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  USS Noxubee AOG56

A Tribute To Those That Served

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Vietnam Ribbon Bar
Noxubee Crest

New Recruit


By Ray (Willie) Willis

I knew I had made a big mistake when we hit the airport terminal in San Diego. This barking second class marched us through the terminal and had us stand at attention on an island in the airport entrance. I looked at my buddy and said " I think we screwed up"

I thought I was being smart joining the Navy, the draft board was hot on my heels and I was not keen on being a grunt in Vietnam. So here I was with a dozen other guys from Arizona, wanting to be anywhere but here and Vietnam at the moment.

Well I made it through Boot Camp and had my orders for something called the USS Noxubee AOG 56. currently in Pearl Harbor. No one at Boot Camp seemed to have a clue as to what an AOG was, so I didn't know what to expect. My buddy had the same orders, so off we went. We caught a stand-by out of LAX and arrived in Honolulu that evening.

Too many movies and too much TV had me expecting the lovely island girls welcoming me to the islands with a kiss and a lei…didn't happen. In fact no one met us, it was getting dark and with what little money we had between us, we caught a taxi to Pearl.

We managed to find the Noxubee tied up alongside several other non-descript ships at Ford Island. "Permission to come aboard sir" two or three times before we found the right place. My first impression of the Noxubee was about like Boot Camp, "I think we screwed up!" We were sent down to the deck dept. berthing area, and told to find a bunk. Oh what a delightful mixture of smells, diesel oil, B.O. putrid socks, farts, grease and paint. I think I spent that first night in someone else's rack and he had not sent his sheets to the laundry in awhile.

The following morning started four of the longest years in my life. Polish the brass, swab the deck, chip the paint, and paint…. Chip the paint, and paint… chip the paint, and paint… etc. etc. etc. Then stand the watch, and they had a watch for everything.

Off duty was great, it seemed that at every corner of the base was a club. Being broke most of the time, we spent little time in Honolulu, and most of the time at the EM club. 10 cents a draft, 50 cents a pitcher, mixed drinks anywhere from 50 cents to a dollar and a half. It was here that I started my professional career as an alcoholic.

My buddy was asked to "strike" as a radioman, and left the deck dept. for the "ops" dept. He advised me that if anyone asked me to "strike" for anything, hold out for the "ops dept." That is the elite group, he said. It seemed like forever before I was asked to "strike" as a quartermaster. I did not have a clue what a quartermaster was, but since it was in the "ops dept" I jumped at the chance.

Polish the brass, swab the deck, chip the paint, and paint, and more watches to stand….real elite! I guess "ops dept' did have its advantages, like our living quarters. Like Charlie Mihulka says, the cross ventilation made somewhat of a difference in the smells, more fresh salt air, mixed with the odor of diesel, socks sweat, paint, and farts.

There are some things that happened on the Noxubee that still really "tick me off". When I arrived we still had the canvas bunks that would kind of cradle you in the rough seas. Whose sick idea was that to put in the metal bunks that tossed you back and forth until you thought your brains would scramble!

I did receive an education in the Navy, it was not the kind of education my parents had planned for me, I heard every swear word imaginable, some I know were made up at the moment to fit the situation. I was exposed to every perversion, misdeed, and idea for mischief I can think of. Great learning moments for a backwoods boy from Arizona.

Then I heard we were shipping out, headed for where else, Vietnam.


 

Noxubee Crest

My Vietnam War


By Ray (Willie) Willis

The crossing from Hawaii to Vietnam was a good experience for this old Arizona boy, the seas were beautiful and like glass most of the way. I also remember the flying fish ending up on the tank deck, and the dolphins playing near the bow of the ship. At night they would leave trails of blue sparkling phosphorus in the water.

Do you guys remember swim call? Remember when we got into the jellyfish? Man I don't know when I had anything sting so intense.

The day we were scheduled to pull into Danang, a bunch of us were up on the flying bridge hoping to be the first to sight land. We kept hearing this booming noise, and I remember thinking, there really is a war going on over here! The booming was actually a thunderstorm, but there also was a war going on there. We used to watch the choppers at night shooting down streams of tracers, and hearing the explosions of ordinance going off.

I remember getting liberty and when we hit the beach, it still felt like I was on the rolling deck of a ship. I know now why sailors have that swaggering stride, it really has nothing to do with ego, and everything to do with a pitching deck.

How many of you guys lost your wallets to the kids with the razor blades? They would run up behind you and slice open your rear pocket, and another kid would grab your wallet as it fell out and off they would go.

I only made one of Delp's famous supply runs. We went with him to pick up a truck and we were waiting in the Quonset hut when everyone started yelling "HIT THE SHELTERS" there was a blinding flash, and an explosion before we could move even a few feet. Then everyone was up and back to work like nothing had happened. I never did find out if it was a mortar, rocket or what.

Once we had the supplies, we were on top of the truck enjoying a crate of fresh oranges when a Young well-endowed Vietnamese girl came running up yelling GI, GI, and bared her breasts, the guys whooped, and tossed her at least a dozen oranges before Delp made them stop. Somehow we made a wrong turn and ended up in the wrong part of Danang. We were all quite nervous before we got turned around and headed to safer places.

I remember walking by huge crates of beer setting out in the hot Vietnamese sun. We were told that they put formaldehyde in the beer to keep it from going bad. All I know is the beer had a peculiar taste, and it gave me one monster of a splitting headache.

I was one of the lucky ones to get to see the Bob Hope Christmas show, way up on a hill and it seemed like a mile away, but it was still fun.

The night we were mined I was in the charthouse writing letters home when I heard all the shooting, and the grenade explosions. We had been pumping fuel to the base at Qua Viet as we had done so many times before. It was night and it was raining, if I remember right? We went to general quarters and got underway and we steamed out about 3 miles. Captain Cass asked for the UDT team to come out and inspect our hull, but because of the muddy waters they found nothing. The Captain got on the intercom and told us to secure from general quarters, but to be prepared for the worse, that he had a feeling that we were carrying a mine.

I went below to my bunk and tried to sleep (yeah right! A floating gas tank with a mine really makes for a restful nights sleep). Some wise guy told me not to worry, that if any thing happened we would go 3 miles in every direction and I wouldn't feel a thing! I must have finally dozed off, because the next thing I remember was a tremendous explosion, and I was up on the bridge and water was still coming down.

General Quarters sounded and I made my way back to secondary steering. I put on my headphones and started listening to the damage reports coming in, not good, big hole in the side, the sentry lights are still on and I see mattresses and other debris floating by. Meanwhile the Viet Cong are hitting the base at Cua Viet, lots of noise and huge fires we assume are the fuel bladders we pump off to.

I am feeling mighty alone and vunerable back at secondary steering, I make sure I have my pocket knife, I have visions of gooks swarming over the side, and I need a weapon. I am also uneasy about the Noxubee going down, I have seen those sea snakes, and the sharks. I Realize what I thought was a Mae West, was actually a gas mask, so I talk a passing sailor to climb up into the motor whaleboat and hand me a lifejacket.

We are pumping fuel from the port tanks to the starboard tanks now, and the ship is starting to list, soon the damage will be above waterline and we will stop taking on water. No gooks coming over the side, I am starting to feel we might make it!

We Make it to Danang, and the USS Grapple fits us with a temporary repair until we can reach the dry-docks at Subic Bay in the Philippines. So what does the Navy do? Instead of the Philippines they send us right back to Cua Viet where all this trouble started in the first place! Only now we have to go up the Cua Viet River and pump off to the AMMI barges.

I don't remember how long we stayed "on line" but we did finally make the Philippines, and that is another story!