Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Chapter 12: On Yankee Station

Below is chapter 12 of my crime novel Olongapo, which I hope to soon have published. 

The chapter originally appeared in American Crime Magazine.

You can read the chapter below: 

On Yankee Station

By Paul Davis

The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, one of the largest warships in the world, had all of the amenities of home save female companionship. 

That was remedied temporarily with our frequent port of calls to Subic Bay and Olongapo City in the Philippines, and our R&R visits to Hong Kong and Sasebo, Japan during our combat cruise in 1970 and 1971. 

One advantage in particular of serving on the Kitty Hawk was the aircraft carrier had doctors and a full surgical unit to deal with medical emergencies. The Kitty Hawk also had a dentist aboard. 

I had dental surgery to remove my wisdom teeth while serving on the carrier on "Yankee Station" in the South China Sea in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam. I was awake and alert for what seemed like hours as the dentist and his dental technician tugged, yanked, cut, ripped and eventually extracted my wisdom teeth. I don’t know how those four hands and the various instruments of torture (which originated from the Spanish Inquisition, I presumed) fit into my mouth. 

“That was the hardest dental surgery I’ve ever experienced,” the dental tech told me as I sat in the chair heaving. 

“Me too,” I mumbled through my swollen cheeks and bloody mouth.  

Despite the extreme and painful dental surgery, I was well enough to be back on watch in the Communications Radio Division's Message Processing Center the following day. I couldn’t talk much, which I’m sure was a blessing for some who worked close with me, but I was able to do my job at a very busy time on Yankee Station for the Kitty Hawk. 

We were on Yankee Station for 39 days and the Kitty Hawk broke new records for the number of strike sorties flown into Vietnam by our pilots and the amount of ordnance they dropped on enemy positions in support of American and South Vietnamese troops on the ground. 

During this line period, the Kitty Hawk helped provide air support for the South Vietnamese troops who ventured into Laos in the highly publicized “Operation Lam Son 719.” Lam Son 719 was the name of the South Vietnamese ground offensive into Laos that was meant to cutoff the supply routes to and from South Vietnam and Laos, and to capture or destroy the supplies and munitions cached in the area by the North Vietnamese Army. 

Although the mission failed to totally destroy the North Vietnamese hub of their logistical system known as the “Ho Chi Minh Trail,” the incursion by the South Vietnamese Army caused considerable disruption to the Communist supply routes. Kitty Hawk combat pilots distinguished themselves flying air cover during the operation. 

After a South Vietnamese division was ordered to retreat, some of the soldiers were photographed by the press clinging for dear life to the skids of American helicopters in a desperate effort to escape, which became the main thrust of news stories by the American and the world press. 

Also during this line period, Kitty Hawk pilots participated in what the Pentagon called “Protective Reaction” strikes into the heart of North Vietnam. The strikes were ordered after the Communists fired missiles from North Vietnam into Laos during Lam Son 719. Kitty Hawk pilots, other carrier pilots, and Air Force pilots flew North, braving artillery flak and surface-to-air missiles (SAM) as they hit the North Vietnamese missiles sites and other strategic targets.          

Kitty Hawk’s one and only loss of aircraft during our combat cruise occurred during this time. An A7E Corsair pilot returning to the aircraft carrier from Laos was forced to eject from his jet as the Corsair crashed into the sea. Thankfully, he survived and was rescued from the sea off Da Nang by an Air Force “Jolly Green” helicopter. 

As the action on the ground in Laos and in the skies over Laos and North Vietnam raged, the sailors in the Kitty Hawk’s Communications Radio Division's Message Processing Center hustled to maintain communications between the combat pilots and the carrier. Intelligence reports were also processed speedily to senior naval officers. It was a hectic but most interesting period aboard the carrier. 

In addition to maintaining and distributing highly classified messages to the carrier’s captain, the executive officer, and the Task Force 77 admiral and his senior staff, I was one of the two sailors responsible for maintaining security of the classified messages from receipt to destruction.  

