C O M M A N D H I S T O R Y OF USS COLLETT (DD730) -
For COLLETT, January was largely spent in much-needed upkeep and repair in Yokosuka, Japan.
When the ship weighed anchor late on the 22nd, both ship and crew were indeed “ready for sea.” Throughout the 23rd, gunnery exercises were conducted in the Philippine Sea just east of Tokyo Bay. Upon completion of the shoot, COLLETT turned southward enroute for Yankee Station, Gulf of Tonkin, via Subic Bay, P.I.
In one electrifying message at 1645 on the 23rd, however, all plans were changed. Word was received that the USS PUEBLO (AGER-2) had been boarded and seized by North Korean naval forces in international waters. The ship was being taken into Wonsan harbor on the eastern coast of North Korea. COLLETT was ordered to steam at flank speed around the tip of southern Japan (Kyushu) and rendezvous with the USS ENTERPRISE (CVAN-65) off Sasebo. Thence, as a unit of Task Group 70.6, she was to proceed northward into the Sea of Japan, awaiting further orders. Such was the beginning of Operation “Formation Star.”
As COLLETT sped to her new assignment, excitement ran rampant throughout the ship. All were aware of the dangers involved, yet to a man the crew was resolved to do to the best of their ability whatever their country asked of them.
At first light on the 25th COLLETT rendezvoused with Task Group 70.6. The task Group steamed north. At 1930 a Russian DDG of the “Kildin” class was observed to be in the area. Russian policy throughout the operation appeared to be to attach one destroyer to each task group operation in the Sea of Japan with a reserve line to the north. The Russian continued to shadow the American operations, but at no time did their warships attempt to provoke an incident with COLLETT. In fact, both powers seemed to be going out-of-the-way to avoid a fracas. It is noteworthy that the Russians again demonstrated their basic familiarity with Allied tactics and signals by their maneuvers in the vicinity of American formations.
Early on the 26th USS O’BANNON (DD-450) joined the Task Group. Later, COLLETT was dwarfed as she went alongside the “Big E” for refueling.
After UNREPPING [Underway Replenishing] from the USS SACRAMENTO (AOE-1) on 2 February, COLLETT was detached to operate with the USS CHICAGO (CG-11) on PIRAZ (Positive Identification Radar Advance Zone) station just south of the 38th parallel. COLLETT’s job was to “ride shotgun” for the missile-oriented cruiser. Together the two ships formed the northernmost line of the American task force in the Sea of Japan.
As COLLETT steamed north in company with CHICAGO, an atmosphere of expectation and responsibility permeated the ship. Tension mounted on the third when the ship went to general quarters, condition 1 AS to investigate a sonar contact. The contact proved to be non-submarine. Excitement reached its peak two days later when the ship went to general quarters three times in one day! Twice, condition 1 AS was set to investigate sonar contacts, both of which were subsequently evaluated as non-submarine. The third general quarters was for a minor fire in the JP-5 pump room. Finally, on the 6th, came the last real excitement for COLLETT during Operation Formation Star: six Soviet DDs were reported seventy miles north of PIRAZ station steaming south!! Long before the Russians reached the 38th Parallel they altered course to the northwest.
The following day COLLETT was detached from PIRAZ duty.
An interesting event during Sea of Japan operations was the disconcerting shortage of stamps by all ships due to new postal rates, plus the non-applicability of the “free mail” privilege to the Sea of Japan. The situation became comical when a cruiser asked COLLETT if she could spare $200 worth of stamps! COLLETT’s commanding officer, CDR John R. Kearney, USN, of Oakland, California helped remedy the situation for his destroyermen by sending out a familygram which let the folks back home know of the unique postal problem the ship faced.
COLLETT left Subic Bay, P.I., early on the morning of 1 March to join Carrier Task Group 77.5 on Yankee Station off North Vietnam. On the 2nd, she refueled enroute from the USS TALUGA (AO-62) and then rendezvoused with the task group at first light on the 3rd. The force was then composed of COLLETT, USS ENTERPRISE (CVAN-65) and USS O’BANNON (DD-450). COLLETT had barely settled into the routine of carrier plane guarding, however, when she was suddenly detached to relieve USS NICHOLAS (DD-449) on NGFS [Naval Gunfire Support] in the I Corps area of South Vietnam.
Early on the 4th, COLLETT departed for her new assignment. Enroute she refueled from the USS PASSUMPSIC (AO-107). COLLETT arrived on station later in the day and relieved NICHOLAS. Thus the ship began nine consecutive days of heavy firing in support of the Second Brigade Republic of Korea Marines in the Song Cua Dai river delta sixteen miles southeast of Danang. The region was suspected of being a major Vietcong staging area.
