Tributes & Stories


Recollections and Sea Stories of an Old Fighter Pilot
Specter of Three, Possibly Four, Class “A” ’s
Ranker to ShaveTail
Who's in Command?
Sunday Fun for the Class of '68


Recollections and Sea Stories of an Old Fighter Pilot

By Richard "Iron" Ferris

Go To Stories.  I have stories that I tell a lot to people I haven’t already bored to death.  They are mostly audience and topic specific.  Here are some examples.

If Smoking is mentioned, this is my “go-to”:  In my first, Navy, aircraft carrier-based, F-4 Squadron in the very early 1970s we had 30 aircrew -15 Pilots, and 15 Radar Intercept Officers.  Probably 80% smoked.  10 years later I was in my second F-4 Squadron with the same number of aircrew, only one aircrew smoked, and he was a pariah. What a difference a decade makes!

If cultural change or perception of the military is mentioned, this is my “go-to” story: In both my Navy, F-4 Squadrons, the aircraft carrier was home-ported in Alameda, CA.  We would sail past San Francisco and under the Golden Gate Bridge whenever we deployed.  When we deployed to Viet Nam in the early 70s, the crowds on the Bridge were throwing “dog poop” on us as we passed below. 10 years later we were on our way to help with the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and the crowds on the Bridge were throwing flowers on us. What a difference a decade makes!

If aging or eyesight is mentioned this is my “go-to”: I was in my early 40’s and the Flight Surgeon said I would finally need to wear glasses!  However; just for near vision and just a very slight correction. I could still fly, but had to wear glasses.  So, I dutifully got my bifocal glasses issued.  At the time, I was stationed at McDonnel-Douglas in St. Louis as an F-15 Test Pilot.  Several days after getting my new glasses, I was scheduled for my first F15E Flight (then under development/test by McDonnel-Douglas).  I dutifully put the new glasses in my flight suit’s upper arm pocket and manned the aircraft.  Being the Macho Fighter/Test Pilot – I did not need to wear those stinking bifocal sunglasses! It took about an hour to go through the “prior to flight” portion of the flight test procedures.  Then it became time to switch my radios from McDonnel-Douglas to St. Louis Ground Control for taxi to the runway.  Well, the new F-15 had a Heads-Up-Display (HUD), like most aircraft of that era, with some new twists.  They put the radio controls right under the HUD so you didn’t have to look down to the side panels. So, I went to change my radios to taxi, and I could not focus on the radio dial – it was too close.  Easy fix, just move my head back a bit and I would be able to focus.  NOT TO BE.  The Ejection seat prevented any backward head movement.  I couldn’t change the damn radios just to get out of the chocks!  So, I had to reach into my pocket, pull out my glasses, and fit them under my oxygen mask and helmet in order to change the frequency of the radios! My ground crew was rolling on the ground in laughter!  As an aside, many of the test pilots (me included) complained that the radio controls were too close to your eyes and hard to focus on  —  As a result McDonnell-Douglas did move the control panel slightly forward. READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE.



Specter of Three, Possibly Four, Class “A” ’s

By Colonel John C. McKay ’68, USMC (Ret.)

Successfully completing the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) course of instruction at USTC Bainbridge, MD, I was appointed a midshipman at, U.S. Naval Academy, in the summer of 1964. My intent was to graduate, accept a commission in the Marines Corps, serve the obligatory years, resign my commission, and build railroads in South America. (I was reared in Latin America.)

The fast-developing situation in Southeast Asia was a minor distraction rather than a looming threat. I enlisted in the Marine Corps in January 1962, at age 17. Upon graduation from USMC Recruit Depot, San Diego, followed by a month’s infantry training, at Camp Pendleton, CA, I was ordered to First Field Artillery Group (1st FAG), Marine Corps Base 29 Palms, CA. I embarked with elements of 1st FAG in support of 1st Marine Division’s artillery regiment, 11th Marines, on amphibious shipping destined for the Caribbean Sea in September 1962. Mission: the probable invasion of Cuba during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Following the Crisis, I was re-assigned to 1st Light Anti-Air Missile Battalion (1st LAAM), MCB 29 Palms, and competitively selected to attend NAPS. READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE.



