Thursday, August 6, 2020

From Saigon with Love

This wedding dress was sewn by Beverly O'Shea, from fine silk bought by her husband Mike in Saigon before their stateside wedding. (M.C. Farrington)

By Alicia Pullen

HRNM Educator

The newly opened exhibit at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum (HRNM) titled “The Ten Thousand-Day War at Sea,” houses a display case of a simple, yet elegant wedding dress. Like many of the artifacts, oral histories, pictures, and captions within the exhibit, each demonstrates the U.S. Navy’s involvement in the Vietnam War while sharing their own story. The wedding dress, in particular, reveals a story about love that was challenged by the American war effort in Vietnam. Moreover, the history of this artifact is unknown to the public and deserves its place as a compelling narrative in understanding the lives and sacrifices of those who served in Vietnam. 

In 1963, Mike and Beverly O’Shea met at the Naval Station Newport Rhode Island Hospital. Beverly was a corpsman nurse and treated Mike who had been sent to intensive care. Mike’s situation was precarious as he suffered from bleeding ulcers and was in a coma for quite some time. When Mike recovered, he was released back to duty. Following Mike’s recovery at the hospital, the two began dating. Many of their dates were in the morgue, as Mike worked at the Naval laboratory in pathology. During that same year, Mike proposed to Beverly. Prior to that time, neither of them had confessed their love for one another, which made the moment even more of a surprise. About half a year later, Beverly accepted Mike’s proposal.

A close up photograph shows the intricate weave of the silk fabric Mike O'Shea bought while serving as a Navy Corpsman in Saigon. (M.C. Farrington)
During their engagement, Mike transitioned to the reserves and went to Vietnam, while Beverly remained on active duty back in Rhode Island. Mike was stationed at the Naval Station Hospital in Saigon working in the lab. He was in Vietnam from 1964-1965, witnessing the changing scene as the American involvement increased. The hospital in Saigon was very busy with many patients treated for different conditions, so Mike was kept occupied. For instance in March 1965, Mike and his friend were driving back from the exchange, where military personnel could purchase personal items, when they witnessed a Viet Cong car bombing near the U.S. Embassy. Mike immediately jumped out of his cab and ran to help people. Mike recalled seeing many people run out of the embassy covered in glass and seeing chaos on the streets of Saigon. Although they had been very close to the site, Mike and his friend were fortunate not to have been wounded in the explosion. 

In preparation for their wedding, Mike purchased silk and lace fabric in Saigon and mailed the items to Beverly so she could sew her own wedding dress. This type of fabric was found in Saigon due to the French colonial rule that had recently ended in 1954. Beverly recalled being excited when she received the fabric but had never sewn before. This was a task she was eager to take on, and it took Beverly about nine months to sew the dress and a wedding veil. Once Mike’s enlistment ended, he returned to the United States to begin college and start a life with Beverly.

A wedding portrait of Beverly O'Shea in the silk dress made from fabric her groom Mike brought back from Saigon.(Courtesy of Beverly O'Shea)

The wedding took place in Marshall, Michigan, Beverly’s hometown, on August 28, 1965. The ceremony was small with mostly family in attendance, and the wedding reception took place in a barn with food and cake. For Mike and Beverly, their wedding day was memorable as they shared it with friends and family. A year later, Mike and Beverly had their first child. They now have four children, two daughters and two sons, as well as many grandchildren. Looking back, Beverly remembers these years in the Navy as a special and romantic time. The O'Sheas donated Beverly’s wedding dress to the Hampton Roads Naval Museum for visitors to learn about its connection to the Vietnam War.

