Memories from an old press kit for the USS Ranger


USS Ranger at sea in 1968 - US Navy Photo, cleared for publication
USS Ranger at sea in 1968 – US Navy Photo, cleared for publication

While sorting through boxes of old file folders in the garage, I came across a 1968 press kit for the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CVA-61). (The Ranger was active between 1957 and 1993).

These kits were handed out to reporters and special guests who came aboard ship in port or at sea. They contained information about the ship’s history and its departments, aircraft, and a variety of photographs of the ship, planes and personnel.

In addition to the carrier’s missions that stretched between the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, the Ranger is notable for being the first carrier to be built from the keel up with an angled deck.

A Portland Oregon foundation worked for some time to acquire the ship for use as a museum, but the effort fell through when it didn’t gain enough support from high-profile financial and political individuals and groups to put together a working plan that met the navy’s strict requirements.

To learn more about this effort, see USS Ranger Closer to New Home in Portland and Navy to Scrap Historic Aircraft Carrier – UPDATE.

Flight deck crews move two A-4 Skyhawks - US Navy photo, cleared for publication.
Flight deck crews move two A-4 Skyhawks – US Navy photo, cleared for publication.

Consequently, the ship is being scrapped this year. Had the ship been converted into a museum, I would have sent them this press kit, copies of the shipboard magazine and cruise book, and a fair number of news releases I wrote for the military and civilian press while on board.

Ranger in Films

As Wikipedia reminds us, “Ranger appeared on television in The Six Million Dollar Man, Baa Baa Black Sheep and in the films Top Gun, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (standing in for the carrier USS Enterprise), and Flight of the Intruder.”

I worked in the ship’s public affairs office and put together a lot of these kits during my time on board in 1968 and 1969.

The press kit usually contained pictures of the aircraft of from the squadrons assigned to the ship during the October-to-May deployments to the western pacific. The A-4s in this photo belonged to Squadron VA-155, the “Silver Foxes.

In addition to the standard materials, we included copies of the latest news releases about shipboard operations and deployments as well as visits by film companies and USO shows.

Finding Your Way Around

Handout Sheet
Handout Sheet

Television shows like JAG and NCIS frequently show shore-based navy and marine personnel getting lost on board aircraft carriers when trying to find their way between the bridge, the mess decks and their quarters. It’s easy to do. We cleared up the confusion for guests by handing out a diagram that showed how the decks were numbered.

The sheet noted that every single compartment on board has a number indicating its deck, location, purpose and opened/closed status based on the ship’s “Material Condition of Readiness” (XRAY, YOKE, ZEBRA and WILLIAM).

I read with interest the news stories about the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) which is currently undergoing tests prior to its entry into the fleet in 2016. The changes in design and capability of the Forrestal-class carriers ( Forrestal, Saratoga, Ranger and Independence) built in the 1950s and the new Ford-class carriers (to include the Ford, Kennedy and Enterprise) is amazing. Even the sailors serving aboard the current Nimitz-class carriers will see exciting changes.

The Ford-class carriers will have three aircraft elevators, upgraded RADAR systems, and more efficient nuclear power plants, and Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) rather than conventional steam pistons for launching aircraft.

I suppose ships will continue to use some form of press kit, perhaps printed off as needed with different combinations of pages and pictures when dignitaries and reporters arrive. Most of these folks will probably look at the skips’ websites and print out their own press materials before they arrive. When describing the Ranger to others, we mentioned the size of the flight deck, the weight of the anchors, and the number of crew members.

We also said the ship was a floating city. I see that some things don’t change. In the news stories about the Gerald R. Ford, that phrase is still being used.


Malcolm R. Campbell’s novels include “At Sea,” an adventure inspired by his two western Pacific cruises on board the USS Ranger. Ranger was, in those days, called the top gun of the Pacific Fleet.

That Navy Slang Gets More Hits Than Almost Anything Else

ussrangerunrepOur of this blog’s 60,000 page views, a surprisingly high number of people are searching for navy slang. My three-year-old post “Heave out and Trice Up” still gets dozens of hits a week. And just to think, I wrote it for kicks.

