Padre Steve’s Pre-Navy Navy Experiences

I officially entered the Navy in 1999 however I had spent a significant amount of my young life hanging around the Navy as a “Navy Brat” as well as a Navy Junior ROTC Cadet.

USS J. C. Breckenridge AP 176

My first “underway” was returning from the Philippines on the USS J. C. Breckenridge AP 176 in 1964.  The ship was a troopship and at the time was engaged in the transport of military personnel and their dependents from the Far East to San Fransisco.  In this capacity the ship made regular stops at Guam, Yokosuka, Okinawa, and Inchon, as well as Adak, Alaska, and Midway Island as she sailed between the Philippines, Japan and the west coast.  We rode her back following my father’s assignment at Cubi Point Naval Air Station.

Children’s Playroom on Breckenridge

The trip across the Pacific was something that I remember to this day.  A Marine stood guard outside of the family quarters in a starched “sateen” fatigue uniform.   I remember Marines going over the side of the ship into waiting landing craft at one stop, probably Inchon. I had a tee-shirt from the ship that I wore proudly until it was a tattered rag.

Edison High School NJROTC Cadets on USS Gray April 1978 L-R Alvin Friend, Mark DeGuzman, Jeff Vanover, Joe Mariani (top) Randy Richardson, Delwin Brown and Padre Steve

When I entered High School I joined the Navy Junior ROTC unit.  I was very fortunate because our instructors, LCDR Jim Breedlove and Senior Chief Petty Officer John Ness ensured that we had many opportunities to go underway on various ships.

USS Agerholm DD-826

The first of these was the USS Agerholm DD-826 a Gearing Class destroyer commissioned in 1946 which had received a  FRAM-1 modernization and fired the only live nuclear ASROC.  I embarked Agerholm in San Diego with 5 other cadets in October 1975.  During the trip we were able to observe gunnery exercises in the #2 5″ 38 gun mount and help man a towing hawser in exercises with the USS O’Callahan and USS Carpenter DD-825.  The trip was exhilarating as we rode heavy seas, and got to stand watches alongside real sailors.

USS Coral Sea CVA-43

The second trip for me was on the USS Coral Sea in July 1976 where I spent 2 weeks working in the ship’s medical department. The trip about Coral Sea was interesting as we were able to observe flight operations and see how carrier operated.

USS Pyro AE-24

I then went on the USS Pyro in the fall of 1976 for a 5 day underway where I witnessed a burial at sea and met the chaplain who covered the service force.  On Pyro I was able to work with the Signalmen.

USS Mount Vernon LSD-39

In February 1977 a number of us traveled to Portland Oregon to embark on USS Mount Vernon LSD-39 for its trip from an overhaul back to her home port of San Diego during which we disembarked at Alameda.  That was an interesting trip as well as upon entering the Pacific from the Colombia River we ran into a major storm and we got to see how a flat-bottomed amphibious ship rode in heavy seas, the answer, not well. On the Mount Vernon we stood various watches the most memorable was in the Main Engineering plant.  Mount Vernon like most of the ships of the day was powered by steam turbines and the Engine Room was about 100 degrees.

USS Frederick LST-1184

My final underway was a round trip from San Diego to Pearl Harbor and back.  On the outbound trip we rode the USS Frederick LST-1184 as it transited with its Amphibious Group of 7 ships for a WESTPAC deployment.  On Frederick I was paired with the Operations department and Navigation division.  This was interesting as I got to practice skills that I had learned in the classroom as well as learn about the early satellite navigation systems Loran and Omega.  It was on Frederick that I first felt the call to be a Navy Chaplain and aboard which I would celebrate my first Eucharist underway 23 years later.

We spent a week in Peal Harbor when I was able to visit the USS Arizona and USS Utah Memorials, meet Navy Divers, Army Maritime Transportation Corps personnel and tour their landing craft.  We had some liberty in Pearl and the son of one of my parents friends from the Navy picked me up from a day of snorkeling during which I was badly sunburned with 2nd degree burns on my back. This lent me the nickname “Lobsterman” by my fellow cadets.

USS Gray FF-1054

The return trip was on the USS Gray FF-1054 a Knox Class Frigate which my dad had helped prepare for commissioning in 1970. Gray and a cruiser destroyer force headed by the USS Chicago CG-10 was returning from deployment.  On Gray I got to see my first underway replenishment

These journeys were important in my life, they put a love of the sea and love of the Navy deep in me that could not be quenched even by my 17 and a half years of service in the Army.  As a Chaplain I had the privilege of serving on the USS Hue City CG-66.

One of my photos of USS Hue City CG-66 during boarding Operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf

I still love the sea and who knows if I will get another sea tour, but I have been blessed in all of these experiences.  Of the ships themselves only Hue City is active in the US Navy while Frederick was sold to Mexico where she still serves.

Harpoon Hitting Agerholm

Agerholm was expended as a target for the Harpoon missile system, Breckenridge, Coral Sea, Gray, Portland were scrapped and Pyro was decommissioned and remains in the National Defense Reserve Fleet at Suisun Bay California.   They were all great ships manned by great crews.

Peace, Padre Steve+


Filed under Navy Ships

11 responses to “Padre Steve’s Pre-Navy Navy Experiences

  1. Dick Smith

    I was a YN on the Agerholm from July 77-May 78, making the last cruise. Great ship. Looks like the strike would have included the Ship’s Office. Am I wrong or right?

