Man overboard from Reeves in the Gulf of Tonkin, late fall of 1965

It was about 2:00 AM. We had been evolving into a routine pattern, but the operations were pretty intensive, and morale was not the best.  We had been out about 20 days.  I had the midwatch on the bridge, and we were in Tomcat position ready for a returning strike.  My JOOD had the con, and I was watching for the returning aircraft.  It was dark, no moon, and the sea was calm.  Suddenly, from the starboard side came the cry “man overboard”. One of the bridge watch repeated the cry, “man overboard, starboard side.” My JOOD immediately gave the order, “Right Full Rudder” to start the Williamson turn.  This would put us into position to reverse the ship’s course and come back down the track, giving us the best chance of picking up the man.  A signalman turned on the searchlight and almost immediately put it on the man in the water.  I took the conn, announcing ”this is Mr. Russell, I have the conn”.  Since I had the man in sight, I slowed and continued coming about.  The boatswain’s mate of the watch had the amidships crew getting the whaleboat over the side, and the captain came to the bridge in response to my call. By the time we had made the full turn, the whaleboat was ready to be lowered, and we put it over to make the pickup.  We might have been able to pick up the man by backing down, but since he didn’t  have a lifejacket, we would have been taking a chance that he would sink or be sucked under by the screws.  As it stood, the whaleboat was able to get to him while the light was on him, and they picked him up and brought him top the ship, where we were making about 5 knots.

 His division officer was sent to interrogate him as to what had happened, and he admitted that he had decided to commit suicide because of his depression over being at sea.  He was put under watch in the fo’csle, and we offloaded him to the carrier for disposition, I suppose a psychiatric evaluation and administrative discharge.  In later months, there were others who did much the same thing from the carrier, but we never had another from our crew.