USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) was an ESSEX CLASS
aircraft carrier in the U.S. Navy. Commissioned in 1944, HANCOCK
saw service during World War Two and was struck by a Japanese Kamikaze
off Okinawa in 1945. in the early 1950's, It was the first U.S. Navy
Aircraft Carrier to be modified to include the angled flight deck and
equipped with steam catapults. The HANCOCK made seven combat deployments
to Vietnam between 1965 and 1972. It was engaged in the evacuation when
the war finally ended in 1975. It was decommissioned and sold for scrap
THE TURBULENT SIXTIES
The Days of Long Hair and Short Skirts!
We were not war heroes. Most
of us never fired a shot at the enemy and we were not shot at while we
served on HANCOCK. We were just ordinary sailors, doing what we were
ordered to do. Most of us were between the ages of 17 and 24 years
old. We worked hard doing our jobs to keep that old ship running so we
could stay on the line. Our main reason for being there was to launch and
recover our aircraft in support of the war effort in Vietnam. Our aircraft
provided support for friendly forces in South Vietnam and bombed selected
military targets in North Vietnam, in coordination with the U.S. Air
Force. We came from all over the U.S.A. Most of us came from small
towns in the heartland regions of America. Some came from the big
cities - New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, Houston and Seattle -
among others. it was the first time some of us white boys from the south
had ever associated with Negroes and it was the first time many of them
had associated with whites. It was "The Age of Aquarius" - the
world was being turned upside down by changes brought about by Dr. Martin
Luther King and his followers, the "Now Generation", the
"British Invasion" and the "Hippie Revolution".
For the most part, it was all "cool and groovy" but there were
some sad and tragic times. The U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War
was a point of controversy from the start. We were young and high
spirited - full of energy and new ideas, ready to meet all
of the challenges and changes. We were also gullible and
very naive. It was a learning experience for all of us. On the HANCOCK we were a close knit bunch and we
all stood together to get the job done.
USS HANCOCK (CVA-19)
(Pictures are taken from the 1966 and 1967
CARPENTER AND THE REPAIR DIVISION
It takes many people to keep
an Aircraft Carrier operating. On the HANCOCK, there were over
fifteen hundred men in the "Ship's Company". Most of us
had nothing to do with working on the Flight Deck, around the aircraft.
We were the "worker bees" who did the routine work that had to
be done all over the ship - the clerks, cooks, medics, technicians,
mechanics, electricians and other craftsmen of all kinds. We kept all of the wheels turning.
I served in the
Repair Division, under a Warrant Officer who - was always called
"the Carpenter". That seemed odd to me, since there
are very few items made of wood on Navy ships with steel hulls. We worked
all over the ship. We were the "grunts" who did the heavy
lifting - jacks of all trades, masters of none. We were assigned to the
Engineering Department, since much of the repair work we did was in the
main machinery spaces. The main propulsion engineers didnít claim us
until something broke down and they needed our services to fix it. We
were known as "fresh air snipes". When something on the ship
was broke down and had to be fixed, the Repair Division was usually the
first to be called in. I did welding jobs near the top of the main
mast, about ten stories above the flight deck. I also did repair work in
the dark and dirty keel bottom tanks - eight or nine decks below the
flight deck. I †Earned
my stripes back in those days.
A few notes of
interest about Navy history and tradition: In the sailing ship days of
the 1600's and 1700's in the British Navy, the Carpenter was an important
figure on all ships. He was primarily responsible to the Captain for
the maintenance of the wooden hull, †to maintain its strength and
water tightness. He was an important player in the Captainís Team. He
also assisted the Ship's Bo'sun in maintaining
the boats, repairing the masts, platforms and riggings. In battle, he
sometimes even assisted the Ship's Surgeon, by sawing off the limbs of
sailors who were badly wounded. These special assistants were
basically civilian contractors - older men who were all very experienced
in their fields. The Carpenter supervised the loading of the vessel, to
make sure it stayed in "proper trim" in order to be sea worthy.
He took charge of all repairs to everything made of wood. He was the main
player when it came to keeping the ship afloat. Several
seamen worked under the Carpenter. They did the heavy lifting and
performed the tasks the Carpenter ordered them to do. †In battle, they were responsible for
fighting fires, evacuating the wounded, controlling flooding, removing
wreckage and repairing battle damage.