On opening night for the exhibit, The Ten Thousand-Day War at Sea, in October 2019, HRNM Volunteer Coordinator Darcy Sink talks with Mike and Beverly O'Shea after they found Beverly's wedding dress on display near the exhibit's entrance.  (M.C. Farrington)

Friday, July 24, 2020

Seventy Years Ago: Bumper 8 to Outer Space, Part Two

The Bumper 7 first stage, essentially a captured German V-2 with a new paint job to aid in visual ranging, sits on its Army transporter at Cape Canaveral, a far cry from the custom made crawler that would make its appearance at the Cape only a little over 15 years later for the Saturn Program. Note the insulating blanket around the rocket to keep its cryogenic fuel as cold as possible.  (NASA Alumni League, Florida Chapter)

By Steve Milner
Contributing Writer

Bumper 7 was scheduled to be launched on July 19, 1950, but misfired when some of its components had become corroded by the Atlantic Ocean’s salt air. A local newspaper described this launch abort, according to noted aerospace author L.B. “Bob” Taylor, in his 1968 book, Liftoff. I had the pleasure of working with Taylor at the Cape and Kennedy Space Center, and later for him for nearly a decade in Williamsburg, Virginia, for one of the world’s largest chemical companies. He might be better known for his many Ghosts of Virginia books.

In reporting this first launch attempt at the Cape, the newspaper story noted:

An attempt will be made again next week to launch a reluctant rocket which never got off the ground in nine trying hours today. Just about everything that could go wrong with the first experiment in low-angled firing of a guided missile did. When they finally got around to pulling the firing switch on the giant device, it produced only a popping noise hardly worthy of a champagne cork.

About 100 news personnel attended this first launch attempt, which also featured another aerospace-history first: Most of the few families that lived at the Cape in fishing camps and oceanfront houses, left temporarily when the Army directed them to do so prior to launch day. But one holdout, an elderly woman, refused to leave her house and held authorities at bay with a double-barreled shotgun, according to Taylor in his book. The Cape’s fire chief, Norris Gray, knew the woman and pleaded with her to leave. Despite his efforts, she refused and Gray, who knew the shotgun wasn’t loaded, carried her over his shoulders to a safe area. Gray later worked at the Cape for many years while it was becoming the nation’s foremost launch site.

While Bumper 7 was being repaired, the Army team launched Bumper 8 from the same complex at 9:29 a.m. on July 24. Nine days later, Bumper 7 was successfully launched.

Workers fuel a WAC Bumper second stage as Army officers mill about in the background on July 27, 1950. (NASA Alumni League, Florida Chapter)

Personnel serviced the five-story Bumper 8 rocket by climbing a shaky Rube-Goldberg-like gantry configuration, pieced together from house painters’ scaffolding. Disappointed by Bumper 7’s scrub, only about 25 news personnel showed up to watch the Bumper 8 launch.

Launch personnel move the "missile stand," essentially commercial construction scaffolding appropriated for the purpose, into position around Bumper 7 on July 27, 1950, in preparation for its second flight attempt.  (NASA Alumni League, Florida Chapter)
At the zero mark in the countdown, Bumper 8—fueled by alcohol and liquid oxygen—belched huge billowing clouds of exhaust, as it lifted off skyward. Some 56,000 pounds of thrust pushed it to an altitude of ten miles and 15 miles downrange. The rocket then leveled off horizontally while traveling at a speed of 3,000 miles an hour. And after about a minute of flight, the second stage WAC-Corporal ignited and separated from the spent booster in the first known horizontal two-stage rocket firing. The WAC-Corporal traveled 80 miles downrange from the Cape, before it was deliberately destroyed by on-board explosives. U.S. Navy ships in the Atlantic recorded launch telemetry information, augmented by Cape tracking equipment. Air Force planes also monitored data in the launch area.

Bumper 8 at the moment of ignition on July 24, 1950.  The image was probably taken from the blockhouse (which was also known as the firing room), which allowed an indirect view of Pad 3 through a reflex mirror, which caused the reflection on the left-hand side of the image. (NASA Alumni League, Florida Chapter)
A few daring reporters and photographers stood on a dirt mound in front of the 1950 version of a rocket’s control center and documented the flight. Others, including the public, watched the Bumper 8 launch from several miles away offsite. It was understandable that some of the viewing public mistook the Cape Canaveral lighthouse for the rocket.