Ranker to ShaveTail

by Colonel John C. McKay '68, USMC (Ret.)

[Two articles in the January-February 2022 issue of Shipmate piqued my interest. “On the Brink: Alumni Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis 60 Years Later” because I was a ranker in the military response to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis; and “Prior Enlisted: Enriching the Academy Experience” because I received my appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy from the ranks of the U. S. Marine Corps. Of course, in writing from memory one confronts the riddle of experience versus memory. It can be argued that humans in general are susceptible to this “cognitive trap.”

Less than two years out of leaving beloved Perú, aged 17 years, I enlisted in the Marine Corps. The mandatory parental consent, required of those under 18 years of age, was secured through a bit of skullduggery, in connivance with S/Sgt Kelley, the Marine Recruiter. Patriotism was not a prime impetus. A keen desire to distance myself from my father, strike out on my own, and to gain admittance to the U. S. Naval Academy, were. READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE


Who’s in Command?

by CAPT  William H. Smith '68, USN (Ret.)

As we approached the pier to moor in Long Beach harbor, I was having second thoughts about the on-setting wind, the larger-than-normal sail area forward, and a single tug made up aft. We had just off-loaded all ammunition at Seal Beach that morning, getting ready for a drydock availability. With all the missiles gone from the forward launcher, the bow of our FFG was up by about six feet. The bow thruster was rated to hold against about 15 knots of wind with normal draft. After reviewing the afternoon forecast for our return to Long Beach Mole Pier (15 knot winds gusting to 20 knots), I had called the Long Beach pilot. I specifically requested a second tug to ensure we could hold the bow against the wind. Why had I not insisted on that second tug?

The angle of the Mole Pier to the seawall made it so that the prevailing winds were forward of the starboard beam as we approached our berth, port side to the pier. We were to be bow-in at the head of the pier, with another FFG already moored astern of our berth. USS LEWIS B. PULLER (FFG-23) had just enjoyed a very successful three-ship surge deployment to WestPac with USS RANGER and USS LONG BEACH, but was the bottom about to fall out? As we approached the pier, winds started gusting to 18–20 knots and the bow thruster wasn’t holding. Now we were in extremis! With only one tug, I couldn’t surge ahead without raking the pier with the bow continuing to drift left. Likewise, I couldn’t back down without raking the FFG astern of our berth. If I stopped, our bow would have settled against both the pier and the bow of the other FFG. There were no other options. I quickly prayed, “Lord, I don’t know why you brought me to this point in my career to suffer a collision, just please don’t let anyone get hurt.”

At that instant, the wind stopped. It didn’t die down, it stopped. The bow thruster took hold and we moored safely without incident. I knew the Pilot well and he had come aboard regularly prior to that day. I trusted him, but this time, I had not trusted the nudge that told me to call him to get a second tug. I let him talk me out of that second tug and I knew that had been a mistake.

The second-tug situation in Long Beach was not the first time in PULLER that I had to learn the hard way to listen and follow the Lord’s nudge. Some people choose to call it a “gut feeling.” Call it what you want, but I know very well where my nudges come from. On the previous transit West on the Surge Deployment, the gyro tumbled three separate times. The first two times it had been “fixed” by a “Technical Request Message” response from the Type Commander. Fortunately, that was before a scheduled refueling, and at one point I had taken the con while alongside the Oiler with some very rough seas. During RANGER’s approach to the port side of the Oiler, with PULLER already alongside to starboard, the CV Skipper told the Oiler to break us away while they were alongside. Fortunately, the Admiral interceded and we finished refueling before breaking away. However, several days later, the gyro tumbled for the third time and I knew I had to make a decision. I either had to trust the third Technical Request Message response and go ahead with the multinational exercise that the CVBG had transited to lead, or I had to tell the Admiral that we had to CASREP the gyro, back out of the exercise, and go to Yokosuka to wait for a new gyro. I went into my cabin and closed the door, got down on my knees, and asked the Lord to either give me peace that I should proceed with the exercise and trust the third TYCOM message, or give me anxiety to show me that I needed to CASREP the gyro, back out, and go to Yoko. I experienced an immediate peace that absolutely confirmed that we were to proceed. For the rest of my tour, we never experienced another gyro problem.