During daylight hours the ship went to general quarters to deliver call fire for an airborne ROK spotter. Every night the ship fired “H and I” missions for five to six hours while manned at Condition Two. In addition to her strenuous combat schedule, COLLETT also had to make numerous UNREPS in order to remain on station, thus unusually long working hours were called for by all hands.
By the time the ship departed the gun line on 13 March, spotter aircraft had credited COLLETT’s guns with having killed eight Vietcong and having damaged or destroyed 207 structures, thirty-six bunkers and 325 meters of enemy entrenchments. The ship also sank nine enemy sampans and two boats; five other sampans were damaged.
Highlight of the deployment came on 9 March when the destroyer was credited with at least seven Vietcong killed in action at Dong Son, some eighteen miles southeast of Danang. COLLETT had opened fire on previously selected targets when her spotter aircraft from the Second Brigade ROK Marines discovered enemy troops massing on a beachhead just south of the Song Cua Dai River. As the destroyer brought her guns to bear, the men attempted to escape by motorized boats. Six-gun salvoes make quick work of two boats. A third escaped. One craft took a direct hit. ENS Joseph J. Collins of Baltimore, Maryland, the ship’s Gunnery Officer, stated: “One of them was a boat load of ammunition for sure. We saw a big orange secondary explosion.”
[In April, COLLETT is now in Yokosuka, Japan.]
COLLETT’s engines once again surged with power on the afternoon of 4 April as the ship put to sea. While passing down Tokyo Bay, honors were exchanged with a column of four, sleek Japanese destroyers with an Admiral embarked.
Five days were required to make the routine transit to the Gulf of Tonkin. As usual, the time was utilized for various drills and training exercises, notably SSM (Surface to Surface Missile) drills. The impressive use of the SSM against surface naval units in the Near East prompted COLLETT to implement her weapons doctrine to meet this new threat. Also, considerable flight time was logged for DASH [Drone Antisubmarine Helicopter] operations.
Stopping only briefly for fuel at Buckner Bay, Okinawa, COLLETT proceeded to a rendezvous with Task Unit 77.1.2. Upon arrival in the Gulf of Tonkin, she relieved USS MANSFIELD (DD-728) and joined USS COCHRANE (DDG-21) for “Sea Dragon” operations along the coast of North Vietnam.
The schedule was strenuous. COLLETT participated in from three to six missions daily for twenty-two consecutive days. The attacks were aimed primarily at North Vietnamese transportation lines from the DMZ north to the 19th Parallel. A variety of targets were fired upon during the month: bridges, highway segments, causeways, truck parks, ferries, river fords, transportation choke points, petroleum dumps, several radar sites and even a suspected communications center. In addition to the missions against the coast, patrol sweeps were conducted every night searching for WBLCs (Waterborne Logistics Craft).
A highlight of the operation came on 22 April when [HMAS] HOBART [D-39] and COLLETT were taken under fire by North Vietnamese coastal defense batteries near Dong Hoi, thirty-five miles north of the DMZ. While neither ship was hit, over one hundred shells were fired at the two destroyers, many landing close aboard. Shrapnel from an air burst near COLLETT pierced the ship’s ensign, and metal fragments up to four inches in length were picked up from the weather decks after the firing. In delivering counterbattery fire, the Allies silenced at least one enemy gun when a large secondary explosion was observed.
On the 24th, COLLETT and HOBART were assigned an unusual mission. The two ships were to maneuver in the narrow area between Tiger Island and Cap Lay, just north of the DMZ. They were to attempt to draw the fire of some very pesky North Vietnamese guns which had been annoying ships operating off the DMZ. Air Force reconnaissance aircraft were to be in the air to pinpoint the expected shore battery fire. The mission was less than a complete success, however, because COLLETT and HOBART were unable to attract enemy fire. A similar mission in the same locale two days later also failed to draw enemy fire.
A major problem throughout Sea Dragon operations was underway replenishment. In the period 9-30 April, COLLETT conducted ninety UNREPs from fourteen different ships! The usual pattern was to UNREP with three ships every third day. The UNREPs usually began about 0730 and lasted until about 1100-1200. Upon completion of the replenishment, the task unit returned to its patrol and usually completed two or three missions before the day was over.
On the last day of the month, COLLETT was relieved by USS THEODORE E. CHANDLER (DD-717). COLLETT then headed for Hong Kong B.C.C. for a highly anticipated port visit.
Through most of April, COLLETT had participated actively in Sea Dragon operations along the coast of North Vietnam. On the 22nd she had narrowly missed being hit by North Vietnamese coastal defense batteries. It was a harrowing month. The crew performed effectively and unflinchingly in the face of great danger. Their performance to no small measure accounts for COLLETT having weathered the battle unscathed.