I was working on my novel The Sailor. Needless to say, that novel has a lot of navy slang in it. I got to wondering: “Do non-sailors know what any of this stuff means?” There are dozens of sites about navy slang, some of which allow people to post questions. Apparently the words “heave out and trice up” are asked about more often than anything else.

As the Vietnam War fades into memory, I can understand why there would be fewer people asking about Hanoi Hannah, the “Tokyo Rose” of her day. And, as cigarette smoking becomes less pervasive in our culture, fewer people are asking what it means when a ship’s 1-MC public address system informs the crew that “the smoking lamp is lighted.” In fact, the interior spaces of ships are now being declared “smoke free.” Of course, the smoking lamp is out while loading ammunition or fuel during an unrep (Underway Replenishment as shown in the photo.)

But “heave out and trice up”? I’ll give you a clue: it has nothing to do with getting seasick, an event that’s much more likely on a can (no, not the head, but a destroyer) than an aircraft carrier during heavy weather. Part of the problem with the phrase is the word “trice.” We don’t use that word around the office much these days. It’s a sailor’s term, meaning to tie up or secure something, as in a sail or a bunk.

After seeing old pirate movies as kids, we went around shouting “avast,” which means to stop doing what you’re doing–such as trying to get away. When pirates shouted “avast” to a merchant ship they wanted to board, they expect the captain of the hapless boat to heave to, meaning to bring the ship to a stop.”

Wikipedia has an alphabetized glossary of navy slang. If you’re about to join the navy, buy a sailboat, be hired on to a cruise ship, or play pirate games with the kids, this glossary is much easier than searching through old books for jargon until 0-dark-thirty.

As we said in Navy bootcamp, those attending class were expected to take a good set of notes in order to past the tests. If you can’t past the tests, much less figure out what’s going on aboard ship, you’re pretty much considered a bent shitcan whether you’re assigned to a can or a birdfarm.

My heave out and trice up post has received more hits than any other post, except one: a book review of Raymond Khoury’s “The Last Templar.”   Go figure.


thesailorcoverMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Sailor,” a Vietnam-era novel about life on board an aircraft carrier.

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Don’t let the old salts send you topside on mail buoy watch

The carrier's island - goodhugh photo on flickr
The carrier’s island – goodhugh photo on flickr

As I work through the final edits for my upcoming novel The Sailor, I find myself smiling at all the weird, strange, and often crude navy slang and acronyms that were a part of daily life when I served aboard the four acres of sovereign soil better known as an aircraft carrier or a bird farm.

Since this is a family blog (don’t ya think?), I won’t mention the profane slang other than to say you can find it quickly enough in a Google search.

One of the first things you learn on an aircraft carrier is that the navy does not fly choppers. If you call a helicopter a chopper, you’ll probably be placed on mail buoy watch (more on that later) or sent off in search of various kinds of equipment and supplies that don’t exist. The helicopter is a Helo (hee-low).

A liberty port
A liberty port

Going ashore is going on the beach whether it’s a beach, a pier, or liberty (free time) in a foreign port where you might get screwed, blued, and tattooed. (Oops, I forgot this is a family blog.)  Now hear this, if you get back late from liberty you are not AWOL, you are UA. UA = authorized absence, as in, “I was UA” or “Mr. A.J. Squared Away (a sailor with a perfect shave, perfect uniform, etc.) went UA.”

Once you become a member of Uncle Sam’s Canoe Club, called the Gulf of Tonkin Yacht Club during the WESTPAC (western Pacific) Vietnam War days, your first duties involve listening up, taking a good set of notes, and otherwise learning the rocks and shoals (regulations).  If the chief (chief petty officer) thinks you’re slacking off, otherwise known as skating, and aren’t learning, he’ll either write you up (put you on report) or send you off to the galley to wash the flavor extractors.

If you get written up, you’ll end up shooting pool with the captain, that is, brought before a captain’s mast hearing after which you might variously be sent to the brig, demoted, or served a big chicken dinner (bad conduct discharge).

