Jay Stuart had two years behind him at North Carolina State in engineering in 1960 when he ran out of money for school. He decided to join the Navy and see the world.
“I went to boot camp at San Diego and ended up in a Navy electronic technician school on Treasure Island in San Francisco. Six months later I was assigned to the USS Jason, a Navy repair ship based in San Diego,” the 73-year-old former sailor said.
“Five years later I was still a sailor. By then I had figured out that being a white cap sailor was kinda rough and tough. So I got into a program called the Navy Scientific Education Program. I was sent to a Navy prep school and then back to North Carolina Sate to finish my engineering degree.
“By the time I got out of the program four years later I ended up with dual degrees in electrical engineering and nuclear engineering,” Stuart explained. “I owed the Navy six years more of my life when I finished my education for paying for it.”
He got an OCS commission in the regular Navy. Then he was attached to a minesweeper, a little wooden ship that collected enemy underwater mines during war.
“She was the USS Phoebe (MSC-199) based in Sasabo, Japan. She was 144 feet long and displaced 360 tons. I spent the next two years as an ensign aboard her as the boat’s chief engineer,” he said.
During Stuart’s time on the minesweeper the ship made three trips to Vietnam. It was the late 1960s and the Vietnam War was on.
“The Phoebe was part of a U.S. Naval Task Force that blockaded the coast of Vietnam. We were looking for Russian and Chinese ships smuggling arms to the Vietcong (the North Vietnamese irregulars). We never found any,” the old salt said somewhat disgustedly more than four decades later.
After serving aboard the Phoebe for a couple of years, Stuart was transferred to the USS Hissem (DE-400), a destroyer escort that first saw service in World War II. Her home port was Pearl Harbor.
“I was the engineering officer aboard the Hissem. I caught up with the ship in the Philippines and sailed right back to Vietnam. I spent 1969 and ’70 aboard the DE. Part of the time we were shelling enemy positions along the shore in Vietnam with her three-inch main guns.”
By the time Stuart went aboard the USS Tuscaloosa, a modern 8,600 ton transport that could make 23 knots that was under construction in San Diego, Calif. it was the mid-1970s. Like his first two ships, she was headed for Vietnam.
The war was coming to a close and the Tuscaloosa was transporting Marines out of country and back to the States.
“On one of our trips back to the U.S. we passed by Iwo Jima on Memorial Day 1971. The captain diverted the ship close in shore so we could see the island and Mount Suribachi, where the Marines raised the American flag during the historic battle.”
After two years aboard the Tuscaloosa, Stuart got land duty. He served as a command evaluator working for a U.S. admiral whose job it was to keep tabs on the South Vietnamese Naval Air Force headquartered in Saigon.
“I was a 31-year-old Navy lieutenant, who together with two other evaluators, prepared a daily summation of what the South Vietnamese Air Force had accomplished during the previous 12 hours. I was there when we bombed Haiphong Harbor,” he recalled.
Stuart was only in Saigon about six months on his last tour. He returned to the States and spent the next two years getting a post-graduate degree in Operations Research–Navy stuff. After graduation he had 14 years in the Navy and was given the opportunity to go back to sea or take a desk job.
He decided to stay ashore. He went to work in the Pentagon for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Stuart started in Washington working in “War Game Analysis,” but switched to a special study that advised the Joint Chiefs what happened if they took on the Russians in battle and did this instead of that.
In 1980 he wrapped up 20 years in the Navy. He was 40 and he retired a lieutenant commander.
Immediately Stuart went to work as a civilian for the Defense Nuclear Agency doing physics analysis. What they wanted to know was what happened to various kinds of buildings when a nuclear bomb was dropped on them.
Five years later he switched positions. He stated working for a small firm on high data rate radio frequency communications for airborne platforms and satellites.
Stuart retired for good and moved to the Punta Gorda area in 1997.
Some of his time is spent getting “Nelson’s Blood,” his 45-foot Bruce Roberts designed sailboat back in shape after the beating it took from Hurricane Charley in 2004. Stuart sailed to Central America and the islands on a four month cruise aboard her before the storm.
He has two grown sons: Jay Jr. and Scott.
Name: Jay Clyde Stuart
D.O.B: 9 May 1940
Hometown: Elkin, N.C.
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: November 1960
Rank: Lt. Cmdr.
Unit: USS Phoebe, USS Hissem and USS Tuscaloosa
Commendations: Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Unit Commendation, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Technical Service Medal First Class, Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces Meritorious Unit Citation (Gallantry Cross Medal with Palm, Vietnam Service Medal
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013 and is republished with permission.
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