Our helicopter squadrons were used as search and rescue aircraft. The attack carriers were further out; they were about 125 miles off the coast. They were the ones that were flying raids over North Vietnam. Every time there would be raids going over North Vietnam, our attack helicopters would be in the air, on station along the coast, so that if any of the attack aircraft or reconnaissance aircraft were shot down, the pilots would attempt to get out to the coastline.
We were going to be in the South China Sea over the Christmas holidays, and we learned that Bob Hope was coming to the Bennington. So it was going to make that holiday kind of special—very special. Senior officers with staterooms had to give them up to the stars of the troupe. A list was sent out of who was going to be giving up their staterooms. I gave up my stateroom to Miss World 1966, Reita Faria, for three nights. She was a very quiet, very dignified lady.
Singer Vic Damone was in the ship's navigator, Harry Irvine's stateroom, and I had a chance to spend some time with him. He was very charming and open, but it was an absolute obsession of his to make sure that nothing would happen to cause him to lose his voice. He was constantly spraying his throat with a little atomizer, and there was a fan in the stateroom, one of those oscillating fans mounted on the bulkhead. He wanted to make sure he wasn't in the air blast of that fan. I think he might have even asked to have it turned off. He really guarded his throat.
After the troupe departed, I thought, Well, wait a minute. I'm going to have the steward that takes care of my stateroom fold up the sheets and save them. I had them stenciled “Miss World Slept Here,” and they were auctioned off at the next Navy Relief Fund Drive.
Grant Anderson was a 20-year-old corporal when assigned the enviable duty of guarding Joey Heatherton when Bob Hope's troupe came aboard the USS Bennington for a three-day visit.
Our First Sergeant called all of us in, and he said, “OK, I have assignments for you guys,” and he started reading them off, and when I heard I was going to be Joey Heatherton's security escort, I said, “Wow! How did that happen?” Here I am in Vietnam and I'm getting this type of assignment. It was the highlight of my time in the military, being assigned that type of duty.
Joey Heatherton [was a little bit airsick]. She wasn't used to flying in a helicopter, plus the ship kind of rocked and rolled too. It could be pretty rough at times. She was very quiet. One night she couldn't sleep and she came out and we just sat there and talked. She wanted to know if I could get her a Coke somewhere, and I said I might be able to get you a Coke, but I certainly couldn't get you any ice. I did get her a Coke from the mess hall, and she was better at that point.
I stuck to her like glue. Everywhere she went, I went. I stood guard outside her cabin, I walked with her wherever she went throughout the whole ship, I even stood by the stage and waited for her to finish and walked her back to her cabin.
I had to keep 2,000 or so sailors and Marines away. That was very hazardous duty, especially when the officers tried to use their authority to get by me. They would give me all these silly reasons as to why they needed to talk to her—that they were part of the show, they wanted to set up a schedule for eating arrangements, and I said, I'm sorry, my orders are that nobody is to contact her directly, and that means nobody. A Marine takes his duty very seriously and I did.
After they left it was back to business. Back to doing our war thing.