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A Day in the Gulf of Tonkin: 1972 Christmas Bombing Campaign
By John Barton House
I don't remember the exact date, but it was between November 72 and January 73.
I was a new MMFN on the the USS Milwaukee (AOR-2). USS Milwaukee (AOR-2) was a Wichita-class replenishment oiler.
During the Vietnam War USS Milwaukee participated in operation Vietnam Ceasefire from 12 November 1972 through 20 February 1973. Milwaukee earned one campaign star for Vietnam War service
We were all called to quarters at 0300 or so...
It seems to me now we were on the line, in the Gulf of Tonkin: Yankee Station: during the "Christmas Bombing"/Operation Linebacker 2, as I recall it.
I only knew the blue jackets in the Engineering Dept.
However, I was already aware of the SOS guys on the ship.
For those of you who don't know, SOS was supposed to stand for either Save Our Ship or Sabotage Our Ship...it depended on who you talked to.
The Stop Our Ship (SOS) movement, a component of the overall civilian and GI movements against the Vietnam War, was directed towards and developed on board US Navy ships, particularly aircraft carriers heading to Southeast Asia. It was concentrated on and around major US Naval stations and ships on the West Coast from mid-1970 to the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, and at its height involved tens of thousands of anti-war civilians, military personnel and veterans. It was sparked by the tactical shift of US combat operations in Southeast Asia from the ground to the air. As the ground war stalemated and Army grunts increasingly refused to fight or resisted the war in various other ways, the US "turned increasingly to air bombardment". By 1972 there were twice as many Seventh Fleet aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin as previously and the anti-war movement, which was at its height in the US and worldwide, became a significant factor in the Navy. While no ships were actually prevented from returning to war, the campaigns, combined with the broad anti-war and rebellious sentiment of the times, stirred up substantial difficulties for the Navy, including active duty sailors refusing to sail with their ships, circulating petitions and anti-war propaganda on board, disobeying orders, and committing sabotage, as well as persistent civilian anti-war activity in support of dissident sailors. Several ship combat missions were postponed or altered and one ship was delayed by a combination of a civilian blockade and crewmen jumping overboard
There was a lot of scuttlebutt about the USS Constellation. The Constellation was the focus of media attention when black members of her crew protested what they saw as systemic racism in the Navy, leading to what some saw as an aborted mutiny in late 1972.
The Constellation (CVA-64 ) returned to the United States on 1 July and prepared to return to the western Pacific in early 1973. Replacement personnel reported aboard while Constellation was in the United States until the ship had 250 more men than the ship's berthing could accommodate. Constellation's commanding officer ordered administrative (less than honorable) discharges for five black sailors he considered troublemakers. He planned to give early discharges to another 250 men whose enlistments would expire while Constellation was overseas. While Constellation was conducting exercises off the California coast, a rumor started that the captain was going to give 250 less than honorable discharges to black sailors. On 1 November, black sailors waylaid a white mess cook in a passageway and broke his jaw. The captain scheduled an open meeting for 21:00 on 3 November to clarify the 250 planned discharges. At noon 3 November a group of 50 black sailors began a sit-in on a portion of the mess deck. On the night of 3–4 November 60 black sailors took control of the scheduled meeting, refused to leave the mess deck, and threatened to "tear up the ship." Constellation returned to San Diego on 4 November to offload 130 men, including 12 white sailors, before returning to sea. Constellation returned to San Diego on 7 November and the offloaded sailors were transported back to the dock on 9 November, but only 8 boarded the ship. The remaining sailors sat down on the dock to be filmed by television crews and were ultimately transferred to shore stations for mast. Twelve received general discharges, 35 were honorably discharged but not recommended for reenlistment, and 73 received punishments ranging from loss of pay and reduction in rate to warnings, prior to being reassigned to sea duty.
In summary, we, the enlisted men, snipes, BT's, MR's, etc, were very aware of the general anti-Vietnam sentiment in the US Navy at the time.
Another thing about the Constellation: they actually petitioned their Captain, to allow Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland's Show: FTA (Fuck the Army) to perform on the Carrier. We all thought this was both ironic and funny.
Anyhow, this night/morning, we were all called to quarters on the cargo deck below the weather deck: sort of like the hanger deck on an Aircraft Carrier.
We got lined up by division.
We wondered as they came around to each group, in succession....we talked.
We were there because someone had broken into a munitions locker and taken a cage of hand grenades. He then called the bridge over the IC and threatened to blow up the ship.
We learned this as we waited.
They came around with a special flash light and looked at each sailor's hands: every sailor...I don't think they checked any Officers.
Finally they seemed to ID one guy.
As it turned out the perp had some kind of invisible dye on his hands that only showed up under black or ultraviolet light.
We were dismissed.
The next morning, a small boat pulled up to the ship.
I didn't see where it came from.
I remember seeing the master at arms and his assistants taking the guy off in a straight jacket.
I never found out who he was.
John Barton House, Enlisted in 1972 to avoid the draft after being denied C/O status 2 times. draft number 4. Now retired from the State of Ohio and Federal Service.