“The Pueblo Incident”
(See E. B. Hooper, J. J. Hyland, K. L. Lee,
J. V. Smith, and G. P. Steele, pp. 53-59, Fall 1988 Naval History
“Commander Bucher Responds”
(See L. M. Bucher, pp. 44-50, Winter 1989 Naval History)
Lieutenant F. Carl Schumacher, Jr., U. S. Naval Reserve (Retired), former operations officer on board the Pueblo (AGER-2) I read with great interest the oral histories given by five gentlemen who were, presumably, involved with the incident. It was not clear, however, that any of them had much to do with the situation, since each goes to great lengths to document his ignorance about the Pueblo. Admiral Steele, in particular, not only wasn’t there when Admiral Ed Rosenberg welcomed the crew, but speculates about what Admiral Rosenberg actually felt about the situation. Admiral Rosenberg persisted in his belief that Commander Bucher was a hero, and within weeks of returning to California jeopardized his naval career by recommending Commander Bucher for the Medal of Honor.
While it is easy to criticize these oral histories as self-serving and irrelevant, it is more useful to observe what these fellows don’t say about the incident. It is clear that we have here the “official line” from the admirals, but why are they all so defensive? Obviously they are sensitive to criticism of the officer corps, since the chain is only as strong as the weakest link. While I would not call Commander Bucher a weak link by any stretch of the imagination, I do believe the deeper feeling among the admirals is one of responsibility abandoned. If there was any message sent clearly to the American people following the repatriation of the crew, it was that the Navy’s “official line” was to let Commander Bucher bear the full responsibility for the incident.
A careful review of the oral histories, however, does shed some light on the real problems of the Pueblo. Comments were made about the rationale behind the program in which we were involved: the Soviets use unarmed trawlers against us, the thinking went, so why don’t we do the same to them?
The unarmed Soviet ships, of course, are not part of the Soviet Navy and are manned, presumably, by civilians. While this is a minor point when discussing the Soviets, it is significant in terms of the mission of the Pueblo. By being a part of the U. S. Navy, rules and traditions were extended up and down the line. Commander Bucher was well aware of U. S. naval regulations, but he was also well aware that he could call upon all of the resources of the U. S. military should need be. The fact that there were no responses to these requests isn’t addressed by these five gentlemen. Indeed, Admiral Lee, who was in the best position to help the ship, identified the problem succinctly: the Pueblo was in but not really of the fleet. Indeed, the ship was actually placed in its own special fleet (was it the ninth?) which consisted solely of the Pueblo and her sister ship, the USS Banner (AGER-1). Was this Commander Bucher’s decision?
As the operations officer on board the Pueblo on the day of capture I was well aware of the decisions facing Commander Bucher. Obviously, none of these five officers was there or has addressed the issue, but the facts facing us that afternoon were these:
► The decision to remain in the area after harassment began was solely ours. The first motor patrol boat to visit us was normal and expected. When four torpedo boats arrived, we felt it was expeditious to leave the area and proceeded to do just that. All of the resultant firing directed at our ship came only as we tried to head for the open seas.
► The issue of the two .50-caliber machine guns has not been fully understood. These guns were stowed below in their crates, and we were not supposed to have these mounted. The “mounts” themselves consisted of two attached brackets on the railing forward, fully exposed with no defending armor of any sort. So manning the guns meant bringing the guns on deck, unloading them, placing them on their mounts, loading them, and commencing firing, with absolutely no protection. While this could have been done, it certainly looked like a suicide mission to us. We had believed, ever since we received these guns, that if we were ever in a situation where we needed to use them we would be in serious trouble.
► There was no indication of support from any other command within the Navy. We had had perfect communications since around 1030 that morning, and sent numerous messages, but never received any sort of official reply. The message received by Captain Lee on board the Enterprise (CVAN-65) was a “Flash/Critic”—highest priority at that time—and should have prompted action from him. We also sent a copy to the commanding general of the Fifth Air Force in Okinawa, who scrambled planes immediately. Unfortunately, these planes were held in Korea when they stopped for refueling. Any sort of message to us saying, “Hold on, help is on the way' would have weighed greatly in the actions we took that day.
