We were on a routine patrol in the East China Sea. I was the radar operator in a U.S. Navy patrol aircraft which had ten other members. Our job, that day, was to patrol thousands of square miles of ocean and record data about shipping in the area. The usual routine was that the radar operator first picked up surface ships as blips on the radar, then vectored the pilot to intercept them. We then got as close as we could, and took pictures, recorded information about deck cargo, number of masts, number of smokestacks, and the architecture of the deck structure. The radar usually picked up these ships about one hundred miles or more from our aircraft, much farther than anyone could see.
Most of the day was routine. We were in clouds part of the time, then we ran into an area of dense fog. Bad weather and fog were no problems for the radar, however. We could still pick up the shipping targets and vector in on them. We had been flying in the dense fog for a little while when I picked up the largest radar blip, except for land masses, I had ever seen. The target first appeared at a range of one hundred and fifty miles. I informed the pilot about it, and he told me to vector him to it. This was standard procedure in our patrol operations. I gave the pilot a heading to the unknown large target, and he turned to intercept it. We were still in dense fog, but occasionally broke out for a few seconds of short visibility. I kept giving the pilot heading information on this large target, which became even larger as we got closer. At approximately fifty miles, I could see certain interference of the radar scope, indicating the target was emanating some kind of electromagnetic radiations, probably from a radar of its own.
We kept flying toward the large target for about fifteen minutes. As I was telling the pilot about this being the largest shipping target I had ever seen, he said that it must be a large military ship. We knew that there were no friendly military ships in the area. We had to determine what it was. We kept flying toward this target, knowing that we were not supposed to approach any country’s man-of-war ship within three miles. If we did, we could be shot down. At ten miles, our Electronics Countermeasures Operator reported that a fire-control radar had locked in on us. Still we kept going. At three and one half miles, we broke out of the fog, and saw it immediately. It was a Russian Battleship. Every gun on the ship was aimed at us, and was tracking us as we moved. My radar scope was saturated with spots, blips, hash and snow, caused by electronic radiations of some description. We immediately broke away before entering the three mile limit.
We reported this to our superiors via radio. They informed us that the Russians did not have a battleship. But there it was, a battleship flying the Russian flag. We did not have time to take a picture, as we had to get away before being fired upon. I do not know, to this day, if our superiors ever believed us or not. We were very lucky that we did not enter the three mile limit surrounding the battleship.
Hey all: (this will probably be as boring as hell for some of you, but may be of interest to others)
I don’t desire to drive a subject dear to me into the ground, but I have been asked several times about my good buddy & VP-4 shipmate Alvin G. Reeder (AT1 in VP-4, later retired as ATCS). Several of you know that Al & I were the very best buddies for forty years from 1958 to 1998. I met Al in September of 1958 at NAS North Island, CA. We were both on our way to VP-4 in Okinawa, but had to attend a few maintenance classes (and SERE School for me) for avionics equipment in the P2V-5F.
After we completed our training at North Island, we were sent to Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay to await transportation to Okinawa. We were there for about two weeks before we were assigned a flight to the far-east. We spent Christmas of 58 at North Island. At the time that was the worst Christmas that I had ever spent. Al felt the same way. The next worst was exactly nine years later while on deployment in 1967 to Keflavik, Iceland. While we were at Treasure Island both Al and I had a few mid-watches in what they referred to as the “Queer Barracks”. That was a barracks in which they housed about 15-20 sailors who were awaiting discharges for homosexuality. We were told to NOT let any two of those sailors go to the head at the same time. Fortunately for me, I did not have to confront that event. A few days after Christmas we were on our way. We flew on a C-121 (Super Constellation) belonging to an outfit named “Slick Airlines”. We stopped off in Honolulu & Tokyo before terminating our air journey at Kadena AFB in Okinawa. — It was about 2-3 weeks later that we learned that the same C-121 had been lost in the Pacific Ocean while making one of those flights from the U.S. to Japan. All aboard were lost. We never heard just what location was the origin of the flight.
Both Al & I spent 2 1/2 years in VP-4, then got orders to the same place, Naval Air Maintenance Training Group headquartered at Northside at NAS Memphis. They placed both of us & about thirty others (VP-4 vet ATC Orlin S. Nelson among them) as plank-owners in the new maintenance training program for the P3V-1 (later re-designated as P3A) aircraft. We attended Instructor Training in Memphis, APS-80 radar school in Norfolk, and spent about four months attending several avionics courses at the Lockheed factory in Burbank. Then we ended up at Patuxent River, MD as members of Naval Air Maintenance Training Detachment 1011. We wrote the training courses for the P3 avionics systems, and then taught maintenance to people who would be maintaining those equipment throughout the navy. Since part of my training was on the navy’s first dive into the realm of SSBSC (Single SideBand Suppressed Carrier) communications, the Bureau of Naval Personnel sent some people down from D.C. to have me supply a few questions on that subject for the AT & AX rating exams. Later, I learned that several of my questions were incorporated into some of those exams.
