One of the most memorable moments for me during Operation Desert Storm was the night before hostilities began. I had duty as petty officer the watch on the Quarterdeck. I knew something new was happening, something big. (See here a news broadcast of that night that features USS Wisconsin, our sister ship). That is because I was ordered to place a magazine clip of ammunition into my Colt 45 pistol
At that point in my career as a United States Navy sailor, I had stood numerous watches as an armed guard. On my previous ship, the US S Cochrane, I was a part of the ship security force. That ship was nuclear capable and had specialized training associated with protecting special weapons. We had orders to shoot anyone who attempted to enter the ASROC magazine. I never had to shoot anyone. In fact, even in that situation I was never given permission to load a clip of magazine of ammunition into my gun. Until Desert Storm, I had always carried an empty firearm with my ammunition safely tucked away on my belt.
The night before Desert Storm began, I was given an order to place a clip of ammo into my weapon. Even at that point I wasn’t allowed to chamber a round. But it marked the first time in my naval career that I had carried a gun with ammunition in it while on duty.
At that point, rumors were floating about. Rumors that the harbor had been mined. Rumors that something big was going to happen.
A lot of news reports from earlier in the year talked about how hot it was in the gulf region. Operation desert shield started in August 19 90. I never experienced the heat. That night of January 16, I was standing watch outside on the quarterdeck as petty officer of the deck. It was quite chilly. We were bundled up in our pea coats. The air was cold and damp. Most definitely there was an eerie feeling about.
I had transferred to the battleship Missouri for a number of reasons. Partly because I was home sick. My previous ship, the Cochrane, was home ported in Japan. My first two years in the Navy were spent in training in Illinois. I got to go home to Kansas frequently when I was in Illinois. So I experienced a number of bouts of homesickness while I was in Japan. I was ready to come back stateside. The opportunity to join the crew of the battleship Missouri in California appealed to me.
I couldn’t have known that war was looming on the horizon. However, I had already had a taste of the danger on the Cochrane. The Cochrane had been deployed to the Middle East in response to the USS Stark being struck by an Iraqi missile. This was during the Iran/Iraq war. At that time the belligerents were shooting missiles at oil tankers.
When the Stark was hit our ship, which was forward deployed out of Japa,n had to make haste to the gulf region. However being in the weapons department, we were a little disappointed that our older ship was not permitted to enter the Persian Gulf because of its lack of a CIWS anti-missile system. So we were content to do circles in the North Arabian Sea just outside the Persian Gulf off the coast of Iran. Not long after we left the gulf, other U.S. Navy ships were involved in a skirmish. One was the USS Hoel, an Adams class destroyer just like ours. It was ordered to destroy an oil platform with the 5″ guns. Since that was the job we did on the Cochrane, we were disappointed it was another ship and not ours. Little did I know, a few years later I would be back in the region doing Naval Gun Fire Support (NGFS) for real on the Missouri.