34

CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR

WALLACE BENJAMIN WHITE JR

Above: Wallace Benjamin “Jack” White Jr  1961

Jack White “went in” the U.S. Navy June 3, 1951, and retired May 29, 1971. Of those years he said, “I served aboard 4 carriers; USS ESSEX CVA-9, USS KEARSARGE CVA-33,  USS YORKTOWN CVS-10, USS BON HOMME RICHARD CVA-31.

I served in Formosa Straits during the waning years of Korea; Vietnam in late 1964 to early 1965, Vietnam in late 1968 until 1969, Vietnam in 70, (I think we got back in October) I can’t remember exact dates, like I used too: 45 years retired and 65 yrs after it all started.

I was a COMBAT Air Crewman in VC-35. Retired as AD1 (Aviation Machinists Mate). I at one time had the credentials, when I was an E4.

The full rating in VC-35 at the time was AD3/CAC (Aviation Machinists Mate Petty Officer 3rd Class, Combat Air Crewman) till the designation became Air Crew. We had a different set of wings we wore, compared to the AC (aircrew) wings of today. The Marine Corps still uses the silver wings, compared to the gold ones the Navy uses now. Qualifications are quite different also . . . whew!!

There is a book on Amazon, written about VC-35  called NIGHT HECKLERS, written by DON TREICHLER, PhD. The organization VC-35/VW (AW)-35, is still active although the roster is getting smaller; lots of the older guys have passed on.”

(Editor’s note: I mentioned that I was researching my daughter-in-law’s grandfather, Robert D Niemeyer, Navy Cross recipient, who flew the Dauntless and Hellcat dive bombers of WWII). “Yes, I knew them both, but they were pretty much being replaced by faster more maneuverable aircraft by 1951. The JAPANESE ZEROS had a field day with those!

We had kin on the Yorktown 5 when it was sunk…FREDDY TURNBOUGH. I was on the YORKTOWN 10…There is a family picture of a ton of us and he and PETE TURNBOUGH are both in it. Then Darrold Flick was in 3rd Marine Tank, IWO-JIMA, TARAWA, SAIPAN, all that early WWll action!

BUD TURNER, BUD FLICK,  and DARROLD all went into the MARINE CORPS at the same time, when I was 8 or 9 years old. Aunt Peachy’s husband, LLOYD WATKINS, served with PATTON, old BLOOD AND GUTS himself.”

Turner Family Reunion during World War II. Jack is the standing boy near the middle of the front row

USS Essex (CV/CVA/CVS-9)

USS Essex (CV/CVA/CVS-9) was an aircraft carrier and the lead ship of the 24-ship Essex class built for the United States Navy during World War II. She was the fourth US Navy ship to bear the name.  

Korean War:

Essex after modernization and a brief cruise in Hawaiian waters, she began the first of three tours in Far Eastern waters during the Korean War. She served as flagship for Carrier Division 1 (CarDiv 1) and Task Force 77. She was the first carrier to launch F2H Banshees on combat missions; on 16 September 1951, one of these planes, damaged in combat, crashed into aircraft parked on the forward flight deck causing an explosion and fire which killed seven. After repairs at Yokosuka, she returned to frontline action on 3 October to launch strikes up to the Yalu River and provide close air support for U.N. troops. Her two deployments in the Korean War were from August 1951 – March 1952 and July 1952 – January 1953.

On 1 December 1953, she started her final tour of the war, sailing in the East China Sea with what official U.S. Navy records describe as the “Peace Patrol”. From November 1954 – June 1955, she engaged in training exercises, operated for three months with the United States Seventh Fleet, assisted in the Tachen Islands evacuation, and engaged in air operations and fleet maneuvers off Okinawa.

USS Kearsarge (CV/CVA/CVS-33)

USS Kearsarge (CV/CVA/CVS-33) was one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers completed during or shortly after World War II for the United States Navy. The ship was the third US Navy ship to bear the name, and was named for a Civil War-era steam sloop. Kearsarge was commissioned in March 1946. Modernized in the early 1950s as an attack carrier (CVA), she served in the Korean War, for which she earned two battle stars.

Korean War: Kearsarge recommissioned on 15 February 1952 with Captain Louis B. French in command. Following shakedown, the carrier cleared San Diego on 11 August for intensive flight training in the Hawaiian Islands. Her readiness complete, she sailed for the Far East to engage in combat missions in the Korean War. Arriving Yokosuka on 8 September, Kearsarge joined the fast carrier Task Force 77 (TF 77) off the east coast of Korea six days later. For the next five months, the carrier’s planes flew nearly 6,000 sorties against Communist forces in North Korea, unleashing considerable damage on enemy positions. She completed her tour in late February 1953, returning to her home port of San Diego on 17 March. While serving in Korea her classification was changed to CVA-33.

After returning to San Diego, Kearsarge was used in the filming of the 1954 movie The Caine Mutiny to depict the abortive visit of Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. aboard his unnamed flagship.

