Tributes & Stories


A Truer Than Fiction Vietnam War Story. A Memorable Experience

Tales of Taconic (The 'Gator Gulag)

Sea Stories from The Color Company (USNA 8th Company, Class of 1959) - Hardcopy book.

ALFA STRIKE! Libya, 1986 Liberty Avenged - and, Defined



A Truer Than Fiction Vietnam War Story. A Memorable Experience

By Art Merz, CDR, USN, Retired, USNA Class of 1959, 22nd Company

One of several A4C pilot’s ‘Bad Days’ flying combat missions in Vietnam. It was a nice flying day. Rolling off a bomb target at the DMZ, encountering moderate flak, I noticed that my secondary flip-flop oil pressure gauge came on. Thinking probably a gauge malfunction I wasn’t too concerned. But, shortly thereafter, my primary oil pressure gauge went to zero. It was then that I knew that I was in trouble. I headed straight for the ocean. I asked the Marine Controller where the closest emergency field was. According to NATOPS, I had approximately 30 minutes of engine life left after zero oil pressure. He replied, Quang Tri, about 30 nm South of me. He said it had 3,000  ft. of runway. Too short for me to make a landing; however, I asked if it had arresting gear? He replied, ‘Yes’. So I set my power at 90% and that’s where I headed. I asked my wingman to look at the underneath of my A4, if there was any AAA damage. He said ‘No’. On to Quang Tri. Since I did not want to change my power setting I was too fast to put my gear down. So, I pulled my nose up sharply when I saw the Quang Tri runway, to bleed off airspeed. When I got below 120 Kts, I lowered my gear. Should have advised my wingman of what I was doing, because when he saw me climb abruptly he thought I was going to eject. And, being a young Jg, he didn’t want to watch and looked away. So, when turned toward the runway, dirty for landing with hook down,  I looked but couldn’t find him. Couldn’t worry about where he went, I only had one chance to land my crippled bird. So it had to be good. I didn’t trust the engine, having already flown over 30 minutes with zero oil pressure, to safely make a wave-off. I landed perfectly on the numbers and caught the arresting chain. After getting help out of the chain, I taxied clear. I was met by a couple of Army pilots. Quang Tri was an Army auxiliary field back then. The two Army Lt’s took care of me for the next week of my un-booked stay. I was put up in a Hooch. I had a cot. Flight suit, g-suit, a pistol, wallet and a hanky. Not much else. Oh, a flight helmet and Ox mask. 

The first night and every night after, the air-raid sirens when off just after sunset. My two Army escorts came and got me and took me to an underground bunker. There were quite a few people there, and a lot of dirt. We sat on benches around the sides of the bunker. Then the mortars rained in. Dirt fell from the ceiling and the bunker shook a bit. The lights flickered. Just like on MASH. I must have looked a little scared because my two escorts looked at me and laughed. “You’re a Navy carrier pilot. You can’t be scared of a few mortar rounds going off over your head!” I returned the looks, and said, “You guys are out of your f...k minds!” One bright spot though, the Army guys brought a bottle of Jack Daniels with them and a bucket of ice cubes. No glasses. You just popped an ice cube into your mouth and took a swig of bourbon. Like I said,  ‘every night for the entire stay’. Got a little use to it, but not totally. One of the nights following, a mortar hit the Hooch I was staying in. Made quite a mess. Good thing, going to the bunker. 

The next day I talked my two Army escorts into flying me out to my carrier, USS Shangri-La, in their Grumman Mohawk. It only had two seats, so I stood between the pilot and the co-pilot. Army pilots are not comfortable flying over the ocean. The conversation got noticeably quieter as land disappeared behind us. We found the carrier easy enough. They had TACAN. Over the carrier, I radioed my Squadron Skipper and relayed that I was safe, but the A4 probably wasn’t flyable. He said they would fly a COD to Quang Tri the next day to check the A4 over. Before heading back, I got clearance from the Air Boss for the Mohawk to make a low pass up the flight deck to give the carrier deck crew a close-up view of the ugly Mohawk. Couldn’t talk the Army pilots to descend below 100 ft. I didn’t push it. They had enough ocean flying for a day. 

