On Our Way
by Stu Russell
We were in San Diego through early November. Underway Training was complete. The people who trained us for what lay ahead did not have a training program for AGERís, so to meet the training requirements they muddled through with a syllabus programmed for AKLs, the type of ship PUEBLO was formerly. One of the requirements for assessing our skills was to demonstrate our proficiency in underway refueling. Since we didn't have the equipment for this, we "acted" like we were refueling. The oiler that came along side passed us a fuel line, which we brought over and pretended to hook up. We passed. No drills were evaluated for destruction of sensitive publications, or equipment. As far as the trainers were concerned they didn't exist. Everyone was pleased with our acting abilities.
We were up early at the ungodly hour of 0500 hours November 6, 1967, to prepare for our departure from the land of purple mountains majesty and all that. That what was now becoming analogous with the Chinese water torture, the "Lonely Bull" blared in my ears as we sailed from San Diego. I had the port watch leaving the harbor, and said a silent goodbye to my grandparents who were buried at the naval cemetery on Point Loma. The USS PUEBLO steamed south past the point, turned west and set her course for Pearl Harbor. For the next nine days we were treated to fair weather and fairly smooth seas, only half the crew was puking as we sailed into the west. Almost every morning the deck force would have to clean the well deck of small squids and flying fish that had managed to make it on to deck during the night. Some of the crew were restless, but I felt refreshed and enjoyed the tranquility that one finds at sea. Life at sea took on certain monastic traits and being away from the pressures one found on land was a great way to relax. I was in my element, spending hours at night out on deck staring at the stars. While in the Boy Scouts we had camped in the desert a number of times and were impressed with the number of stars that we were able to see, but that was nothing compared to what the night sky appears at sea. The Milky Way looked like a neon tube.
We arrived off Pearl Harbor around midnight on November 13, 1967. Those of us who had never been to sea before were surprised that we could actually smell land. It was warm that evening, an unusual experience for us during November, so we stayed out on deck that night and watched as Diamond Head became silhouetted against the morning sky. As dawn broke we were able to make out the hotels on Wakiki. We drifted off to breakfast and got into the uniform of the day -- Tropical Whites for our grand entrance into Pearl Harbor. Entering this harbor was very special, it held an almost spiritual meaning, and as we stood at attention on deck, we couldn't help but be touched by its history. In the distance we could see the USS ARIZONA memorial. The thought of an attack in such a beautiful setting seemed incongruous. The PUEBLO entered the harbor and was directed to tie up at the sub base, perhaps so that the skipper could visit his old chums. As we tied up I was informed by Tim Harris that it would be two days before I could leave the base and see the beauty of this island for myself. First, supplies had to be replenished. Although the days were occupied with work, I was able to find solace and entertainment at the Enlisted Men's Club on base. After a long day, I cleaned up and departed for the club with some of the guys to see what trouble we could either get into or avoid. I dressed in my Topical Whites, without the scarf which I thought was optional in these climates. I was stopped at the club by the Master-at-Arms, who wanted to know where my tie was. After informing him that I didn't know it was a formal occasion, I found myself returning to the ship to get my tie. In an attempt to expedite my journey back to the club and maximize my limited time ashore, I took a cab back to the ship, ran in and got my tie.
When I returned the Shore Patrol was screaming at the cab driver. It seems that the sub base was off limits and the Shore Patrol had patiently explained to my cabbie that he would have to leave after they wrote him a ticket, but he wasn't listening. I sat in the cab waiting to return. Had I walked, I would have had a beer in my hand instead of my hat. The cabbie kept whining that he didn't know any better, but the Shore Patrol wasn't buying it and at last, in exasperation, told him to get back down the pier the way he came in. The jerk started the cab, turned his head around and began backing up at high speed down the pier. I watched the Shore Patrol in the windshield become smaller as we accelerated -- when one of them looked up, the look on his face was one of injudiciousness.
