Incoming! June 21st, 1972

By SN Keith Elsberry

I don’t remember the exact date or time anymore but I can still vividly recall my days aboard the Hammond as if they were yesterday. One particular day I remember even better than the rest. We were conducting one of our standard “draw fire” missions off the coast of Vietnam during the war. This was something we seemed to do almost every day.

I was wearing a flak vest and helmet as I stood aft lookout watch up on the helo deck. The midday sun made it very hot and humid in the South China Sea. My helmet sat on the deck at my feet and my vest was wide open, barely over my shoulders. The helo deck is a wide open deck running the entire width of the ship where our LAMPS 2 helicopter lands. It offered no protection from either the sun or what was about to happen next.

I was leaning on a stanchion on the starboard side paying no particular attention to anything when a geyser of water exploded skyward just off the port side the ship. I was frozen in fear and time stood still. From the water column I saw large chunks of shrapnel flying straight at me. As the metal rained down I threw on my helmet and closed my vest. I immediately called the incoming rounds up to the bridge and gave bearing and degrees to where I thought the rounds had come from. Looking down, a large chunk of metal lay at my feet. I tried to pick it up but it was hotter than hell. To this day I cannot believe that I was not hit by that blast.

Shells started falling all around the ship. First they fell in front of the ship and then they started to fall off the starboard side. The commies had indeed found our range and began walking rounds in on the ship. Round after round landed in the ocean on the starboard side, each a little closer than the next. I knew within a round or two they would be falling where I stood. I truly believed I was going to be blown up that day. I will hear very few sounds in my life as sweet as that high pitched whine of the ship’s turbines as we kicked it into full speed. The next set of three rounds fell in our wake where we had been moments before.

As we moved a safe distance away from the mountains where the cannon roared the bridge sent a buddy of mine, Eugene Heckt, back to check on me. Gene took one look at me and just started laughing.

“Keith, you look you just saw a ghost!” Gene chided.

I was none too amused.

SN Keith Elsberry

3 Responses to Incoming! June 21st, 1972

  1. Jerff Zavada says:

    This is Zee. I was reading the ship logs the we were on the gun line there was an entry made just after we secured from shooting. Look outs reported counter battery and in five minutes we received 20 rounds of counter battery.
    During my first year on the ship I was assigned in the gun magazine and then to aft look out for GQ.
    Good hearing from you Keith.

    • Christopher O’Rourke says:

      Kieth Elsberry you lived an experience that you will never forget. I was on the USS Blue Ridge LCC-19 off the coast of Vietnam-Nam April 30,1975. When a helicopter that was unmanned because the pilot jumped out hit the Portside not far from GSK where I worked at. I thought we were being fired at by the Communists when we were in the evacuation of the last Diplomatic Corps personell from Viet Nam. We have our Navy & Viet Nam stories that we will be telling our grandchildren when they will ask us.

  2. Denny Haldeman says:

    I was on the Whipple-DE 1062 and remember us working along side the Hammond on H&I/draw fire missions. I remember a day just like that with shrapnel sounding like hail against the hull. We were on the gunline for 66 days during that period taking a break on day 55 to get a new gun barrel in Da Nang Harbor. Haldeman.

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