Does anyone recall that the Skipper in 1968-1969 was CDR Ross Wright? Captain Wright was a wiry, bandy-legged little fellow who had been a merchant mariner in WWII and wore some ribbons that I had never seen before. He was a true seadog.
Captain Wright had been skipper of the USS Vance just prior to the infamous Arnheiter taking command. Arnheiter was a total sundowner and did everything he could to shape up the VANCE because he thought it was a slack ship. His hardheaded command policies resulted in the semi-mutiny called "the Arnheiter Affair." Those of us who served under Ross Wright understood the fate of the VANCE because Ross Wright was laid-back and not a compulsive about ship's cleanliness or sharpness of uniforms, etc. He just wanted a ship that operated well and safely. I'm sure he ran the VANCE the same way; it was a good little DE that did the job on the gunline and Marketime and didn't try to be the Fleet flagship.
LCDR Frank Fletcher, USN, (Ret.)
Subject: "Ghost Story" USS Charles S. Sperry (DD-697)
This is one of the doggondest stories you are likely to hear.
You remember the old saw about the difference between a "sea story" and a fairy tale: one starts out "once upon a time...", and the other starts out, "this is absolutely true..." (or a variant on those words). To obvious point being that neither has a stitch of veracity, but both are apt to be entertaining.
Well, I am an accountant, not a breed given to telling tall tales or exaggerating. We value our credibility too highly. So, I would hesitate to relate this story at all, except that there are a bunch of witnesses: the guys who were on the 66-67 Viet-Nam cruise of the Sperry; and there are photographs, and one of them is in the cruise book for that cruise. When I find it, somewhere in my effects, I will scan and forward that particular photo to accompany this story.
The reason I hesitate to tell the story is that it is pretty unsatisfactory as any kind of tale at all...that is, unless you don't mind one that remains a mystery at the end. This story has no ending, that I know of, and to this day the cause of the incident remains shrouded.
My name is Ted Agresta, and I believe I was still an RDSN at the time this incident occurs. We were sailing alone about half way between Kaoshung and Subic, on the way to Subic. The night was clear, but dark. There was nothing on the sea, nothing within at least 20 miles of us, that I could see, and I could have seen, because I was near the radar scope. I beleive Sonar was passive, except for the ocaisional ping, but I don't know for sure, because I wan't in there that evening. Lookouts were posted and alert as always in the South China Sea. This was wartime, after all, and we had already been through some submarine scares.
The sea was dead calm, that kind of almost oily, glassy calm that you sometimes get far, far from land. The kind that would make it difficult to see anything on the water because there would have been no little tell-tale line of white breakers against an object to give its location away. Maybe that figures into this tale. Maybe it doesn't...the lookouts were alert. I heard them on the sound-powered phones. They made their checks regularly and didn't gab between times, all according to regs. We couldn't have had any land closer than maybe 500 miles from us. We were doing about 23-25 knots, as I recollect. Not top speed, but best cruising speed, and certainly faster than we normally traveled. These details and others should be in the ship's log for that cruise.
Suddenly, the ship came to a dead, shuddering halt. It felt like we had rammed a big, somewhat yielding mass of some sort, but not yielding enough to keep us from stopping quickly. A line of books pressed outward against a rail intended to keep them from falling off the shelf, was suddenly flung forward against the back of the funnel which formed part of the forward bulkhead fot the Combat Information Center. Everything lying loose upon the DRT (Dead Reconning Tracer) a kind of large table with a glass top and tracing paper running over the top, every thing loose there - pencils, rulers, papers - everything, flew forward and fell on the deck.
Men in the CIC stumbled and fell against the nearest large object, or grabbed at something to keep from falling, the force of the stop was that strong. Then began a flurry of activity.
Did the lookouts see anything, fore or aft? Nothing. Had we hit a sand bar? No, deep blue water under the keel. Was that an underwater earthquake? Nothing from Sonar to indicate it was, nothing on the surface to indicate it was. What had we hit and what damage had been done?
Damage control was consulted, and an assessment was passed over the phones. No damage below the water line. Some damage above, but no cause apparent. What damage? The pipes that formed the sides of the ladders leading up to the 01 level were bent slightly back toward the forward bulkheads. The watertight doors had been bent inward on both sides. There was a broken seam, about 6" wide at the center, where the aluminum blukhead at the XO's cabin on the main deck had been opened from deck to overhead. That was it. That was enough.
