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Memorial Day – remembering the fallen

May 26, 2014

As a friend pointed out this morning, Veterans Day is a time to thank those who serve.  All gave some, but some gave all.  Memorial Day is a time to remember those who gave all in service to their country. This is my memory I’ll share. – Papa

Monday, May 26, 2014: Sixth Monday of Easter; Memorial Day

Acts 16:11-15. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul taught.
John 15:26 – 16:4. The Spirit of truth will testify to me.

Gospel Reflection:

Christ is risen!  R. He is risen indeed!

The Spirit of truth will testify to me, and you also will testify.”  Lydia saw it.  The disciples were given fair warning today in the Gospel.  And I stand here knowing deep within my heart, that all veterans know of the testimony of truth.

Some of you are aware that I served in the Submarine Force.  In the beginning, I was going to my first school: Basic Electricity and Electronics School in beautiful and iconic San Diego, California.  Memorial Day, 1980.  One of my roommates was Jim Stevens from Visalia, California. Jim was a person of exceptional good humor, and was a good shipmate: we would always have one another’s back – be it being stuck downtown needing to share cab fare, or needing to apply a generous amount of Solarcain to our sunburns, or making sure if one of us, I must confess, needed help crawling from the Enlisted Man’s club after spending far too much of our little paycheck on not very good – but cold – beer.  We were 19 – almost twenty years old (which is the average age of your average enlisted man in the service. 19.

On the days we were waiting for payday to arrive, we would light Lysol on fire to kill the ants invading our barracks while quoting lines from Apocalypse Now.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

On May 17, 1987 – 7 years later – and 27 years ago – Someone on watch in the Sector Operations Center kept record of the radio traffic on a slow night in the Gulf, and I am extremely grateful for this:  it is in a language that is instantly calming to me, one I recognize from hundreds of drills.  It is fascinating to be able to detach the emotion from that frantic time.  Here is the first two hours of transcripts:

Time(L)     Transmission
2340     How many persons staged for evac?
    Understand 3 casualties – 2 burned, 1 smoke. Duck to drop the doctor to the deck for consultation and make a decision that way.
2343     Roger, the doctor will be dropped first, the supplies second, then the helo will depart to look for the man in the water until the doctor makes his evaluation.
2347     The Duck is 14 miles from your position. We’re standing by awaiting info from the Duck.
    Roger OBA (Oxygen Breathing Apparatus?), canisters (oxygen?), DC equipment (Damage Control?).
    Duck has 6 extra OBA and 17 canisters.
    Duck also has 2 extra medical kits for use on your unit.
    452 this is 9F do you copy?
2354     Please say winds for your unit.
    Anybody on the flight deck give us their best guess for the winds. Direction only will be sufficient.
    Roger, starboard 090.
    All stations keep guard (243.0 MHz) clear for DD transmissions with 9F (Stark?). All other transmissions on helio standard operational freqs.
2357     You are weak and hardly readable. I’m gonna take one turn around and evaluate the situation.
0000     (*Rainbow 2 AWACS) The RSAF has a number of helos on standby at OEDR and will scramble if necessary.
    9F this is SY do you read?
    Stark, roger, I want to take one turn around to evaluate the situation.
    Roqer, can I have your winds?
    I hold you on my 100 at 12 miles.
    It was at this point that I realised that owing to the weather conditions (clear and calm) and sea state (1 foot or less) at the time I could see various blips on primary radar which, during the course of events, I was able to identify as particular ships.
    We received another telex from BAH Marine Radio which was slightly garbled but when corrected went:
    Fire uncontrolled and also missile magazine on fire. Water flooded starboard side. Ship listing 10 – 12 degrees. Ruptured fire mains. Salvage tug alongside and fighting fire. Presently not contemplating abandon ship. Conyngham (CON) 1 hour behind Waddell. Saudi naval warship 23 miles closing in.
0027     I am going to lower both boats. 1 have mass of DC (damage control) gear including OBAs, canisters, de-watering equipment (pumps?!). Where do you want our boats to come alongside?
    Panther2 this is Lima, do you have mode 3, 6021 (a squawk)?
    Roger. Relay from Duck. Do you have any medical evacuees or has the doctor taken care of them?
    Rainbow this is Panther2, do you read?
0039     Relay from Duck. He will spend next hour searching for the man overboard and then if no luck will take evacuees to Bahrain.
0042     Reference to our last, request helos be scrambled this time
    Confirm helo support requested?
    Affirm
    Military hospital in Dhahran standing by. How many helos are you requesting?
    2 sufficient. We need them for searching for the man overboard. Desert Duck has 50 mike (minutes?) endurance then he will be taking the evacuees to Bahrain.
    DD has visual contact with man in the water.
    From 452 (DD), negative on man in the water
    Understand negative visual on man in water.
0046     2 helos scrambled
    Interrogative type helos
    Not known what type. Will advise
0048     Two UH1s scrambled
    Forward starboard quarter. Interrogative name
    Understand negative name
0051     Visual with you. Preparing to come alongside.
0054     We have one P2 to give you. Where do you want us to put it?
    Be advised my boats will approach your stern with DC gear and de-watering gear.
    P250 4 (P254?), canister, DBA. Understand.
0056     What side do you want? Port or Starboard?
    Understand P250s starboard side
    Farther(?) channel 30X (TACAN Ch 30X). We are within 1 mile of Stark.
    From Duck. Confirm man in water had lit and inflated vest or do you just suppose he had it?
0100     Callsigns of helos Civil Defence 03 and 08
    Copy, Civil Defence 03 and 08. Interrogative nationality Saudi?
    Confirm
    Roger will direct all my equipment aft.
0105     At the time of the attack what was your course and speed. We’re trying to backtrack to find the men in the water.
    Roger
0107     Hospital medevac from Germany has been alerted
0109     Are you ready to receive the Duck to pick up evacuees?
    Understand negative.
    Duck copies.
    Preben had his frequency-scanning radio on in the SATCO’s office and he was occasionally monitoring other frequencies. Many of the transmissions were going out on several frequencies – I presume so that different interested parties could follow what was happening even if they didn’t have all the relevant frequencies. From this we learned that the ‘side numbers” of the 2 ships are: Stark: 31 and Waddell: 24.
    Something which rather surprised all of us was that many of the transmissions from Rainbow2 were made by women. This wouldn’t have surprised me in Europe but these aircraft are based in Riyadh.
0120     Request assessment of your situation?
    Roger. Power amidships. Fire above main deck out. Hose teams above and below mess decks. Can you direct me to the fire? CoMidEast wants an update.
0124     Understand 1 30% 2nd and 3rd degree and 1 20% 1st and 2nd degree and burns on eyes. We are receiving a flashing light – 1 dead, several missing. Would like to know if that is coming from your ship or a command message
    Are casualties going to be evacuated in litters?
0128     From Duck. He will be with you in 30 minutes.
0140     A hole you could drive a truck through next to the missile magazine.
0142     The Duck is inbound for medevac. From you 060 for 13.
    Confirm you have green deck?
0150     Doctor will remain with other casualties. Do litters have lines attached with weights for entry into helos?
    Request update on extra casualties to pass back to (??).
    Duck inbound this time, confirm green deck?
0151     Duck requests state of injuries to ambulatory casualties.
0152     Duck advises he has little bingo time left (time on station with sufficient fuel for diversion to shore). 5 minutes maximum.
    We are receiving a flashing light stating 3 dead, confirm?
    Are you sure you don’t want to send passengers now?
    Roger, understand you’re bingoing. (DD presumably unable to get ‘green deck’ because it was cluttered with DC gear, returned to OBBI to refuel.)
    Roger, understand stable
    CD03 and CD08 airborne out of Dhahran right now. Do you need any more helos?
    Don’t know the answer to that. Will get back to you.
    Will all the helos have the same on-station time of 20 mike (minutes)
    Will find out.
    20 mike on station is best available. Do you want more helos?
    20 no good. He will get here then have to leave straight away.
    Would it help if aircraft were scrambled every 30 minutes?