With the successful launches of Bumpers 7 and 8, the Army, Navy and Air Force tested numerous missile systems there during the next few years. On May 5, 1961, less than 11 years after these first two missions took place, astronaut Alan Shepard, , was launched on a Mercury-Redstone space vehicle on a 15-minute suborbital flight from the Cape, rocketing America into the manned space age. 

Editor's Note: In addition to serving as public affairs officer for 17 years at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Steve Milner was also a public affairs contractor with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at Cape Canaveral during the manned Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Seventy Years Ago: Bumper 8 to Outer Space, Part One

A new chapter in space flight began on July 24, 1950, with the launch of the first rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida: the Bumper 8. Shown above, Bumper 8 was an ambitious two-stage rocket program that topped a V-2 missile base with a WAC Corporal rocket. The upper stage was able to reach then-record altitudes of almost 400 kilometers, roughly the altitude the International Space Station orbits today.  Launched under the direction of the General Electric Company, Bumper 8 was used primarily for testing rocket systems and for research on the upper atmosphere. Bumper rockets carried small payloads that allowed them to measure attributes including air temperature and cosmic ray impacts.  Note how close those recording the event are standing to the launch pad, while the person who photographed this scene wisely decided to stay further back, possibly behind the original blockhouse, which was also known as the Firing Room. (NASA on the Commons/ Image Number: 66P-0631)

By Steve Milner
Contributing Writer

When Bumper 8, the first rocket to roar aloft from Cape Canaveral, Florida, took to the skies on July 24, 1950, its success was due to a combination of American ingenuity and the technology and hardware developed by Germany’s engineers, technicians and scientists during World War II. Only six years before, these same expatriates were working for the Schutzstaffel, producing and launching deadly ballistic missiles to rain down 1,600-pound warheads on London.

I wasn’t able to document how many—if any—of the former German wartime rocketeers attended this first Cape launch. But it’s thought that the top-level team, including its leader, Dr. Wernher von Braun, was busy at that historic moment relocating their operations from the White Sands Missile Proving Grounds in New Mexico to its permanent headquarters at the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.

Six German V-2 missiles, topped by U.S. Army WAC-Corporal rockets in a program managed by General Electric, were launched at White Sands. But a longer firing range was needed, and Cape Canaveral was selected due to its location, year-round mild weather conditions and its relationship to the earth’s rotation. (Launching rockets eastward takes advantage of the earth’s maximum centrifugal rotation at the equator). Jutting into the Atlantic Ocean, it was a favorable place from which to launch rockets more safely for both the Cape communities and downrange areas.

In 1564, Spaniards named Cape Canaveral, which in their language means a field of cane. Today, the Air Force operates Cape Canaveral, while the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is in charge of the nearby Kennedy Space Center, across the Banana River on Merritt Island. The Air Force Eastern Test Range headquarters is located at Patrick Air Force Base at the U.S. Navy’s former Banana River Naval Air Station that operated during World War II.

The first two rockets launched from the Cape were Bumpers 7 and 8, so named because their first stages, modified captured German V-2 missiles, literally “bumped” the second stage WAC-Corporals into their own flight paths. These components were sent by truck from New Mexico to the barren Cape, which was overrun by mosquitoes, poisonous snakes and alligators.

This 1950 image shows a Bumper V-2 on it’s launch stand on Pad 3, with the Firing Room, a frame building in a bunker at lower right. Pad 4 will be built to the lower left and pads 1 and 2 to the upper right. (NASA Alumni League, Florida Chapter)
Despite these obstacles, workers fabricated a primitive launch complex. Over the years there was disagreement in Cape folklore about how extensive this facility was. It was named Launch Complex 3, because its counterparts, 1, 2, and 4 were still being built. One school of thought was that it consisted mainly of a 100-square-foot concrete slab and a converted bathhouse that served as a blockhouse, located only about 300 feet from the launch pad. Experts later determined this control center wouldn’t have withstood an explosive launch mishap. Additionally, under this version, control wires from the blockhouse were run above ground to the slab, and water for fire protection was pumped from a nearby pond.

