In 1976 I received orders to report to the navy ship USS Cleveland LPD-7. The ship was in Okinawa at the time so I flew out from San Francisco to meet the ship.
The following is a description of the USS Cleveland LPD-7 and it’s duties from the time the ship was laid down till the ship was decommissioned.
USS CLEVELAND was commissioned April 21, 1967 at Norfolk, Virginia. After commissioning, CLEVELAND changed homeport to San Diego, California to become a member of the Pacific Fleet Amphibious Forces. CLEVELAND has divided her time between operations in the Easter Pacific and extended deployments to the Western Pacific.
CLEVELAND is usually assigned as part of a Marine Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), and with her embarked Marines, acted as part of the United States military effort in Southeast Asia.
CLEVELAND first saw action during the Tet Offensive in 1967 and has participated in numerous amphibious and combat support operations, as well as functioning as a Flagship for various Fleet Commanders. Upon the Vietnam cease-fire in January 1973, CLEVELAND joined Task Force 78 in the mine-clearing effort of Haiphong Harbor and Operation end Sweep.
CLEVELAND then began a series of seven Western Pacific Deployments commencing in the years 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1983, and 1985 before entering an extensive overhaul.
In January of 1988, CLEVELAND assumed duties as flagship for Commander Third Fleet and served in this capacity until November 1988. Upon Completion of Flagship duties, CLEVELAND deployed to Prince William Sound, Alaska in support of oil spill cleanup efforts associated with the Exxon Valdez disaster.
CLEVELAND deployed to the Western Pacific in 1990 and again in 1991 in support Operation Desert Storm.
In October 1992 CLEVELAND deployed on short notice to Central America in support of Law Enforcement Operations and again in March of 1993. During these deployments CLEVELAND played a key role in the seizure of the vessel Sea Chariot, the largest Maritime cocaine bust in history, as well as transiting the Panama Canal four times. During CLEVELAND’s fourteenth major deployment she participated in the United Nations relief effort to Rwanda and the relocation of the United States Liaison office from Mogadishu, Somalia to Nairobi, Kenya. Following the relocation efforts, CLEVELAND was ordered to steam into the North Arabian Gulf to deter the Iraqi aggression of massing troops on the Kuwait border as part of Operation VIGILANT WARRIOR.
Following intensive repair and training availabilities in 1995, CLEVELAND participated in exercise RIMPAC ’96 off the coast of Hawaii prior to the beginning of her fifteenth major deployment in October of 1996. During this deployment CLEVELAND participated in numerous bilateral training exercises in the Arabian Gulf including exercises; EASTERN MAVERICK ’97 and EAGER mace 97-1. While in the Arabian Gulf CLEVELAND became the first Amphibious Warship to participate in Maritime Interception Operations in support of United Nations Sanctions against Iraq. After leaving the Arabian Gulf, CLEVELAND participated in exercise TANDEM THRUST ’97, a joint training exercise with the U.S. and Australian Armed forces before returning to San Diego.
In February 2000, CLEVELAND participated in the recovery operation for Alaska Air Flight 261 off Los Angeles and provided support for small boats and aircraft from Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 11 at Naval Air Station North Island.
Following a Fleet Week visit to San Francisco, CLEVELAND completed her training cycle and deployed for the seventeenth time in March 2001.
In January 2003, CLEVELAND departed for the Arabian Gulf in support of Operations IRAQI FREEDOM, where she deployed as part of Amphibious Task Force WEST. For the first time in her history, CLEVELAND transited the Suez Canal leading into the Mediterranean, in support of Mine Sweeping Operations conducted on the northern approaches of the canal. Returning from deployment, CLEVELAND entered the yards for a nine-month overhaul.
