Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

August 6, 2012

Carter receives medals for service

CROSSVILLE — During his military career, John L. "Jack" Carter served abroad three ships, including the aircraft carrier USS Leyte CV32 and the destroyer USS Cushing DD797. However, it was his time on board the USS Mount Katmai AE16 that was the most memorable — and frightening.

"The only relief I had… was when the AE16 was in port and I was ashore," he said.

Carter, who joined the Navy in 1948, served 16 months during 1950-'51 in the Korean war zone as a machinist mate 3rd class in the engineering department of the ammunition ship USS Mount Katmai. The ship stayed semi-loaded to fully loaded with ammunition at all times. The chances of an explosion increased as its crew loaded and unloaded the ammunition on a routine basis and with mines floating freely in the seas that they sailed.

"Just being with this much ammunition and the dangers of an explosion were terrifying," he said.

Even before he was in enemy waters, Carter was fearful of an explosion. At the ship's home port in Port Chicago, CA, the crew had to load explosive ammunition aboard the ship for two weeks. Always in the back of his mind were the stories he heard about two ammunition ships being blown up during World War II, killing a few hundred men.

His fear intensified once the USS Mount Katmai began sailing down the Sacramento River, out into the San Francisco Bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge into the Pacific Ocean. There, they were joined by a destroyer escort and formed a two-ship convoy, with the destroyer leading the way. They began sailing on a zigzag course, searching for any dangers that might occur, including mines and enemy submarines.

Shortly after leaving U.S. waters, a submarine was sighted. The USS Mount Katmai went into a "general quarters" mode with a lot of excitement, unease and praying, Carter noted. It turned out to be a false alarm — the "sub" was a whale.

"Our prayers were answered," he said.

The praying continued as they made their way to Japan and then into Korean waters. Once the crew began replenishing other ships at sea, Carter found himself falling to his knees and praying several times.

"… It was stressful day and night… We lived with the knowledge that there were chances of the ship blowing up at any time," he explained.

There were incidents that left Carter seriously thinking that he might never go home. One took place during a rearming operation as he stood throttle watch while steaming in a three-ship convoy.

"The bow lookout started screaming hysterically, 'It's a mine, it's a mine," over and over," Carter recalled. "The sailor on the bridge was screaming, 'What? Where?' All strategic watches were wearing headphones. At last, the bow lookout managed to get out, 'Dead ahead,' and I started down on my knees to pray. At that time the engine room enunciator began to clang… It brought me to my senses, and I commenced answering the bells."

The crew found out later that the mine had gone off in the wash. Carter pointed out that the bow lookout received a reward (a carton of cigarettes of his choice) like all the other sailors before him who had alerted to a mine.

Carter recalled another incident that took place when a high line let a cargo net full of five-inch powder cans get away on its downward slide and it crashed into a ship being rearmed. Then there was another mishap that involved a destroyer with a junior officer in command.

"A destroyer was to be replenished, so we being the larger ship, the destroyer was to come alongside of us," Carter stated. "This particular day, the sea was a bit rougher than usual. No one knew why the old man on the destroyer was letting a junior officer be in command on the bridge.

"He brought his ship in at a fast rate of speed with the intention of backing down and settling in where he wanted it," he continued. "No, it didn't work. He tried again and it didn't work. The third time, his ship collided with the Mount Katmai. That did it. The captain of the destroyer, who had been standing aft in a gun turret, more or less, flew to the bridge and relieved the young man in command of his watch. I don't know how much danger their maneuver put us in, but I didn't want to be in a collision of two ships at sea, especially when one is loaded with high explosives."

Sailors on other ships felt uneasy around the USS Mount Katmai as well. Every time the ship entered a port, it was not welcome to a close-in anchorage or a dockside berth. Instead, it was forced to anchor far away in case there was an explosion.

Carter was relieved when he switched ships in 1951, when he boarded the U.S.S. Cushing. He served on the destroyer until he was honorably discharged in October 1952 in Norfolk, VA.

For his service during the Korean War, Carter earned several medals and ribbons, including the Good Conduct Medal, Occupation Service Medal, National Defense Medal with Asia Bar, Korean Service Medal, Korea (Defense of the UN Charter) Medal, Korean War Service (50th anniversary) Medal, Combat Action Ribbon with Star, Navy Unit Commendation and C, D, E and F Match Medals 3-6.

"I am very proud and honored to have served my country," Carter concluded.

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