    • padresteve

      From what I remember about Agerholm probably so. I have a lot of fond memories of Agerholm even though I was on her just a brief time. She was the first ship that I had a choice about sailing on and wish that she was still around. I visited the Joseph P Kennedy in Fall River Massachusetts and was able to go down to the forward berthing. I found a rack that was about where I racked on Agerholm. I cannot forget the soothing sound of the ship cutting through the water and falling asleep to it. Nor can I forget the rolling and pitching on the Mess Decks with the tin trays skimming across the stainless steel tables. She was a great ship.

  2. Robert A Nelson MD

    I was medical officer on the Breckinridge 64-65. It WAS NOT USNS. It was USS and had a full Navy Crew

    • padresteve


      You are correct and have my apologies. I knew that and don’t know why I listed her that way.

      Blessings and thank you for pointing out this obvious mistake on my part.

      Padre Steve+

    • Kevin

      I too am a Military Brat [Navy]. And, like you, I sailed across the Pacific aboard the USS J.C. Breckenridge AP 176. The difference however, is we sailed the opposite direction; from Oakland, CA to Yokohama, Japan during the mist of the early build to the Vietnam War in 1965.
      Our manifest included about 3,000 troops bound to the war. I was 10 years old, and twice a day my father took me aft, behind secured gates where the troops were, to feed and exercise our dog. The images of the men and the ones who played with me are forever etched in my mind.
      Today I am a professional photographer working on a project about growing up in the Far East.
      I stumbled across this post while searching for information about the USS Breckenridge. I specifically am searching for info on who were those men en route to Vietnam?
      Perhaps Dr. Robert Nelson or you can add help to my direction.
      Please email me.

      • padresteve

        Kevin, I only remember that they were Marines and that they went down the side of the ship into waiting boats. Since I was only about 4 years old at the time that is about all I know. I wish I could provide details, perhaps Dr Nelson can if you can contact him. Thank you for dropping by and hopefully this at least gave you some good memories of a wonderful ship.
        Padre Steve+

  3. PadreSteve,

    Really enjoyed reading this and all of the pictures. I too, was on the Pyro, but I came a little later…. I was on board as a MM3 from 1989 to 1991.

    Yes, the Pyro is still sitting in Moth Ball in Suisun Bay… She’s been there since DECOM in 1994. I have been keeping up to date with MARAD’s quarterly reports, and as of October 30, 2011she was nearing her end of all the maintenance sweeps

    The Pyro is still mothballed in the Reserve Fleet, but probably not for much longer. It appears she is nearing end of all her maintenance sweeps, so she may be getting out of there sooner or later. It had been confirmed that she is enrolled in the SINKEX program. It’s just a matter of when and what location. Maybe it’s because I am female, but I would much rather see her sold for scrap… Knowing she’s going into SINKEX really tugs at my heart strings for some reason.

    Thanks again for posting such a wonderful page- Really enjoyed it.

    ~ Kimberly Box
    USS Pyro AE-24 1989 to 1991

    Click on the link below. Once you are there, click on June 30, 2011 and that will take you to the most current info and statistics on her. To save you time, rather than searching though all of the pages, the pages listed below are where you will find info on her:

    Page 2 of 22

    Page 7 of 22

    Page 9 of 22

    This is the link:

    (if these aren’t clickable links, I apologize… Just copy & paste them into your browser)


    This is a little info from the BAY AREA MONITOR, taken from the 2006 and 2008 editions of Report to Congress on the Progress of the Vessel Disposal Program, dated March 28, 2011.

    Looks like the Pyro and 3 other ships will be a part of the SINKEX program. Gerson Singer wasn’t too far off about her being sunk… Just hasn’t happened yet.

    Here is the link, and once you are there, scroll down to the 10th paragraph and that is where you will find this Pyro information.

    (if these aren’t clickable links, I apologize… Just copy & paste them into your browser)


    WOW! Shows that the MAUNA KEA was sunk in 2006 L

    Last but not least, one more bit of information… This is coming from BASEL ACTION NETWORK (protestors)…Their info came from the 2006 & 2008 Report to Congress on the Progress of the Vessel Disposal Program also, but just a different section/pages:

    This shows you that the Pyro is in the plan to be sunk, via SINKEX. Shows the estimated costs, etc.

    Here is the link and when you get there, scroll down to page 30 and see Table 4. That is where the Pyro info is:

    (if these aren’t clickable links, I apologize… Just copy & paste them into your browser)

  4. Sorry for the mess I left underneath my signature, as I signed my reply to you. I tried to copy & paste a report I had made on the Pyro’s FB group page… They are recent updates on her from various sources.The only thing that is missing is part of the opening paragraph If it should interest you to begin with and you would like me to post it, let me know and I would be more than happy to 🙂


    • padresteve


      Thank you for the update on Pyro. The sinker is tough but less painful than seeing her scrapped. I hate to see the pictures of ships heading to the breakers or in process of being scrapped. It is even sadder than seeing them sitting in the ghost fleet.

      Thanks for the update and please as you hear more let me know.

      Blessings and have a wonderful Christmas or whatever holiday that you celebrate!


      Padre Steve+

  5. Bob Sellon

    My first at sea experience was aboard the USNS J.C. Breckenridge, departed San Diego April 1963 bound for Okinawa with stops in Hawaii, Yokohama, and finally debarked in Naha Okinawa. One storm at sea had us below decks strapped into our bunks, never will forget this experience. Retired now, I still think about the ships I vacationed aboard, the Breckenridge and the Saipan are two most remembered.

  6. My first at sea experiece and leaving our Tampa home was on the Breckenridge . I was on way to Yokohoma to meet my husband stationed at Johnson Air Force base/ I thought it wondeful that I was able to join him.Fourteen days on the Breckenridge and was a wonderful e4xperience.This was Dev. 1954

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