Lest We Forget

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)

As the telltale aroma of chicken-fried steak signaled the coming of the noon meal, electronic warfare technicians in their tiny cubicle off CIC suddenly detected an ominous emission: the acquisitions radar of a Soviet-made Bison bomber. Seconds later a blip on the air-search radar screens confirmed an aircraft climbing into the sky from Algeria—and headed straight for the Yarnell .

The ship's crew raced to battle stations as the Bison locked on the ship with its fire-control radar. Despite the shooting war raging to the east, the rules of engagement here dictated that the Americans must wait for the enemy to shoot first. Nonetheless, missiles slid onto the rails and trained about to point fiercely at the oncoming aircraft, while a sweaty hand gripped the firing key in CIC. Lieutenant Tom Joshua, fresh back from an in-country tour in Vietnam, later recalled that he was more frightened at this moment than he had been in the Mekong Delta: "In Vietnam, I was only concerned about my own life . . . this was potentially World War III and threatened my wife and kids!"

The aircraft came in low, never relinquishing its electronic grip on the vulnerable but potentially lethal ship. But the Bison passed overhead and turned back for Algeria, the lieutenant remembered a collective exhale as all hands began to breathe again.

That confrontation would be remembered by no one save the participants, but it was a dress rehearsal for bigger events to come. A short time later, when the Israelis began to turn the tide and the Soviets threatened intervention, U.S. forces worldwide went to DEFCON 3. Just as the men of a lonely guided-missile frigate had held their breaths waiting (hoping) for sanity to prevail, so the world anxiously waited as the two superpowers stood toe-to-toe. Fortunately, like the Bison that returned with its weapons still on board, so the Soviets backed down. Yom Kippur remained a regional rather than a world war.

For the remainder of the Yarnell 's Mediterranean deployment, no one complained of monotony.

Lieutenant Commander Cutler is the author of several books, including A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy and Brown Water, Black Berets .

Thomas J. Cutler is a retired lieutenant commander and former gunner's mate second class who served in patrol craft, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers. His varied assignments included an in-country Vietnam tour, small craft command, and nine years at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he served as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Seamanship & Navigation Department and Associate Chairman of the History Department. While at the Academy, he was awarded the William P. Clements Award for Excellence in Education (military teacher of the year).

He is the founder and former Director of the Walbrook Maritime Academy in Baltimore. Currently he is Fleet Professor of Strategy and Policy with the Naval War College and is the Director of Professional Publishing at the U.S. Naval Institute.

Winner of the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Naval Literature, the U.S. Naval Institute Press Author of the Year, and the U.S. Maritime Literature Award, his published works include NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the U.S. Navy; A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy [one of the books in the Chief of Naval Operations Reading Program]; The Battle of Leyte Gulf; Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal & Riverine Warfare in Vietnam; and the 22nd, 23rd (Centennial), and 24th editions of The Bluejacket's Manual. His other works include revisions of Jack Sweetman's The Illustrated History of the U.S. Naval Academy and Dutton's Nautical Navigation. He and his wife, Deborah W. Cutler, are the co-editors of the Dictionary of Naval Terms and the Dictionary of Naval Abbreviations.

His books have been published in various forms, including paperback and audio, and have appeared as main and alternate selections of the History Book Club, Military Book Club, and Book of the Month Club. He has served as a panelist, commentator, and keynote speaker on military and writing topics at many events and for various organizations, including the Naval History and Heritage Command, Smithsonian Institution, the Navy Memorial, U.S. Naval Academy, MacArthur Memorial Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Naval Institute, Armed Forces Electronics Communications and Electronics Association, Naval War College, Civitan, and many veterans' organizations. His television appearances include the History Channel's Biography series, A&E's Our Century, Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, and CBS's 48 Hours.

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Events and Conferences

Guest Lecturer
12:30pm, “Shifley Lecture Series,” U.S. Naval Academy Museum, 118 Maryland Ave., Annapolis, MD /... Read More
Videotape Interview
10:00am, “Veterans Oral Histories Series,” American Veterans Center, 1100 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington,... Read More


Conferences and Events

Maritime Security Dialogue

Fri, 2016-07-08

You are cordially invited to: Delivering on the Vision for the Future of Submarine Warfare A discussion with Rear Admiral Charles...

2016 Naval History Conference

WEST 2017

San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, CA

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