Jerre Franklin Hancock
(Nov. 16, 1945 — Oct. 17, 1966)
Before the USS Pueblo (AGER-2) sailed on her ill-fated maiden voyage to North Korea in January 1968, the USS Banner (AKL-25/AGER-1) had already conducted over fifteen spy missions against targets in North Korea, Communist China, and the Soviet Union. Like the Pueblo, the Banner was a Technical Research Ship (TRS), tasked by the U.S. Navy to intercept the signals of targeted countries. Until June 1, 1967, however, when the Banner was reclassified as an AGER, an Auxiliary, General Environmental Research vessel, she conducted her missions under codename CLICKBEETLE.
About a year prior to the Pueblo’s failed mission along the North Korea coast—a mission that had sparked an international crisis—the Banner had followed the same route successfully; harassed, but not impeded in its operations. During an even earlier Banner mission, the crew was “shocked and grieved” by the loss of ETR3 Jerre Franklin Hancock, an Electronics Technician Radar, on October 17, 1966. His body was never found
Following Hancock’s disappearance, a U.S. Navy lieutenant aboard the Banner was appointed to conduct an investigation. After considering all of the known facts, testimony, and evidence, the Navy concluded that he had fallen overboard at night and drowned. The determination that ETR3 Jerre F. Hancock, 20, was lost at sea was made by letter to the Judge Advocate General ten days later. The name of the Navy lieutenant who conducted the investigation remains redacted in the official (and declassified) “History of the USS Banner (AGER-1)…,” a report that was issued by the Commander of the Naval Surface Force, U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet.
The location and movement of the Banner at the time of the incident, both prior to and following Hancock’s disappearance, is covered in the ship’s deck log of Tuesday, October 18, 1966. The Commander of Task Force 96 (CTF 96), who would later exercise operational control over the Pueblo mission, also had issued the Banner’s sailing order.
In accordance with a September 26, 1966 CTF 96 message, the Banner was directed to sail underway independently within her Special Op-Area—off the coast of Vladivostok, Soviet Union. Between midnight and 4am on October 18th, the Banner sailed on a base course of 270° at a speed of 5 knots. Then at 2:35am, with modified material condition YOKE set, condition of readiness FOUR, the Banner changed course to 295°. And between 4 and 8am that same morning, the Banner was directed to sail underway as before. Then at 6am, she changed course again to due north, and 52 minutes later, to due south while commencing a search and rescue for a man overboard. Five minutes after the Banner had begun reversing course, the Captain of the ship mustered the crew at a foul weather parade; absent was Jerre F. Hancock (391-32-96). The muster had disclosed that Hancock was no longer onboard the ship.
A foul weather muster suggests poor weather in the area; with about an inch of rain falling over the previous 24 hours. When Prof. Takeshi Enomoto, a climate environment expert at Kyoto University, Japan was asked about storms in the area, he said there was a cyclone over the Sea of Okhotsk, a body of water northeast of Vladivostok, “but the wind speed may not have been very strong.”
If Hancock fell overboard into the cold waters of the Sea of Japan, just as the Navy report said, he wouldn’t have survived very long. The average sea temperature off Vladivostok in October is around 13.5°C (56.3°F), but it could have been as low as 9.4°C (48.9°C). Such temperatures (10-15°C) are considered very dangerous and immediately life-threatening, resulting in the total loss of breathing control, maximum intensity cold shock, and the inability to control gasping and hyperventilation.
Jerre’s parents are informed
Once the Navy had determined that Jerre Hancock was no longer on the ship, and presumed dead, they informed Mr. and Mrs. Frank D. Hancock of Spokane, Washington that their only son was “missing at sea.” His parents then contacted the local press. In a front-page story in the Spokane Daily Chronicle, dated October 19, 1966, the Navy described the USS Banner—an intelligence-gathering vessel on a top secret mission to spy on the Soviet fleet—was described as a “cargo ship,” only saying that Jerre’s ship was based in Japan—“Its present location was not disclosed.” Also explained was that the Banner had left Bremerton, Washington, home of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, a year earlier, and was at Guam for a time before changing its base of operations to Japan.
At the time of the sailor’s disappearance, Operation CLICKBEETLE VIII was in progress. CTF 96 had directed her to conduct a normal random patrol in the Sea of Japan until evidence was received that the annual Soviet Pacific Fleet fall exercises in the Sea of Japan were underway. She was then to attempt to intercept the exercising units. Though CTF 96 had extended the Banner’s patrol by two days, it became obvious by October 21st that a Soviet Naval exercise wouldn’t be held in the immediate future, so the Banner was ordered to return to her home base in Yokosuka, Japan.
CLICKBEETLE VIII was terminated with the Banner’s arrival at Yokosuka, after stopping for additional fuel at the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), Ōminato Naval Base. When the Banner departed Yokosuka on her next mission, it became the first overt ship intelligence patrol off the coast of Communist China. Conducted at the request of and as tasked by the National Security Agency (NSA), CLICKBEETLE IX marked the first time the Banner had operated outside of what was considered her normal patrol area.
In May 1969, D.L. Pfister, the Banner’s current Commander, prepared the Banner’s official History and Chronology, a report covering the period from September 1965 through December 1968. During this entire period, Pfister said, “no further deaths or major accidents occurred to ship’s personnel.”
Jerre’s Life Story
Before joined the Navy, Jerre Hancock had attended Arlington and Hamilton elementary schools, and Rogers High School in Spokane, Washington, graduating with his 1963 high school class. As the story in the Spokane Daily Chronicle explains, when it was determined that Jerre was “missing at sea,” he had served in the Navy for three years. What the paper failed to mention, however, was that both of Jerre’s parents were veterans. His mother, May (now 93), was a U.S. Navy WAVE. His father, Frank, who has since passed away, served at Pearl. He also fought the Japanese in the Pacific Theater during the war.
As his family tells it, Frank took a bayonet through his back and lung, and was one of the few in his unit to survive. Frank’s buddy, Jerre, had saved him by carrying him back to base; no small feat since Frank was a “pretty big guy.” Jerre, who got his ass chewed out for leaving his post in saving Frank, later died in combat. Long before Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was a recognized disorder triggered by a terrifying event, Frank suffered from nightmares; fighting and screaming in his sleep. Frank Hancock later named his son, Jerre, after his war buddy who had saved his life during the war.
At the time of Jerre Hancock’s death, his family lived in Spokane, Washington, but his burial marker was placed, instead, at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland, Oregon. When a former crewman aboard the USS Pueblo, who asked to remain anonymous, was asked about the Banner crewman who had fallen overboard, he replied, “We talked to the Banner sailors; thought they were the real deal—beards and a lot of salt. Never knew about the dead sailor. I imagine that [Lloyd M. Bucher, the Commander of the USS Pueblo] knew, but that’s my guess.”
I would like to thank the following individuals for providing invaluable information: Irek Sabitov, a Russian journalist; Takeshi Enomoto, Associate Professor, Climate Environment Atmosphere and Hydrospheric Disasters Disaster Prevention Research Institute, Kyoto University, Japan; and Steven Christianson, Jerre Hancock’s nephew. The photo of Jerre Hancock in uniform and the article in the Spokane Daily Chronicle were provided by Steven Christianson. The photograph of Jerre Hancock’s burial marker was taken by Delores Passmore.
By Bill Streifer
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