February 1972 to December 1975


I began my military experience in February of 1972 when a friend and I enlisted in the United States Navy. At the time, I was 20 years old and was working as a milkman for a dairy in Denver, Colorado. My number for the draft lottery was 349, so I was sure that I wouldn't be called into the service by the Army. I had tried college, but at the time, I just couldn't deal with what I perceived as the monotony of classroom work. The Navy seemed like the solution to all my concerns.

As a child, I remembered hearing about the experiences of my father as he crossed the Pacific as 3rd Engineer on both Liberty and Victory ships during WW2. His tales of shipboard life and the wondrous places he had seen made me want to go to sea. My father had grown up a farm boy in Thayer, Iowa. My mother's brothers had all been Navy men and that's what I wanted. On February 22nd 1972, my friend and I were sworn in at the Federal Customs House in downtown Denver into the Navy. Next stop ... San Diego, California and Basic Training!

The days and weeks of Basic Training were as they are for all young persons as they learn the needed basic skills of military life. At the completion of basic training, I received orders to Great Lakes Naval Station for instruction in RADAR "A" School. I was in school from June 1972, until the end of September 1972, during which time the Radarman (RD) rate was changed to Operations Specialist (OS). I graduated in the top 1% of my class and so was allowed to pick my duty station. A ship was just about to come out of a complete overhaul and computerized radar and weapons systems modernization from Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine. She was the USS Halsey DLG-23. She was the latest and greatest and I wanted her.

My orders to Halsey were cut and in early November 1972, I was sent back to San Diego as part of the "Precom" crew. In early December 1972, the "Precom" crew was sent via air to Bath, Maine for the commissioning of the ship. Commissioning occurred in January of 1973. We left the safe waters of the Kennebec River and exited into the north Atlantic in a January "nor' easter" bound for Norfolk, Virginia; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Montego Bay, Jamaica through the Panama Canal, up to Acapulco, Mexico and finally arrived in late Febniary 1973, in our home port of San Diego, CA.

In San Diego, I was sent many times TDY (Temporary Duty) to FAA WTC (Fleet Anti-Air Warfare Training Center) Pacific on Point Lorna for additional anti-air warfare training. During this period, I was promoted to E4 (3rd class Petty Officer). I also attended the Anti-Submarine School at the Admiral Kidd base on Point Loma in San Diego where I studied submarine tactics. School became a constant part of my Navy life.

During the remainder of my time in the Navy, I completed instruction and received designators as Anti-submarine Air Controller (0316) and Air Intercept Controller (0318). I was promoted to E5 (second class Petty Officer) and continued to serve aboard USS Halsey. In 1974, for parity purposes with other Allied navies, Halsey (DLG-23) became the guided missile cruiser Halsey (CG-23). I went to WESTPAC (western Pacific) twice while on board Halsey where we were assigned to North PIRAZ station in the Tonkin Gulf off the coast of Viet Nam. There I was assigned as a CAP /SAR controller. I participated in several Missilex exercises and other joint allied naval exercises while aboard Halsey.

I visited many exciting places aboard Halsey including: Hawaii, Guam, Republic of the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other places as described above.

At the end of my second WESTP AC tour in December 1975, I requested and was granted an "early out" to return to college for the spring semester beginning in early January 1976, in Colorado. I left Halsey on 7 December, 1975, in Yokosuka, Japan and returned to San Diego via San Francisco. I separated from active duty on December 19th, 1975 and returned home for Christmas in Denver and back to civilian life where I met and married my wife, the now Commander Joan D. Cooper USNR.


After having been a "two year" RN since June 1971, I received my bachelor's degree in the spring of 1989. During those intervening eighteen years, I worked in all aspects of the nursing field including over a year in Germany as a civilian nurse for the Army in Bad Kreuznach. Soon after my return from Germany, I met and married my husband, Bill, in Denver, Colorado. He had just returned from his four years in the Navy. Bill told me of all the places he had been and how much he had enjoyed the Navy life. Additionally, I too, as a child had listened to the stories my father had told of his days in the Navy as a SEABEE on tropical islands in the Pacific during WWII. So, when in the summer of 1989, the Navy sent me a letter asking that I accept a commission, Bill and I discussed it, and although I was 42 at the time, I accepted the Navy's offer and was sworn in as an Ensign in August of that year at the Naval Reserve Center, Denver, Colorado.

My first active duty experience was at school in Pensacola, Florida in February 1990, for DCO (Direct Commission Officer). There, over the two weeks allotted, they prepared us for our new lives in the Navy as officers. I returned to the reserve center in Denver and was assigned as assistant training officer.

In early December 1990, my unit was notified that we would be activated for duty in "Desert Storm". On 29 December, we were mobilized and left for Bahrain where we set up and manned a 500 bed Fleet Hospital in tents in the desert near Manama. The war was fast and successful and thankfully, there were few casualties to care for. I returned home in April and settled back in as a reservist.

From 1991 through 2000, I remained with the Denver unit where I held many administrative positions. I was promoted up to LCDR (Lieutenant Commander). Some of my active duty assignments during that time included: Submarine Base Bremerton, Washington; Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California; Marine Base Twenty-nine Palms, California; Naval Hospital Oakland, California; Balboa Naval Hospital, San Diego, California; Bethesda Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C. and others.

In early 2001, Bill retired from his job as an assistant chief with the fire department in Denver and we, along with his father, decided that we needed a more "relaxed" life. Bill's father told us fond stories of his youth in Iowa and we decided that the Iowa lifestyle was for us. We cut all our ties (except for our now grown children) in Denver and along with Bill's Dad moved to Iowa. I was able to transfer to the Des Moines Navy Reserve Unit.

In Des Moines I again served in many administrative positions eventually ending up as the OIC (Officer in Charge) of the unit. I was promoted to the rank of CDR (Commander) in October 2006. My active duty experiences from the Iowa unit have included: Naval Clinic Atsugi, Japan; Field clinics in remote villages on Mindanao, Republic of the Philippines; Millington, Tennessee, (as recorder for the 05106 selection board); Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; and others.

As I write this, I look forward (with some sense of loss) to my retirement from the Navy Reserve in September 2009.


Return to main page for Clarke Veterans by Fern Underwood

Last Revised June 1, 2015