Return to the Gulf of Tonkin in 1983 and other highlights
by Jim Wright
We were in the middle of a May to October deployment to the Philippines in the last few years of the cold war. Crew five had been tasked to conduct a SAR mission for a "joint US-Chinese oil research vessel" that had been nailed by a tough typhoon that swept through the Gulf of Tonkin just a day prior to our flight. By the amount of support that we were ordered to provide we surmised that there were some very important people aboard this ship. The problem was the search area was in the Gulf of Tonkin and no one had flown in there since the end of the Viet Nam war. I remember arriving on station well after dark. We had Lt Lenny Nemeth as PPC/MC, probably Todd Zechin as 2P and LTjg Bill Hogsed as 3P. Myself as the TACCO and LTjg Joe Lovelace as TACNAV. Radioman was AX2 Benson. So the winds and weather are still much like a hurricane and we are flying around in the dark at 300 to 1,000 feet looking for "anything". We keep talking to a boat called the "Silco Salvage" on a hand held VHF radio. He says things like, "let me go outside and look for you." We see hundreds of tiny blinking lights in random areas and think at first they may be strobes from survivors' life vests. Being green we report back that we see these strobes with the false assumption that that's what they were. Turns out they were not life vest lights. (First bad report). When the sun finally came up many hours into our mission, we finally get a glimpse of the ocean's surface! Nothing but giant foam waves, no wonder the flight was so rough! We see the tiny ship the Silco Salvage and wonder what the heck this guy is doing out there in this sea state. He was getting tossed around like a rag doll! We never saw anything else of the lost oil vessel except the blinking strobes, maybe they were lost oil research transponders from her going down? Because the Gulf of Tonkin was so Close to Cubi Pt., our onstation time was about 9 hours. Nine hours at low altitude, most of it in the dark, all of it in the highest winds and seastate imaginable. One of our position reports went back to home plate with a one arc degree of longitude error in it. It had us over land north vietnam, OOPS! Lenny had trusted me and I had trusted Joe. When we got home we did a tap dance for LCDR Bill "Don't Call Me BILL" Hobgood. Lenny and I both checked every message our crew ever sent from that day forward. While it was neat to fly in the Gulf of Tonkin, the weather and duration onstation made this flight by far the toughest in my tour.
We made up for it later:
Later in the deployment our crew shined as we were CTF 72 crew of the month for doing a job that many crews had tried and no one had yet succeeded at. We repeated the feat the next deployment, at that point crew 5 was 2-0 and the rest of the VP navy was 0-17. I later served at Cubi ASWOC as operations officer and I researched that "N.....r sinker" mission profile. The only other successful TACCO/Crew in that scenario was Lt Harry Black and his VP-6 crew 7 one year later. I'll claim Harry as one of the Jr. TACCOs that I trained! "Charlie don't surf on Blue Shark Turf!"
Later I taught nav school at Mather and played intramural football there with my students who went on to VP-6: Lt Bill Mosk, and LT Dave Island. I read here about them making me proud at the Adak Dining in. Way to go Guys!
LCDR Jim Wright USN (retired)
VP-6 1982-1985 crew 5