USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19)
||This article contains too many or too-lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. (April 2016)|
USS Blue Ridge in 2012
|Name:||USS Blue Ridge|
|Namesake:||Blue Ridge Mountains|
|Operator:||United States Navy|
|Ordered:||31 December 1964|
|Builder:||Philadelphia Naval Shipyard|
|Laid down:||27 February 1967|
|Launched:||4 January 1969|
|Sponsored by:||Mrs. Gretchen Thompson-Byrd (1917–1989)|
|Commissioned:||14 November 1970|
|Motto:||Finest in the Fleet|
|Status:||In active service, as of 2015|
|Class and type:||Blue Ridge class command ship|
|Length:||194 m (636.5 ft)|
|Beam:||32.9 m (108 ft)|
|Draft:||8.8 m (26.9 ft)|
|Propulsion:||Two boilers, one geared turbine|
|Speed:||23 kn (43 km/h)|
|Range:||10,000 nmi (19,000 km)|
|Aircraft carried:||Two helicopters, currently the Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk|
|Aviation facilities:||No Hangar|
USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) is the lead ship of the two Blue Ridge–class command ships of the United States Navy, and is the command ship of the United States Seventh Fleet. Her primary role is to provide command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) support to the commander and staff of the United States Seventh Fleet. She is currently forward-deployed to U.S. Navy Fleet Activities, Yokosuka in Japan, and is the third Navy ship named after the Blue Ridge Mountains, a range of mountains in the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States. Blue Ridge is the oldest deployable warship of the U.S. Navy, following the decommissioning of USS Denver (LPD-9) in Pearl Harbor on 14 August 2014. As of 2011, Blue Ridge is expected to remain in service until 2039.
- 1 History
- 2 Awards
- 3 Gallery
- 4 Notes
- 5 References
- 6 External links
USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) was put "in commission special" on 14 November 1970, at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard as an Amphibious Command and Control (LCC) ship, with Captain Kent J. Carroll (Vice Admiral Carroll, Ret.) as the Commanding Officer. The ship was sponsored by Mrs. Gretchen Byrd, wife of the U. S. Senator from Virginia, Harry F. Byrd, Jr.. The principal speaker at the ceremony was the Honorable John W. Warner, Under Secretary of the Navy and later Senator from Virginia. 
Blue Ridge was the first ship of her class and represented almost 7 years of planning and construction work. The result was a ship specifically designed from the keel up as a command and control ship. As designed, Blue Ridge was capable of supporting the staff of both the Commander of an Amphibious Task Force and the staff of the Commanding General of the Landing Force. The advanced computer system, extensive communications package and modern surveillance and detection systems was molded into the most advanced joint amphibious command and control center ever constructed.
At the time of her commissioning, Blue Ridge had the distinction of carrying the world's most sophisticated electronics suite. It was said to be some thirty percent larger than that of the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) which had been the most complex. Blue Ridge was armed with a "main battery" of computers, communications gear, and other electronic facilities to fulfill her mission as a command ship. An extremely refined communications system was also an integral part of the ship's radical new design. Through an automated patch panel and computer controlled switching matrix her crew could utilize any combination of communication equipment desired. The clean topside area is the result of careful design intended to minimize the ship's interference with her own communications system. US Navy long range communications were heavily reliant on High frequency radio systems in the 1970s and have evolved to predominately satellite communications in the 2000s. This is illustrated by the long wire antennas and the directional HF yagi or log-periodic antenna initially installed on Blue Ridge and later removed and replaced with a number of satellite communications antennas.
Besides small arms, Blue Ridge was armed with two twin Mark 33 3″/50 caliber guns at commissioning, though they have since been removed. She also carried two Mark 25 launchers and electronics for the Basic Point Defense Missile System (BPDMS) which was added sometime in the 1970s and removed in the 1990s. Two 20mm Phalanx CIWS systems were added in the 1980s for point defense. In recent years she has also carried 25mm Bushmaster cannons.
On 11 February 1971, Blue Ridge steamed on her maiden voyage from the shipyard to her first homeport, San Diego, California, around South America via the Strait of Magellan, making liberty calls at Norfolk, Virginia (15 Feb), Rio de Janeiro (4–6 March), Lima (20–22 March), Rodman Naval Station, Panama Canal Zone (27–28 March), and Acapulco (2–5 April).  Blue Ridge's beam is 108 feet (33 m), the Panama Canal locks at that time were only 110 feet (34 m), creating problems for the Blue Ridge class of ship with fenders and barges for the sponsons.
