New York City's Intrepid and Vietnam: many know that the colossal Intrepid aircraft carrier saw its share of combat during WWII, but not all know that the Intrepid also did three tours during the Vietnam War in the Tonkin Gulf, between 1966 and 1969. Dubbed by its 3,000+ crew as the “Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club,” the Intrepid served as the main military airfield, where thousands of aircraft fueled up and pilots flew into fury over Hanoi and Haiphong. On the Line: The Intrepid and the Vietnam War at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum focuses on the experiences of the carrier and its crew during this time.
The exhibition, which coincides with the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of the war (which ended on April 30, 1975), features dozens of artifacts, including the Triple Stix log maintained by Intrepid pilots, plus interview clips with crew members, maps, photos, and more. The Intrepid's tours of Vietnam coincided with the extended aerial campaign known as “Operation Rolling Thunder" (March 2, 1965 through November 2, 1968), which was part of the larger U.S. effort to cease the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia, to protect American interests, and to help maintain balance during the Cold War.
The Intrepid was modifed to carry attack aircraft during the Vienam War, as part of Operation Rolling Thunder. (Photo courtesy Intrepid Museum)
During WWII, the Intrepid suffered direct impact; the ship was hit and damaged by Japanese torpedoes, taking the lives of 99 crew members. But during the Vietnam War, the ship and crew faced different challenges, and the jolting pace of war did not help matters. One day, on Nov. 18, 1967, the Intrepid launched a record 33 aircrafts in 15 minutes, carrying 100,000 pounds of bombs and missles. In the course of the Vietnam War tours, the Intrepid lost 21 crew, some during operations, some from accidents.
Richard Cortez did two tours on the Intrepid during the Vietnam War, as a quartermaster. He still works on the ship sometimes today.
Richard Cortez from Queens, New York, was serving aboard the USS Constellation out in California and asked for a "swap," to be able to work East, aboard the Intrepid, as a quartermaster. Cortez did two Vietnam tours.
“You had to be up at 6am, watching navigation, round the clock, manning the bridge, in case something broke down, had to be built,” says Cortez, who was one of the roughly two dozen men required to navigate the Intrepid at one time, as it sailed along the Tonkin Gulf. Stress from constant loud noise onboard took a toll. The carrier had to maintain a distance of at least 12 miles off the coast, to be in international waters. “There were no GPS systems on board; there was a LORAN radio system that helped, but [we relied on] sun lines, celestial navigation.” Cortez also spoke fondly of the Intrepid’s Captain, Vincent Kelly. “He was a wonderful man, helped morale.”
Cortez, who has a masters in audiology, while technically retired, still works aboard the Intrepid, sometimes on the bridge. “So many vets come here, to tell their story. This is a real place, where there were real situations, and real people doing their job,” says Cortez.
On the Line: The Intrepid and The Vietnam War will be on exhibit at least until Sept., 2016. The carrier is docked in the Hudson River at the western end of 46th Street, Pier 86, near Twelfth Ave.