James Shepherd, 64, of Saratoga joined the U.S. Navy in 1970. Born in Grants Pass, Oregon and having lived in Klamath Falls, the first major shock to his system he dealt with was traveling to Orlando, Florida for boot camp.
"I was from Oregon, this temperate place, and they sent me to Orlando where it's hot all the time." After boot, he went to Naval Station Great Lakes for gunnery school. On the north side of Chicago, Great Lakes' heat is not quite as stifling as that of Central Florida.
Shepherd joined the Navy in 1970 and stayed in the service until 1973. He was a GMG-3, or Gunner's Mate Third Class. His rating was Seaman Third Class. During his time in the Navy, he was assigned to the USS Tulare, the home port of which was San Diego, California, and which sortied out of Subic Bay, Philippines while on overseas deployment.
The ship was an LKA landing craft. "It's one of the ones that open in front and the Marines go ashore in boats with their equipment," he says. In 1972, the ship traveled to the "gun line." In the Vietnam War, the gun line was a tactical position off the coast of Vietnam patrolled by U.S. Navy vessels. On the gun line, the Navy would engage targets on land with heavy guns, often fired from Iowa-Class Battleships with their nine 16" guns.
"We had like 400 Marines aboard with their gear and Jeeps and things," Shepherd says. "I wasn't too involved in that (the amphibious landing), I just shot the guns.
The guns aboard were 3"/50 twin mount guns, a design that dates back the 1890s. The gun was produced throughout the 20th century and was still in use by the U.S. Navy as late as 1994.
When Shepherd and his shipmates were off the gun line, he spent a lot of time at the ship's overseas port of Subic Bay. Subic Bay was strategically located on the Central Philippine island of Luzon, the base, much like the 3"/50 gun, dates back to the late 19th century when it was originally a base for the Spanish navy. After the Spanish American war, the port became the property of the U.S. Navy, and it was the second largest U.S. Military overseas Depot next to Clark Air Force Base, which was also in the Philippines.
"Subic was fun," Shepherd said. "But when you'd go over to the other side of the island and meet the people there that is cool." Back in those days, the other side of Luzon was very remote and rustic, with many villages not even having electricity.
Like many in the Navy, Shepherd says he values the opportunity to travel that was afforded him during his time in the Navy.
"I saw five of the seven continents, he said." Besides travel, Shepherd says life in the Navy was pretty good. "The food in the Navy is the best in the military," he said. He also recalled a performance by Bob Hope aboard an aircraft carrier at Subic.
"If they had some of the technology back then they had now, I probably would have stayed in for 20 years," Shepherd says.
Shepherd said he once performed military honors for a fallen veteran in Encampment and a gunner's mate from the navy came to fold the flag. He struck up a conversation with the sailor and asked how many people were in his gun mount. The gunner's mate told him there was nobody in the gun mount; the systems were so automated that the gun was controlled from the ship's Combat Information Center, or CIC, with a computer console.
"Back when I was in, I had to have eight people on the gun mount, and there were four guys handling shells," Shepherd says. "The targeting radar on our ship; every two guns had a director and it was hand-held."
"That was old school."
Shepherd says that his experience in the Navy gave him a great appreciation for the technology that was being developed at the time and that is commonplace today. He remembers the USS Bainbridge, CGN-25 one of the earlier nuclear-powered ships in the U.S. Navy. The Bainbridge was the only ship of its class, a nuclear powered frigate, or in Navy parlance, a guided missile destroyer leader.
Shepherd says he thinks the nuclear ships were far faster than the Navy advertised, saying by one back-of-the-envelope estimate a ship was doing around 50 knots.
"If they had the kinds of ships back then they have now, I would have stayed in," Shepherd says, adding that working with the newer technology would also be interesting to him. "I think it would have been cool to be on a carrier," he said.
When he originally joined the Navy, they wanted him to go into submarines because he is short. He said no, saying that even though submariners have the best food in the Navy, which already has the best food in the military, he could not fathom the idea of not seeing the light of day for weeks or even months on end.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Gunner's Mate James Shepherd's ship the U.S.S. Tulare. The attack cargo ship was commissioned Jan. 12, 1956 and served in Korea and Vietnam. The ship was finally decommissioned on March 31, 1986. The arrow indicates Shepherd's battle station.
Even though he says he would love to be able to work with the modern naval technology and experience living and working aboard some of the newer ships in the fleet, Shepherd says he has no regrets about his military service, and would absolutely do it again.
Shepherd, whose father was a Seabee in the Navy in WW2, said he volunteered for the Navy because of a desire to serve his nation and because it was keeping the family tradition alive.
"You gotta step up," he says.
Shepherd said seven people from his high school class took off when their draft numbers were called, and that still upsets him to this day.
Shepherd, who has two daughters, says that he would encourage either of them to go into the Navy, or the military in general if they wanted to. Besides the high-tech training that modern sailors receive, he's also glad that women have many more jobs open to them in the military than they did when he was enlisted.
"Now women can fly combat planes and almost anything," he says. "Today, they even have women on ships.
"That never would have happened when I was in."