The following was received from Al Thomas, ETN3, '65-'67
and is his personal recollection of the Vietnam tour the ship took in 1966. Color
photographs were contributed by Leo Rey, GM3.
TALES OF THE FIGHTING FREDDY
USS FRED T. BERRY DD-858
Shortly after I checked on board in November of 1965, the ship went down
to Latin America with four other ships for
HELICON VISTA. We went to about five Latin American countries that hadn't
seen an American ship since WWI. While we were there, we operated with an
aircraft carrier that almost suffered a collision with the BERRY. The officer who had the
"con" (and I shall leave nameless) nearly rammed the carrier
amidships and after a lecture from Captain Dermody was sent below and told
not to come back until he had read his Annapolis books on the subject. This
action by the captain endeared him to the crew for the rest of his command
days aboard the ship. During this time the ship was fortunate to have a
number of musicians and singers aboard and I was fortunate to be a member of
this group. I could also speak Spanish and was one of the five ship's
interpreters, the only enlisted member.
As you can tell, I would like to cover several things that aren't included
in the ship's historical records, as well as some that are. After boot camp I
went to Electronic Technician Class "A" school. After completion I
was ordered to submarine school in New London,
Connecticut and Polaris submarine school in Damneck, Virginia,
located between Norfolk and Virginia Beach. It was while on temporary
duty there that I received orders to report aboard the USS FRED T. BERRY
DD-858. We were told there were several ships being ordered to Vietnam, and
most of these needed ET's. The Pentagon officer, who had been sent down to
personally give us our assignments, informed us that our entire class was
being assigned to surface ships instead of submarines. I had been assigned to
the WWII submarine USS ARGONAUT prior to "A" school and, with my
total time at sea and school, had over three years of school and experience.
Taking all into consideration I must have been considered
"experienced" by BUPERS. Upon arrival aboard the BERRY,
I was interviewed by Captain Dermody and told to keep my knowledge of the
tour to myself until he informed the crew. (As a sidelight, while at Polaris
school we had been told that we were the best-trained and experienced ET's in
the Navy. I was even sent to Portable Radio school and taught to operate and
repair Army Walkie Talkies. I wasn't told the reason why but would soon find
When I reported to the FRED T. BERRY, she was designated an anti-submarine
warfare ship and was assigned to DESRON 10. Shortly afterward she was
reassigned to DESRON 12. The ship contained special equipment that allowed us
to be considered an anti-submarine destroyer. That equipment included special
sonar, hedgehogs and an anti-submarine drone helicopter. The hedgehogs were
located on the 01 Deck just forward of the bridge and replaced depth charges.
The helicopter landing area was located on the 01deck, just ahead of the
Number Two five-inch mount. The hangar was located just ahead of the landing
platform. During my tour we never used the helicopter and only fired the
five-inch and fifty caliber guns. One reason we were transferred to DESRON 12
was to bring them up to full strength for their trip to Vietnam.
Another reason was because the BERRY
had earned three red hash marks for her three consecutive years of earning an
Engineering Award. This indicated we had an outstanding engineering plant and
we were a "lean, mean, steaming machine." They wanted a ship that
did not have to be towed around the ocean, thus the transfer to DESRON 12.
Before we left we took our electronic equipment over to the tender for
calibration. After it was returned, they informed us that they thought our
UHF communications equipment would be incapable of supporting us on a tour of
I was then asked by the officers, "what are you going to do about
it?" I asked them to have the CO to issue me a "Cash Chit" for
the Boston Naval Surplus Yard. The captain obliged and we took a truck over
to purchase and transport several small transmitters and receivers. The
equipment we purchased was still new in the boxes.
At this time there were several ships stationed at Newport, RI
that couldn't get past the piers without having to be towed back. We were not
one of them. Our crew consisted of fifteen officers and 273 enlisted men. I
was an ETN3 when I arrived aboard. In my electronic gang there was an ET
Chief Petty Officer, three ETR's and two of us ETN's. As you know, the
"R" indicated radar and the "N" indicated communications.