As she crossed the equator on 26 February at 38 degrees and 24 minutes longitude, bound for Rio de Janeiro, Blue Ridge performed her first Crossing The Line ceremony, initiating the "wog" majority of the crew, except for one.
Rio de Janeiro was Blue Ridge's first foreign port call and the ship got a downtown pier, within a short walk of the entertainment district. It was not a disappointment, even though it was just beyond Mardi Gras and into Lent. Recent landslides, due to heavy rains, did not affect the areas of interest. "Cinderella liberty" and liberty uniform requirements were enforced, but for personnel in uniform, the buses and harbor ferries were free.
Blue Ridge had organized tours to the Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado Mountain and the old Royal Summer Capital, Petropolis. The Petropolis tour centered on the old summer Royal Palace of Dom Pedro I, that was turned into the Imperial Museum and required visitors to wear buffing booties over their shoes to protect the mahogany floors. On the ship's last day in Rio, she opened the ship for all to tour.
Upon entry to the Strait of Magellan, Blue Ridge took on a passage pilot from the Chilean Navy for the transit. The Chilean patrol boat lost its mast and damaged one of Blue Ridge's basket antennas, just aft of the port sponson, in the boarding operation.
In Blue Ridge's transit from Lima to Rodman Naval Station, Panama, she was assigned the duty of going to the aid of any U.S. tuna fishing boat being harassed or captured by the Ecuadorian Navy because they were fishing in a claimed 200 mile fishing zone that the U.S. did not recognize. It was known as the Tuna War, but no incident occurred.
Arriving in San Diego on 9 April, "with Rear Admiral David M. Rubel, U. S. Navy, Commander Amphibious Group Three and staff embarked. Rear Admiral Rubel is the first Flag Officer embarked on Blue Ridge." Amphibious Group Three staff came aboard Blue Ridge at the Rodman port call with the next port call being Acapulco.
The rest of the year was "highlighted by Command Post Exercises 3–7 May and 11–13 August. Refresher training was conducted in late June and early July. Blue Ridge acted as amphibious task force and landing force flagship for the major amphibious training exercise of the year, ROPEVAL WESTCO (3-71), from 8–16 September." 
Blue Ridge's first dry-dock since the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, "...from 11 October to 19 November she was in the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for Post Shakedown availability...". Blue Ridge's power plant was switched from Navy Standard Oil fuel to Navy Distillate fuel. 
1972 WestPac I
After completing degaussing in the deperming facility at Ballast Point, on 7 January 1972, Blue Ridge left her home port of San Diego and steamed to Pearl Harbor (13-15 Jan) for deployment on her first WestPac, with liberty port visits of Guam (25 Jan,4 hrs.), Sasebo, Japan (15-22 Feb), White Beach, Okinawa (2 Feb, 20 March), Subic Bay (29-31 Jan, 6–11 March), Hong Kong (13–18 March) and Singapore (28 Feb-3 March). 
Making the next leg of her transit to WestPac, Guam, with USS Sterett (CG-31) and USS Mahan (DDG-42),  During the transit, four Soviet reconnaissance aircraft overflew the convoy to collect data on the new ship.
Additional port visits were planned, but in late March 1972, as Blue Ridge prepared at White Beach, Okinawa for exercise Golden Dragon, North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam across the DMZ on 30 March 1972 in their Easter Offensive. This was the largest invasion since the Korean War radically departing from previous offensives. It was designed to strengthen the North Vietnamese position as the Paris Peace Accords drew towards a conclusion.
On 3 April 1972, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet (CinCPac) Admiral John S. McCain, Jr. cancelled Exercise Golden Dragon. General Miller and the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade (9th MAB) staff were ordered to remain on the Blue Ridge for combat or evacuation operations. The 9th MAB had various contingency plans from potentially conducting emergency evacuations to building up its forces.
On 5 April 1972, Blue Ridge departed for the war zone, the Gulf of Tonkin. Blue Ridge was the command ship during April through July for the last major combat amphibious engagement of the Vietnam War. The Easter Counter-Offensive was "the largest concentration of wartime amphibious force since the Inchon and Wonsan landings of the Korean War.".
