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Interview with Ed Schrock [10/07/2002]

David Winkler:

Good morning. My name is Dave Winkler with the Naval Historical Foundation and I'm here on behalf of the Library of Congress Veteran's History Program to interview Congressman Ed Schrock from Virginia about his time in the Navy in Vietnam. I appreciate you spending time with us this morning. You were born in Ohio in '42 during World War II?

Ed Schrock:

I wish. I was born in 1941, but I thank you for the year off my life. That's great. (Laughter)

David Winkler:

During that time period did you have members in your family involved in World War II?

Ed Schrock:

No, oddly enough I did not; nobody in fact. I was actually the first member of my family ever to go into the military and that's unusual because most people in that era did. But I had nobody in there.

David Winkler:

So you grew up in Ohio and you wound up going to a small Liberal Arts Baptist college in West Virginia.

Ed Schrock:

I did. It's a school called Alderson-Broaddus College in Philippi, West Virginia. Philippi is the site of the first land-battle of the Civil War and I actually arrived there on the actual 100th anniversary of that event. So it was fun living in a historical place like that.

David Winkler:

Okay. Could you discuss Officer Candidate School?

Ed Schrock:

Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. It was a four month training program. I arrived there on the 15th or 16th of May of '64 and then was commissioned on September 18th, 1964.

David Winkler:

Okay. They called those folks up at OCS the 90-day Wonders.

Ed Schrock:

The 90-day Wonders; actually 120, but yes, 90-day Wonders. That's right.

David Winkler:

Any interesting recollections about that time up in Newport?

Ed Schrock:

I guess how grueling it was. It was all new. I had never been exposed to training like that or anything military for that matter, and I know when our class and our company first got there we all thought that, my God, we'll never make this. There's no way we can ever survive this. But we decided to get together. We came up with a saying in our company that was "Cooperate and Graduate". That if we all helped one another we could do that, and we all cooperated and every single one of us did graduate. A lot of people washed-out of that program, but in our particular company nobody did. They all went on to serve after that.

David Winkler:

Okay. Now how did you go about selecting your first billet?

Ed Schrock:

About halfway through Officer Candidate School they came to us and asked what our preference would be; what we would like to serve on, if it was a ship, and where we would like that ship to be. I picked an aircraft carrier and I wanted to go to San Diego, California, and I got it. I got the Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) stationed out of San Diego. I was commissioned in September, went out in, I'd say, mid- October, but had to stay in a BOQ until the ship returned from its deployment. It actually returned from its deployment on the 22nd of November, 1964; one year to the day after President Kennedy was assassinated, and that's the day I reported onboard. I was on that ship for a couple years and we did a tour of duty in Vietnam and the Tonkin Gulf; and it was a magnificent tour for me.

David Winkler:

Okay. To take back one second, now your commissioning, could you discuss that? Did you have family there?

Ed Schrock:

Oh yes. My parents were there and it was quite a day. It really was, because to finally put on that uniform and know that you were legitimate and you could go out and do good things, it was just an amazing day. I can see it to this day. I can see every aspect of it because at that point it was the highlight of my life. I would say it probably was the reason that I am where I am today.

David Winkler:

Okay. Now you arrived out in San Diego and I guess the carrier, you mentioned, was deployed?

Ed Schrock:

It was deployed. She was doing a Vietnam tour.

David Winkler:

So were you a Stash Ensign someplace?

Ed Schrock:

Actually I wasn't a stash. I just stayed in the BOQ and I had to report in to some duty officer everyday until the ship returned. Then the day it returned I reported aboard and I thought that when they got back they would just be welcoming me with open arms they'd be so happy to see me. They couldn't have cared less. They had been on the line for six months and all they wanted to do was get home and get to their families, and they thought; this guy, who is he? It was terrible. It was very depressing, but now I understand. I mean having gone through a tour like that myself the last thing you wanted was new people reporting aboard, but I did because I was ordered to do that.

David Winkler:

Okay. As a new guy reporting aboard, obviously it wasn't with open arms, but what was your assignment?

