My 4 years in the US Navy

After boot camp and Radarman “A” School I spent about 3 1/2 years aboard the USS Francis Hammond (DE-1067) a Knox-class destroyer escort.  These were reclassified as a “Fast Frigate” (FF-1067) in 1975.  It was the only ship I served on during my enlistment.  I did spend 10 days of temporary duty aboard the USS Ticonderoga during a multi-national ASW exercise in February 1971.  I was told by some of my shipmates who came from other ships in the fleet how lucky I was to serve aboard a brand spankin’ newly commissioned ship.  While I was aboard, we never had the insect and rodent problems that sometimes infested “older” ships.

Here’s some stats of the USS Francis Hammond.  It was one of 46 Knox-class vessels, the largest class built since WWII.  The ship was 438′ in length, 46′ at the beam with a draft of 25′ and displaced 4100 tons.  At the time of de-commissioning, the USS Francis Hammond was the most decorated of the entire class, having seen action in Viet Nam in 1972 and awarded the combat action ribbon as well as Viet Nam Campaign Medal and Viet Nam Service Medal (w/2 stars).  She was also awarded the Kuwait Liberation Medal from both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.  She was awarded for action against Iran in the 80’s and also for service in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield in the early ’90’s, as well as many other medals awards and honors.  The Francis Hammond was also the highest awarded gunnery platform and ASW platform in U.S. Naval history.  A full list can be see over at http://www.ussfrancishammond.org/.

Radarman LogoAfter basic training in San Diego, I was sent to Great Lakes Naval Training Center in North Chicago for several months of Radarman “A” School.  Upon graduation there, I was ordered back to San Diego’s 32nd St. base to attend Pre-Commissioning training and from there to Long Beach to board this new ship, that hadn’t yet ever seen any sea duty, just as myself.  When I arrived there was still plenty of shipyard activity going on with the finishing touches.  While in port we were learning our way around the ship as well as some training exercises.  Occasionally, some of us in the “radar gang” were sent to San Diego for ASW (anti-submarine warfare), AAW (anti-air warfare) and EW (electronic warfare) training to fine-tune and advance the skills learned in Radarman School.

During sea trials out of Long Beach in the summer of 1970, it was the first time out to sea for a majority of our crew.  I saw lots of my buddies in CIC (combat information center, where I worked) get sick the first time out, but I never did, knock on wood.  The closest I ever came to getting seasick was when we rode out a typhoon south of Hong Kong in 1972.  I’ll never forget that first time pulling out of Long Beach harbor and sitting at a radar repeater.  We were picking up hundreds of pleasure craft as radar blips and were sure we were going to have a collision, but as usual, the bridge had total control of everything visually.  We had run through the alphabet designating “skunks”after which we called them skunk alpha-alpha, skunk alpha-bravo, skunk alpha-charlie, and so on.  In radar school, I don’t think we ever tracked any more than a few targets at a time!

Dennis Clevenger in Pearl Harbor, January 1972

Me in Pearl Harbor 1972

There were lots of sea trials, training and exercises up and down the west coast during 1970 and 1971.  It wasn’t unusual for this ship to occasionally lose all power.  One particular instance happened at night during the mid-watch while off of Flattery Rocks on the coast of Washington.  We had just plotted a position, that placed us a few miles offshore when everything went off.  There was a distinct sound of motors and fans winding down when the power would go off, referred to as “losing the load”.  The battle lanterns would automatically come on as the phosphors in our de-powered radar scopes faded in the darkness.  That area of coastline is known for its treacherous waters and unforgiving shoreline.  The ship was really rocking and rolling.  Ashtrays and navigation tools were flying around and it was lucky nobody got a concussion from all the gear adrift in CIC.  The engineering crew would always figure out the problem and have us running again shortly.  That cruise to Vancouver, BC, Seattle and other Puget Sound locales was to conduct ASW exercises, missile range tests, torpedo launches and guidance systems calibration.

Destroyer Squadron 9 Insignia

January 1972 saw us heading on our first WestPac cruise as part of Destroyer Squadron 9.  Good times in Hawaii and then on to Subic Bay in the Philippines to get outfitted for combat duty in the Gulf of Tonkin and the South China Sea.  We are now part the the Navy’s 7th Fleet, with the largest fleet buildup since WWII.  While in the gulf we would alternate between time spent at Yankee Station on plane guard for the USS Coral Sea, and then to NGFS duty.  There were the occasional AAW duties, too.  When we would get relieved from Yankee Station and proceed to the Viet Nam coast for NGFS (Naval Gun Fire Support); that was a whole new ball game!  All of our close-in shore patrols were in Military Region 1, between Hue and the DMZ, but mostly off of the sandy beaches Quang Tri and Dong Ha.  Several nights we were assigned H&I (harassment and interdiction) missions where we would fire at or around targets several miles inland at random intervals just to keep the NVA on their toes.  Target coordinates were radioed to us from Army or Marine personnel, but most likely ARVN (Army of the Republic of Viet Nam), since the US was in a phase of demilitarization in Military Region 1.  These missions were designed to wear down NVA troops as well as disrupt traffic on north to south communist supply routes.  I think it was during this time I learned how to sleep “soundly” through almost anything!  My bunk was about 40 feet aft and 1 deck below the 5” cannon.  I remember one morning waking to a sound that made me think I was sleeping underneath a bowling alley.  After a night of H&I missions there was lots of expended shell casings from the 5” 54 caliber MK-42 gun turret on deck above my berthing compartment.  In the morning we headed out to rougher water and when broadside to the seas the ship would roll back and forth, sending the brass rolling across the deck until they hit the lifeline netting with a crash and then rolling to the opposite side crashing again.  This went on until the deck crew was sent to the foredeck to recover the casings and palletize them.  Another inconvenience of being on the gun-line for extended periods was water rationing.  When in close to the shoreline our water intakes would clog with silt and seaweed, so we couldn’t make fresh water.  It wasn’t at all unusual to go several days without a shower.  They called this “water-hours” and any fresh water was directed to the galley for cooking and cleaning.  It can get pretty funky with 250 guys living in a pointy metal box in the hot muggy tropics during the monsoon season!

