I am Cdr. Jim Reid Reid, USN ret. and the last Shang A/C Handler. I
made the final WESTPAC cruise then was part of the decom crew in Boston.
Please recognize that this is a 31 year old tale and some of the delatils may have faded., but the memory is special:
SHANG Nostalgia (File: Handler 2/7/98)
In 1968, while I was in a squadron in Tonkin Gulf, someone made up a set of bogus orders sending me to some carrier as the Aircraft Handler. I
mean to tell you I lost my cool and ranted and raved for two days, until
they let me off the hook and fessed up. Two years later I would actually
received this same set of orders to the USS Shangri La(CV-38). That set
of orders that I so greatly dreaded, provided me with more excitement,
friendship and memories than any other tour, with the notable exception
of my first squadron(VA-85).
Let me point out that the SHANG was an aging ship. Nothing worked but
the crew. It was either cry or laugh, when someone in the crew had a cruise patch made up titled “CASREP-70”, listing the major casualties that were reported during the cruise: Lost a screw while launching strikes; Dead in the water; Evaporators never able to provide enough water; Reefers burned up losing all perishable food; Lost steering while in a turn , (prompting the recommendation that we fire off two aircraft each time we passed through the launch heading); Port catapult cold cat shots; Liquid Oxygen plant inoperable; Contaminated jet fuel; Aircraft elevator cables parted; TACAN failure; and one story that the radar antenna fell and landed on Primary. Add to this a bag of aging A-4C Skyhawks, F-8 Crusader as well as H-2 rescue helicopter that had no authorized night capabilities and pitiful availability the rest of the time. Small wonder that we might look like the “African Queen with F-Troop embarked”. There was so much JP Fuel in the so called fresh water that one might expect, “the smoking lamp is out throughout the ship while taking showers”. Each
evening after flight operations we wandered Tonkin Gulf seeking water
There should have been no surprise that SHANG had problems. The ship had been short changed funding over the years and become somewhat of a legend. One of the first tales I heard in the Navy had it that the crew
had to mail their dirty clothes home from deployment to wash out the
ship’s laundry salt. Once in the Mediterranean SHANG, which always left
a path of leaking fuel, circled back in her own wake to pick up Oscar,
the man over board dummy. That time a spark from a smoke light set the
fuel in the water on fire and scorched the entire port side of the ship.
In 1970, as SHANG prepared to depart Mayport, Florida for ESTPAC, she failed the final material inspection, but was instructed to sail anyway.
I joined the SHANG shortly after its first line period in Tonkin Gulf.
Following a week of turn over with the outgoing Handler, he passed to
me his standard spot sheets and departed in the COD. Seven hours later
the cables of the number three aircraft elevator began to unravel, and
the elevator had to be locked to keep it from falling into the sea. The
Air Boss(Paul Merchant) had given me earlier marching orders, that if
he had to tell me what to do, he did not need me. In shock, I waited
for five hours for Divine guidance, finally realizing that no one else
knew what to do either. With the knowledge that as a beginner I would be forgiven some mistakes, I published a spot sheet that essentially moved
everything aft forward and everything forward aft. Two other factors
come to mind, at the beginning of the respot most of the aircraft on the
flight deck were down for maintenance, so they needed to go below, and,
there was a major vertical replenishment of bombs arriving on the flight
deck at this same time. After an hour there was the worse mess on that
deck you have ever seen. Bombs and airplanes were in major gridlock. I
finally got some of the Divine intervention that I needed as the first
launch was canceled because of weather. Once the weather cleared we were able to meet scheduled operations the next three weeks with my creative respot, but I have to admit that it was with a lot of luck and effort
from some of the worlds best Aviation Boatswains Mates.
After two or three weeks without the Number 3 aircraft elevator, the new
cable arrived in Da Nang. The Captain took SHANG right in to the harbor to pick up the cable and the Subic shipyard workers. As he entered the harbor he gave the crew a harbor tour. ” On the left we have Da Nang airfield. On the right is Charlie Ridge where the VC fire on the Base”.
Somehow I felt a little uncomfortable knowing we were right in the
middle of these two geographic points. I can just imagine some VC
calling Hanoi for instructions concerning the Carrier in his sights.
Another time the Captain drove SHANG into Subic Bay launching aircraft.
The last A-4 off the catapult was on final for Cubi Point runway as soon
as he was in the air.
One of my SHANG sea stories begins, “I recall one day when nothing went wrong”. That is part truth, but we did get to the fifth launch without
the usual crisis. It was a strange feeling and everyone begin to look
over their shoulder as if expecting the calamity to worsen with each
hour of delay. Finally the COD went “down” on the Cats and could not
fold its wings. Everyone relaxed, the situation was normal, FUBAR at
On one major Alpha Strike the flight deck crew, needing some breathing
room, launched the Spare F-8 first. At most five seconds passed before
the squak box roared, “Handler, this is air- ops, why did you launch the
spare?”. I knew we had goofed, and I tried stonewalling with, “I will
call you back after the launch is complete.” No luck, again they
insisted on an answer as to why the spare was leading the rendezvous.
