by Patrick Costello
Talmage, Nebraska, USA
In August 1976, the USS Truxtun, CGN-35, sailed out of San Diego, Calif., for a nine-month Western Pacific deployment. After a brief stop in Hawaii, the ship headed south of the equator to our next two stops: Wellington, New Zealand, and Melbourne, Australia.
At that time, many citizens of the two countries wanted their part of the world to be a nuclear-free zone — they wanted nothing to do with nuclear power or nuclear weapons. This ideology put the Truxtun square in the middle of the controversy on two counts: my ship had a designation of CGN. The “C” stands for cruiser, the “G” for guided missile, and the “N” for nuclear power. Having guided missiles with the potential to carry a nuclear warhead was bad enough, but being a nuclear-powered ship was too much for the protestors.
The Truxtun arrived in Wellington on a cold and dreary day. The reception we got from the protesters went hand in hand with the weather. Close to 100 boats greeted us with signs of protest. They wanted us and the ship out of New Zealand territorial waters. As Captain Tally eased into port, he was told the dock workers had gone out on strike, and we would not be able to tie up to any of the piers. This forced us to anchor out in the port waters. The crew would have to shuttle into Wellington across somewhat choppy water using small boats.
Then the ferryboat crews decided to strike. New Zealand is primarily made up of two large islands, and the ferries are a vital link between them, so just by being there, the Truxtun had inconvenienced an entire country. These events made the crew a little anxious about going ashore for liberty. As it turned out, our fears were unfounded.
First, the Wellington Police arraigned for several covered launches to shuttle us to and from shore. A phone line was brought into the Shore Patrol shack so residents could call the “Dial a Sailor” line and invite crewmen over for a meal or to attend a gathering.
My friend Tom and I picked out a family from the Dial a Sailor list and spent the day with them. They picked us up from the pier at about noon. We drove around Wellington seeing the sights. They asked as many questions about life in the U.S. as we did about life in N.Z. After the sightseeing, we ended up at their home for a wonderful meal. We ate and talked into the evening hours before returning to the ship.
That family’s generosity sailed with us for the rest of the cruise. Many years have passed since, but not the warm feelings I have for the people of Wellington. They opened their hearts and homes to the crew of the USS Truxtun. Not only that, the whole story was repeated when we arrived in Melbourne, Australia. We were greeted with protests and then overwhelmed by kindness and generosity.
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 2.