Wikipedia photo

Some said we were killing commies for Christ, some said we were killing babies, some said we were killing civilians in a Sherman-takes-war-to-the-people style, some said collateral damage was to be expected, and some said we should be proud of what we were doing while others said we were supporting the wrong side.

Vietnam was the first war brought into our living rooms. Ken Burn’s Vietnam documentary has brought it back though some people say the war never left us even if we were born years after the April 29, 1975 photo was taken of an American helicopter at 22 Gia Long Street in Saigon evacuating civilians as the North Vietnamese advanced on the city. Some say we killed those we left behind.

Pro-Vietnam war and anti-Vietnam war Americans saw in this evacuation photograph a sad and sobering epitaph for the two million civilians, 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers, 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers, and 58,200 Americans who were killed during the war. The picture smacks of defeat, though the U.S. was not defeated: it left Vietnam based on the 1973 peace settlement. Nonetheless, what happened in Vietnam seemed like defeat because our political and military objectives were not met and, in fact, were impossible to achieve. Much of the anti-war anger comes from the fact that as the United States sent in more and more troops, its leaders knew that losing the war (by whatever definition one chose) was a foregone conclusion.

My wife and I see our reflections in the Vietnam War memorial this past summer as I find the name of a high school classmate two died there.

Those of us who were against the war wondered, with singer Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind,”. . . “how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?”

There’s no point in rehashing the arguments here about whether we should have been there or not. I served two years and three months in the navy before leaving as a conscientious objector. The summer before joining the navy under the threat of being drafted into the army, I was in the Netherlands with one foot on the gangplank of a ferry that would take me to the safe haven of Sweden when I changed my mind and came back to the U.S. I regretted that for a long time. Burns’ documentary, which seems balanced to me, has brought back all the images and doubts and regrets and angers of those days of war and protest.

I’ve never felt comfortable saying I am a veteran, much less taking advantage of any prospective veterans’ benefits, because, while a pacifist, I still experience survivor’s by suggesting that I “fought” in the Vietnam War. I was on a aircraft carrier one hundred miles off the coast, a far cry from the terror and danger of those who served in-country. I was in Da Nang for only 24 hours as I flew back to the states for a change of duty assignment. I feel this guilt all over again as I watch Burns’ series.

Burns takes us back many years prior to the United States’ involvement, background which I think is necessary. He tells us that the U. S. initially supported Ho Chi Minh via covert ops in his fight against the French. I don’t think we knew that during the 1960s. He shows us images we want to forget. He makes us (well, some of us, I guess) wonder just what the hell we were thinking or if going there was really the right thing to do. Either way, we paid for it with a lot of blood.

Personally, I don’t think we’re past Vietnam as a country because we’re doing the same things again in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. I know I might be wrong about all this, but I don’t see the point of it. Ken Burns’ series has added a lot to the discussion about military intervention and national policy even though I could have done without the memories becoming energized again.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “At Sea” based on his experiences aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger during the Vietnam War. His novel “Eulalie and Washerwoman” was nominated for a Readers Choice Award in the fantasy category. Click here to vote.





Where is Hong Kong’s Li Lai Ha Today?

In the Spring of 1969, Li Lai Ha came aboard the U.S.S. Ranger (CVA-61) compliments of the ship’s Marine Detachment (MARDET). I was there from the Public Affairs Office to take pictures.

Li Lai Ha and her Marine escorts. - Malcolm R. Campbell photo
Li Lai Ha and her grandmother with their Marine escorts. – Malcolm R. Campbell photo

A brief story of her visit appeared in the March issue of the “Shield,” Ranger’s shipboard magazine with a black and white photograph. Headlined “Girl With 61 Papas,” the story read as follows:

Li Lai Ha, a 13-year-old from Hong Kong, was adopted by Ranger’s Marine Detachment eight years ago after her escape from Red China. When Ranger visited Hong Kong last month, Lai Ha got a deluxe tour of the ship and was presented gifts of a stuffed dog, a jewelry box and a flash camera from her papas.

The photo that ran with the story shows her on the flight deck with her maternal grandmother, interpreter,  and an imposing group of marines.

Since I left the ship for shore duty that fall, I heard nothing more about her or any subsequent visits. I have often wondered whether her association with the shipboard detachment enhanced her life or was more of a brief interlude.

The Ranger is gone and the Marines no longer station detachments onboard capital ships. So, if an historical archive exists that follows up on Li Lai Ha’s 1969 visit, I have no idea where it might be.

She would be about 59  or 60 right now. I wonder if what she remembers about that day and if she still lives in Kong Hong.