The next day the COD arrived with an Aviation Mechanic aboard. He checked the A4 over and recommended against trying to fly it out. So me and it remained. The Ship and the Army arranged for a sky-crane helicopter to pick up the A4 the next day and fly it to Da Nang. Quite a sight watching the flying erector set hook up and lift the A4 out. 

Since all of this happened on the carrier’s last two flying days of that on-station operating period, I was left at Quang Tri and the ship sailed on to Subic Bay for a week’s R&R and maintenance.  

With nothing for me to do, my escorts came up with an idea of taking me on a tour of the Provincial Capitol of Hue, only a few miles away. Early the next morning, a kind-a Jeep showed up. It had four seats and a flatbed with a mounted 50 cal machine gun…and a soldier to man it. Everyone was armed, except me. I had turned my 38 cal survival pistol into their armory after landing…like a good sailor.

I must have looked a bit skeptical, because they told me, “Nothing to worry about. Hue was basically calm since the big battle there a year or so ago.” So, off we went. We never slowed below 50 mph. The City was in ruins, and not a soul to be seen. Other than to say I’d been there, not much of a sightseeing tour. I was glad to get back to Quang Tri. 

One day, after about a week at Quang Tri, I saw an Air Force C130 land. I ran out to the runway to talk to the crew. It was a base supply plane. It only had seats for the pilot and co-pilot, no crew. I asked the pilot, a Lt., where they were heading next. He said Clark AFB. I briefly told him my plight and asked if there was a chance that he could drop me off at Cubi Pt. on his way. He said he could, but there were no seats. I said that I would stand on the platform between him and his co-pilot for the trip. Reluctantly, he said OK. (Maybe because I was a LCDR, Major in his world.) He waited for me while I got my sparse belongings and said goodbye and thanks to my Army escorts. Off we flew to Cubi Pt. Quite a ride standing in the cockpit area of a C130. I felt a little bit like I was in the Millennium Falcon. They dropped me off and I hitched a ride to the other side of the bay to board the Shang. 

Typical of Navy Squadrons, I was welcomed back aboard with an “Oh, Hi there, Art” Anyway it was great to be back aboard. Quite an adventure. The next day or so we sailed back to Yankee Station for our last line period. In thankful consideration of the help the two Army pilots gave me during my stay with them, I asked CAG and the Shang’s Captain, to fly the COD to Quang Tri to bring my two Army escorts back out to the carrier for a day and night to observe real-time carrier operations. It was arranged. Both Lts were blown away by the experience. They said to me before they left that the experience confirmed what they had been led to believe, “That carrier pilots were out of their f...king minds to do what they do.” “Especially, at night!” And, actually, the night they witnessed, was dark but clear. No bad weather, or pitching deck to contend with. Different strokes for different folks.  

Sorry, I don’t remember the two Lt’s names. It was over 50 years ago. I’m surprised that I remember all that I have. It was a memorable experience. 


Tales of Taconic (The 'Gator Gulag)

By Paul T. Converse, former naval person

On June third, 1959, the 800 members of the USNA class of 1959 threw their caps in the air and went forth to service in the world and Navy as it then existed.  Like fledgling eaglets, they were off to roost far from the nest.  So, before describing my early experiences, it would be well to provide relevant context. 

Be aware that the voters of that time had been traumatized by the Great Depression and the horrors of World War II.  The baby boomers were about to come of age, but this was before the "Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything" (SWHINE) as characterized by Al Capp.  The country was sick and tired of war and all thing military, and besides, we had the bomb, so what else was needed?  Eisenhower had been preaching against the power of the Military and Industrial Complex.  However, Russian aggression was leading to second thoughts, especially since they threatened to become a controlling factor in the Middle East, threatening the world's oil supply. 