► As Admiral Smith documented, the North Koreans were spoiling for a fight, particularly that Tuesday following their aborted weekend attempt on Blue House. Had that information been forwarded to us, it would have had a great deal of impact on our thinking. The court of inquiry believed that information alone should have caused Commander Naval Forces Japan to recall the mission.
► The ship herself offered little protection for the crew. As Admiral Hooper notes, there was no armor on the bridge. That was really the least of the problems, since the entire superstructure was made of aluminum (presumably for weight purposes), and offered no protection. In fact, the one seaman who was killed, as well as the six others seriously injured, were nil shot while they were inside the supposed protection of the ship. Duane Hodges, the sailor who died, expired Prior to the arrival of the ship in Wonsan. The other six, who were seriously injured, did not receive treatment for four hays. All told, some 29 crewmen were hit and suffering when the ship was boarded.
Scuttling the ship also posed difficulties. While we had the ability to do it, the depth of the water offered no assurances that the equipment wouldn’t be recovered. In fact, most of the weighted bags we tossed over the side were recovered, further, of course, the survivability of the crew was in serious doubt given the water temperature in that area.
In sum, none of the options facing Commander Bucher appeared very attractive. He could bring out the machine Suns, lose some more men, and go down in glory. He could scuttle the ship, lose some more men, and go down in glory. Or, he could do the best he could in terms of destroying equipment and documents, stall for time, and hope something good would happen. This is precisely what he did, and in retrospect it was the correct decision, despite the oral history testimony given in your publication.
In my view the first shot fired by the North Koreans blew away the underlying gumption of the Pueblo and her mission-—that we could place an unarmed surveillance platform against a hostile country and get away with it. Once they opened fire there was literally no defense for the ship. As Admiral Hyland comments, having a destroyer shadow the ship would have undermined the effectiveness of the operation. Further, the fact that the entire program was terminated after the capture of the Pueblo supports the idea that the underlying assumption and rationale were faulty—hardly Commander Bucher’s responsibility.
The Pueblo incident persists as a sublet of interest, however, not because of what happened that day off of Wonsan, out because of the way Commander Bucher was treated after the crew returned. The oral history, of course, goes right to the heart of that issue— Commander Bucher was solely to blame for the failure of the mission and the capture of the crew. No one was ready to share that responsibility officially and publicly, and Commander Bucher was spared largely because of media reaction. We now know the “best and the brightest” in charge at that time made terrifically poor decisions, not the least of which was the way the crew members of the Pueblo were handled following their return. In fact, only Admiral Elmo Zumwalt (no hero to the rear-guard admirals) was willing to finally repatriate Commander Bucher into the Navy by giving him a job as chief staff officer for Commander Mine Flotilla One—the officer responsible for sweeping the mines out of Haiphong Harbor following the Vietnam peace settlement.
Monday morning quarterbacking is easy and sometimes useful, but after 20 years I have yet to have someone offer a constructive alternative to the actions taken that day by Commander Bucher. Most have had some preconceived ideas, but once the facts are laid out for them, they really don’t have any responses. That Commander Bucher had to bear the full responsibility for this incident is entirely in keeping with naval tradition, and he has taken no public action to escape that responsibility. That he handled his responsibilities so well, particularly during the 11 months of captivity, is a credit to Commander Bucher that has gone largely overlooked. He was and is a great credit to the Navy and its traditions and is, to a great many of us, an authentic hero in this age of few heroes. His leadership was extraordinary and his courage unquestioned and were it not for him, I doubt all 82 crew members would have made it back. There is a far greater story.
Commander Calvin T. Durgin, Jr., U. S. Navy (Retired)—Even if we assume that all of Commander Bucher’s complaints about failure on the part of his seniors to act are true, one fact remains. Commander Bucher was the first U. S. Navy captain to surrender his ship without firing a shot.