What had caused it? Had we rammed some shoal we didn't know was there? No. Blue water under the hull, fathoms below the keel, according to the Quartermasters. Any animals in the water? Still dark, but the lookouts hadn't seen anything, and there was no evidence above the waterline we had hit anything that might have had flesh or blood. In addition, with the damage done, you might have expected the standards for the life lines were bent. They weren't. So, what had we hit? What had hit us?
We pulled in to the yards at Subic a day or two later, and the damage was inspected, photographed and inquired into, just as would have been done with any Naval vessel that had suffered some mishap. No additional evidence came to light. Nothing to do, but to make repairs and go on with our work. Forget about it. Nothing to do.
And here I sit, over thirty years later, pondering the tale. What does it mean, if anything?
It means the sea has her mysteries and her secrets and no desire to let any of her sons in on any of them.
Ted Agresta, OSC (USNR-Inactive)
Subject: USS Charles S. Sperry Family-Gram
This is the 1st of two Family-Grams that I found in my old treasure chest. I have added a couple of personal remembrances.
USS CHARLES S. SPERRY (DD-697 5 August 1957
FAMILY-GRAM No. 1
The purpose of this FAMILY-GRAM is to keep the families and friends of USS CHARLES S. SPERRY informed concerning the activities of the ship, past, present and future as well to let you know of matters concerning the careers, health and welfare of the Sperrymen who serve aboard her.
WHAT WE ACCOMPLISHED IN THE MED
As you know, the Sperry returned from the Mediterranean, after operations with the 6th Fleet on 4 December 1956. Just prior to our return to the States the SPERRY, along with other units of the 6th Fleet participated in the evacuation of U. S. citizens from Egypt during the Israeli-Egyptian crisis. I think this also convinced many Americans why it is essential that we maintain, along with other NATO members, a strong naval force in the Mediterranean. The 6th Fleet not only responded immediately but was able to execute effectively its role of protecting American interest in this area. Those of us who have had the opportunity to visit various ports in the Mediterranean returned to the States convinced the 6th Fleet is one of the most stabilizing influence for peace in the Mediterranean. Time and time again we were told that the hope of the free world rests with the United States taking the lead in maintaining order and peace. This is why we have to spend time away from home to fulfill these tremendous commitments that our country has been called up to fulfill. It makes us proud to be proud of this Navy which is doing such an important and tremendous job.
See Note 1.
XMAS IN THE STATES AND YARD OVERHAUL
After we returned from the 6th Fleet in December and had our Christmas leave and upkeep periods, the SPERRY, after 4 weeks of training in January and February went to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for overhaul between 1 March and 1 June 1957. During this time we, with the assistance of the Shipyard, were able to add new equipment to our ship, repair and renew worn-out equipment, in other words to again make the SPERRY material-wise ready to meet whatever commitment we would be called upon to perform. During this yard period we also utilized the time to send many of our men to schools in order that they would be better prepared and qualified to operate both the old and new equipment we were getting during this Shipyard availability. We also used this time to grant as much leave as possible to our men on the SPERRY as we knew that following this yard period we would only have 2 weeks to get ready for 5 weeks of intensive training by the Fleet Training Group at Guantanamo, Cuba.
THE SPERRY IN CUBA WITH THE TRAING GROUP GITMO
We arrived in Cuba with new men and new equipment. To best serve our roles as fighting men or as ambassadors of peace (we are better at each job by being good at the other) we have to work together as a unit. This is accomplished by training us all together rather than as separate individuals. It is the job of the Fleet Training Group to train us in that manner. We were new to each other and our equipment. The job was hard and the days rough. Every job we might be called upon to do in combat was thrust upon us during the week while on the week-ends some of us tried out as ambassadors with the Cubans. The days and the weeks got longer and longer and we became better and better. The Training Group threw harder and harder problems and became more and more exacting. We remembered that the better trained we are in peace the less of us will be hurt or killed in war. When the smoke of our gunnery shots and sham battles had cleared away we surveyed a sizable list of first place standings for the SPERRY and the men who man her.
We were first in Shore Bombardment when we shot at Culebra, Puerto Rico and afterwards we ate nearly as much strawberry shortcake and lemonade as we had shot shells in the shoot.
We were again first in the Squadron on our Battle Problem (that's the graduation exercise from the Training Group)and just to show that we did have a little fun our softball team won six straight victories and the Division Championship.
So now that it is all finished in Cuba and we are on our way back to you I would like to say that this period has been of tremendous value to all of us on the SPERRY. We all know our jobs better, can perform them smoother and more effectively, in fact, we produced an effective, organized team that is ever improving to perform the vital role of having a destroyer ready for combat, if the occasion arises, or to assist in performing the role of ambassador for peace during today's international critical situation.
