WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Keeping three U.S. Navy ships in pristine condition is certainly a tall order. A task Gary Rogers was up for during the Vietnam War.

In April 1966, the then-17-year-old from Valley Center entered the Naval Reserves on a delayed entry program. One year later, Rogers’ first ship, the USS Porterfield, would set sail across the Pacific to Vietnam.

Aerial view of Haiphong, Vietnam, showing the Haiphong Harbor, May 15, 1972. (AP Photo)

“We left for Vietnam the day after Mothers Day,” Rogers said.

Just 35 miles off Haiphong Harbor in northern Vietnam, Rogers worked in maintenance, tending to the daily needs of keeping the Porterfield in tip-top shape.

The ship, a former World War II Fletcher-class destroyer, had been repurposed to provide protection to nearby ships in and near the Gulf of Tonkin.

“There was another ship out there with what they called a ‘radar picket’ ship. They had, I think, they said they had, like, one gun, and that’s not enough to, to defend yourself, really, so we were out there to protect them,” Rogers said.

In addition to protecting ships, the USS Porterfield protected planes, assuring no enemy fighters could get close enough to bomb U.S. aircraft carriers.

“Their purpose was to screen when the planes went in on a bombing mission. We were there to screen ’em out because they show up different than our planes would show up on the radar,” Rogers said.

The Porterfield also offered support to the USS Forrestal after a devastating fire aboard the ship killed 134 sailors in the summer of 1967.

The USS Forrestal with burning planes on deck, is shown in this 1967 file photo. (AP Photo)

“One of the planes, a missile, apparently didn’t have it loaded on the plane properly, and it fell off the plane onto the deck,” Rogers said.

In April 1968, Rogers was transferred to the USS Maddox, another former WWII destroyer involved in the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964. This time, the ship was headed to southern Vietnam.

“On the Maddox, they did fire upon us. They got close enough that they got some flack on the main deck, got our bridge wet,” Rogers said.

After two cruises in Vietnam, Rogers was transferred to the USS Norton Sound, a former WWII seaplane tender, used to test new weapons.

“They converted this one to weapons and missile research for bringing missiles aboard either new ships or reconstructed rebuilt ships, try to work all the bugs out of it that you can, all the things that could go wrong, try to work it all out,” Rogers said.

Rogers would discharge from active duty in 1970. He went on to enter the Naval Reserves. He retired in 1993 as a Hull Tech First Class.

“I wanted to see a ship and travel the world, and so that’s what I did,” Rogers said. “I wouldn’t change it. I’d do it again. I would do it again.”

Rogers and his wife are currently both active in their local American Legion and are part of an organization helping folks impacted by the April 2022 Andover Tornado.

If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at hannah.adamson@ksn.com.