BLT 3/5 as a SLF aboard LPH-5 USS Princeton (‘Nam 1966)

BLT 3/5 as a SLF aboard LPH-5 USS Princeton (‘Nam 1966)

It was sometime in mid-1966, somewhere off the Vietnam coast, we were returning to our ship after a search and destroy operation. As I stepped onto the deck, and knowing most of the deck crew from my helicopter guard duty while on the ship, I could see the startled expression on a swabbie’s face.
Not knowing if it was the aroma from fifteen days of sweat, gunpowder, insect repellent and rice paddy mud or the unshaven face, I just grinned. Recognizing me, he said “Hey Jarhead, what did you do, scare ’em to death?” I replied “Yeah, VC number ten.” He then said “I’ve got the latest scuttlebutt.” I replied dryly “What’s that, some chicken shit inspection?” He laughed and said “No, we’re floating back to Subic to confuse enemy observers for a few days and having liberty call instead of training.”
Ski, our wireman, said he knew the perfect place for us to go and unwind.

As we entered the Philippine waters we floated by the USS Enterprise and it felt like we were on a tug boat. Soon as the ship docked, “Cinderella Liberty” was sounded and five of us headed directly to the best off-limits, restricted slop chute in the Olongapo City’s wild side.
After a few boisterous hours of flowing booze, a classic, all-out brawl started. Broken bottles, tables, chairs, fists an bodies flying, Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, the squid sea going bellhops, some mean local patrons and everyone else . . . I felt like it was an episode of ”McHales Navy.”
So I said to myself “Self . . . What stupid? . . . this is getting risky, and that naive, prick sergeant (personalities clash from day one, I had one he didn’t) would love to see me get office hours,” so out the back door I went and somehow made it back to the ship on time.

Once on board, I waited by the gang plank for Ski and the rest of the group who returned in a Shore Patrol paddy wagon. After taking some ribbing for leaving the festivities early, I just said I’m planning on keeping my remaining supply of odds against danger for the combat zone.
No bullshit GI.


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34 thoughts on “BLT 3/5 as a SLF aboard LPH-5 USS Princeton (‘Nam 1966)”

  1. Same unit (Blt 3/5) and same ship. Was a 1 st Bn. , B Co. 1 st Engineers, 3 rd Plt . attached. Same operations. Same liberty maybe same bar fight. Remember Deckhouse I, II, Hastings, Nathan Hale, Colorado? And others. Rock pile, Hill 400 and 480. Semper Fi!

    1. Semper Fi!Operation Hastings/Lam Son-289 was the largest and most violent operation of the war up to that point and involved 8,000 Marines and 3,000 South Vietnamese. The number of North Vietnamese regulars engaged equaled the total American and South Vietnamese strength. During the battle, the Marines fought elements from all three regiments of the 324B Division: the 99th, the 803d, and the 812th. The battles of Operation Hastings lasted throughout the month of July 1966 until the NVA abandoned their plans for an invasion of Quang Tri. Pulling back to North Vietnam, they had left 882 KIA and 17 captured. They lost hundreds of weapons and tons of ammunition.
      The price the Marines paid in pushing them back across the DMZ was 126 KIA (RIP) and 448 WIA in the three weeks of the operation. The operation ended on August 3rd, 1966.

      (I was with Special Landing Force BLT 3/5, 81’s attached to Lima and while we were physically and mentally combat hardened from previous operations, the length, continued movement and repetitive action of this operation most definitively proved our mettle.)

      1. Half the battalion of 3/5 were crammed in the USS Pickaway. India and Kilo Companies. Also…I realized the moment I saw that photo of a landing it wasn’t one of ours. Each of our landings took place on the most beautiful, cloudless days imaginable. The sea and the ocean were damn near the same shade of blue.

      1. I was also on the Princeton,early summer 1960,floating battalion duty for 3 month,1/9,first time heloing off the ship to visit Korea for 5days,smelled bad then,probably worse now.

  2. Semper Fi! From Camp Pendleton staging? APA-USS Renville from Long Beach to Okinawa, roast beef everyother day(Renille steak!)

  3. If they say they were on the Princeton, OK, I’ll accept that, I wasn’t there. That landing craft in the background however, is from Henrico, APA-45. I shipped aboard her to Korea with 1/5 in July ’50, then re-boarded in Sept. for Inchon.

    1. FYI Sgt Grit added that photo. All of our (BLT 3/5) amphibious jungle landings from the USS Princeton LPH-5 were in UH-34D Sikorsky helicopters to designated Landing Zones. The search and destroy operations were 10, 20, 30 days in length with resupply of water, c-rations and ammo from the same copters.

      1. I was on the USS (NeverSail)Princeton with HMM 364, The Purple Fox squadron the summer of ’66. Busy times in RVN and Subic Bay/Olongapo. John Beeman

    2. Paul Santiago…..You are so correct. I was aboard the Henrico, APA-45 somewhere between Pearl Harbor and Okinawa in mid July 1966.

  4. God love Subic Bay. God love Olangapo City. God love Magsaysay drive. God love Peso Jimmys. God love Subic City and god love Joe “Sockets” Unwin for showing me how to live right every time we pulled in. HMLA-369 Gunfighters, Mag-39, Camp Pendleton. Golden Shellback and otherwise loveable boat trash!

