Matta was in Japan when the Cold War suddenly got hotter than fire

Honoring All Who Served

Jerald Matta

Courtesy

Jerald Matta

U.S. Navy, IC 3 1960-1964

October 1962 – Yokosuka, Japan U.S. Naval BaseUSS George K. MacKenzie DD 836

I was on liberty, but being short of money I had gone to the base geedunk with some friends for burgers, fries and a malt. We had just got our food when some Marine MPs came storming in and announced that all personnel were to return to their ships “On the double.”

Suddenly, sirens and ship horns began blaring. I thought maybe a typhoon was coming, because that’s usually how the alert starts. Everybody in the place, sailors and marines went scrambling for the exit leaving their food behind, uneaten.

The area outside was packed with men rushing and yelling, “Get to your ships.” As I neared my ship, I noticed we were taking on stores, as were other ships at their docks, it looked like we were going to war.

We had heard about what was going on with Russia and the Cuban Missile Crisis, but we were in Japan in the Pacific so maybe we were going to the East Coast. I reported aboard and was told to report to my getting underway station, which is to light off the gyro compass.

Within two hours the ship was underway and the crew still didn’t know why we were rushing into the Sea of Japan. I noticed by looking at the compass we were headed due north.

The captain came on the PA system to tell the crew that President Kennedy had ordered a blockade of all ships heading to Cuba with missiles aboard and that we were going northeast to intercept and turn back any Russian ships leaving from Port Arthur, Russia.

Two days later we encountered a Russian freighter. We could see the large cylindrical shapes on the deck of the ship. Our captain told the Russian captain to turn back towards Russia, an order that was ignored.

The crew had been at battle stations all morning, so when a Russian submarine was detected the ship was ready for battle. There was no attack, and the sub surfaced between the freighter, and our ship.

We were about 1,500 yards away from both ships; the Captain again ordered the freighter to come about or we would commence firing. The sub had no surface guns and was moving parallel to the freighter and us. When nothing happened, the captain ordered all guns to port.

The Mac had three double 5-inch gun mounts, twelve 40 MM pompoms, plus six torpedoes. All guns were trained on the sub.

Someone must have decided it wasn’t worth dying that day because the Russians slowly began to turn and head back toward the northeast. We followed for awhile then turned back towards our assigned patrol area.

Maybe WWIII was avoided that day, or maybe not. Well, that’s my version of what happened that day, it was really exciting.

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