Before Brad Messick graduated from high school in 1966 at 19 he had already been notified by his draft board. He signed up with the Navy and was allowed to graduate before going to sea.
“While still in high school I had worked in a restaurant. After boot camp at Great Lakes they made me a baker,” the 66-year-old Port Charlotte man said. “I went aboard the USS Higbee, a Fletcher Class destroyer, whose home port was San Diego.
“We left San Diego for Vietnam in 1967 as part of the USS New Jersey’s battle group. We became gun fire support for the battleship,” he explained. The New Jersey was five miles off the coast of Vietnam and we were in-between the battleship and the coast firing our five-inch 38 main guns as fire support on targets called into us.
“I started out as a deck hand whose battle station was as a spotter in the five-inch gun mount on the stern of the Higbee. When they found out I had cooking experience they put me in the mess.
“Sampans were our biggest problem. They were small, wooden sailboats used by the Vietcong to transport explosives and ammunition to enemy forces in South Vietnam,” Messick said.
“A 25-foot-long sampan sailed by our ship while we were off the coast of Da Nang in the Chine Sea,” he said. “Our lieutenant decided to stop it as it sailed by. We fired a .50 cal. machine-gun across its bow. When it didn’t stop, we shot at its sail and mast and took it down with our .50-cal.
“The mast fell on the VC (Vietcong) woman piloting the boat and killed her. We sent a little outboard over to the sampan and found it was loaded with ammunition. We confiscated the ammunition and sank the boat.
“During the Tet Offensive the skipper of our destroyer volunteered our ship as gunfire support for Da Nang. The Vietcong had blown up the ammo depot and we were almost out of ammunition.
“We were ordered to anchor 400 yards off shore that night. That’s never done because the enemy could drop a mortar right down our stack at that distance,” Messick said. “The whole crew was up on deck that night with their weapons waiting for the attack that never came.
“All we did that night was watch the fireworks in the hills. The next morning we pulled out of Da Nang Harbor. It was the scariest night I ever had in my life,” he said.
“The USS Higbee was the only ship in the Navy Register, I know of, that was registered for Agent Orange. At the time no one on the ship realized they were flying over and dropping the defoliant on us.
“Years later I lost my best buddy on the Higbee to Agent Orange. He died of cancer six years ago. He was getting help from he VA (Veteran’s Administration) when he died,” Messick noted.
“I became a Mess Manager Specialist 3rd Class aboard the Higbee. I was the baker aboard the destroyer,” he said proudly.
“The captain would come see me at midnight every night. He got the first loaf of fresh bread that came out of the oven. He’d slice the bread and I’d whip up some tuna fish he’s put on it. He’d make tuna fish sandwiches and eat the whole loaf of bread before going up to bed.
“One night the captain came down and found me mixing bread by hand in the deep sink.
“‘Why aren’t you using the mixer?’ he asked.
“I told him someone on the day shift had busted the gears on the mixer.’
“He got on the phone, called down to the officers’ quarters and told the lieutenant in charge to report to the galley immediately. When the lieutenant arrived he ordered him to get with the supply officer and have the mixer parts flown to the ship by helicopter the next morning.
“He wanted his bread. The skipper was a little uptight about the broken mixer parts.
“Aboard the Higbee we had a radio controlled helicopter mounted with a camera we used to search out the enemy. We had a terrible time with the helicopter. I don’t know how many we lost,” Messick said. “The remote controls on the one helicopter went wacky and it ended up in a ditch. All kinds of hell was made over the lost helicopter. The captain had to go before a review board about it. He wasn’t too happy about that, but he survived the inquiry.
“Our ship was fantastic, except for the time we pulled up beside an oiler in the Pacific to take on fuel. During the procedure we lost our steering. When the oiler tried to pull away from us the stern of the oiler hit the bow of our ship and drove the anchor flook through the bow of the destroyer.
“Our ship limped into Sasabo, Japan for repairs. They patched up the Higbee and the next morning we sailed with the carrier USS Enterprise for Korea to take part in the incident involving the USS Pueblo, the U.S. spy ship captured by the North Koreans on Jan. 23, 1968.
The North Korean Navy initially engaged the Pueblo off its coast and forced the crew of the intelligence ship to capitulate. With the help of a trio of MIG fighters providing air support for the Communist forces, the Pueblo was forced into Wonsan Harbor.’
The American ship’s crew spent months in the hands of their North Korean captors being harassed. It caused an international “Cold War” incident that was finally quelled when the U.S. sailors were released.
Messick and the Higbee‘s part in the whole affair came early on.
“Our dear captain was trying to put a feather back in his cap after losing his anchor in the oiler incident. He volunteered our ship to sail into the enemy harbor and try to tow the Pueblo out to sea,” Messick said. “The enemy had 16-inch shore guns at the mouth of the harbor. Those guns would have picked our ship off in nothing flat if we had sailed in there.”
Apparently cooler heads prevailed. The Higbee wasn’t sent into Wonsan Harbor on a suicide mission to rescue the Pueblo.
After their ship returned to Japan for repairs they sailed back to Vietnam to help the New Jersey provide more shore fire for the Marines on the beach. Eventually the destroyer sailed for the States and Messick wrapped up his first tour of duty.
He re-upped and spent a total of 11 1/2 years in the Navy.
On his second enlistment he served as the head baker aboard the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy that was part of the Atlantic Fleet in 1975.
“It was during this period I made a cake for the ship’s anniversary. They wanted a cake modeled after the Kennedy. I built a two-section, eight-foot-long cake in the ship’s refrigerators because we were in the tropics and it was hot.”
Messick’s cake was a big hit. Even Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, Chief of Naval Operations, liked it.
He finally got shore duty after serving aboard the Kennedy. Messick was the sailor in charge of providing food for special events at the Navy base in Coronado, Calif. for several years.
His last duty station was as the cook aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Belleau Wood. He was part of a crew of 500 that took a group of Naval midshipmen on a Hawaiian cruise. Messick wrapped up his military service in 1980 and went to work for Exxon for several years. He then worked for a firm that provided security for businesses around the country.
Messick and his wife, Dorothy, moved to Port Charlotte in 1998. They have eight children from two marriages. His four are: Brad Jr., Roy, Julie and Kathleen. Her four are: Bob, Dave, Ricky and Debbie.
Name: Braden Terry Messick
D.O.B: 17 June 1947
Hometown: Lockport, NY
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 4 Oct. 1966
Discharged: 25 Sept. 1970
Rank: Mess Manager 3rd Class
Unit: Uss Higbee, Uss John F. Kennedy, USS Belleau Wood
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with 4 Bronze Stars, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Armed Forces Services Expeditionary Medal
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on # and is republished with permission.
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