Our original date to sail to Japan had changed many times since January. The "equipment" was installed in the SOD hut and the time for departure had finally been set. We were scheduled to leave Bremerton on September 12 for San Diego, via San Francisco, for underway training and then across the Pacific for Japan. Many of us had been on board for over six months and we were anxious to go to our operational area in the western Pacific. Those who had an opportunity to go on leave were returning and we began to settle our affairs in Bremerton before we left. Good byes were said to our shipmates who had transferred to our sister ship the USS PALM BEACH (AGER-3). I wonder if DeLong or Doc Gowin ever suffered from survivors guilt? We also said good-bye to the guys we had lived with in the barracks. There was an air of finality in our preparations. We instinctively knew that we would never be back.
The fuel tanks were topped off, the stores were stowed in their proper locations and we were off. Herb Alpert's "Lonely Bull", our ship's theme song, played on the 1MC as we headed north out of Puget Sound. The special sea and anchor detail was secured and regular watches set. There was a quiet air of expectancy as we headed toward the Straight of Juan De Fuca. So far our sea time had consisted of a couple of sea trials, and with the ugly incident at Port Angeles still fresh, we were looking forward to entering the Pacific. Lights were out at 2200 and a few of us sat in the red lights of the berthing compartment writing letters or simply speculating on what would happen when we were out at sea.
Most of us were awakened as the ship began to plow into the incoming swells of the Pacific. With an almost flat bottom, the PUEBLO was not designed to cut thorough the water, but rather assaulted it. She would ride up a swell and then as her weight was concentrated on the top, she would hammer down with a series of four or five very audible slaps. Once down she would sail level for a brief moment before attacking the next swell. Soon she began to roll heavily left to right. We used our extra blankets to wedge ourselves into our bunks. One question had been answered, the PUEBLO did not want to go to sea again, and probably never had. We learned to tie everything down and eat with one hand, using the other to keep the standard issue feeding tray level. Motion sickness separated the men from the boys and vomit in the passageways was not uncommon. Except for a few, most of us quickly adopted our sea legs. The Metamorphose from swab jockeys to salts was underway and for those of us on our first trip. At sea we were proud of the salt that was collecting on our blue jackets. We were becoming sailors.
PUEBLO adopted several quirks that only could be traced to Captain Bucher being a submarine sailor. Unlike his obsession with cleanliness that irritated the crew, these gained him points. One was the ability to hit the rack if you were off duty, regardless of the hour. This made it possible for the crew to get catnaps prior to going on watch, and since the air space above each bunk was each person's own personal space, it gave us the chance to have some privacy. His other quirk was the dress code. Bucher allowed the crew to wear whatever they wanted when we put out to sea. As a result, many of the crew took to wearing outfits that were part civilian and part military. In no time at all we looked like a bunch of pirates. Bucher's wish to keep us comfortable was appreciated.
The weather was perfect as we headed towards California. The ship was taking on a personality. The PUEBLO took on the air of an older woman whose past was obscure and future uncertain, but despite her lot she preferred to remain aloof on one hand and proud of whatever role had been assigned her on the other. Since her mission was a secret to all but a few, this only added to her mystique. She was no destroyer, no patrol boat, and certainly not attractive, but we loved her and were proud of serving on this vessel of unknown questionable virtue. Wherever we were going, she would get us there. We wallowed toward our first true liberty port -San Francisco.
The summer of love was not quite over and the crew was most anxious to try their luck in Baghdad by the Bay. We had heard of the hippies and Haight Ashbury and wanted to see if it was true. A day out from San Francisco, Gene Lacy ordered me to tie down everything in my store room, as entering the bay was usually a turbulent experience. I spent so many hours tying things down that we could have turned over and not a single can of peas would have fallen out. As luck would have it the bay was calm as we sailed in the morning of September 16, 1967. We entered about 0600 hours, too early to tie up at Treasure Island. The Captain treated us to a tour of the bay with a swing around Alcatraz and the Embarcadero. The special sea and anchor detail was set and I assumed my post on the portside bridge listening to Mr. Alpert's band once again blaring out the "Lonely Bull".
After a great weekend liberty the 1MC which was located at the end of my bunk clicked on and reveille hammered into our heads. It was time to drop our socks and brush our teeth. I swung my feet over the side and as per usual kicked Hodges in the head. The fact that he never reacted to this proved that he was either a fine person or a deep sleeper. After a while I think that he only woke up after he had been kicked. With eight people trying to occupy an area eight by three one can only imagine the closeness we felt for each other. Breakfast was served and I took the watch from Reed who was always glad to see me or any one else that got him out of the galley.
We got underway and headed for the open sea. I was able to snap a great photo of the underside of the Golden Gate Bridge, and it was San Diego here we come. The trip from San Francisco lasted 3 days. Once the crew recovered from the trauma of visiting the City, we again settled into the routine of being at sea. The weather remained ideal, clear skies and smooth seas. Except for the work it seemed like a vacation after our months in the far north. The water changed colors as we drew closer to the south land. The foreboding dark blue of the north coast was slowly becoming green as we entered the warmer currents. By midday on September 21, 1967 we arrived off San Diego. Due to a scheduling screw-up there was no room for us in the harbor so we were forced to spend the day off shore. This was fine for the crew because our desire for liberty was more than off-set by our desire to avoid underway training. We had just sailed from near Canada to almost the Mexican border without an incident. What could these clowns teach us. Tomorrow we would enter San Diego.
Transit to San Diego
by Stu Russell
PUEBLO at Sea
Editor note: As on submarines, each new crewmember was required to read and understand CDR Bucher's "Rules of the Boat." He also appointed Chief Goldman "Chief of the Boat."
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PUEBLO in heavy sea
painting by Richard Derosset © 2012
USS PUEBLO moored at submarine base San Diego. September 1967.
(click on photo for full size)