I worked at a small desk off in a corner, away from the constantly clicking teletype machines that sent and received encrypted classified messages, and the “Ditto” copier that rolled out numerous copies of the messages for distribution. 

My desk was partially hidden behind a series of pneumatic tubes, which we called “Bunny Tubes.” We used pneumatic power to shoot high priority messages in a two-foot-long missile-like container to the brass’ offices aboard the ship. The container landed in a box filled with sand in the officers’ offices. 

If we didn’t like the officer’s yeoman (like a secretary), we would give the Bunny Tube a second shot of air after sending forth the container, and the container would hit the box like a real missile, sending sand all over the floor and sometimes all over the yeoman.  

Prior to working the desk in the Message Center, I had performed more physical jobs in Special Services, where I was part of a team that ran cable wire throughout the ship, making the Kitty Hawk the first warship to have 24-hour TV and radio cable service. 

While in Special Services, I also served as a fire fighter on a Damage Control Team. Whenever a fire or other emergency occurred, we were called out and the Damage Control Team was my “battle station” when General Quarters was called. 

“General Quarters, General Quarter,” the 1MC would call out across the ship. “All Hands man your battle stations.” 

Most often the phrase “This is a drill. This is a drill” was added to the message, but on a couple of occasions, we heard, “This is not a drill. Repeat, this is not a drill.” 

Having attended a couple of firefighting schools in San Diego prior to our shoving off for Southeast Asia, I was trained to help man a large hose that put out fires before the fires reached the bombs and other munitions.  

But once I was reassigned to the Communications Radio Division, my battle station became the Message Center, where all hands doubled up during General Quarters.        

The traffic security and distribution desk was a 3rd Class Radioman’s job, but although I was only a seaman, I was assigned to one of the two eight hours on and eight hours off watches. A 3rd Class Radioman took the other eight-hour watch. Like me, he was very interested in the Vietnam War, and like me, he read military history books and spy thrillers. 

He would leave me a file with copies of messages and reports that were interesting to us, such as intelligence reports from naval intelligence, the CIA and other agencies involved in the war. He would also leave copies of messages from high-ranking people, such as President Nixon, to our top military people. I left him a folder with the same type of messages from my watch as well. 

Another aspect of our job was to prepare the destruction documentation of “Burn Bags,” which were paper sacks that held the discarded copies of classified messages that we were destroying each month while on Yankee Station. I would hand over the document and the paper burn bags to an assigned petty officer who signed a receipt for my records.

The assigned petty officer then took two seamen with him to the ship’s furnace. There the petty officer and the seamen would toss the messages into the huge furnace. Wearing thick gloves, they used long metal poles that they stuck in the open furnace gate and would flop the messages around, so they were totally burnt and destroyed. 

The smokestack at the top of the furnace was normally open, which allowed the heat to escape through the funnel, but because we were burning top-secret message traffic, the sailors who operated the furnace were instructed to close off the smokestack, so no piece of a classified message would fly out. 

Because of this, the heat in the furnace room rose to an incredible degree. I often joined the other radiomen, and we stripped down to our shorts as we poked and tossed the burning messages in the furnace. 

Thankfully, I was not involved in an incident in which the smokestack was left open and numerous pieces of partially burned messages flew up and out of the smokestack. 

A Soviet trawler, which was more of an intelligence gathering ship than a fishing vessel, always followed American aircraft carriers on Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Soviet sailors aboard the trawler in our wake saw the bits of paper flying out of the smokestack and landing in the sea. The Soviet sailors tossed out their fishing nets to capture the floating pieces of paper.

Someone on the carrier saw the scraps of burnt paper take flight from the smokestack and then spied the Soviet trawler hauling them in. The deck department was ordered to close the smokestack immediately. 

