John Sullivan V4 Div./V2 Div.1960-1961

My Navy/My Indy/My Story

..... I reported on board the Independence June 1960 after doing a year at Naval Air Station Norfolk, VA in a squadron. I originally started with the Navy in a Navy reserve program. The Two by Four program. That’s two years active duty and four years reserve. From 1958 to 1959 while in high school in Springfield, MA. At that time I really loved the Navy and wanted to go full time active duty and do my two years. The reserve unit told me there were no slots available. I would have to wait for my ship date, which was another year and a half down the road. However if I went to the regular Navy recruiter and was accepted by the regular Navy they would give me an honorable discharge for enlistment into the regular Navy and match up the dates so I wouldn’t have a break in service for pay purposes. So then I joined the regular Navy and they made me re-do boot camp as a seaman apprentice. I had already gone through two weeks at Great Lakes for reserve boot camp the year before and two weeks on the USS Albert T. Harris DE447. I made seaman apprentice and was in the regular Navy. They made me go through the full nine weeks of recruit training command at Great Lakes, IL. That was from 24 February to 27 May 1959. Then I went home for two weeks leave in May 1959 then I was assigned to FASRON 102 (Fleet Aircraft Service 102). Our principal mission at NAS Norfolk was to fly all the top rank admirals around. We had their airplanes. COMNAVAIRLANT, COMSERVLANT, COMDESLANT all of those type of people.

..... I was on the staff of the Commander of the Atlantic Fleet, Admiral Gerald E. Wright, Big WW2 war hero, who, at the time, was the supreme allied commander of NATO. Then after a year in FASRON 102 in May of 1960 they were decommissioning all FASRON’s throughout the Navy. We were all up for assignment and they were going to turn our mission over to Naval Air Station, Norfolk, VA.

..... I wanted to go on the USS Independence because I had a friend from boot camp on ship and I knew I was up for transfer so I went to an old broken down WW2 building down by the piers in Norfolk. It was called EPDOLANT (Enlisted personal distribution office Atlantic fleet). I asked for a particular carrier. I was dealing with some 1st class who I had never met before. He said some of the ships are not available. Which one do you want? I said I want the USS Independence. It was 3:30 on a Friday afternoon when he said, “You got it.” I was kind of a wise guy and asked, “Are you sure?” He said, You heard what I said kid, get out of here. It is 3:30 in the afternoon. I’m busy.” I went back over to NAS and told my division officer what happened. He told me I should have let him deal with it because this guy probably will send you to the North Pole. About three days later I got my orders for the Independence. I knew they were stocking the Indy because she was deployed to the Med three months later on August 4th.

..... I reported aboard in June of 1960. At that time I was assigned to V-4 Division, the fueling section in the Air Department. Then on 4 August, before the Med cruise, I switched to V-2 Division as they had some injuries there. We left pier 12 in Norfolk on 4 August. I remember the Salvation Army band playing Auld Lang Syne while the tugs are backing us out of Chesapeake Bay. Before I got much of a View of the departure they called GENERAL QUARTERS so that was the end of the view. We went to the Med. The first place we went to was Valencia in Rome after we went through Gibraltar. We did stop there but on the way back we stopped at Rota, Spain before we went thru the Straights of Gibraltar. The choice, in Valencia, was to go see Pope John the XXIII or the Olympics, the 1960 Olympics in Rome. That was where Cassius Marcellus Clay, now Mohammed Ali, won the gold medal for the US. I always said I would see a Pope. Later in life I got to see the Pope in 1978 in Boston as a member of the Massachusetts army national guard doing guard duty for the Holy Father. So I made a wise move going to see the Olympics. That was the first time I became aware of Cassius Clay/Mohammed Ali.

..... We were in Cannes, France; Athens, Greece; Pirus, Greece; we were in and out of Naples, Italy. We hit Genoa, Italy and Palermo, Sicily. We were in Barcelona, Spain on 28 January, which happened to be my birthday. We hit Rhoda, Spain then we returned from the Med and ended up at Pier 12 in Norfolk 3 March 1961, which was seven months to the day from when we left Pier 12 on 4 August 1960. On the way back from the Med we were about 1500 miles out in the ocean and things had changed so much in this country. I had a little transistor radio and those radios were a fairly new item in 1961. I bought it in the ships store. I was on the fantail and I got a wave skip of a station from Buffalo New York, WKBW. It was fairly clear for a few minutes. They were going to play the number one song in America. It was Del Shannon’s “Runaway”. I had never heard of Del Shannon or Runaway in my life before that and it really amazed me. I said to myself, “who the hell is Del Shannon”.