There was a period of time from the end of March to mid-May that we spent 53 days at sea on Yankee Station, gun-line, ASW exercises and a search and rescue mission.  That was a long time to be at sea.  After that we were in Subic Bay for upkeep and repairs for 28 days.  From there we headed back across the South China Sea to the Gulf of Tonkin and Viet Nam for a 28 day sea period.

During Operation Linebacker we were under the command of Cdr. Peter J. Doerr.  He liked steaming north along the coast about 2,000 yards offshore while providing NGFS between Hue and Quang Tri, firing from the port side.  As incoming fire would start coming toward us we could hear the deck lookouts calling out splashes coming from the beach and getting ever closer.  In CIC we would call the bridge and recommend right full rudder and all ahead flank.  But it seemed like every single time it was 5 minutes before the skipper would issue the same order to the helmsman.  Only once did a shell explode near enough to pepper the port side with shrapnel.  From inside CIC it sounded like popcorn when the metal chunks were hitting the 1/4” thick aluminum bulkhead!  This was during the Easter Offensive of 1972 and was one of our scarier experiences.

Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club PatchA couple of images during combat activity that really impressed me were B-52 strikes and also watching the USS Newport News (CA-148)  firing at targets 5 miles inland.  The Newport News was a few miles north of us with that distinctive silhouette.  There was no mistaking when it was her that was doing the firing.  Lots of fire, smoke and noise coming from those 8 inchers!

One night on the mid-watch we were listening to some of the shore based transmissions regarding air strikes.  About the same time we heard some “ooohs and ahhhs” from the pilothouse and could hear thunder.  I went up to the bridge and from there we could see the outline of the top of the coastal mountain range running north and south through the DMZ.  Behind the outline there was lots of smoke and a bright orange glow out of the night darkness covering many miles of that valley.  I remember feeling the vibrations of those bombs clear out to a few miles offshore.  It was a very impressive display of firepower from B-52’s!  There was more damage to NVA forces and supply lines by our Air Force, Navy and Marine fliers during Operation Linebacker, than in all the rest of the Viet Nam conflict.

One of the reasons for being alert while on radar watch in CIC, was based on some intelligence reports that we received regarding the NVN’s use of Russian-built Mig-17’s that would fly over land at a low altitude and then out over the water to shoot and/or bomb ships close to the beach in a surprise attack.  As a Radarman/Operations Specialist, a lot of responsibility was placed on us, keeping alert for fast moving targets, both surface and air, approaching from the west.  This fear was realized on another ship in our Destroyer Squadron 9, the USS Higbee (DD-806), during the Battle of Dong Hoi on April 19, 1972.  If I remember correctly, they were a ways further north of the DMZ than we were, conducting a shore bombardment mission in company with another destroyer and guided missile cruiser.  A Mig-17 swept out from the coast and dropped a 500 lb bomb on their after gun mount.  Fortunately, there were only a few injuries aboard the Higbee.  This battle resulted in 2 downed Migs as well as a missile shot out of the sky that had originated from an enemy PT boat.  The other fear during this time was that it was reported that the North Vietnamese had a strategy where they would come out of a coastal river or bay with these fast boats armed with a couple of telephone pole sized missiles on the sides at about 50 knots and surprise a larger, less maneuverable vessel.

Radar gang and others

Rear L-R: Marv Martin, Herb Helpingstine, Scott Gillespie, Phil Bailey, Boyd Thomas and Signalman DiBennedetto. Front L-R: Jim Marino and ET or Weapons guy?

Most of this period of time was spent with many of the same guys I started on board with.  There is a certain brotherhood of sailors gained in learning to coexist in tight quarters, under often times stressful conditions.  You realize what the basic training of teamwork is all about and how necessary it is to accomplish tasks that cannot possibly be achieved alone.  There is a camaraderie or brotherhood that cannot ever be achieved any other way and you never forget the shipmates you served with.  I recently tracked down Jim Marino and gave him a call.  We talked over some old times, some stuff I didn’t even remember happening.  He asked how I even remembered his name after almost 40 years.  Funny thing is that I believe I can recall everyone’s name in my division as well as their hometown.  For some I can even still remember their middle name, yet cannot remember what I had for breakfast yesterday.

Dennis Clevenger, December 1969In an odd way I felt sort of lucky to have been able to use the training that was drilled into my head, whereas many people train for years to be ready and not see the practical application for their skills.  It’s all a test and you just need to be ready if given the test.  It was  strange to be caught up in a piece of history that so divided our nation and society.  War is not popular, especially  since it’s usually politically controlled, as has been the case throughout history.  Viet Nam was no exception.  I wasn’t proud of what we did in Viet Nam, but I did sign the contract that I would serve wherever they sent me and for that I’m proud.

49 Responses to My 4 years in the US Navy

  1. Good stuff, Shipmate…good stuff!!!

    Dale R. Wilson
    U.S. Navy (active & reserve) 1986 – 1994

  2. David Peters says:

    Hi there! Keep in mind you may be entitled to comprehensive medical care and other benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. There are a number of sailors who were on ships around Vietnam who now have medical conditions like, Diabetes, Heart Dieseas, several types of cancers, etc., that have been linked to the waters off Vietnam.