Detachment "N" of the 1st Radio Battalion had deployed with the 9th MAB for the exercise in Korea. It was integrated with the Task Force 76 Joint Intelligence Center and operated from the supplemental radio spaces of Blue Ridge using input from the service cryptologic agencies in Southeast Asia. However, operating from Blue Ridge posed "reception" problems because of the distance from shore. From 24 April 1972, two or three direct support elements were in operation from naval gunfire ships at any one time, with control remaining at the headquarters element on Blue Ridge. In July 1972, they moved to the USS Paul Revere (APA-248) and when Blue Ridge returned to the United States detachment analysts relocated to the Naval Communications Station, San Miguel, near San Antonio, Zambales, Philippines. "Further as CTU 76.0.1, escorted by USS John Paul Jones (DDG-32), Blue Ridge conducted special operations in the Tonkin Gulf in Operation Venture Road."
"By 2 May 1972, the entire province of Quang Tri ... had fallen to the NVA. ... threatened Hue ... the Americans responded with a rapid build-up of air power within South Vietnam and with forces offshore. ... Seventh Fleet deployed elements of III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF) ... 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade (MAB), ... The initial tasks of the fleet's amphibious forces had been to provide MACV security and emergency evacuation for ULSL forces should the need arise. ... the ULSL had four amphibious ready groups off Vietnam, totaling 16 ships under the command of Rear Admiral Walter D. Gaddis in the USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19). ... the crux of the problem was obvious, "the almost total disconnect between the air war and the ground war... The Americans had to get their houses in order before they could hope to help the Vietnamese. ... In 1975 the Center for Naval Analyses studied this period ... presence of moderately sophisticated antiaircraft weapons hampered U.S. abilities to provide close and direct air support, adverse weather ... naval gunfire played a vital role in compensating for air support ... "
Operation Song Thanh 6-72, amphibs turn the tide in late May 1972: "... This time, the Marines used both surface and vertical assaults. ... On 23 May, the 7th VNMC Battalion and its advisors ... boarded landing craft for ... ships of the U.S. amphibious force ... Colonel Do Ky and a small division staff went on board the Blue Ridge with Colonel Lan to Coordinate the assault ... Detailed planning and close coordination were required with Brigadier General Edward J. Miller and his 9th MAB, the U.S. Navy amphibious ships of ARGs Bravo and Charlie, the American B-52 Arc Light strikes, and the largest assembly of naval gunfire support ships in the Vietnam War. ... most of the Vietnamese Marines had never made an amphibious landing before, and spent the night on the open flight decks of the landing ships. ... The landing began the next morning, 24 May, with artillery, air and naval gunfire strikes ... As the "Amtracs" closed within 2,000 yards ... a final B-52 Arc Light placed a string of bombs down the length of the beach, raising a curtain of fire and sand ... Lieutenant Williams commented: We approached the beach as the first mortar rounds went off. As soon as they hit, a Vietnamese Marine tried to crawl up my leg and out the hatch. We beached, dropped the ramp and literally threw Marines out the hatch. ... the Duluth and the Cayuga were fired upon by a NV artillery battery. ... gunfire support ships ...silenced the NVA battery. ... the ship "made black smoke and we go the hell out of shore fire range. ... secured its immediate objectives ... the Marines encountered only token resistance from the surprised enemy. " " ... the flat coastal plain which made reference points for naval gunfire hard to locate from the sea."
Captain Carroll: "None of us expected that we'd still be on station in the Gulf of Tonkin at the end of May but, at this writing, we are. Not one sailor in a thousand can claim that he's been at sea for sixty continuous days, but that record belongs to each of us now. We do have plans to visit Subic Bay in the near future ..."
With a lull in the fighting and 64 days at sea, Blue Ridge made a port call to Subic, 7–14 June, for supplies and sanity, then returned to the GOT (Gulf of Tonkin). Captain Speer: " ... flagships like Blue Ridge have it harder than other ships. ... The 64 days before Subic and more than 30 at sea since then have been unique in the Seventh Fleet." 
With Blue Ridge at one of its many operational 0330 GQs, Operation Song Thanh 8-72 as a feint attack, began off the coast of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that lay between South and North Vietnam. NVN forces had violated the DMZ in its Easter Offensive 1972, as they invaded South Vietnam down Highway 1." "Phase one of Lam Son or Total Victory 72, the multi-division I Corps counteroffensive, began after six days of extensive preparatory fires by all available supporting arms and an amphibious feint at the mouth of the Cua Viet River. ... to seize a line aloing the Thach Han River. ... A 9th MAB amphibious demonstration on "D-1"preceded the counteroffensive. A special amphibious task group was activated by Task Force 76 to simulate the preparation ... VNMC units went on board ship from Tan My to add credence to the northern feint. On 27 June 1972, the American amphibious forces moved to the objective area ... the North Vietnamese reacted quickly, firing artillery at the amphibious ships from the mainland and offshore islands." 