His action was not in accord with the John Paul Jones cry, “I have not yet begun to fight.” And as he himself states, “I never styled myself a hero.” But heroes we must be when the occasion demands.
All of an officer’s service life is supposed to be devoted to preparing himself for action in battle. Most of us never have the opportunity to know whether or not that preparation has been adequate, and those who do seldom have more than one chance. Commander Bucher had his chance and was found wanting.
The sad thing, though, is that Commander Bucher was not court-martialed. A court not only would have highlighted Bucher’s own failings, but would have brought out the Navy failings that possibly are more important than those of Bucher.
Today we do not need a kinder and gentler Navy. We need a meaner and tougher Navy. The question after the Pueblo (AGER-2) incident is: Is our watchword still, “I have not yet begun to fight?”
Harry Iredale—I had read the articles by those peripherally involved previously, and had considered responding myself. I am glad that Commander Bucher did. After 20 years and all that he has gone through, Pete’s memory is still quite accurate. As I read his rebuttal, I could again see the subchasers crisscrossing our bow and hear the rattle of machine gun fire raking the hull and deckhouse. Enough.
I was one of the civilian oceanographers on board the Pueblo (AGER-2), and I had served on board the Banner (AGER-1) in 1966. It was obvious to me that being off North Korea was more risky than being off the Soviet or Chinese coasts. In fact, when I packed in December 1967 I decided to leave items of personal importance at home—i.e., my girlfriend’s picture, my favorite sportcoat, etc. Don’t ask me if I thought I was protecting them or if I thought that if something happened I would ever see them again. The point is that I was a 24-year- old kid with enough sense of the world to be concerned about the Pueblo mission. Again, enough.
“The Great Enterprise”
(See B. I. Burnett, pp. 16-20, Summer 1988; G. Hagerman, pp. 8-11, Fall 1988 Naval History)
Commander John J. Dougherty, U. S. Navy (Retired), Ph.D. (of Humane Letters and Irish History) and author of several papers on the Armada—Aficionados and researchers of La Armada Invencible of 1588 and La Empresa de Inglaterra (The Enterprise of England), eagerly looked forward to the fourth centennial of what has come to be known, of the six Spanish Armadas between 1530 and 1607, as simply the Armada. Each intensified his or her research in the hope that 1988 would produce answers to most of the remaining mysteries.
The bold-face introduction, written by a Naval History editor, plus the first sentence of Mr. Burnett’s article, do not augur well. To describe Queen Elizabeth (“Isabel” in Spanish) as “stormy”? Well enough, but “pence-pinching, stingy tightwad” would have been, vis-a- vis her English fleet, more accurate. Barely in time, she authorized two days’ ammunition and six weeks’ rations for her laid up fleet. When the fleet again was laid up after the Armada’s tragedies in Ireland and torturous return to Spain, this “lion’s cub with a lion’s heart” refused to pay-off her sailors, leaving many to die the horrible thirst-death of flea- borne typhus.
How differently did King Philip II, 60- year-old Plantagenet descendant of Charlemagne, a Spanish count of Hapsburg and great grand-sire of Louis XIV, treat Armada survivors, caring for their wounds, illnesses, and families left behind.
Although Mr. Burnett made it clear that Lord Charles Howard of Effingham (Elizabeth’s cousin) was fleet commander, that same editor refers in the article’s subhead to the pirate Sir Francis Drake as its “adventurous commander.” Drake, in fact, was a most able seaman who learned his skills in the slave-trade of his older cousin, John Hawkyns. No North American can be blamed, however, for believing the Hollywood-fed legends of Sir Francis, one of which is that he was the first circumnavigator of the globe. Drake did circumnavigate the globe, but five decades after Captain Juan Sebastian del Cano, following routes laid out as early as 1485, did so.
