The admiral came out of his cabin to the navigation
bridge, and because of what was going on, I was carefully
The day was stagnant and suffocating; the Indian Ocean
was breezeless, and the temperature was blistery hot. Sailors who
wanted to relax and try to cool off were instead sweating as they
fueled and pushed fired-up planes around the flight deck. After the
long and demanding cruise. everyone was wondering why the ship was
conducting this drill at such an extremely high state of preparedness
with guns manned and everyone at general quarters. The heat coming out
of the jets' tailpipes took the already hot day up another 10-20
degrees. The gunnery hands loaded the ammunition. But it wasn't
conventional ammo; it was nuclear! In all the time I had been on the
ship I had never before seen the planes armed with nuclear bombs that
had been taken out of Marine guarded storage. The nuclear bomb-loaded
planes were connected to steam-spewing catapults ready to be hurled
screaming off the end of the deck to obliterate their target. We were
prepared for nuclear war!
I didn't know exactly what was going on, all I had was
that India and Pakistan wouldn't let us pull into port because we had
nuclear weapons on board. Sometimes officers seeing a "dumb enlisted
man" with earphones on would speak unguardedly. Knowing this, I cocked
one of the cups a little off my left ear so I could hear them better.
It was after all very boring work, since most of the ships were moving
My job was to track on a Plexiglas chart the movement
of ships and planes in the area. The chart was updated around the
clock so the admiral could see in an instant what was going on within
several hundred miles of the task force. The positions of the ships
and planes were given to me over the phone by sailors who worked ten
floors below in the eerily semi-darkened CIC (Communication
Information Center). They hovered over radarscopes tracking movements
and reported to me and other trackers any changes in direction and
speed, especially if they were headed toward the ship.
A captain on the admiralís staff asked him what we
were all wondering: why wasn't the crew on "holiday routine," (i.e.,
kicking back, sunbathing, etc., a normal break after such an arduous
cruise)? Most important of all, why were we doing a drill with this
very unusually advanced state of nuclear armament, as if ready for
In response, the admiral stiffened, walked to a map on
the wall, and pointed his finger to India and Pakistan. He said, right
now, we are at the closest point to them. I didn't know what was going
on exactly, but I had heard that those countries wouldn't let us in
with nuclear weapons aboard.
The captain, referring to the nuclear alert state we
were in, almost incredulously gasped, "Do they know?"
"They know," the admiral gruffly replied, saying all
that needed to be said.
I was stunned. So here we were, sweating like dogs,
ready to launch nuclear warplanes, just to make a political statement,
to thumb our nose, and to intimidate a country with which we were not
at war. To find that American diplomacy was so whimsical was a
In early June, the ship had a major propulsion system
casualty 160 miles southwest of Sasebo, Japan, and it lost 50% of its
power. Sasebo is on the farthest southern island of Japan and a major
navy base. We pulled in for several weeks of repairs and lots of
interesting liberty. In Sasebo one of my favorite spots was a friendly
bar which had a lot of great jazz albums and tasty fried rice
available next door, but I was never satisfied with the bar scene and
so I took tours whenever I could.
Not too far from Sasebo, I visited Nagasaki and the
Atomic Bomb Museum. The second atomic bomb was dropped here leveling
an area of 2.5 square miles, killing 75,000 and injuring an equal
number. It was very emotionally moving to visit, as an American
sailor, this city which suffered so much because my country dropped a
nuclear bomb here. I half expected the Japanese here to be less
cordial, at least to sailors, especially after seeing the pictures of
the gruesome consequences of the attack. The ones I met didn't seem to
be hostile even though I learned that the aftereffects of the bombing
were still killing people.
Not everyone was so sanguine about what happened, and
there were generally small demonstrations when the ship pulled in
because of the possibility there were nuclear bombs aboard. This was
neither confirmed nor denied by U.S. officials, but all of us on the
ship knew we had them and so did everyone else. It was a diplomatic
convenience that masked the truth.
Another great tour in Japan was visiting Mt. Fuji.
Climbing Mt. Fuji, 12,388 feet high, sounds more rugged than it is.
Thousands of grandmothers make the trek; the way is carefully marked.
That is not to say that there is no effort required. Most people don't
climb all the way from the bottom or make it to the top. We rode a bus
halfway up and climbed during the day to 2,000 feet below the top.
There we spent the night in a small hut, which holds about fifteen
people. We had hot sake and some nourishing food before going to bed
early. The next morning we were up at 4:00 and began climbing the last
2,000 feet. The trick is to get there before the sun comes up so you
can see the sun rise from below the clouds and burn off the haze. It
is truly one of the most beautiful sights I have seen.
Eventually the ship was repaired. After some test runs
we began our usual routine, cruising from the Philippines to Hong Kong
and back to Japan.