How to cut a cake
How to cut a cake

At the time, I thought she was a bit overwhelmed by all the attention as well as the ride from the pier out to the carrier’s anchorage in the harbor. I was older than her and a bit overwhelmed by my visit to Hong Kong.

This is one of those memories that stayed with me and was a bit haunting.


Mail Call – Are you sending mail?

“Carrier onboard delivery (COD) is the use of aircraft to ferry personnel, mail, supplies, and high-priority cargo, such as replacement parts, from shore bases to an aircraft carrier at sea. Several types of aircraft, including helicopters, have been used by navies in the COD role. The Grumman C-2 Greyhound has been the United States Navy’s primary COD aircraft since the mid-1960s.” – Wikipedia

On board ship, we heard an endless chatter of messages over the 1-MC “public address” system. We disliked “General Quarters” because it meant something bad was happening or we were going into another endless drill. We liked “Mail Call” because that meant messages from home, something perfume scented from a lover or spouse, something to eat from mom or grandmother such as pre-crushed cookies or flattened fruitcake.

C-1A Trader - USN Photo
C-1A Trader – USN Photo

While carrier onboard delivery refers to a service, we tended to refer to the mail plane itself as “the COD.” Launch and recovery operations were available on closed-circuit TV throughout the ship, so we often saw the COD land. We knew then it was a matter of time before we’d hear “Mail Call” announced.

I served onboard the USS Ranger during the Vietnam War and mail arrived via a C-2 Greyhound or the carrier’s smaller C-1 Trader. Both were made by Grumman. I liked the Trader best because we saw it the most. Plus, I flew off the ship in a Trader when I transferred to shore duty.

1-MC speaker
1-MC speaker

I have no idea what it was like to be “in-country” in a hostile environment and receive a letter. A treasure, it was, I imagine.

Those of us onboard ship outside the direct line of fire welcomed mail because it was a positive interruption in the daily grind during cruises that often took us away from home for nine months at a time. Word from home: nothing was more important.

Like many factory settings, a carrier was in many ways a dangerous place when you think of large equipment, stores of aviation gasoline and jet fuel, bombs and missiles, aircraft launch and recovery, and all the things that could possible go wrong. Mail Call was an oasis in this madness afloat. In fact, it reminded us of why we were putting up with the madness.

Ranger's COD - Malcolm R. Campbell photo
Ranger’s COD – Malcolm R. Campbell photo

Today, of course, sailors on board ship get e-mail and, as far as I know, Skype. So there’s a faster way to connect if folks will just remember to do it. Mail in 1968 took a long time to go to and from an aircraft carrier at sea. If we went for a while without letters, it took a long time to find out why. Today, one can send an e-mail with a header like “where are you?” or “everything okay?”

However your service man or woman gets to hear from you, I hope you’re sending snail mail and/or e-mail. I assume cookies are still in demand. Things you can hold in your hand are a change of pace from words and JPGs on the screen: a locket, a lock of hair, a color-crayon card from one of the kids, a pressed flower, a program from a play or recital, something you touched and took the time to put in an envelope with an APO or FPO address on the front.

COD is still important even in a world of e-mail and Skype. Keep in touch.

You May Also Like: Where is Hong Kong’s Li Lai Ha Today? – Kong Kong girl visits Ranger’s Marine Detachment


Flight Deck - Malcolm R. Campbell photo
Flight Deck – Malcolm R. Campbell photo

P.S. Most of you who served onboard the USS Ranger (CVA-61) know by now that the Navy dishonored all of us by selling the ship to a scrapper for a penny rather that turning it into a museum. It sits at the scrap yard now where cutting torches will do what time, storms, accidents and the enemy couldn’t accomplish.



Shameful: ‘USS Ranger, aircraft carrier once sought as Fairview tourist destination, heading to scrap heap’

“BREMERTON, Wash. — Naval Sea Systems Command says the mothballed aircraft carrier USS Ranger, once sought as a Columbia River tourist destination in Fairview, will be towed out of Puget Sound on Thursday on its way to be scrapped in Texas.

“The Ranger was commissioned in 1957 and was active during the Vietnam War and also deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm, the first Persian Gulf War. The carrier was decommissioned in 1993 at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.” – The Oregonian


Yes, I know, Naval Sea Systems Command (NSSC) has no reason to expect anyone to save the old treasure now as last-ditch efforts to bring the ship to San Diego as a museum apparently went nowhere.

The ship is in relatively good shape, as pictures showed last fall when the State of Oregon named the Ranger as a Heritage Site. That action had no apparent impact on NSSC or on other cities who could have brought together movers and shakers to secure the ship as a lucrative tourist attraction and educational destination.

