When I served aboard the U.S.S. Ranger (CVA-61) during the Vietnam War, I often “got selected” to work night shift as editor of the shipboard newspaper. In those days before WiFI and cell phones, there was no instant news other than this mimeographed, four-to-six page newspaper on legal size paper that I handed out to berthing areas, offices, the mess decks, and other compartments just before reveille every morning in 1968
While my headline “Ho Chi Minh is Dead” probably got the most attention, my most popular headline–on a slow news day–was “A Modern Love Story.” Since we weren’t supposed to take those papers off the ship, I have no copies. So, I no longer know where this love story happened or when or even the details. It ran on the Associated Press wire and filled up a fair amount of the front page of “The Daily Shield.”
Basically, two lovers were separated from each other, perhaps by the war, perhaps by transfers to new jobs or colleges, or the random vicissitudes of fate. Like a tear-jerker movie, the young man and young woman spent many days months or years trying to find each other again. They went through hell and high water, never gave up, and finally–by the end up the story–were standing arm and arm, perhaps in the sunrise, filled with hope.
At a time when there was a long line of sailors who thought they had VD outside the sick bay door after every liberty call at a sailor town, that anyone on the ship would read “A Modern Love Story” seemed unlikely. After all, these are the tough sailors who said, as they went into town, “if you not in bed by nine o’clock, you might as well go back to the ship.”
Our cruises (as we called them) lasted about nine months. Being away from wives, fiancées, girlfriends, and parents for that long was more difficult than rough sailor talk about bar girls would lead one to believe. Even so, I was unprepared to walk through the mess decks at breakfast and find an unusual silence. The men weren’t talking, laughing, or complaining about the food. They were reading the story, some sharing the paper with others at the table. They cheered when they got to the end of it as the young lovers were reunited.
Pure schmaltz. The hard-boiled reporters and copyeditors back in the States would have relegated such a story to the features section, not page one. I didn’t run the story because I thought it would bring out the best in everyone, I ran it because I was desperate for enough copy to fill up the paper.
The Ranger was a flagship, and that meant the admiral and his staff we aboard. The following day when I arrived before the crack of dawn at the flag office, the admiral himself was standing there waiting for his papers. This wasn’t unusual. What was unusual was shaking his hand as he said, “If you find any more love stories, print them.” “Aye aye, sir.”
My good luck made me look like a genius, and that was unusual.
If your husband or wife or son or daughter or mother or dad is serving his or her country far away, remember them always, but especially on February 14th.
You’ll save $3.00 off the regular price if you download my Kindle navy novel At Sea during the next several days for only 99¢. Check its listing late tonight or Friday for the sale price.
Amazon Book description
Even though he wanted to dodge the draft in Canada or Sweden, David Ward joined the navy during the Vietnam War. He ended up on an aircraft carrier. Unlike the pilots, he couldn’t say he went in harm’s way unless he counted the baggage he carried with him. As it turned out, those back home were more dangerous than enemy fire.
Inspired by my experiences on board the USS Ranger (CVA61)
Unfortunately, the Navy saw fit to scrap the historic USS Ranger rather than proactively helping convert the aircraft carrier into a viable museum. Through my fictional account, I hope that some of the ambiance of shipboard and liberty port life will live on in this novel.
From the novel
The Pacific Ocean filled multiple Bluehorse and Silver Bear composition books with an assortment of facts and lies about David’s two cruises to the Western Pacific aboard the “top gun” aircraft carrier. Both cruises began and ended at Alameda, California, with a primary destination of Yankee Station one hundred miles off the coast of South Vietnam, where the aircraft carriers and other ships of the “Gulf of Tonkin Yacht Club” assembled for combat operations.
As the crow flies, Yankee Station lay 6,448 nautical miles across the blue water from the California coast. When the exercises and operations and port calls were factored into the distance, the carrier steamed about 86,000 miles per year. The ship was at sea 225.9 days in 1968, with 124 days engaged in Special Operations (SPECOPS) at Yankee Station, 61.7 days in transit, 8 days in major fleet exercises, and 32.2 days in minor fleet exercises. The ship was at sea 215.5 days in 1969, with 98.5 days of SPECOPS, 57 days in transit, 8 days of contingency operations, and 52 days for minor fleet exercises. There were 15,871 arrested landings in 1968 and 14,000 arrested landings in 1969.