Combat Action off Tiger Island
"On 27 June, Task Force 76 assembled off the coast parallel to the Cua Viet River. Vietnamese Marines, having been embarked from Tan My Naval Station, were already aboard amphibious assault ships, giving every indication of an impending seaborne operation. In a strategy to fix and hold in place any forces north of the Cua Viet ...Just prior to dawn, gunfire ships commenced a vigorous barrage of preparatory fires on beaches just north of the river. Assault craft were already on course, heading for the beach, at 0800...when both airborne and surface formations suddenly turned away, ...As was witnessed during a prior landing conducted for Song Than 6-72, NVA shore batteries attempted to thwart the invasion, unleashing salvos of 130mm rounds at the surface ships and actually bracketing several, including the USS Blue Ridge."  "USS Blue Ridge responded as "shore batteries on Tiger Island off the Demilitarized Zone opened fire on Blue Ridge. She returned 77 rounds from a range of 13,000 yards." and removed herself from the threat."
"As counter battery fires from gunship escorts soon had active coastal artillery sites under fire before adjustments could be made and kept the surface ships from being hit."  "... witnessed the NVS shore fire "landing in the wake of the Blue Ridge and a ship to the starboard of her." ... We were on the Schenectady and were heading out from the beach. Tiger Island was passing on our port side. It was flat and green and fairly low in the water. We saw white flashes from the foliage, then saw the shellbursts walking towards us, both in the air and on the surface. The Marines passing ammunition on the aft gun-mount didn't flinch and continued to pass ammunition to 3"50s which banged away. The cruiser (USS Newport News) came in and opened up, after which the guns on Tiger Island remained silent. It was more fire than we had received during Song Than 6-72. ... "  "USS Newport News, boasting the most firepower in the fleet, came about, charging straight at Hon Co (Tiger) Island, bringing main and secondary batteries to bear with devastating accuracy. Nothing more was heard from Tiger Island." 
Nguyen Van Thieu, president of the Republic of Vietnam, came aboard Blue Ridge on 28 June 1972 to confer with Vice Admiral Holloway, Admiral Gaddis, General Miller and "to convey his personal thanks to the sailors and Marines of the amphibious forces for 'the preservation of Peace and Freedom' in South Vietnam."
On the first of July, while steaming outside of Da Nang Harbor, in the combat zone and the ship's port 3-inch gun manned (note the FT crew in the port gun's director behind and above Chaplain Powell), Blue Ridge had its first change of command. That day was also the day that Blue Ridge earned the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal and is still not credited in the VN combat zone on the official Navy Awards Report for Blue Ridge. "... Captain Paul H. Speer, USN, ... relieving Cap-tain Kent Jean Carroll, USN. One week later, Rear Admiral W. D. Toole, USN, relieved Rear Admiral Gaddis ... aboard the ship."   
After Tiger Island
"Following the amphibious demonstration of 27 June, the 9th MAB prepared to continue Operation Lam Son 72 with a VNMC two-battalion helicopter assault into landing zones behind Communist lines on 29 June. ... amphibious support to this phase of Lam Son 72 allowed the rapid advance of South Vietnamese forces to the outskirts of Quang Tri City. ... Another opportunity for a helicopter assault on the exposed Communist seaward flank occurred when ... strong NVA forces ... outskirts of Quang Tri City ... General Miller, and the new task force commander, Rear Admiral Wycliffe D. Toole, Jr., used combined brigade helicopter assets and Task Force 76 ships for a maximum buildup of combat power. ... 11 July 1972 ..." "Lam Son 72 was a complete success ... As June ended, the NVA had given up more ground as they were pushed further back into Quang Tri Province." "By 14 July, the Vietnamese had cut the enemy's main supply route, Route 560, into Quang Tri City resulting in diminished fighting. ..."
The Easter Counter-Offensive was Blue Ridge's longest time at sea, 64 days from 5 April to 7 June 1972. After 7 days in Subic, Blue Ridge returned to the Gulf of Tonkin until 18 July 1972 and was then ordered to the Philippines for typhoon relief along with Tripoli, Juneau, Alamo, and Cayuga. "The 33d MAU and subordinate units were awarded the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation for their efforts.", but Blue Ridge was not.
On 18 August 1972, Blue Ridge returned to San Diego. In September she received aboard, CNO, Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr. and the Secretary of the Navy, John Warner for visits. From 5 thru 9 October, Blue Ridge made a port visit to San Francisco's Embarcadero for liberty (5–9 October), training and a First Fleet sponsored event. 
