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Recollections of the role of the USS COLLETT in
the USS PUEBLO Incident of 1968


by Don Walton, CDR, USN (Ret)



I was Weapons Officer on USS COLLETT (DD 730), one of several ships from DESRON 9, homeported in Yokosuka, that were ordered to the Sea of Japan following the PUEBLO's capture.  I well recall seeing USS PUEBLO and USS BANNER moored in Yokosuka over the Christmas holidays.  Also remember seeing some of the PUEBLO's officers, including the skipper, in the Black Ship Lounge at the O Club during that period.  None of my crowd knew of the mission of the ships - except that they were engaged in some kind of "special operations."


COLLETT left Yoko a couple of days before the capture, headed for Subic Bay.  I recall distributing cold weather clothing on the first day out -- our stores of special clothing had been well below allowance, and I had expended some big bucks to order new gear, which arrived just a few days before we got underway. That saved our butts over the next couple of months (only time I've ever seen sailors wear those blue cold weather masks).


We were off Kyushu when we got word of the capture and were ordered to divert.  We pulled into Sasebo during the night to top off fuel, then joined USS ENTERPRISE and USS TRUXTUN at first light.  One other DD was also there - USS OZBOURN, I think.


Later that day, a helo came over and took our CO over to ENTERPRISE for a meeting with the embarked flag and the other ship COs from the task group.  He came back a few hours later with a roll of charts under his arm.   He called the XO and department heads up to his cabin and briefed a plan to re-take the PUEBLO, with the following elements: - 3 DD's (OZBOURN, COLLETT, and one other - forgot which) would make a run into Wonson harbor at first light the next morning (30 Jan) OZBOURN would carry the Marine Detachment from ENTERPRISE.  COLLETT and the other DD would be shotguns for OZBOURN, laying down suppressing fire in the vicinity of PUEBLO while OZBOURN went alongside and grappled/secured PUEBLO with assistance of the Marines, who were to be put aboard the ship, get rid of the resistance, and cut PUEBLO loose from the pier.  OZBOURN would secure PUEBLO alongside and tow it out of the harbor at maximum possible speed.  ENTERPRISE aircraft (and maybe United States Air Force as well - I don't remember) were to strike the Wonson harbor gun emplacements and provide continuous air coverage.

One of the charts that the CO had brought back showed the latest known positions of the guns; they seemed to be everywhere - dozens if not hundreds.  A go-no go decision was to be made in Washington. During the night I briefed my department and made the necessary preparations.

I spent much of the night in CIC with the charts, highlighting probable gun- target lines and the best positioning for the ship during the runs in and out and near the pier.  Quite frankly, I didn't have any confidence that the mission would succeed - there were just too many guns on the shore, we would be under fire from them for 2-3 hours, and I knew from our experiences on Sea Dragon ops against North Vietnam that air-launched weapons and the guns of DDs maneuvering at high speed are often quite inaccurate.

Word came in the early morning to stand down. As I recall, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had approved the mission, but the president had not.  If that is true, it would be hard to argue with his reasoning - God only knows what the North Korean captors would have done to the crew regardless of the outcome of the raid, what their military response may have been to such an attack by the U.S., or what the response of the U.S. would have been to the sinking of three DDs. Whatever, I can't tell you how relieved I was that the mission was scrubbed.

During a tour on 7th Fleet Staff a few years later, I asked a senior spook on the staff if he knew anything about this plan.  He responded that he did.  He said recovery of the ship was the only way to determine the data compromise with certainty.  I guess this is just a footnote to history now.  I tried to find documentation to confirm my recollections about this but have come up dry.

To the crew of the PUEBLO, thank you for your sacrifices and duty to country.


 

Postscript to Don Walton's Pueblo Story

 

by Gene Strommen

 

Just a note regarding Don Walton's story regarding the Pueblo incident in 1968.