Ed Schrock:

I was the CIC Watch Officer; Combat Information Center Watch Officer, and that's where I spent most of my time. I also became a collateral duty Public Affairs Officer, and when we went back to Vietnam -1 think we left April 22nd, 1965 to go back across the sea - and of course once we got on the line there was a huge buildup at that point and you had a lot of media interest. They were interested in watching the planes flying off the carrier and they needed someone to help with the media.

David Winkler:

Okay. When you report aboard a ship usually you have an opportunity to sit down and meet the Captain and the Executive Officer.

Ed Schrock:

I did, and the Captain was Captain George Morrison who was the father of Jim Morrison, who was the leader of the Doors; the singing group. I remember meeting young Jim Morrison shortly after that time. That's before he became well-known. He came onboard to have dinner in the Wardroom one night and he was just the Captain's kid as far as I was concerned. The Executive Officer was Commander Robert Grill; Bob Grill, a real dynamic guy who I remember to this day. And interestingly enough, many, many years later when I went to Guam, the guy who headed up the operation was then Admiral George Morrison. So I got to serve with him again.

David Winkler:

Okay. Now you being in CIC, I guess that was in the Ops Department?

Ed Schrock:

It was.

David Winkler:

Two key people you worked for... well first of all you worked for an Ops Boss and then also a key person would be your Leading Chief.

Ed Schrock:

That's right, exactly.

David Winkler:

Could you talk about those for us?

Ed Schrock:

Gosh, I wish I could remember the Chiefs name. I could probably go back and look in my cruise book and figure out who that was. But I remember I had a division; A-Division, which was 85 men, and I remember the Chief right away came up and said, "I've been in this Navy a long time and I'm here to make sure you succeed and I want to help you do the best job you can", and I thought, that's probably the nicest thing that was ever said to me, because Chiefs could do great harm to Ensigns if they want to. But I chose to listen to his advice and work with him as I thought I should and it worked very, very well. I had an incredible rapport with the men in the division and I enjoyed that a great deal.

David Winkler:

Could you discuss the activities of a CIC on an aircraft carrier?

Ed Schrock:

Well first of all it's kind of a quiet place and for me that was tough because you weren't allowed to do a lot of talking. You had to look at the scopes and you had to watch traffic in the area and just mainly that's what it was; just making sure the ship stayed on course and the ship was where it was supposed to be and that they didn't run into anything.

David Winkler:

Were you also involved in the air operations?

Ed Schrock:

No, I was not involved in air operations at all.

David Winkler:

Okay. How big a wardroom did you have on the carrier?

Ed Schrock:

Gosh, I would say there were probably 60 or 70, and of course with the air wing onboard it was a lot more. But on that ship they had their own wardroom. Once in a while they would be with us, but they had their own wardroom as well and I can't remember how many members there were there.

David Winkler:

Okay. How was morale during that time period?

Ed Schrock:

Oh it was great. I mean everybody - like the young men and women in uniform today - if they're doing what they were trained to do and doing it for real, they were upbeat, and they were. The longer you were over there; the longer you were out on line without going to port - we were at sea for a couple months without even seeing land - that kind of takes a toll on people. But by in large I felt the morale was very, very good.

David Winkler:

Okay. Now that first... they call them WestPacs.

Ed Schrock:

WestPacs, that's right.

David Winkler:

You were out there for seven months?

Ed Schrock:

We left April 22nd and returned early January of '66, so that was about eight or nine months. It was a long one. They were doing long deployments at that time.

David Winkler:

Now how was the air wing doing? Did you lose some aircraft

Ed Schrock:

A whole lot. We lost an awful lot and a lot of whom became POWs. One of the guys that lived in the bunking area where I lived - Gosh, I want to say his name was Dennis Morgan. I can't remember - he was the first one when we went on line to fly off and the first one to get shot down. He was a POW. I grew up a lot that day because that makes you realize this stuff is real and he's going to be there for a long time. He did come home, oddly enough, because that was part of Operation New Life in the Pentagon. Many, many years later we watched him step off the airplane and thinking, God, the last time anybody saw him was when I saw him on the ship. So it was kind of tough every time somebody was lost. It was pretty somber around there because you got to know people. You didn't know them personally but you saw them and you knew who they were, and then to learn one of them didn't make it; pretty tough stuff.

