By LTJG Craig R. Whitney
(originally published in the United States Army Aviation Digest, May 1969)
or, Correcting An Indecorous Impression, by Donald M. Ricks, Editor, 18 February 2014
A Little Background Information:
I am like most of the Catkiller family in my belief that personalities like Charles Finch are at times during their lives and in special circumstances possessed with a keen sense of fun and devilment. As I began to work on the Catkiller web site back in late 2000, many tales of our missing heroes, fun loving and wild aviators and ground crew members and just plain good mission pilots, started coming out for publication. Some of the names I heard were often repeated and many were the quieter type. Since I served with and personally observed John S. Hillman, I believe the descriptive overviews of our more outgoing people has merit.
While posting the above story by LTJG Whitney, back on 8 May 2012, I heard rumors that “Charlie Finch” had gone AWOL and flew out to the Battleship New Jersey for a show. Some even offered copies of photos to prove he was there. While I passed this charge off as impossible during war time I continued to hear about Charlie from various people and sometimes even with various speculations about his fitness for aerial flight. That, too, I discarded as professional jealousy, since I have a younger brother whose reputation in our family is similar to the one apparently assigned to Captain Finch. I had never personally met him and paid little serious attention. In order to be an impartial editor, I had to see and experience these personalities myself. Over the years there have been many opportunities to do so, but most occurred after Vietnam. Still, nobody would talk seriously about the battleship trip, like it was an intentional and ongoing effort to encourage the flamboyant reputation of some of the unit’s pilots. I had a feeling when I first asked Jim Wisby about it that he had selective dis–remembrance.
It was not until a day or so ago, when message traffic began to include me, did I realize the matter of Charles Finch and his trip out to sea is a continuing source of envy, pride, jealousy, or a mixture of those. Actually, the first time I heard the account my story teller said, without tongue in cheek, that Charles had flown a Birddog out to the ship and landed it on deck. To my knowledge the only landing deck on that ship was a helipad, so that was totally hard to swallow, and I didn't. Then, I saw photographic evidence that not only Charles Finch visit the ship for a show, but also CPT Roger S. Bounds went along, or so I thought. So why weren't the guys including Roger in the hazing, speculations or jealous bantering seem through the decades?
Back to the lack of response on the subject by our leaders: I soon began to wonder after our reunion in Philadelphia, aboard the famous battleship, that perhaps the ship's captain and others, to include our own unit commander, would also encourage a Catkiller or two to make such a visit out to the ship. Well, you might ask, how would a line pilot or two like Charles Finch and Roger Bounds work out such a trip, all without higher headquarters having knowledge and approval? I am here years later to reveal the “rest of the story.”
Until Now It Served No Purpose To Reveal All:
The Catkillers have gotten a lot of mileage out of the Finch/Bounds trip out to the Battleship New Jersey on Christmas Day, 1968. I am not crafty enough with words to make it interesting reading about the mystical reputations that were being formed in our operational area of Vietnam during this period. Gene Wilson and others have done that in The Myth Makers, which is certainly a part in how others view our unit and its accomplishments over the seven years of service by the 220th Aviation Company. Give it another three hundred years and nobody will remember us. However, men like Charles Finch have a short span of life to built a legacy, whether by chance, by accident, or by design. I believe he and others were at the time of their service just trying to do a job, make their family and friends proud of their service and to get back home to continue on with life. The vast majority did not have time or presence of mind to “design” a series of events that make reputations. If good things happened, okay and good, and I can see these men trying their best to be as modest as possible while others talked about them. That’s the way it was.
The truth of the matter is, Charles Finch was not alone as he received an invitation to visit the USS New Jersey. However, he sent proof of his invitation and, I am sure, being the long–maligned (but relieved) gentleman he is—at this final revelation—just wants to acknowledge it wasn’t all his own doing. Then who, we ask?
Did help of any kind come from those on the ship? Too many unanswerable questions there. Exactly how did Captain Finch get an invitation from Captain Edward Snyder, Jr., captain of the US New Jersey? Jim Wisby speculated that someone in the battleship’s Control Center helped smooth the way for such a memorable trip. In his own words, Major Wisby later got his, “ass in a crack,” over the matter directly from battalion when they were informed about the visit. If silence had prevailed surrounding the helicopter ride out and back, Jim Wisby would have a meatier rear end as he returned home from Vietnam. According to Captain Finch, he also quiet innocently became involved in a U. S. Navy film crew interview by accident and was in their movie about the highly publicized event, out of uniform, but apparently representing the U. S. Army in memorable fashion—which eventually got back to Brigadier General Allen M. Burdett, Jr. (served April 1969 to January 1970), the Commander of 1st Aviation Brigade. Still, after all the dust settled, how did these two Catkillers manage to be on the US Battleship New Jersey during such a prestigious Welfare and Morale event?