    1. I retired to Olongapo (Barretto Beach). I live here now, been in Philippines now for over 2 years, was with HMLA-369 once or twice myself. Come visit us, things still the same here. If u know what I mean?

      1. Hey George, I have a friend who also lives there now…his name is Steve chance, do you know him?

        1. No, but I will look him up, is he a Marine? I live 1 klick from Olongapo, in Barretto Beach. Living on the beach. Have Steve get in touch with me. I am a regular at Dynamite Dicks Bar (owner is former Marine). Thanks Howard. Come see us!! San Miguel is cold, Girls still hot!! Semper Fi.

  5. Great story. Great memories. I think any of us could hav written it at that time. Thanks for recharging my batteries. At that time: PFC Mike Hayes, Fox Battery 2/11/BLT3/5

  6. I was with W (Mort) 2/12 on the Princeton BLT 2/12 I served in the FDC for this 4.2 Mortar Battery. And also sometime in the field with I 3/5 as a FO during Deckhouse Il and part of Hastings. Loved our trips Back to Subic Bay to regroup. 101 Night Club was one of my favorite Bars. After BLT 3/5 Mort hooked up with BLT 1/26 and went aboard LPH Iwo Jima and we participated in Operation Priarie and a few more . After BLT 1/26 we went in country and our ARO was in the Hue area

  7. Need a picture to connect with the name. I was an assistant gunner and later gunner in SGT Whitehead’s 81’s squad. We left Longbeach on the USS Ranville. Trained in Okinawa. Boarded the USS Westchester County for Mt. Fuji Japan for cold weather training. Back to Okinawa for more training. Then left for Vietnam aboard the USS Princeton a helicopter carrier.

  8. Hello, Joe Holt. One of the best story tellers and writers that I know. I hope that all is well with you.

  9. A few years back i got together with Williams who led another squad. Larkin was his gunner, in Baltimore. Also met with Captain Kirschke.

  10. Left Pearl Harbor on USS Princeton along with USS Pickaway & Alamo around early March 66. We were Bn Landing Team (BLT) 1/5. Pulled Operations Jackstay in Mekong Delta south of Saigon 27Mar-6Apr & Operation Osage 3 weeks later (27Apr-4May) in Phu Loc south of Phu Bai. Disembarked @ Chu Lai in early June to establish Hill 54 Combat base, 10 kilometers NW of Chu Lai Airfield. Refueled & resupplied as I recall 2-3 times @ Subic Bay w/liberty in Olongapo as well ( Far East version of Tijuana). Spent One day of liberty on Grande Island. Always had to anchor in the bay as there was always a senior ship (Admiral on board) @ dock. Usually the USS Enterprise. 1/5 also was involved with Operation Sparrow Hawk 16Jun66 (west of Tam Ky) in the rescue of GySgt Howards (MOH receipient) Recon Squad & the Regimental Operation Colorado 6-15 Aug66 Song Ly Ly Valley. Squadron aboard the Princeton during these times was Medium Helicopter Sq. 362. I now live in Portland Oregon where there was a Reunion of anyone who served on the Princeton. The USS Princeton LPH-5 after decomisssion was Ironically dismanteled here in Portland as well @ Zidell Ironworks, what a small world.

    1. The 25 year combined history of of the USS Princeton; USS Princeton (CV/CVA/CVS-37, LPH-5) was one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during and shortly after World War II for the United States Navy.
      Princeton was commissioned in November 1945, too late to serve in World War II, but saw extensive service in the Korean War, in which she earned eight battle stars, and in the Vietnam War.
      She was later reclassified in the early 1950s as an attack carrier (CVA), then as an Antisubmarine Aircraft Carrier (CVS), and finally as an amphibious assault ship (LPH), carrying helicopters and marines.
      One of her last missions was to serve as the prime recovery ship for the Apollo 10 space mission. Unlike most of her sister ships, she received no major modernizations, and thus throughout her career retained the classic appearance of a World War II Essex-class ship. She was decommissioned in 1970, and sold for scrap.

  11. Went over with 2/5 in January 66 spent a little time in Oki, then to Chu Lai, Came back to Oki and off loaded 3/5 at White beach ,Did some training in Oki then off to see the wizzard on float with 3/5 .. I was a young lance coolie then and with B co 1st Shore party( RED Patches) as a radio operator humping a PRC 47. Fond memories of Olongapo Zambalies lol. My first tour was from Jan 66 to Sept 67 (I loved it so much I extended ) Went back again in april 71 with 2/9 on float until Oct 71. I stayed in because I was lazy and there was nothing in Florida that attracted me retired in 87 as a MSGT and guess where I ended up you guessed it Florida LOL. I spent another 10 plus years working for the state and retired again worked as a Hydrologic data collection specialist III ( translation in Seminole, is white guy alone in the swamp up to his ass in snakes and gators) Enjoyed it all and am now retired for good . Have Fun and Profit!! T>J>

  12. LT. Freeze Motivated a lot of Marines in May 1953 Camp Pen. 2dtraRegt,MB, Camp Pen. Then shipped to Korea after 16 months we made it back to Pen. for a while then Far east. I have lost track of Freeze. Please let me Know if you Know of him. And his Training saved YOUR A also.


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