The thick fog covered Point Loma and the Harbor in San Diego like a blanket warming an infant from the cold. A foghorn sounded alerting mariners of the dangers that may await them.
The loud bellowing blast echoes “-BWAAAAAAH-caution, caution, caution to all” the foghorn blasted.
The fog greeted San Diego sending a message to “wake up and start the day”. Residents of the city knew the fog was commonplace and it would burn off later in the morning revealing a beautiful bright sunny day.
The fog-shrouded the waters and land obscuring any location of docked or anchored Navy ships. This was a navy town. Huge ships anchored at the piers. Multiple personnel, both civilian and military, were on the Navy Base which was located on the wharf.
This was a city with a temperate climate that drew thousands of civilian and retired military people to this Pacific paradise.
Bob looked at the date palm trees lined University Drive, which was the original main highway in San Diego in the 1960s. Homes were designed to reflect the Mexican influence brought to San Diego by the Spanish explorers. The food was much different than Bob was used to back home in Virginia.
His first visit to San Diego as a young sailor presented a challenge to him in the form of cuisine. For the first time, he was going to taste Mexican food.
What the heck are “tacos”, he thought? Where’s my baked Virginia ham?
Trying to get the pronunciation correct for Bob was like trying to pull teeth! He went to place his order for food and told the waitress with his Southern accent that he wanted some of those “tackus.”
She looked at this young eighteen-year-old sailor with a jaundiced eye and asked him politely to “point to the menu, sir, please.”
Oh, oh she said, you mean “tacos.”
“Yes, mam just what I said – them there tackus.”
She smiled and walked away chuckling as she placed his order. She couldn’t resist liking him and she drooled over his wavy blonde hair.
After feasting on his first great Mexican meal, Bob decided to take a stroll down to the pier and check out his new home for the next two years.
Bob approached the military base, but he could barely make out where he was going the fog was so thick. Cars came to a stop at the wharf. The fog lifted enough to reveal the “man-of-war” in all her glory. Bob’s eyes lit up the first time he set his eyes on “his” ship. He glanced at the ship through the lifting fog. From her bow to her stern, the gray goddess of the seas stood waiting for her crew to board.
He was so impressed when he first saw those huge gun turrets that were poised and ready to destroy. She had her crew of approximately three-hundred-fifty officers and sailors that stood ready for the call of duty. After all, she was a fighting ship outfitted to protect! Her MK 42 5-inch/54 caliber guns completed her profile and defied the enemy to see what her guns could do. She had the reputation of being the most accurate guns in the Pacific arena.
It was not only her rapid-firing guns but the state-of-the-art warfare that made this ship dangerous. The front of the ship’s bridge contained an additional armament. Perched on top of the superstructure rested a huge square box with a turret. The box had eight round housings which had the capability of storing rockets large enough to target the enemy’s submarines. This was ASROC – antisubmarine ROCkets. Since it was unlikely that a destroyer could get close enough today to drop the common weapon called a depth charge directly over a submarine, weapons such as ASROC would be needed to attack at a considerable distance. ASROC had a ten-thousand-yard range, about the same as the new AN/SQS-23 sonar. Together they made an ominous combination. She was ready.
He was so excited to board his ship. As he approached her gangplank, the OD (Officer of the Day) guarded the ship and greeted him. The OD’s job was to screen anyone coming aboard, judging if they were welcomed or unwelcomed guests. He was outfitted with the uniform of the day and armed with a revolver to keep any unwanted visitors away. He saw that it was Bob’s first experience with an armed presence, and he was impressed.
The ship was only a few years old and housed the most up-to-date facilities the Navy had to offer. Bob was interested in the fact that the ship was known to be one of the best “feeders” in the fleet! He knew good food and it always made him feel better when he had a full stomach. Her crew appreciated the efforts put forth by the chefs on board and welcomed the three outstanding meals prepared for them.
This was the USS Lawrence Mathers, a DDG, guided-missile destroyer poised to defend her country, crew, other ships, the Army and Marines in Vietnam. It was Bob’s ship; it was his new home and he was impressed. It was the 1960s and the United States was deeply involved in the Vietnam Conflict.
Bob knew it was time for the ship to receive her crew and prepare to get underway for her commitment to the Western Pacific (WESTPAC). It wasn’t the first time the USS Mathers sailed off to meet her commitment nor would it be the last time. No one knew that this deployment would be her defining moment in her history; and one that Bob would never forget.
Bob heard the ship calling him,
“Come aboard, come aboard” she beckoned!
Sailors with their seabags slung over their shoulders slowly started making their way down the pier toward the ship that called them!
“It is time to go, it is time to go, come on board we have a job to do.”
The blast from the foghorn continued “-BWAAAAAAH”.
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