“During the 1580s, King Philip II wanted peace with England at any price,” begins Burnett. True, he had no desire to place a Scot/French woman, Mary Stuart, upon the throne of either England or France, but he responded favorably to the expansive recommendations of 1582 of his Captain General of the Ocean Seas Don Alvaro de Bazaan, Marquis de Santa Cruz, viewing the Enterprise as his God-given duty. It was his vice-royal and nephew in the Netherlands, Alexander Famese, Duke of Parma, who preferred negotiation, but hardly “at any price.”
“Crews had been hastily shanghaied . . . to replace the mass desertions,’’ continues the article. True, there were desertions—there always were—but “mass”? True, many Portuguese were reluctant, as were some Ragusans, English, Germans, and Flemish, to fight a perceived Spanish battle in their own ships, but pay was too good for sailors to desert en masse. Besides, how did those ships ever get under way, much less survive the rare “Protestant” hurricane of 17-20 September 1588 off Ireland, as most of them did? That hurricane was so rare that it was not repeated until “Debbie” of August 1962. The author fails to even mention the weather, which was an enemy far worse than Drake.
The San Martin, which the author identified as Spanish, actually was the Portuguese galleon the Sad Martinho. “[English] ship-destroying brass- cannons?” Actually, they were culverins and demi-culverins.
“Many ships. . . [sought]refuge on the Irish coast.” There were 31. “Only one . . . [Basque Admiral Juan Recalde’s] San Juan de [Sao Joao da] Portugal, ever made it back to Spain.” How, then, did Count Aramburu ever write his detailed description of his experiences?
To his credit, Mr. Burnett uses the word “gallantry” with respect to Spanish conduct, but “thus ended the Great Enterprise”? King Philip II sent two more armadas against England in 1596 and 1597, both blown back by adverse winds, and Philip III dispatched an armada against the English army at Kinsale, Ireland, in 1607.
Finally, the typography must include the Spanish tilde and Spanish and French accent (stress) marks. “Medina Sidonia' needs a hyphen. “Senora” without a tilde over the “n” is a strange sound and “Corunna” is, literally, medieval spelling.
In sum, a disappointing, sterile, and unreliable recounting of what should have been 4,000 blood-stirring words. The article was unbalanced, contained too much battle-detail, and included none of the tragic experiences, terrible suffering, much torture, and 6,000 deaths in and around Ireland.
“The Spirit of the Essex”
(See R. L. Upchurch, pp. 18-24, Winter 1988; J. G. Daniels and K. D. Baldridge, pp. 4-6, Summer 1988 Naval History)
Louis L. Behrmann—I can add another hit of information regarding the Essex (CV-9) and the Marine Corps. We were the first of the class to carry Marine squadrons into combat, along with our Navy squadrons. This information seems to be missing from the “official” history of the Essex. If memory serves, the Marines had gone for some time without aerial combat until these squadrons came aboard. In addition to “conventional” aerial combat, these Marines in their Corsairs flew close cover for the ground troops. They flew from the ship, landed directly behind the front lines of combat to gather the best combat intelligence, then took off from the dirt runways to bomb and strafe the strong points that were giving the ground forces a hard time. The Marines were joined by the Avengers of VB-83 in this close support on Okinawa.
“Opening the Door to Alaska: The Cruises of the Revenue Cutter Thomas Corwin”
(See G. L. Killey, pp. 23-27, Fall 1988 Naval History)
Commander William S. Hanable, U. S. Naval Reserve, historian with the Alaska Region, former Executive Director of the Alaska Historical Commission—Many readers may not be aware that the 1882 bombardment of the native village Angoon, in which the Thomas Corwin participated, has received a great deal of study in recent years. The U. S. Navy bombarded the Tlingit village of Angoon in response to an accident at the nearby whaling station, Killisnoo.
The Angoon Tlingits took two white hostages (who had been in the whaling boat at the time of the accident) and demanded restitution of 200 blankets for the death of their shaman, who had been billed when a harpoon gun exploded on board a small whaling boat.