David Winkler:

Okay, and I imagine some of the folks came back injured. A carrier's a dangerous place without having a war.

Ed Schrock:

And even more so then because technology then wasn't what it is today to get planes on and off the carrier. I remember one carrier... one plane had been damaged and they were going to have to put the net up and catch it that way and the pilot came in - and it was an F-81 believe - and he came in too low and hit the round- down on the back and it took the plane and just sheared the back of the plane off. It shoved the front part of the plane up in the air, and or course we could see him eject. It went in the water and he did too. He was saved but he had some pretty severe injuries and that left an impression as well. That was real.

David Winkler:

As you mentioned, you really didn't get ashore too much during that deployment.

Ed Schrock:

No we did not. We did go to Yokosuka, Japan once. We went to Subic a couple of times and that was just about it. I was able to fly with some folks - and I can't remember what their reason was - into Saigon to visit NavForV (Naval Forces Vietnam) and was there for a day or so and that really kind of gave me a feel for what it was like to be in-country, never dreaming I would ever go back in-country, which of course I did later. But that was a valuable experience to see the people and see what was going on and all the military action that was going on there. It was fascinating.

David Winkler:

Now during you tenure onboard the Bon Homme Richard you mentioned you had quite a few press people. You probably had quite a few VTPs.

Ed Schrock:

Oh lots.

David Winkler:

Any memorable visits you can mention?

Ed Schrock:

Just the Sander Van Oaker (phonetic) one with the media, and of course you had lots and lots of admirals coming aboard - the names I couldn't recall now - but no name that would stick with me that people would recognize.

David Winkler:

Okay. Now you're on the carrier. It's a two-year tour and I guess after that nine month hitch you're starting to approach time for orders?

Ed Schrock:

Well yes. In fact we went into Subic Bay for a port call and a whole bunch of the Ensigns and some of the (jg)'s, we all went to the Officer's Club one night, and late into the evening somebody said, why don't we all volunteer to go in- country Vietnam. Nobody wanted to appear less than macho, so everybody said, oh yeah, let's do that, and of course the next day we all put our papers in and we all got accepted and we all went to the same place. It was just amazing. But for a young guy who was single that was really an exciting thing to do because that really made me understand what it was like to watch the war right up front, right close to you. So that was a very valuable experience for me.

David Winkler:

Okay. Let's talk about detaching and then getting... what preparations did they have for you to go in-country?

Ed Schrock:

I had to go to Survival School. I went back to my parent's place; in my home in Ohio, and spent a leave period there and then flew from there to San Diego where we had some SERE (Survival, Escape, Resistance, Evasion) training and classroom type things at the Amphib Base, I believe in Coronado. Then from there we were flown to Whidbey Island, Washington, and I went to Survival School there; probably the experience that had the most dramatic impact on my life ever, based on what happened there. I mean by the time we were finished you honestly believed you were a POW, and when they told you the exercise was over there's no way you were going to believe it because then they could start pounding you around again and nobody was in the mood for that. It was a pretty tough time.

David Winkler:

Okay. So after that experience up at Whidbey Island, then you received your orders?

Ed Schrock:

Yes, even before I went to Whidbey I knew I was going to Naval Support Activity Da Nang, and then of course we flew from there back to Southern California. I was engaged at the time at that point and my now wife and her family lived in Long Beach, California, so I spent several days before I went overseas with them. Then Judy and her mother drove me to San Francisco and I flew out of there, and it was pretty tough. It was pretty tough for a whole year.

David Winkler:

Arriving in Da Nang?

Ed Schrock:

We were on a C-141, one of the first flights; the C-14 Is were new then. It was one of the first 41s that had gone in there, and of course I was in my dress khakis, and of course I got off the plane and it felt like I was walking into a sauna.