 

The USS Stark (FFG-31), a Perry-class Guided missile Fast Frigate, on patrol in the Persian Gulf, was hit in portside berthing by two Exocet missiles fired by an Iraqi  warplane.  Apparently, there the pilot had a problem with the IFF – Identify Friend or Foe – system, and the Stark – while handcuffed by engagement rules, had little time to react to the missile attack.  37 sailors died – including 2 lost at sea – and 21 were injured.  Among them, as I scanned the paper from my duty station in Ogden, Utah, was Torpedoman’s Mate Second Class, James R. Stevens from Visalia, California, who gave his life in service to a grateful nation.  My friend.

All military personnel take this oath upon enlistment: I, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  So help me God.” This is something that has been in place, fairly unchanged, since 1789.  This is something we all took seriously, without reservation in our 19 year old minds.  In our minds, our service was our own ‘testimony to the truth.’

This was just my story.  It was the Cold War, and we didn’t see the combat that others you know may have.  I still serve; this is my 29th year.  Today, as you are finishing the three-day weekend, learn a story from a veteran.  If you are a Vet – tell the story.  Be appreciative for the sacrifice – great or small – and explain it well to the young.  And vow to act – so that we are not the only country in the world, who is not taking care of the men and women it sends abundantly into harm’s way.

Rest in peace, Jim.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. piratesorka permalink
    May 26, 2014 5:10 pm

    Thank you MIchael, this was very good. It also made me think of my Uncle Ross, the Navy Fire Chief and what he might have had to do in this situation.

  2. Karen Stevens permalink
    May 27, 2014 8:37 am

    Thank you for remembering Jimmy on this Memorial Day. I am married to Jimmy’s oldest brother, John and John is a Vietnam Veteran so not only does John have survivors guilt from his service in Vietnam, he also has a hard time dealing with how Jimmy was killed, needless to say Memorial Day in whole is really not a good day for John, but when I told him your story he was was happy to know that after all this time Jimmy is remembered.

    Sincerely,

    Karen Stevens

  3. May 27, 2014 7:57 pm

    Karen, thank you. The miracle of the Internet. I cannot express how grateful I am for your commenting on my effort to remember this as a small memorial of a tiny story in history – but a story that affected the people remembering 37 fallen. Jimmy was a great guy. It was a fabulous Summer in 1980! The three of us (our other roommate Kellen) had fun, studied hard, and grew up a little. He had a good sense of duty and a heart of service.
    I remember Jim every year, in May, with a Mass. He is a personal face to me of the sacrifices made. Your response gives me validation of my prayers. As I give thanks for Jim’s service, I also thank your husband John, and again, you too.
    I would love to send the cards from the Mass to your family each year. If you would like to send an address you can e-mail me at mikewilliamsOSSM@aol.com
    God bless you and your family!

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