 

The other destroyer besides the USS OZBOURNE was the USS HIGBEE (DD 806).  I was the Executive Officer on the HIGBEE and we had completed a deployment to the Tonkin Gulf and en route Sasebo, Japan.  As we pulled into Sasebo as USS ENTERPRISE was heading out.

 

We were scheduled for some routine engineering maintenance which required the boilers to be dismantled and parts sent to the shops in the shipyard.

 

In the evening we received a flash message to get underway ASAP and join the ENTERPRISE.  After sending out the Shore Patrol to round up the crew in the local bars and calling the Shipyard to open the shops so we could retrieve our equipment, we were ready to go at first light in the next morning.

 

We joined up with ENTERPRISE and OZBOURNE.  The first message we received from ENTERPRISE was to "rig for towing" and the rest went on with Don's story.  It was the first time that I had ever been in a refueling during a snowstorm as all my tours had previously been from the West Coast.

 

I enjoyed Don's recollection particularly since my first Navy tour had been on the COLLETT as the Communications Officer 1956-1959.
 


Another Postscript to Don Walton's Pueblo Story

By Jim Flynn

I served in the AS division under Don Walton then a Lieutenant and would like give an enlisted crewman account.

Some of us crew members hit the beach with the crew of the Pueblo before our departure from Yokosuka. What a time we had and what a shock when we heard of their capture.

I remember trying to refuel from the Enterprise in a snowstorm so heavy you could barely see her. The water rushing between the ships and our tossing back and forth heading toward her and then away. At times it appeared as though we were going to hit her side and have to have an emergency breakaway. I was the highline crew signalman and could barely see the signals from my counterpart aboard the Enterprise. That had to be the coldest refueling task I had ever done. True to our typical outstanding performance we survived that task a few times on that mission. Being one of the ships life guards I was sure glad I didn't have to dive in to rescue someone.

I also remember as we approached the 38th parallel seeing the all black painted Russian warships. It was like an old western movie the Collett in Battleship grey and the Russians in black.  Then there was the cat and mouse game with the Russians. Changing directions, changing speeds trying to keep the upper hand, should the order come to fire or the maneuver need to be made to protect the Enterprise.  Then there was the occasional thought that this could be WW III and Nam wasn't like this. 

Let's not forget the Russian trawler that would try to cutoff the Enterprise and the captain ordering full speed ahead to cut it off before it could reach the Enterprise. I remember our pointing the 50 caliber and small arms at their crew and the go ahead make my day attitude we all had.   

I also remember watching planes from the Enterprise doing practice bombing runs. The Truxtun testing missile systems rotating their launchers in every imaginable direction. I remember the Collett, Ozbourn, and Higbee rotating from rear guard to port and starboard escort positions.

I remember the heaters not working at first because we were used to the cooling from Nam. There were quite a few of us that caught colds during that mission that took sometime to get rid of.

Thanks  Lt. Walton for the officers perspective, and congratulations on making CDR.
 

Jim Flynn STG3


Another postscript:

"As I remember it was USS O'Bannon not USS Osborn.  I spent many long hours staring at her through watery, frozen eyes."

Al Burke,  SMC, USN Retired

 


 

Another postscript

I worked in Main Control (forward engine room), where temperatures were typically 130 degrees (in the Tonkin Gulf), and even reached 140 occasionally in the Phillipines.   But while cruising off the Korean coast, we had to endure temperatures in the low 80's!!!   I vividly remember wearing my blue work jacket just to be comfortable. It's amazing how the body adapts to extreme temps.

I remember coming up on the main deck after a day watch, and seeing snow laying on the main deck, even over the engineering spaces.

The sprint from Sasebo to the Korean coast took a couple of days, as I recall.   We were doing Flank speed (33 knots) all the way, the only time in my four years I saw Collett move like that.   In the engine rooms and boiler rooms it was a little terrifying.   All four boilers were lit off, all feed pumps were screaming, everything was operating at the max.   If even one piece of equipment had failed, the whole thing would have collapsed like a house of cards.   Our luck held, and the rest is...history.

Joe Scannell, MM2