Thanks For the Memories
Air crews recall their service as roadies for Bob Hope's USO show.
- By Rebecca Maksel
- Air & Space magazine, January 2010
Department of Defense
(Page 7 of 10)
I'm not sure why the Bennington was chosen rather than one of the two other carriers in Tonkin Gulf at the time. I can only surmise that since we operated on a three-and-a-half-hour cycle (for launch and recovery of aircraft), as opposed to the other carriers' one-and-a-half- to two-hour cycles, that may have played a part. The show had to be staged on the flight deck and conducted between air ops cycles since the audience of several thousand spectators would be on the flight deck.
Prior to arriving on the Bennington, the Hope show entertained some groups of soldiers and Marines ashore in Vietnam. The Les Brown Band had instruments, and all the cast had personal luggage well beyond the capacity of the Bennington's helicopters to transport. Instead, the show was airlifted by means of either Army or Marine transport helicopters from Da Nang. They had insufficient range to reach the carrier in its assigned operating area at Yankee Station [the location for aircraft carrier operations], so it became necessary to improvise.
Following an aircraft launch and recovery around noon, the ship steamed west at flank speed to intercept the helicopters that had launched from Da Nang. After unloading and refueling, the helicopters headed back, while the ship returned at flank speed to its operating area in time to launch a new flight and recover the previously launched aircraft. I doubt if any fighter aircraft escorts were used, since it was rather well established that the U.S. Navy pretty much "owned" the Tonkin Gulf below the 17th parallel.
The usual scheduled flight ops were conducted immediately before and after the show.
[After the show,] Phyllis Diller was invited to the bridge of the ship to view nighttime aircraft catapult and recovery operations. She asked about the array of telephone handsets surrounding the captain's chair on the bridge that connected directly to some of the more important stations on the ship. She singled out the one that connected to the captain's plot where the surface navigation was maintained, and was manned 24/7. It was suggested that she call and ask for the correct time, which she did. She was told it was 22:45:52, to which she replied, "Dammit son, I asked for the time, not my physical measurements!," followed by her signature cackling laugh.
Diego Garcia, 1972
Ronald Ronning was a 19-year-old Seabee electrician third class on the Navy communication station at Diego Garcia in 1972 and 1973. After returning to the States, Ronning went into the Army as a combat engineer, eventually training National Guardsmen. He is now mayor of Appleton, Minnesota.
They had draft numbers in those days, and my father called me one day and said, "You've got number 7." I said, "Are you sure it isn't 277?" So I said, I'm going to join the Seabees because I'm an electrician. I went to the recruiter, and he said, "You don't want to go into the Seabees, you'll end up on this little island in the Indian Ocean, that little island right there," and he points to it on a map. I said, "No, of all the places in the world, I'll never go there." So where's my first tour? Diego Garcia.
I think it was 115 degrees every day, and humid. I was an electrician there, lighting the runway. We had an airstrip, but it was 4,000 feet long and was for C-130 cargo transports.