Ron Tucker remembers:
For three years, the Rich was literally the only real home
I had. Now, at age 53, I reflect back and see what a privilege it was to serve
on the Rich and to serve my Country. When I look back, I realize it was the most
challenging time in my life. It was an experience I would not want to repeat,
but a journey I am especially proud to have traveled. I salute all those who
have served on the Rich BEFORE me, all of those I served WITH,
and all those who served AFTER me - especially those no longer with us.
While on the Rich I became an A.S.R.O.C. Gunners Mate and worked to maintain the
My first time at sea was in June of '67 as the Rich pulled out of Norfolk for a
Spring Board Cruise in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Gitmo). This was my first time out
to sea and it was a tremendous experience. I felt that the earth was
moving under my feet as the Rich got underway. Through the steel decks, my feet
could feel the engines churning below.
Between January and February of 1968, the Rich departed for another Springboard
Cruise at Gitmo. Ports of call included the Virgin Islands (St Thomas, St.
Croix, St Martinique, and St. Johns Islands) This cruise proved
to be a particularly rough one, having been hit by both sides of a hurricane.
The ship experienced damage when splitting a hull seam and began taking on water
below deck. A very competent damage control team successfully sealed off the
compartments receiving the water. Heavy seas were experienced for the remainder
of the cruise. This was my first experience at getting seasick (yes, I
felt very green).
In March of '68, the Rich left Norfolk again. She was headed for duty with the
Seventh Fleet in the waters of the South China Sea, off the coast of North and
South Vietnam. She steamed toward Yankee Station in the Gulf of
In route to Yankee Station, the Rich crossed the Isthmus of Panama. It was a
pleasure to see this important place that had such a rich history. I remember
getting an embossed commemorative card that I still have today.
"Order of the Lock, Panama Canal
Know Ye that Ron Tucker on the 31st day of March, 1968,
aboard the U.S.S. Rich, crossed the Isthmus of Panama
by Her Servant Panama Hattie, Daughter of the Isthmus"
Commander Edward C. Whelan, Captain of Rich, signed the card. Commander Whelan
was among the Navy's finest.
After crossing the Canal, the Rich was scheduled for dry dock and repairs at the
Long Beach, CA Naval Shipyard. The ship was in dry dock for nearly fourteen
days. Most of us went on liberty to Tijuana Mexico, downtown San Diego, downtown
Los Angeles, and Disneyland.
Upon departure from Long Beach, CA, ports of call included: Pearl Harbor,
Hawaii, Midway Islands, and the Island of Guam. During this time at sea, the
Rich crossed the International Date Line.
On May 7, 1968, forty-two days after departure from Norfolk, VA, and 12,000
nautical miles later, the Rich arrived at Subic Bay in the Republic of the
Philippines. Liberty was granted in the City of Olongapo. Other ports of call
included Koishung, Taiwan.
The Rich then steamed to Yankee Station. From May 13, through July 20,
1968 the Rich provided escort and plane guard services for four successive
attack aircraft carriers: USS Bon Homme Richard, USS Enterprise, USS
Constellation, and the USS Ticonderoga in the Tonkin Gulf.
What impressed me most about this tour was getting the opportunity to see these
fine ships and their attack aircraft in action. It was a long way from the
plastic models that I tinkered with as a child.
I made the following notation in my diary:
"To the portside of the Rich, I can't help but marvel at the poised
aircraft on the USS Enterprise. These elegant machines make the rigor of war
difficult to comprehend. If I were a ground soldier in the jungle of
Vietnam, I might actualize the war more readily. It is incomprehensible that the
pilots of those sleek F4 jets, now zooming off the carrier decks, are destined
to bomb and destroy enemy installations, unprotected villages, homes, farms, and
HUMAN SOULS. Thoughts about some of those pilots not returning are somewhat
buried in the recesses of my mind"
What a workout Vietnam was. A basic workday in Vietnam aboard the Rich consisted
of an eight hours on and eight hours off. During the eight hours off, time
was spent performing ship maintenance, hi-lining food and stores, refueling, or
taking on ammunitions and mail (God Bless the mail.) In essence, the workday was
sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. During the eight remaining hours of the
day, time was spent eating, showering, and sleeping (sometimes showering was
skipped in favor of sleep). And of course, sleep was often interrupted by more
refueling and Hi-lining.
Good spirited fun, rest, and relaxation came to the Rich, as the ship steamed to
the Port Of Call Singapore, but not before a traditional Shellback Day
Celebration. Navy tradition states that any sailor who has not crossed the
Equator is an "unworthy Pollywog". Sailors who have previously crossed
the Equator are called "Trusty Shellbacks". No unworthy Pollywog can
become a Trusty Shellback without first being initiated into the "Solemn
Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep". Thus, on June 12, 1968 when
the Rich crossed the Equator at 105 - 15.0 E the initiation of all Pollywogs
began. I spent most of my day on my knees, obeying Royal Commands of Trusty
Shellbacks, being sprayed with salt water, barking like a dog, and screaming
like a cat. Whew! Does the Navy still do this foolishness?
This initiation and the brief stay at Singapore provided a welcome relief from
the frustrations and tensions of the Vietnam War zone.
On July 30, 1968, the Rich arrived at Danang, South Vietnam to join a search and
rescue group consisting of the USS Sterett, USS Hanson, USS Wainwright, and the
USS England. These were guided missile frigates and destroyers that were
dispersed at three stations along the North Vietnam coast from which they
controlled aircraft and conducted rescue operations for pilots unable to return
to their parent carriers.