A Tin Can is a destroyer, like the one escorting your carrier, not a metal outhouse.
A Tin Can is a destroyer, like the one escorting your carrier, not a metal outhouse.

If you’re serving on an aircraft carrier, you’ll soon learn to stay off the flight deck during flight ops unless you are authorized to be there. If you work on the flight deck, the color of your shirt (yellow, green, white, red, blue, purple, brown or black) identifies the job you’re supposed to be doing. Red is, of course, for crash and smash (firefighters). If you want to watch launch and recovery operations, head up to the windows called vulture’s row in the island (AKA superstructure) where the view is perfect.

Old salts will try to fill your head (brain, not the rest room) full of crap (lies, yarns, and obviously erroneous scuttlebutt) that will only result in your being considered as gear adrift or a good candidate for mail buoy watch. “Mail buoy watch” is mandated by lifers (old salts) when the weather is poor.

During bad weather, somebody (you) is dressed up in foul weather gear and sent topside (AKA, a weather deck) with a hook. Your job will be to watch for the mail buoy, that is to say, the place where the ship’s mail will be waiting because either the COD (the mail plane) or some mythical mail ship can’t deliver the mail in a storm.

Before you head out to snag the mail, your uniform of the day (helmet, life jacket, etc.) will be critiqued by those in the know. Pictures will be taken and then you’ll be on your own in the rain until you realize you’re a victim of the kind of good-natured hazing that will give a guy a lot of grief, a bad cold, and a trip to sickbay for some Corpsman Candy (an ineffective cough drop).

It’s always best to at least look like you know what you’re doing, that is to say staying 4.0 (pronounced four-oh) and squared away during your tour of duty on the big gray ship (BGS). Who knows you might stop saying FTN (you can figure out what that means) and ship over (reenlist). On the other hand, if you’re a bent shitcan, then you’re too hopeless to even be in the navy.

You May Also Like: Heave Out and Trice Up


Eagle Scout Goes to Hell

Olongapo as it was then

Everyone aboard every Navy ship that cruised between California and Vietnam in the late 1960s knew about liberty in Olongapo, Republic of the Philippines. The city stood just outside the main gate of the U. S. Naval base at Subic Bay, a regular port of call for Western Pacific (WESTPAC) ships.

Old salts called the town “hell” and promised Seaman Recruits coming on board the carrier USS Ranger out of bootcamp that anyone leaving the main gate of the base on liberty would be corrupted immediately by booze, drugs, girls, gambling and crime. They called the drainage ditch separating the base’s main gate from the town “the shit river,” though I saw it as the River Styx.

I crossed the shit river multiple times and found the world there to be everything the old salts described. As a former Eagle Scout, it crossed my mind on more than one occasion, “if only my Scout master could see me now.” Our Scout troop was sponsored by a church, so the Scout master was the least of my worries when I thought of how the deacons, elders and Sunday school teachers should they ever see a photo taken on Magsaysay Drive.

As a writer in training, I saw Magsaysay Drive and the Galaxy Bar and the touts and the constant ruckus in the streets as “research.” But I doubt my Scout master would have understood, or anybody else I knew, for that matter. Luckily, webcams and cell phones hadn’t been invented yet. There was no Facebook either in 1968. This meant that no pictures of me crossing the shit river appeared anywhere–and since a lot of time has gone by since then, I doubt they ever will.

Everyone who might know the Eagle Scout and paperboy who went to hell and then put his research into a novel called Garden of Heaven is long gone by now. So, I think I can safely post this excerpt without word getting back to the old neighborhood.

Excerpt from Garden of Heaven:

Standing on the bridge over the Shit River listening to the half-naked children in flimsy boats below shouting for a handful of centavos, the city in his face was—with more pride than apology—very much a city with its tattered underwear showing. If Magellan only knew what was here now. If Dad only knew David was here now.

Night was settling down over the hazy first lights of the bars and hourly rate hotels along Magsaysay Drive and the razor-sharp edges of Kalaklan Ridge like an old whore.