..... While we were in the Med for those seven months we lost a total of about twenty-five people, with nobody shooting at the ship. We had one murder that happened on the beach. A couple of the stewards from S5 Division stomped a 3rd class radioman, who had just re-enlisted, to death in a bar in Naples, Italy. They caught them and I guess these stewards are still making Kansas license plates in Fort Leavenworth. We had one suicide, he got a “Dear John” from his girl. He hung himself off the side cleaners gear locker on the hanger deck. We had one kid that fell off a mountain while mountain climbing in Palermo, Sicily. The rest were all aviation type accidents. We had a lot of accidents with the A3D. That was the heaviest plane on the ship. I knew that from my time on the arresting gear where we had to know the weights. The A3D was a 70,000-pound aircraft. We also lost the commanding officer and the executive officer of VA-86. One of those A4D’s they were flying was partly crippled and they were trying to make it back to the ship. And I guess LCDR Howie Thayer, a Korean War Hero, was guiding back Commander John Shuff, who was the squadron commander at the time, to try and get him safely landed in the arresting gear. Apparently LCDR Thayer came down on top of CDR Shuff. Both planes ended up in the water and we lost them both.

..... We had a lot of people killed on the flight deck. I heard a thing on CNN a couple of months ago about a ship coming back from WESTAPAC. They said, “We brought back everybody we left with.” That was amazing because back when I was on the Indy the reason we had so many accidents was because the technology was so new. We had the fast jets. Some of them were actually faster than the planes are today but they do different things electronically today. All the damage control procedures were not in place until after the Forestal fire in 1967. That’s when they completely rewrote the damage control book. They were still experimenting, that’s why every ship that went over lost a ton of people in those days.

..... After 3 March we spent a month at Pier 12 in Norfolk. We were supposed to pick up President Kennedy to go to Cuba. The advance party of the Secret Service detail was on board. I believe we were going to pick up President Kennedy at the Naval Air Station in Mayport, FL. We got about three-quarters there when the Bay of Pigs invasion started. We had to fly the secret service off the ship because the president wasn’t coming. We went on to Cuba.

..... On the decommissioning film of the Independence, they actually put me and one other person, out of all the other people that were interviewed, on the tape in Bremerton, WA during a tour of the ship. There were about 100 people they interviewed. The other guy was talking about card games and pizza parties on the ship. I mentioned, first time ever, where the marines used to stand at parade rest. This is where the nuclear weapons were kept along with the serious stuff. I don’t care if you were a four star admiral, if you didn’t have the badge you were not walking in that space. While we were around Cuba for the Bay of Pigs invasion I saw the real stuff for the first time. When I saw this stuff come on the flight deck it reminded me of fine jewelry. It was glistening in the sun. I said, “My God, this is the end of the world.” I got so scared a friend grabbed me, put his arms around me and told me to go below take a shower and change clothes. They throw people out of the Navy for that. I realized that for the first time in my life I had peed right in my dungarees. When I got back on deck one of the Chiefs asked where I had been. I told him I had to go throw up and also had some gasoline all over myself. That really scared the bejez out of me. Captain Harvey P. Lanham announced, over the I-MC at the height of the crisis, “We may not have no home to go to when this is all over, but with what we have on this ship alone, never mind any other ship that is with us, they will have no home to go to either.” That really scared me. They put this in the decommissioning tape when I said it at the decommissioning in Bremerton, WA on 30 September 1998.

..... We pulled back in after the Bay of Pigs invasion to the Portsmouth Naval shipyard. We had to go into dry-dock because what happened was, the USS Abraham Lincoln, an old SSN, she had surfaced under us and broke one of our screws. I never saw so many admirals at one time on the Independence. Nothing happened to us, we were at anchorage, we had the right-of-way. I think the captain of the submarine USS Abraham Lincoln became a civilian about thirty days later. They flew him back to New London, CT from Naples Italy. He was relieved of command of the USS Abraham Lincoln.

..... I remember a division officer of ours in V-2 Division, he was very respectful and a very religious person but I found this very upsetting. If somebody from the division got killed on the flight deck that day he would take black bunting and put it over their rack. That was the sign that they had died that day. I remember one time coming down there and seeing black bunting on one of the racks. A piece of the padlock was still on the deck. They had already snapped his locker open and cleared his stuff out of his locker. I found that very upsetting. If you try to explain to somebody on the outside what happens on an Aircraft Carrier, they would think you were mad. You belong in a loony bin. You have to be on a carrier to really understand what goes on. I saw in Newsweek Magazine, my mother mailed it to me, the three most dangerous jobs in America:
1. Working in the mines, that’s obvious.
2. Being a police officer in New York, LA or Detroit.
3. Working on the flight deck of an operating American aircraft carrier.

..... I left the Independence while we were in dry-dock at Portsmouth, VA Naval Shipyard. Then ended up on the USS Forestal CVA 59. After the navy I did nineteen years in the Army National Guard. I was activated for Gulf War one. I am fully retired U.S. Army right now.


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Special Thanks to John Koonce V-2 Div. 1961-1963 for collecting and formatting this page for our Reunion Site.

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