How can a guy from Texas in the USA feel so much at home at Yokosuka Naval Base in Kanagawa, Japan? It all started when my first ship in the U.S. Navy changed homeports from Long Beach, California to Yokosuka just in time for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics; and due to the U.S. Forces buildup in what was then South Vietnam, my first ship became my first combat tour.
By then, there had been a naval base at Yokosuka for 93 years. The Imperial Navy built six dry-docks there between 1871 and 1940, and built many warships in those dry-docks. The U.S. Navy started operating the Naval Base in 1945, and switched to joint operation once the JMSDF was established, and the US-Japan Defense Treaty went into effect in 1960.
The U.S. Navy started increasing the number of ships homeported (technically forward-deployed) at Yokosuka as U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia escalated. That increase was fortunate for me. I joined my second ship while it was “home at Yokosuka” in 1967, after completing my second combat tour with “boots on the ground” as a Junk Force advisor to the South Vietnamese Navy (VNN).
The second ship, my third combat tour, saw serious combat, including being hit on two separate occasions by hostile fire from North Vietnam shore batteries. Both hits were in ammunition spaces, each threatening secondary explosions and seriously damaging our combat systems. We suffered fatalities from the second hit.
The good news personally, accompanying that sad news is that I finally managed to get married to the wonderful Japanese woman I first met in 1964 – yes, at Yokosuka! We were fortunate at end of tour to next be able to enjoy an extended “honeymoon” at scenic Monterey, California while I was earning a Master’s Degree in Information Systems at the Naval Postgraduate School.
With incredibly good luck, we next returned to Yokosuka for my fourth combat tour, this time on the Staff of Commander U. S. Seventh Fleet in 1970. The flagship was an upgraded World War II light cruiser with a 6” gun turret and a TALOS missile system. Both were valuable assets in attacking selective targets in North Vietnam.
As I was completing this staff tour, a new squadron of destroyers was rotated into Yokosuka as a homeport. I requested and received orders to one of the destroyers. It turned out to be my third ship and fifth and final combat tour. About this time the U.S. Navy was successful in homeporting an aircraft carrier at Yokosuka.
My wife and I had started a process of adopting a wonderful two-year old Japanese girl, for which I needed to remain in Japan for at least one more year than my tour on the third ship would be. So I requested sea-going staff duty, and was fortunate that there was an opening on the destroyer squadron staff homeported at Yokosuka, and that I got it!
Our destroyer squadron became semi-permanently tactically attached to the newly Yokosuka-based carrier battle group as time passed by.
We completed our daughter’s adoption, and amazingly I once again walked down the pier at Yokosuka to a new job on one of the destroyers in the Yokosuka-homeported squadron. This was my fourth and final time to serve as ship’s company in a U.S. Navy ship. We wound up that fourth ship tour by making “The Cruise of a Lifetime” throughout Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. I imagined I would never see Yokosuka again.
After serving ashore in Hawaii, San Diego, and Washington D.C., I was amazed to uncover an opportunity to return to Yokosuka for sea duty for the seventh time, with the then Fleet Training Group Western Pacific. The typical crew turnover for Navy ships was then about 50% annually. This meant there was no end to the need for hard-nosed at-sea training. We rode and trained the ships, not only those homeported at Yokosuka, but also those homeported at Sasebo, Japan and Guam, a U.S. possession south of Japan.
Very appropriately, I closed out my Navy career at Yokosuka.