David Winkler:

That's right. Okay, so actually you have an opportunity really to travel throughout the country?

Ed Schrock:

Oh I did, and we did, clear up to the DMZ and clear down to the Chu Lai area. I'm trying to think what - the Dong Hoi, Chu Lai in the northern area and then there was a big Navy base at Cam Ranh Bay halfway between Saigon and Da Nang. So I was able to travel a lot with the media and see a lot of the action that went on, and had I not been in that role, I wouldn't have seen any of that. It was fascinating. On August 30 of 1967, ten days before I was supposed to leave, I took a film crew .. Marvin Kalb, remember that name .. .?

David Winkler:

Yes.

David Winkler:

Now at that time of the war, actually it is going... the perception was that it was going rather well, and of course we have Tet '68. That happens after.

Ed Schrock:

That happened in February of '68. That's right. Even though it was going well we still were playing this limited war game where we could hit this target and that target, but there were certain targets we couldn't hit and everybody knew the targets we couldn't hit is exactly where the enemy was hold up and where he was putting his supplies in and where they were running things from, and that just drove some of us crazy. But that was the policy back here in Washington and there didn't seem to be much we could do about that.

David Winkler:

Obviously you're seeing the observation of how the Marines fight the war in the north and of course probably how the Army deals with them in the south.

Ed Schrock:

I saw very little. I did go to Saigon a few times but just only a limited number of times and saw just a very little bit about what the Army did But of course in the I Corps area, the One Corps area clearly it was mostly Marines up there.

David Winkler:

Okay. Could you give an overview of what Da Nang was like?

Ed Schrock:

It almost reminded me of a European town; lots of buildings and lots of houses all crowded together just like any busy city on a waterfront; a beautiful waterfront. The Da Nang River was just spectacular.

David Winkler:

Occasionally though you got a rocket lobbed in on you?

Ed Schrock:

Oh many times. I mean every single day I was there we heard rockets go off, and where I lived; I lived in Camp Tien Shau, which is at Monkey Mountain, and that's where the big port was that we created there. But every single night you'd go outside and you could see the mountains and the hills ablaze and could hear it all night long and all day long. It became a way of life. You just had to hope it would never hit you. It never did hit the center city where I was. It was always on the outlying areas or at the airport. They were always knocking out villages near the airport and we'd have to take the media out to see that. It's some pretty grim stuff that we saw, but never in the area where we were.

David Winkler:

Okay. Before you depart Vietnam, are there any other recollections that stand out?

Ed Schrock:

Yeah, I think one of the most difficult aspects of being there was going with the news media to the Navy hospital because I had never seen anyone who was missing limbs and that was my first experience with that. There were some kids there - and they were kids just like I was - some of whom had no arms. One fellow I remember had no arms, no legs and part of his face had been blown away, and that was the first time I got physically ill being in that environment because I thought this is really what war does to people. I can see him to this day.

David Winkler:

Okay. Now you mentioned flying back to the states and being reunited.

Ed Schrock:

Oh it was great. Continental Airlines brought a commercial plane into Da Nang and they filled it up with all of us guys, and of course I remember I sat next to a window and as it took off I remember looking down at Da Nang and thinking, wow. I almost felt guilty that I was leaving some of my friends there. But there was a hoop and a holler that went up after we took off that you can't believe.

David Winkler:

Of course you stayed in the Navy.

Ed Schrock:

I did. Oh let me tell you about that. When I was in Vietnam I thought for sure I would just get out after three years and that there was never any question that I was going to go back to my hometown in Ohio and work there. But I wrote a letter and sent a birthday card to the fellow that was going to my brother-in-law, then saying, Jim, I'm really going to miss this Navy life. He told Judy, who wrote me a' letter in Vietnam and said, look, if you're going to stay in the Navy I'd love to be a Navy wife, and I felt the dye had been cast at that point; I would stay in the Navy. So we did, and after we got married we traveled across country as a couple the first time and went to the 6 Naval District in Charleston, South Carolina.