Fun While It Lasted; The Photos Say It All (evidence by Charles Finch):
It Was All Roger’s Doing:
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was worth a page and a half in Jim Hooper’s book, A Hundred Feet Over Hell (pages 162–163). Since publication in 2009 no rebuttal came forward from anyone, so unless Roger Bounds decides to add his side of the story it will have to end here, unless Roger’s cousin wants to tell the navy side. With the greater amount of detail provided below, perhaps this extra “remembrance” might bring forth a challenge from the second person in the know.
On Saturday, 21 December 1968, CPT Roger Bounds and Charles Finch were on the ground at Dong Ha. Roger began talking about a relative who was at that moment a member of the crew aboard US Battleship New Jersey. Roger had learned that on Christmas Day there would be a show put on by Bob Hope and his entourage. At first it was just idle talk, but as Roger and Charles talked about the opportunity of a lifetime to actually see the show Roger asked Charles if he thought it would be a good idea to go. Charles did not take it seriously, but Roger got excited and went off alone to do something, saying he would take care of it. The next few days are blurry, but Charles states that the day before Christmas, on a Tuesday, Roger comes in with paperwork that included a Captain’s invitation to dinner in the Wardroom Mess and instructions on how to get there via helicopter. Charles stated, “Roger’s cousin was on the ship. LTJG Frank M. Swayze. I think he was a fire control officer and lent me his uniform that rest of the time.”
Captain Bounds had made the necessary contact with his “relative” on the ship which resulted in their official paperwork from none other than the ship’s captain, with no U. S. Army units consulted or advised, and they were on their way early Christmas morning. They did not think to reveal their plans to the company while they took advantage of an American and North Vietnam announced twenty–four hour cease fire. The next event they can honestly recall is their approach and landing on the New Jersey. Anything else they had to deal with could wait until they returned. Things were quiet—for a little while.
Charles goes on to say, “Roger said I knew that the helicopter taking us out to the boat was the last one that day. He also said that as soon as we got on board, the ship started sailing south for either another fire mission or get closer to where HOPE was.
Now once we were on there, there was no way for us to return for two more days. Roger is trying to blame all of this on me which is hilarious as I had not idea HIS COUSIN was on the boat. Roger is one of those who will tell a story and being the smart Stanford graduate who was so well prepared for every mission, we tend to always believe him but he had several tales that did not add up and this may be his way to mess with me.
I think I got the invitation to dinner on MY BUNK after I arrived on the New Jersey. As soon as we got on board, Captain Snyder said throw your gear in your room and come down to the officers dining area. I was still in my Marine flight suit. Roger and I went down there and here was fresh linens, china, the whole deal, and Snyder wanted to ask me all about firing his guns.
He said order anything you want and we were both at a loss for words. I think we had toasted cheese or hamburgers as we were both starving. Then, after we briefed Snyder, he said he wanted us both on Naval TV that evening and so they could send it world wide. He then told me to get out of my uniform into some TWs or tans or whatever they called them.
Roger said he has the daily USS NEW JERSEY paper that announced our arrival, etc., and will look for it as he could scan it and send it to you. Roger has promised me hundreds of his NEW JERSEY slides (he took a lot of pictures in Viet Nam) and has never found them. I even called him after he appeared on 60 MINUTES and reminded him.
Roger was a wonderful photographer and always had the latest in cameras. In fact, he bought my Canon on one of his trips to Japan.” [Dontcha just love the photo below of Jim Wisby holding his butt in place. DMR].
NARRATIVE, 1968 HISTORY OF USS NEW JERSEY (BB-62):
Scroll down to check out the Chriatmas Day narriative
Letís see, YOU GUYS get to see/meet Ann Margaret in person, and I GET to fly cover over the Christmas Ď67 Bob Hope Show (with Ann Margaret) at Danang—and Then, to add insult to injury, some AWOL Marine tried to hijack the Pan Am DC–6 that was taking me to Hong Kong for R &R on 12 February 1968 . He failed in his attempt, was taken from the airplane in handcuffs and was probably never seen nor heard from again—by anyone. He’s in the black leather jacket.
Raymond Caryl, Catkiller 32/42
Not long after that, she [Ann Margaret] was sitting on my bed at the 249th Camp Zama hospital. She look pretty haggard and Roger watched her like a man possessed–what did you do to her? The Golddiggers were way cuter. The Jersey made port soon after in Yokosuka and I visited her and received a grand welcome—in spite of you and Roger. Rod Stewart
[On 30 December, 1965, the 249th General Hospital became operational at Camp Drake in Asaka. Asaka is situated just northwest of Tokyo. Editor]
Where are the pictures of Ann Margaret???
Damn you, Bob! I spent half the morning looking for these—Rod Stewart