David dropped several 25-centavo coins over the railing, heard an explosion of whitewater, heard the laughter and the shouting, ‘Salamat, Joe, Salamat.’

He crossed Perimeter Road, ignored the hopeful greetings of the money changers behind their well-caged windows, then dodged a badly mixed throng of sailors, girls and honking multi-coloured jeepneys that swelled out into the Gordon Avenue intersection. He cut across the street, smiling, waiving at imagined friends in the distance, and moved with the deliberate intent of a man who had crossed this street hundreds of times.

‘Casual alertness, that’s the key to surviving Olongapo’s jungle of thieves, gangs, girls, high-strung Marines, bored Shore Patrol and Hard Hats, and drunk boatswain’s mates and snipes,’ Lowell had said.

“Hey Joe, cold beer cold beer cold beer, nice girls.”

Touts were everywhere below the slapdash smorgasbord of disheveled signs and awnings, leaning telephone polls, and the rag-tag assortment of buildings with upper floors stacked up in odd strata.

Assorted conversations flew past, barely audible in the close heat… ‘Hintayin mo aki,’ …‘Magandang amaga, Carlo, kumusta ang bagong sanggol?’… ‘Hey Joe’… ‘Tao po! Tao po!’… ‘Hoy, tulungan mo akong magdiskarga sa trak na ito, pwede ba?’… ‘Good food here, Joe!’…Galing akong Maynila. Nasaan ang Zambales Bank?’… ‘Balut, Balut!’… ‘Tayo na’t kumuha ng makakain’ ‘Magandang ideya, handa na ako sa napunan’… ‘Nagustuhan mo ba ang bago kong kamera?’

The sign for the Galaxy Bar was plainer than most. An unadorned interior stairway led to the second-floor club, a large room strewn with tables occupied by sailors, many with girls whose eyes caught the low light like predators or gods. David didn’t see anyone he knew. He had a small envelope in his back pocket for Maria.

Two girls who had bathed in perfume and spackled their faces with makeup were leaning against the bar watching a waitress organise a tray full of San Miguel beer bottles.

“Maria, tingnan mo itong malambing na lalaki.”

“Lamayo ka sa kanya, Adelaide.”

Assuming he’d actually heard her name in those quick Tagalog comments, Maria was the one wearing a red dress, thrusting herself forward to him as he approached, posing her sweet curves, allowing her long hair to seductively frame her face, smiling as though they were friends with a history. He could almost see himself in the high gloss of her lipstick.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Malcolm R. Campbell

USS Ranger (CVA-61)

Ranger - Wikipedia Photo

The USS Ranger has been decommissioned. The USS Ranger Foundation is working diligently to convert the aircraft carrier into a museum on the Columbia Driver near Portland, Oregon.  The effort requires multiple phases, the next being a comprehensive environmental site analysis of the propose mooring location.

The Foundation is seeking donations to help pay for its on-going work. If you would like to contribute to the $15 million dollar fund raising project to bring a historic ship to Oregon as a museum, please click on the link above. Once you’re there, you’ll find some handy PayPal buttons.

Fairview, Oregon selected for Super Carrier Museum

from the USS Ranger Foundation

The USS Ranger Foundation has selected the site that we as a Foundation think is the perfect location for Ranger.

Chinook Landing is within the city of Fairview, Oregon on the Columbia River and is a beautiful park-like property. It’s just west of the 1st National Scenic Area-at the entrance to the Columbia Gorge.

The enthusiasm at City Hall, and from the community is incredible!

Many have asked if Ranger can make it up river to Chinook Landing and the answer is YES! It won’t be easy and there needs to be much cooperation, but Ranger will make it through the bridges and the channel is deep enough. The details are many, but we have worked with the experts who know how to make this happen, and with that cooperation, Ranger will moor at Chinook Landing.

This location will bring needed jobs, tourists and a positive economic impact to East County.

Shoreline at Chinook LandingChinook Landing is owned and operated by Metro, regional government, as one of the busiest boat launch facilities in Oregon. The proposal is to moor Ranger in another area of the park-leaving the existing parking and boat launch for Oregon’s boaters. A satisfactory moorage agreement between Metro and the Boat Launch at Chinook LandingFoundation is in the works.

