April-June 1972 – The two SHRIKE missile hits on the WORDEN were a “mission kill” on her. Nearly all of its radars were out of action, and we headed for Subic Bay in the Philippines at our best speed, which was something over 30 knots.
I, along with the rest of the Naval Security Group (NavSecGru or NSG) team, spent the transit preparing our technical materials, which were highly classified, for shipment via the Armed Forces Courier Service (ARFCOS) back to our base at Misawa, Japan. This was a task you do not take lightly. A screw-up could cost you your career. Upon arrival at Subic Bay Naval Station, we went straight to the ARFCOS office to arrange for their shipment back to Japan. At the ARFCOS office, we were handed a message from the ranking NavSecGru officer in the area, CDR Paul Deschler, Department Head of the Naval Security Group element at San Miguel, located on the Naval Communications Station 20 or so miles north of Subic Bay on Lingayen Gulf. He knew of our problems, and both offered us all the support his command could provide as well as an intriguing, at least to me, opportunity.
The buildup of naval units to support the increased operations against North Vietnam had put a real stain on NavSecGru Activity San Miguel. The need for NSG Direct Support teams to crew the many new ships in the area to provide technical intelligence support had well out-paced their ability to supply them, and he had been given permission by the Pacific Fleet NavSecGru commander to use our detachment from WORDEN any way he needed to assist the increased war effort. He did not want to keep anyone against their will, but he offered us the chance to volunteer to become part of his direct support teams deploying in the Gulf of Tonkin to directly assist the war. Most of the guys on my team had been focused on the Russian problem for most, if not all, of their careers and did not feel they could do a credible job without significant retraining. I, on the other hand, had already served in an intelligence role in a missile cruiser off Vietnam and I was sure I could come up to speed quickly, so I volunteered. There is an old Army adage that says “Marching in the direction of gunfire is never a bad idea.” So it proved for me.
Another old military adage world-wide is “Never volunteer for anything.” But I am convinced that is dead wrong, and that has certainly proved true several times my case. I was enrolled in a quick course on North Vietnamese order of battle, capabilities, and tactics. Also given instruction on the various pieces of gear my team would be using and the communications procedures we would be using. Nearly all of it was familiar to me due to my time on HORNE, and I quickly mastered what else I needed to know. During this short period, I was introduced to my team leader, an exceptional young ensign, Gary Blank. He was very bright and personable, one of the sharpest men I ever served with. Even though I was promoted to LT on 1 May, which put me 2 ranks senior to him I had no problem accepting him as my leader. I completed my indoctrination/training very quickly, and our direct support team embarked on the USS Chicago (CG 11) in port Subic Bay in late April. We sailed for Yankee Station in the northern Gulf of Tonkin almost immediately.
I spent both the transit and our first few days on station getting to know the current mission and the capabilities of both our equipment and our men…We had several intercept operators and communications guys plus a couple of maintenance men to keep the intercept gear and the special communications online at all times. Gary Blank and I got on very well and early on the morning of 9 May 1972 he helo’d off CHICAGO to assume duties as the signals intelligence advisor to the task force commander on the USS OKLAHOMA CITY, another WW II era cruiser converted to a missile cruiser and the fleet flagship. I was now the Officer in Charge of my first signals intelligence collection and reporting detachment.
Immediately after I assumed my new role the ship’s operations officer held a short briefing in the wardroom for all officers and I learned we were on our way north to support the mining of Haiphong harbor. This action had long been requested by the various military commanders, but the politicians had not wanted to escalate to this point. The North Vietnamese all-out invasion of South Vietnam a month earlier had changed all that and President Nixon and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, had decided it had to done. We were to take station very close to the mouth of the harbor, right back in basically the same spot where the WORDEN had been hit. We all quickly disbursed to our various duty stations, and I hurried to Supplemental Radio (SupRad) as our intercept spaces were called. Once there I briefed the team on the news, and they all cheered. We all knew we needed to be especially watchful this close to the hostile shore. Very soon we began to hear the shore batteries at the mouth of the harbor firing at us and could feel the concussion of the shells hitting the water all around us. It was not accurate fire because we were jamming their fire control radars, but it still felt very, very eerie. It helped to sharpen our senses as to what was happening on the airways.