    If you would like additional information, please don’t hesitate to ask.

    • Sandy says:

      My husband was on the Francis Hammond in that time period he had most of the presumptive diseases listed and died from multiple myeloma almost three years ago I’m wanting to find out how I can obtain the ship logs to find me the dates that he was there and would have been exsposed to agent orange …

      • Sandy, I’m sorry to hear about your husband. I have a few pages of Deck Logs here . These are just a few select dates during the summer of 1972. If you double-click on one to read it, you can then right-click which should bring up a “Save As” and you can save the PDF formatted file to your computer for printing or whatever. These give locations (lat/long), times, weather conditions, mission info, etc. that may be useful. If you want other pages/dates you would have to get them from the National Archives. See info below…

        OBTAINING COPIES OF A SHIP’S DECK LOGS
        The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) can provide you with copies of just about every naval ship’s deck logs involved in the Vietnam Conflict. They have a web site at http://www.archives.gov/
        These will be actual copies of the deck log pages, sometimes hard to read because of the handwriting, but none the less original. These are accepted by the VA as proof positive of a ship’s activities.

        You need to specify the exact dates that you want copies of. Last year their charge was $0.50 per page, and I don’t know if that price has changed. There is an entry into the Deck Log EVERY DAY even when the ship is just tied to a pier and “nothing is happening” other than routine activities. If you are after the information on a ships location and what it was doing, you will find this in the Deck Log. If you are after a certain activity but are not certain of the exact date, then the best way to get this is to request the Deck Logs for a range of dates. E.G. if you know that sometime in April, 1968 an incident occurred and you want to see if it was recorded in the Deck Log, the best thing to do is to request the Log entries for the entire month of April, 1968. Some days the entries are one paragraph. Some days the entries take up one or more pages.

        The NARA can be contacted by phone to place an order and they can research something to let you know how much your order will cost (like the example of needing the entire month of April, 1968).. or at least they used to provide that service prior to placing an order.

        Their contact information is:
        toll free at: 1-866-272-6272 or 1-86-NARA-NARA
        TDD lines: For College Park, MD: 301-837-0482
        To send a fax: 301-837-0483
        They have a web site at http://www.archives.gov/

  3. Tom Stafne says:

    I was very interested to read this blog. i was on the USS Higbee when we took the bomb from the MIG 17 in April 1972 and…I was the Command Master Chief of USS Francis Hammond from before the Desert Storm deployment until decommissioning July 2nd, 1992.

    • Thanks for reading, Tom! My worst fear over there was exactly what happened to you guys. There was plenty of intel suggesting that they had that capability to come out and drop bombs on naval targets. You were very lucky there weren’t more men around that aft gun mount at the time.

      Dennis

  4. Ray Martin says:

    Dennis, this is the MARV, now retired OSC R Martin. Thanks for posting this blog, love to see the other pics/drawings you made during our time together.

    • Hey Marv, good to hear from you! Glad you’ve enjoyed the writing of some of our adventures. Yeah, some day I hope to post a couple of the John Jupiter stories on the net. They seem pretty dumb and immature when I look at them now. I’ve also scanned the other one that Scotty and I did called “Ain’t War the Shits!”. I’ll post that one sometime, too. Over the years I’ve heard from a couple of other crew members that have been in touch with you. When we were together 40 years ago I was dabbling in art and graphics and I’ve since managed to make a living from it. You can see some of my stuff over at the DC Graphics website . Enjoy the memories, guy!

      Dennis

  5. Joe Elder says:

    This is a great web site. I was there in 1972 till 1975 on the USS Hancock CVA 19 and the LPD 8 USS Dubuque. I was there then. I was l only 18 years old. Olongapo!! and all the rest of the R&R stops for us that all we wanted was to get home to the world….

  6. Charlie Campbell says:

    Happened to find this site and wondered if you rememeber an ET named Guy Higley. I went to 40B school with Guy in 73. I was an 40A tech from the Meyerkord who was being retrained on the B. Guy was coming out of Fallon Nevada and was headed to the Hammond and should have reported aboard in early 74. Guy and I were stationed together again the 80’s as ETCS at MOTU 5 San Diego.

    Charlie Campbell
    ETCS(SW) USN RET

  7. Tom "Butch" Callen - BT3 - USS America CVA66 says:

    Great Web site. Brings back a lot of memories. I was in from Sept. 67 to July 71. Served as a BT on the U.S.S. America CVA66.Deployed to Nam in 68 and again in 70. I havn’t perused all the web site yet but I also havn’t seen any references to Grande Island. This is where we went after blowing all or most of our money in the first 2 or 3 days because it was all free. Beer, Food, and relaxation on an island just for the sailors, they took you over and brought you back to your ship. If I remember correctly we went to subic like 5 times and usually for 5 to 7 days at a times during an 8 to 9 month deployment.
    My 1st time over in 68 I was an FA & then FN and went to different bars all the time. By the 2nd trip I was a 3rd class BT and met a chick in the Valetine club which was a good mile into the strip. I wound up pretty much staying her boyfreind for that cruise going to her each time in and eventually she started taking me to her apartment just about a mile away on a regular basis as we became a pretty steady couple during the 2nd deployment. She never set a price or asked me for money but obviousley it was expected so I would always give her what I thought was a pretty fair amount and she must have been satisfied with what I gave her because next time in she was always happy and ready to go. I’ll relate more stuff as I think of them. Keep up the site, It’s great.

  8. Steven Andrews says:

    Hi,
    Dennis. Great site, brings back a lot of memories.
    I was also an RD3 onboard Uss Hancock CVA-19 from 72 – 75.
    PO city was something no one would believe unless they were there.
    Glad your O.K. and Welcome Home.
    Steve

  9. John Soflin RM Everett F Larson DD 830 says:

    Another ex canoe club member sent me a link to your site. Enjoyed reading all your comments. I was an RM on board the USS Everett F. Larson DD 830, “Last of the Six guns” and was over off Vietnam same time as you. Great blog..please write more.