After approximately seven months of preparation we started our instructor duties on or about January 1962. One year later the first P3A (as the P3V-1 had been re-designated) was lost in the Atlantic Ocean. All aboard were lost. No wreckage or bodies were ever found. That particular aircraft belonged to VP-8. Both Al and I had several or our ex-students aboard that a/c. One of those lost was the younger brother of one of my high school female classmates. I knew the girl fairly well, but did not know the brother until he showed up in my class one day. This first graphic depicts the loss or mishaps of P3 aircraft. Note the very first one. I do not know if this list is up-to-date. I can see that at least two of the P3s are missing from this list. Those aircraft were lost in combat off the coast of Viet Nam in February & April of 1968. They belonged to VP-26 (Al Reeder’s squadron at that time). More about that in a little while. Note that they are not included in the list below, and should be listed right after the VP-8 loss.
We spent five years in our instructor duty, then we both got orders. Al went to VP-26 in Brunswick, Maine. I went to Advanced Avionics “B” School in Memphis. After 30 weeks of the 32 week training I got a phone call from Al in Brunswick. Al was the Avionics CPO in VP-26. He told me that VP-26 had recently transitioned from the P2V-7 (SP-2H) to the P3, and that the VP-11 skipper paid him a visit. VP-11 was to transition in a few months, and that skipper wanted to know if Al knew any ATCs who had P3 experience. Al told him about me, and that I was just about to graduate from “AVB” School, and that I had five years experience in course preparations & maintenance instructions on about 70% of the avionics systems in the P3. It was a few days later that I received orders to VP-11. They were the hangar-mates of VP-26 there in Brunswick. So after a 32+ week separation, Al and I were together again in the same hangar.
I think it was in February or March of 1967 when VP-26 (entire squadron) & VP-11 (three aircraft) were sent to Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico for some kind of fleet preparedness operation. Al was sent in his normal job as Avionics CPO, and I was sent as the 3-aircraft Maintenance CPO for VP-11. We sent only three aircraft because we were in the middle of our transition, and we actually had only about 5-6 of our new P3s. We remained in Puerto Rico a couple weeks, then returned to Brunswick.
I get lost in the time element now, but sometime later VP-11 made two deployments to Iceland. We had four hours notice to deploy to Iceland on that first trip. VP-26 had been scheduled to make that deployment, but they suddenly got a short notice to deploy to Sangley Point, P.I. We had been scheduled to make the Sangley deployment. VP-26 even had to pull out some of their people from the Cold Weather Survival & SERE School in the mountains near Brunswick. I think that the “brass” made the decision that VP-11 had not enough experience in their new P3s to be effective in that dangerous Far-East deployment, so they switched us. None of our people got to attend that Cold Weather Survival School. Iceland was much warmer than Brunswick but I believe the Cold Weather School was for the benefit of the flight crews who might somehow (accidentally) fly up around Northern Russia. Al attended that school. He told me that he had never been as cold as it was up in those snow-covered mountains. VP-10 was the only other Brunswick Patrol Squadron which had the P3s at that time, and they were already deployed to Argentia, Newfoundland. VP-21 & 23 still had the SP-2H aircraft.
VP-11 had been in Iceland not too long when we heard over the Armed Forces Radio that a U.S. Navy Patrol Plane home-stationed in Brunswick, Maine had been shot down by Cambodia or Laos. The radio did not mention the squadron number, but of course that could be only ONE squadron, VP-26. The other four Brunswick Patrol Squadrons were elsewhere (VP-10, VP-11, VP-21 & VP-23). I was worried about Al for a couple of weeks before I learned that he was not aboard that missing P3. He was not flight crew, but he did occasionally fly with them. It was a couple months later that 26 had another P3 shot down. Both crews lost their lives on those missions. Below is another graphic that tells a little about those VP-26 losses. As you can see VP-26 lost their two P3s on or about February & April of 1968. They are not shown in that first graphic above.
VP-10, VP-11, & VP-26 all returned to Brunswick within a couple weeks of each other. When we were all back in Brunswick the entire station and the five patrol squadrons had several funeral services for the two lost VP-26 crews. There was much sadness then. Many of us in all the squadrons knew several of the missing sailors. Some of us in VP-11 had those typical mixed feelings of guilt & relief that those VP-26 crews had taken our place.
Just before my tour was completed in VP-11, Al got orders to NAS Pensacola. He had been gone a couple of weeks when I got TWO sets of orders the same day. One of them was for Instructor Duty at AVB School in Memphis while the other was to attend the ADCOP (Associate Degree Completion Program) at Pensacola Junior College. Neither I nor our Personnel Office knew exactly what to do so they called BUPERS to ask them. BuPers gave me the choice. I opted for ADCOP, so I ended up here in Pensacola.
Al and I were together again, and we stayed so until his death in 1998 except for almost a year when I was in VAQ-135 which was homeported in Alameda but made a Mediterranean Cruise on the Forrestal. My family remained in Pensacola, so I ended up right back here. We had both retired from the navy prior to 1974. We both worked together as electronics technicians and computer technicians for several years at Pensacola’s first Radio Shack. Al’s first wife, Georgia, died of heart problems in 1975, and Al was never the same. He remarried, but that did not seem to ease his pain. Sad to say, but he drank himself to death. One of the saddest days of my life was when I acted as one of his pallbearers. He is interred at the Barrancas National Cemetery at NAS Pensacola. Both his daughter and I cried at his funeral. Shame on me? Al was the smartest & nicest person that I ever personally knew well enough to know about such things. I hope that his bucolic, Missouri, southern drawl did not fool many of you, but unless someone knew him well, I’ll bet that he did fool quite a few people. Actually I KNOW for certain that he did.
P.S. Please forgive me if this is boring. I just had to get it out of my system. I still miss the best friend I ever had.