The white manager at Killisnoo fled with his family on board the trading steamer Favorite to Sitka, where he asked for help from Commander E. C. Merriam of the USS Adams. The Adams had just arrived at Sitka to replace the USS Wachusett as the Navy station ship there.
On his way into Sitka before the incident, Merriam had stopped at Angoon where he advised the natives to seek “white man’s justice” rather than continue to apply the traditional Tlingit systems of compensation for injury. Therefore, he responded vigorously to the Killisnoo trader’s plea for help.
The Thomas Corwin was at Sitka to coal, as Ensign Killey notes. Her captain was First Lieutenant Michael A. Healy of the Revenue Cutter Service. Healy had taken command of the Thomas Corwin on 28 April 1882. He replaced C. L. Hooper, who had detached from the Thomas Corwin 24 December 1881.
A large ship, the Adams could not operate easily in the restricted waters at Angoon, so Merriam placed a howitzer and a Gatling gun on board the Favorite. Navy Lieutenant C. W. Bartlett and 20 Marines and 50 sailors made up the naval party sent to Angoon on board the trader. Merriam followed in the Thomas Corwin when the Revenue Cutter had finished coaling at Sitka.
Merriam demanded that the Tlingit pay 400 blankets in apology for taking the two white men hostage. When the natives refused, he led the burning and shelling of 40 Tlingit canoes, as well as of the village of Angoon itself. Before the village was destroyed, Merriam attempted to ensure that its inhabitants had evacuated their homes. Despite this caution, several children are said to have perished from smoke inhalation during the shelling. Merriam did spare five large communal living houses so that the natives would have shelter during the coming winter.
The severity of Merriam’s action provoked some criticism in San Francisco newspapers at the time of the incident. Much later, the village of Angoon sued the U. S. Navy for compensation. The Navy settled out of court in 1973, paying $90,000 to the village. Although the village accepted the monetary settlement, it still seeks an apology from the Navy. In 1982, the village commemorated the centennial of the incident.
Anthropologist Frederica De Laguna treated the incident at Angoon fully in her study The Story of a Tlingit Community (Washington D. C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1960). More recently articles on the bombardment have been published in Alaskan periodicals and newspapers. It was also the subject of a paper presented by Professor Ted C. Hinckley of San Jose State University at the 1987 Naval History Symposium.
“Kilroy Was Here”
(See R. W. O’Donnell, p. 36, Winter 1989 Naval History)
Major W. H. Gustafson, U. S. Marine Corps (Retired)—In 1977 I was employed by Sudan Air Taxi as a captain and based in Khartoum. One of my flights took me to El Geneina, a somewhat less than thriving community adjacent to the Chad border and about 800 nautical miles west-southwest of Khartoum. (By the way, this story is just a small part of what happened to me that day, but the article jogged my memory and even elicited a hearty chuckle concerning one of those incidents.)
After arriving I needed to visit an onsite facility, so I grabbed a roll of toilet paper from the aircraft and made tracks to a row of heads that were apparently manufactured for the Allied aircrews using this airfield during World War II. Surprisingly, they were in excellent condition; I attribute that to the metal construction, welded and footed in concrete. Rest assured, if they hadn’t been anchored in this fashion, the locals would have cannibalized them long before my visit. While occupied with the task at hand and subconsciously scanning my temporary habitat, I noticed a caricature of Kilroy and the familiar caption, “Kilroy Was Here!” This discovery made my day and was good for more than one chuckle. Too bad my on-board “customer,” though an American, was too young to realize the impact of that graffiti.
What else happened that day? The “customer” and I were held at gunpoint by the local militia until rescued by two Sandhurst-graduate Sudanese officers. We discovered that the flight plan was never activated by El Fashir, our departure point.
Flying in the Sudan was fun, up to a point. Another small part of the “El Geneina incident” was the confiscation of our cameras because of the secret nature of the airfield. A very definite overkill!