    • Philip DiBenedetto says:

      Hi John you don’t remember me I was on the Larson from September 69 to June 1970 I was a deckape and then a signal men I was then transferred to the Francis Hammond where I remained a signal man. I cot the Larson ..in the Philippines right out of Boot Camp do you remember us colliding with the oil and losing a prop . And going back to Subic Bay and right into drydock they used to tell me stories about the uss frank e evens being sunk , too scary ! Do you remember the overboard drillwasn’t a drill it was me I got washed overboard painting the side of the ship , before entering pearl Harbor

  10. Ray Martin says:

    Hancock meet us off west coast enroute to Westpac for the first Hammond cruise there in believe Nov 71 or so. We followed it entire way to Gulf of Tonkin.

  11. Mike says:

    I was a flight deck troubleshooter on a 1970-71 Westpac on the USS Ranger. Your web site about the Philippines and the Navy is neat the PI was everyone’s #1 port and the best part of the Navy was the sailors we worked with.
    I am amazed of the stuff on the web from the Westpac I made on the ranger including a youtube of a C-2 going down after a cat shot killing all nine on board. A lot comments on youtube about the crash are from crew who were working on the flight deck and saw the C-2 go nose high stall and hit the water.
    Aircraft make a big splash when they hit the water leave a little smoke then they are gone. I saw 6 or 8 ejections, we typically do not get the pilot, he goes last, the RIO or BN goes first we usually get them. The C-2s and A-3D do not have ejection seats, they do not crash often but when they do no one gets out.

  12. Art Baumgarten says:

    Very happy to find your Blog. Love the memories and Photos.

    I was on the Hammond from July 1973, (caught it on a West Pack), under CMDR Peter J. Doeer, who was replaced by CMDR Ong. Till they decided to homeport her in Yokosuka, Japan, in late,1975.
    I was a Storekeeper under Lt. Greenburg. I mainly worked in GSK below the Mess area with Dallas Perdue. (I’m seen, hardly, on page 55 of the Cruise book. Me behind Les Hanna. My name is listed, 2nd from the top after Jerry Herzog’s)
    http://ussfrancishammond.org/73P55.html
    When Dallas was given his, choice, orders to NSC, PI, put me in charge under Randy Pugmire.

    Had many friends on there in all Devisions.
    All on this page I knew, some were close friends (Harris & Neal were a trip).

    http://ussfrancishammond.org/73P67.html

    Also your division too!
    You do look familiar to me.
    I was good close friends with Jack Van Art & Gary Divine. I use to be invited up to CIC and BS when it was OK.

    Still keep in touch with a couple. Helped one with getting his VA Benifits, by writing a letter, needed from me, as a witness, to him, being on board. Weird VA melodrama.

    As for the Hammond; I knew her from the top of the Mack all the way through & down to the Sonar Dome.
    When we were in Dry-dock in Long Beach, outside of the normal SK duties that were now off ship, I cleaned by rappelling many area most Sailors never saw. With full safety gear, burlap bags and Acetone. We, on our own, volunteered to do this job. Not ordered cause of difficulty. Worked a lot of her over night till Reveille. Talk about Venting! Nice to do a change that was out of the norm.

    Last but not least, Proud U.S.S. Francis B. Hammond, Royle Shellback!

    • RAYMOND MARTIN says:

      Hey Dennis, do you still have the cartoons you drew while we were on the Frannie H? I remember one particularly where I was at the EW consoles and you depicted me as with mulitiple arms “we have a , no we have a , sound GQ” . If you have anything can you forward? Love those cartoons and caritures of our radar gang. MARV, OSC Martin Date: Sun, 29 Sep 2013 18:30:58 +0000 To: chief195069@msn.com

      • No Marv, I don’t recall the toon with you on the EW gear. I do plan to post the 3 that I do have one of these days. There are 2 John Jupiter Bloomers comics that Scotty and I did as well as the illustrated story “Ain’t war the shits!” we created.

  13. Ray Martin says:

    Thanks. Yeah you had a book or something of cartoons with Holman, Bailey and I in it among others. So remember the art work in CIC you did. Others from future who manned the ship in Ops must have done something else because no one can remember the Disney connection, guess because they moved to Sasebo as a homeport. Take care. MARV

  14. Thank You for your Story and your Service,Michael VeaseySR,honorably Discharced 05AUG1972

  15. soesbout says:

    Great story I too was on that final Larson westpac,my time was spent in the aft engineroom and the forward gunmount at GQ.

    • Mike White says:

      I was on Larson 1972 until decomissioning in Long Beach, when we gave it to South Korea,GQ station was in MT 51 from the ammo bunker to being Trainer and Pointer. Remember when Chief Gunner’s Mate Flores hand carried and threw overboard a misfired 5″ shell ? ETN3 Mike White.

  16. chino says:

    Any shipmates that were with me between 79-83 like to hear from u

  17. Glenn Taylor says:

    Dennis, your blog is awesome. I wish I had that memory of yours (and the photos!) Dude I was stationed at US Naval Medical Center Philippines from February 1975 – July 1976. Then junior hospital corpsman aboard USS Cook FF1083 from August 1977 till discharge August 1979. Your blog brings back so many memories, the sights, sounds, smells, of Subic Bay and Olongopo. I’m going to enjoy reading it slowly and planning to contribute a few stories, O My God.