In sailing ship days,
the organization of the new American Navy was patterned after the British
Navy. Typically, a ship had a commissioned Captain, a commissioned
Lieutenant (First Mate), a few midshipmen in training and several
assistants, civilians who served under special warrants. The assistants
(later Navy Corps Officers or Warrant Officers) included the Surgeon
(doctor), Chaplain, Purser, Sailing Master (sail maker), Boatswain (bo'sun), Gunner, Carpenter and some others. A pool of
several seamen worked under these assistants, sometimes rotating around
among them, when it was necessary.
Things became more
specialized in the U.S. Navy starting in the early 1800's - seamen could
choose to become "strikers" so they could eventually become
Boatswain's Mates, Gunner's Mates, Carpenter's Mates, etc. Earning
the designation as a "Mate" was a very important milestone for
In the U.S. Navy, the
Carpenter's Mates later became the Damage Controlmen
and Blacksmiths (shipfitters).
†In keeping with tradition, a U.S. Navy
Warrant Officer with the designation "Ship Repair Technician"
is still called "the Carpenter". Things hadn't changed much
since the days of the sailing ships when I was on the HANCOCK. The main
concern for the Damage Controlmen and
Shipfitters was still keeping the hull in good
shape to maintain watertight integrity and seaworthiness. Those ratings
were later combined to create a new rating - "Hull Maintenance
Technician", which is what I was when I retired in 1987.
The hull is a ships
most important component - whether it is made of wood or metal or plastic
or titanium. That hasn't changed since the days of sailing ships and it
never will change.
On the HANCOCK, those
of us in the Repair Division were a rough and rowdy bunch. Throughout the
Navy, the DC's and SF's were generally known to have more muscles than
brains. We prided ourselves for being carousing hard drinking bad-asses.
As I look back at the pictures of us in the old cruise books, I see
mostly a bunch of kids. That is really what we were. That is the way it
was for all of the soldiers, marines, airmen and
sailors who served in the Vietnam War - we were just a bunch of scared
kids placed in a bad situation and we were all trying to make the best of
it. We did our duty and we stood up for each other. I am proud of my
service. Although I did not see combat, by doing my job on the USS
HANCOCK I helped keep the planes flying. Our planes were there to provide
support to our soldiers and marines, helping to get them out of some
tough scrapes out in the bush in South Vietnam. They were there to ward
off attacks by the Viet Cong and North Vietnam regular army forces on
friendly villages in South Vietnam, and helped save the lives of innocent
people in South Vietnam. They were there to take the war to North
Vietnam. I have to say that I would do it all over again. Jane Fonda has
her opinion and I have mine.
OUR CAPTAIN IN 1966
James C. Donaldson, Jr., Rear Admiral, U.S.
Navy (retired) died May 27, 1994
Warrant Officer Mathiasen was the Ship's
Carpenter and Fire Marshall. He was a veteran of World War Two. Tall, proud
and distinguished looking, he was one of the most senior Warrant Officers
on the ship and demanded respect. Not too many of the other officers
on the ship wanted to mess with him because he always stood up for what he
thought was right, even if it meant locking horns with a senior officer. He
set very high standards but he always stood up for
us and took good care of us.
Chief Empey was the Division Leading Chief. He
had little to say to us - unless we needed special attention. He was a very
tough man who believed in "fan room counseling". That means he
would take you to a secluded space for counseling. It would just be
the two of you, with no witnesses around - this kind of counseling
sometimes included being slapped up beside the face a few times by the
Senior Chief, as he gave you a good loud cussing out. He had been a boxer
and wrestler as a younger man and he could still throw a mean punch.
I am not sure counseling is the right word for it - the Senior Chief did all of the talking and we stood at attention and
listened to what he had to say. He usually got his point across, his way.
It sounds crude but that kind of old Navy
discipline was fairly common in those days. It was also effective
because none of us wanted to be counselled by Senior Chief Empey. He was relieved by Senior Chief Hennessey. Chief
Hollis ran the Pipe Shop. He was an easy going man
with a quiet fatherly bearing. He was ready to retire. He spent a lot of
time with John Wayne when he visited the ship. Chief Wilson ran the Damage
Control gang. He was high strung and liked to holler a lot
but he took good care of his sailors. He was quite wheeler and dealer - a
cumshaw artist who knew how to make deals
with the Chiefs from the other divisions, to get us the things we needed.
Shipfitter First Class Benoit ran the Metalsmith's Shop. He was a no
nonsense supervisor that we all respected, although many of the guys did
not like him or his way of running things. He was a New Englander and had
very little sense of humor. Everything was done by the book, his way.
