Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dave Downs Visits Las Cruces

My brother Dave Downs flew from New England (boy were his arms tired!) to spend a week with us in and around Las Cruces.
We visited the Rio Grande, which flows through Las Cruces, and found it wasn't flowing at all.

Dinah, Dave, and I had dinner with Jeanette Fisher, and Lee & Marsha Squires; RVing friends who were in town for a Habitat for Humanity build.

We visited the New Mexico Space Museum in Alamogordo and had the place pretty much to ourselves - you can see our car is the only one in the parking lot!

Here is Dave with one of the world's largest rocket engines outside the museum.

We checked out Spaceport America located about 50 miles north of Las Cruces.  The building in the background is the futuristic-ly shaped terminal. Spaceport is still under construction, and we weren't allowed any closer than the picture shows.

When Dinah went to the dentist in Palomas, Mexico, we tagged along as far as Deming, NM where we visited the Luna Mimbres Museum with collections galore and something to entertain and to bore everybody.
Here is a poster of one of our childhood heroes - in French.

This display taught me that there was a Destroyer USS Downes (DD-375) that was damaged during the Japanese raid against Pear Harbor. It was named for a Massachusetts Man, Commodore John Downes, born in Canton, MA but probably not related (as he spells Downes with an e).

Our final trip was to Columbus, NM to visit the Railroad Depot Museum. Pancho Villa led a raid here in March, 1916. As a result, the local military base was enlarged to the point that Columbus had the largest population of any city in New Mexico. The first US airbase was established with the United States' entire fleet of 8 aircraft.
Columbus is now a sleepy town. The railroad is long gone along with the military base. But the train station remains and is now a museum featuring local history which of course includes the railroad and the Pancho Villa raid.
The switchboard in this picture was in use in Columbus at the time of the raid. 

Although the railroad is gone, and there is no sign of the old tracks, the museum has reconstructed a few feet of track to put a caboose on.  And here is Dave waving goodbye at the end of his New Mexico visit.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Guns of Dong Hoi - North Vietnam - 13 September 1967

In the fall of 1967 I was serving aboard the destroyer USS Damato in the Gulf of Tonkin. On 13 September we attacked a group of Water Borne Logistics Craft (WIBLICs) near a river mouth at Dong Hoi, North Vietnam.
Quoting from the ship's log as found in the USS Damato Vietnam Cruise book:

At 0700, 13 September 1967, a spotter aircraft assigned to the task unit consisting of DAMATO and DEHAVEN, detected seven large logistic craft in the Dong Hoi area, moored in the Song Giang River.  DAMATO and DEHAVEN came to firing position and at 0758 commenced fire.  Twenty-six rounds were fired with no visible results.
At 0809, the enemy opened up with heavy counter battery fire estimated at being over 200 rounds.  Both ships immediately turned seaward at flank speed while directing fire at the gun sites. Enemy rounds landed all around the ship and there were several air explosions.
At 0811, DAMATO took a direct hit on her port side, frame 57, on the 01 level.  The enemy shell went through the torpedo deck leaving a one foot by two foot hole and a large hole in the bulkhead between the main deck and the torpedo deck.  It then passed into the Captain's cabin, completely destroying the interior.

At 0814, DAMATO took a second direct hit on her ASROC deck, frame 110.   The blast put a large hole in the deck and numerous holes in the launcher itself.   The shell passed through into the supply office and exploded against a heavy band of high power cables in the midships passageway.  Directly under the cables was Second Class Electrician Roy Whitehurst who escaped with a minor scratch.

 Operation Sea Dragon Audio Tape

On the morning of the 13th, before we went to general quarters, I had set up my tape recorder to record two sound powered phone circuits - the main battle circuit connecting the bridge to the weapons department, and the gunnery circuit connecting PLOT with the gun director and gun mounts.  I captured the whole thing on tape.  I thought it would be fun to share the tape with my family, but it was over an hour long - the exciting parts were mixed with a lot of boring stuff and long periods of dead air.

I decided to edit the tape to remove the boring stuff and the dead air time, but to do that, I needed a second tape recorder.  I approached S. P. Mosling, YNSN and offered to make a copy for him if he would help me with the editing.  Not only did he have a recorder, but as a yeoman, he had access to an office space that we could use to do the editing.

As the work progressed and shipmates learned about what we were doing, we began to get inundated with requests for extra copies, so we decided to expand the scope of the project.  We would make up a jacket for the tape, and sell copies to any of our shipmates who wanted them. The first step was to get permission from the XO.

Lieutenant Commander Wheeler, the DAMATO's executive officer, expressed concern for the image of the Navy.  He wanted to be sure that the crew of the DAMATO would be shown in a favorable light.  Specifically, he required that the tape contain no strong profanity.  We agreed and received permission to proceed.  We spent many off duty hours listening to tapes, finding and cataloging interesting sections, then putting them together to form a story.  Although not everything on the tape was recorded during the 13 September mission, the result is a reasonably accurate picture of that mission.  

We were allowed to set up shop at a table on the mess decks to offer our tapes for sale on pay day, 6 November 1967.  We sold 46 tapes to the first 55 or so crew members who came through the pay line, and took orders for over a hundred more.  By the time the project was completed, more than half the officers and crew had bought copies.  We put an estimated 150 to 200 hours into the project.

The Sea Dragon audio tape is now on line

I recently sent the tape recording to the Museum of Broadcasting (featured in an earlier blog entry) for conversion to digital.

The recording is in stereo (one phone circuit on each channel) and lasts just under 20 minutes. It is 199MB so it will take a while to download. It starts with about 12 seconds of silence.