Meanwhile as the cabbie vented his anger on me, telling me how I was responsible for the death of his family through slow starvation, I saw the Shore Patrol with red lights flashing coming towards us. I told my friend that perhaps he should look out the front of his cab, and as he does, slams on the breaks. I watched as the Shore Patrol slammed on its breaks, swerved to avoid us, skidding right past. I knew at that moment that the cabbie was in deep trouble. Most of what the Shore Patrol said was lost in the upper level of my hearing, but to get their point across, they started beating the hood of the cab with their helmets screaming that this was the part of the cab that you drove with. Another ticket was written, his base license yanked, and the death of his family was on my hands. I paid him for the ride, thanked him for the memories, and walked off towards the club to find my buddies many beers ahead of me.
After two days of backbreaking work, Tim Harris was pleased and I was given Liberty. Bob Hill, Tony Lamantia, Pete Langenberg and I rented a Volkswagen and spent the day driving around. Despite the fact that we were wearing civilian clothes we still looked like service personnel. It must have been the dull cow like look in our eyes. We did the tourist routine, finally ending up at Ft. Derussy, where we polished off a few beers before heading back to the ship. I fell in love with the islands that night. Drinking beer outside at night in November was a wonderful thing. I would be back. The trip from Hawaii to Japan was another round of sea sickness and sunshine. Each day blended into the next. The birthing compartment was an oven by the end of the day. Our section with eight bunks stacked four high with less than two and a half feet in between them became a depository for most of the odors the human body can produce. There was one fan for the area and in the morning the direction the fan was facing provided mute testimony to who was in bed last. About halfway to Japan Bucher authorized a swim call and soon most of the crew was either in the water or preparing to jump off the bow into the water. If you timed your jump so you took off at the top of a swell, it was a long drop to the surface. The crew soon took to the age old and time honored activity of grab ass, tragedy was an instant away. Several of the larger crewmen took to tossing the smaller men into the water. This activity ended abruptly when they tossed one man on top of another. This resulted in an injured back and an end to the swim call. "Doc" Baldridge examined the injured party and was concerned about his back.
Bucher contacted the higher ups and a rendezvous with the USS GOMPERS was planned. The "Swing Sammy G" as it was called by its crew turned about and met us the next day. By the time we met them, we were in the middle of a squall, the sea was too rough for them to launch their whaleboat, but not rough enough for us to launch ours. We lowered our boat into the water and picked up a doctor from the GOMPERS to examine our injured crewmen. By now the crew was a little on the dark side of being unhygienic and hirsute. When they arrived at the side of the GOMPERS, its deck force was unsure as to whether they should sink our whale boat and make a run for it. The decision was made to put their doctor over the side and return him to the PUEBLO in order to make a more thorough assessment than Doc was able to do. The doctor and several well groomed corpsmen clamored aboard our bobbing ship and took in their new surroundings. The doctor saw a man on the bridge dressed in a T-shirt, shorts and wearing sandals. He was aghast and asked one of the crewmen if our captain new there was civilians aboard his ship. One of the deck apes pointed to the rain drenched apparition on the bridge and said, "That's the old man up there, do you want to ask him yourself?"
After the injured man was examined, it was decided that he was too injured to remain on board. He was lashed into a stretcher, tied into the whaleboat and transported to the GOMPERS. Ron Berens and Wendell Leach completed the transfer and returned to the leeward side of the PUEBLO to be hoisted aboard. The speedier GOMPERS was quickly lost in the squall line and we were soon alone on an empty ocean. As we approached the end of our westerly course and turned north the weather quickly turned cold and deteriorated. In the morning the fan that had blown chilled air all night was pointed at the least liked man in our birthing section. The lowering of the temperature and the adding of clothing layers were the only changes in our routine as we continued on to Japan. We ran into one more storm before we entered Tokyo Bay. We were escorted into the bay by the ever present Benjo Maru.
Swim Call !
(Courtesy Rich Arnold)
Eddie Bland onboard USS Pueblo
& USS Samuel Gompers behind
(Courtesy Rich Arnold)
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PUEBLO & the whaleboat
as seen from USS Samuel Gompers
USS SAMUEL GOMPERS AD-37
Servicing a US nuclear submarine