(The following "letter" copied from the CREW'S BOOK USS HELENA 1953.)
U.S.S. HELENA CA-75
. . . REMEMBER WHEN?
Gather 'round folks, while 'ole salty Sam gives forth with a few tales of my last cruise on the good ship Helena.
Why I can REMEMBER WHEN President Eisenhower was aboard (of course he wasn't officially President then, but was President-elect, just before he took office).
That was back in December of '52. Ike had just completed a tour of the Korean battlefront and was on his way back stateside. Just about his whole cabinet was with him: Secretary of State Dulles, Secretary of Defense Wilson, Attorney General Brownell, Secretary of the Treasury Humphrey, Secretary of the Interior McKay, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Radford.
We were on our way home after finishing our third cruise in the Far East since the war started in Korea. We carried the new President as far as Pearl Harbor, then continued on to Long Beach, California.
Ah yes, good 'ole Long Beach . . .man what a reception we got there! (That's our stateside home port you know.) The first leave party left right away, to make it home in time for Christmas.
The “75” didn't stay in Long Beach very long. We pulled anchor and headed for Bremerton, Wash., where we went into the yard there for a much needed
overhaul. The ship got a complete goin' over and our 40 milimeters were replaced by brand-new 3” jobs. These are really the latest thing in anti-aircraft weapons for ships.
We stayed in Bremerton for five months. That's real beautiful country up there in the Northwest, but boy did it ever rain!
It was good to feel the 'ole 75 slicin' through the water as we put to sea again after so long in drydock.
We were headed back south to make ready to go over seas again, but we stopped in Portland, Oregon on the way. It was Portland's annual Rose Festival celebration and those people really gave us a grand welcome - rolled out the carpet you might say. Anyway we had a heck of a good time.
Portland is located about 120 miles inland and we had to go up the Columbia River and into the Williamette River to get there. It was a very scenic trip.
When we arrived in San Diego, we immediately started refresher training with the Underway Training Element. Three weeks of this and we were about ready for WesPac again. Provisioning, rearming and a few other final preparations were made in Long Beach. We held our annual ship's party there at the Wilton Hotel, a two night affair it was, to be sure all the guys got to go.
Rear Admiral W. V. O'Regan, the Commander of Cruiser Division Five, and his staff came aboard and we were about ready to go.
We left Long Beach July 27th and joined Task Force 12 at sea for operations in the largest cruiser - destroyer exercises since world War II. The whole task force went into Seattle for that city's annual Sea Fair festivities on August 1st to 3rd. At the same time the National Governor's conference was being held there and several of the governors and their families visited the Helena, including Governor Aronson of Montana and his wife.
On August 4th we put to sea; destination: Yokosuka, Japan, and our fourth tour of duty in the Far East since June '50. We were the first cruiser to make that many tours over there during the Korean deal.
A short stop was made at Pearl Harbor, where everybody (including “ole Sam here-can't you just see me laying out there on Waikiki Beach with all those rich tourists) enjoyed liberty in the playland of the Pacific.
We arrived in Yokosuka on August 24th. For some it was all new and exciting, but to many old timers it was old stuff. Before long though, the whole crew was familiar with Yokosuka. We spent a lot of time there during our six months in the Far East.
The St. Paul (one of our sister ships) was waiting there for us to relieve her so she could get underway for the states. It wasn't long after the St. Paul left that we got orders to join Task Force 77 in the Sea of Japan, just off the coast of Korea.
Upon arrival at the “Tare Fox we took over from the Quincy and began our first operations. The fightin' was over in Korea and there wasn't any “bombline” duty like last year, but we were on alert all the time and the condition three watches were just as tiring as ever. All the new men soon became acquainted with replenishing as sea from supply ships. It was hard work rearming, refueling, reprovisioning, but the crew worked happily 'cause on these days mail usually came aboard.
After 10 days with the “force” we were relieved and got underway for Kobe, Japan, and 10 days of rest and recreation. To get into the “R & R” spirit a Happy Hour was held on the fantail, with members of the crew giving skits, songs and instrumental renditions, just before getting to Kobe. The band from CruDiv 5 played and everyone really enjoyed themselves.
We pulled into Kobe on September 24th. Maximum liberty was granted to all hands and the crew had a great time. A typhoon, called “Tess”, struck the Kobe area the 25th and we were forced to move out from the dock to a buoy anchorage in the harbor. The ship rode through the storm fine (below decks we couldn't even tell there was a storm) but the next day when we pulled in to the dock and went on liberty the destruction of the storm could be seen everywhere. Telephone poles were down, trees toppled, sign boards smashed and some homes badly battered.
