Michael Kerr's Memory Lane
World Cruise, 1965-66

Departure Norfolk, Virginia, 1500, 29 September 1965

These words are written in the "1965 World Cruise 1966" commemorative book. I’ve taken this book, which has been lying around my various homes for the past 32 years, out more than once to flip through the pages and remember.

We left Norfolk on September 29, 1965. The black & white photos of the Cruise Book portray, what appears to me now, a very young group of kids anxiously facing the unknown. A little emphasized fact of this cruise was that we were the very first east coast contingent of the fleet to go to Viet Nam. After the departure festivities, the laughter and tears of family, the signs of encouragement & humor: "Have Guns Will Travel, Wire Happy Jack and Smooth Sailing & A Following Sea and The Sun Will Never Set On ‘32! (DESRON 32, our assigned squadron in Norfolk)," and a "before & after" cartoon of a sailor departing with an empty uniform jumper and returning with it ladened down with service medals; we departed Norfolk along with the U.S.S. Bache, an aging WWII destroyer with the hull number, I believe, 470. We were to meet and join a destroyer squadron out of Rhode Island, DESRON 24.

We joined DESRON 24 off of the Virginia coast the following day and headed for Cuba, arriving on October 2nd. Some of the crew played baseball, but most of us stayed on or around the ship. We left Cuba early on October 4.

We transited the Panama Canal on October 6. As I recall it, the trip through the Canal was fascinating. A large portion of the crew had never been there and the clicking of camera shutters was in competition with the noise of the train that pulled us through the locks. The Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander D.W. Simons was an avid camera buff and was everywhere taking pictures throughout the entire cruise. We tied up at Panama City for the night and entered the Pacific Ocean on October 7, bound for Hawaii.

Arriving in Pearl Harbor on October 20, we were greeted by harbor tugs spraying plumes of water in our honor. This was the first time that I actually got to get off the ship since we had left Norfolk and I wanted to make the most of it. Unfortunately, as an eighteen year old kid, I did not have the sense of history and tradition that I do now. I did not avail myself of the opportunity to go to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, something that I have come to profoundly regret. Most of the crew, including myself, took tours of the island. Every time I’ve ever seen the TV show Hawaiian Eye, I remember our brief time in Hawaii. The WWII Memorial at the Punch Bowl Cemetery is in the opening credits.

After two very short days, we left Hawaii on October the 22nd, en route to Midway Island. We arrived on October 25th, but only stayed for four hours. We were now on our way to Yokosuka, Japan.

After leaving Midway on the 25th, at about eight minutes to midnight, we crossed the International Date Line becoming qualified Golden Dragons. Now it was the 26th. Eight minutes later it was midnight and October the 27th. In the space of eight minutes we had moved two calendar days, from the 25th to the 27th.

We had some unexpected excitement on Halloween night at sea. The Cruise Book characterizes it as a "huge blowout with 70 knot wind gusts ......... only breaking the side out of our popcorn popper." I remember that night vividly. The ship was rolling heavily and crashing through the seas with a wrenching and shuddering din. I recall standing on the Mess Decks with my body parallel to the deck just to keep my balance. Also, the loss of that popcorn popper, albeit temporarily was very traumatic. To this day I can’t find popcorn as good as that machine put out!

The next day, November 1st, we arrived in Japan for a four day stay. This was our longest stay in any port since leaving Norfolk, a little over a month before. Most of the crew took tours somewhere, did a lot of shopping, and did more than a little bar hopping. We left Japan in the early hours of November the 6th, en route to Viet Nam with a short stop in Okinawa on the 7th.

We arrived at the war on November the 10th, providing escort support for carrier groups which included the Ticonderoga, Ranger and the Kitty Hawk. The Happy Jack fired its first shot in anger on November 17, 1965. We split our time between escorting the carriers and providing fire support to the ground troops. It was during this tour that something went wrong and we ended up "Dead in The Water" for a brief period of time. Although it wasn’t long, I remember the feeling of intense quiet and isolation. I don’t know if I ever knew what caused this incident, but I do remember that the X.O. was not a very happy man.

On the 28th of November we entered Manila Bay on our way to the city of Manila in the Philippines. We stayed moored off Manila for an entire week. We were not tied up to a pier. I was a sonar striker in the A S Division. At that time our Division Officer was Ensign James Shanahan. He had just been promoted to LTJG when we got to Manila. There was supposed to be a party for him on the beach in Manila. The "plan" was that a bunch of us would go ashore early, look around, get something to eat, and then go to the party. We didn’t eat before we left the ship because we wanted to get "civilian" food. Somehow we got sidetracked and although we hit several of the local beverage establishments, we never ate. By the time we got to the promotion party, we were very happy "Happy Jacks!" As I recall it, the newly promoted LTJG Shanahan had to help several of us, especially me, get back on board after the party. I learned an important lesson that day, if you’re going to enjoy the flavor of the local area, make sure you eat first. While in Manila some of us got to see a movie in the making. At the Sangley Point Naval Base the filming of "Ambush Bay," a WWII film was taking place. We saw several major stars of the movie including James Mitchum, Yul Bryner, Hugh O’Brien, & Mickey Rooney. We left Manila on December 6, and went to the Subic Bay Naval Base for an overnight stay to take on stores. Then it was back to the line.

Between 8 December and 21 December we resumed our duties as escorts for the carrier groups. Although it was important, it was also repetitive and boring. On 21 December we began two weeks of duty as the harbor defense ship at DaNang Harbor. During the day we guarded the mouth of the harbor. At night we would patrol the area, checking out each local "junk" that came and went. Although that duty was fairly routine, we did receive a few strange small caliber holes in the ship while there.

