Sunday, May 1, 2016


Like most ex-service men, I have little stories I can tell about serving aboard the USS Lowry in Korea during the Korean war. We call them “war stories” although they generally do not deal with shoot-em-up battles there were tense times. Fortunately, most of them ended well. One of my favorite such stories has to do with being in a very dangerous place during a very dangerous time when I am absolutely sure every crew member knew they were in danger but 99% of the crew did not realize how close they came to disaster. I have no idea of how many knew where we were sailing on the Yalu River, why we were there, and what real dangers they face. The date was May, 1952. At the time ship’s rumor had it that we were on an assignment to pick up information from a spy although our ship’s commanding officer later wrote we were there to deliver guns and ammunition to a contingent of Marine Raiders operating behind Communist lines. I saw nothing of that sort being transferred to the boat and only one of the men in the boat appeared to be an American and he was not in uniform of any kind. It was a moonless night with all light turned off and the ship’s portholes and hatches closed. The crew was at condition “E”, which meant they were standing at ease but remained at their battle stations. My duty station was in the electronics shop or ET Shack standing by with other electronic technicians petty officers to repair damaged radio or radar equipment if there was any. This compartment was next door to the Combat Information Center or CIC, the hub of communications. The CIC where the radio and radar is housed, which means we knew most of what was going on all the time. In addition, the ET shack had a common door with the navigation center or what we called the map or chart room. As is so often the case of our time in Korea, it was a long boring time with one lonely ship silently sailing for hours in complete darkness dark. Most of us, even in the CIC, did not know for sure where we were actually going or why we were going there. Boredom and curiosity led me to open the door to the map room where I found the navigation Officer working intensely over the map table. I did not realize at the time he was navigating without verified chart or maps. I later learned he was referring to a Royal Navy Chart, circa 1854. He left and returned several times, ostensibly to go to the ship’s bridge. From the radar images and from the charts it appeared to my untrained eye that we were sailing directly into the mouth of the Yalu River, which at the time and under those circumstances was unbelievable. We were at war, with North Korea, which was supported by Red China. The river flows between these two countries; not a healthy place. Actually, we were at a stalemate in the war. We were worried about MIG attacks but were told we were safe from air attacks because Navy planes from three of our aircraft carriers controlling the skies. Both sides in the war, or United Nation’s police action as it was called at the time, were maneuvering for advantage in truce negotiations that were expected to start soon. Ship’s scuttlebutt was that we were on our way to meet the equivalent of a small rowboat with an oar used to propel the boat. We referred to them as wiggle boats. Again out of boredom, I went out on deck to see what I could see, which was nothing. Eventually, I could faintly hear an American voice yelling for the deck hands on the stern to show a light, meaning a handheld flashlight covered with a red cloth, and to throw him a rope. The exchange became sharp when there was no light and the sailors on the stern of the ship yelled that the guy in the boat should throw them a rope. He quickly showed his Americanism by saying he did not have one and that he the thought a “big f---ing boat would have an f---ing rope. The rhetoric accelerated to panic when unexpectedly a powerful airplane searchlight on the ship’s bridge was turned on illuminating the entire rear half of the ship and a good share of the river. Just as quickly, the light was turned off. The small boat was tied up to the stern and three or four guys, all dressed in loosely fitting Korean clothing, climbed aboard. Only one looked to be an American. He was a tall thin man with curly blond hair and the least likely looking person to be a spy behind enemy lines. The American was taken to the wardroom. I was told that a the others were given free access to the ships store, which they literally stuffed their pockets with candy, cigarettes, etc. Still bored as the events on the fantail slowly unraveled, I returned to the ET shack. For something to do, I stepped into the chart room and turned on the fathometer for not real reason. It indicated in digital readout that we were in 40 some feet of water, which I thought nothing about because I knew the ship had a 15-foot draft. To my surprise, the navigation officer looked at the readout and yelled and explicative as he ran from the chart room and headed up the ladder to the bridge. I was confused by his excitement. Later, I found out he knew the river was shallow and the depth of the river tide was about 30 feet. He also knew the tide was going out; we would soon be stuck in the mud on the Yalu River, which would have been a rather precarious situation—a mighty United States warship helplessly stuck in the mud on the Yalu river. Immediately, the ship starting to turn. Luckily, the wiggle boat had tied up to the stern or it would have been left on the river. URL: Comments Invited and not moderated

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