'Man Overboard' and an Emergency Breakaway
on the USS Neches AO-47
on Yankee Station - 1967

by Gilbert Devault

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From the Yeoman: Gil visited Jake's 'Yankee Station' and was reading some of the "Bitch box Calls" I have there, and reminded me I forgot 'Man Overboard' so I added it. He has an interesting story about a Man Overboard situation on his ship, the old WWII tanker, the USS Neches AO-47, still in service when we were on Yankee Station in 1963 and his tour in 1967...

Jake, you forgot man overboard! This happened to us one dark and stormy evening while at Yankee Station. I believe it was in 1967, I was on the USS Neches AO-47 handling the distance line from bridge to bridge. I think we had the Ranger along side when a chief Boatswains was blown or knocked off the flight deck. The winds were in excess of 40 knots. No one thought we would ever see him again. We broke hard to starboard and the Ranger broke hard to port, luckily we didn't have one of her "cans" (Destroyers) along the starboard side at the time. As a radar man (RD3), I went rushing into CIC where the DRT had been marked and we were making a full turn back to the position where the chief  fell off  the flight deck. God must have been with that sailor that evening, as not only did he survive the fall, and the screws, he was picked up almost as soon as he cleared the great wake that was thrown up by the mighty drafts of both the carrier and tanker.

I can recall two or three other times where we had to break away, we were not always that lucky.

Sure enjoyed your page, and music, seems just like yesterday we had a carrier along side with her band playing for us. Now the Neches is gone for good but not forgotten by those who served on her.

Gilbert Devault
[email protected] (Gilbert Devault)

* The USS Neches AO-47 was privy to the unconditional surrender of Japan to the Allied forces in Tokyo Bay and the signing of the armistice that ended WWII and our war with Japan.See 'Allied Ships Present in Tokyo Bay During the Surrender Ceremony, 2 September 1945'

More From Gil...

Good evening, thank you for publishing me! Your site took me back in time some thirty one years ago. Now that I think about it, we refueled at 12 knots. All ships took station on us. They would say Romeo at the dip, meaning the ship was in the process of lining up on us, and then would come Romeo close up, meaning the ship about to be refueled was traveling at a higher speed than us , in order to catch up. If you were not part of of this operation it would be very hard to understand the dangers involved. My ship was old during the Viet Nam era, and if it wasn't for her able Officers and crew there would have been many more mishaps. It was not uncommon at all for us to "Drop the Load" or in other words, to go dead in the water. Generally the only clue the crew would have before this would happen, was that heavy black smoke would belch from our stack. As you know the ship being serviced had to break the line free where it was hooked to them. Our end was solid to a steam wench around a windlass to take up the slack as the ship would roll.

Sometimes during rough seas breaking these lines was an impossible task, and the steel cables that the refueling lines were supported on would be drawn taunt like a banjo string and snap allowing the fuel lines carrying black oil or JP4, to also snap and pump fuel up in the air covering the decks,bulkheads, and crew. Sometimes a hI line transporting personal or mail would stretch giving the guy in the chair a good scare. Thank God I never had to ride in one..One time when an emergency breakaway happen, a sailor on a tin can didn't get out of the way soon enough, and he was pumped full of black oil.

During our cruise to WestPac June 66 to Feb. 67 we were 236 day out of San Francisco,we refueled 301 ships of all kinds, from carriers to PGM"s, they generally got our fresh water and our ice cream. We pumped 432,056 barrels of oil, 7,685,225 gallons of JP5,114 tons of lubricants and bottled gases, 350 transient personnel, 48,168 pounds of mail, and 176,464 pounds of fleet freight. We operated both on Yankee Station, and Market Time. <Achievements taken form USS Neches Cruise Book,1967

I would like to thank you for giving me a place to relive part of my youth. I'm a fifty one year old 'grampaw' now hoping and praying we never have to send our kids into harms way like Viet Nam ever again.

Gil DeVault

Gil clarifies some terms he used during his story about refueling ships...


I'm sorry I used terms that some people would have a hard time interpreting it is just that I get so engrossed in deep thought I really don't know what I am writing until I have reread what I wrote.

The term "drop the load" meant that the ship would loose all power, that meant not only did we come to a dead stop, it is my understanding that we also temporarily lost the ability to steer the ship. everything with the world war two era tankers and supply ships was powered by steam that was about 700 degrees fahrenheit in order to pump the black oil it was preheated with steam, it seams to me that almost everything concerning the ships cargo wenches booms, etc. were powered with very hot steam, not steam that comes off a cup of coffee, but steam under pressure that was hot enough to be invisible, and cut you in two instantly if you walked into a leak. I heard they checked for leaks with a broom handle!

Maybe a BT (Boiler Technician) can tell us exactly what happened when this crisis took place. They are the experts. I think most steam wenches and boom systems today are powered by electric and hydraulics.

I was wrong with PGM, it is PHM or Patrol Combat Missile (Hydrofoil) to the best of my memory the two ships I saw were the Ashful and the Gallop, hope I spelled their names correctly.

Romeo was a flag that was hoisted during the replenishment detail, and was used for signaling the other ships involved with the operation.

I must tell you , no one was unimportant to the operation of a ship. I don't care what type of ship, or a Lads rating. In order to succeed the crew, and I mean the whole crew, became an intricate part of the ship, and it's mission.

Many thanks, talk to you later,

Gil DeVault
[email protected] (Gilbert Devault)

Gene Edwards who served onboard the USS Neches AO-47, 63-65.read Gil DeVault's story about  the Emergency Breakaway that Gil had mentioned, and wrote him about it, copying to me; I decided to include it here...

"Wow!!! what a story, I've filled my brain with so much other stuff, through the years, I forgot about some of that action. One night while some where off nam, we had been shadowed by Russian trawlers and we 18 year olds were scared to death. We watched the horizon light up while the planes off the Ranger napalmed the gooks. Three or four hours after the unrep, we were kicking back on the fantail by the big 5 inch or what ever it was and we heard a plane dive on us and suddenly level out. it turned a huge lite on the ship and several of us hit the deck while we wet our pants. We went to battle stations and were later told it was a Russian mared plane snooping. We lost one boats'n chair and had to cut the lines in an emergency breakaway twice. I was captains phone talker on the port side when we got less than 6 inches away from Ranger in the swells. She was a bucket of bolts but I loved her and would have died for the old girl, if need be. What ribbons did you get? I got out before i was given the Ops ribbon and I saw in some paper I read, she had six from 63 to 67.

Dr. Gene"

Interested in 'Emergency Breakaways"? Read HN1 Bill Shipley's story.

[email protected] (Gene Edwards)

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