On the afternoon of 16 May, COLLETT and [USS HENRY B.] WILSON [DDG-7] were subjected to intensive fire from North Vietnamese coastal defense batteries while conducting a mission against a highway bridge and other transportation lines near Dong Hoi, approximately thirty-five miles north of the DMZ. The two ships were well into their mission when at least four North Vietnamese shore batteries opened fire. As the first enemy shells began to rain around them, both ships responded with rapid continuous counterbattery fire. COLLETT laid down a smoke screen while maneuvering at flank speed. As the two ships headed seaward, plumes of water erupted around COLLETT. One shell landed within eight feet of her bow, splashing salt spray as high as the open bridge. Fifty rounds were seen to fall astern of COLLETT, while forty-five to fifty shells were observed to straddle her.
The action on the 16th took place as COLLETT marked the twenty-fourth anniversary of her commissioning. The ship had begun her birthday celebrations at midnight while conduction a mission against a highway segment along the North Vietnamese coast. The afternoon reception was much warmer than desired. As RD1 Harold L. Jarrell of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, put it: “I enjoyed the party, but the entertainment wasn’t so hot!”
COLLETT continued her operations, complete with UNREPs until the 20th, at which time she was relieved by USS MANSFIELD (DD-728). The ship then departed for Yokosuka, Japan, making only a brief stop for fuel in Buckner Bay, Okinawa, on the 24th. After a relatively routine transit, COLLETT arrived in “Yoko” on the 26th. COLLETT was moored in Yokosuka, Japan, from 1 – 19 June.
Rendezvousing with CONSTELLATION early on the 28th, COLLETT resumed duties as CTU 77.7.2. The task group was then composed of CONSTELLATION, COLLETT, and NICHOLAS. A refueling from USS MISPILLION (AO-105) was conducted on the 28th.
The carrier launched daily air strikes against North Vietnam, and COLLETT was more than busy providing routine services required of a rescue destroyer. On July 4, when an F-8 and an A-4 aircraft from the USS TICONDEROGA (CVA-14) collided high in mid-air above COLLETT, TG 77.7 conducted an emergency search and rescue mission for the two pilots. CUNNINGHAM pulled one aviator from the water while a helicopter from the CONNIE pulled the second man to safety. COLLETT played a backup role in the operation.
After being relieved by USS RICH (DD-820) on 6 July, COLLETT proceeded to join TG 77.8 composed of herself and USS BON HOMME RICHARD (CVA-31). That afternoon the task group departed Yankee Station enroute to Subic Bay.
Late on the 13th COLLETT got underway for Hong Kong. Arriving on the 15th, five very delightful days were spent in the “Pearl of the Orient.” STEINAKER also came to Hong Kong, and on 20 July the two ships got underway for Yankee Station as TU 77.8.2, COLLETT CTU.
Rendezvousing with the BON HOMME RICHARD on the 21st, the task group then proceeded to Yankee Station where COLLETT completed her final three days of deployment to the combat zone on 22-24 July. After refueling from the USS CAMDEN (AOE-2) on the 24th, COLLETT departed for Yokosuka.
The final transit north, however, proved to be slightly more than routine. Three tropical ladies by the names of Mary (a typhoon), Nadine (a tropical storm), and Olive (a second tropical storm) caused COLLETT to take typhoon evasion tactics in the Gulf of Tonkin. While the ship successfully avoided all but a few heavy seas with eight to twelve foot waves and rain squalls, the evasion tactics lengthened the journey home. The ship arrived in Yokosuka on the 31st to begin preparations for the transit to the Continental United States.
The early days of August were spent in frenzied, last-minute preparation for the long journey home. With her homeward bound pennant fluttering proudly from the masthead, COLLETT made her final departure from Yokosuka on 12 August. It was with mixed emotions that officers and men said good-by to “home” for the last two years. The great voyage to America via the lands “down under” had begun.
With her sister ship USS BLUE in company, COLLETT steamed steadily southeastward toward Guam Island. It was an uneventful passage, broken only by exercises and drills to break in new members of the crew. Apra Harbor in Guam was reached early on the 15th, and the two ships began their refueling. Late that afternoon the topping off was complete and the two vessels were once more underway for Australia.
On the 16th the Equator was crossed with the Trusty Shellbacks providing the usual due ceremony for the lowly Pollywogs. On the 18th, Manus, Admiralty Islands (an Australian Trust Territory under the United Nations) was raised, and COLLETT and BLUE made another brief fueling stop.
Late on the afternoon of the 22nd Australia was first sighted, and early the next morning COLLETT and BLUE snaked their way up the winding Brisbane River to the capital city of Queensland. The two ships moored sided by side at the Royal Australian Navy shore station HMAS MORETON.