1973 WestPac II
From 12 February 1973 until 4 April 1973, Operation Homecoming, returning POW's from Hanoi and VC camps in South Vietnam went to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. With Blue Ridge still in its homeport of San Diego, she contributed its current ship's intelligence officer, LCDR Mahoney, and prior ship's intelligence officer, LCDR Curley, to the operation. "The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines each had liaison officers dedicated to prepare for the return of American POWs well in advance of their actual return. These liaison officers worked behind the scenes traveling around the United States assuring the returnees well being. They also were responsible for debriefing POWs to discern relevant intelligence about MIAs and to discern the existence of war crimes committed against them."
On 24 February 1973, Blue Ridge left San Diego for Pearl Harbor (2–3 March) and her second WestPac, with liberty port visits of Sasebo (7–14 June), Yokosuka (25 July-5 Aug), White Beach (15–31 March, 11 April, 16 Aug, 4-19 Sept), Hong Kong (7–12 May), Subic (26 March-5 April, 22-26 Sept, 7-8 Oct), Manila, Singapore (24-29 Aug) and Chilung (1–5 June). Blue Ridge conducted training exercises: Operation Golden Dragon in early April off South Korea, Operation Pagasa I in middle May off Philippines, Operation Pagasa II in early October off Philippines. 
With Operation End Sweep progressing in the coastal waters of North Vietnam for the mines released there during the 1972 Easter Counter-Offensive, Blue Ridge "left White Beach again on 10 July 1973 headed for the Gulf of Tonkin. She carried equipment that was needed by U. S. helicopters that were involved in clearing mined North Vietnamese waters. Blue Ridge spent two nights in north Vietnamese waters off the coast of Vin and Hon Matt before departing for Manila in the Philippines."
Because of the problems associated with the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, Blue Ridge, on its transit back to White Beach, Okinawa from its port call in Singapore, "became the first SEVENTH Fleet combatant ship to refuel at sea with a commercial tanker, taking on some 158,000 gallons of Navy distillate from the Falcon Princess."
Late in Blue Ridge's second WestPac, Blue Ridge was conducting a joint exercise with the Philippine Navy in the South China Sea called PAGASA II, as the command ship. One of Blue Ridge's ensigns went overboard unnoticed and when found absent for a watch muster, a compartment search was conducted aboard the ship for the missing officer. With failure to find him on 28 September 1973, a search and rescue operation commenced without success. Two days later the ensign was declared missing at sea and Exercise PAGASA II resumed. On Monday, 1 October 1973, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow was notified that the Soviet trawler AGI Kursograph found an American sailor in the Blue Ridge operation area and the ensign was returned safely to Blue Ridge the next day after diplomatic negotiations.
At the end of Pagasa II, bad tropical weather forced the transfer of the staff from Blue Ridge to Denver, after a very short stay in Subic Bay, to occur in White Beach instead, on 7 October. On 8 October, Blue Ridge steamed for its homeport San Diego with a "guest". "The guest was in the form of a fast patrol craft, the type used in the back waters of Vietnam. The boat was in need of transportation back to the states and Blue Ridge offered that chance on her helicopter deck. Blue Ridge arrived in San Diego 23 October ."
1975 WestPac III
Late in March 1975 and late in Blue Ridge's third WestPac, the military and political situation in Cambodia and South Vietnam had Blue Ridge's operational plans in confusion as it was in the late March 1972. The military advances of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the NVN proxies in South Vietnam were foreshadowing their eventual fate.