The Navy, operating on meager budgets, and with the WW II fleet aging and obsolete, was investing in Nuclear Submarines and Anti-Submarine capabilities, to defend our nation against ballistic missiles and our shipping against Russian submarines.  The Korean War provided a bit of a wake-up call when McArthur had to borrow Japanese ships, complete with crews, in order to make the Inchon landings.  Then, in the summer of 1958, just in time to disrupt our First Class cruise, we staged a Hollywood-style theatrical show of force, landing marines over bathing beaches in Lebanon, media mandatory. 

Another item of interesting history is the Naval Academy’s preference number lottery method of allowing the choice of the first assignment following graduation.  West Point, and more recently the Air Force Academy have always used class standing to determine the order of choice.  That was also the case at Navy prior to the late 70's and since the early 60's.  However, so the story goes, about 1977 or so the Marines did a good recruiting job, and the top nine graduates all went Semper Fi.  And the admirals went ballistic, and said "Never Again" and introduced the lottery.  If my figures are correct, and some sources differ by one or two, the class of 1959 commissioned 799 officers, and I drew a preference number of 796, which gave me exactly four ships to choose among, two of them Amphibious 'Force Flagships (AGC).  As they say, the small choice amongst rotten apples.  I chose an AGC, Taconic (AGC17),  deploying to the Med, lacking better criteria.  READ MORE (Full PDF)...

ALFA STRIKE! Libya, 1986 Liberty Avenged - and, Defined

by Raymond B. Wellborn '59

A synopsis: Mostly this story is about the events that led up to the bombing in Libya--Libya’s terrorist actions, Qadafi’s response to being bombed, and the actions of a bold captain commanding DETROIT.

The Provocation of an Unjust Act.  Very early on Saturday morning, 5 April 1986, our National Security Adviser, Vice Admiral John Poindexter, US Navy, woke President Ronald Reagan.  He had to inform him that a bomb had exploded in the La Belle, a discothèque in West Berlin, killing a US serviceman and seriously injuring several other Americans.

Two days later, at a meeting with his principal advisers at the White House, President Reagan reviewed the accumulated evidence implicating Libyan involvement in the bombing.  He also received an intelligence brief revealing that Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi was planning a wave of terrorist attacks on American citizens and interests overseas.  He was convinced of Qaddafi’s complicity in the West Berlin attack.
On Wednesday, 9 April 1986, President Reagan, after considering many options, approved “in principal” a military operation against Libya, and authorized the National Security Council to finalize the necessary military planning for a reprisal.  Essentially, he had chosen the Clausewitzian option for the continuation of politics by other means.  Such means would deliver a “message” that emphatically would inform those supporting or sponsoring terrorism that they could not do so without paying a price—a very heavy price.

Earlier, after the Rome and Vienna airport massacres in January of 1986, the collected intelligence revealed conspiratorial Libyan involvement.  Accordingly, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger issued warning orders to the US European Command, particularly for SIXTH Fleet and Tactical Fighter Wing FORTY-EIGHT.  Therefore, contingency planning for military operations against Libya had been in the works since then.  Their planned operation was assigned the code name: EL DORADO CANYON.
The Marque—the License to Strike.  For a twelve-minute air raid over Libya, the US plan generated the necessary US Air Force and US Navy assets to assure that at least eighteen Air Force F/B-111F fighter-bombers, and twelve Navy A-6E attack aircraft actually would strike specifically assigned targets in Libya.  In a limited sense, with a selected measure of response for a reprisal, the US plan had strike aircraft collectively distributing some 200,000 pounds of high-explosives specifically to selected military/terrorist targets in Libya.   

To strike such targets in the environs of Tripoli, US TACWING FORTY-EIGHT would launch F/B-111F fighter-bomber aircraft from Lakenheath and three other support bases in England.  To strike selected targets in the environs of Benghazi, US SIXTH Fleet would launch A-6E, A-7, and F/A-18 fighter-attack aircraft from naval aircraft carriers at sea in the central Mediterranean, one in each of two Battle Groups (BGs), namely, one with USS AMERICA and one with USS CORAL SEA. 

During the early morning darkness of 14 April 1986, after a dispersed, dark-of-the-night replenishment at sea for “Beans, Bullets, and Black Oil,” the warships of these two BGs rendezvoused northwest of Sicily just off Punta Raisi in Golfo di Castellammare.