Prayer and Scripture were already a necessary part of my mornings, whether it was alongside the pier or after only three hours in the rack in a major operation at sea. A chapter read and a request for wisdom, discernment, strength, and peace were followed by another request to make the whole crew alert, forehanded, and able to avoid any accidents. That was always done in the privacy of my cabin and not for show. But, it took some hard knocks for me to learn to trust those instantaneous nudges.

In fact, all COs have faced situations in Command that required judgment beyond what we knew or had experienced. I found that my five sea tours and six deployments prior to Command had served me well to prepare, probably more so than my peers. That included:

• two deployments to Vietnam, once as Damage Control Assistant on a FRAM II destroyer and, after Department Head School, as Chief Engineer on another FRAM II: lots of Naval Gunfire Support, lots of plane guarding, pilot rescues, underway replenishment/rearming;
• New Construction CHENG on an AE;
• a Masters in Physics from Naval Postgraduate School;
• two deployments on USS CHICAGO (CG-11), one as TALOS Missile Battery Officer, then one as Weapons Officer: multi-carrier battle groups (CVBGs), where CHICAGO was Air Defense Commander and I was a Tactical Action Officer (TAO) with an embarked Cruiser Destroyer Group (CRUDESGRU) staff, lots of small boat experience with eight boats (First Lieutenants worked for WEPS back then), mooring to a buoy in Hong Kong, which was much more fun with an 13,600-ton four-screw CG than with my two previous 2,200-ton FRAMs, Quarterdeck sharpness with teak decks and an embarked Flag;
• XO on Forward Deployed  USS REEVES (CG-24): all but 18 days of the first six months were underway with MIDWAY CVBG, drydocking in Yokosuka for New Threat Upgrade (NTU);
• OPNAV 301 heading Ship Alterations and Repairs for CGs and DDGs, then Executive Assistant to the three-star Vice Chief of Naval Material.

So I had experienced a fair amount before I reported to my first Commanding Officer tour. I understood the vital importance of teamwork, whether on deployment, working up for deployment, or in the shipyard; and that teams earned Battle Efficiency Awards, excelled in inspections, and were ready for call for fire—not individual Department Heads, XOs, or COs. I understood that being authentic was key to having the team respond. But I had never worn the Command at Sea Pin.

Did my extra experience help in that first CO tour? Of course. But, that wasn’t enough. I had to learn the hard way that, although I had the Command “Pin,” until I recognized that I needed to listen and respond to those nudges, I was standing our ship into shoal water. Once I clearly recognized that, the rest of my FFG Command went well. I went on as XO of USS NEW JERSEY (BB-62) to help take her, with CRUDESGRU One embarked, into the Persian Gulf for her last deployment. Then I went ashore to SURFPAC as the N3 and scheduled the work-ups for accelerated deployments to the First Gulf War. My second Command on USS LEAHY (CG-16) was rewarded as the last NTU cruiser to win the SURFPAC AAW Award. LEAHY was stationed two miles off the coast of Somalia as air-controller for the international Red Cross cargo flights into Mogadishu. Then we led the CV into the Gulf, and LEAHY acted as Alfa Whiskey. From that ninth deployment, my wife and I decided not to go back to Washington, DC, and I was blessed to be able to stand up the Afloat Training Group Pacific (ATGPAC). In all three of my CO tours, I was fortunate to be ranked number one against my peers. I don’t say that to brag. I say it to acknowledge that all COs need to recognize “Who’s in Command” and the earlier they recognize it, the more significant that tour will be.