    • Glenn,
      Thanks for the comments. Funny you should mention “memories”. Right now my memory has gone to crap because I getting 1000 mg of THC in cannabis oil per day while undergoing cancer treatment. When a new stronger batch of the oil got me sort of sick for a day or 2 I laid off the oil. I noticed that I was able to answer questions of recent things that I would not have before. So with 60 days of this so far and maybe a couple of more months and I’m pretty confident my memory will come back fine.

      Actually, I think my long term memory is fine, it’s just the short term memory that I think is getting hammered with the chemo, radiation, RSO, BHO, etc. I’m not posting any of those old memories currently because I just have a lot else on my mind right now. All the doctors are saying “curable” at stage 2 so we’re keeping very positive here. Our VA system has gotten a lot of bad press in the past few years. My Cancer Care Team is made up of VA staff as well as some services that the VA sends out next door to the Oregon Health & Sciences University. I have an excellent system of pooled talent on my side! The folks at the Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington VA Medical Centers rock!

      Fuck cancer… BRING IT ON!

      Dennis

  18. Ray Marv Martin OSC says:

    Dennis, any way you could send copies of the cartoons you draw while on the Frannie H? I remember many especially one with me at EW console. I am about 7 Hours from you in Post Falls ID. 2084572101…….marv

  19. Paul says:

    What a great story, I was on the hammond with you guys as a BTFN,
    From June 1971 through May 1974.Then transferred to GUAM, as a BT3. I am sorry to report that the only one I recognize is Debenedetto, the signalman. My name is paul j sylvia, and i worked for Robert Condor, the engineer at the time under PJ Doeer. Anyway, I really appreciate this story, thankyou,BTC USN RET PAUL J. SYLVIA.

  20. 9/3/15
    From: SNSM/PO3 William Morgan

    Hi Dennis,

    From time to time I look at Francis Hammond links and web sites. It was great to find your blog and read it. You did not know me other than to see me around the ship but I knew you and enjoyed your cartoons. I think I was introduced to the “Dark Side of the Moon” in your guys space!

    Here are a few rambling thoughts and memories of my own.

    I was a Signalman on board the Franny the same time you were aboard. I have kept close contact with Larry Brix who was also a Sig’s. He lives north of San Francisco now. Larry was the one who got the free weights and barbells set up on the signal deck and made a makeshift gym for us. When we were on some fire missions (5″-54 gun) we wore our flack jackets and would pump iron between firing runs. A challenge when the ship was rolling. Larry has had a few conversations with Phil (Ben) DiBennedetto in the past. He lives back east. Larry Cox-Radioman was also a good friend. We had a lot of “leaning on the rail conversation time”. He is in Boise, Idaho.

    I found Steve Buerman’s number this year in Oregon and had a nice conversation with him. A really nice fellow. Part of the J.R.R. Tolken book reading crew on board ship. He was the Sig’s boss. Steve spent a lot of years after the Navy on crabbing boats off of Alaska like you see on the TV shows. He is back in Oregon and has acres of beautiful green land. Steve grew up in Drain Oregon on a dairy farm. We kidded him a lot about that. He told us his cows names and his favorite was Titsy Bell. Well we would tell Steve about a new breed of cow that had seven teats. That it was bred to milk faster. He finally seemed to believe us. In the mean time I wrote home (no internet then) and asked my sister to make a break-away-flag for the signal gang (The break-away-flag was any flag we chose that was bundled up in a cylinder form and tied with twine. It was run up the flag halyard when we were refueling or rearming while running parallel to the amo/oiler. When we were ready for the two ships to pull apart and move away from each other the bridge would give us the signal and we would pull on the halyard and break the bundled flag. It would then “break open” and fly in the wind. That was a visual signal that could not be confused for the two ships to move apart. We had an “8 ball” flag and a “7th Cavalry” flag my sister also made (another story) that we used for break-away-flags. Well on one occasion Steve gave us the go-ahead to pop open the break-away-flag. I remember him looking up to see the flag pop open into the breeze, he looked away, and then yelled to get the flag down. My sister had made and mailed to us a wonderful (delivered by the mail helo) hand sewn 3′ by 4′ flag with a milk cow standing on her hind legs, two hooves up in the air, and a giant utter with seven teats hanging down. On the top of the flag it said in about 4″ high letters “Yea Stevie” and on the bottom it said “Love Titsy Bell. Steve turned the brightest red I have ever seen on a persons face. Red haired fellow you know. He knew we had really pulled his leg. I still have the flag. I have a lot of other practical jokes that would take to much time to write down.

    I remember the shell casings you mentioned rolling on the deck while we were trying to sleep on gun fire missions. We were all in the Ops berthing Dept. Shell casings ejecting out the back of the gun and hitting the deck (and so hot if you had midwatch and slept during the day. I would wake up drenched in sweat). Yep, it was like a bowling ally over our heads. I was the third bunk on top just under the gun deck. I learned to sleep a little with that noise. One noise I had trouble with was “Beetle Baily’s” snoring. He was the third bunk up and about 4′ across the isle. One night I got fed up with his noise and I jumped down to the deck, got his socks out of his shoes and climbed back to my rack. I reached over to “Beetles” bunk with his socks and stuffed them in his mouth. He started to make noises I had never heard before and he woke up cussing and trying to see who had done this to him. I just laid there and laughed to myself.

    My Dad, a LtCmdr in the Civil Engineer Corps gave me my oath when I enlisted. One day in port in Long Beach someone said “Morgan is in trouble, an officer is looking for him”. It was my dad! He came on board to see me. Dad had given me my oath when I enlisted. Cool stuff. I enlisted specifically to serve my country and to have a small part in helping the Vietnamese gain and keep their freedom. I figured that if I was free that I should help others gain their freedom. Unfortunately that was not the end result of our service in Vietnam.

