASUALTIES. About 20 minutes later they were reading the message boards in the WR and realized we’d failed to put the time of grounding in the report. So another "immediate" message was sent, "SIRAGO grounding occurred at 1930Z."

As luck would have it, SUBLANT received the time message before the grounding message, so for about 45 minutes they thought we were hard aground! Some of us feared our careers were over due to the grounding even though divers could find no evidence of hitting the bottom.

Of course, there was a detailed investigation. As part of the investigation VADM Shade (COMSUBLANT) was riding SEA LION in the same area and they went to the LAT/LONG of our "grounding" and put the UDT/SEAL divers over the side. Fortunately for us, they found a large uncharted coral sea mount that had been knocked over and photographed the whole area. They showed the photos to VADM Shade and he exonerated all concerned.

Needless to say, I have since admired the UDT/SEAL people a great deal!

Regards and God Bless,

Harry



“Black Dog” Party Celebrates Sirago’s Vindication

After the Sirago was vindicated of grounding, we went on to St. Thomas and some rousing celebration parties. We left St. Thomas and operated for about two and a half days on our overdue ORI when the DIVCOM decided we were fully ready and ordered us in to St. Croix a day and a half early.

When we arrived the OOD was having a terrible time mooring. Once we had the lines over and there was no more navigating to do, I left the conning tower and went to the WR to finish my underway reports when the 1MC announced: "LT YOCKEY to the bridge!" When I got there the boat was not yet moored and the CO simply said, "Harry, moor the ship." By this time I had over four years in two different time periods on SIRAGO, so the boat and I had good rapport. Also, the men in maneuvering were my guys. So, in about five minutes, she was moored.

Also anchored in the little harbor was an 80-foot sailing vessel from St. Thomas called, "Black Dog." They had a cocktail flag flying and invited some of us to come aboard. Several rounds later we all went to supper somewhere on St. Croix. Then, at midnight, we upped anchor and sailed the "Black Dog" back to St. Thomas.

I do remember a beautiful star-lit Caribbean night and a brandy bottle rolling around on deck each time we had to tack the boat. Fortunately, we arrived safely and cleaned up in the "Grambuco" hotel in Charlotte Amalie before flying back to St. Croix, where we enjoyed golfing, among other things.

Regards and God Bless,

Harry

Sirago -- Poignant Ending to CONN Watch

One night (either in 1961 or 1962) I had the Conning Officer midnight watch while we were in ASW Task Group ALPHA. Our role was to be the "mechanical rabbit" for P3s and S2Fs conducting their ASW training sonobuoy searches.

About half way through the watch we heard a lot of Practice Depth Charge (PDC) explosions, which were very distant. We remarked that COBBLER must be getting a good working over because the PDCs were much too far distant to be "attacking" SIRAGO. About an hour later we received orders to surface and terminate the exercises.

The next morning we were ordered to join a search line with the destroyers to look for any sign of one of the S2Fs, which had gone down earlier. Later that morning SIRAGO's well-trained lookouts found some debris in the water and we maneuvered alongside. Soon our swimmer came back to the boat with an aviator's crash helmet and they passed it up to the bridge. I received the helmet from one of the men on deck and was stunned to see the name "LT Glenn Good" inside the helmet. (Could have been “Goode”)

Now for the rest of the story. Ironically, several months earlier, LT Goode had ridden SIRAGO as part of the cross-pollination training program and I was his host. Then, several months later, I had flown with him in the co-pilot's seat of his S2F off the deck of the carrier! The multiple PDC explosions we heard during the mid-watch were the PDCs from LT Goode's plane as they reached their set detonation depths after his plane crashed.

I did not fly again for more than four years!

Warmest regards and God Bless,

Harry

 

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