On December the 25th, the cooks outdid themselves in cooking a Christmas dinner that was supposed to rival anything we had eaten before or would eat again. Since it was "Holiday Routine" and I wasn’t on watch, I remember getting in the chow line on the port side about an hour and a half before it was time to eat. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t the first one there. Just as I was getting ready to descend the ladder to go to the Mess Decks, general quarters was sounded! I couldn’t believe it. As it turned out, there was an unidentified aircraft closing in on the area and we had to check it out. It turned out to be friendly and we were released from GQ 30-45 minutes later. I didn’t know about Murphy’s Law then, but I guess it was alive and well and performing up to standards that day. By the time that I got down to eat, all I got was a couple of pieces of cold turkey and some potatoes. The dressing, the shrimp cocktail, and the pumpkin pie were all gone! I was crushed. I had been hearing about that dinner for weeks. Now it was gone. It’s true what they say I guess, "war is hell!"

We were back in Subic Bay, Philippines from January 9 thru 12, 1966. I don’t recall much about Subic Bay even though we were there three separate times. I know that we seldom left the base except to go to Olongapo, just outside the gates and that the locals were always trying to sell us something. Looking back, I know now that this area was very poor and these people were just trying to survive. The political system in the Philippines at that time, did little to relieve them of their poverty. When you are eighteen years old, you don’t look for the causes, you just see the results.

From January the 13th ‘til February 11th we were back in Viet Nam, mainly providing carrier escort and some gun fire support. On February 4th, while in the Tonkin Gulf, we had a cookout on the ship. We had good food, "bug juice" and went swimming. The very next day, in the same area, while I was looking over the side, I saw a sea snake that must have been six feet long! I’m glad he didn’t attend our swim party. It might have put a damper on the festivities.

On February the 13th, we arrived at Hong Kong for "R&R." We stayed there until the 18th. Most of us took tours and spent a lot of money, mostly on clothes and dishes. I was surprised at how cold it was. After being in the tropics for three months I guess our blood had thinned out to the point where the 60-65 degree temperatures felt cold. I remember going to a James Coburn movie in Hong Kong. Although the soundtrack was in English, there were Chinese subtitles. Hong Kong was an active, beautiful city. I hope to return there someday.

We were Back at Subic Bay for the final time on February 20-24, 1966 to take on stores for the trip home.

We crossed the equator on February the 27th. That was an experience! All of us "Pollywogs", even the ship’s captain, Commander J.P. Werle, Jr., received the initiation rites from the "Shellbacks", whose ranks included the X.O., LT. Commander Simons. I’m sure everyone remembers the "coffin" and the "tunnel" and "kissing the baby’s belly". Although I was fearful at first, everything was done and received with humor. When the ceremonies were over, we were all "Shellbacks" and had a cookout.

We stayed overnight on February 28th in Malaysia and March 6th in Cochin, India. We arrived at the Red Sea on March 12 and Port Suez, the entrance to the Suez Canal on March 15. We went through the canal on March 16th in thirteen hours. The Suez Canal transit was completely different from the Panama Canal. There are no locks, it’s just a ditch through the desert. We were sweeping sand out of the ship for weeks!

For a landlocked sea, the Mediterranean Sea was pretty rough. We arrived in Naples on March 20th and stayed for three days. While in Naples a lot of us went to Rome. I visited as many of the sights that I could in Rome, including the Vatican, the Coliseum, the Catacombs, more fountains than you can imagine, and I actually ate spaghetti in a real Italian restaurant.

After leaving Naples, we reached Barcelona, Spain on March the 23rd. The group I was with took a tour high in the mountains to a monastery called Montserrat. I don’t recall ever seeing a more beautiful or breathtaking spot! We enjoyed Barcelona immensely during our three day stay there. The people were very friendly and it started to feel like we were almost home.

While we were in Barcelona we had a Captain’s Inspection. I think this inspection was to prepare us for arriving back in the U.S.A.. There was a big difference between being on a war time ship and a peacetime ship. One of the things that was hinted at by the X.O. was that it was time to start cleaning up our "salty" language. After six months at sea, a lot of us couldn’t get a whole sentence out without a few expletives thrown in for color.

We departed Barcelona on 27 March and stopped for six hours at Gibraltar. Although I looked hard, I didn’t see any monkeys or insurance salesmen.

We stopped in the Azores for fuel on April 1st and then headed for home. We hit quite a little "blow" in mid-Atlantic and had to slow down. We refueled at sea and then split from the Newport contingent of DESRON 24, and the "Happy Jack" and the old Bache headed for Norfolk. On the night before we got home the X.O. hosted the "Sir Harold Review." Gag awards were given and some of the crew got to show off their hidden talents. It was actually quite good and a lot of fun. 

We arrived back in Norfolk on April 8, 1966, amid much fanfare, laughter and tears. We had been gone six months and ten days. We had seen five continents, sailed on thirteen seas, oceans, gulfs, and bays. We visited eighteen ports and still spent 78% of the time we were gone at sea. The "Happy Jack" had steamed more than 50,000 engine miles, using three and one-quarter million gallons of fuel. We had fired in excess of one thousand rounds of 5" inch ammunition in support of the troops in Viet Nam. The crew received; the Order of The Golden Dragon for crossing the International Date Line; Membership in the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club, were accepted as members of King Neptune’s Shellbacks for crossing the Equator, became members of the unofficial "Ditch Travelers Club" for transiting both of the world’s major canals, Panama and Suez, and finally, The Order of Magellan for sailing completely around the world.

I’m sure that I speak for most of us who made this cruise, when I say that this was the chance of a lifetime. I’m glad that I was able to take advantage of this opportunity on the U.S.S. Harold J. Ellison, the "Happy Jack."

Mike Kerr,