Shortly after first light, Vice Admiral Frank Kelso, US Navy, Commander SIXTH Fleet, convened a meeting onboard AMERICA with all his subordinate commanders and commanding officers from these BG’s that formed TASK FORCE SIXTY—TF60.  He read President Reagan’s executive order for OPERATION EL DORADO CANYON; and, then prompted discussion, and invited questions.  Afterward, all commanding officers returned to their ships and informed their officers and men of the strike order for selected military/terrorist targets in Libya. 

The warships in these BGs went dark and quiet as they commenced their high-speed runs to the Gulf of Sidra.  TOT, Time-On-Target, was set for 0200 Libya-time, 15 April 1986, which coincided with the dark of the crescent moon.  This made it 1900 EST, 14 April 1986, which coincided with the prelude to national TV primetime in Washington, DC.

About six hours before the strike, Rear Admiral Hank Mauz, US Navy, sent the following message to his BG: 

At about 1730 London-time, on 14 April 1986, the assigned US Air Force tankers and strike aircraft launched from their respective bases in England, and proceeded southerly off the western European coast to Gibraltar, thence turned easterly to the central Mediterranean for the Tunisian coast, thence southerly to Libya—a precisely timed, grueling five-and-a-half-hour trek of some 2000+-nm. 

Shortly after midnight Tripoli time, on 15 April 1986, AMERICA and CORAL SEA began flight operations to launch their aircraft in the Gulf of Sidra.  To their west, just before flying over the Tunisian coast, their Air Force brethren were making their fourth and final pre-attack, in-flight refueling from their tankers in a dark sky at 26,000 feet above the sea. 

The Reprisal—the Application of Armed Force: SHOWTIME!  The prelude for this one-act reprisal began as scheduled at about 0150.  It featured pre-strike suppression attacks on Libyan air defenses by US Navy aircraft.  They would be streaking inbound low and fast, skimming the wave tops to strike their assigned suppression targets.

Eight A-7’s from AMERICA literally would pop up at Tripoli’s “front door,” and unleash a devastating barrage of HARM and SHRIKE missiles to suppress Libyan SAM sites there.  Eight F/A-18’s from CORAL SEA would do the same at Benghazi.

Turning in from the desert to proceed northerly toward their assigned targets, right on their coordinated strike schedule, six F-111-F’s bore down on Tripoli Military Airfield, nine more bore down on Aziziyah, and the remaining three bore down on Murat Sidi Bilal.  They were hugging the deck at less than five hundred feet, with some of them even attacking at just a couple of hundred feet above the ever-threatening, protruding ground—unfriendly ground. 

In the Libyan capital, at 0200, NBC correspondent Steve Delaney reported to Tom Brokaw, their anchorman in New York, that he was hearing the roar of jet engines outside the windows of his hotel room.  Seconds later, at 1900 EST—7:00 PM US-time-- millions of viewers of NBC Nightly News, my wife and sons among them, heard the explosions and the crackle of gunfire in the background as Delaney reported, “Tom, Tripoli is under attack!”

Meanwhile across the Gulf of Sidra, six of the eight A-6E attack aircraft off CORAL SEA were outbound bearing down on the Libyan fighter base at Benina, while six of the seven A-6E’s off AMERICA bore down on the military installations at Benghazi. 

In regard to the element of surprise and Libyan preparation for an imminent attack, US strike pilots reported as they approached their respective aim points that Tripoli’s streetlights were still on, as were the floodlights shining on the largest buildings and the minarets of the central mosque.  At Benina, reportedly the “frigging” runway lights were on— beacon-bright. 
By 0213 in Tripoli, all strike aircraft had reported “feet wet,” and were racing outbound over the sea—with Libya in their rearview mirror. 

By 0810 in London, 15 April 1986, the last F/B-111F landed at Lakenheath, marking the longest fighter mission in US history—fourteen hours and thirty-five minutes. 

