WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — With his father an Army veteran, his brother in the Air Force, and another brother in the National Guard, Bill Gale knew he wanted to pursue a somewhat different path when it came to joining the military. The then 20-year-old from Whitewater, Kansas, had been working at Boeing at the time and decided to join the Navy to avoid getting drafted during Vietnam.
After joining on Oct. 14, 1968, Gale would soon find himself aboard the USS Enterprise, about to set sail for the Gulf of Tonkin. While the vessel was refueling in Virginia before its departure, Gale received a truly unique Kansas send-off.
“They laid the keel for the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, and since I was from Kansas, I got to hold the flag in the receiving line, and Mamie and David and Julie drove right by while I was standing there, and I, and I know they waved at me,” Gale said.
As the USS Enterprise made its way to Vietnam, the young sailor was prepared to serve in the capacity of a fireman aboard the ship until he ran into the Master Chief Petty Officer.
“The E-9 Personnel Chief was looking through my record, and says, ‘It says here, son, you can type, is that correct?’ and I said, ‘Yes sir,’ and he said, ‘I have an office job; do you want it?’ and I said, ‘Do I have to let you know now?’ and he says, ‘Well, son, either you take that office job, or you’re going to be compartment cleaning and mess cooking for the next six months,’ so I says, ‘I’ll take the office job'” Gale said.
For the next two years, Gale would serve as a yeoman in the ship’s legal office.
“My job on the way to Vietnam was to make sure all 3,000 ship’s company had a power of attorney or a will if they desired one,” Gale said.
Gale typed up thousands of legal documents on his manual underwood typewriter—no matter how long the document, one mistake meant starting over. For one document Gale recalled in particular, that rule proved quite a headache.
“It was the next to the last line. Unfortunately, I made a mistake,” Gale said. “You couldn’t use whiteout; you couldn’t use erasers—it had to be perfect.”
Gale also typed up court marshals for sting operations and investigations aboard the ship (several of which involved drugs).
“I did have to learn how to spell lysergic acid diethylamide,” Gale said. “I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as, you know, that many bulkheads that would hold, I don’t remember how much marijuana, but it was a lot, you know, maybe tons of it. I have no idea of how it ever got on board.”
At times, Gale worked alongside members of the NCIS during those investigations.
“It wasn’t a Mark Harmon,” Gale said with a chuckle. “I mean, you know, they were very professional, and now you see them on board the ship where they have the computers and the communication—we didn’t have all that, you know, back in the 70s.”
After two years on the USS Enterprise, Gale would work as a yeoman in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Fort Smith, Arkansas, for several years, primarily ensuring Naval reservists received their pay. Gale would retire an E-5 in 1977.
“I’ve lived a full life,” Gale said. “Those nine years I do not regret. I have very, very deep gratification that I was able to serve on a ship like that … it changed my life forever.”
Gale would go on to retire from Beechcraft as a machinist. In 2014, he became the Veteran Services Coordinator for the Kansas VFW (where he still serves to this day). He also works as a chaplain for the VFW Post in his district and as a state chaplain for the Military Order of the Cootie (where he’s officiated almost 50 military funerals).
If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at email@example.com.