by JD Cooper
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I was ordered to the Hancock fresh from boot camp in or around August, 1966. I found her in dry dock, but we soon set sail for the Tonkin gulf and a tour of duty. My youger brother was Army Airborne in Viet Nam at the time and my older brother, Winston, was aboard the Strauss, DDG19. Sometime in Jan, 1967 (I think) I was surprised to see a new escort off to port that sported the number 16. Soon, we were unrep-ing our Cans and she came alongside. Because Winston was a skivy waver, I could clearly see him on the sig bridge. I found my way to our own sig bridge and convinced a fellow to say howdy to my brother. It was a surprise to him and caused a good chuckle for both of us. Later, I had the audacity to approach the division chief with an idea that rankled him. I asked what the possibilies were that I might visit Winston on the Strauss. He said nothing. End of audacity. Several 20 hour days later as we groggily mustered, my name was called out and, poof! I was quickly escorted to the flight deck and before I knew it I was strapped into a helo and was airborne. The timeline was no more than 5 minutes. I was still in my blue- shirt! (My buddies had no clue what was going on or if I was to ever return!) The helo-jockey had to be the meanest man in the world! Once over the Strauss, I was manhandled into the harness and swung out like a slab of beef! Swirling blades above me and the pitching deck below me! I saw it coming! The demon with the lever dropped me at mach 1 at the instant the deck was coming up! The impact left me in a crumpled ball now about 5'10" of my previous 6'1"! There was no doubt in my mind the guy did it for fun! through the fuzz in my eyes I looked up the 5" gun and wondered if it was loaded. I had a target! To further compound the issue, no one aboard Hancock had bothered to tell Strauss that company was coming and a bunch of sailors were standing there just looking at me! The 1MC blared something about "visitor report to bridge!" After getting there, the captain asked the question and I gave the best answer I could under the circumstances. He grinned a bit, obviously bemused at having an airdale aboard his ship, and simply said, "Welcome to the real Navy." (huh? I didn't know there was a fake one! ..Unless you are talking about the Coast Guard.. hmm!) Winston was still unaware of what was going on and the look on his face was worth every minute of the agony the deck impact wrought upon my body! We spent several hours shooting the breeze before the helo came back. I say "we" with tongue in cheek as that Can was tossing like a scared colt and I spent most my time clinging to anything I could find! I was beginning to learn what sailors called sea legs! For the first time in my short life I was truly glad I had been a bronk buster and knew how to "slap leather and hang on"! "Real Navy my ass!" This beast was a flared nostril, snorting, pitching, reeling, twisting, wobbling, jumping, wringing, denizen totaly devoid of the sense to get tired and quit! This aint "Real Navy"! This is a frigging rodeo! Between bouts of projectile vomiting and flurries of profanities, I had the rare treat of watching Hancock launch and retrieve a sortie. It was awesome! So much different than the grueling labor of a blue shirt pushing the planes around and never actually seeing the action! It gave me the first appreciation ever for the job I was doing. I felt remorse for my buddies in hanger deck three because they were a man short. But it was a sight they never got to see. (They also were sorta indifferent and unimpressed with my description of it. "Sea Stories"!) The helo returned and my suspicions about the demon in it were once again strengthened! The Devil-Incarnate he was! He yanked the up-lever at the exact second Strauss took a dive down. This action returned me to my previous height. I have despised all helo jockeys since that day but a series of chiropractors have loved me ever since! ...Weeks later Mom sent a letter each to her sons with a clipping from our local paper that sported a picture of Winston and me aboard the Strauss! Someone took our picture! Who the hell did that? I didnt see any PH's on board that Can!... Winston and I were to meet again on R&R in Sasebo and he returned the favor by attempting to kill his younger brother with a bottle of Ronrico 151! I surmised that my visitation had garnered him a little unwelcome ribbing from his shipmates. (Had I not been on Cinderella liberty, he might well have succeeded.) I never saw Strauss again. After the tour, I was given orders for PH "A" school and I never saw nor thought much about old Fighting Hannah again. Not until the Lexington, CV?16, was retired and became a museum in nearby Corpus Christi. I decided to visit her a few years ago and was startled at the profound similarities to Hanna. I found the galley, what I remembered as my berthing compartment, even the head! (sister ship) I stood in hanger bay three a few minutes, I called out the names of the guys I could remember, Hart, Broussard, Purvis... I wished this was the old Hancock one more time. What ever happened to her? I looked off the elevator and visualized Joeseph Strauss bobbing like a cork out there. "Smokin' Joe"! pitching and tossing and giving it hell! Like they say, "Black smoke and white water!" And there In 1967, I stood on a near rock solid luxury liner in comparison. "The Real Navy, uh, Captain? I'll take the fake one!" Suddenly I was awash with a feeling I have never experienced in my adult life: Melancholia. JD Cooper (PH2) Rancho Problemas, Texas.
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