Far East: Kearsarge sailed again for the Far East on 1 July 1953 and operated with the 7th Fleet fast carrier force during the uneasy truce in Korea. The “Mighty Kay” (after three collisions with other ships in a short period of time, including the cruise ship SS Oriana, Kearsarge was also nicknamed by some “Rammin Rankin’s Krashbarge” and “The Mighty Kay-RUNCH”) also kept watch over the Formosa Straits to prevent the Communists from attacking the Chinese Nationalists on Taiwan.

Kearsarge returned San Diego on 18 January 1954 to resume training operations off California. Clearing San Diego on 7 October, she steamed toward her third deployment to the Far East. While operating with the 7th Fleet, the carrier stood by to assist the Nationalist Chinese in the evacuation of the Tachen Islands. From 6–13 February 1955, Kearsarge supported units of the fleet in the successful evacuation of 18,000 civilians and 20,000 military personnel from the islands. Her cruise ended at San Diego on 12 May and for the next three years operated on the annual deployment schedule to the Far East and training operations off California.

USS Yorktown (CV/CVA/CVS-10)

USS Yorktown (CV/CVA/CVS-10) is one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during World War II for the United States Navy. She is the fourth U.S. Navy ship to bear the name. Initially to have been named Bon Homme Richard, she was renamed Yorktown while under construction to commemorate USS Yorktown (CV-5), lost at the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

1957–1960

Yorktown’s final flight deck configuration: On 1 September 1957, her home port was changed from Alameda to Long Beach, California, and she was reclassified an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft carrier with the new designation CVS-10.

On 23 September, she departed Alameda and, four days later, entered the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for overhaul and for modification to an ASW carrier. That yard period lasted until the beginning of February 1958. For the next eight months, Yorktown conducted normal operations along the west coast. On 1 November, she departed San Diego to return to the western Pacific. After a stop at Pearl Harbor from 8–17 November, Yorktown continued her voyage west and arrived in Yokosuka on 25 November.

During that deployment, the aircraft carrier qualified for the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal on three occasions. The first time came on 31 December and 1 January 1959, when she participated in an American show of strength in response to the communist Chinese shelling of the offshore islands, Quemoy and Matsu, held by Nationalist Chinese forces.

During January, she also joined contingency forces off Vietnam during internal disorders caused by communist guerrillas in the southern portion of that country. That month she earned the expeditionary medal for service in the Taiwan Strait.

The remainder of the deployment—save for another visit to Vietnamese waters late in March—consisted of a normal round of training evolutions and port visits. She concluded that tour of duty at San Diego on 21 May. The warship resumed normal operations along the west coast, and that duty consumed the remainder of 1959.

In January 1960, Yorktown headed back to the Far East via Pearl Harbor. During that deployment, she earned additional stars for her Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for duty in Vietnamese waters at various times in March, April, May, and June. She returned to the west coast late in the summer and, late in September, began a four-month overhaul at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

1961–1964

Yorktown emerged from the shipyard in January 1961 and returned to Long Beach on 27 January. She conducted refresher training and then resumed normal west coast operations until late July. On 29 July, the aircraft carrier stood out of Long Beach, bound once again for the Orient. She made an extended stopover in the Hawaiian Islands in August and, consequently, did not arrive in Yokosuka until 4 September.

That tour of duty in the Far East consisted of a normal schedule of anti-air and anti-submarine warfare exercises as well as the usual round of port visits. She concluded the deployment at Long Beach on 2 March 1962. Normal west coast operations occupied her time through the summer and into the fall. On 26 October 1962, the warship left Long Beach in her wake and set a course for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, then on to Japan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines in the Far East.

During that deployment, she served as flagship for Carrier Division 19. She participated in several ASW and AAW exercises, including the SEATO ASW exercise, Operation Sea Serpent. The deployment lasted until 6 June 1963, at which time the carrier set a course back to Long Beach.

Yorktown arrived back in her home port on 18 June 1963 and resumed normal operations until the fall, then went into drydock at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard facility at Long Beach Ca. The Yorktown came out of yard in the spring of 1964. Those operations continued throughout most of 1964 as well. However, on 22 October, she pointed her bow westward again and set out for a tour of duty with the 7th Fleet. Another period of operations in the Hawaiian Islands delayed her arrival in Japan until 3 December.

1965–1968

The 1964 and 1965 deployment brought Yorktown her first real involvement in the Vietnam War. In February, March, and April, she conducted a series of special operations in the South China Sea in waters near Vietnam—presumably ASW services for the fast carriers conducting air strikes against targets in Vietnam in support of the increased American involvement in the civil war in that country. She concluded her tour of duty in the Far East on 7 May 1965, when she departed Yokosuka to return to the United States. The carrier arrived in Long Beach on 17 May.

