An Orleck Sailor’s Account – June 1970 through March 1972

 

By Paul A. Payne CAPT(S), SC, USNR

I reported aboard Orleck in June 1970 as a Machinery Repairman Third Class. My memories of the time I spent aboard Orleck are some of my best. I don’t recall that any particularly big event took place while I was aboard, but I do remember a great ship that had a great crew of officers and men. CDR Raymond Hines was the skipper, LCDR George Elliott was XO at the time (a great guy), my Division Officer was LTJG Bob Ulmer (another great guy) and the CHENG (Chief Engineer) was Lt Menke. All were super.

From June 70 to about mid December, as I recall, we were in San Diego, mostly local operations and in port for upkeep. In December we left for a six months overhaul at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. My one clear memory is that just before we left I was on the beach with some of the guys in R Division and we were celebrating the coming holidays in true sailor fashion. We were finishing off the last of the celebratory spirits on the pier at 32nd Street Naval Station when we were collared by the Shore Patrol, written up and unceremoniously deposited back aboard Orleck. She was outboard of a destroyer tender at the time, I think it was the Samuel Gompers.

Anyway nothing much happened or was said and I thought that maybe the whole thing had been forgotten. Well after we were settled in at Mare Island, high and dry on blocks in the dry-dock, Captain Hines held captains mast. Myself and the other three guys I was with were the stars of this production. After a good dressing down Captain Hines fined everyone $25 dollars, except $50 since I was senior and as the skipper told me I should have known better.

The yard period was pretty uneventful, hard work, long days, all we wanted to do was get the ship put back together and get the h–l out of there. I recall that after we left Mare Island we went to Vancouver B.C. for a port visit. Man those Canadians know how to party.

After leaving Vancouver we headed South for San Diego however we sustained a minor casualty in the engineering plant and stopped at for a day or so at Treasure Island for voyage repairs. Upon leaving Treasure Island, we steamed out of San Francisco Bay, at what must have been close to a flank bell. We had a Coast Guard cutter in hot pursuit, I think they wanted to give the skipper a speeding ticket. We just kept heading out under the Golden Gate, turned South and then really kicked her into high gear. I was standing watches in the after engine room and all I remember is how we rolled with those long Pacific swells on the beam.

Next came RefTra (refresher training) and then deployment in August 1971. We independently steamed to Pearl and left there in company with USS Epperson (DD719). Fondly known as the Eppy Maru or the Eppy Bucket, she was my first ship after leaving boot camp in September 1968. We arrived at Subic in early September having traveled by way of Midway Island and Agana Guam. From Subic we went on the gunline up near the DMZ, back to Subic, Yankee Station, Subic, gunline down South, Subic. And then a great upkeep period in Singapore, back on Yankee Station, Subic and then we were on to Hong Kong for Christmas. Somewhere before Singapore we ran into a typhoon, almost had mount 51 knocked off of the forecastle, missed a port visit to Kaoshung and wound up back in Subic for repairs. Anyway, a day out of Hong Kong we got turned around, went to four boiler ops, flank speed, everything she could take. We met up with the USS Enterprise off of Singapore and proceeded through the Straits of Mollacca. My mother, sometime later, sent me a clipping out of the Eugene Register Guard (Eugene Oregon) which reported how the USS Enterprise and her escorts made a slow stately passage through the Straits of Mollacca to the Indian Ocean to take station off of city of Dacca. Let me tell you there was nothing slow or stately about it. We were aft of the Big E about 500 yards, there was a can on either beam and a can about 500 yards ahead of her. We steamed through the straits at 27 knots! Freighter, tankers, sampans and junks were going every which way so they wouldn’t get run down. The reason we went there was because the Indians and Pakistanis were at war, Bangladesh was breaking away, and there were some Americans trapped at the Dacca airport. We spent 30 days in the IO looking at the hind end of Enterprise and keeping an eye on the Russians. I have some great shots, taken through the gun fire director optics of a Kahsin class DDG right in the cross hairs. Bad thing was we spent Christmas and New Years in the IO, good thing was we got two weeks in Singapore on the way out.

Next came Subic, one more trip to Yankee Station, Subic and then outchop and head home. Since we had gotten aced out of a lot of our planned port visits, Captain Hines got permission to come home by way of Sydney Australia and Dunedin New Zealand. Some of the guys just wanted to get home, but as for me that was absolutely, positively the best trip I ever had on any Navy ship. Crossed the line on the way down and picked up a new XO in Sydney, LCDR Greenburg, he was OK but LCDR Elliott was a tough act to follow. George left to take command of another can.

Had four of the greatest days I’ve ever had in Sydney, we left and headed for New Zealand, went by New Guinea, stopped at Manus in the Admiralty Islands and headed up Otago Bay to Dunedin NZ. Sydney was great but it paled in comparison to the warmth of the New Zealanders and the beauty of the South Island. If NZ wasn’t Paradise then it would do until the real thing came along. After NZ we headed home by way of Pago Pago in company with the USS King (DLG 5). She kept dropping the load, she had a 1200 pound steam plant and was a basket case. As you know we had a 600 pound plant, we steamed the hell out it and it kept coming back for more. I think all you needed to keep it running was fuel oil, baling wire and chewing gum. Anyway, since the King kept breaking down this caused some bad blood between the crews that erupted in Pago Pago and then again in Pearl. I think we were 1 and 1 for the series.

We left the King in Pearl (and Captain Hines’ palm tree, the tale of the palm tree will require a follow up e-mail to do it justice) and independently steamed for San Diego, was a super homecoming, I never knew how good it was to see 1 SD come up and point the way to the Point Loma and the San Diego channel.

We got back in March 1972 and I left Orleck and the Navy ( for awhile) in early April 1972 as a Machinery Repairman Second Class. I subsequently came back into the Navy in 1976 as an Ensign in the Supply Corps, was on active duty until December 1986 and then went into the Naval Reserve. I was selected this year for promotion to Captain in the Supply Corps, will actually put it on in November or December.

So much action, activity and memories were crammed into the twenty two months I spent aboard Orleck. Typhoons and sunsets, long watches and great liberties, super friends and good times, hard work and a feeling of belonging to a special ship. Writing this has brought back a lot of memories some of which need expansion. Will write again soon.

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