First to last, the actual bombing had taken only twelve minutes for these intrepid US Air Force and US Navy airmen to deliver our “message.”

At sea in the Gulf of Sidra that morning, Vice Admiral Kelso called on the command net to pass along the gist of a conversational communication he just had had with President Reagan.  Synoptically, our Commander-in-Chief had sent a WELL DONE to all those he had put in harm’s way.  In other words, he was commending those at the point of the sword that delivered the message for US All-- the USA.

I read the message to my crew on the general announcing system, adding my own “positive” direction:
“Our Commander-in-Chief has commended us for a job ‘Well Done’ that we did during the dark this morning.  You did good, and I am proud to stand in your company.  But, it’s not over, ‘til it’s over.  We now have to refuel/rearm our band of brothers out here.  That’s our day job.  So, let’s not waste any more daylight.  ROMEO is at the dip to starboard-- turn-to!” 

Liquid Energy-- Distillate Fuel, Marine.  Later that afternoon, I spoke with Rear Admiral Mauz while replenishing AMERICA alongside.  We discussed DETROIT’s fuel status after topping off the BG’s warships.  For the next three or more days, warships of both BG’s would maintain a defense posture in the Gulf of Sidra and stand ready to repulse any Libyan counter-attack.  There were White House-directed contingencies in the event of that happening. 

He too had seen the message passed to us by the US Department of State to inform us that the countries along the Mediterranean littoral perfunctorily, as expected, had revoked all their diplomatic clearances for port visits by US warships because of the “ongoing hostilities.”

We discussed alternatives between here and there, whereas “there,” meant six days out and back to and from our naval facilities at Rota on the Atlantic littoral of southwestern Spain.  And, in steaming from here to there, both of us knew that anything could happen, be it good or bad.  Possibly, we could take on fuel at the port of Cagliari on Sardinia’s southernmost tip, and thus cut the turnaround time in half.  But, perhaps we could get into Sicily.  The AGIP refinery at Augustà Bay on Sicily’s eastern coast was closer, like only a half-days steaming away.  In any case, I was to do what I could [had to] do.  DETROIT, therefore, steamed northward toward Sicily at 31+ knots—after all, DETROIT was a Fast Combat Support Ship, literally built on top of a battleship-propulsion plant. 

As I reviewed the day’s intelligence reports, I noted that the Libyan government was reporting thirty-seven Libyans killed and ninety-three injured by the US air strikes in Tripoli and Benghazi.  US intelligence sources also reported that Qaddafi survived the US air strike in his underground bunker, apparently rattled, but unharmed.  His fifteen-month-old adopted daughter, however, had been killed, and his wife and two youngest sons, ages three and four, had been seriously injured. 

Apparently, Qaddafi’s family had been asleep in their beds on the ground floor of the residence when the compound was attacked.  I solemnly rationalized that a distinct moral distinction can be made between “collateral damage” accidentally resulting in the deaths of Libyan civilians and the deliberate murdering of civilians by acts of terrorism. 

Then, as I read on, apparently Qaddafi had had his army launch two Soviet-built SS-1 SCUD-B ballistic missiles at the US Coast Guard’s Long-Range Navigation-- LORAN-- station on ISOLA DI LAMPEDUSA.  LAMPEDUSA is an island in the central Mediterranean about 170 nm [nautical miles] north-northwest of Tripoli, and about 140 nm south of the western tip of Sicily. 
The Libyan SCUD’s though had fallen short detonating harmlessly in the rocks offshore.  Nevertheless, the resulting explosions caused two large columns of water to plume brusquely into the air, and the percussion wave shook the homes of some six thousand Lampedusa residents living there.  I presumed that such action was more than likely in desperation to do something—anything-- to retaliate against the US. 

When I finished reading the reports, I simply shook my head thinking that such a “counter-attack” was ridiculous at best—and, at worst was stupid.  I scuffed it off—re-fuel was on my mind. 

During the early morning darkness of 16 April 1986, I slowed DETROIT’s speed-of-advance just before reaching the turn onto the approaches for the breakwater at the industrial oil-port city of Augustà, Sicily.  My intent was to enter port and top-off with jet-propulsion fuel and distillate-fuel marine, about two million gallons-- each.