CLEVELAND started off its 2005 deployment by embarking the Marines at Camp Pendleton and then a short port visit in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii for one last taste of America before heading west. After some operations off the coast of the Philippines she made a stop in Darwin, Australia. CLEVELAND then transited through the Suez Canal to participate in the multi-national exercise, Operation Bright Star, and enjoyed a port visit to Rhodes, Greece. Upon completion of Bright Star, she headed south again to offload the Marines at Kuwait Naval Base. CLEVELAND then stopped for a port visit in Bahrain, a Humanitarian Assistance Offload in Karachi, Pakistan, as well as a port visit to Jebel Ali. She then participated in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Africa. After backloading the Marines one last time off the coast of Kuwait she stopped again in Jebel Ali, Singapore, and Hong Kong for a few quality of life port visits, and then one last stop in Hawaii to pick up the “Tigers” for the trip back to San Diego.
Since commissioning, CLEVELAND has received the following unit awards: Combat Action Ribbon (2), Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Navy Unit Commendation, Meritorious Unit Commendation (4), Navy Excellence Ribbon (6), Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (5), Vietnam Service Medal (23), Southwest Asia Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation- Gallantry (3), and Coast Guard Unit Commendation Ribbon with Operational Distinguishing Device.
I remember when I first set foot on the ship. Especially when it started to move. It was amazing to me that a ship that size could actually move! I stood on the fan-tail of the ship in slack jaw amazement as the ship slowly made it’s way out of port and into the open sea.
My berth was in the forward part of the ship starboard side 2 decks down from the main deck. My compartment berthed 20 men. There was a TV there and a table. Also lockers for our personal effects.
I stood watch in two places. First was after steering. To get to it you climbed down a ladder 5 decks down to the bottom of the ship. The steering compartment contained the hydraulic steering gear that pushed the enormous steering rams that were connected to the rudders.
My other watch station was the evaporator in number 2 engineroom. Steam was passed through an evaporator and the condensation was collected and stored in a huge tank. First priority for water was the boilers. If a boiler ran out of water the results could be catastrophic. If the boiler blew up, as it would do if it ran out of water, it would certainly kill everyone in the engineroom. Super heated steam at high pressure is a very dangerous and quirky thing. The pressure is so high it could cut off your finger or a limb before you knew it.
Life was good on the “Steaming Cleve”. I was assigned to “A” gang. “A” gang was responsible for all auxiliaries on board including both emergency generators, all boats, and all hydraulics on board from after steering to barber chairs. I was assigned to the whale boat and was responsible to maintain it and to preform all preventive maintenance.
The food on board was good and there was plenty of it except for milk. When we were carrying a full complement of Marines, the milk ran out after about two weeks out from Port. Then they switched to powdered milk which tasted nasty at first. But then you got used to it and when they switched back to whole milk the taste was again nasty. It took time for your taste buds to adapt. We got all you can eat steak and lobster once a month. A guard was stationed at the shitcan (navy slang for garbage can). If you threw out any good food you were done and could not return to the chow line for more.
Once we were in international waters, the garbage was thrown overboard from the fan tail of the ship. Various birds would follow the ship all the way across the Pacific ocean to feed on the garbage.
At night they would call out over the public address system “Darken ship. Give the ship a clean sweep for and aft. The smoking lamp is lit in all authorized spaces.”
After a few weeks at sea we began to get bored and we searched for diversions to relieve the boredom. One thing we did was ride the shaft. It was dangerous and unauthorized. If we were caught doing this activity, it would mean a trip to Captains Mast with a possible reduction in rank and a reduction in pay. Here is how it went. We would gather up mattresses and climb down the trunk that ran amidship down to the very bottom of the ship in one of the shift alleys. We would lay the mattresses around to provide protection. Then one by one we would jump onto the revolving shift and hang on. We would see how long we could hang on and the person that hung on the longest won the game. We were very lucky that none of us were seriously injured.
All in all I had a good life on the steaming Cleve. I made many friends. We went to many ports. Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Okinawa, and Hawaii. I learned a lot. And I collected many precious memories!