By rough calculation, in 1968 and 1969, while the flight deck was secured from flight operations, David spent roughly 500 hours standing on the port side catwalk near the stern of the ship just aft of the ladder that rose up from the hangar deck past the public affairs office on the 03 level. There the ship was quiet, except for the ever-present pulse of the engines, as he stood alone with the sea. There was much to think about: two deaths, two novels, a prospective fall from grace, a marriage, and a spiritual decision.
Standing on that catwalk, he was awash in photons because the Creator, like his romantic disciple J. M. W. Turner, was a “painter of light.” All that was wrong with the world, like the monsters in Turner’s “Sunrise With Sea Monsters,” was scarcely visible because the light had not yet become heavy enough to become water, much less the darker creatures beneath the surface.
I hope you enjoy the story.
Malcolm R. Campbell is also the author of “Sarabande” and “Conjure Woman’s Cat.” Both books are available in paperback, audio, and e-book editions. See my website for more information.
My Vietnam War navy novel At Sea will be free on Kindle March 18-20, 2016.
Description: Even though he wanted to dodge the draft in Canada or Sweden, David Ward joined the navy during the Vietnam War. He ended up on an aircraft carrier. Unlike the pilots, he couldn’t say he went in harm’s way unless he counted the baggage he carried with him. As it turned out, those back home were more dangerous than enemy fire.
Here’s a short excerpt to tempt you out to Amazon. . .
David stood on the back porch on a spring evening listening to the slow sweet rising and falling howl of a wolf calling her pups while the wind stilled and the dark lavender lupine flowers disappeared into the gathering twilight. Behind him, the house was empty, his dinner long gone cold on the kitchen table along with the passionate Sparrow singing his chanson favorite “La Vie en Rose” again and again, and rather than stare at the letter in the silent company of canisters and chrome appliances, he brought the telephone and pinot noir outside where the world was less closed in on itself.
At the end of the long cord, he dialed her number, wondering—while the wolf pups yipped back at their mother—if her hello would still sound like her hello.
“Davey, how nice to hear your voice. I also hear wolves. Where are you?”
“On the porch looking down toward the box elders and the creek.”
“Don’t remind me. It hurts too much.”
“How are you?”
“Fine. I knew you would call. While practicing my flute this morning, I found myself playing a song we once knew.”
“I’ve lost myself to the war,” he said. “The letter arrived today. I report in July.”
“Davey, no. What do your parents say?”
“Not to rock the boat.”
“I hoped you went to Sweden with Brita. Then I heard the wolves.”
“I could never come home from Sweden.”
“If you die in Vietnam, I’ll forget you. If you survive, you’ll forget yourself. Either way, the vine may kill the elm.”
“You’re cold,” he said, “and dragging out old symbolism of fruitful grapes smothering their supporting tree.”
“Then stand quiet with me again.”
The wolves were silent. He heard her breath and her heart. The first stars were out. When she was at the ranch four years ago, she said, “Night is liquid magic; we’re stirred together. You’ve taken me beyond myself, higher than the wolf trail stars, and what we have of each other, we own.”
In the great quiet, he wept for the parts of himself that were no longer his.
“David, the baby’s crying. I’ve got to go.”
“Unfair! But I love you, Anne.”
“No doubt,” she said, hanging up and extinguishing the moon’s pure light.
He carried the wine bottle up to the chokecherry tree, sat beneath white flowers and watched the night where he once watched it with her.
She knows I’m here, he thought, because she knows me well. She despises me, too, because she believes some places are sacred.
He got an axe and chopped down the tree. It was neither the best thing nor the worst thing he’d ever done, but it was close.
If you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you can always read the book for free through Amazon’s program. If you’re not a KU subscriber, now is a great time to download a novel about sailors and bar girls and mountain climbing and a young man wrestling with his conscience about military service.
