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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kennedy in Costa Rica
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.
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.
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
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.
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.