We all lined up around a long work table in the shop for morning musters,
standing at attention. Petty Officer Benoit then read the Plan of the Day
to us and made the daily work assignments.
He expected us to follow his instructions to the letter and things had to done his way. I heard he was promoted to Chief shortly
after leaving the Hancock, after he was relieved by Chief Zywicki.
"Ben" Benoit died February 14, 2011 in San Diego, California)
OUR CAPTAIN IN 1967
Harold Preston "Jeep" Streeper, Captain, U.S. Navy (retired) died June 23,
2011 in North Carolina
Warrant Officer Hayes was the
Ship's Carpenter and Fire Marshall. He relieved Chief Warrant Officer Mathiasen and had some big shoes to fill. He previously
served on the HANCOCK only a few years earlier as a First
Class Petty Officer, before he was selected to be a Warrant Officer.
Many of the crew had known him when he was a First Class
Petty Officer. This was his first assignment as a Warrant Officer and he
did the job well. He earned our respect with his hands on
approach but I think some of the Chiefs resented him, for the same reason.
He sometimes tried to be "the Chief" and they did not like that,
especially since he never served as a Chief Petty Officer.
L. Hayes died July 8, 2010 in Ohio)
Chief Hennessey was the Division Leading Chief and also
ran the Pipe Ship. He was a New Yorker who told stories about growing up on
the tough streets of New York City. As a boy, he was very poor and had
little formal schooling before joining the Navy. He took full advantage of
the Navy's programs to continue his education. Coming from that background,
he was driven to succeed and he drove all of us
just as hard. He was young to be a Senior Chief. He was an
intelligent and high energy leader who always had a 'can do"
attitude. He was sometimes cocky and flamboyant
- very egotistical and too demanding. He was quick to
criticize and slow to offer praise - qualities that I did not particularly
like. Still, I respected him for being the dynamic and self
confidant leader that he was, to keep us charged up. Although I
did not like some of his ways, I learned a
lot from him. Chief Lawley ran the Damage Control gang. He was quiet spoken and knew his business. He was a father
figure to the young sailors that worked under him. Chief Zywicki ran the Metalsmith's Shop. He came on board as
a First Class Petty Officer and was promoted to
Chief shortly after he arrived on board. Before coming to the HANCOCK he served on a yard tender in Danang, South
Vietnam - which came under hostile fire several times. He was glad to be on
the aircraft carrier, where he was not being shot at. He was an expert sheetmetal mechanic and liked to show us how it was
done. He was usually jovial and easy going but was also subject to temper
outbursts, especially if he thought you were not paying attention during
his teaching sessions.
*John Henry King died
September 12, 1967, from injuries received in a car wreck. He was on
leave in Texas.
We had a good mix of people at the senior
levels within the Repair Division. Our morale was high
and we were highly motivated to work hard to do our jobs well.
advanced in the Navy through the years that followed, I patterned my own
leadership style based in large part on what I
observed and learned from the senior people I served under on the HANCOCK
during the first four years of my service. I tried to pick out the good
qualities that all of them had and avoid the bad qualities they all had - I
am not sure that I accomplished that.
** Some terminology used by
sailors when talking about other sailors and stuff**
AIREDALES - sailors in the aviation branch of the
BLACK SHOES - a term used by the airedales to describe all other sailors
BB STACKERS - gunner's mates
BUBBLEHEADS - submariners
CHARLIE OSCAR - the Captain (Commanding Officer)
COFFIN MAKERS - damage controlmen
DECK APES - boatswain's mates
GEAR HEADS - enginemen
MONKEY MATES - machinist's mates
OSCAR - The floatable dummy thrown overboard to
practice boat recoveries during Man Overboard Drills.
SKIMMERS - a term used by submariners to
describe the surface ship sailors
SKIVVIE WAVERS - signalmen
SNIPES - sailors in the engineering ratings
SPOOKS - Communications Technicians
STEW BURNERS or RICE BURNERS - cooks
TIN BENDERS - shipfitters (metalsmiths)
TURD CHASERS - shipfitters (pipefitters)
WOOD BUTCHERS - damage controlmen
ZERO - officer
(technically - ocean going vessels in the
U.S. Navy are ships. That includes submarines.)
Submarines are called boats - Navy surface ships are
never called boats
All types of aircraft carriers (CVA,CVS,
LPH) were called "Flat Tops"
The oldest attack aircraft carriers (CVA) used during
the Vietnam War were almost as long as 3
football fields -Today's super aircraft carriers are over 200 feet longer
than those older Vietnam War era CVA's.