USS Arlington

April, 2013

Washington -- The new USS Arlington (LPD-24) has been commissioned in Norfolk; its captain is a Nebraskan from Rushville (Old Jules country) of all places.

I had an invitation to attend the commissioning through the USS Arlington (AGMR-2) reunion association and would have considered attending had I known a fellow Nebraskan was to be captain of the new ship. I sailed in the old Arlington, a communications relay ship, through its many adventures from the coast of North Korea to the pickup of the Apollo 8 astronauts. Many years ago I attended the Norfolk commissioning of the USS Platte because of its Nebraska connection.

A sea story from the old Arlington:

We were several days steaming south of Pearl just after Christmas, 1968, at the anticipated splashdown point of Apollo 8, the first manned spacecraft to leave earth's orbit and circle the moon. Lovell, Anders, and Borman were the astronauts. USS Yorktown was the capsule pickup ship; Arlington accompanied her to provide communications with the world.

I was the communications watch officer for the splashdown, scheduled for about dawn. I went up on deck before the watch; it had just rained giving the ship a fresh-water washdown. A couple of hours later the recovery and the supporting communications went well. After the watch, I went up to the wardroom for breakfast, then stepped out onto a sponson to see the astronauts waving to us from the nearby Yorktown.

Just at that moment, President Lyndon Johnson was trying to reach the astronauts to congratulate them. Network news cameras in Washington were on the president. The call was to be patched through Arlington. For some reason, the president was erroneously advised that the astronauts were on the line, and he began talking, cameras rolling. But the call had not gone through; it was connected only to an Arlington radioman (RM3 McCormick, as I recall). The president went on and on, the radioman not wanting to interrupt the President of the United States. When Johnson finally stopped, the radioman told him, "Mr. President, your call didn't go through, but I'll be sure to pass your thoughts on to the astronauts!"

As far as I know, viewers of the network news programs that evening never knew the difference.