The Chief had never attended electronics school and had been made an
Electronics Technician during WWII or Korea. As a result, he never
worked on any of the equipment. The other ships in the squadron had three
more ET's than we did. I can still remember the names of our gang. Since I
had been advanced to ETN3 after completion of my electronics classes at Great Lakes, I was the lead working ET. Our CO was
Commander Dermody. I believe he may be the one who is listed in the current
ship's roster as living in Milwaukee.
Our Division Officer was Ensign Leonhardt, and the Department head was Mr.
One day at sea we held a "Repel Boarders" drill (I believe).
Anyway, I took the opportunity to throw all the empty electronics equipment
cases over board, as that was part of the procedure during the real thing. Of
course that was not the procedure during a drill, and our actions did not go
over very well. We had planned it and waited for months to do it. The
officers on the bridge were yelling, "stop, stop, it's only a drill,"
as we deep-sixed the large empty cases. We had actually saved the guts for
Before we went to Vietnam,
we stopped in San Diego
and received crews' air-conditioning. It was a large unit, installed on the
after end of the ship, on the 01 level, over after crew's berthing. We were
wearing our whites, with Navy peacoats, as we pulled into San Diego. After all, it was cold at sea
and still winter in Newport
when we left. By noon we were walking around the base carrying our coats. We
were only in San Diego
for a short time and not allowed to leave base. I believe it was in Subic Bay that we received port and starboard twin .50
caliber machine gun mounts on the after end of the ship. Platforms were
welded directly on the deck so we could drop the .50 caliber guns into them.
While out to sea, we test fired them. The First Class Gunners Mate allowed
members of the crew to take a turn at the guns. I was very apprehensive, as I
only weighed ninety-five pounds at the time. The kick is something I will
Upon our arrival in Vietnam,
we relieved another ship while at sea and then went directly to the gun line.
The ship we relieved was a new Guided Missile Frigate. They chose to play
Anchors Aweigh on their loudspeakers as they made a turn, at flank speed, and
headed home or "back to the world" as we Vietnam vets say. It was
beautiful and made it difficult for many of us to hold back the tears as the
whole ship manned the rail and watched that beautiful frigate peel off. We
knew they were going home and we were just starting our tour. Before they
left, the two CO's exchanged information by bullhorns, while running side by
side. Our CO said "I relieve you" and their CO said, "I hereby
stand relieved." Thus, we started our new duties on the gun line.
On March 1, 1966 the BERRY
commenced gunfire support operations on the III Corps. Area of Vietnam. At
1145 local time the BERRY
began firing her 5"/38's against an enemy for the first time in her
twenty years of service. Every morning we started earlier and earlier and our
fire was directed by an Army pilot flying over the area. We used the Army
walkie-talkies to start our communications with him and to verify they
worked. One day we fired an anti-aircraft round instead of Willy Peter. The
pilot ordered a cease-fire and called it a day because we had come close to
blowing him out of the sky. Up until then, and even afterwards, he rated our
fire support as outstanding. After our fire support he would supply us with
body counts. He searched for ammo caches and V.C. using ammo trails. If he
suspected an area he would fly right into it and draw their fire. Then he
would direct our fire and fly back in it for verification that we took them
out. On one occasion our spotter was shot down. We also did plane guard for the
aircraft carrier USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65). One day while working with the ENTERPRISE, she and the BERRY were called on a rescue mission for
a group of Marines who were pinned down by V.C. We arrived on scene quite a
while after the "Big E" and began immediate gun support. To do
this, we had to go up the Saigon
River. We arrived just
as it was turning dark and asked the Marines to cease-fire so we could tell
who was who. I went up to the bridge to listen to the traffic. We said to the
Marine C.O. "it looks like you are surrounded." The Marine C.O.
replied, "Yes, we know that. Why the hell do you think we called
you?" After viewing the tracer rounds and getting our bearings, we began
firing. The Marine C.O. told us to walk it into them as close as possible.
The V.C. were right on top of them. We fired close to them, as he directed.
Upon completion, we had opened up an escape route for them. We left the river
about thirty minutes before low tide. To this day I have no idea what Marine
unit that was. We were all glad that we were there for them and could still
get out before low tide.
