By Charles Johns
I just read the Old Salt’s August article entitled “Not on my watch”. After reading the article, I can relate to his thinking.
As one who served on CVA-59 in the 1960s for a couple of weeks for Carrier Qualifications before shipping out to the Med on CVA-62, the Independence, for a 7-month cruise, I understand mid-watches.
A nightstick, flashlight, whistle, and clipboard showing the area to be guarded, seemed less than adequate if confronted by an evil Communist sneaking aboard.
As a little 3-striper, I did not have much say in the matter and as an AZ (Aviation Maintenance Administrationman) I normally stood watch in the hanger… dodging wings and ordinance mounts. How well I remember Sailors with stitches in their scalps and foreheads from bumping into well-secured aircraft. It took only one watch to understand Communist Russians were not the reason for eyes at night, but the Sailors most dreaded fear…FIRE!
As a Christian, I also took my time on watch seriously and understood Sailors can sleep well while I am on duty. I made sure I knew where every fire extinguisher in my area was and what the type of extinguisher it was, where the alarm bell or button was, the dangerous areas, fuel supplies, any other combustibles, and who my superior was… which in my case, was almost everyone.
My cruise to the Mediterranean was 1963-64 and I was in the Med when Kennedy was killed.
Working in Ready Room 6 our teletype screen got active at about 2200 hours letting me know about the shooting. Being from Dallas I paid close attention. I was sitting at my desk about an hour before when the ship’s horns blasted, “Stand-by for a Hard Port Turn”, which carriers seldom do. Planes must be anchored securely if the ship makes that turn.
We were sailing south out of Genoa Italy which we quickly realized set us on a course to the Black Sea… according to scuttlebutt (rumor for you landlubbers). The next morning, I went up on the flight deck to see a friend and found Marines guarding two A5 Vigilante aircraft. For the uninformed, the A5 was the only bomber able to drop a hydrogen bomb and survive the blast… maybe. Rather than nightsticks, they had M1 Carbines and 1911A1’s on their hips. When I inquired to one Marine, he told me to, “Move along Sailor”, in a rather colorful language, letting me know he was serious.
When one realizes we could be at war with nuclear weapons, things get serious very fast. My friend was a plane captain in squadron VF-84, and he was told to be ready for anything. With my friend in serious mode, and the marine’s voice exuding authority, I quickly went to my battle station in Ready Room 6.
After the teletype message, I had already made sure all our planes were ready to fly. We were VAW-33 an Airborne Early Warning Squadron and were the first off the deck and the last to land. Our job was to protect the ship from air attack, ships at sea, and submarines. To keep the logbooks on those EA-1E old Skyraiders (AD), I had to have a secret clearance. We joked about a million-dollar bird with 30-million in electronics on board.
For the next several weeks, STANDING WATCH took on a totally different meaning. Some guys were issued firearms and the Marines looked mad. We shared our Ready Room with a Marine squadron and they too seemed more focused. No shots were fired, no war plans issued, no body-counts, the world managed to survive, and life went on. But I did lose a good friend in a launch accident. Chip gave his life to save his pilot. The bridle broke on launch sending the plane over the side in the middle of the night, landing on its canopy. Chip held the pilot as long as he could, then with no strength left, held his pilot in his outstretched arm above water while he drowned. The rescue boat pulled the pilot into the boat as Walter Edward Langley’s body slipped beneath the sea. He was located a few minutes later.
I can often see his face in someone on the street. We were on liberty together just two days before he died. A good catholic boy. The pilot told us what happened when he was brought back to the ship.
Submitted by Charles Johns, Abilene, TX. Charles is a Navy Veteran that served on 3 carriers, spent 20 years as a TV tech, 50 years building cars, and 10+ years as a shop superintendent and Police Department armorer. He graduated from Elkins Institute in Dallas (the same school Rush Limbaugh attended). He holds a Federal Firearms License as a gunsmith, with his own 100-yard gun-range for 21 years. Charles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 325-704-4872.