The beginning of the end: "The massive influx of civilian refugees into the Da Nang area precipitated a breakdown in law and order. ... on 30 March, that former bastion of American firepower fell to the Communists. ... collapsed without a shot being fired. ... Responsibility for this disaster would be laid at the doorstep of President Thieu. The catastrophic chain of events leading to the surrender of Da Nang resulted directly from the decision to abandon Military Region 2 and the ill-advised withdrawal of the Airborne Division from Military Region 1. ... During the two-week period that Military Region I came apart at the seams, the United States took notice and decided to take action. ... The Marines of the III Marine Amphibious Force were the first to experience the effects of this reaction. ... The command had been concentrating its efforts on Eagle Pull with its sights set on the almost inevitable evacuation of Cambodia. The events in South Vietnam quickly rewrote the script and seemed to indicate that the III Marine Amphibious Force might have to double load its gun and do so without delay! "
Blue Ridge at White Beach, Okinawa: "He stated that when the battalion was alerted on 25 March 1975, "I was instructed that my company would be helilifted to White Beach at around 1400 for embarkation aboard the USS Blue Ridge. ... for immediate departure to Da Nang where we would reinforce U.S. facilities. We did embark on 25 March ... Blue Ridge did not get underway for Vietnam until 27 March ... Marines and sailors hastily trained to prepare for the anticipated mass of humanity. Crowd control, evacuation procedures, and a Vietnamese orientation course occupied the Marines' time on board ship. Counterintelligence personnel briefed Marines in the problems of identifying and neutralizing saboteurs, The interrogator-translator team gave a quick Vietnamese language orientation course, Key Navy and Marine Corps officers and senior enlisted men made walkthroughs of the evacuation chain, The versatile printing section on board the Blue Ridge reproduced thousands of signs in Vietnamese composed by the 17th ITF. Captain Bushey's counterintelligence team prepared a simplified instruction card for the small unit leader that included basic Vietnamese phrases and human relations oriented "do's and don'ts.' "
Operation Eagle Pull
"on 2 April, in response to the further deterioration of the Cambodian government's defenses around Phnom Penh, Ambassador John Gunther Dean had requested the insertion of the Operation Eagle Pull command element into Phnom Penh ... The rebels controlled, uncontested, the eastern side of the Mekong, and by 10 April they so inundated the airfield with artillery fire that the United States ceased all fixed-wing evacuation operations. The Execution of Eagle Pull Shortly after 0600 on 12 April 1975, 12 CH-53s from HMH-462 launched from the deck of the Okinawa and ascended to their orbit stations above the task group. "
South Vietnam's "strategy": " the essence of South Vietnam's post-Accords military strategy: conserve resources and whenever possible use artillery and air.* The Vietnamese seemed to emphasize an avoidance of engagements with the enemy, a husbanding of forces and military equipment, all in anticipation of the big battle during which, at just the right moment, they would strike a fatal blow and defeat the enemy ... The "right time" never arrived ... The population trusted the forces that had guarded them since the cease-fire in 1973, ... When these units redeployed, the Vietnamese voted with their feet ... by beginning a mass exodus to Da Nang. ... Those ARVN soldiers who did not desert to assist their fleeing families, ... were overrun. ... then joined the crazed mob attempting to leave Da Nang on anything that floated. Chaos ruled the streets of Da Nang Easter weekend 1975 ...
The Ambassador's "plan": "Having spent the entire day in Saigon, the delegation returned to the Blue Ridge and reported to General Carey ... concerns that Ambassador Martin had manifested during their visit to the Embassy. In no uncertain terms, he had conveyed to the Marines that he would not tolerate any outward sign of intent to depart the country because he felt it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. ... "
A communication problem for Blue Ridge, the "communication & command" ship: "... communications backlog on the Blue Ridge. Delays still occurred because of the large number of staffs using the communications facilities. The various organizations participating in the operation were so widely dispersed that the majority of the orders issued by the various headquarters had to be transmitted in message format. "
The final descent of the Republic of South Vietnam: "On the evening of 20 April, ... conducted a successful withdrawal from Xuan Loe, ... Overshadowing the military consequences of this withdrawal were the political consequences. ... The following day, President Thieu resigned ... Vice President Tran Van Huong. the president's constitutional successor, replaced Thieu. His term lasted a week. ... the National Assembly designated General Duong Van "Big" Minh to replace Tran Van Huong as President of the Republic of Vietnam.' ... On the evening of 28 April, with Saigon nearly surrounded, General Minh took the oath of office. ... within minutes of the ceremony, a flight of captured South Vietnamese A-37s bombed Tan Son Nhut. ... convinced the new leaders of the republic that they had but two choices: negotiate or capitulate. ... Ambassador Martin returned to the Embassy and made his decision ... and called Secretary of State Kissinger, he officially relinquished control of the evacuation of South Vietnam. In less than 20 minutes, it became a military operation. At 1051 29 April 1975, USSAG passed the word to execute Frequent Wind's Option IV. ... General Minh. ... told his soldiers to lay down their arms. On 30 ApriI 1975. the Republic of Vietnam ceased to exist. "
