Afloat cryptologic operations in 1972 while operating in the Gulf of Tonkin by Mr. Thomas Stovall.
I joined the Navy mid-1971. After boot camp I was sent to Pensacola, FL to take a course in Morse code and then a class in direction finding. We were known as spooks to most of the other navy ratings. I was a CTR, or at the time, Communications Tech Radioman. Our job was to listen to hostile and potentially hostile nations. Finishing school I was sent to the Philippines and I joined up with other CT rating spooks. We had two CTI’s (interpreters trained in the Vietnamese language). We also had two CTO’s (operators) capable of sending our data received encrypted to those that needed the information. We had one CTM (maintenance) who could hook up and repair our equipment. We had one more CTR as I was a CTR for a total of two Radiomen (capable of receiving Morse code which was used by the North Vietnamese.) Plus we had our officer in charge. The duplication of CT’s was so that we could man our stations around the clock.
Our team of spooks was sent first to the USS Mahan DLG-11, a guided missile frigate in the Gulf of Tonkin in May 1972. A Quick Van was attached to the superstructure at Subic Bay, Philippines where we crowded into during our Gulf of Tonkin stations. We honed our craft cryptologic skills quickly as Operation Linebacker was underway, which was trying to curb the Easter Offensive by the North. Between 10 May and 23 October 1972, the United States lost a total of 134 aircraft during intense bombing of the north. The North Vietnam Air Force was about 200 migs total. Their loses were 63. AAA accounted for the majority of our loses, then SAM, then migs. Our team had a lot to do to provide timely and accurate information to those who needed it.
After 30 or so days as the Mahan was leaving the gulf, we and our quick van were helo’d to the USS Parsons DDG-33, an incoming Destroyer in June of 1972. Finally after another 33 or so days as the Parsons was leaving we were helo’d to the USS Biddle DLG-34, a Guided Missile Frigate which was stationed near Haiphong Harbor North Vietnam at station PIRAZ (Positive Identification Radar Advisory Zone). The Easter Offensive by the North was still showing signs of success as their troops were backed by their artillery and tanks. It is estimated that the equivalent of 15 divisions of infantry and 600 tanks were used by the North during this offensive.
The enemy did not like Biddle that close to Haiphong Harbor, so on a moonless night during bad weather, when our carrier planes were nonexistent, 2 Migs came out feet wet hugging the sea to keep off our radar. However, we spooks knew they were coming and put manual entries into the NTDS (Naval Tactical Data System) indicating hostiles. The distance from them and our ship was only a couple minutes based on the migs afterburner speeds. We went to General Quarters and immediately fired our Terrier missiles in the same breath. One mig was destroyed and the 2nd mig ran for home just as 3 more migs were detected by us spooks. The Captain had our ship at top speed with zig zag turns and the migs were so close that the last Terriers fired could not lock onto target. For the first time since WWII, our ship began a barrage fire with the 3 inch and 5 inch guns rapid firing continuously. One more mig was destroyed, as one other fled for home. We knew for certain that a third mig pilot saw us and that pilot wanted to kill us. He overflew us and everyone on board held their breath for the bomb to come. It never came. We never found out why.
Our shotgun, the frigate USS Gray FF-1054, witnessed our fire and someone on her said that we looked like a 4th of July show with all our guns and missiles being fired. The crew performed flawlessly and the guns rapid fired until ordered to stop.
As the Biddle was being replaced in late July and headed for Subic Bay, we spooks were helo’d to Da Nang and then helo’d to Phu Bai. A few months after the conclusion of Operation Linebacker, our team transferred to Udorn, Thailand where we stayed until about the end of the US involvement in South Vietnam. We had to replace one CTI during our time on the USS Parsons who had suffered some mental problems. Otherwise we had the original team.
I have no pictures of that time period of Vietnam. I have no pictures of me either in the Navy. I was a CTR3 during the engagements but made CTR2 before I got out in 1976. I would have stayed in if my experiences when going home on leave didn’t happen. For example, the worst time was when I came home on a C-130 filled with our wounded. We landed at Travis AFB and outside the high chained link fence were rioters with signs of hatred for us. They were from Berkeley. They threw garbage at us coming off the plane, even though the majority departing was wounded, many of whom were on stretchers. I’ll never forget that as long as I live.