For normal deployed tasking, this would have been just another routine, twice-a-month top-off.  This, however, was neither normal nor routine, because it was in the early morning darkness of the day following a US air strike against Libya. 
In that such, mortally intrusive action was a unilateral projection of national power by the US, the somewhat surprised host countries in the central Mediterranean region had no other choice than to rescind all diplomatic clearances for port visits by US warships until such hostilities could be settled, diplomatically.  To say the least, this would be an out-of-the-ordinary port-visit.
My operational plan was simple though.  I would maneuver DETROIT for port entry under the cover of darkness—and, be rigged at darkened ship and in electronic silence.  Unassisted, I then would moor DETROIT bow-out alongside the pier that housed the fuel manifolds for AGIP’s refinery.  In other words, we were sneaking in.

My crew then would scurry ashore to take on fuel, just as they had done so many times before.  Fuel was always available down at AGIP’s manifolds—24/7.  It was there by gravity-feed from storage tanks at an elevation of some 100 feet up the hill.
And, since we were going to pay for what we took, their padlocked valves would not pose a problem—to my street-smart sailors.  After all—I moralized-- were we not good customers, with ways and means?  Most assuredly, we would replace the padlocks with new ones, and I would direct DETROIT’s Supply Officer to leave the necessary paperwork for payment due in the post-box on the pier for business as usual—padlock keys and all. 

All in all, it should take us only about four hours to top up.  Then having done so, we simply would slip our moorings to the pier and depart unassisted, and unobtrusively-- before any locals came to work.  I admit, it was somewhat of an audacious plan—to some extent or greater.  But, I rationalized, was it not mission-essential—and, cost-effective too?  Because, by the next morning, in less than forty-eight hours, we could be back on our replenishment circuit in the Gulf Sidra for refueling/re-arming the fuel-thirsty ships of our battle group still patrolling there.

After all, is it not easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission? 

Furthermore, could it not be rationalized—and, moralized-- that politics are politics, whereas business is business—and, war is war?  So, stop procrastinating. 

Don’t Ask Why, Just Do It!  Think action, and act with thought.

As expected, the port and the surrounding hills were dark.  A passing thought of anxiety did wisp through the dark reaches in the back of my plotting mind in that strangely, there did not seem to be any lights on, except for surface navigational aids—on dim.  But, I quickly re-focused to more lucid things right in front me, like the prudent ship-handling tasks ahead. 

Weather-wise, I noticed that the morning land breeze was offsetting, and thus would be somewhat of a buffer for easing DETROIT alongside the pier, ever so gently.  It was pleasantly cool, and even a little misty; but essentially the visibility was clear and unlimited even in the early morning darkness.  Therefore, visual observations for navigational fixing would do prudently, thus electronic means for navigational fixing were not needed, and were off. 

I had been in and out of Augustà Bay many times over the years and thus was very familiar with the approaches to the breakwater entrance as well as the restrictive waters for maneuvering deep-draft ships inside the breakwater.  Furthermore, I also was an experienced ship handler, having served in ships, at sea, for more than half of my naval career.  So, an unassisted mooring would not be a problem or result in any untoward happenings. 

I smartly conned DETROIT to head up the track indicated by the two lighted in-range navigational towers.  Radios were tuned to receive, but transmissions were to be kept silent-- in that, I did not intend to call in and get permission to enter the port.  In other words, I imagined us sneaking in slowly at the prudent speed of about 10 knots, and maneuvering in the harbor to make a landing-- with a 900-foot, 50,000-ton, gray elephant behemoth.

An Extraordinary Emotional Event—At Sicily’s Augustà Bay.  All of a sudden, the pilothouse radio, tuned to Channel-16, crackled:

“USS DETROIT, this is COMANDANTÈ AUGUSTÀ, What are your intentions?” 