I’ll wager the graffiti is still there, and in the far distant future, some archaeologist will contemplate “Kilroy Was Here” and wonder what it means. In that climate, those heads will outlast the pyramids! And so will Kilroy!
(See G. J. Lappan, pp. 26-30, Winter 1989 Naval History)
Lieutenant Commander Samuel G. Morrison, U. S. Naval Reserve (Retired)— Commander Lappan’s account of his visit “home” to the Chicago (CG-11) certainly brought back memories to me, memories of the Chicago when she was truly the “newest U. S. warship.”
On 2 May 1944, 20 years to the day before the recommissioning described by Commander Lappan, I reported to the Philadelphia Navy Yard “for approximately six months duty under instruction.” I was then 21 years old, with a commission as ensign in the construction corps volunteer specialists, in the U. S. Naval Reserve dated 27 April 1944. Following a whirlwind two-week indoctrination into yard organization, systems, and procedures, I was directed to report to the hull superintendent for new construction, Commander A. L. Dunning. He directed me and Ensign John L. Dawson, Jr., who had reported at the same time, to “go out to Building 620, find Lieutenant Commander Jim Terry who is hull superintendent for CAs 135 and 136, and tell him that you are to work for him.”
Building 620 was located between dry docks four and five at the extreme western end of the navy yard, where the Schuylkill River empties into the Delaware. The dry docks had been built as graving docks for the construction of post-Amu (BB-61)-class battleships. They, and two similar docks in the New York Navy Yard, were the largest in the country at that time, more than 1,000 feet long and about 120 feet wide, as I recall. By the time the docks were completed, the battleships had been postponed in favor of more urgently needed carriers and cruisers. On 14 March 1943, the keel for the Antietam (CV-36) was laid in dry- dock five, and on 28 July 1943, the keels for two heavy cruisers, the Los Angeles (CA-135) and the Chicago (CA-136), were laid in drydock four.
The Chicago's Navy career and my own began at almost the same time. In December 1942, during my junior year in the department of naval architecture and marine engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), I had enlisted in the Navy’s V-7 program, by which volunteers could finish college before attending midshipman school. On 1 July 1943,1 was called to active duty as part of the new V-12 program and sent back to MIT for my senior year, which, under the wartime speedup, went from July 1943 through February 1944. Late in 1943 or early in 1944, all of the graduating V-12ers were given orders to report to the Midshipman School at Columbia University. On 25 February a dispatch from the Bureau of Personnel directed those of us who were graduating with naval architecture degrees to report to the Midshipman School at Cornell instead of to Columbia. This was something of a surprise because at that time none of us had heard of a midshipman school at Cornell. The feeling was mutual, because when, on the evening of 2 March, 36 apprentice seamen walked in out of a raging snowstorm and reported for duty we learned that the Cornell school had never heard of us either!
It later developed that someone in Personnel had realized first that fledgling naval architects would probably be more useful in a shipyard than at sea; second, that if they were not going to sea they would not require the standard four- month midshipman’s curriculum; and third, if they were to have a special course, perhaps it would be easier to organize at a brand-new school (Cornell), which would probably be all fouled up for a while anyway. At least, that is how we figured it out. The idea was well conceived but poorly executed—no one thought to notify Cornell that we were coming. There were then three schools offering naval architecture programs: MIT, Webb Institute of Naval Architecture, and the University of Michigan. By coincidence each had twelve V-12 students, who, after a few days of frantic phone calls between Ithaca and Washington, found themselves formed into the third platoon of the first company of the first class of midshipmen at the Cornell naval training school. We were to receive eight weeks of training rather than 16; instead of being promoted from apprentice seaman to midshipman after four weeks, we were to remain seamen until we were commissioned. A full account of that eight weeks would require an article by itself. Suffice to say that on 27 April 1944 we were duly sworn in by Navy Captain B. W. Chippendale, who after administering the oath said, “Congratulations, gentlemen. You are now officers in the United States Navy.” He also gave us a glare which clearly meant “. . . and heaven help the United States Navy,” turned on his heels, and stamped out.