Where’s the proof that following that nudge really works? Near the end of my first CO tour, we returned to port on a dark, cloudy night in heavy rain. As I sat in my chair, watching the OOD, JOOD, and Navigator huddled around the radar scope, I got a nudge to go outside as we approached the seawall entrance to Long Beach. Had we continued on the OOD’s radar course, we would have raked the side of the seawall. Three JOs learned a lesson they would never forget because I had followed the nudge.

Bottom Line: If you are going to be a CO, recognize “Who’s in Command.” 


Sunday Fun for the Class of  '68

Was resting on certain Sundays during the year not an option for you? Do you remember the "strange institutional function known as the Tea Dance"? For some of the Class of 1968 this may be a memory still live in the memory. The following article is what one member of the Class of 1968 remembers about "Sunday Fun."

by William L. Richardson, USNA '68

In 1981, Jim Webb gave us an accurate depiction of the rigors of plebe life in Bancroft Hall circa 1964-1968 with his book Sense of Honor. As Jim points out, certain fourth class midshipmen attracted more attention than others and it was always beneficial to be standing in ranks next to a "trouble (not the word usually used) deflector. " However, as plebes in the 1964-65 "ac" year, most of us were the focus of individualized attention now and then. Despite our best efforts, even the most squared away plebe was forced to endure the special ministrations of the first and second class. Some of that special attention occurred on Sunday afternoons in the form of planned activities that could have been "fun" - maybe in a 1940 movie starring Jimmy Stewart. In reality, Sunday afternoons usually resulted in only adding more pressure to the plebe's miserable existence, instead of providing a little relief from the strain of the rest of the week. I always thought it was too bad that Jim didn't give us more about the peculiar activities that occurred on Sundays. Maybe the following might provide some fodder for a new chapter in a future edition.

On a few Sundays in the fall of 1964, the "day of rest" was anything but restful for plebes, especially for the occupants of room 4215 and those in the surrounding 24th company area. The day started well enough. There were no13 ringings of the fire alarm bells at 0615. There were no morning come-arounds, chow calls, or morning meal formations. Morning meals were not required and if elected were generally almost enjoyable. My roommates (Joe Anderson and Zene Gurley) and I had a few third class neighbors that occasionally took pity on us. They would steer us to mess hall (it was not King Hall yet) tables where carry-on was granted upon sitting down. Later in the morning we went to worship services which were mandatory in those days. Since Joe was of the Roman Catholic persuasion, he had to muster in front of the 4th battalion office several hours before Zene and I did with the Protestants later in the morning. (If the chapel services were not to one's liking, Mids had the option of attending church in town. ) As we marched up Stribling and Chapel Walks, we were envious of the first class who smiled as their drags waved to them. Once inside the chapel it was open seating; those not inclined towards worship would head towards the back pews of the transept known as "sleepy hollow."

At 1150 it was back to normal though, with noon meal formation, bracing up, plebe rates, etc. On returning from noon meal, how nice it would have been to retire to our rooms or the library to regroup, catch up on studies, prepare for the week to come. Unfortunately, "resting" on certain Sundays was quite out of the question. First on the list of fun things to do was attend the strange institutional function known as the Tea Dance. As with many things at the Naval Academy, Midshipmen did not refer to the Tea Dance by its given name but rather developed a more descriptive title. Thus the Tea Dance was universally referred to as the "Tea Fight", for reasons that will soon become evident.

The Tea Dance was, I am sure, envisioned by the Brigade Social Director as an opportunity for the members of the fourth estate to get acquainted with a member of the opposite sex while practicing their social graces. It was a vestige from a bygone era of elegance from which pictures of luxurious hotels and posh country clubs come to mind; no doubt tea was actually served at one time. Civilian institutions of higher education had long since converted to much less formal "mixers" to achieve the same end. However, mixers lacked that certain air of refinement and culture that the Academy desired to inculcate in its budding officers and gentlemen.