It was during this period, in the middle of night, that the
Rich manned its battle stations; the result of North Vietnamese helicopters
delivering rocket fire at the England and Hanson. My heart was pounding like a
jackhammer. No casualties were reported and damages were slight. But, it
was scary for us first-timers.
I remember one morning looking out to shore and seeing a rainsquall unloading
over the Vietnam landscape. I was thinking of home and recalled sitting in my
high school government class back in 1965. The teacher asked
the class if any of us could find Vietnam on the World map. Not one of us could.
The teacher said: "You guys better find out. You' are going to be fighting
there in a year or two!
And he was right. I was in a war that my friends back home were protesting. I
remember being confused about what we were supposed to doing in Vietnam. I
remember standing watch on the Asroc Deck one evening, looking out toward the
Vietnam shoreline. The weather was warm and comfortable. The ship
was about twenty miles from the mainland and the sun was moving fast behind the
Vietnam landscape. After sunset, the hills of Vietnam become nothing but dark
masses to the eye - almost lost in the darkness. The nights were generally
silent, giving a false sense of peace, tranquility, and safety. The ship
was too far from shore to hear the artillery fire and explosions taking place on
the mainland, but the yellow flash of artillery fire and vast explosions
repeatedly silhouetted the landscape. I could see the flames sprouting out from
the rear of naval jets. It was like watching a great silent apocalypse. I was
watching a war in remote silence. The silence was so serene that one
could almost forget that it was a war zone and that villages were being
destroyed, that men, women, and children were being killed on the
In September of 1968 the Rich visited the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong (now
officially part of Red China) for rest and relaxation. We were greeted by great
Chinese cuisine, bargain shopping, tailor shops, rick-a-shaw rides, and friendly
The visit to Hong Kong was followed by ten days as a task unit on the gunline in
the I Corp Tactical Zone in the northern sector of South Vietnam. From Sept 21,
to October 1, 1968 the Rich provided naval gunfire support for the First
Division, Army of Republic of South Vietnam, and the 26th Marines, Third
Division. The nights were no longer silent. It was a relentless ten days
of gunfire. I can still hear the relentless "Boom . Boom . Boom. The
percussion of sound would hit your body so hard it would numb your chest.
There was the
constant spray of burning cork and the smell of gunpowder in your
In October of 1968 the Rich was relieved of duty by the
Battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62). I regret that I did not get a closer look at
the New Jersey. The reputation of her 16" guns was legendary. I could see
her along the horizon on the starboard side (about five miles away) and could
hear her guns firing. That was as close as I got to her.
The Rich was reunited with Destroyer Division Twenty-One on return to the United
States. The Rich arrived in Norfolk, VA on November 5, 1968. Brutal winter
temperatures, high winds, freezing ice, and rough seas marked the return.
During the early part of 1969, the Rich participated in another Springboard
Cruise in Gitmo.
After returning to Norfolk, the Rich was ordered to Atlantic operating areas
where the She acted as a recovery ship for the US Apollo Ten Space Mission. A
commemorative, certificate was issued to all crewmembers. The certificate
read as follows:
TASK FORCE ONE FOUR ZERO, MANNED SPACECRAFT RECOVERY FORCE:
Be it known to all who sail the waters of the briny
or soar through the blue skies above, that
Seaman Ronnie L. Tucker,
serving as a crewman on USS RICH (DD 820) in the Western Atlantic for the EXTRA
TERRESTRIAL FLIGHT OF APOLLO TEN, crewed by astronauts, Thomas Stafford, Mission
Commander, John W. Young,Command Module Pilot, Eugene A. Cernan, Lunar Module
Pilot: has demonstrated his expert
qualifications in the fine mysterious arts
by the many and varied aspects of spacecraft launch support, orbital coverage,
spacecraft reentry, location and recovery operations, he is therefore granted
our express authorization to claim kindred spirit with these brave and daring
astronauts. And know Ye all by these presents that the exalted individual cited
herein is to be accorded all right and privileges customarily accorded such
Apollo Ten's lunar orbital flight began on Sunday, May 18, 1969, after a
flawless launch, the Rich made port of call on the Island of Bermuda.
On July 3, 1969, the Rich departed Norfolk, VA for a "Good Will" tour
in the Middle East. Ports of call included: Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico (July
6, 1969), San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Porto Grande, Cape Verde, Islands.
On July 21, 1969 the Rich crossed the Equator at Latitude 00 00' and Longitude
00 00'. This gave me an opportunity to become a "Golden
Shellback". So on this occasion, I got a chance to reap revenge from
time I had crossed the Equator on June 12, 1968. It was sweet
payback time for the humiliation of my Pollywog days. Ha!
Other ports of call included: Luanda Angola, Africa; Lourenco Marques,
Mozambique Africa, Port Louis, Mauritius; Madras, India; Chittagong, East
Pakistan (now Bangladesh) Columbo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka ) Karachi, West
Pakistan; Bandar Abbas, Iran; Djibouti, Somalil D; Victoria Island; Seychelles
(Oct. 8, 1969); Bahrain Island in the Persian Gulf, near Saudi Arabia (Nov. 20
1969) and Recife, Brazil, South America.
On January 21, 1969, the Rich returned to Norfolk, VA from the Middle East.
On July 14, 1970 I received my Honorable Discharge from the
Navy and departed the Rich.