On St. Patrick's Day we were standing off the gun line when a U.S. Coast
Guard Swift boat called us and came along side for water and food, since they
had been out of food for three days and their relief had broken down. Their
C.O. was Irish and celebrating that day. He was wearing a green silk smoking
jacket, a Green Beret cap and a green silk scarf around his neck. We gave
them water, food and a few books to keep them entertained. They had a mortar
up front and about four .50 caliber machine guns spread around the boat. They
were so small and, next to us, they looked like one of our lifeboats. It was
a neat, clean, heavily armed boat. We talked with their guys and ran below to
give them some of our personal items. I remember it was hot, and one of the
cooks even gave them a container of ice cream.
The next day we heard a general Mayday from them. They were looking for
any American ship in the area to assist them in tracking a Vietnamese junk.
They knew we were in the area, and they had been following this junk all
night. Their primary job was the search of junks and seizure of ammunition
contraband. We could also do this when necessary. It was difficult to
distinguish the target on the radar repeaters because it was close to shore
and mixed in with the sea return, or grass, as it was called. Rick Wooley and
I detuned the radar repeater filter out the grass. After making the necessary
adjustments, we spotted the junk on radar and gave the bridge the bearing and
distance. The radar men took over and continued relaying information to the
bridge. Officers on the bridge relayed it to our Swift Boat until they pulled
a visual contact and began closing in on them. Shortly afterward, my fellow
radar ET and I went outside to get a visual on the junk and our Swift Boat.
We observed the junk as it pulled back its thatched roof and fired one mortar
round at our Swift Boat. The mortar made a direct hit and blew her completely
apart, killing all on board. Our C.O. already had us at General Quarters and
had the guns trained so he ordered one round fired from the forward mount and
one round from the after mount. The first one hit the target, with the second
right behind it. We then moved in closer to look for survivors but there
weren't any. There was very little debris anywhere. The ship's crew was very
grim for the rest of the day. From that day on we were more unified. We went
from a mood of "this is just another cruise" to "it could have
On another beautiful, sunny day, as most were, we could see clearly for
miles. At a distance I saw something causing small splashes in the water. The
Vietcong were firing at us from shore but we were out of their range. Another
sailor and I ran to the bridge and informed them in person, as there was no
sound with the small, distant splashes. The splashes stopped, and without a
spotter, we could not tell exactly where they were coming from. Since we were
at G.Q., the ship continued to move farther out of range. Our Captain would
take on anyone and do anything to return us home safely, while doing our
duty. We all knew we had a great "Old Man." He was fair but didn't
take any stuff.
Periodically, we conducted sea refueling and replenishments. One day we
received fuel from the tanker USS CHIPOLA, and I had the opportunity to
holler at a friend who was stationed aboard. On other occasions we high lined
for mail and movies. On one occasion we received an Admiral and a detachment
of Marines. The next day we hit a severe storm, and the ship rode like a
cork. Several of the ship's crew had fun making the Marines sick by telling
them the different kinds of food they should eat. Marines usually served as
gate guards at Navy bases and often gave us hard times leaving or returning
to base. This was our turn to get even, and we did.
For several weeks we served as plane guard for the carrier USS ENTERPRISE
(CVN-65). Several times we rescued pilots after they ditched their planes at sea.
We would then use our M14 rifles and .50 caliber machine guns to sink the
external fuel tanks that would rise to the surface. On one occasion, after a
firing mission, the ship's Yeoman walked past us to empty a trash can. As he
leaned over the lifeline, it broke and he fell into the water. There were
several of us standing there talking after coming off G.Q. We all began
yelling "man overboard, port side." Since we had just come off
General Quarters, there was a stack of lifejackets lying on the deck. We
began throwing them at him for him to grab. The Conning Officer swung the
ship around smartly, and we retrieved him with a lifeline. He was scared
stiff because several days earlier we had seen sharks swimming in the same
Replenishing from the USS
SACRAMENTO AOE-1, a Fast Combat Support Ship. The USS ENTERPRISE
(CVN-65) was replenishing at the same time.
At night the ship would sit still in the water or steam very slowly to
conserve fuel. During this time we would set a guard on deck to prevent the
Vietcong from sneaking aboard.
