7th Fleet Task Force 77

Tonkin Gulf Yacht ClubThe Seventh Fleet was formed on 15 March 1943 in Brisbane, Australia, during the Second World War. On 11 February 1950, just prior to the outbreak of the Korean War, the force assumed the name United States Seventh Fleet, which it holds today. Task Force 77 was the aircraft carrier battle/strike force of the United States Seventh Fleet in the United States Navy (USN) since the U.S. Seventh Fleet was formed.

During the Vietnam War, Task Force 77 conducted carrier strike operations from the Gulf of Tonkin and South China Sea for nine years, from 1964 to 1973. The nickname Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club came to be associated with US carrier operations off Vietnam. Operating primarily from Yankee Station off the coast of North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin and the aptly-named Dixie Station off the coast of South Vietnam in the Gulf of Siam.

USS Coral Sea conducted operations from both stations during deployments in the South China Sea. The neighborhood waters we sailed are pictured above. Aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea along with a supply ship and her escorts operating in the Gulf of Tonkin during 1969 have a Soviet "trawler," in fact an Okean-class AGI (intelligence collector) in the foreground.

My Time in the Fleet

This document content focus is only on the time I spent in the United States Seventh Fleet. It displays only a few significant events while I was aboard CORAL SEA on two Vietnam Combat deployments.

The South China Sea — An American Lake

China did not attempt building islands in the South China Sea when these warships sailed those waters. CVA-43 & BB-62While aboard CORAL SEA, operations with other US warships beyond our own carrier group included surface warfare ships like the dreadnought USS New Jersey BB-62 and the heavy cruiser USS Chicago CG-11. At right NEW JERSEY is alongside CORAL SEA off the coast of South Vietnam; below CHICAGO is making wake.USS Chicago CG-11

Sailing the gun line off the Vietnamese coast, NEW JERSEY directed nearly ten thousand rounds of ammunition at communist targets. When the smoking lamp was lit on all weather decks, I remember watching the yellow-orange flashes during night bombardments on the shoreward horizon. The "big gun" 2,000 pound rounds makes a big flash.

CHICAGO operating as call sign "Red Crown" was a PIRAZ (Positive Identification Radar Advisory Zone) station in the westernmost portion of the Gulf of Tonkin where air search radar coverage extended over North Vietnam and the air-strike routes from Yankee station. With her, then state-of-the-art, NTDS (Naval Tactical Data System), CHICAGO also provided CAP ( Carrier Air Patrol) and SAR (Sea Air Rescue) support.

Sister Ships of the Line

Essex class aircraft carriers (USS Intrepid CVA-11, USS Hornet CVS-12, USS Hancock CVA-19, USS Bon Homme Richard CVA-31, USS Oriskany CVA-34), all of proud history, added naval air power punch to the fight going on ashore along with CORAL SEA.

CORAL SEA sails alone as a Midway class aircraft carrier until the USS Midway CVA-41 completes modernization at Hunter's Point of the San Francisco Naval Shipyard in 1971—two years after I was no longer aboard the Ageless Warrior.

Aircraft carriers sharing "duty on the line" commisioned after CORAL SEA were from the Forrestal class (USS Ranger CVA-61) and Kitty Hawk class (USS Kitty Hawk CVA-63, USS Constellation CVA-64). USS Enterprise CVAN-65 is a class of its own.

USS Forrestal FireThe infamous tragic fire on FORRESTAL cut short its deployment on 29 July 1967. The calamity happened three days after CORAL SEA stood out to sea in the Pacific bound for WESPAC on her third Vietnam combat deployment. The beginning of the incident is pictured at right.

An electrical anomaly caused a Zuni1 rocket on a F-4B Phantom to fire, striking an external fuel tank of an A-4 Skyhawk. The Navy uses the FORRESTAL fire and the lessons learned from it when teaching damage control and ammunition safety. The flight deck film of the flight operations, titled Learn or Burn, became mandatory viewing for firefighting trainees. All new Navy recruits are required to view a training video titled Trial by Fire: A Carrier Fights for Life, produced from footage of the fire and damage control efforts, both successful and unsuccessful. As a damage control Petty Officer in my division, I spent serious time and effort to acquire the skills taught by this incident. I am a graduate of the shipboard firefighting and damage control training at Naval Station Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.

6th WESPAC Deployment (26 July 1967 to 6 April 1968)
3rd Vietnam Combat Cruise

July 26, 1967Last deployment cruise in the US Navy for tactical propeller driven aircraft Attack Squadron VA-25.
October 10, 1967During underway replenishment, the USS CORAL SEA collides with the USS MOUNT KATMAI (AE 16).
October 25, 1967The USS CORAL SEA suffers a Zuni rocket mishap while operating off Vietnam, injuring nine.
November 7, 1967USS CORAL SEA helicopters saves 37 crew of sinking Liberian LOYAL FORTUNES near Hong Kong
December 22, 1967Bob Hope USO Christmas Show aboard ship underway off coast of Vietnam.
January 21, 1968Battle for Khe Sanh and I Corp begins day and night Alpha Strike missions.
January 23, 1968USS Ranger leaves the line to join USS Enterprise supporting US response to USS Pueblo crisis.
January 31, 1968Tet Offensive increases pressure on in country need for round-the-clock air cover support.
February 20, 1968Last combat sortie for A-1 Skyraider in Vietnam: VA-25 modex NL 405.
February 20, 1968Sailed north to the Sea of Japan to relieve USS Ranger supporting US response to USS Pueblo crisis.
March 26, 1968
       Marine Air Group 36
Memorial Flag As the tragedy of war continued the day before departure from Japan to home port, a dear friend and high school classmate of mine, LCpl Richard "Rate" Evancho was seriously wounded in country at Marine Air Base 36, Phu Bai, South Vietnam. Rate's MAG-36 was attacked during the wanning Battle of Huế in central South Vietnam north of Da Nang. His MedEvac helicopter crashed at sea just after they were "feet wet" in foul weather on the trip to the 95th Evacuation Hospital at Da Nang. His remains were never recovered. He is on the WALL at Panel 46E Line 031. Use this link for more details.
  March 27, 1968Departed Yokosuka, Japan sailing east to the United States and home port at NAS Alameda, CA.

7th WESPAC Deployment (7 September 1968 to 18 April 1969)
4th Vietnam Combat Cruise

September 7, 1968First deployment of Attack Squadron VA-52 with A-6A aircraft.
August 31, 1968USS Coral Sea designated best aircraft carrier in Pacific Fleet and awarded Battle "E".
November   1968Martha Raye comes aboard to deliver the missing slice of cake taken by the "Phantom."
December   1968Evangelist Billy Graham visited the ship while moored in Yokosuka, Japan during the Christmas season.
April 15, 1969EC-121M aircraft shot down by North Korea while USS Coral Sea & USS New Jersey sail for home port..

1.The Zuni was widely used in the ground-attack role during the Vietnam War. CORAL SEA had its own Zuni mishap incident in October 1967.