Young ladies from local institutions of higher learning – Hood College comes to mind - would arrive by bus and enter Dahlgren Hall from the north end. There they would be met by members of the Hop Committee and escorted to the main floor, past the romantic 5-inch and 40-millimeter gun mounts present at that time. On seeing these mighty weapons, it is quite possible that at least one or two of the young ladies might have had just the smallest beginning of a doubt that the coming event would unfold as they had imagined. However, they were most likely reassured when an elderly matron garbed in a black dress trimmed with a white apron and hat (another hold-over from an earlier time) helped them with their coats. Large, strategically located screens blocked the view from the south end of the hall of the young ladies' arrival.

While all this was taking place, the public address system in Bancroft Hall blared out the following: "Fourth Class Midshipmen of the Second (in our case) Regiment will now proceed to the south end of Dahlgren Hall". Out of the room we would chop, resplendent in service dress blue alfa. Squaring the corner in the middle of the passageway with a resounding "Beat Army", we proceeded to our romantic interludes, the air full of English Leather and other assorted love potions. Crossing the colonnade from the fourth wing we were met by other members of the hop committee (how did they get that job, anyway?), identified by a gold braid over their left uniform blouse sleeve. Heading south on the Dahlgren Hall balcony, we passed grinning upperclassmen who gave us a knowing look. Why were they there and what was so funny? Making our way to the main deck, we encountered a large gaggle of our classmates who were generally shuffling towards the north end, prodded along by the hop committee. It soon became evident that we were in the larger end of a funnel shaped chute. The farther we went, the narrower the chute became. Going around a corner the situation became, as President Nixon used to say, crystal clear.

A similar chute had been erected for the girls at the north end with the smaller opening facing us. The two opposing chutes would simultaneously deposit one Mid and one girl at the middle of the floor and that is how we would meet the love of our life – if not life, at least afternoon. As the cowpokes of the hop committee herded us along, sounds of "moo" were heard from the back of the crowd. That was embarrassing. But not as embarrassing as watching classmates standing on tiptoes and craning their necks to try and see which young lovely would emerge as their "date" for the afternoon. There was jostling for position, as some classmates did not like what they saw. A few of the girls must have noticed this. Who knows, maybe the same thing was going on in the girls' line? At least one Mid could not bear the thought of the entire evolution and spent the afternoon in the men's head. Eventually, most of us were paired up, for better or worse, with a person of the opposite sex who at the very least had longer hair than we did and probably smelled nicer. We whiled away the several hours dancing to the strains of "Ja Da" presented by the world famous Chiefs' Band, as the upperclassmen in the balcony enjoyed the show.

When the Tea Fight was over we headed back to our rooms knowing that the afternoon was far from over. Two more fun projects lay dead ahead; one of these was displaying a poster on the room door. The poster was of the "Go Navy, beat (the name of the team we were playing in football the next week)" variety. This sounds simple enough, but sometimes artistic ability comes in short supply. On at least one occasion, Joe, Zene, and I learned the hard way what "R and R" scrawled in big letters across our masterpiece meant: redo and resubmit.

The second project had more serious consequences. Every Sunday night the four plebes assigned to each mess hall table were assigned to entertain the upperclassmen of said table with a skit. If the skit was funny, we plebes earned carr. it was a flop, we earned extra attention during Monday's come-arounds. This was big-time pressure. If there are any chaplains reading this article, you will be sorry to learn that the more off-color the skit, the better the result. One Sunday afternoon the plebes of the Terrible Twenty Fourth decided they would show some backbone by staging an act of rebellion for their skit. That would be fun! When ice cream was on the menu, plebes rarely partook because there was never much, if any, ice cream left after the upperclassmen had been served. The skit would be to steal the ice cream. On cue, one plebe from each table grabbed the bowl of ice cream and all 28 of us ran, with spoons in hand, to one of the mess hall vestibules. Once there we proceeded to devour the ice cream, knowing full well we had signed our own death warrants, the fun having lasted about three minutes. A gauntlet of most displeased upperclassmen awaited our arrival back in the company area. After an innovative exercise period to work off those extra calories, a very long night lay ahead of us that did not include calculus homework. Each plebe room had been stripped of every item that was not bolted to the deck, including mattresses, and thrown in a huge heap in the middle of the passageway. This fun Sunday would not be over until every room was ready for inspection.