Vietnam, The Early Years



USS STODDARD DD566 in the VIETNAM WAR

by Byron Goodwin (RM2, 1959 -1962)

I served on board the USS Stoddard from May 1959 through July 1962. During this period we made three cruises to the western Pacific of 6-8 month's duration each. I want to share with you some of the history of the Stoddard from those cruises and also some of what I learned from conversations with other Stoddard alumni about her Vietnam era experiences.

When I first boarded the Stoddard she had just returned from a Westpac cruise which included a trip to Australia. Stories of the Australian tour were many and varied. Apparently our ship was asked to leave port early due to some of the extra curricular activities of the crew. During this trip Stoddard participated in the evacuation of Quemoy and Matsu, which are Islands off the Chinese coast that were claimed by both Communist china and Nationalist China. She earned the National Defense Ribbon for this action.

My first cruise on board Stoddard (1959-1960) was as part of a task force designated as an Anti-Submarine (ASW) group. The carrier USS Bennington was the heart of the group. As I recall the other destroyers in our division were USS Cogswell, USS Ingersol and USS Braine. Many hours were spent in drills designated to sharpen our skills as a Hunter Killer group for sub warfare. This cruise included stops in Okinawa (Buckner Bay), Yokosuka, Japan, Subic Bay, Philippines, Hong Kong (for R&R) and Kaoshung, Formosa. The US had an agreement with Nationalist China to defend against an invasion from Communist China and as part of the agreement the US Navy maintained ships on patrol off the Chinese coast. These patrols involved cruising parallel to the coast on a north-south line for several days. Two ships usually patrolled while the other two ships of the division were either in port or en route to relieve the ships on patrol. Obviously this routine became very boring. The highlight of this cruise was a week in Hong Kong for R&R where everyone was able to buy tailor made clothes very inexpensively.

When Stoddard returned to the US the routine of drilling for ASW continued. In addition we drilled with a combined US and Canadian force. This exercise lasted for several weeks but we did get to spend time in San Francisco with a ship's open house on July 4. Later we also were able to spend time in Seattle for their annual Seafair celebration in August. During this period Stoddard earned an "E" for Excellence in performance. We wore the "E" on our jerseys with pride.

My second cruise (1960-1961) began with a 30 day stop in Pearl Harbor to drill (again) on ASW techniques. When leaving for the Western Pacific after this stop Stoddard rescued several young men who were adrift in a small outboard motor boat. The boat had been adrift for a couple of days and the young men were lucky that we spotted them as bad weather was approaching. One of the rescued was the son of the Mayor of Honolulu, so Stoddard was famous in Honolulu for a while. We delivered the rescued back to Pearl Harbor with a broom flying from the mast to signify a clean sweep. We made the usual stops on this trip at Yokosuka, Okinawa, Kaoshung and Subic Bay. The stop in Hong Kong however became a 30 day stay as the designated Station Ship to handle communications for the US embassy in Hong Kong. We learned later that the rest of the division (which was on patrol in the South China Sea) was very envious.

Another interesting event occurred as we came across a freighter loaded with manganese ore that was sinking off the northern tip of Luzon (Philippines). We took the crew off and stayed by until she sank. The crew was transported to Manila Bay.

Upon return to the US we went to the Long Beach Shipyard for overhaul and modifications. The spring and summer of 1961 were spent being repaired. After the overhaul and sea trials we found out that we were scheduled for a trip back to Westpac in January 62. This cruise was different as we were now operating with the aircraft carrier USS Lexington and no longer designated as an ASW group. The situation in Southeast Asia had changed as Vietnam was now becoming a hot spot. While we made short stops at most of the usual ports, including the Formosa Straits patrols, most of the time we operated out of Subic Bay in the South China Sea. The Lexington was flying bombing sorties over Laos and the plane-guard activities kept us busy.

Another interesting experience occurred when Stoddard and Lexington steamed from the coast of Vietnam to the Gulf of Slam at flank speed. The purpose was to evacuate embassy employees and civilians from the US Embassy in Laos. The evacuees were delivered to Manila on board the Lexington. Stoddard was awarded the National Defense Ribbon for the action off Laos.

When Stoddard returned to the US, I was granted a separation from the Navy. The remainder of what I have to say is based on what I have learned from discussions with those who were on board Stoddard during the Vietnam era. Stoddard continued to have regular deployments to Westpac until she was decommissioned. On these cruises she participated in blockades to interdict supplies from North Vietnam headed south. The blockade was apparently successful as supplies had to be transported down the Ho-Chi-Minh trail instead. Admiral Conolly talked to us at the 1993 Charleston reunion about the time that Stoddard came under fire and took a direct hit from a shore battery. While no major injuries or fatalities were incurred the ship did sustain some damage. He took great pleasure in relating to us the story of how the Stoddard was able to return at a later date. She bombarded the site and knocked out the guns that hit the Stoddard.

As you may have noticed the Stoddard had some interesting experiences during her career. World War II, decommissioned, re-commissioned, service in the Atlantic, Korea, service in the Pacific, Vietnam and finally decommissioned and sunk in 1997. She served faithfully during wars and in peacetime performing those duties normally assigned to the work horses of the fleet. Her legacy will live on in the plaque we are placing at the museum today.


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