Still not wanting to confess our sin, I said “Falcon Code 169”, hoping
to put an end to the inquiry. It took Cdr. Ralph Hastings at best 22
seconds to be in my face. “Damn it Reid”, said my friend, ” the Captain
was standing behind me asking why you put the spare in the air. “I knew
you had goofed, but I did not want to be the one to put you on report.
Then he wants to know what is this Falcon 169, and he would not let me
dodge the question”, says Ralph. Ralph finally told the Captain that
“Falcon 169 means, COMMANDER, I THINK YOU HAVE ME CONFUSED WITH SOMEONE WHO GIVES A S—“. With, that the Captain roared laughing and said,”What else could he say?”, and left the space. About this time one of the scheduled F-8 reported that he was “down”. No one would accept my claim that this was all part of the Air Department’s plan to have the spare airborne to speed things up.
The Yellow Shirts were wonderful and could meet any spot time table,
unless their Handler could not make up his mind. One of these guys
watched me spin my wheels with a spot sheet for about five minutes. He
finally picked up the paper and in three seconds dashed off a workable
plan. I took a look, put it in the ditto machine and went to press. He
had trained me to know that they knew their job and to stay out of their
On one wild afternoon an A-4E landed ,on fire, having forgotten to put
on a fuel cap. All of the yellow shirts worked to put out the fire after
pulling the burning craft clear of the landing area. A second A-4
landed, experienced brake failure and taxied over the port side into the
cat walk. The aircraft hung over the side but the pilot ejected into the
water. The safety photographer on the bridge took a series of shots that
made Stars and Stripes as well as newspapers around the world. As the
A-4 rolled toward the edge of the fligh deck, the Flight Deck Chief
threw himself against the doomed aircraft. As the pilot ejected, an
access panel flew off and wacked the Chief on his helmet, knocking him
to the deck with an expression of anguish on his face. This was a real
exciting series of shots. Several weeks later, Joe Hammons, the Chief,
would autograph 8 X 10 photos for a $5 donation to the United Way. The SHANG turned a large check over to the United Way that year. Oh, by the way, the tail of the A-4 that hung over the side and the nose of the one that was on fire were joined to make one good A-4.
My favorite SHANG story happened one dark night about 0200. One of the aging A-4C “fell apart” on a cat shot and it took a few minutes to
decide if the pilot had ejected before the plane went into the water.
The next shocker came when it was noted that one of our H-2 helicopter
was actually in the air, on a maintenance test hop(??). Our H-2’s did
not have and “Ace” installed, that is to say, they did not have an auto
pilot so that they could be expected to hover over a downed pilot at
night. As was the procedure, the flight deck crew hurled their wands
over the side to mark the point the accident occurred. ( We had to have
an emergency resupply of wands that line period from multiple night
crashes) After the SAR helicopter had made the difficult pickup, he
returned to SHANG. It was noted that the rescued pilot was walking
without assistance , but that the helicopter crewman was in serious need
of medical aid. It seems the helicopter crewman and several would be
rescuers, from a Destroyer Plane Guard, got into a fight, in Tonkin Gulf
in the dark, over who was going to save the pilot.
On another dark night about 2300, the recovery was delayed because of a pitching deck. The last recovered aircraft shut down about the time the
word was passed for pilots to man their planes. The Captain had never
called me before, but he did this time. He indicated that SHANG had to
notify the Admiral how late the 2330 launch would be. I said to the
Captain that “if I say that the launch will be late, the Crew will get
the launch off on schedule and make me look dumb”. The Yellow Shirts in
Flight Deck Control looked like I had lost it, but hurried out to begin
respot. What followed was a zoo. The aircraft were towed aft with the
pilots pre-flighting on the run. Purple Shirts fueled anything that
stopped and Red Shirts hung bombs after chasing the aircraft with the
bomb skids the length of the ship. Some planes were still being towed
aft while others tried to taxi forward. They did it, they made the
launch on time. I do not know how and I may not want to know. As the
SHANG shook from the first launch from the catapult. I picked up the
phone to call the bridge. The Captain answered with, “Go to Hell, Reid.”
After the last line period, we started the long trip home via Australia
and New Zealand, and for decommissioning. A rumor started that the Navy might retain either SHANG or Bon Homme Richard. Accordingly, the SHANG crew immediately began to collect money to save the Bonnie Dick.
Everyone on the ship shared the hard times and took pride in their part
in getting a job done in the worst of circumstances. What a Captain and
Crew!!! Shortly after this cruise SHANG put into Boston Navy Ship Yard to be put out of her misery. As she steamed up the coast we passed
America departing Norfolk and received the following flashing message,”Do you need water?”
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