David Winkler:

So Congressman, you go to Charleston, South Carolina. Could you run us through some of your duties stateside as the war's going through Vietnam?

Ed Schrock:

Well I went to the 6th Naval District as the Assistant Public Affairs Officer and I quite frankly can't remember a lot of the duties there because it seemed so calm and so tame compared to what I had just come from, that I'd gotten very restless there and immediately tried to get transferred out of there, even if it meant I had to go back to Vietnam, because it just wasn't doing anything for me. So I did. I got orders out of there and we went to the Strike Command, which is the current CentCom in Tampa, Florida at McDill Air Force Base and I spent a tour there before going to DC.

David Winkler:

Okay. Now when you came back from Vietnam in late '67 the public was still pretty much supportive of our efforts.

Ed Schrock:

It sure was. But even as I came back and was in DC it was getting to the point where people were starting to get agitated by it and we were not allowed to wear our uniforms in downtown Washington, DC. I couldn't even wear them in the Pentagon. I had to wear civilian clothing because it just wasn't safe for any military person to wear a uniform, which is unfortunate. Of course it's not that way now. I'm glad it's the way it is now. People are admired to wear uniforms. But unrest was beginning at that point and of course it just kept getting worse and worse and worse the further we got into this thing.

David Winkler:

Okay. Could you discuss your duties in the Pentagon?

Ed Schrock:

I actually worked with the news media in CHINFO, the Navy's Chief of Information Office, and I worked in the television production end of it working with people like 60 Minutes; people that did formats like that, and that was a great tour. I really did enjoy that a lot.

David Winkler:

Okay. One of the things, because you're dealing with the media, in Vietnam and then later in DC, how could you gage their attitude about the war?

Ed Schrock:

The closest I ever got to that was when I went to DoD and worked there. Of course that's where the DoD press briefings are every day. I just perceived that the longer that war went on the more agitated it became, the harder the questions became and the more they took us to task, and it just got more and more difficult with every passing month and every passing year. It was bad. It was really bad.

David Winkler:

Okay. Well a key component of our strategy in the Nixon administration was Vietnamization and I imagine you did not see much of that when you were over there?

Ed Schrock:

No I did not. It was just a cold hard war at that point and the Vietnamization program had not begun at that point. When I was over there Lyndon Johnson of course was the President. He came there a couple times. But the Vietnamization thing did start with the Nixon administration after I was long gone.

David Winkler:

Okay. Were you there when Johnson arrived at any of his tours?

Ed Schrock:

I was in-country but he went to the Saigon area. It was safer there they felt for him then in the I Corps area, so he didn't come up there at all.

David Winkler:

Okay. Now eventually you wind up in Guam.

Ed Schrock:

I did. I had a tour of duty in Washington with DoD and then I went to Graduate School at the American University in Washington, and toward the end of that education period the Navy started talking to me about where I wanted to go, and Guam looked like a fascinating place. And I thought, wow, that could be kind of an exciting place to go, for reasons I wasn't even aware. Of course we got orders to do that 11 and then I graduated from school in December of 1974, and then after packing up and moving out of the DC area we arrived in Guam on February 15th, 1975 and we were there just a few weeks. I went there as the Public Affairs Officer for the Commander Naval Forces Marianas where Captain, then Admiral George Morrison was the head guy. Then about two months into that tour is when we were called into a briefing and the Admiral announced that he had received word from the Pentagon that Vietnam was probably going to collapse and we on Guam should be prepared to take massive numbers of refugees. We didn't know what that meant. We know now it was 130,000, which is a lot of people, and of course Vietnam collapsed on April 30th of that year and then right after that we started getting as many as 18,000 refugees a day in Guam. Of course I was the only corporate member with the media. I literally spent 24 hours a day, literally, for 14 days working, taking care of media, sending them here, sending them there and making sure the public affairs plan went as it was written.

David Winkler:

Now how did the people get there? Was it mostly by ship?