    (I grew up sailing the coast off of the Channel Islands. My dad found a Naval directive by the CNO Admiral Zomwalt that he wanted 75% of all naval personal to know how to handle small craft. I got to do some of my last three years of monthly drills teaching other sailors in my drill unit to sail and handle small craft. My C.O. approved it and I got drill pay!).

    I was also on a personal mission to figure out what my life was about. I would regularly ask God to show me who He was and what was my life about? What was I suppose to do with it? I was on deck one morning in the early break of day. We had been firing the “gun” for about three days of missions as I remember it. A storm had just lifted and I could see the sun coming up through a window in the clouds on the horizon. I was by myself. I asked God that same question again. Where I did not hear anything before when I asked I heard some very specific things that morning. I heard God tell me that I was a sinner and needed to be forgiven of my sins. I realized then that I had not heard God all those other times because I did not want to hear what he was saying to me. I wanted to hear things my way. But that morning I laid down my pride. I had previously figured that because I had not ever slept around, drank or did drugs, and had not been in trouble with the law, and that I was an Eagle Scout that I was OK. As soon as I realized what I needed to do I went down into the engine room and got Mike Scales to come on deck and talk with me. I had been a kind of two faced friend to him. He would talk with me and answer questions I had about Jesus and God. But I did not stand up for him when other shipmates were mocking him behind his back. I think he knew that about me. But when we got up to the main deck and came through the hatch I told him that I wanted to pray to receive Jesus as my Lord and God. Mike just hugged me like he just found a long lost brother. We went up the upper deck area where the empty shell casings were stacked. I won’t go into all that went on there but I did pray with Mike and ask Jesus to forgive me my sins and come into my life and to fill me with His spirit. I could feel myself being filled up and when I became full so to speak I began to weep. And I thought I can’t do this, only women cry when they are happy. I heard a scripture ring loud in my mind “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. It is true. This was the most long lasting and life changing of my entire life.

    I have spent these past 43 years in very hard places and in very good places. I spent 5 seasons in the U.S. Forest Service. In those years I was firefighting on Engines and my last season as a Helishot on an initial attach helicopter (big 212 Heuy-great fun). I also taught environmental classes and had work/trail crews with kids in the Youth Conversation Corps. I graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CA with a degree in Landscape Architecture. I apprenticed for 5 years and was poised to get a Naval Officers commission in “intelligence” but I changed course and went into business for myself for 30 years. During those business years I went to Uganda, Guatemala and Honduras to prepare master plans for orphanages (orphanageemmanuel.com and newhopeuganda.org ) in those and other country’s. I am most active with the Honduran orphanage we have been building for more than a quarter century. We have a 1200 acre campus and 550 to 600 children right now. The schools are running as are the farms. A hospital is in the plans. It is an non denominational Christian mission. It was started by a friend who spent two years in country in Vietnam. Awesome brother in Christ.

    Over the past decades I have had two back surgeries. Did it to myself with so much backpacking. I closed my office last year. Just can’t sit all day and do design work any more. I was a Scoutmaster. Great times with my sons who both are Eagle Scouts and professional Jazz musicians. Been married 36 years. Yes to the same great woman/friend! Had prostate cancer surgery 7/2/14 which was successful. I found out that the Hammond was exposed to Agent Orange. That never occurred to me until recently. I went to the V.A. and after a year of V.A. stuff got some disability benefit. Am still appealing some issues and see a V.A. Doc next week. It all takes such a long time. I did the surgery on my own insurance. I am glad I did it that way since my cancer was as the surgeon said “is the bad kind”.

    I pray your cancer is eradicated completely and that you can regain your health. I pray that Christ Jesus is the foundation of your life. The day I prayed with Mike Scales and came to Christ I very clearly heard Him say this to me. He said, “William, you are now safer in Vietnam than you ever thought your living room at home in Ventura was. But before you knew me as Lord you were in more danger than you ever thought Vietnam might be”.

    Thanks for all you have blogged. You made some things clear that I did not know or remember.

    Sincerely,

    William Morgan
    Ventura, CA

    P.S. If you ever hear from Mike Scales I would love to have his contact info. He made a difference in my life and I think of him often.

    If there is something I can do to encourage you please email me.

    • Hey William, I do remember you. I believe I had mustache envy of that great ‘stash you rocked. One guy in your gang you didn’t mention was Art Hinton. Wasn’t he a Signalman? I do vaguely recall you guys getting the “Ships Gym” setup. I definetely recall all the other guys you mentioned and can put a face to most of them. I think of DiBennedetto when watching a NASCAR race and seeing Matt Dibennedetto mentioned and wonder if he’s related. Also, BTW, great stuff about cramming the socks in Beetles mouth!

      Wow, who knew? I had no idea there was spiritual guidance available below decks in Engineering! I do recall Scales, I think he had sort of reddish hair? I rarely hung out with any of the engineering guys other than to have “chow-line” acquaintances, so I do recall a lot of names and can almost recall faces without looking in the cruise book. The 1972 cruise book lost my solo photo that should have appeared with the rest of the Radar Gang, but I appeared in another pic somewhere in there. They did get me in the ’73 book.

