USS Thetis Bay

LPH-6 History

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On May 28, 1959 the Thetis Bay was re-designated LHP-6 (Landing Platform Helicopter) from CVHA-1 during her Westpac deployment under the command of Captain Charles Gibson. During this deployment, she received numerous citations for providing relief assistance to flood-stricken victims of Taiwan. Thetis Bay returned to her home port, Long Beach Naval Station on Terminal Island, on November 18, 1959. The line handling crew on the carrier pier was made up of sailors waiting to transfer aboard, most being fresh out of boot camp or "A" school and apprehensive about their first sea duty. During spring of 1960, Thetis Bay participated in several amphibious training exercises off Camp Pendleton and San Clemente Island. Operation Big Top was the primary exercise. On April 25, 1960, Captain Herbert N. Houck relieved Captain Gibson as commanding officer.

Rose Festival, Portland, Oregon 1960

Every year in early June, Portland, Oregon has a rose festival and invites several military ships. In 1960, Thetis Bay, along with Canadian and  Japanese destroyers steamed up the Columbia River and then up the Willamette River to downtown Portland. The Willamette leg is only 12 miles but it is a 93 mile trip from the mouth of the Columbia to the Willamette.

Westpac Cruise 1961

On February 17, 1961, Captain Walter L. Curtis, Jr. relieved Captain Houck of command. On March 1, 1961, the ship departed Long Beach for another Westpac cruise via Pearl Harbor. It was a moving experience being tied up across the channel from the USS Arizona and from the flight deck, viewing her sitting on the bottom . Every morning and evening, a small motorboat left the shore to execute the color ceremony on a small platform erected over the gun turret protruding out of the water.

Thetis Bay was assigned flagship of an amphibious task group which included USS Renville APA 227 (attack transport personnel) and USS Alamo LSD 33 (landing ship dock). After leaving Pearl Harbor, Thetis Bay encountered the eastern fringe of a typhoon enroute to Japan. Due to damaged sponsons, the ship docked at Yokosuka Naval Base in Tokyo Bay for repairs. The next morning she got underway for Buckner Bay, Okinawa and from there directly to Subic Bay Naval Base on Luzon, Philippine Islands, her home port for the deployment. During her Westpac assignment, Thetis Bay participated in a major Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) exercise off the coast of Borneo. She made two cultural exchange trips to Hong Kong along with the Renville and Alamo. In late summer, she traveled to Taiwan where the Marine helicopter squadron assisted in disaster relief.

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After returning to Long Beach, again via Pearl Harbor, the ship began preparation for her transfer to Phiblant out of Norfolk, Virginia. Crewmen with limited service obligations were transferred to other Airpac carriers. In early December, 1961, Thetis Bay departed Long Beach and arrived at Norfolk Naval Station on December 11, 1961 having traversed the Panama Canal for the first of three times. Phiblant was headquartered at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base but Thetis Bay was too large for the port. On February 17, 1962 Captain Curtis was relieved by Captain Horace H. Epes. Thetis Bay departed Norfolk on February 26, 1962,  for her first Caribbean deployment participating in two major amphibious exercises, one of which was observed by President Kennedy. After returning to Norfolk, the ship entered dry-dock for 8 weeks of overhaul.

Cuban Missile Crisis and Blockade

In October, Thetis Bay departed Norfolk for an amphibious exercise to be conducted on Vieques Island, just east of Puerto Rico. For those privy to some of the exercise details, the first hint of concern was when ships leaving the Camp Lejuene area failed to rendezvous. On passing between Puerto Rico and Hispaniola the ship changed course to the West instead of to the East. We were headed toward Cuba to assist in the evacuation of civilians from Guantanamo Naval Base. President Kennedy's radio address on the evening of October 22 was broadcast over the 1MC while we steamed east. Shortly thereafter, the ship was ordered to reverse course, the evacuation had been completed. There was an uneasy feeling among the crew as we were steaming alone. Gay Ninety crewmen from WWII understand that feeling. Eventually, Thetis Bay docked at Mayport Naval Station near Jacksonville, Florida, her temporary home port during the blockade. The ship's primary blockade station was the passage between Eleuthera and Cat Islands. Most crewmen had never heard of the islands. At the end of the blockade, Thetis Bay returned to Norfolk.

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On January 7, 1963, the ship got underway for Guantanamo Bay Naval Base once again. This time she went there for several weeks of underway training. Before leaving the Caribbean area, the ship participated in two days cultural exchange in Kingston, Jamaica. She arrived back in Norfolk on March 3, 1963 just in time for another historic mission.

President Kennedy in Costa Rica

 President Kennedy was to attend a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in San Jose, Costa Rica in late March. Thetis Bay was assigned the task of transporting the U.S. Marine Corps squadron of Sikorsky VH-3A Sea King presidential  helicopters to the meeting. The helicopters were flown aboard  from their home base near Washington, DC. The ship made its second trip through the Panama Canal and anchored off the coast of Costa Rica because there were no deep water ports available. It may have been the first time the presidential helicopters left North America. The ship returned the helicopters to Norfolk, again via the Panama Canal.

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On March 30, 1963, Captain Michael J. Hanley assumed command from Captain Epes. On May 13, 1963, Thetis Bay left Norfolk to join a readiness force off the coast of Haiti near Port au Prince. She returned to Norfolk on May 27.

President Kennedy in Germany

"Join the Navy and see the World" was coming true for the crew of Thetis Bay in 1963. On June 26, 1963, President Kennedy made his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in Berlin, Germany. During the month from when she returned from Haiti and that speech, Thetis Bay prepared for and departed Norfolk with the presidential helicopters once again, destined for Hamburg, Germany. In the middle of one typically uneventful night in the North Atlantic during the trip to Germany, the radar gang pick up an unusual contact heading West. The ship was making 33 knots and would pass close enough for visual contact. Sure enough she was visible to the naked eye but it required binoculars to determine that she was the original Queen Mary, lit up like a carnival. Hamburg is about 52 miles inland on the Elbe River which empties into the North Sea. The Elbe is deep and wide, similar to the Hudson River. To go around the British Isles requires many extra hours of sailing  through rough waters. So, through the English Channel we went on a course perpendicular to just about every other vessel in sight which was traveling between England and France. To say that there was pandemonium on the bridge is definitely an understatement. However, we made it without incident. Upon arriving in Hamburg, we tied up at a pier close to the drydock in which the WWII battleship Bismarck was constructed. The crew enjoyed many days and nights of cultural exchange. Many residents stopped crew members on the street to inquire as to our identity. Thetis Bay was the first U.S. Navy ship to visit Hamburg since WWII. Speaking of the great war, we saw many buildings, bombed out during the war, still standing. Some crewmen had the opportunity to see the Beatles perform. There were trips to a local brewery, the East German border only 30 miles away and Denmark. The return trip across the Atlantic was uneventful.

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In September, 1963, Thetis Bay made her final cruise by returning to Port au Prince, Haiti. Marine helicopters delivered medical aid and food to victims of hurricane Flora. Her last time at sea was the trip from Norfolk to the Philadelphia Navy Yard on January 5, 1964. On February 20, 1964 the Executive Officer, Captain Glenn I. Dumas relieved Captain Hanley and decommissioned the ship on March 1, 1964. Flight deck planking has been distributed to former crew members and the remainder is in the custody of the USS Thetis Bay Association along with the ship's bell. The section of the stern plate containing the ship's name is on permanent display at Freedom Park on the bank of the Missouri River in Omaha, Nebraska.

 
 

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