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.