Conversely, the other school of thought was that Launch Pad 3 was more than a bare concrete slab and a converted bathhouse; instead, it was well-designed and built. It was constructed on an eight-foot-deep hole in the Florida sand and had underground access tunnels and an equipment room. It also had an elaborate water deluge system and a catch basin to trap any spilled liquid rocket fuel. Crews could access these underground areas through hatches built into the launch pad. In 1998, volunteers from the Air Force Space and Missile Museum at the Cape discovered the Launch Pad 3 concrete slab, which had been totally covered by sand over the years. They also found the last surviving hatch, along with the underground equipment chamber, which flooded during the Atlantic Ocean’s high tides.

As for the blockhouse being a converted bathhouse, according to Cape folklore, the Army, instead, had built a small wooden structure that was lined on the outside with a grayish silver material designed to reflect sunlight and help to cool its interior. Blockhouse personnel viewed the two Bumper launches through a mirror-like window. Hundreds of sandbags were stacked in front of the blockhouse for added protection for personnel working inside.

There’s also a discrepancy as to the blockhouse’s distance from the launch pad. As noted earlier, the converted bathhouse was thought to be 300 feet away from it, while a second version had the specially constructed blockhouse at 500 feet.

In the year 2000, some surviving Bumper veterans attended a reunion at Pad 3, reminisced about these two missions and launched a Bumper model rocket. This group also included personnel from the former U.S. Army laboratory at California Institute of Technology that developed the upper-stage WAC-Corporal rocket and other high-altitude vehicles. When the space agency was formed in 1958, JPL became a NASA laboratory that’s still operated by Caltech. 

Editor's Note: In addition to serving as public affairs officer for 17 years at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Steve Milner was also a public affairs contractor with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at Cape Canaveral during the manned Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Naval Aviators' Essential Accessories

The MA-1 flight jacket Jim Hurston wore on missions over Vietnam.

By  Zachary Smyers
HRNM Educator

The origins of the pilot’s flight jacket can be traced back to the early days of aviation and the open cockpit. Exposed to the elements at high altitude, pilots needed a way to keep warm. Fast forward to the late 1930’s with the introduction of the G1 US Naval Flight Jacket. This all-leather jacket was authorized as the official flight jacket for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

In the post Korean War years and the beginning of the jet age, the flight jacket changed from being made of leather, and instead was made of nylon. The dark brown color was also done away with in favor of sage green (which was felt to be more “tactical” if the pilot was wearing the jacket when they got shot down).

On display currently in the Vietnam exhibit, is an MA-1 flight jacket that was worn by Navy aviator Jim Hurston. The jacket is adorned with various unit patches and logos, as well as Jim’s name and Jim’s unit, Attack Squadron Seventy-Five. “The Sunday Punchers” of VA-75 deployed to Vietnam three times (1965, 1968, and 1972) and eventually received the Rear Admiral C. Wade McClusky award for most outstanding attack squadron.

A route card used for mission planning purposes by naval aviator Bob Ponton. This one happens to take him over Haiphong, the heavily-defended harbor not far from the North Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. 

Adjacent to Hurston’s flight jacket are maps and a route card from Bob Ponton who was a Bombardier/Navigator with VA-115, an A-6 squadron flying from the USS Midway (CVA 41). The maps have detailed accounts of when and where Bob was flying. Included on the maps are specific mission targets such as SAM sites. The maps present visitors to the exhibit with a visual representation of what a typical “work day” was like for A-6 aviators in Vietnam.
A map of Haiphong harbor, one of several maps on display at HRNM that were carried on Bob Ponton's knee board on missions over North Vietnam.