USS BANNER Anecdotes
by two oceanographers who served on Banner
Five ShortTales by Sam Tooma
Tale # 1:
Upon reporting to the USS BANNER [February 1967], berthed in Yokosuka, Japan, I was walking down the most remote pier at that base with two large, heavy suitcases. When I was nearly 2/3's down this pier, two marines jumped me and pinned me up against a fence. They spread-eagled me pointing their rifles at my head. When they asked me what my business was on this pier, I stupidly said that I was an oceanographer (like it was really important), and that I was reporting to the BANNER. I further said that I was the reason the ship was here. They said, "yea, right!" I almost believed it myself. They asked me to show them my orders. When I did, they escorted me to the Quarter Deck and stayed with me until I was approved by the Officer of the Deck. They never did offer to carry my bags or to apologize for making me wet my pants.
Tale # 2:
The Intelligence Officer was one of those "spooks" that dressed in a black uniform and reveled in his position of knowing things that I didnít. He was kind of dumb, in my mind. He would come into the 5í X 5í wardroom and talk around what was going on. I would have had to been a complete idiot not to put 2 and 2 together to figure out exactly what he was talking about. Of course, he did speak Russian, and he spoke this language often when I was around. Showing off, probably. Well, I had become quite friendly with many of the enlisted CTs, and needless to say, to a man, they thought he was a joke. So, during the deployment, they coached me in Russian and taught me to say something like this - "I enjoyed sailing with you, tovorich. Hopefully, we will have the opportunity to do it again someday. By the way, your Russian needs a lot of work." When our cruise was over, and I was departing BANNER, all the CTs were on the Quarter Deck, along with this LT Intelligence Officer. As I started down the gangway, I turned around and said my carefully rehearsed parting words to him. I turned around and left. I never saw his face, but I heard a tremendous roar of laughter.
Tale # 3:
We were operating 12 miles (at least) off Vladivostok in February. Of course, it seemed more like 4 or 5 miles. In any event, the wind was blowing off the mainland at a ferocious speed. It was sort of raining, sleeting, and God knows what else. I was trying to take an oceanographic station. The meter wheel monitor that I had (it told me how much wire I had played out) was very difficult to read. But I had to concentrate on it very hard, because if I got careless, I could two-block my equipment that was on the wire, part the wire, and lose everything. That was a definite no-no. Well the freezing rain was blowing right into my face (we always had to have the wind blowing the ship away from the wire. This was SOP). I wear glasses, and they were coated with ice, as was the rest of my face. It took forever to take a station. I donít know how many times I thought that if Hell were the worst place on earth, then I was in Hell. I have never been more miserable in my whole life as when I was on the deck of the BANNER trying to collect oceanographic data. But to me, it was very important. After all, thatís why the US Government had spent so much money to get that ship there. Right?
Tale # 4:
Being a civilian, I had the unique right to argue with the CO. And I took advantage of this right. So, when I did have some free time, I liked to spend it on the bridge arguing with him. We were constantly being harassed by the Russians. I donít know why, because all we were doing was collecting oceanographic data in international waters. Right? Well, my favorite topic to argue about was that when I asked him what would happen if they really did fire one of their guns that they had pointed at us, he would answer, it would start World War III. I asked him if he really believed that. He said, "Of course. Right now there are aircraft on standby ready to take off if they pull some fool stunt like that." I asked him what would happen if they just towed us into Vladivostok. He answered that our aircraft would destroy the Naval Base, including this ship. I told him that he was crazy if he thought that the US would start World War III over little old us. We argued this point several times.
Tale # 5:
Near the end of our deployment in March, I came out on the deck one morning to see that our "tattletale" that had been with us for several weeks had been replaced by some old rust bucket. For some reason, this made me a little uncomfortable. I reasoned that they had become bored with watching us collect tons of extremely valuable oceanographic data, and they merely decided to turn over the job of watching us to the "second team." About a day or so later, about 1 day before we were scheduled to return to port, I was on the Bridge arguing with the Captain. Some of the watch standers started to act quite excited and began yelling about the "crazy Russians." I looked around, and this rust bucket was coming straight at us. The Captain ordered the helmsman to maintain course. According to international rules of the road, we had the right of way. Meanwhile, the distance between them and us was closing quite rapidly. We continued to maintain coarse, until I thought that we were all doomed. At the last second, the Captain ordered the helmsman to go hard right rudder. Iím glad that he didnít wait any longer, because all we got was a glancing blow. We had a fairly nice "dent" in our port bow. When we arrived in port a few days later, I was taken aside by some more guys dressed in black uniforms and instructed to never say anything about this incident. If I did, I would lose my job, or some other such thing. Well, less than a year later, another ship that looked amazingly similar to the BANNER was captured by the North Koreans. I remember seeing an article in Newsweek with a picture of this captured ship with descriptions of all the antennae, transducers, compartments, etc. and arrows pointing to the location of each item. In the article, was a report on the bumping incident. I assume that the editor of Newsweek lost his job, or some other such thing. Also, I couldnít sleep at night for many months expecting the start of World War III. After all, these jerks were only North Koreans. Surely, we wouldnít allow some nearly bankrupt third world country to get away with that, would we? Right.
Sam Tooma was a civilian oceanographer with the U. S. Naval Oceanographic Office and was one of the first oceanographers to participate in the AGER program.
by Jake Jacobson
Box and I, aboard the BANNER, were about 8 hours away from relieving PUEBLO on station off North Korea when the "incident" happened. The tiny BANNER bounced around for a few days in the Sea of Japan as a large armada assembled including 3 aircraft carriers if I'm not mistaken. Captain Clark (BANNER captain) was helicoptered over to one of the carriers to meet with the admiral of the fleet. We all feared the worst for you guys. It really looked like all hell was going to break loose. After a few more days we (BANNER) were told to go back to port, Yokosuka. I was on 6 month orders, so I stayed, mainly in Yokosuka, until end of June 1968 when I returned home to get married. While in Japan I got real good at pingpong.
Jake Jacobson was a civilian oceanographer with the U. S. Naval Oceanographic Office.
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USS BANNER (AGER-1)
Editor Note: USS BANNER made three "transit" trips past North Korea. These were a part of missions off the coasts of the Soviet Union and China.