See Note 2.
A Crew Member's Remembrance of GITMO.
God it was hot!
BEEN TO EUROPE LATELY? WE'RE GOING
Following a week of exercises between 19 and 23 August the SPERRY will have another week in Norfolk prior to our departure on 3 September for one of the largest NATO Naval Exercises that has ever been planned. You undoubtedly have been reading about this exercise in the local papers. The full force of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Naval Power, both offensive and defensive, will be displayed in a dramatic series of exercises in September and October which will extend from the Arctic Circle to the entrance of the Mediterranean. Hundreds of warships from 6 NATO nations will engage in especially-tailored maneuvers, designed for defensive and offensive missions to increase our ability as a fighting team of nations. We are also going to stop off for a week-end in Scotland and 10 days in Holland. The SPERRY WILL arrive back in Norfolk following NATO exercises on 22 October 1957.
DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS AND YOU'RE INVITED
We have planned for some time to have a dependents' cruise upon our return to Norfolk following refresher training at Guantanamo. We take this opportunity to extend to you a cordial invitation to be with us on Tuesday, 13 August for this day at sea. We would like for the mothers, fathers, wives, and sweethearts go see and to begin to understand the tremendous job their sons or husbands or sweethearts are performing on the SPERRY. That is why we welcome you aboard to rides with us on this particular day. The SPERRY will get underway about 0830 from Destroyer/Submarine piers and will return about 1600 that day.
We have started the FAMILY-GRAM to try and keep you informed as to what we are doing, when and why. We hope you have enjoyed it. Look for it, it will be around again soon.
J. H. IRELAND
Note 1. A Crew Member's Remembrance of the Med Cruise.
The Sperry, which was a member of DESRON 16, was detached to go to Boston and pickup a statue of Admiral John Barry, who is called by some to be the father of the American Navy. The statue was to be delivered to Barry's Irish birthplace, county Wexford.
The statue was loaded aboard at the Boston Naval Shipyards and lashed down on the fantail. The Sperry then made a solitary crossing of the Atlantic to county Wexford in Ireland. The harbor at Wexford was to small and shallow to accommodate us so the Sperry anchored about ½ mile off shore. The statue was transferred to an Irish boat for its trip ashore. It seemed like everyone in the village turned out for the event. There were probable 25 - 30 boats of all sizes and descriptions that came out to the Sperry. The Captain decided to hold an impromptu open house and welcomed them all aboard for a tour of the ship. They all wanted white hats. Most of the crew members gave away all of the hats they could spare.
The village held a dance for the crew that evening. Since we were on Port and Starboard watches about half of the crew attended. (I wasn't one of them.) Apparently a good time was had by all.
The Sperry got underway and proceeded to the Naval Shipyard in England for repair of a main shaft. We spent about 10 days in England before continuing on to join the 6th Fleet.
While serving with the 6th Fleet the Sperry was dispatched to a small town in Spain for a celebration. I believe that the celebration had to do with JUAN PONCE DE LEON who is acknowledged as the discoverer of Florida. Again the Sperry had to go to a small village that was back a river of canal. I can remember that the waterway was very narrow and the harbor at the end of it was also small. The Ambassador to Spain, Henry Cabot Lodge was there with his very attractive daughter. They visited and toured the ship. The Sperry had a small group of sailors participate in a parade. That was quite a sight. Most of them hadn't marched since they were in boot camp. They did us proud though. Everything went well until we tried to leave. The small harbor was almost too small to get turned around in. We provided a final entertainment event for the locals who turned out to laugh at our plight in trying to turn around.
The Sperry was one of the two destroyers dispatched to Egypt when fighting broke out between the English and Egyptians. The destroyers were to stand by and assist if required. We were close enough to the action to see the bomb bursts around the Suez Canal area. We listened to the English pilots, two of which were using the call signs of BATMAN and ROBIN. Really seemed funny to hear a British accent calling "Batman".
The only thing close to excitement came when two Egyptian MIGs came out and started circling us. The Captain ordered the Fire Control folks to track them with the 5 inch mounts. The MIGs suddenly decided that they had business elsewhere.
At one point during the cruise we were going to be dispatched to the Red Sea. Tropical uniforms (shorts) were issued for the hot climate to be found in that area. Fortunately we had to turn them in and were not sent there.
Note 2. A Crew Member's Remembrance of GITMO.
God it was hot!
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