(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.)
Crash...clang...screech...whirr. "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..." "Clik,clik". "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 !"