Blue Ridge waiting: "Included in the meeting on board the Blue Ridge was a 35mm slide presentation of the DAO landing zones, obstacles to flight, aerial checkpoints. and the ingress/egress route from the task force to Saigon. After floating off the coast of South Vietnam for over a week, the 9th MAB was more than ready for action. Every day since its arrival the task force had expected orders to begin the evacuation, but the only directives it received changed the response time. By the morning of Tuesday, 29 April, everyone in the task force knew the status of the North Vietnamese offensive and the peril that Saigon faced, and wondered why the evacuation had not begun. ... This day, however, was different. Finally, the waiting was over. Admiral Gavler directed USSAG/Seventh Air Force and Seventh Fleet to begin Frequent Wind Option IV at 1051 (Saigon time). With that announcement the evacuation of Saigon officially began. At 1215. the 9th MAB received General Burns' message directing them to "execute." For some unexplainable reason, dissemination of this message to the participating units had been delayed from 1052 until 1215. "
Communication problems in the fleet: "Captain Kurt A. Schrader. a helicopter commander in HMH-462. related, We had just stood down when the ship's captain came over the 1MC (public address system) and announced that the mission was a go but the message directing it had been lost by the Blue Ridge's communications center." ... Following receipt of detailed information from the HDC on the Okinawa, Admiral Whitmire announced that L-Hour had changed again and would now be 1500. Despite this modification, due in large part to the continuing confusion over USSAGs understanding of L-Hour, Operation Frequent Wind was finally in motion.' At this time, the brigade began the most critical aspect of pre-L-Hour operations: positioning the landing force. "
Operation Frequent Wind
The sky was filled with South Vietnamese Air Force helicopters, looking for a place to land and unload their passengers. According to a witness on Blue Ridge during the evacuation of Saigon, the ship seemed to be under siege by helicopters. Five helicopters crashed on the ship that day not counting ones ditched or abandoned overboard. One crashed causing a near disaster and showering the ship and personnel with debris.
A NBC film crew, with reporter George Lewis, filmed this unexpected arrival of SVN choppers with refugees fleeing Saigon, on the flight deck of Blue Ridge, showing the processing of the refugees and two SVN choppers rotor blades colliding. And to free up space on the flight deck, SVN choppers were ditched by their pilots in the South China Sea after unloading their refugees on BR. With that iconic photo of a SVN Huey being pushed over the side of Blue Ridge, they filmed one unknown crew member being tossed into a flight deck safety net by the movement of the chopper going over the side.
The Fleet: "Gunnery Sergeant Russell R. Thurman. the 31st MAU public affairs specialist, recalled. "The most incredible thing that morning was the number of ships. Every direction that you looked all you could see were ships and more ships." "
Problems in the air: "The commanding officer of ProvMAG 39. Colonel McLenon, exercised control of his Marine aircraft through the Tactical Air Coordination Center (TACC) on board the Blue Ridge. The Helicopter Direction Center. on board the Okinawa, maintained aircraft spacing and routing. ... The primary difference between TACC and HDC was that TACC controlled the tactical disposition of the helicopters and HDC controlled the helicopters as long as they were in the Navy's airspace. These areas of responsibility often overlapped and at times even merged. Under the conditions existing on the morning of 29 ApriI 1975, the difference in control responsibilities of TACC and HDC at best seemed blurred, at worst redundant. "
Operation Frequent Wind finally executes: "... 1315 departed the Blue Ridge for the landing zone.' At 1350, a section of Huev helicopters landed at the DAO Compound and discharged its passengers. General Carey and Colonel Gray. ... the first wave started landing at 1506. At that moment, it was 0306 in Washington. the same day, 29 April 1975, and 2106, 28 April, at the CinCPac Command Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. "
More problems in the air: "Landing on these ships at 1540, they unloaded the first refugees delivered by Operation Frequent Wind. ...Unfortunately, coordination and control of the overall embarkation operation suffered from more serious communication problems. Direct communications with Admiral Whitmire and 9th MAB Rear were sporadic, at best, requiring a continuous relay by the ABCCC (airborne C-130 equipped with several types of radios). Added to the already heavy traffic, these relays served to create confusion on the radios ... "
