Such is My Recollections
Contributed by: Mike Gilmartin
I served aboard the Johnston (DD-821) from May 1975 to July 1976. I reported as an Electricians Mate – Fireman. During my tenure aboard, I was promoted to EM3. I picked the ship up in Norfolk, where it was preparing for a yard period back in Philadelphia, then its home port. Shortly thereafter the ship participated in a gunnery exercise at Bloodsworth Island in the Chesapeake, which was followed by an ammo “offload” at Leonardo (Colts Neck), New Jersey. From approximately June 1975 through late winter 1976, the ship underwent overhaul alternating between Philadelphia NSY and a private shipyard, Bromfield, in East Boston. The overhaul winter—75/76—will be remembered as a cold and uncomfortable one by the crew. Among the sources of discomfiture was a lack of heating due to overhaul during a record cold snap.
The ship conducted a shakedown cruise out of Boston in the late winter (March 1976), during which she was took on minor water, as I recall, through a split seam in the aft deck—such was the sea state.
During the Bicentennial celebration the Johnston was pier side near the foot of Chestnut Street in Philadelphia and very near the spot where then President Gerald Ford landed. I will recall the day first because the crew was restricted to the ship on what appeared to be one of the great party days of American history and, second, because I had to stand deck watch with an M14 rifle—which I thought a little curious given our stateside locale.
I transferred to the Richard L. Page (FFG-5) home ported in Norfolk, where I served out the remaining two years of my hitch participating in Med deployments.
The Johnston’s crew during the time that I was aboard her will be remembered as capable in that they held together a ship that was in an advanced state of aging, and for being quite spirited. I’ve always imagined them as being a little like a capable, yet defiant U Boat crew. They certainly looked the part. For sure, the “snipes” were convinced that the plant was one “light off” away from blowing up. The other big memory was six hour “Sea & Anchors” down the Delaware all the way to Cape May. That’s a long time in the rather remote forward diesel compartment. I took the opportunity to begin a short history of Vietnam (then an intellectual passion), which was subsequently foisted upon the officers in the Ward Room—it having been discovered by the XO on his rounds. I was good naturedly chastised by the Engineering Officer, Lt Dennis F. Daley—a history buff himself.
Anyway, such is my recollections.