Fighting Tiger

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
There is not much to say except that this is a true story.

Submitted: January 06, 2015

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Submitted: January 06, 2015



History books are full of crap. Now that I am old enough to have lived through some of that stuff, I am appalled at many of the things I read. The basic facts seem correct up to a point, but the books seem to miss the essence of what actually went down at the time. In particular, they fail to mention lots of the bizarre circumstances that arise quite unexpectedly in the midst of warfare.

For instance, take the time that I rode a tiger into combat during the Vietnam War. It's not likely you will ever read about that in any book. It was the 36th time I stared Death in the face, and for the 36th straight time, the Grim Reaper blinked first, leaving me here to tell the story should anybody actually give a shit.

In 1967, the Navy allowed destroyers, cruisers and even a battleship to prowl the waters off North Vietnam from the DMZ up to the 19th parallel. For a brief period, they were allowed as far north as the 20th parallel. Officially, it was called Operation Sea Dragon, and the purpose was to seek and destroy anything of military value to the enemy. Furthermore, the task wasn't limited to the U.S. Navy. I remember a couple of instances where I watched Aussie destroyers putting a heap of hurt on hapless NV targets.

These things are all well and good at first. One must realize, however, that the enemy eventually gets pissed off with having their stuff blown up. At some point, the enemy gets mad enough to start shooting back. When that happens, war suddenly isn't fun anymore.

I was on a destroyer that went on 47 firing missions in 29 days. Happily, from my point of view, it wasn't 29 straight days but rather a week here and a week there throughout the spring and summer of that year.

Some of the firefights were pretty intense with as many as 200 near misses by enemy artillery shells in the space of an hour. After a while, there were so many that we stopped counting. Fortunately, we never took any direct hits like other ships did. While the concussions from the near misses did some minor hull damage below the water line, the major damage (that will likely never be mentioned in the history books) was caused by the ship's own guns. It was extensive enough that it caused us to leave the firing line.

Having fired hundreds and hundreds of rounds of five inch shells in each of a half dozen gunfights over the period of a few days, the recoil from the ship's guns had cracked many seams in the deck. When a rain squall blew up, water began percolating through the cracks and dripping down below. As long as it just dripped on sailors, the fighting continued, but when the water began shorting out electrical equipment and sending sparks flying everywhere, we had to pull out.

We dashed out to sea away from the battle. The shipfitters then broke out their equipment and welded the ship back together. Around an hour later, as he dashed back to the conflict, the deck apes slapped primer paint on the still warm welds. It didn't have time to dry enough for a top coat, so we returned as is.

Everybody is aware that Navy ships are painted grey, but few people realize that the primer paint in use at the time, zinc chromate to be exact, is a bright yellow color, so there we were on a grey ship covered in yellow stripes. I remember looking out a hatch and thinking to myself, "Sweet Jesus, we look like a freakin' Bengal tiger." I remember thinking too that we'd stick out like a sore thumb among the ships on the gun line, making us a dandy target for the Vietnamese gunners.

While I was pondering our unfortunate situation, artillery shells began splashing down around the ship, and the general alarm went off: Bonggg, Bonggg, Bonggg . . . The bos'n's mate bellowed, "Now, General Quarters, General Quarters, all hands man your battle stations. This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill."

Well, duh, as if I didn't know that already.

Copyright © 2015 W.C. Bell; All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2019 Whiskey Charlie. All rights reserved.

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