Ambassdor's last stand "Admiral Steele offered his recollections of the nearly endless supply of evacuees at the Embassy: "One thing not generally known is that Ambassador Martin was attempting to get large numbers of Vietnamese evacuated from the Embassy. lt appeared to be a bottomless pit, and as our men and machines began to tire ... I did not want him captured. The number three man in the Embassy arrived on board the Blue Ridge amid reported the Ambassador to be ill and exhausted. Through loyalty to our Vietnamese colleagues. he was going to keep that evacuation going indefinitely, and in my opinion, force it to keep going by not coming out himself." General Carey notified Captain Gerald L. "Gerry" Berry. a HMM-165 pilot, that his CH-46 would extract Ambassador Martin. His instructions included the order to remain atop the Embassy building as long as necessary to load him. At 0458 on 30 April 1975 Captain Berry, in "Lady Ace 09' departed the Embassy helipad and Ambassador Martin bid farewell to South Vietnam. The American Embassy had officially closed its doors. Unofficially, a handful of American Marines still remained at the Embass waiting for their ride to freedom. At 0327. President Ford ordered that no more than 19 additional lifts would be flown and that Ambassador Martin would be on the last one. "...cable from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. It read, "I think it advisable that you avoid all public comment until you have made your report to the President." ... Kissinger's long-ago words crossed Martin's mind. "You've got to get back out there because the American people have got to have somebody to blame.' Martin cancelled the press conference. Yet when caught by reporters below decks, the last U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam declared, "I think the Americans have a right to be proud of this evacuation. I have absolutely nothing for which I apologize at all." "
From 21 July 1979 through 30 June 1984, Blue Ridge and other ships in the West Pacific engaged in operation Boat People, receiving the Humanitarian Service Medal, rescuing refugees from Vietnam. For example, on 6 October 1980 while transiting the South China Sea, Blue Ridge embarked Vietnamese refugees onboard from two separate small boats. The first being sighted before noon contained 54 total refugees. The second containing 37 were embarked onboard Blue Ridge shortly after 1800. Both boats were dangerously overloaded, and adrift when sighted. Of the 54 total refugees aboard the first boat, all were in good health, having been to sea only a few days. Of the 37 total refugees aboard the second boat, all were severely dehydrated, many so weak they could not stand, and had to be hoisted aboard Blue Ridge. Mechanical failure of the second boat had left the 37 adrift well short of the shipping lane. Initially it was unclear how long they had been at sea, though they had been without potable water for many days.
In May 1989, Blue Ridge, Sterett and Rodney M. Davis visited Shanghai. They were the first US warships to enter Shanghai Harbor in 40 years and it was only the second visit by US warships to the People's Republic of China since 1949.
Blue Ridge performed a nine-and-a-half–month deployment as flagship for commander, United States Naval Forces Central Command (ComUSNavCent), during Operations Desert Shield, and Desert Storm from 28 August 1990 through 24 April 1991, receiving a Navy Unit Commendation.
Blue Ridge participates routinely in U.S. and allied training exercises each year with countries throughout the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. For example, in 2009 Blue Ridge participated in ANNUALEX 21G (Annual Exercise 21G) with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and PASSEX (Passing Exercise) with the French Navy.
This ship was one of several participating in disaster relief after the 2011 To-hoku earthquake and tsunami Operation TOMODACHI. Blue Ridge brought relief supplies from Singapore to Japan but remained in the vicinity of Okinawa where the embarked U.S. Seventh Fleet staff provided command and control for the duration of Operation TOMODACHI.
On 18 July 1972, USS Blue Ridge was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon for her action at Tiger Island, and on 9 August 1972, the ship was awarded the Battle "E" by the commander Amphibious Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. It was the only one Blue Ridge received prior to substantial changes made to the award in 1976 and is not listed as a Navy "E" Ribbon on the unit awards page. Blue Ridge received 15 Navy "E" Ribbon awards from 1977 to 2010.
Blue Ridge was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal and has two campaign stars one for Consolidation II '72 Campaign and the second for Vietnam Ceasefire '72 Campaign (Easter Counter-Offensive) with a total of 99 days in the combat zone, not counting 18 uncredited days in July 1972. Blue Ridge may have earned the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal for six months of service off South Vietnam from February to July 1972 as listed by NavSource.org. However, The Navy Unit awards page does not mention the award and the ship's crew did not paint the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal on the ship's bridge wing in 1993 or 2011.
Operation Eagle Pull (11–13 April 1975), the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, Blue Ridge was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and the Humanitarian Service Medal. 
Operation Frequent Wind (29–30 April 1975), the evacuation of Saigon, South Vietnam, Blue Ridge was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and the Humanitarian Service Medal. 
Blue Ridge received her second Navy Unit Commendation along with the Southwest Asia Service Medal, the Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia) and Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait) for Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
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- June 2011 USS Blue Ridge medals cropped from this photo. and USS Blue Ridge medals in May 1993 cropped from this photo.
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- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
- This article includes information collected from the Naval Vessel Register, which, as a U.S. government publication, is in the public domain. The entry can be found here.
- Index for History/Command Operations Reports, USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19).
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