Since the release of my Vietnam novel At Sea is a relatively modest Kindle production, I didn’t want to spend money for a cover photograph, artist or a cover designer. It’s a hard choice. The expense might produce a cover that increases sales or it might run the whole project in the red.
I wanted a cover that showed readers At Sea is set on an aircraft carrier. When I was in the navy, the pictures I took as a navy journalist belonged to the navy. There are many stock images of aircraft carriers on navy sites, but they cannot be used without permission for a book cover or advertising.
Many self-published books end up with little or no art work on them and rely on print, color, and a few simple graphic shapes. I don’t think these attract attention or help sell the book. Plus, they give prospective readers little to no idea what the book might be about. I definitely needed an aircraft carrier on my book’s cover.
Finally, I found an old color slide of the USS Ranger’s flight deck I took when I was part of the crew:
Several issues come to mind. Although a lot of people are doing a lot of things, the picture doesn’t have the dynamic punch it would have if it showed the ship navigating a stormy sea or a plane taking off.
Even though the color was muted due to the age of the Ektachrome slide, it still brings out detail, potentially leading some readers to infer this book is nonfiction. Also, it’s a landscape rather than a portrait photo. The first thing I did was get rid of the color:
Now it’s less busy and the black and white photo rather lends itself to older times such as a book about a war that happened in the 1960s. Whether or not this picture would “work” depended on how it was cropped, how the title displayed, and how dramatic color might be added to the resulting book cover:
First, the detail has been downplayed via black and white and cropping. The cropping provided a portrait format and the added color framed the image of the two planes and the ship’s superstructure. To keep the author’s name and title from looking static, I have them displayed at an angle.
I like the two planes displayed on the cover because the main character works in the ship’s aircraft maintenance department and is best friends with one of the air wing’s pilots.
The result works for me because it came together without my having to hire an artist and/or pay for an expensive stock photo. Perhaps you would have approached it differently.
Doing a cover on the cheap won’t work if it looks cheap. Perhaps my ideas here from rough photo to finished cover will give you some ideas for your next cover.
Note: Another version of this story was originally published as “The Sailor,” a book that’s now out of print.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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 mainntenance 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.
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.
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
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.
“The seventh USS Ranger (CV/CVA-61) is one of four Forrestal-class supercarriers built for the US Navy in the 1950s. Although all four ships of the class were completed with angled decks,Ranger had the distinction of being the first US carrier built from the very beginning as an angled deck ship.” – Wikipedia (See continuing updates at the end of this post.)
In matters of war, I am a pacifist.
That said, I believe our troops merit our support whether or not the war they’re fighting in is popular or not.
I also think history and historical artifacts, objects and memorabilia are important, for they help communicate the stories of other eras. It’s been a pleasure working with museums as a grant writer and as a collections manager and seeing first hand how excited people can get when shown historic equipment, documents and photographs.
I served aboard the USS Ranger (CVA-61) during the Vietnam War. The war was probably the country’s most unpopular war. When I appeared in public wearing my uniform, I was intentionally bumped into on the street, spat on, and called a baby killer. Yet our history and memories of that time must be preserved.
So, in matters of history, especially those that focus on museums and other educational experiences, I am an activist. In Charleston, I have seen the displays on the USS Yorktown and I have seen the reactions of tourists and school groups as they toured the flight deck, the hangar deck, the mess decks, bridge and ready rooms of the old ship.
When the USS Ranger Foundation was formed in Oregon with the hope of following the examples of those who saved the USS Yorktown in Charleston and the USS Midway in San Diego as museums, I was happy to join up even though I don’t have the financial means to donate money nor the proximity to the ship and selected museum site to volunteer.
First, the educational opportunities here are immense. It’s one thing to read about military history. It’s quite another to walk through a fort, battlefield or restored ship. Aircraft carriers have evolved since the Vietnam War—I can hardly even recognize the modern navy uniform. As I write this, there have been tests of flying drones off of carriers rather than expensive manned aircraft. As a museum, Ranger could have been a piece of history on the Columbia River at the donated site in Fairview for many years to come.
