Underway to WestPac
At the completion of my one-year tour of duty in Viet Nam, I got a 30-day leave that ended with a flight to Hawaii to catch up with the aircraft carrier USS ORISKANY, which got underway from its homeport at Naval Air Station North Island, near San Diego, on April 5, 1965. I reported aboard the night before ORISKANY departed from Pearl Harbor and headed West. By late April we were at Subic Bay in the Philippines, a large U. S. Navy base (that has since reverted to Philippine control, along with Clark Air Force Base and other U. S. military facilities in the Philippines). We spent a few days at Subic taking on ordnance and stores in preparation for our first operational period in the South China Sea.
We had undergone daily drills as we crossed the Pacific, including “general quarters,” to bring the new men aboard, like me, up to speed in getting to their battle stations when general quarters was piped over the 1MC public address system. (The 1MC system went throughout the ship. There were other systems that were limited to specific areas of the ship, such as engineering, flight deck, etc.) The following gives an idea of why getting to one’s battle station on time was not always a simple matter.
ORISKANY was an ESSEX class carrier, built during World War II but not quite completed at war’s end. It was laid up until shortly before the Korean War began and finally was commissioned and entered service in 1950. It operated in Korean waters during that conflict. From 1956 to 1959 it underwent an extensive overhaul and modernization, gaining an angled flight deck and growing from 30,000 to 45,000 tons. The flight deck was 911 feet long and about 50 feet above the water. If stood on end, ORISKANY would be about the height of an 80-plus-story skyscraper. There were seven decks below the flight deck and four levels in the superstructure (called the “island”) above the flight deck.
Within this enormous interior were hundreds of compartments, hundreds of doors and hatches (doors are vertical, hatches are horizontal), a few thousand feet of passageways and dozens of ladders (stairwells). To simplify movement of well over 4,000 men when general quarters sounded, the rule was to move forward and up on the starboard (right) side of the ship and aft and down on the port side. But if a man was in a compartment, for example, four decks below the flight deck and his battle station was on the bridge or elsewhere in the superstructure, there was no single ladder to take him all the way up to that level. He’d have to go up one ladder a couple of decks, then along a passageway to another ladder to go up another deck or two, along another passageway, and so on.