The “peace time” Navy from 1961 to 1963 was not all that peaceful. We were still in the middle of a “cold war” in those days, and that shaped all of the foreign policy decisions of the United States, and by extension, the actions of the U. S. Navy. John F. Kennedy had been elected President in what was, up until that time, one of the closest elections in American History. He was, as was most of America, conservative in his foreign policy. What that meant in 1961 was that we focused most of our attention on our then perceived enemy; the Russians. Actually, we called them Russians, they called themselves the U.S.S.R (Union of Soviet Socialist Republic). America and the Russians did not play well together.
After WWII the victors diviided Germany into two countries, East and West Germany. West Germany was controlled by the United States, Great Briton, and France, but had long ago become an independent democracy. East Germany had become a communist country that was, for all practical purposes, still controlled by the Soviet Union. The “fly in the ointment” was the former capital of Germany, Berlin, which had also been divided in half. The Eastern half, you guessed it, was controlled by the Russians, while the Western half was still controlled by the Allies. The fact that Berlin was well within the borders of East Germany created, as you might expect, difficulties.
In the early months of 1961 the Russians were giving the Americans aggravation about the divided city of Berlin. This was not the first time this issue had come up. In 1948, three years after the end of hostilities in Europe, Russia tried to close off West Berlin to the Allies by not allowing vehicle traffic through East Germany. Harry Truman, the American President at the time, started supplying West Berlin by “Operation Airlift” until the Russians threw in the towel and lifted the blockade.
If one were objective about it, you might think, well Berlin is in the middle of East Germany, why not just turn our section over to them? Not so fast Waldo, West Berlin, like West Germany was a prosperous democracy. It served as a constant reminder to the rest of the world, and more importantly East Germany, that a capitalistic democracy obviously worked better than a socialist communistic state. Add to that, the fact, that people kept finding very novel ways of “escaping” to West Berlin from East Berlin. Major embarrassment to the Russians. Hell, the Russians even built a very large cement wall to keep their citizens from escaping into West Berlin. If their system was so great, we kept asking, why did their citizens risk their lives and families just to get out? Tensions were high.
President Kennedy, to show the Russians and the world, that the United States was ready with a military response to provocations in Berlin, if need be, decided to activate several thousands of the America’s Army and Navy reserve units. I just happened to be in one of those selective reserve units assigned to the U.S.S. Walton (DE 361.) Here I come Mr. President!
As a smart ass 18 year old, I did note that since the Walton was located on the west coast, we never got anywhere near Europe and certainly not Berlin. Obviously there was a bigger picture here that I was missing at the time. Instead, we got to make our presence known to the communist in North Vietnam. I think we scared hell out of them but then again, maybe not so much, since they attacked the Turner Joy, an American destroyer, a year after we left and all hell broke loose. I guess it all made sense, if you think the war in Vietnam made sense. At the time, it sure seemed like the right thing to do.
I have tried to relive my experiences aboard the USS Walton for my own selfish purposes. I want to leave a record for my children, but now that I’ve started this website, I hope to trigger some memories for my fellow crew members, or other tin can sailors. If you’ve never been to sea, maybe you will get some feeling for what it was like to be trapped on a piece of steel 306′ long by 36′ wide, for two years, in the middle of organized chaos. Where somehow the absurd made sense.
Most of my memories are good ones, but psychologist tell us we have a tendency to forget the bad ones anyway. My opinions are mine, I don’t expect you to agree with them. My memories are mine also, and you may remember events a little differently. That’s alright, I’m not writing a history book here. What follows then, is the story of one sailor in America’s “peacetime” Navy. I’m glad I was there.