After several weeks on the gun line the ship experienced problems with her
five-inch guns. Three of the four guns experienced bulged barrels due to
defective ammunition that had been stored since Korea. The gunners mates were
able to return one gun to service and we then had one forward and one after
gun able to shoot. Captain Dermody sent a message to the Squadron Commander
stating "Have two guns, will travel." After a short period of
firing, we lost one of the two guns and returned to Subic
Bay for barrel replacement. We watched them use large shipyard
cranes to unscrew and remove the defective barrels. We also learned the
suspected cause of the bulging was defective powder in the five inch shells.
As a result, we had to unload all the bad ammunition and reload new
ammunition. You could actually see a large bloated spot in the barrels. We
were probably lucky that one of the barrels didn't blow up while we were on
the gun line.
The BERRY departed Subic Bay in company
with the USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65), USS BAINBRIDGE (CGN-25) and USS MASSEY
(DD-778), for operations on Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf.
At a later date we escorted USS ORISKANY (CVA-34) during operations on Dixie
Station in the South China Sea. On one day
of gunfire support we fired 140 rounds of 5"/38 high explosives in the
III Corps Area.
A telling photograph of
the aftermath of a day of shooting the five inch guns. Now the clean-up
The ship began its return to the United States in July 1966 and
crossed the equator during its return. During the return to the States, there
were several suicide attempts. I was on the "Man Overboard Team,"
which became somewhat of a challenge. One guy decided he was going to jump
overboard in a Stage Six sea. This happened on the Captain's birthday, which
he explained, in no uncertain terms, when he went to get some dry clothes.
The Hospital Corpsman was also trying to talk to the guy with no success. He
left giving me a chance to talk to him and apply some reverse psychology. I
lined the rest of my team up behind me and told them to grab the guy after I
undogged the hatch and leaned out to talk to him. I opened the hatch and told
him to jump but we weren't coming in after him. I then closed and dogged the
hatch down. In less than a minute I heard a light knocking on the hatch. I
opened it about six inches, made a comment to the guy, then the other guys
jumped on him. They had to leap past me and grab him. The Corpsman was beside
himself after hearing of our rescue technique. I knew it was a calculated
risk but it worked very well. They restrained him in his sick bay rack. I
visited him once but couldn't go back again. The guy was probably the only
crewmember who was smaller in stature than me. He looked pitiful, tied down
in the rack but he was hand-fed and cared for by the Chief Corpsman. We got
him to a hospital, and all was well aboard the BERRY once again.
During this "around-the-world" cruise we visited Hawaii, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Yokosuka,
Japan, Taiwan, Saudi
Malaya, Gibraltar, Greece
and Palma, Majorca.
In making this tour we had to transit both the Panama
and Suez Canals. In one of the ports, Fred T.
Berry, JR came aboard. He was a Navy Commander or Captain at the time. We set
out the "Side Boys" and piped him aboard. It was a proud moment. We
were luck because we conducted a seven-month, around-the-world cruise,
including a tour of Vietnam,
without suffering a single casualty. The Captain earned a Bronze Cross, for
activity in Vietnam,
or maybe it was for putting up with the crew.
According to official Navy records, the FRED T. BERRY (DD-858) fired 1,533
rounds of 5"/38 explosive ammunition during her day and night missions
on the gun line. Spotters also reported the BERRY had destroyed at least twenty-eight
enemy structures and damaged seventy-three others. They also reported the BERRY'S accuracy was
consistently outstanding. Upon completion of gunfire support operations, the BERRY provided plane
guard for the USS ORISKANY (CVA-34) on Dixie Station. After this mission, the
ship rejoined members of Destroyer Squadron 12 in Subic
Bay and began its return home.
On the night we returned to the states, the crew was granted liberty and
several ran into some type of conflict. Some of us acted like we were
overseas and went down to Shore Patrol Headquarters. The Chief on duty said
they were looking for four or five other BERRY sailors and that we would probably
be better off if we returned to the ship. We took his advice. Welcome Home.
I left the BERRY after her return from Vietnam and
did two patrols aboard the USS THOMAS JEFFERSON (SSBN-618), a Polaris
submarine. My Navy tour had been so "interesting" that I couldn't
stand any more. I chose not to re-enlist in the Navy after six and a half