We are working towards our September 3rd Phase II application submission and have much to do. Thanks to the Visitor Development Fund-a part of Travel Portland, we were able to fully fund the Marketing/Feasibility update and 25% of the Environmental study that also must be completed. We now need to raise the other 75% needed for the study.

We thank those of you who have donated over the past years. In the last few months, we have raised over $100,000 of the $250,000 needed for this phase of the application, but we have much further to go!

Help us raise the remaining $150,000 needed now!

The USS Ranger Foundation is a registered, non-profit corporation established March 5, 2001, organized for the purpose of securing, maintaining and operating the decommissioned super carrier USS RANGER CV-61 as an educational center, museum and Military Memorial.

I served aboard the USS Ranger during the Western Pacific cruises to Vietnam of 1968 and 1969, before being assigned to the public information staff at the Great Lakes Naval Training Facility. The aircraft carrier sequences in my novel Garden of Heaven while not about the Ranger, were inspired by my service on board the carrier.

Ranger Public Affairs Office in 1969. I'm standing with a coffee mug second from the right.

Mail Call 1968

While serving aboard an aircraft carrier on a nine-month cruise, I became as attuned to the comings and goings of our C-1A Trader carrier onboard delivery (COD) plane as a desert dweller is to a drop of rain. Long before Navy ships had e-mail service, the COD–as we called it–was our primary connection with home.

USS Ranger's COD
USS Ranger's COD
When the plane arrived, the words “Mail Call” echoed throughout the ship via the 1-MC public address system. The ship’s post office would be mobbed in minutes as each department sent a guy to the small window on the 03 level just forward of the island.

Many of us would head toward the post office before “Mail Call” was announced because our TV sets were generally tuned into PLAT, our ship’s Pilot Landing Aid Television. It was always on during flight operations. The retrieval of the slow-moving COD really stuck out amongst the landings of the jets.

One had to lurk, though, because if you bugged the post office guys before the mail was ready, they tended to work a lot slower. For a few moments after the arrival of the COD, they owned the boat.

Large packages were sniffed and poked and prodded en route back to the shop, office or berthing area for the slightest evidence they contained cookies. One of the top rules of the sea is that cookies are shared with everyone. A guy would be lucky to get one cookie out of a box of 50, crumbled or whole, as the gods of the mail service decreed.

Envelopes reeking of cologne or perfume brought a sailor a string of profane jeers and suggestions by anyone else close enough to pick up the scent. Smart guys told their wives and/or lovers to stop spraying My Sin Perfume on letters filled with sweet nothings or the suggested sins within would soon become public.

More often than not, the mail contained the every-day news of the moment, roughly three weeks after it happened back home. It always amazed me how much of home could be contained within a small envelope.

I left the ship in the Gulf of Tonkin aboard the COD for a trip home via Danang and Manila and to this day that remains one of my favorite flights. Before I flew off the ship, the old salts warned me that a catapult takeoff was similar to getting a kick in the butt from something large and angry.

They were right. But for once, it was a welcome kick.

Copyright (c) 2009 by Malcolm R. Campbell

Memorial Day – Remembering

“Somewhere behind the haze-gray façade of bulkheads there are people.
People too important to be likened to small cogs in a massive
non-human machine. Each man has a distinguishable face and personality, a specific job to perform and memories of a world an ocean away.” –M. R. Campbell and M. B. Marmaduke in Cruisebook, USS Ranger (CVA-61), 1969-70.

Classic Ranger photo by Edward Weeden from 1979
Classic Ranger photo by Edward Weeden from 1979

The U.S. Ranger Foundation is working to convert the decommissioned aircraft carrier into a floating museum to be moored in Portland, Oregon. On Memorial day, it’s fitting to wish them fair winds and following seas on this massive project. For more photographs by Weeden, click here.

I served aboard this ship in 1968 and 1969 and, unfortunately, knew men who were lost in action. See my fictionalized excerpt called Jack Rose – Only a Memory.