Second, museums and other cultural tourism sites bring dollars and jobs into communities. Many studies have been done showing that a tourist destination such as the USS Ranger can bring in a higher percentage of every tourist dollar than other attractions.
Apparently this is not to be
I salute the long hours and dedicated efforts of the volunteers and directors of the USS Ranger Foundation. But I think I missed a memo.
The application process for the acquisition of a decommissioned navy ship is difficult, expensive and lengthy. Unfortunately, the Foundation’s application was rejected by the Navy last October. (See Foundation to Fight NAVSEA Decision to Scrap Ranger) At that time, the Foundation was looking for ways to have that decision reversed.
Over the Christmas holidays, the Foundation said that constraints were keeping them from having more time to develop their application. Here’s where I missed the memo, I think.
I never heard what those constraints were, what (if anything) was missing or incomplete in the Foundation’s original application, or whether or not the support of influential people in and out of government could influence the Navy to provide more time, reconsider, or otherwise work with the Foundation to save the ship rather than scrapping the ship.
Now, the Foundation is looking for another ship. That’s probably a reasonable backup approach. Nonetheless, I think we need to know:
Why the application was rejected.
What, if anything, could be done to make the application acceptable.
Who, if anyone, could be enlisted to garner political and public attention to urge the Navy to delay the scrapping schedule and,
Who, if anyone, could raise additional funds and increased public support within the State of Oregon to save the ship and bring it to the Portland area.
We don’t know any of these things. Perhaps, in knowing them, we would see that placing a historic aircraft carrier in a Columbia River museum site had too many insurmountable obstacles in it to ever succeed even if the navy waited five more years or ten more years.
I have worked with museums and I have seen the impossible done before. Those in the know said “It will never happen.” But it did happen, with money left over and with the partnering help of those who had been thought, by those afraid to ask, to be the least likely to assist a museum.
So it is, that I do not like seeing this project fade away without a ramped up, viral PR campaign and without the help of high-level thought leaders and influencers who might be able to make a USS Ranger museum a reality. A successful aircraft carrier museum helps everyone, including the Navy. A scrapped ship frees up space at a pier and brings in a few dollars, but otherwise helps no one.
Worse yet, our history is lost in the bureaucratic shuffle. Rather than fading away, I would have preferred seeing this project end, if it had to end, with nothing less than a noisy, failure-is-not-an-option, Hail Mary, damn-the-torpedoes effort.
As always, I wish the Foundation fair winds and following seas.
Malcolm R. Campbell, Journalist
USS Ranger Public Affairs Office and Naval Station Great Lakes 1968 – 1970
Update – January 9, 2014
Those of you who live in the Bremmerton area may have a better means of finding out whether the ship has been scrapped already than I do. However, I have checked with the Navy about the rationale for disposing of the ship (in addition to the costs of maintaining mothballed ships).
From the Navy’s perspective, the USS Ranger Foundation’s progress throughout the entire application process was slow and it finally appeared that little or no progress was being made on some fairly large obstacles:
En route to the ship’s proposed mooring site, the BNSF bridge at river mile 80.9 had not been solved. Basically, the ship couldn’t clear the bridge without a major effort on the railroad’s part.
The foundation’s cost estimates for the project were incomplete. They gave an overall figure to the Navy about projected costs, but only documented a fraction of those costs.
The USS Ranger was placed on a donation hold in 2004. Even though the foundation had expressed an interest in the ship in 2003, the application wasn’t filed until 2009. With the ship available for an eight-year period and with major obstacles not being resolved, it seemed unlikely that the foundation would ever present a complete and viable application. Unfortunately, the Navy’s assessment about this is probably correct.
February 12, 2015: USS Ranger departure pushed back – “Mothballed Bremerton aircraft carrier USS Ranger won’t be leaving Feb. 15 for a Texas scrap yard. That was the first tentative date announced by the Navy, but rigging and towing preparations are lagging, said Ray Porter, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard inactive fleet site director.”