What was just as surprising is that no bright searchlights came on, and no alarms were sounding.  And, the query had been made in very clear, and correct, authoritative English instead of the usual pidgin English.  I quickly assessed that a senior Italian officer must have transmitted it, perhaps even the Commander of Italian armed forces stationed there. 

Trying to overcome the anxiety of the moment, that is, like when caught with your hand in the cookie-jar, my Executive Officer, instead of answering the radioed query, extended the radio microphone in his hand toward me with a look indicative of an unspoken question, “What are YOU going to say now?”
Well, when a smart-ass is caught red-handed, the reply is typically a flippant one.  I took the radio in hand, and gathered my thoughts for some excusatory response.  After all, we had been at sea for an extended period and deserved some R&R-- Rest and Recreation—like, a sailor’s liberty.
I cleared my throat, to speak somewhat authoritatively, and responded without call-up in “Pidgin” Italian, vis-à-vis, Pidgin English, with a so typical asinine smile on my face:

“Mi parè-- Libertà!”

 The counter response absolutely was astonishing.  No, it was astoundingly magnificent!  Lights came on in the port, and on all the small boats just inside the breakwater.  A hundred radios crackled at once:

“Parè Libertà — Parè Libertà!” 

The vibrancy of the words echoed off the steel bulkheads of the pilothouse, and seemingly off the hills of the surrounding countryside.  The crescendo of freedom’s ring resounded all around us.  Several searchlights then came on, but not directly on us.  They were highlighting our battle flag—the Stars and Stripes—still flying so proudly at mast-top.
My mind raced to comprehend what was happening. 

Then it hit me. 

Apparently, Qaddafi had not heeded, nor perhaps even sought, the advice of geo-politicos to ascertain the sovereignty of ISOLA DI LAMPEDUSA.
My, my, Qaddafi had attacked Italy!

I quickly deduced that the Italian ministry in Rome must be in the throws of releasing an official response.  Notwithstanding that bureaucratic action, the Sicilians already knew that the attack had been by a terminally ballistic, non-guided missile launched from Libya.  Moreover, the Sicilians instinctively knew that the attack was not accidental, or some regrettable mistake in aim-point.  To the people here in Sicily, this was an unprovoked, reprehensible attack by Libya onto Italy’s sovereign soil.  Thus, Italian forces in Augusta Bay were in the defend mode—and, we were one of their fellow defenders!

Every now and then, you can catch old Murphy resting on his laurels.  And, according to O’Toole’s corollary to Murphy’s Law, we were experiencing the Luck of the Irish—and, my Irish eyes were smiling. 

The morning mist was cooling my flushed face, as I broke into a smile—a big smile.  I had never heard nor seen a welcome like this before—or, since.
My flippancy dissipated.  This was indeed an unforgettable--if not a historic-- moment.  I stood at attention on the starboard bridge wing as we entered Augustà Bay, and professionally saluted the glassed-in watchtower smartly as we passed abeam the breakwater.  I even imagined COMANDANTÈ AUGUSTÀ mouthing the words:  Mi venne in aiuto. 

Without untoward incident, or further adieu, DETROIT was back on station in the Gulf of Sidra by dark-thirty that night.  While in-transit that evening, I read the message reporting what President Reagan, pursuant to the terms of the War Powers Act, had forwarded by letter to Congress regarding OPERATION EL DORADO CANYON.  His letter, in part, stated that,
“...[The air strikes on Libya] were conducted in the exercise of our right of self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.  This necessary and appropriate action was a preemptive strike directed at the Libyan terrorist infrastructure and designed to deter acts of terrorism, such as the Libyan-ordered bombing of a discotheque in West Berlin on April 5.”

As an anti-climatically parenthetical to highlight that business is business, a Libyan-flagged crude-oil tanker was moored across the pier.  Her captain invited me over to have coffee, and I did--graciously. 

Retrospectively, keep in mind listening to the news reporting strife and struggle among people that whenever, and wherever, freedom-loving people are threatened, they will rally to side with those who champion their cause, and welcome all who will stand beside them to keep the light of Freedom’s Torch burning bright.   

That’s my lesson learned about what LIBERTY means to me. - - - CLAUSULA - - -