On a Friday in June of 1954 we loaded
airplanes from the dock in Norfolk Virginia, Monday we were supposed to
begin training at sea with these planes.
Many of the Leyte’s crew began liberty Friday afternoon for the weekend.
On Saturday two of my buddies and I were sitting on the flight deck relaxing and all of a sudden we were told to off load part of the aircraft and begin loading troop carrying helicopters coming down the dock. Very strange to say the least and all liberty was cancelled. In addition to that we heard telegrams were sent to crew members to report back to the ship immediately.
On Sunday morning we saw 200 Marines in full battle dress marching up the dock and then aboard the Leyte, this added to the mystery and concern. It was then announced to prepare to get underway, what was this all about, it was Sunday morning and the Leyte was pulling out to sea with hundreds of her crew still ashore.
This found me in charge of the Crash Crew also known as Repair 8, I was just a third class petty officer and half of our small crew was still ashore. The chief and first class N.A. Byrd were ashore leaving me with half a crew to handle flight deck emergencies during air operations. I was not too comfortable with all this.
Once at sea we were told the ship
was under “Top Secret” orders and the scuttlebutt was we were headed for
Guatemala, the Russians we were told were attempting to establish a base
there and the Leyte and a small battle group were going to stop them, or
at least going to try.
Sunday night found us running with a totally darkened ship and let me add we passed extremely close to the Florida coast, how close, close enough for me to read the names on coastal businesses in neon lights. So close in fact I thought the ship would run aground.
Monday I was informed that I would
be part of a landing party, holy mackerel it only gets worse. I and other
sailors along with Marines were given training with weapons on the flight
deck shooting at targets thrown overboard. My comfort level hit bottom
when we were told part of the mission was to be a landing party and get
Americans back on the ship.
Page 2 of Guatemala
Maybe the Navy made a mistake about
me, I was trained as a member of the crash crew to fight fires, rescue
pilots from crashes and maintain a “ready deck”. I fail to recall
any jungle warfare training in boot camp, maybe I was in sick bay that
The Leyte on arrival in the waters off Guatemala received some of her crew by helicopter from another ship but our crew was still lacking many men.
For two weeks we cruised in circles and kept about four fighters in the air 24 hours a day, and then it was over. No hand to hand jungle fighting, no Russian Migs attacking us, it turned out to be just a two week cruise in the south Atlantic. Who’s to say the “Leading Leyte” didn’t throw fear into the hearts of Russia during that time ? The United States took a stand and said there will be no Russian base in Guatemala and our proud ship and her partial crew were part of a little known task force that stood up to the Russians in June of 1954.
Now for a more or less humorous tale told to a few of us. It seems one of our buddies was relaxing on the beach with a lady friend on Sunday. He saw a carrier coming in the distance and proudly told her his ship, the Leyte looked just like this carrier coming towards them.
The carrier sailed closer and it was then he saw that big “32” on the stack, he could not believe his eyes as his ship sailed off on the horizon.
Many of the ships crew were located by members of the Shore Patrol checking bars and looking for Leyte crew members to get them aboard prior to sailing, but hundreds were left on the beach as she steamed off that Sunday morning in June of 1954
Text by R.C. Hall
email@example.com (541) 888-1123
PMB 320 1785 Ocean Blvd.
Coos Bay, OR 97420-2993
Recieved on 09/03/02 Donr.