WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A boy who grew up on a dairy farm in the Flint Hills of Kansas ended up on massive ships during the Vietnam War.
For Ken Robinson, the Atlantic Ocean was a long way from his rural Wilsey home.
“I’d never really been out of Kansas, except we went to look at cattle one time about two miles into Nebraska,” Robinson said.
He came from a family of service. His father and uncles were in WWII, and his brother served on a repair ship in Da Nang, during the Vietnam War.
“1969, I was not thrilled with the Army or Marines,” the veteran said. “I was 18 years old, getting out of high school. I was available for the draft.”
That’s why Robinson enlisted in the Navy.
“You get out of high school, what is there?” he said.
Robinson went to basic training in San Diego, then to radarman school at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. He was then shipped to Newport, Rhode Island, before being transferred to South Carolina, where he boarded his first ship.
He said they went to Guantanamo Bay for training two different times.
“That was back when people didn’t even realize we had a Navy base in Cuba,” Robinson said.
He went on to see many places across the country and beyond while spending time in very close quarters on the ship. 180 men were packed on board.
“They didn’t give you an extra inch anywhere,” Robinson said.
He served as a radarman which involves radar, sonar, and radio communications. They tracked all that happened, on and off the ship.
“Big gale going across, shut all the radar, radios, everything, no transmission,” Robinson said.
He said he it was awfully quiet when they went through that gale on the way overseas.
“It was about in here we hit the hurricane,” Robinson said, pointing to an area of the Atlantic Ocean several hundred miles off the East Coast.
He said they hit that storm on their way back to the states.
“The hurricane did one of those funny little loops and we was going to go behind it, but instead we hit it,” Robinson said.
He showed us on a photo, just how high the waves climbed.
“When they were hitting the radar, up in the mast, that was up here,” Robinson said.
He saw all kinds of weather while serving.
“This is the USS Blakely Destroyer Escort 10-72,” Robinson said.
He was on the commissioning crew of the USS Blakely and the USS Jesse Brown.
“They are steel ships, find a plank,” Robinson jokes.
Regardless, he still has his “plank” owner cards.
“Of course, nobody really ever owned a plank, but you know that was kind of a tradition thing,” Robinson said.
He was also given a special coin, for being part of each crew.
“It’s got the ships name, and commissioning date,” Robinson said.
He said they didn’t see any combat in Vietnam while on the destroyer, but they did provide support.
“Setting off shore, for downed pilots and that kind of stuff,” Robinson said.
In addition to the few things he still has from his service, the skills he gained in the Navy went on to pay off his entire career.
“I would have never, ever thought of doing anything with electronics,” Robinson said.
He used those electronic skills while working in the experimental section at Cessna. He retired from the company after nearly forty years.