I was a member of the USS Ranger Foundation, though from the other side of the country, I never could get enough feedback from them to find out why they were moving so slowly, why they couldn’t work with BNSF to work out the problem of a low railway bridge blocking the ship’s passage to the proposed site in Fairview, Oregon, or why they couldn’t attract the interest of more heavy hitters to get the job done.

I was a museum consultant at the time and offered to help, but never got a response. Sometimes, membership doesn’t have its privileges.

So now the Navy has sold the ship for a penny. Perhaps the Navy can spend that penny on a stick of gum or as a down payment on a sheet of stamps. We are not well served by this action. It is short sighted.

A carrier museum could serve a municipality well, for cultural tourist destinations typically bring in visitors who stay longer and who spend more in the community (hotels, gas stations, restaurants) than the average tourist. Some of the ship’s compartments could be devoted to exhibits, while others could have been used for classes, presentations or even as spaces for rental to groups wanting unique places to meet.

Short of a miracle–(Dear Mr. President: How about an executive action on this project?)–the ship will be turned into scrap metal, thrown out with the trash, so to speak, in a way that benefits nobody and does not preserve our history.


I served on board the Ranger in 1968 and 1969 in the Gulf of Tonkin and used my experiences as inspiration for my novel “The Sailor.”




Last ditch effort to save Top Gun’s celebrated supercarrier from the scrap yard

“Emergency ‘donation hold’ requested for USS Ranger as new group seeks to spearhead viable commercial repurpose and preserve a significant piece of American history.” — PRNEWSWIRE

This is great news. The ship would make a wonderful museum and would generate cultural tourism dollars to the community.

Ex-carrier Ranger set for last voyage in early 2015

from the Navy Times:

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

The ex-carrier Ranger is set to make its final sea voyage in early 2015.

The Navy paid 1 cent for shipbreakers to tow and scrap the decommisioned aircraft carrier, which once launched combat missions in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm, Naval Sea Systems Command said Monday.

“Under the contract, the company will be paid $0.01. The price reflects the net price proposed by International Shipbreaking, which considered the estimated proceeds from the sale of the scrap metal to be generated from dismantling,” the NAVSEA release said. “$0.01 is the lowest price the Navy could possibly have paid the contractor for towing and dismantling the ship.”

The Ranger is to be towed from its berth in Bremerton, Washington, to Brownsville, Texas, where International Shipbreaking Ltd. is based. The carrier will have to be towed around South America, a four to five month journey, as its too large to fit through the Panama Canal, NAVSEA said.

The Ranger was commissioned in 1957 and spent its entire 36-year career in the Pacific, making a total of 22 Western Pacific deployments, NAVSEA said.

The dismantlement comes after veterans’ and historical groups were unable to raise enough money to turn the Ranger into a museum, like The Intrepid Museum in New York City. The Ranger had been on donation hold for eight years.

“After eight years on donation hold, the USS Ranger Foundation was unable to raise the necessary funds to convert the ship into a museum or to overcome the physical obstacles of transporting her up the Columbia River to Fairfview, Oregon,” NAVSEA said. “As a result, the Ranger was removed from the list of ships available for [donation] and designated for dismantling.”

What a waste.


USS Ranger added to Washington State Heritage List

The decommissioned (1993) and mothballed aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-61/CVA-61) was added to the State of Washington’s Heritage Register on Friday. The carrier, which has been scheduled for scrapping this year, is currently at the Naval Base Kitsap in Bremerton, Washington.

The application form includes multiple interior and exterior photographs.
The application form includes multiple interior and exterior photographs.

Acceptance to a state’s register of historic places typically occurs when the state preservation department accepts and passes on a national register of historic places domination for an object, structure or site within the state.

According to the national register application, “”Despite being berthed in the inactive reserve fleet in Bremerton since 1993, Ranger’s current condition is outstanding, particularly inside. Any visitor would wonder why the ship wasn’t heading back to sea, and any shipmate would certainly know his way around. Much of the current condition of the ship is attributable to the excellent material condition at decommissioning and to the continuing rangernatregphoto2mainntenance it has undergone since being ‘moth-balled.'”

Acceptance to the state and national registers usually carries no obligation on the owner of a historic property, so unless other efforts to save the ship are successful it seems likely that the navy’s plans to scrap the ship will not be altered. (This is supposition on my part and not based on a comment from the navy.)

It’s nice to see the listing regardless of the ultimate fate of the carrier.

Click on the graphic to read a PDF copy of the nomination form
Click on the graphic to read a PDF copy of the nomination form

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Author Malcolm R. Campbell’s novel “The Sailor” was inspired by his experiences on board the USS Ranger during the Vietnam War.