For the remainder of her active career, Yorktown’s involvement in combat operations in Vietnam proved a dominant feature of her activities. After seven months of normal operations out of Long Beach, she got underway for the western Pacific again on 5 January 1966. She arrived in Yokosuka on 17 February and joined TF 77 on Yankee Station later that month.

Over the next five months, the aircraft carrier spent three extended tours of duty on Yankee Station providing ASW and sea-air rescue services for the carriers of TF 77 in Vietnam. She also participated in several ASW exercises, including the major SEATO exercise, Operation Sea Imp. The warship concluded her last tour of duty on Yankee Station early in July and, after a stop at Yokosuka, headed home on 15 July.

She debarked her air group at San Diego on 27 July and reentered Long Beach that same day. She resumed normal operations – carrier qualifications and ASW exercises – for the remainder of the year and during the first two months of 1967.

USS Bon Homme Richard (CV/CVA-31)

USS Bon Homme Richard (CV/CVA-31) was one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers completed during or shortly after World War II for the United States Navy. She was the second US Navy ship to bear the name, the first one being named for John Paul Jones’s famous Revolutionary War frigate by the same name. Jones had named that ship, usually rendered in more correct French as Bonhomme Richard, to honor Benjamin Franklin, the American Commissioner at Paris, whose Poor Richard’s Almanac had been published in France under the title Les Maximes du Bonhomme Richard.

She completed her  SCB-27C and SCB-125 conversions in a single modernization 31 October 1955, and commenced sea trials in the Alameda-San Diego area. She was recommissioned on 6 September 1955 and began the first of a long series of 7th Fleet deployments on 16 August 1956 with CVG-21 embarked.

CVG-5 reported aboard for the 1957 deployment, before CVG-19 reported aboard for the next six deployments in 1958–1959, 1959–1960, 1961, 1962–1963, 1964, and 1965-66. The 1964 cruise included a voyage into the Indian Ocean. The Bon Homme Richard also had been in the Indian Ocean for a goodwill trip to Bombay, India at the direction of President Eisenhower during the 1959-1960 Pacific cruise.

Vietnam War

Admiral George Stephen Morrison, father of The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, flew his flag on Bon Homme Richard. The Vietnam War escalation in early 1965 brought Bon Homme Richard into a third armed conflict, and she deployed on five Southeast Asia combat tours over the next six years. Her aircraft battled North Vietnamese MiGs on many occasions, downing several, as well as striking transportation and infrastructure targets.

Occasional excursions to other Asian areas provided some variety to her operations. Carrier Air Wing 21 (CVW-21) joined the Bonnie Dick for the 1967 deployment to Vietnam. CVW-5 was aboard again for the last three deployments in 1968, 1969, and 1970. In 1970, at the request of the South Vietnamese government, the Bon Homme Richard docked at Da Nang harbour to show the alleged pacification of the region. This was the first U.S. capital ship to do so. Bon Homme Richard was ordered inactivated at the end of her 1970 deployment. She was decommissioned on 2 July 1971, becoming part of the Reserve Fleet at Bremerton, Washington.

The Sinking of Yorktown CV-5

As soon as fighters from the Japanese carrier Hiryu had been picked up on Yorktown’s radar, she discontinued fueling her fighters on deck and swiftly moved them to hangars to clear the deck for action. All of Yorktown’s fueled up fighters were vectored out to intercept the oncoming Japanese aircraft, and did so some 15 to 20 miles out. The Wildcats attacked vigorously, breaking up what appeared to be an organized attack by some 18 Japanese “Vals” and 6 “Zeroes.” “Planes were flying in every direction”, wrote Captain Buckmaster after the action, “and many were falling in flames.”

Despite an intensive aerial barrage and evasive maneuvering, three “Vals” scored hits. Two of them were shot down soon after releasing their bomb loads; the third went out of control just as his bomb left the rack. It tumbled in flight and hit just abaft (toward the stern) the number two elevator on the starboard side, exploding on contact and blasting a hole about 10 feet  square in the flight deck.

The second bomb to hit the ship came from the port side, pierced the flight deck, and exploded in the lower part of the funnel, a classic “down the stack shot,” rupturing three boilers, disabling two more, and extinguished the fires in five boilers. Smoke and gases began filling the firerooms of six boilers.

A third bomb hit the carrier from the starboard side, pierced the side of number one elevator and exploded on the fourth deck, starting a persistent fire in the rag storage space, adjacent to the forward gasoline stowage and the magazines.

While the ship recovered from the damage inflicted by the dive-bombing attack, her speed dropped to 6 knots and then about 20 minutes after the bomb hit that had shut down most of the boilers, Yorktown slowed to a stop, dead in the water. Over the next few minutes the crew lowered the wounded into life rafts and struck out for the nearby destroyers and cruisers to be picked up by their boats, abandoning ship in good order.

In all, Yorktown’s sinking on 7 June 1942 claimed the lives of 141 of her officers and crewmen.

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