Reed reflects on U.S. Navy service

Thursday, August 30, 2012
On Feb. 16, 1966, in Siri Yahia, Morocco. Ron Reed had just been promoted and had his picture taken just after putting his insignia on his uniform.

By Neoma Foreman

Special to the Daily Mail

Ron Reed of Schell City, Mo., enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was sent to basic training at San Diego, Calif., on April 6, 1964 -- leaving in what would have been his last month in high school to embark on a tour that would lead him to places like Morroco, Europe, China, Japan and finally, Vietnam.

"I learned how to fight ship fires, abandon ship, and march, march, march. Never marched after I left there, but guess it was good discipline. One of the perks was I was elected as an all-state flag bearer and got to march in a few parades carrying a flag. My first company commander was a 1st Class Boatsmen Swain, William B. Cantrell. He was a salt of the old school and I was afraid of him. We did what he said, but we called him 'Popeye' behind his back."

After 13 weeks, Reed was sent to Pensacola, Fla., for six weeks of training as a communication technician.

His next stop was Siri Yahia, Morocco. What he learned there he took an oath not to reveal for 30 years. He was stationed about 20 miles out in the desert while at Port Kenitra. The servicemen could take a bus to the nearest town, on a liberty pass.

"There was an enlisted men's club where you could get hamburgers, or you could go to the open market and the local people would cut you off a strip of meat from one hanging in their open air market. They were friendly to us, then. You could walk the streets at night without any problems. They wore tunics and were very interesting," Reed said.

After about a year, Reed was sent to Rota, Spain, where he was tracked submarine locations all over the world and pinpointed where satellites were coming down in the ocean.

"Once we heard a distress call from a ship and traced it to Miami Beach Harbor. A bunch of people were having a party and someone got drunk and hit the distress button. Needless to say, they went to jail," he said.

Reed played on the naval station's softball team and was going to get to play in Italy, but orders came and he was sent to Vietnam.

One person Reed remembers from Spain was Ron Powers, the chaplain's assistant. "Even though I was ornery, my mother raised me to be a Christian. That guy made me remember that training and I've never forgotten it, or him," Reed said.

While in Spain, Reed and a several other men went to the Rock of Gibraltar. They had to take a ferry to the British Air Base and walk across the airfield to get to the rock. If crossbars were down for a plane landing or taking off, they had to wait.

When Reed's brother was drafted into the U.S. Army and was in Advanced Infantry Training, he volunteered to extend his time by five months, hoping his brother wouldn't have to go and he would go in his place. Reed was sent to Vietnam; and, in the meantime, his brother was dismissed because of a medical discharge and was sent home.

The USS Oxford was Reed's next stop. It was in dry dock at Yoko Suka, Japan, getting refitted and all the barnacles blasted off its hull.

"While I was waiting in a transient barracks in Japan, Galen Stark of Harwood, Mo., walked by my bunk. We couldn't believe our eyes, but enjoyed some of the 30 days, seeing the beautiful country and beaches of Spain together. I was on duty part of the time. It seems like a miracle to see someone from home halfway around the world."

A lot of Reed's time was spent on the oceans and he encountered lots of storms. After the ship got out of dry-dock, they went out on sea trials and a typhoon was brewing. The engine quit and they sent tugs out to rescue them. The USS Constellation was one of the aircraft carriers tied up in the harbor when they came in.

"We went under the ship. We were looking up at them, and they were looking down at us," he said.

Another storm Reed remembered happened when they were steaming from Vietnam to the Philippines. "The engines were turning 12 knots forward, but we were going about 4 knots in reverse," he said.

On another occasion, they were going from Singapore to Bangkok, Thailand, and had to go up a river to get there. Little boats came up beside the ship with people in them trying to sell them various items. Reed bought his mom a teak wood salad bowl set.

They went off the coast of China and ran through some of the Chinese men's fishing nets and tore them up. They could hear the men yelling something, but since they were speaking in Chinese, they couldn't understand. The captain asked a linguist on board what they were saying, but he told him he didn't really want to know!

"Once we left 'Nam to go to Clark Air Force Base and went across part of the Death Road the soldiers in World War II walked. It was quite humbling. All veterans are my heroes, but especially those of World War II."

In 1966, they were anchored in Da Nang Harbor. It was Christmas time and several orphans came aboard the ship to eat with them.

"They ate those powdered eggs and drank that powdered milk like it was wonderful. I enjoyed watching them and thought it was wonderful even if they stuffed oranges in their pockets," Reed said.

When Reed was discharged, he left Clark's Air Force Base in the Philippines and flew to Tokyo, Japan. He left in tropical uniform and was shipped to Anchorage, Alaska.

"Luckily, we only spent four hours there as we were about to freeze to death in 20 below weather."

He was flown to Edwards Base in Mohave, Calif., and to Treasure Island, where he received his discharge.

"My family was a Navy family. My uncles were in, but my dad was crippled and couldn't go. My mother's cousin was in the USS Oklahoma and was killed at Pearl Harbor.

"Our daughter, Suzann, spent 16 years in active duty and earned the rank of E7, Chief Petty Officer. Her husband, Mike Chick, is a medic in Maryland at the present. I'm proud of my part in serving my country. I never went into hand-to-hand combat, but I believe we saved lives by knowing where the enemy was located."

The servicemen and women on the ship Ron served on received a Meritorious Unit Commen-dation for meritorious service from 1 November 1965 to 30 June 1969 while participating in combat support operations in Southeast Asia. He also received the Vietnam Service Medal with bronze star, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Navy Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and Missouri Vietnam War Medal.

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