By Linda Titel
Veteran Steve Stumpf was in the US Navy from 1970 – 74 during the Vietnam War aboard the USS Dubuque (LPD-8), an Austin-class amphibious transport dock, which was the second ship of the U.S. Navy to be named for the city of Dubuque, Iowa.
Stumpf was a Boatswain Mate second class (BM2) on the naval ship.
BM’s are the leaders and backbone of every ship’s crew. A boatswain’s mate maintains the exterior surfaces of ships, deck handling machinery and equipment, handle cargo and operate small boats during a number of evolutions including Anti-Terrorism Operations and Maritime Interdiction boardings of suspect ships.
Boatswain’s mates train, direct, and supervise personnel in ship’s maintenance duties in all activities relating to marlinespikes, decks, boat seamanship, painting, upkeep of ship’s external-structure, rigging, deck equipment and life boats.
BMs take charge of working parties and act as petty officer-in-charge of picket boats, self-propelled barges, tugs, and other yard and district crafts. They serve in, or take charge of gun crews and damage control parties. Boatswain’s mates operate and maintain equipment used in loading and unloading cargo, ammunition, fuel and general stores.
Higher ranking boatswain’s mates provide training and supervise others in caring for and handling deck equipment and small boats.
Boatswain’s mates perform most of their duties outdoors, working closely with others, and the majority of work is of a physical nature.
Stumpf said, “I liked sea duty, I liked being out on the ocean, sometimes you can smell the ocean even up here, [hometown of Shiocton], and you can smell land way out in the ocean, 100 miles away, I like the ocean, I really do.”
Stumpf said he was never seasick and recalled he was outside the perimeter of a typhoon in Hong Kong with 180 miles per hour winds with over 80 foot waves, that was a really wild ride but he never got sick.
His first trip was to Vietnam for almost fourteen months but they stopped at different ports along the way. He was in 20 different countries, he said, “You know when they say you can see the world through a porthole that’s basically true, I got to go all over the world and I could have never done that if I wasn’t in the service.”
Stumpf was in ports at Thailand, Okinawa, Japan, and Hawaii just to name a few.
From 1969 until 1971 the ship conducted 10 Keystone Cardinal troop lifts to Okinawa, Japan, as part of the “Vietnamization” of the war. From February to June of 1973 the ship operated helicopters that conducted mine clearance operations in Haiphong Harbor.
Stumpf said, they swept the mines in the harbor from keeping the Chinese or whomever from dropping off supplies to North Vietnam.
When stationed in San Diego, California, Stumpf had shore patrol (military police) which enabled him to get off the ship. He and another sailor were patrolling the shore when they came across some “weird” looking individuals. He said when sailors got to go on shore they never stayed on the well lit roads and would often get robbed.
They asked them what they were doing, and then they began to run away, Stumpf and his comrade chased them down and found out they had robbed some sailors. Afterwards, Stumpf found out one of them had a gun and all he had was a stick, he didn’t know that at that time. They were rewarded for catching them.
Everyone worked together as a team regardless of their personal convictions or ranks when needed.
We were cut off from the world with no outside contact except for taped TV shows.
Stumpf did many jobs as a boatswain mate including gun-captain, painting, taking watch on the bridge and he was the first man to drop the anchor at Haiphong Harbor. He said he was never bored, there was always something to do, the sailors could watch movies on the ship, it was like a floating city or a sustainable island including a post office.
There were about 600 men on-board the ship at different times and Stumpf recalled the sleeping quarters were like sleeping in a coffin.
Stumpf laughed as he remembered the term “drunken sailor.” It wasn’t because we were drunk all the time but when we docked and went on land after a long time on the ocean there was a transition to adjusting to your sea legs, sometimes it was like the ground was moving, and this could last for days.
Stumpf, said, “It was a dirty war. I remember I was home on leave in between duties and I flew into Oshkosh. My parents could not come and pick me up, I was in uniform and it was raining and I probably walked three miles in the rain hitchhiking. I couldn’t imagine how many cars passed me and finally a young couple picked me up, they were going to Neenah or Menasha and I was going to Appleton. I told them they could drop me off wherever and they actually gave me a ride right to my house, they didn’t have to do it but they did.
We were never welcomed back home and we never will be.”
Stumpf thinks everyone should go into some service to their country for two years and thinks if they did the world would be a better place.
“How many people have seen the sunrise in the middle of the ocean from a ship?, Said Stumpf, “It’s a beautiful sight.”