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there is “Joy” in Mudville

October 27, 2014

With a steady rain drenching all I can see outside, it looks like what the uninformed might think is a miserable day on the farm.  I know better.  Our new wood stove, featuring a large glass window, dominates the dining room with delightful darts of flame.  More to our core, Jude and I are still basking in the glow of the Giants’ World Series win last night to take a 3-2 lead.  She’s out in the shed cutting styrofoam blocks on our table saw for an insulation project.

Despite two straight weeks (and about a foot) of rain, the Mudville in the title is not the farm, and the “Joy” is not baseball-related.  It’s all a belaboured intro to the third and final post about our trip to Washington state, our visit to the destroyer U.S.S. Turner Joy in Bremerton.  First, the ship:

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There she is, behind the boats.  418 feet long, 45 feet wide, 4050 tons fully loaded and equipped with guns that could shoot 12 miles.  Named for Vice Admiral C. Turner Joy, “a leading Korean Armistice peace negotiator”, according to the ship’s official pamphlet.  Commissioned in 1959, decommissioned in 1982 with nine battle stars.

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The ship’s sick bay.

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Some of the ship’s inner workings.  The last one is an escape hatch for the crew at the very bottom.

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The galley.  The ship offers an overnighter program for those who wish to eat Navy chow and sleep on bunks in cramped quarters.  I had done that for six months in 1968.  We chose Red Lobster instead.

Now the explanation of the title.  The Turner Joy was involved in two incidents that started the Vietnam War proper: Mudville, if you will.  On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox radioed that she was under attack by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin.  Captain John J. Herrick, the commander of the Navy’s 7th Fleet Destroyer Division 192, was aboard the Maddox.  He ordered the ship’s captain, Commander Herbert Ogier, to fire at the boats.

Are you with me so far?  A captain who was a commander commanded a commander who was a captain to shoot at the enemy.  It just gets muddier.  The Turner Joy joined the fray as the Maddox was withdrawing, but before that, four U.S. Navy jets fired at the torpedo boats.  Accounts of the dust-up vary widely.  One version claims that the sole damage the U.S. incurred, a bullethole in the superstructure of the Maddox, may have come from one of the jets.

Two days later the two ships spent four hours in rough weather shooting at radar targets and alleged visual sightings of the enemy.  The Navy reported that two boats had been sunk, yet no physical evidence could be found.  Captain Herrick cabled “Review of action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful . . . suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken.”

An hour later he cabled “Details of action present a confusing picture although certain that the original ambush was bona fide.”  At 1800 Washington, D.C., time, Herrick then cabled “All subsequent Maddox torpedo reports are doubtful in that it is suspected that sonarman was hearing the ship’s own propeller beat.”

Despite all this confusion, President Lyndon Johnson decided to retaliate.  Shortly before midnight August 4th, he addressed the nation on TV, falsely claiming that the action happened on “the high seas”, international waters. The next day U.S. planes bombed four torpedo bases and an oil storage facility in North Vietnam.

Half a century later, we still don’t have an accurate account of this fascinating and tragic chapter in American history.  I urge you to read more.  It’s got a great cast, including Daniel Ellsberg, who was on duty at the Pentagon that August 4th, and George Stephen Morrison, commander of U.S. forces in the Gulf of Tonkin (and father of rocker Jim Morrison).


A very sad footnote to our trip to Washington: we stayed three nights in Everett because my son was attending a soccer coaches’ workshop in nearby Marysville.  Although the workshop was not at Marysville-Pilchuk High School — scene of last week’s shooting — my son did meet two of the coaches from that school.  Please send those folks our thoughts and prayers.

  1. Judith Sears permalink
    October 28, 2014 12:32 pm

    How do you find these things? I can’t believe that ship around should have sold it for scrap metal. Or allow the public to beat it up with sledgehammers.

    • October 29, 2014 2:29 pm

      A neighbour had toured it. I hope it serves more purpose as a reminder of a phony pretense for war than as scrap metal. I found the tour helpful as I continue to seek peace with that chapter of my life. Regarding your comment last month, using the Coho is definitely the way to go to avoid the lines at Peace Arch and the Seattle metro area. And, yes, we have good air here.

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