The 1960s were a unique time in American culture, and for Steve Fredrickson it meant it was time to grow up. He was struggling in school and decided to do something that would forever change his life: joining the Navy.
“I went to the University of Minnesota, and after one year — and not doing very well in freshman English — they told me I should probably go someplace and grow up,” Fredrickson said jokingly. “So I did.”
Since he was not drafted, he was able to choose which branch of the military to join.
“I chose the Navy because I could always swim for it,” he said. “Besides that, they served meals, and they were on a pretty regular basis. (I) didn’t have to get it out of a can.”
Although he served in the military in the 1960s, he never went to Vietnam.
“Vietnam really heated up in 1967 (or) 1966,” Fredrickson said. “I volunteered to go, but I had to re-up if I was going to go in there. I’d done really well in what I was doing, and I volunteered to go, and the executive officer from my ship said, ‘I don’t want you to go, but if you insist on re-enlisting, I can’t stop you from going.’ We looked at the re-enlisting program, and they offered some cash and everything. I really wanted to go back to the University of Minnesota. So I said, ‘No I’m not going to re-enlist,’ but I said, ‘You can send me over there for seven or eight months, can’t you?’ ‘No I am not going to do that,’ he said. So (that was) my only opportunity (to go to Vietnam).”
Fredrickson said he thrived in the Navy as a radarman.
“We did a lot of anti-submarine warfare exercises, navigation exercises and stuff like that,” Fredrickson said. “I got to an E5 position, and I did everything right, so they wanted to keep me.”
Fredrickson said the reason why he joined the Navy was because of his friends.
“Three of my buddies said, ‘We’re going down to the recruiter’s office at noon, do you want to come with?’ he said. “I was working at a clothing store until I decided what I was going to do. I ended the fall quarter, at the university, and was told not to come back. So I went back to a job I had back in high school, just working at a clothing store. So when the guys showed up, I knew that’s not where I wanted to stay.”
When Fredrickson first joined the Navy, he said basic training was the worst.
“It was 11 weeks of hell,” he said.
He said one of the only good things about basic training was the location. In Minnesota, the winters are cold, and being able to travel to San Diego allowed him to experience a warmer winter than what he was used to.
He said while he attended Radar School in San Francisco and waking up to the Golden Gate Bridge was breathtaking.
“That was a wonderful place to be,” Fredrickson said. “The beautiful Golden Gate Bridge was there. Every morning you got up there was the sun shining on the Golden Gate Bridge, and the fog started rolling in. It was quite a spectacular sight.”
While serving, he was able to see a famous piece of military history.
“I went down to Charleston, South Carolina, to a guided missile frigate — a DLG8, was the number,” he said. “That ship was the flagship for the Bay of Pigs, and the Bay of Pigs happened the year before. We were in San Juan, we just got done with Puerto Rico, and been there (maybe) three days when the Shore Patrol came up and started finding all of us guys and (told us), ‘Get back to your ships.’ That’s when Castro shut the water supply off to Guantanamo. So we spent the next few weeks patrolling back and forth across the southern side of Cuba, guns aimed at the shore at all times.”
Fredrickson said when he went up to combat information, he saw how serious the situation was.
“These admiral staff where in what they call the ‘War Room.’ (and) on the one wall was a great big map of Cuba. There was, I think, three lieutenant commanders, and I am outside there, watching them put pins and things on this map. Finally one guy came out the door and I said, ‘Sir, what are those little flags and pins doing?’ He said, ‘Sailor, those are targets.’ ‘Holy crap,’ I said. ‘I came here for a sun tan.’ Yeah, that was a little spooky.”
Fredrickson said the majority of his tour was spent on the east coast performing exercises, but that did not mean he did not have his share of scares. He said he was involved in a skirmish because “someone had dropped a bomb.”
“I woke up in the middle of the night and the ship was rocking in the waves,” he said. “It’s kind of unusual because we we’re always moving. A destroyer doesn’t sit still. So I got up and there was this great big freighter ship, and we are tied up along side this freighter, out in the middle of the ocean and the bomb had hit part of their water supply — we were transferring water. That was a relatively new ship at that time. It could make a lot more water than other ships.”
Fredrickson was able to see the world and was even greeted by locals who had not seen a U.S. ship since the 1950s. The locals threw them a big welcome party that soon escalated out of control.
“The whole fireworks caught on fire,” he said. “There was people jumping in the water, it (the fireworks show) was beautiful. Stuff was going all over the place. You could see people leaping over the side of the ship.”
Little did he know that a similar situation would happen to him.
“Later on that night, I had gotten back from liberty, and gone to sleep,” Fredrickson said. “All of a sudden, I heard the fire alarm going off and we were on fire. Pretty soon I heard, ‘Flood the after magazine.”
He said they had rockets on the ship, and the term “flood the after magazine” is meant to prevent the missiles from blowing up by flooding the chamber with water.
“Some of these could have been nuclear tipped, we don’t know that,” Fredrickson said. “They would never tell us if we had a nuclear weapon on board, but we had 40 of these.”
He also said the chambers had many other various weapon supplies, and they were close to another ship. Fredrickson said things could gotten a lot worse, but luckily, they did not. Sadly, one crewman lost his life during the fire.
Overall, Fredrickson was proud to have served his county. He said the service helped shape him into the man he is today, and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
Staff writer Matthew Shepard may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at email@example.com.