      Funny that you mention prostate cancer and AO. A couple of months ago I was walking out of the Radiation Dept. at the same time as another guy. I was wearing my Franny H. cap with some pins on it. He looks over and up at my cap, sees the ship name and says, “Hey, I remember you guys”. He goes on to say he was also Navy and worked on a helicopter crew that flew mail, groceries, cargo, etc. out to ships offshore out of DaNang. He says “Don’t let anyone tell you your ship was not exposed to Agent Orange.” He says most of those choppers had residue all over inside where the cargo slid around that came from leaky barrels of AO carried earlier. I can picture PC3 Overmeyer (remember him?) dragging that mail bag through the passage way to the mail room. The guy I met at the hospital recently was there for his last radiation treatment for prostate cancer. I’ve occasionally wondered if we could have sucked any up in the intakes that go to the desalinization area for making our fresh water when in close offshore. It seems reasonable to me that even a year or two after the US claims that Agent Orange useage was ceased that all the crap in the jungles and forest, eventually washes into the creeks that feed the streams, that flow into the rivers that dumped into gulf. Remember when we would be in so close on the gunline that we had to shut off those intakes because of the silt and seaweed that would clog them? That was when we went on “water hours” and it became acceptable to miss a shower. Ahh, “navy showers”, LOL.

      My cancer is Esophageal Cancer (EC) and we caught it at stage 2. It’s near the GE junction and they say since my smoking history is pretty remote (quit cigs in ’89) it was probably caused by Acid Reflux. I asked “wouldn’t I have known that?” The doctors say yes, but you probably had what was called Silent Reflux. They say the type of EC that strikes current or recent smokers is the one that affects the upper esophagus and throat area. Glad I don’t have that one! When all this started back in April, every single Dr. would first ask “OK, so how much booze are you consuming”? I would tell them that I don’t think I’d be called a heavy drinker. I might have one bottle of Corona (or whatever) in the evening when fixing dinner or a glass of wine sometimes. On Friday evenings maybe a couple of shots of tequila. When camping I may have a few beers in a day as well as a few ounces of hard liquor a few times a year. Not what you would call heavy alcohol use! Anyway, been done with the 6 weeks of chemo and radiation about a month ago. Went in last week for PET scan and will see Dr. tomorrow to get results of that to see what, if anything, is still in there. Then the plan is around the end of this month to have the surgery. They want to do an Esophagectomy where they take the upper half of my stomach and the lower half the esophagus out and sew them back together. I guess it’s a fairly routine thing there, though they say it’s one of the most complex surgeries you can have, lasting 12 hours. It’s all done through small incisions and so isn’t as invasive as being split open and surgeons cutting away at stuff. We recently got a call and the VA says, as good as their track record is, they are subbing this operation out now next door at Oregon Health Sciences & University (OHSU). The VA only does this operation on Fridays where over at OHSU they do 2 per day, 5 days a week. My wife was really happy to hear that since we are concerned about staffing at the VA after a Friday surgery when going to be in ICU for 5 days. If there was a problem it could be hard finding the specialist on a Saturday or Sunday at the golf course. Anyway, the prognosis is good, it’s just that I’m going to be down for a couple of months in recovery mode.

      Thanks for any prayers coming my way, man! If you’re into details, my wife has kept a journal of sorts over at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/dennisclevenger . Scroll down to see a link to any earlier posts. Some of it is not for the squeamish.

      Great to hear from you, William! Here’s to a happy and healthy 2016.

      • William Morgan says:

        10/3/15
        Good morning Dennis,
        I thought I’d write and see how things are progressing. If I understand what you said correctly you were going to have the surgery at the and of September. I have been praying for you and trusting that everything has turned out successfully. Please let me know how it is so I can pray more specifically for you.
        Since writing you the first time I’ve had a Do you grade and the condition of my back. Years of backpacking, five seasons of firefighting, and lots of physical labor have caused me to have two back surgeries in the past 25 years. In recent years things of been getting a little worse each year until this past week I started to have so much pain I couldn’t stand or walk very far. And now I’m using a walker and a hiking stick to get to the bathroom and out to the car to the surgeons office.
        I went to a back surgeon this week and he had me get an MRI. The MRI takes about 20 minutes and I was laying in the machine and the pain was so excruciating that I didn’t think that I could finish. The pain seemed unbearable. I began to pray and sing to the Lord as I laid in that long skinny tube and then I started to pray Jesus, take this pain, take this pain, take this pain. And after a little bit of time the pain went from a 10+ to a five and then to zero for a short span until the MRI was completed. They rolled me out and started to raise me up and I had to stop because the pain was increasing again. You know in the midst of a huge pain it was a really sweet time with the Lord. Over the next three nights at home I woke up in the middle of the night for couple of hours and have had some of the most incredible experiences with the Lord just singing in bed and praising him and praying for people.
        I had the MRI on September 30, my 64th birthday. Two days ago I looked at the MRI with my surgeon and I will need surgery. I was hoping to not have a third back surgery but the Lord is giving me peace and great things are happening in my life is a go through these hard times. So at my surgeons suggestion i’m trying to get a second Opinion. But because of the great restrictions that Obamacare insurance has there’s only one other surgeon in the county who excepts the insurance. I’m ready to have the surgery though with the surgeon I been seeing this week. I’m at peace and looking forward to see what the Lord unfolds for me next. I’ll let you know how it goes.
        This may be forward and you may have heard this before. It sounds like you believe in prayer and God. I did also on board to Franny before I became Christian. Simply put if anyone believes that Jesus is God and they talk to him in the knowledge that they are sinners and asked Jesus to forgive their sin’s and come into their lives and fill them selves with the spirit of Jesus, then Jesus does just that and we are forgiven. And in doing this Scripture says that God adopts us as his sons and we are then part of his family. If you’d like to talk more about this please email me personally With your phone number and I’ll call you and we can chat. For me this time pe with your phone number and I’ll call you and we can chat. For me this prayer changed my life in 1972.
        In the meantime there is a website at :
        biblegateway.com Where you can find many translations in many languages of the Bible. And a number of them have audio translations are you can just listen to scripture . One of the versions is called “The Message” which is in modern-day language. I’ll suggest that you read the Gospel of John in the New Testament. And when you read ask God to help you understand the things he has for you to understand each time you read. And he’ll do it. And in reading Lord will speak to your heart and he will validate the prayer that I mentioned above that you can pray to come to Christ.
        I hope we can talk. And know this, the Lord Jesus loves you and knows you inside and out.
        Sincerely your shipmate and friend,
        William Morgan

