From the Anthology 

Veterans’ Voices

Loss of Hydraulics! Punchin’ Out! Punchin’ Out!

Richard Asbury

We were headed home after 30 days at sea off the east coast of the states. We were disembarking our two air squadrons that were based in Jacksonville, Florida. The training deployment was about over, and you could feel the sigh of relief from the crew. Especially the bridge watch team. All we had to do was drop off our planes and turn north toward Norfolk. I was at my JOOD station next to the captain’s chair. We had just launched the last flight of A-7 fighters toward their homebase. I had two more hours on the bridge, and I was done for the trip.


Then, an excited voice came over the pilot’s “squawk box” above the captain’s chair. “Loss of Hydraulics! Punchin’ Out! Punchin’ Out!” Seconds after he said that the burning fuselage of an A-7 splashed off the starboard bow about 800 yards away. The captain shouted across to the wide bridge, “Navigator, mark it.”


Captain James Linder stood up in his chair and said firmly and clearly, “This is the captain, I have the conn.” The master helmsman for this watch section scurried over to take the helm and said in a crisp voice, “Aye, aye, sir!” I stepped back from my station so the captain could access the communications and status boards. The captain punched the intercom to Air ops: “Where is he?" “He says he can see the ship below,” responded a raspy voice of the intercom. “We’re comin’ back for him,” said the captain.


Then the captain barked out his commands to the helmsman, “Left, full rudder! Portengine back, full! Starboard engine ahead, standard!”


We began to swing sharply like I’d never seen before. Forestall was 1,000 feet long and 56,000 tons of ship! We were turning like a Corvette on a slippery road! I had never seen this type of handling on such a large ship. As conning officers, we were NEVER allowed to make such radical turns.


The captain punched the bitch-box for Air ops again and said sharply, “Launch the ready helo.” Seconds later, off to port, we could see the parachute of the pilot, high in the sky, and his legs kicking wildly as he floated down toward the water.


The captain ordered: “Rudder amid ship!” This took the swing off the ship. “All back, full!” This slowed us substantially. “All stop!” This brought us to almost a complete stop.


The pilot splashed in the water less than 300 yards away, and the helo was directly above him to scoop him up.


Wow! What a piece of hip handling! They had always told us in Surface Warfare training that aviators like our Captain James B. Linder couldn’t drive ships. He proved them wrong that day by my estimation!