USS Vesuvius (AE-15)-"The Best Sound"

(The following was published in the September 1969 edition of the ComServPac Information Bulletin and was written by PH1 Al Smith... We hope he gets to see it. If we had the slightest idea where he was, we'd ask his permission to publish the piece here.)
"Heads up down there ! Stay alert !", roars the bos'un down into one of the volcano's five "craters".
The volcano is ammunition ship USS Vesuvius. Its lava has been a steady slow of projectiles, rockets, and bombs to Seventh Fleet ships operating off the coast of Vietnam.
The flow to the north had been restricted- now it's stopped completely. It's been diverted to the south with only a trickle used for "topping off" ships standing by , cruising far out in international waters.
The immediate enemy of the 268 man crew is fatigue.
They have been working since 4 AM, hoisting clusters of 500-pound bombs from the ships five holds to the main deck for transfer to the attack carrier Coral Sea. The previous day the crew had spent 16 hours in preparation and highlining of 16-inch projectiles and powder cases to the battleship USS New Jersey and five-inch projectiles to the Australian destroyer Perth.
When there's time for a break, Capt. Dicky Weiland, a Naval Aviator, encourages his men to relax. An accident caused by fatigue is one of the many worries of the well-liked commanding officer.
The hard work requires physical stamina and mental alertness.
The only modern convenience to aid their labor are the electrically powered fork trucks which shuttle the pallets of ammunition to a transfer staging area from the main deck, where they have been hoisted from a hold.
The major burden is left to the manly art of seamanship, hard muscle and an occasional salty curse.
"'Boats- they want you to slow down the delivery."
Working under red floodlights, eyes soon become adjusted to the monochrome glow. The early sun is many hours away. A green running light to port indicates the approach of another ship. "On the Coral Sea...Good Morning and Welcome Alongside the USS Vesuvius."
"Good morning on the Vesuvius...stand by for shotlines from my stations one Alpha and nine Alpha. All hands take cover."
And then come the sounds, some initiated by tried muscle, others by strained voice. "Chee...yunk", chains drop on deck. "Grattle, grattle..." , they pass under a metal pallet.
"Tell them to let me know when they're ready to start receiving. Deal."
"That fork truck's got to go across to port, Dick."
"After-handling team, bear a hand mustering on station."
"Pull that net out, get those arming wires over here."
"Click, click, click, click", cables are attached to a hook. "Turn it around, the other way, that's right, good show, take it across..."
"Clunk, whirr, clunk, whirr", the young winch operastor sends a deadly cargo across the boiling sea to the carrier.
"Duty Electrician, port side number two hatch."
"Heave around...heave around, damn it."
"Men, this is the captain speaking. I have just received word that American Forces are to cease all offensive operations against North Vietnam beginning at 2100 tonight..."
"The word from the skipper ignites new thoughts behind each sweating brow.
"Clink, clink." Is this the beginning ?
"Clunk, whirr."
Is this the end ?
"Chee-yunk, grattle, grattle."
"Will we be home for Christmas, Chief ?"
"We've had bombing pauses before- let's wait and see..."
"Crash, bang...screech...whirr..."
"You men on the port, lay to starboard...grab ahold that line. Now, heave...heave around, damn it ...HEAVE !"
(The original article was entitled "Lava Flows From Vesuvius"
and contained photos of the ship and Captain Wieland)
Go to the Vesuvius Picture Page
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