One of our aircraft flying over the Soviet trawler took photos of the Soviet sailors putting together the scraps of burned paper on their fantail, like a giant jigsaw puzzle. 

This was a major security issue and a violation of security regulations. A naval officer, a commander, was assigned as an investigating officer. I was initially interviewed by the commander, and I told him that I submitted the destruction document to Radioman 3rd Class John Hardy. 

That was my end of my involvement. The commander merely took my statement and dismissed me. 

I felt bad for Hardy, who was in charge of the destruction detail. He was looking like the fall guy until he produced a copy of his memo to the deck department that instructed the deck sailors to close off the funnel. That cleared the sailors from the Communications Radio Division, and ultimately a 3rd Class Boatswain Mate named George Hartman was held responsible for the security violation.      

Lorino told me that Hartman, a lean, red-haired, freckled-faced 25-year-old from Denver, was a known fuck-up, drunk and suspected petty thief. He went to Captain's Mass and was busted back down two ranks to seaman apprentice and sentenced to 30 days in the brig.

He spiraled downward after getting out of the brig and losing his petty officer’s crow. According to Lorino, who worked with Hartman in the Deck Department, the busted sailor later visited the Americano in Olongapo, where he drank himself silly. 

The Americano's manager, who often bought items Hartman stole from the carrier, paid another Kitty Hawk sailor to take Hartman back to the ship. Walker, the sailor and Lorino placed Hartman in a jeepney and the jeepney took off for the Subic Bay naval base.

 Lorino told me that Hartman took to drinking on the carrier while on Yankee Station, even on his watches. Hartman was counseled by a sympathetic chief about his drinking, but Hartman went on drinking secretly and he was put on report more than once. 

While the aircraft carrier temporarily ceased launching and recovering aircraft on Yankee Station to receive supplies and munitions from a U.S. Navy supply ship during an underway replenishment operation, Hartman was seriously injured due to his being pie-eyed. 

Called an “UNREP,” the supply ship came alongside the Kitty Hawk in the Gulf of Tonkin in fairly calm seas. A boatswain mate aboard the supply ship used a shotgun equipped with a “shot line,” a pneumatic line-throwing device, to shoot a line across to the Kitty Hawk on the carrier’s starboard side. The line carried across the messenger line, which was used to convey a transfer rig line, as well as a phone line, a distance line, and other connecting lines from ship-to ship. 

The UNREP was a complicated and risky venture as the aircraft carrier and the supply ship had to steam forward side by side on a parallel speed and course for the length of the transfer operation. The two ships also had to maintain a safe distance between them to avoid collision. 

Lorino told me that Hartman was injured as he was hauling over munitions from the supply ship to the carrier. Hartman slipped and fell, allowing a heavy crate to drop on his legs and crush them. Hartman was rushed to sick bay, where the ship’s surgeon performed emergency surgery. 

A safety inquiry followed, and Hartman was found to have been intoxicated during the UNREP. 

Previously suspected of a rash of thefts in the department by breaking into lockers and stealing from his shipmates, a security search was conducted while Hartman was in sick bay. 

Various stolen items were found under Hartman's rack and in his locker, from two cassette players to several wrist watches, rings, and a good bit of cash. 

After he recovered from his injuries, he was flown off the carrier and landed at the U.S. Naval Base at Subic Bay. He was arrested by Naval Investigative Service Special Agents and charged with theft and other crimes.

No one knew what became of him. 

© 2024 By Paul Davis 

You can read my other posted Olongapo chapters via the below links:

Paul Davis On Crime: Chapter One: Butterfly

Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Fiction: 'Salvatore Lorino'

Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Fiction: The Old Huk

Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Fiction: Join The Navy And See Olongapo

Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Fiction: 'Boots On The Ground'

Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Fiction: 'The 30-Day Detail'

Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Fiction: 'Cat Street'


  1. I enjoyed the memories. I was on that cruise. Airdale group.

  2. Glad you enjoyed my fictional take on the cru