Carl Wolf served in the U.S. Navy from 1960 through 1964. This is part of his Vietnam story.
Wolf: "I was in a spot. ... I was close to finishing a degree in forest management at Humboldt. I didn't want to quit. I would have been the first person in my age group and family to go to college. It was kind of important."
By joining the Navy, he was allowed to finish a degree. He qualified and agreed to go through officer candidate school. Because Vietnam needed so many officers and soldiers, there was a backlog. During the wait, he changed his mind.
Wolf: "When I (turned down the officer candidate's training), there was this enlisted Navy chief, I'll never forget this fellow ... He chewed me out something fierce. He really gave me his thoughts. But I told him that I had a career waiting for me. I was not interested in a military career and I wanted to see what it was like. I knew I would be an upper-level person in the forest service, graduate level. So I said, 'Let's go see what the regular guys do.' I was an enlisted person. I became the first enlisted — not called up — person in my family ever that I am aware of."
Wolf went through boot camp in San Diego and then yeoman training. The Navy sent him to personnel then legal justice. He trained in several schools, capable of doing several jobs simultaneously in order to help with the manpower shortage. After a brief stay in the Philippines, the aircraft carrier he was on went to the Gulf of Tonkin in 1962.
Wolf: "They parked the ship and zillions of big brass come aboard, and we're lined up in dress whites, clear across this 1,000-foot-long deck. They go down pinning a medal on us. We had bombed in Laos. ... Anyway, the admiral comes on, pins you and goes on down the line. A guy, about six or eight feet, comes along and takes the pin off. What's going on? Well, the scuttlebutt finally gets down to us, that we were not officially at war. Congress had never officially declared war. I was there ahead of the game. They told us, the loudspeaker came on, they said, 'You'll get your medals before you go home. We cannot officially give them to you yet because they haven't been officially recognized yet.'
"Everybody thinks of Vietnam as a long, skinny land, which it is. When you go up the Tonkin Gulf ... there's another long piece of land that's owned by China. That's important because we were never sure about our back. They were always threatening. Their ships would come within our 10-radius. Twice that I can remember Russian bombers would come over. They'd lock us down, seal you in on the 11-layer deck. You're worried a bit. It scared the sh-- out of us.
"Generally, we were not real close to shore until our aircraft took care of any long-range shooting that could come from the shore. ... A lot of innocent people died over there — their people. I can still see ... junks and sanpans, the same ships with a sail. I don't know how many were in there, but I can still see it, from the deck, which is way up high. ... There had to be like 40 of these ships — maybe 50 — just little ones. We were told they were loaded with torpedoes — some of them — some of them had mines, and all they had to do is come up to the side of the ship with magnets and put a mine on there and they'd go home and it goes off. The torpedoes actually blow a hole in the ships, if they can get close enough. ... Of course, our small military ships, the destroyer escorts usually herded them back. We usually stood off, eight and 30 miles — and I could be way off. Mainly, we wanted to be close so our jets, that were flying fast with not much fuel could zip zip and get home. If you're too far out, they can't get back.
"None of us knew why we were there until one day I ran into an Australian, and he said thank you. I said, 'What the hell are you talking about?' He says, 'You guys kept them from coming down through the islands and the archipelago to us.' ... I don't know if that really was the strategy. I honestly don't know.
"Hanoi was hands-off. They had a nine-mile diameter around it. You weren't allowed to shoot bombs, fly over, do anything in there. It was sacred. You could see the gun towers where they could let you know they were safe, and they knew it and because we were stupid and couldn't shoot.
"We were traveling in this armada, and it was like, 'Let's get this show on the road.' You could sense it. All these ships and everything. They had all these tanks and oil storage and all kinds of stuff. We hit and we hit them for either nine or 10 straight days, 24 hours. The planes didn't land before another took off. ... The other ships would fire. I was in the administration, and in a sense, I was support. I was very proud to support the guys who were on the front line. We helped them. Anyway, those guys got tired. And because they couldn't go anymore, I volunteered. I loaded bombs and guns and rockets. Those killed a lot of people.
"Most of the time, my role was in what they call a 'ready room.' Each squadron had its own ready room. I was a talker, notify people where to go and what to do. You know, communication. When they took off, they called it 'feet wet' when they went over the ocean and 'feet dry' when they were over land. You could hear them, and they'd just say, 'feet dry.' You could hear them when they tried to dodge the (surface-to-air) missiles. Everybody over there on the ground was handed a rifle and were told, 'When they come over here, just shoot.' Some of the pilots had metal plates on their seats, especially the helicopter pilots and that would keep a bullet from going up your butt. But, they staged the raids — remember our squadron was the first to go — they went an hour or two ahead of time, propeller driven, putt, putt, putt, putt, a racetrack pattern, a circle. Below was the enemy, a village, a truck. The jets would come in low and fast, and they'd try to dodge the surface to air missiles and there were a lot of them. You could see sparkles from their cannons. They'd come in while they're shooting at the (jets), they'd drop their ordnances or shoot their rockets and then they'd get the hell out of town.
"The carriers had to be set a certain way to go into the wind. ... You could hear the jets wind up, and that's part of the reason I lost my hearing. The jets wind up with the highest pitch, they call it 'military throttle' or whatever so that when the catapult throws them off, they're not going to go into the drink. They actually sink and (come back up). ... When they come back, there are four arrester cables. My bunk was right under that."
Gazette: How could have you slept with all that noise?
Wolf: "I think I lost my hearing with that. The bunks must have been three high. Mine was right square on the top deck. I couldn't get out of the bunk to turn over because I was so big. But these arrester cables. ... Our aircraft had hooks. They would catch the cable and scrr-eech. That's what the Navy said. That's why I have the disability.
"One day I got called in for a special assignment, sort of a little team. Because I was a forester, I knew photography and what we call 3D now. In forestry, you have a tree standing up, and you need to count it. You can either go on the ground and measure it or use aerial photographs with 3D. With those photographs, you can see those things stereoscopically standing up. I could do it without a machine. Most people have to have a pair of eyeglasses.
"I and some others were tapped. The truck parks were hard to find. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was more than one place, of course. From the North, they were bringing down huge numbers of trucks loaded with armament and bombs, machine guns, people, bad guy stuff. They'd do it at night so that we couldn't see them. In the daytime, they'd hide under trees. That's why the Agent Orange idea was employed. That wasn't going on too much while I was there.
"They couldn't find the trucks and tankers. So they called us in and what they were doing with us is when you park a truck, you can't see it under a tree, but the engine is still warm. I was trained in infrared photogametry. We detected the trucks parked under a tree using heat, just like we would a bug-killed tree. A dead tree has a different heat source and look than a green tree. We'd point them out and they'd bomb them and get the coordinates and send the aircraft off in the daytime."
Gazette: That's how you put a forestry degree to work in the Navy in Vietnam.
Wolf: "At the time, they gave me a top-secret clearance, but it was only because of that stuff. We did one thing that was pretty unique — that was part of this group. There were a lot of trains coming down from the North. And again, the trains didn't hide under the trees, but mostly they hid in the tunnels in the mountains. The pilots couldn't catch them. They wouldn't go in the daytime. Sometimes they could, but most of the time they'd hide out in trees or mostly in tunnels. I honestly don't remember if it was my idea or our team's... you couldn't bomb the trains, but using infrared forestry techniques, we saw that the heat from the trains was coming out of the mouths of the tunnels, so we gave them the coordinates and bomb the tunnels shut and they'd closed both ends of the tunnels. It didn't really destroy the trains, but they couldn't go anywhere until they dug it out. It kept stuff from going to the bad guys that were shooting at our guys."