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Home arrow Sea Stories arrow Sea Stories - APSS/LPSS arrow Don O'Shea and the Secret Mission
Don O'Shea and the Secret Mission Print E-mail
Contributed by Bill Green and Gerry Young   
Jul 07, 2011 at 11:27 AM

Listen up, this is no shit!

The time was February 1968, on the day that Navy-wide enlisted advancement exams were being held. We were bottomed just outside Grande island in the process of locking out UDT during a training exercise, divers were in the water, and a good portion of our crew was up at the base cafeteria taking the exam when we got a TOP SECRET Flash message directing us to leave port immediately and proceed at our best possible speed to a designated location in the South China Sea.

The BUGARA (SS 331) was also in port, alongside us. Their crew watched with interest as we hastily pulled our people out of the examination and made hurried preparations for getting underway. All we were lacking was a band playing “Anchors Aweigh” and a crowd of dependents seeing us off sadly. But by this time in TUNNY’s history, Bill was the only married officer left on board – his wife Marge constituted the entire TUNNY wardroom wives’ club. Maybe some of the bar girls from Olongapo could have come down to wave a sad goodbye to a few weeks of income if we’d had time to let them know.

With an air of great mystery and untold emergency, we sped out of port. A tropical storm of some sort had just passed by, so we were heading out of Subic straight into westerly winds of about 30 knots. This gave us 45+ knots of wind in our face and, as luck would have it, Don O’Shea’s combination cap blew overboard. We didn’t think much about it at the time.

The mission involved working around two US military aircraft who’d been shot down by the PRC off Hainan Island. Sounded interesting, but unfortunately, about a day into our speed run, the op was canceled.

This gave us two problems to solve. The first was that we’d left on what was clearly a secret and very important mission. Coming back in on a Sunday without anything to show for our work would mean a considerable loss of face with the BUGARA crew, who’d clearly been very impressed with our demonstrated importance to the war effort.

Almost as importantly, Don needed a way to get ashore. Captain Green recalls that, “It seems to me upon hearing Don exclaim that was his only cap, I called down from the bridge saying he could not go ashore without a cap.” Don claimed not to have civilian clothes on board, and on Sunday we couldn’t run a quick errand to the Navy Exchange to pick up a new cap for him, so what was he to do?

Nitpickers and quibblers would point out that he had several solutions, the simplest of which would be for one of the other officers to bring him a set of civilian clothes from the BOQ ‘suite’ that we shared. (The five junior officers on the boat had two adjoining BOQ rooms with a connecting bathroom. One had three double bunk beds and the other was, more or less, the ‘living room’) But we were looking for an elegant solution that would solve both the ‘loss of face’ issue and Don’s urgent need to get ashore. And we didn’t deal well with nitpickers and quibblers anyway.

Strategic and tactical options were discussed into the wee hours, and by early Sunday morning as we entered Subic Bay, we were good to go.

Place yourself now on the deck of BUGARA, watching as the TUNNY moved in to moor alongside. From several hundred yards away, you’d be able to make out half a dozen figures holding automatic weapons, and someone crouched over what appeared to be a prone figure on a stretcher. As TUNNY came closer, you could see that the crouching figure was holding what appeared to be an IV bottle, with a tube running into the bandages completely covering the figure. On the deck near the armed men was a black metal box bearing conspicuous “Top Secret” lettering in red.

At about the time the TUNNY came within heaving line distance, the commanding officer of the old boat shouted through his electronic megaphone, “Is the ambulance here yet from the hospital?”

By now the entire Sunday duty section from BUGARA (hopefully excluding the below-decks watch) was topside gaping at the spectacle. “No,” someone called back. “No ambulance here.”

“We need your truck to take this man to the hospital,” Bill Green insisted over the megaphone. (Ships going through a yard availability at SRF – the Ship Repair Facility at Subic – usually had a truck supplied to run parts and errands around the big base). The duty officer, whom I’ll identify only as ‘Gary,’ handed over the truck keys and the bandaged figure on the stretcher was carefully carried across the brow between the two submarines and placed in the truck. Guarded by the Weapons Officer and four men with M-16 rifles, the truck departed. A sharp observer would have noticed it was not heading for the hospital.

A few minutes later the truck approached the BOQ. The bandaged figure was sitting up and ripping the bandages off, much to the bemusement of the families going to morning services at the base chapel next to the BOQ. If they’d kept watching instead of going to church, they’d have seen Don O’Shea relaxing outside the junior officers’ BOQ rooms, passing out beers to his armed guards.

Meanwhile, back at Alava Wharf, two more armed guards from TUNNY were trying to carry the “Top Secret” box across the narrow brow. One clumsily stumbled and the box splashed into the water. Of course, it might have stayed on the surface if holes hadn’t been drilled through it and a number of GDU weights put in.

George Barnette, the XO of TUNNY, apparently panicked at this catastrophe and demanded that BUGARA furnish a couple of divers to go down and pull the box up, because all of TUNNY’s divers had ‘exceeded their bottom time’ and couldn’t suit up again. The helpful BUGARA people supplied the divers, and the box was retrieved and taken off by the truck, which had reappeared.

Turning to ‘Gary,’ the duty officer on BUGARA, George demanded that all of BUGARA’s on-board personnel be brought topside. When they’d gathered they got a very stern briefing, warning them they could never tell what they’d just seen. “Nothing happened here,” George emphasized, telling the truth for once in this charade.

And so TUNNY’s reputation for being involved in dangerous and extremely secret work was maintained, Don got ashore with no trouble, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Footnote: As fate would have it, TUNNY’s Weapons Officer was a Submarine School classmate of ‘Gary,’ the BUGARA’s duty officer on that fateful day. About seven years after this incident, it so happened that he and ‘Gary,’ now both out of the Navy, were working at high-tech firms and living within a few miles of each other in San Jose. The families spent a good deal of time together.

One evening, possibly fueled by a few extra glasses of wine, TUNNY’s former WEPS turned to ‘Gary’ and said, “Remember that day in Subic when we came back in with the wounded guy and had to use your boat’s divers to get that TS box back?”

Horrified, ‘Gary’ looked around and whispered, “You can’t talk about that!”

And then all was revealed to him – he and his shipmates had been taken for a glorious ride by the swashbuckling crew of the TUNNY.

And this was no shit.

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Last Updated ( Jul 07, 2011 at 06:02 PM )
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