Norm Johnson
Metalsmith/Shipfitter 2nd class (SFM2)
On board Indy Oct 1962 – May 1966

My time on the “BIG I” !

..... After basic training and ship fitter school in San Diego, I reported aboard the Independence on the 10th of October 1962. It was 10:30 PM. I was shown to our compartment, picked out a bunk and hit the sack. When I got up the net morning… we were on our way to the Cuban blockade. We stopped at Mayport for a couple of days and then headed for Cuba, however, we got chased back by Hurricane Hellena and then back on course after she blew by. 2 November 1962 we were 120 miles south of Kingston and had been at sea for 22 days, which was a new record without dropping hook.

..... 21 November 1962 we received orders to head back to Norfolk. This was 37 days at sea.

..... After getting back we spent some time in the yard at Portsmouth. Then went on a shakedown cruise and pulled into GITMO Bay on 21 June 1963.

..... August 1963 we left the states for a Med Cruise.

..... Then on 22 November 1963 the Captain passed the word about President Kennedy being shot. On 24 November we were at Fleet anchorage at some bay (don’t have the name) but everyone was up on deck taking pictures of all the ships of all sizes from carriers to subs.

..... The 4th of July 1964 the “Big I” was in New York City. September 1964 we headed on a NATO cruise and crossed the Arctic Circle and became a Blue Nose. 10 May 1965 we left Norfolk on a West Pac cruise going around South Africa. 21 May 1965 at 1440, we crossed the equator at 30’30; and became Shellbacks. That’s an event you don’t soon forget. After going through the “Ceremonies” and crawling out the garbage chute, we were cleaning up down in our shop and one of the guys said he was doing OK until he came to the end of the chute and saw all those little hot-dogs floating around. He said that we had for lunch the day before, he said he almost lost his cookies there. Then I told him, “Oh, I stopped an ate a couple of them before I crawled out – Then he did loose his cookies.”

..... On our way to Vietnam, we started having GQ (General Quarters) drills. Our first drill it seemed to take half the morning to set GQ. This obviously was not good and the captain said we would have GQ drills every day until we got it down to the time that was acceptable. Well we never got close, some days it even got worse. We’d get close to the required time, and the captain would be encouraged and then drop down again. Then we got into the combat area and one-day GQ sounded and the word over the speakers, “GENERAL QUARTERS, GENERAL QUARTERS, THIS IS NOT A DRILL, we have two MIGS coming in at us.” Well, we set GQ in less than the recommended time. We got off our planes and the MIG’s turned and ran.

..... After GQ the captain came on and told us the time was very good (I don’t know the time that was required) and said there was no need for any more GQ drills.

..... We stopped in Singapore from 10-14 June 1965. While there, we had the ships sides painted by ladies and it was my understanding that part of there pay was the food we didn’t eat off our trays. When you finished they would take our trays and put leftover pancakes in one box and leftover meat in another, etc. Every meal for the time there, they collected our uneaten food. After finding this out, we would always take a couple extra pancakes, etc, etc. each meal.

..... 17-28 June, we were in Subic Bay, Olangapo, now here are some stories that could be told, But not now.

..... On 1 July 1965 we made out first strike on Vietnam. We hit 73 out of 135 targets. I guess that was good for then. By today’s standards, it would be pretty bad. We flew 8,032 sorties, lost 12 aircraft. We also lost 18 men, 10 dead, 2 captured and 6 missing.

..... Anyone who was in the service the beginning of 1966 should remember getting an involuntary extension. Such was my case. I was scheduled to get out the second of February 1966, but didn’t make it. We had returned to Norfolk and the extension for the Navy was finally lifted.

..... I had not heard when I would get discharged. Then, in the afternoon of 27 May I answered the phone in our shop and they asked me when I was going to come up to get my discharge papers. I was up in the personnel office before they hung up the phone.

..... I had my gear on the pier waiting for a cab within an hour.

..... I’d like to thank John Koonce and our “Fearless Leader” Denis Bagley for getting this started. It is a great opportunity to have your memories put in print, instead of lost forever.

..... Thank you, Norman H. Johnson

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