Commander Stuart Tees Sadler glances up at the stoic image on the bulkhead of his captain’s cabin. The print shows a striking man dressed in an early 18th naval uniform with several square rig Ships of the Line in the background, one of which is presumably the USS Constitution. The print is a gift of his aunt, Adrienne Graham Sadler, and it is remarkable present for two very good reasons: the man presented
Commodore Edward Preble was a true US Navy icon and DLG-15 is the fifth of six ships that bear his name. In the American Revolution Edward Preble ran away from home to serve on a privateer, entered (1779) the Massachusetts state marine as a midshipman, and saw service aboard the Protector, which was captured in 1781. After his release he joined the Winthrop and, when the Revolution was over, was engaged in the merchant service. Commissioned lieutenant in the U.S. navy in 1798, he was promoted (1799) to captain and given command of the Essex, which sailed to China and convoyed 14 merchant vessels to New York. In 1803, Preble was transferred to the Constitution and set out in command of
a squadron for the Mediterranean, where he took a leading part in the Tripolitan War. In October, 1803, the fleet arrived off Tangiers, where, by display of force and firm demands, he compelled the sultan of Morocco to negotiate. Thanks to his efforts, a peace treaty signed 3 June, 1805, abolished the tribute that European nations had paid for centuries, as well as the slavery of Christian captives. He was given an enthusiastic welcome on his return to the U.S., and Congress gave him a vote of thanks and an emblematical gold medal. Many of those who served under Preble (often referred to as “Preble’s Boys”), such as David Porter and Stephen Decatur, rendered distinguished service in the War of 1812.
The chime of eight bells rings in the P-way outside his cabin door and Stuart puts down his glass of “bug juice” - cool-aid from the officer’s mess. The thrum of the twin diesels belting out their 85,000 hp power far below his deck are just evident due to the quiet on the ship. Suddenly the calm is cut short by a call on the PA, “captain to the bridge.”
Commander Sadler makes his way through the P-ways and opens the hatch to the darkened bridge and takes his seat. The sultry summer air wafts off the Gulf of Tonkin through the open hatches. The crew is focused on station-keeping in the Carrier Battle Group; calling out slight course corrections to keep in position with the carrier USS Hancock. Stuart has asked to be called from his cabin when the first launches from theAs the watch officer completes his report, the exhaust flame of the first F-8 Crusader lights the night sky and Stuart’s mind drifts back to the briefing from Vice Adm. William Schoech aboard the Flagship USS Providence.
On the bulkheads of the briefing room on the Providence were various maps of Southeast Asia. Admiral Schoech was reiterating President Kennedy’s orders concerning 7th Fleet’s response to the recent move by North Vietamese forces into Laos: a show of force off Vietnam and reconnaissance missions along the newly named Ho Chi Minh trail. The year before, 1961, President Kennedy had increased the number of advisors in South Vietnam, had ordered C-123 aircraft to begin “defoliant” missions, and had dramatically increased military aid to the Republic of Vietnam. Stuart was pleased to be invited to this meeting, as the captain of a “small boy” he was often not included in briefings that mostly focused on operations run by those in “brown shoes” (Carrier Air Group aviation operations staff). Though his ship’s role would be minor, “life guard” for carrier ops; he felt like he had a seat in the proverbial “smoke-filled room” and felt very much a part of the business at hand.
“Cat malfunction!” The cry bolts Stuart from his musings. The catapult on the carrier had failed to full project the fifth F-8 into the air. The pilot short on airspeed, but quick on presence of mind, turns his aircraft starboard and thus avoids being run over by the Hancock travelling at full steam. A spray of water marks the impact site and a flash marks the canopy being blown off the sinking aircraft.
“Sound general quarters!” orders Commander Sadler, “five degrees right.”
Like a well-oiled machine, the crew of the Preble leaps for their posts and deckhands on the spotlights begin scouring the waves for signs of the pilot. In the anxiety caused by the gripping search, it seems to Stuart that the ship’s clock seems to tick incredibly loud. A moment of
indescribable tension is broken a few moments later when a lookout reports the aviator’s position.
“Tell the Hancock we will be charging them for an extra breakfast from our ward room account,” jokes Commander Sadler. This moment
Stuart allows himself the luxury of his thoughts wandering back to the good commodore. Things haven’t changed in 160 years; the Navy is still protecting the nation’s interests in lands far from U.S. shores. The coast is different, Southeast Asia versus North Africa. The equipment is different, guided missiles and jets versus smooth bore cannon and boarding pikes. The mission always stays the same; keep our people safe, our commerce flowing, and the conflict overseas and not on U.S. soil.
Through the port hatch, the flame from an afterburner announces a continuation of flight operations.