Duane Holmbeck was barber aboard anti-sub destroyer USS Perry shortly before ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ of ’62

Duane Holmbeck of Englewood served aboard the USS Perry (DD-844), a Gearing class destroyer, shortly before the “Cuban Missile Crisis” of 1962. He was the ship’s barber.

Holmbeck joined the Naval Reserve while still in high school. By the time he graduated he went to Great Lakes Naval Training Center outside Chicago for basic. He only spent two weeks in basic because his previous time in the reserves counted.

“On Oct. 1, 1959 I went on active duty. I was sent to the Boston Naval Ship Yard and went board the Perry that was undergoing a major upgrade,” Holmbeck explained. “She was being converted for anti-submarine warfare.

“Everything from the main deck up was gone. They were putting in anti-submarine rockets, SONAR, a helicopter deck replaced the rear five-inch gun mount. It was to provide a landing spot for a drone helicopter that would carry two drone torpedoes out a distance of five miles from the ship and drop them on an enemy sub.

“After six months of repairs in Boston we took a shakedown cruise to our base at Guantanamo, Cuba. While we were down there a group of specialists mounted a bunch of RADAR tracking equipment on our ship.

“We were told not to talk to these specialists. We didn’t, but they talked to us about what they were doing aboard the Perry.

“After they completed their electronic upgrade we sailed for Washington, D.C. to let a bunch of high muckety-mucks aboard our ship to check her out. Then we spent an awful lot of time off Key West doing dummy torpedo practice. They’d shoot anti-submarine rockets out eight miles from our ship. Then they’d go retrieve these dummy rockets with our helicopter. The rockets were worth $8,000 each.”

The USS Perry (DD-844) was a “Gearing Class” destroyer that was converted to an anti-submarine destroyer about the time Fidel Castro took control in Cuba some 50 plus years ago. Photo provided

During Holmbeck’s eight months of service aboard the Perry a group of Annapolis Cadets joined his ship’s crew for training in anti-submarine sea warfare. After their brief stay aboard the destroyer the U.S. Naval Academy cadets were transferred off the Perry onto a waiting aircraft carrier one at a time in a swaying basket on a line dangling between two moving war ships in the open sea.

The process is called “High Lining.” It’s tricky and dangerous. It’s particularly hazardous in choppy seas and this was one of those times.

Holmbeck captured the event with his 8-mm, hand-held, grainy color movies he proudly screened on his TV more than 50 years later. One-by-one each cadet took his turn in the metal basket and was slowly conveyed to the waiting carrier a couple of hundred feet away on swaying ropes. From their bouncing seats dangling between the destroyer and its giant sister ship the transfer was made while churning through massive waves.

“After we got them safely to the carrier’s deck the midshipmen all stood at attention and saluted the crew of the Perry as we steamed off,” he recalled.

“You started as a seaman aboard the Perry. What happened to you after that?” I inquired.

“The barber aboard ship was about to be discharged. I was appointed as his replacement. I went down to the barbershop and he taught me how to cut hair,” Hogback said. “When he left I became the barber responsible for cutting upwards of 300 heads of hair.”

“I left the ship in October of 1961 a few months before the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis.’ They were extending the service of some of the sailors aboard the Perry because of what they did. I wasn’t one of them.”

After he was discharged from the Navy, Holmbeck went to work for his father who had a home construction business in Charlotte County. Later his dad purchased the Shell Station in Englewood on SR-776 and for the next five years he was the manager of the service station.

In 1970 he joined the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department and for the next 25 years Holmbeck was a deputy. He began as a road deputy but later became the fire arms instructor for the department. Eventually he went into the the sheriff’s department’s civil section and retired in 1996.

He and his wife, Judith have two daughters: Kristina and Kathleen.

Name: Duane Neil Holmbeck
D.O.B: 29 May 1941
Hometown: Beloit, WI
Currently: Englewood, FL
Entered Service: 1 October 1959
Discharged: 20 October 1961
Rank: E-3
Unit: USS Perry DD-844

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, August 28, 2017 and is republished with permission.

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