This article was written by William Cracraft and first published in 1998 in an Oakland Tribune special adverstising supplement celebrating the opening of the Aircraft Carrier Hornet Museum.
Ron Bubeck worked on the flight deck of the Hornet at the start of the Cold War in 1956 and ’57. “We steamed up and down the coast of Korea in the areas we expected problems. We had some alerts but they never panned out,” he said.
One big change from the World War II-era Hornet was the nuclear weapons stash guarded by Marines, whose globe and anchor insignia is still inlaid in the Hornet’s deck near the nuclear weapons cage. Marine guards were stationed on a platform rigged to trigger an alarm if they stepped off it. Having atomic weapons didn’t change shipboard routine very much.
“‘You don’t think about it. You knew there was going to be a nuclear weapons drill when you see a lot of Marines around an aircraft. Just another routine exercise,” Bubeck said.
Occasionally, politics seeped into the insular world of an onstation ship. “You would hear different guys talk different ways and usually the officer in charge would try to calm it down. You’d hear the, ‘Why are we doing this,’ kind of thing. Our division officer would talk to us about the different politics and so forth. They would put items in the Plan of the Day, a ship’s newspaper,” said Bubeck.
Cold War notwithstanding, the men on board always knew there was a chance for fighting. “You’re always out there practicing, because things can happen in any part of the world at anvtime. In World War II, at least you knew who your enemy was. In Vietnam you never knew.”
After getting off the Hornet, Bubeck saw the build-up in Vietnam at close quarters. He was making mail runs when “all of a sudden, they asked us to go into Saigon and we started taking all this jungle training. I said, ‘We don’t fly over jungles,’ “Bubeck said.
Bubeck’s aircraft started dropping paratroopers. “We didn’t have a clue as to what was going on – this was like, ’64,” he said.
As the Vietnam War heated up, pilots and enlisted air crew like Bubeck received special instructions in case they fell into enemy hands.
“We had training of all kinds on what to do, what not to do, what to say and what not to say. As an enlisted flyer, I carried a pair of lieutenant’s bars with me. I figured if we got shot down, I was going to have a better chance if they thought I was an officer. As an enlisted man they might just kill me,” he said. He almost had a chance to use the bars.
“When I was flying in a tanker, we used to rendezvous with the fighters coming out of Haiphong Harbor and one time we had to go in and pick up a fighter who had taken a hit in the wing and was losing fuel.
“They shot (missiles) at us twice on the way in. It looks like a telephone pole with a fire up the tail coming at you. It’s pretty scary. You’re shooting flares and have ACM, hoping to fool it, but usually you just do a wing-over and dive for the deck and get the hell out of the way. We were able to get the F8U Crusader out over the water where the pilot ejected and was picked up.”
One plus for sailors stationed off Vietnam was that aircraft carrier kept the galleys open 24 hours a day to service all-night operations personnel. “You would serve speed food in two of the galleys and regular food in the aft galley, so sailors could eat 24 hours a day,” Bubeck said.
The war itself was conducted on a less thorough basis, wjth flyers never able to use their full strength.
“The targets were all picked out. I heard several stories that you couldn’t attack trains unless they were moving, you couldn’t attack missile sites unless they were operational and tracking you. That’s ridiculous. Then you’d fly over Haiphong Harbor, the main harbor to North Vietnam and see all these ships going in there with supplies and you can’t attack them.
“We knew we were doing the right thing, no matter what, but tcward the end we started wondering because of all these demonstrations at home. When I came back, I landed at Travis Airforce Base and there were people out there throwing bags of dog (feces) at our bus as we left the base. Here I came from a war zone where I was fighting for my country, and I just didn’t understand,” he said.