The 28th a group of Army nurses visited the ship to solicit the crew's help in procuring clothing for the typhoon victims. The crew responded generously and the nurses went back to their hospital with over a hundred pounds of clothing.
It was during the stay in Kobe that our Entertainment Review made its debut. A group of 44 men, including some officers, picked from the ship's Happy Hour talent, presented six shows at various hospitals and installations in Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto. The group was built around the Helena's Men's chorus and boasted a variety of instrumental groups, a combo from the band, popular and hillbilly song stylists and comedians. The troupe was well received everywhere and made a fine showing. (The author was a member of the Helena Men's Chorus).
Open house was held aboard ship two days and 4,000 of Kobe's citizens came aboard for a “look-see” at one of Uncle Sam's men-of-war. Included in the visitors was a troop from the Boy scouts of Japan. Those kids were really “bug-eyed” over our big guns.
We left Kobe on the 1st of October and went to Yokosuka for as few days before going out to join the task force again. This time enroute to the 'force” we went around the northern tip of Honshu Island (the main island of the Japanese chain) and through the Tsugara Straits into the sea of Japan.
A recreational trip to Hongkong was scheduled for after these operations with the task force and everyone was eager for the 10 days with the force to end. We were detached from task force duties on the 20th and pulled into Pusan, Korea, the 22nd to take onboard 52 men from the Eighth army and Fifth air Force, who were to make the Hongkong trip with us.
Our stay in Hongkong was from October 25th to November 1st. Shopping and sightseeing (especially those split dresses the women wore) were excellent. Tours of the island were conducted and just about everyone went. The shopping was outstanding and by the time we left, the ship looked like Macy's men's wear department. Everyone went wild in buying suits, slacks, sport coats, shirts, and-so-forth, all tailor-made with fine English material and low cost.
The ships boxing team participated in a smoker with the British and Canadian Navy personnel there and won six of the eight bouts. And the Entertainment Review presented a show at the China Fleet Club and got a nice letter of commendation from the manager of the club. They also gave a show over the Hongkong radio network.
We were goin' to Sasebo, Japan, for three days after we dropped off the “doggies” and ”airdales” at Pusan, but just before we got there we received orders to join the task force as soon as possible. So we were only in Sasebo long enough to refuel, take on some supplies, some ammo, and some mail.
We spent two week with the force then went back into Yokosuka for a week. While there we had our Administration Inspection with the Quincy and Rear Admiral O'Regan was relieved by Rear Admiral R. E. Wilson as Commander Cruiser Division Five. Work was stopped Thanksgiving Day, the 26th, and a special ceremony was given on the fantail, followed by a big Thanksgiving dinner-turkey and all the trimmings.
The 1st to 18th of December was spent at sea with the task force. We got a special treat of spending the Christmas holidays in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. It was a great thrill to everyone as the ship slipped past the famous last stand post of the Islands during World War II, Corregidor, and into Manila Bay. (Boy that's the highest bay I ever saw.) Bataan peninsula, scene of the infamous death march, is just to the north of Corregidor and was clearly visible to us as we approached the bay. War destruction was apparent everywhere, masts of sunken ships stuck out from the water, shell holes still gapped in the sea wall and in the city it was not uncommon to see shell-blasted skeletons of buildings standing next to new modern buildings. The city has been built up a lot but momentums of the war are still prominent.
The Filipino people really have the Christmas spirit. They start the holiday festivities in November and they continue on into January. Carolers are out nightly during all this time, playing and singing up and down the streets, and huge stars with light bulbs in their centers are hung from windows and on porches of the homes. Christmas trees are scarce, except for some which are imported from the states by the Armed Forces stationed there. But aside from that and the very hot weather, Yuletide spirit was very high and the crew really had a grand time.
We spent New Year's Eve in port Manila. Boy what a party. New Year's Day everyone eagerly massed around radios listening to the various football games from the states.
With the new year welcomed in and the old ushered out, thoughts of home and our loved ones became utmost in our minds. We were to leave the Far East the latter part of January and arrive in 'ole Long Beach, California, in mid-February.
That's about it folks, 'ole salty Sam and his shipmates of the “75” had quite an eventful '53 cruise, and in years to come we will have many fond memories of this cruise to look back on and say, WHY I CAN REMEMBER WHEN. . . . .