Ed Schrock:

A lot by ship and plane, and there were times we would have planes landing all day long and there were times ... I think one day we had 18,000 come in on ships and they were packed to the gills. How they got there without turning over is just a mystery to me. But boy, they put them in buses and they could actually walk them to Orote Point because it was very close there, and the operation was just flawless. It was just absolutely amazing, and very seldom were there any problems and it worked well.

David Winkler:

Now at this time you're a Lieutenant Commander?

Ed Schrock:

Yes, I was a Lieutenant Commander then.

David Winkler:

Okay. How do you set up a Public Affairs Operations Plan?

Ed Schrock:

Well when we knew this was going to happen my Chief and I went back to the office and we sat down and we created a Public Affairs Plan based on the training we've had. I mean you had to do that. We took it to the Deputy who was a guy named Captain Bill Stouffer (phonetic), who interestingly enough is a supporter of mine in my campaign and lives not far from me in Virginia Beach. We presented this plan to him and he said, wow, this is great. He said, if you can carry this thing out we'll do fine, and we did. We set up a Press Center. We had a Press Center set up down near Orote Point, near the piers, and that's where the media stayed and we just ran everything out of there. The Admiral would do briefings a couple times a day just to keep everybody up to speed and they had really pretty much uncluttered access to go where they wanted to go because there was nothing of a classified nature over there and some of the photography that came out of there from the news crews was just phenomenal. They'll be in our archives, I'm sure, forever.

David Winkler:

How long did this refugee operation last?

Ed Schrock:

It started at the end of April and went all through May, June, July and August, and then in late August I was transferred out. I had become quite ill and had to be taken off the island. But it was pretty much over at that point. All the refugees that were going to come out had come out and most of them were gone and they were starting to wind the operation down in a big way at that point. "

David Winkler:

Okay. Now you mentioned you had become quite ill. I guess that was with cancer?

Ed Schrock:

Yes.

David Winkler:

Do you think there was any relationship with that with your earlier tour?

Ed Schrock:

I've been asked that a lot because I have a lot of colleagues and a lot of friends who have died from cancer who were there and the same scenario. I know in Vietnam Agent Orange was just being poured all over that place. There were times I'd go back to Camp Tien Shau and my hair and my face were just sticky with the stuff. We didn't know what it was. We just washed it off and went out and did our job the next day and came back to the same thing; day after day after day. Whether that was part of it, I don't know. I hate to admit I smoked at that time, which is not a good thing, and when I went down I went down fast. I really did.

David Winkler:

Coming back, your first day after coming out of the hospital, your next assignment was...?

Ed Schrock:

They sent me to the White House because I was going to be part of the transition team for. .. if it was going to be Gerald Ford then it would have stayed the same. If it was going to be Jimmy Carter then it would be that. They put me in the media end of it and I worked there for quite a while and then of course worked on the transition part of it for Mr. Carter and then stayed there for a while and didn't much care for it at that point and wanted to get out of there so they took me out and they sent me back across the river.

David Winkler:

Must have been a great feeling, that first day back on duty?

Ed Schrock:

Oh yeah. I went back in my whites, with a walker, but I went nonetheless, and I looked terrible. I mean I see pictures of me now weighing that much and I think, oh my gosh, but slowly but surely... I haven't been able to get back to 240 yet, but I'm over just 200, and that's not bad. I went to work as a stockbroker for six years; a hellacious six years. It was awful. I mean because I'm a Type "A" personality, as my staff can tell you well, and when the stock market went down it was my fault, nobody else's. I mean if I was in the stock market today, as a broker, all this stuff that's happening would be my fault and you can't survive in that. So the doctor said, I can see your system starting to break down. You can either play this macho game or get out and do something different. The day I quit, the next day I met with some folks in Virginia Beach who wanted to talk to me about running for office and when I walked out of that luncheon I knew that I was to run for the Virginia State Senate, did, won big, was there was a whole term, won for reelection and then in 2000 ran for a Congressional seat and won, and now we're up for reelection again. It's great.

David Winkler:

Okay. Well congratulations on a great career and hopefully many more years here in Congress.

 
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