  21. Chuck Smith says:

    USS TICONDEROGA – Feb. 1971. I was CTR from San Miguel, PI. Flew couple of us out and landed on her deck. (When they opened the tail everyone was elated. What? We were on the mail plane. Oh. She zipped inside the war zone (to get ribbon) and then down to Indonesia for the war-games. Our assignment was to, of course, listen in and break their message codes (manual morse) which the Aussies had failed to do. I copied code while another navy CT codebreaker worked his little slips of paper alongside another navy CT linguist. Didn’t take him long. I was only on there 60 days. Crossed the equator, became a shellback. (Alreadty had my Bluenose (Arctic Circle – Barents Sea chasing russian subs) Headed back north to Japan where dropped us off to catch flight back to PI. Remember the greasy cheeseburgers and getting to bunk in with the Marines.

  22. Paul Walker says:

    Dennis, I absolutely give a thumbs up to your numbered list about being a tin can / Knox class sailor. I laughed until I had tears, ’cause it’s so spot on. I’m Whipple 1062 from 74-76, though I was other places from 72 – 84 as RM & QM. A masterpiece of story telling, Dennis. And all true. Best regards, Paul Walker, Klamath Falls, Oregon.

  23. Stubby says:

    The real 50 Shades Of Gray

  24. Alfred SLAGLE says:

    Trying to track down anyone who may have known my brother. Navy Chief petty officer Harold Slagle. He served in Nam then retired at Subic Bay. Any leads are appreciated.

  25. Donald Domijan says:

    Dennis…..Great story….brought back tons of memories…I went to Radarman A school in Norfolk Va back in the mid 50’s….then assigned to the USS Dennis J. Buckley DDR-808 stationed in Newport RI…..Back then there were no computers, flat screen monitors , colored display panels etc etc in CIC……all we had were 3 radar repeaters…i,e….one surface search, one air search and one altitude search…..Then we had one large transparent polar coordinate chart in front of us whereby one of the guys would indicate the bearing and range of bogeys with a yellow grease pencil.

    He would then have to indicate the course and speed (in his head).

    To track skunks, we would use paper pads of polar coordinate charts plotting bearing and range …..using parallel rulers and dividers we calculate same then inform the bridge of the CPA (closest point of approach).

    I would give my left testicle to be able to get inside CIC of a modern DD……I do have old black an white pictures of our CIC and would love to post them but I don’t know how.

    We eventually got transferred to Long Beach…..made 2 WestPac cruises and usually wound up in Yokosuka, Japan,

    The majority of our time at sea was patrolling the Formosa Straits,,,back and forth, back and forth….the Korean War was still going on….

    One day we were informed that one of our Navy planes was shot down north of the straits and we were ordered to go on a SAR mission (Search and Rescue). Unfortunately all we found was one rubber life raft and one of the killed pilots.

    I made RD2 and was eligible to take the RD1 test. But my division officer wanted me to re-up for another 4 years….I declined his offer.

    • Thanks Donald, it’s interesting to hear how it was done in the “old old” Navy, hehe. Since I was in during the period just before the computers and displays became commonplace, I too would like to tour a modern CIC.

  26. Ed Dunn says:

    Dennis, great to have found this blog. Thanks for putting it up.
    I was wondering about the Buerman brothers. Did you find anything out about Steve’s brother, Bill?
    I just found out about Butch Ledford. Apparently he suffers from dementia. Happened to him just overnight and has been in a nursing home since this las summer. I am trying to get ahold of him through his friend Jim Howard, who posted a pic on Facebook.
    Have not heard from any of the rest of the crew and in a few years we are 50 years from the commissioning of the Franny Maroo. Just went to my 50th high school and really enjoyed seeing a bunch of old farts.
    Could you send me Steve’s phone number?
    Thanks,
    Ed (BC) Dunn RM5

  27. Phil DiBenedetto says:

    Hi Dennis, it’s Phil (Signalman) DiBenedetto. It’s so nice reading your blog. It really brought me back to our days in the Navy on the Frances Hammond. I don’t remember taking that picture with all the guys, but it was great seeing it.

    • Welcome Phil, enjoy the stories. When watching NASCAR and they mention the driver Matt DiBenedetto, it makes me think of you. Any relation?

      -Dennis

      • Ray Marv Martin OSC says:

        Hey Phil, I was an RDSN, RD3 then OS3 and finally OS2 on the Hammond, part of the commissioning crew alongside Dennis, Scott Gillespie, Phil Bailey and many others. I remember you very well and the others signalmen on the Frannie H. I went onto the Preble out of Pearl, then college, radio, television, telephone company and now am a data tech support analyst in Spokane WA, retired from Verizon and USNR as an OSC. Keep in touch.

  28. Ray Marv Martin OSC says:

    Dennis we had a signalman on the Hammond named DeBenedetto, is this the same Sigs???

  29. Philip DiBenedetto says:

    Yes that’s me Philip DiBenedetto

  30. Tim Carlo says:

    This is crazy, same time same places. Was in the Tonkin Gulf about the same time on DD835 Charles P. Cecil out of Newport R.I. . We steamed from Singapore to Subic Bay , then all up and down coast of Vietnam (Da Nang to Tonkin Gulf) . We made it to Hong Kong, but we were in Yokosuka Japan when a Typhoon hit. We headed to Wake Island and then to San Diego.

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