- Historic Sites
Anatomy Of A Crisis
Forty years ago the USS Maddox fought the first battle of America’s longest war. How it happened—and even if it happened—are still fiercely debated.
February/March 2004 | Volume 55, Issue 1
A lot of sailors felt the way Buehler did about destroyer duty. Lt. (jg) Jim Copeland, a Colorado man who joined the Navy on his way to becoming an architect and was the Maddox ’s damage-control assistant in 1964, put it this way: “You find out very, very quickly how close-knit a destroyer can be, and how close quarters a destroyer can be. After a while you believe that it is the only Navy. You look around and you see the carriers and the cruisers and the lavish spaces, and the lack of shiphandling ability that these people have, and the abundance of experience that everyone gets on a destroyer. Everybody. At that point in my life there was no doubt that destroyers were the only ship to learn all you needed to know in the Navy.”
Ens. Noel Alien of Glendale, California, wanted a destroyer too. Graduating from the Naval Academy in 1964, Alien requested a ship that operated from Long Beach, which was close to his home. The Maddox was one. “I had spent two summer cruises on destroyer-type ships, and I loved ’em. I thought, This is it. I’m in hog heaven.”
The Maddox ’s wartime complement was 22 officers and 300 enlisted seamen, petty officers, and chiefs. By 1964, howeyer, the ship had a reduced crew: 14 officers and 260 men. Fewer men, with more work for each.
The Maddox was attached to Destroyer Division 192. The division commodore was Capt. John J. Herrick. Herrick had grown up in Warren, Minnesota, and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1943. The Maddox ’s commanding officer (CO) was Cdr. Herbert Ogier. The ship’s twelfth captain hailed from Baltimore, Maryland. He graduated from Annapolis a year after Herrick. The men were friends; and both were World War II vets.
DesDiv 192 was part of the Patrol Force, Taiwan Defense Command. It was a branch of the U.S. 7th Fleet, guarding the waters between Japan and Taiwan. The Maddox operated from Japan through the spring, then went to the Philippines, over to Hong Kong, and back to Japan that summer.
The Maddox ’s new gunnery officer, Ensign Alien, joined her in Japan on July 20. His welcome was brief: “Everybody was busy because we were getting ready to go to the Taiwan Patrol.” The ship sailed for Keelung, Taiwan, on July 23.
“We pulled into Keelung, and there was MacKenzie . She was roughly similar to Maddox and had just come down from patrolling off Vladivostok.
“In those days we tried to keep up an electronic intelligence presence off the coast of Russia. The Navy would take these ships and put electronic information-gathering comvans [communications vans]—or elint [electronic intelligence], as they called it—elements on board, and they’d run up and down North Korea and up the Russian coast.
“Well, that’s where the old comvan came from. With a crane they took this comvan—nothing more than a conex [container express] box, really—and they lifted it from MacKenzie on the O-1 level, the ship’s highest deck, between the stacks, and dropped it over on Maddox . And then we got these hairy-looking Marines. These guys looked like they were a bit more serious than we were.”
This was the DeSoto Patrol, established in 1963. The box was a Naval Security Group comvan, manned by nine communications specialists and guarded by six Marines. The unit for the July—August mission was commanded by Lt. Gerrell Moore, an easygoing reserve officer from Texas. He dealt directly with Commodore Herrick and his staff, Captain Ogier and Cdr. Dempster Jackson, the Maddox ’s executive officer (XO). “I was not open to special intelligence because the commodore was aboard with his ops officer,” Buehler noted. “They had SI clearance. I didn’t.”
The communications officer, Lt. (jg) John Bayley, recalled: “A lot of us didn’t know what the mission was, but we figured it out in a hurry. But none of us really knew just what these guys were doing.”
Bayley grew up in Lake City, Minnesota. Earning a degree in zoology from the University of Minnesota, he aimed to go to graduate school. Then he reconsidered. “I realized that sitting in the corner of a lab the rest of my life was not for me.” Bayley went for officer candidate school.
He joined the Maddox in September 1962. “I was 22 years old. Within three weeks I was the communications officer, with 45 men working for me. I had no training for this. No experience. I learned in a hurry that you listened to the chiefs.
“I had 27 collateral duties. Plus I had to read the fleet broadcast. It came across a Teletype nonstop. They included messages not only to us but to other ships too. I was expected to read that thing every day. And I was ship’s secretary, ship’s personnel officer, registered publications custodian. Talk about checking your pockets for your keys! I had these two huge safes in my stateroom, holding all our publications, many of them top secret. I’d spin the dials four times before I ever left that room. The Navy prison in Portsmouth was full of guys who’d lost money or registered pubs.”
As for the comvan, Bayley reflected: “My guess at the time was they just had some much more sophisticated gear than we had and that they were able to pick up a lot more, both communications-wise and electronic emissions. That’s what I figured.”