But back to Philadelphia. Jim Terry immediately designated us as assistant hull superintendents, Dawson on the Los Angeles and myself on the Chicago. At that time both ships were empty steel shells, with hulls plated up to the main deck but with little or no superstructure in place. We quickly learned that as junior hull superintendents we were kings of the inner bottoms on our respective ships. That is, our main responsibility was to witness and certify to the proper strength and tightness and testing, and later the completion testing, of all built-in tanks and void spaces. Later we had to inspect all of these spaces for completion and cleanliness before they were closed and sealed and the ship was turned over to the commissioning crew. As construction proceeded, we oversaw the testing of all of the ships’ compartments, all of the hull machinery from anchor windlass to garbage grinder, and learned the problems of applying “hot plastic” bottom paint in 20° Fahrenheit weather.
On Sunday, 20 August 1944, the yard held what was billed as the largest multiple launching in history. The Antietam, the Los Angeles, and the Chicago were to be launched on the same afternoon. The shipyard workers were invited to bring their families, and thousands of them did. The “launching” consisted of the sponsor’s breaking a bottle of champagne over each bow, after which the docks were flooded until water just touched the ships' bottoms. After the crowds had gone the docks were pumped down and work went on as before.
About this time it was decided to concentrate effort on the Chicago and get her into the fleet as quickly as possible, with the Los Angeles to follow. All that fall the ship superintendents worked seven days a week, plus one additional night shift each week, plus standing the regular industrial department duty watches. The effort paid off, and on 10 January 1945, just 17½ months from keel laying, the Chicago had her first commissioning. On 14 February she started her trial run, an overnight trip to the mouth of the Delaware River and back. As a representative of the building yard, I went on the trip to the mouth of the Delaware River and back. In three years of active duty that was the only night I spent afloat. A few days later I watched as the Chicago headed down the river, this time bound for the Pacific.
By that time I was fully immersed in completing the Los Angeles. Instead of the seven hull superintendents we once had had on the Chicago, we were allowed two. In some ways I got to know her even tatter than the Chicago, but that ship, “my” first ship, was always my favorite. The Los Angeles was commissioned on July 1945, just less than two years from keel laying. Following that I helped finish up the Princeton (CV-37) and then spent several months in the turret shop before being released from active duty in may 1946.
After leaving the Navy, I returned to MIT for a year, then spent seven years with a small steel fabricator. In March 1954, shortly after the Nautilus (SSN-571) had been launched, I went to work in the design department of Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics, where I spent the next 33 years working on the design of nuclear submarines, something none of us ever dreamed of at the Cornell 'mining school.
In May 1965, or maybe 1966, I made a rush business trip to San Diego and was forced to stay over an extra day waiting to catch a flight home. It was a beautiful day in that beautiful city and I decided to take a harbor excursion on one of the tourist boats. There were a number of Navy ships moored there, but one in particular caught my eye. She looked strangely familiar, yet unfamiliar at the same time. As we passed close alongside, the boat’s captain came on the loudspeaker system and said, “Take a good look at the USS Chicago, our newest guided-missile ship. I understand it took five years to convert her from guns to missiles.” Then I recognized her! From waterline to deck edge she was the ship I knew. There was no mistaking the rake of her bow, nor the radiused plate joining sides to deck along most of her length. But her superstructure—pardon me, Commander Lappan— I thought it was as ugly as sin compared with the lithe, trim look she had had in 1945. And five years! Those boys couldn't have had a production officer like our Captain Henry A. Seiller pushing them. But, I began to reflect, they probably had their problems, too, and I guess a missile ship may be more complicated than a gun ship. After all, no one can build a nuclear submarine in the time it took for a diesel boat. And one thing we can agree on, the Chicago was a good ship. I still like to think I had a small part in making her that way. Thanks, Commander Lappan, for giving me one more look at her.