Australian hospitality was both genuine and heartwarming. Immediately upon arrival, tours were organized for the crew to the famous Gold Coast area, and well as Lamington National Park.
Both ships were open for general visiting during the stay in Brisbane, and all told, some 3500 visitors viewed COLLETT. Also, the Commanding Officer, CDR J.R. Kearney, gave a short illustrated talk on the role of Destroyers in Vietnam before 250 Royal Australian Navy Reservists at HMAS MORETON. The two ships slipped down the river with the flood tide on the morning of the 28th.
Upon clearing the approaches to the Brisbane River, COLLETT and BLUE parted company. BLUE headed north for Auckland, New Zealand, while COLLETT headed southeast for Wellington. Crossing the Tasman Sea proved to be no easy task. Throughout the passage the ship was buffeted with high winds and heavy seas. At times COLLETT rolled as much as 52 degrees from the vertical! It was later discovered that a windy approach to Wellington through the Cook Strait was not an unusual occurrence.
The ship moored port side to the Overseas Terminal in Wellington early on the morning of the 31st to begin her five day port call to the capital city of New Zealand. After the ship had been cleared for entry by the local officials, she was opened for general visiting. Despite some rather chilly weather, over 500 visitors filed aboard COLLETT during the first afternoon! And, all told, some 2600 people would visit before the ship pulled out on 5 September.
Five days in ”Windy Wellington” were enough to convince all hands that the city truly deserved her nickname. Yet everyone found the people as warm and hospitable as the climate was cold and forbidding. Again, numerous ship’s tours were offered. On the 5th COLLETT steamed out into the Cook Strait and headed up the east coast of the North Island.
Visual landfall was made with American Samoa early on the morning of the second 9 September, and soon COLLETT was moored alongside the pier in Pago Pago, undoubtedly one of the world’s finest natural harbors. Here COLLETT’s sister ship BLUE was waiting, having arrived the previous day from Auckland. Refueling of the two DESRON NINE Destroyers was delayed until the afternoon of the 10th while the American merchant tanker CALTEX BRUSSELS off-loaded fuel at the island’s single fueling pier.
At first light on the 11th COLLETT was underway for Pearl Harbor Hawaii.
Arriving in Pearl at 0800 on the 17th, the two ships paused only long enough to refuel. Late that afternoon Honolulu and Diamond Head were left astern. Excitement and anticipation mounted. On the afternoon of the 19th the ship refueled from the USS TAPPAHANNOCK (AD-43). On the 23rd, with a band playing, and her long, homeward-bound pennant fluttering proudly from the mainmast, COLLETT moored at Long Beach Naval Station, California. A veteran of a two-year deployment was home - and a tumultuous, happy crowed greeted the returning destroyermen.
COLLETT began thirty days of leave and upkeep that lasted into October.
On Monday morning, 2 December, COLLETT once more headed for San Diego. With USS EDSON (DD-946) in company, the two ships comprised Task Unit 54.1.2, COLLETT CTU. The mission: ASW School Ship.
The two vessels picked up the future ASW officers off Point Loma at 1300 and headed westward into the Southern California Op Area. Rendezvousing with the USS ROCK (AGSS-274) late in the afternoon, COLLETT and EDSON provided the necessary training for four busy days. On the 5th the students were off-loaded at San Diego and COLLETT returned to Long Beach.
On 9 December COLLETT on-loaded ammunition at Seal Beach prior to spending 10-12 December conducting SHOBOM [Shore Bombardment] at San Clemente for training future spotters. During this period COLLETT was also able to complete her qualification as a COMCRUDESPAC qualified NGFS ship. Returning to Long Beach on the 13th, final preparations were begun for a Change of Command Ceremony on 18 December.
On 18 December CDR Walter R. Beck relieved CDR John R. Kearney as Commanding Officer of COLLETT. In the few short days remaining of 1968, officers and men readied the ship to commence overhaul in January of 1969.
The following Awards and Citations were presented to personnel aboard the USS COLLETT (DD-730) in 1968:
NAVY & MARINE CORPS MEDAL 1
NAVY COMMENDATION MEDAL 2
NAVY ACHIEVEMENT MEDAL WITH COMBAT “V” 11
CINCPACFLT LETTER OF COMMENDATION 1
7TH FLEET LETTER OF COMMENDATION 9
CRUDESGRU 7TH FLEET LETTER OF COMMENDATION 16
(As transcribed by Frank Olderr on 4/6/01 from “Swede”
Michaelson’s copy of the “COMMAND HISTORY OF USS
COLLETT (DD730) – 1968.”)