Last Naval Round Fired in Vietnam
Submitted By: Butch Brown - 1997
Did you read the History of the T.J.? If so I got a little sea story to tell you about the part concerning the T.J. firing the last round of Naval Gun Fire Support in Vietnam.
We had gotten word early in the morning on the 27th that the Cease Fire would go into effect at 0800 Jan 28th and were stationed off the coast in the vicinity of the DMZ. We had been firing virtually around the clock and knew from past experience that the hours leading up to the cease fire would be hectic to say the least. We rearmed from an AE (Ammunition supply ship) late in the evening and took on over 150% of our capacity in preparation for what we knew was going to happen. We had ammunition stacked in berthing compartments, passageways and on the deck of all the magazines. In the past, Just prior to a cease fire the North Vietnamese attempted to move as many troops and supplies as possible to the South in order to build up their strength.
Around Midnight things were beginning to heat up and we were receiving almost continual call for fire from the Marines. The three 5"/54 Mod 10 gun mounts were performing excellent as they had been doing since our arrival in Vietnam on the 2nd of January. They were new guns and the T.J. was the only ship to use them in Vietnam. The Captain, CMDR Pidgeon made it clear to everyone that since the T.J. had fired the first round in Vietnam we were also going to fire the last. By 0400 we had all three guns firing continually and everyone was getting pretty excited. At approx. 0545 Mount 52 experienced a major equipment casualty to the breech block area (sheared Breech operating shaft) which put it out of commission with no hope of repair due to the nonavailability of parts on board. By this time we were running low on ammunition and shifted all the ammo from Mt 2 to Mt 3 and Mt 1.
20 Minutes later Mt 3 experinced a major equipment casualty to its empty case ejector system and all available mount personnel started canabalizing Mt 52 for the parts needed to get Mt 3 back up. But we knew that it would be almost impossible to accomplish the swap in time for the 0800 cease fire. But try we did.
At this time we shifted all available ammunition from Mt 3 up to Mt 1 since it was the only remaining operational 5" gun. At this time I remained in Mt 1 to assist the crew. At 0700 Mt 1 developed a problem in its case ejectors and it was not kicking the empty cases clear of the breech. Master Chief Blaney grabed a rawhide mall and positioned himself near the breech so everytime the gun fired he would lean over and knock the empty case into the empty case tray which allowed the gun to continue to fire. A few minutes later the rammer stopped working due to an electrical problem in the control circuits. Lou "Half Hitch" Shannon grabbed a jumper wire and was sitting near the control panel and everytime the tray lowered for ramming Blaney would yell "now" and Half Hitch would jumper the circuit to ram. This went on for some time and ammunition was getting low but we continued to fire. Then we experienced another problem in the ammunition loading system to the transfer station ejectors. I removed an access cover and could insert a broom handle between the linkage and manually operate the ejectors. By this time it was about 0745. The Captain was getting nervous and decided to man the 3"/50 gun mount in case Mt 51 completely crapped out before the 0800 cease fire.
But we continued firing with Blaney yellin "now" to Half Hitch and knocking the empty cases back after firing and me kicking the rounds into the carrier from the transfer stations with a broom handle.
At 45 seconds to 0800 we put the final round in the air with a flight time of 45 seconds. It hit the ground at exactly 0800 and the crew of the T.J. accomplished what the Captain had hoped for. Albeit with a whole lot of luck, dedication and shear will power. We had 7 projectiles and three powder cases left in the magazines when we received the cease fire order.
It was and will always be moments like that, that I will always remember and hold dear to my heart. We had the best crew, Captain and ship in the Seventh Fleet.
In all the T.J. fired 10136 rounds of 5" ammunition in just twenty six days. 3000 rounds in the last day of the war.
Thought you might be interested in hearing the story of the last round of Naval Gunfire Support fired in Vietnam. To my knowledge there is no official record of these particulars as I have relayed them to you. Hope you enjoyed.