By Andy Anderson
"Now Hear This! 'Set the Wing Tank Recovery Detail!'"....HUH??...THE WHAT??
(See photos following the story)
While operating in the Gulf of Tonkin, it seems it was the practice of the carrier based planes to jettison their wing tanks before landing. Normally when we on the Collett would come across one, if time permitted, we would us them for 50 Caliber machine gun practice. That was until we had some company aboard in the form of a band of news reporters (and possibly some Senator) for a short at-sea visit.
It probably was late in '67 that this group of reporters was helo'd aboard for a few hours to see our routine. I wasn't long thereafter that one of these wing tanks was spotted. Now this time things went quite differently. Over the 1-MC came the announcement: "Attention All Hands....Set the Wing Tank Recovery Detail".
HUH?? The What??
This drew a lot of blank stares among the crew as to the best on my recollection we had never heard of this detail prior to this. Amazingly, though, a detail appeared at the side of the ship and we even had a couple of "Ship's Frogmen" appear out of nowhere and go over the side to secure the wing tank so it could be hoisted onto the deck. The whole episode took around an hour, maybe a little more, and the tank was indeed rescued from Neptune's clutches and successfully brought aboard. The newsmen took lots of pictures of the whole thing, and were shortly thereafter helo'd back off the ship to continue on their way.
Their helicopter was barely out of sight, when the railings were dropped, and this now famous wing tank was unceremoniously kicked overboard. The ship was moved away a distance and the 50 caliber firing practice began. The tank soon was sent to it's final resting place in the briny depths of the Gulf. And once again, normality had returned to Collett and all was well with the world. The reporters had their story, and we had one less piece of debris floating around to potentially damage the hull of a ship.
As I understood it later, when this tank was spotted, there was a quick behind the scenes arrangement of this "Wing-tank Recovery Detail" so that when the announcement was made there would be someone show up for the festivities. I am quite sure this was to impress these guys with the Navy's good use of taxpayer funds by way of recovering these abandoned fuel tanks for re-use.
So it was in the Good Ol' Nav in '67.