USS Providence Veterans Recall Operation Lion’s Den

USS Providence L-File 2

Cruiser USS PROVIDENCE (CLG 6) in an undated photo. NHHC L-File Collection.

The Foundation has been busily occupied preparing the new exhibit “Into the Lion’s Den” for the Cold War Gallery, and on Thursday, 3 May, we were reminded of the reason we strive to build such exhibits in the first place. The National Navy Museum and the Cold War Gallery were honored by a visit from approximately 60 members of the USS Providence (CL 82/CLG 6) reunion group. Amongst the group were two sailors who were on board Providence the night of the pitched battle in Haiphong Harbor: Gary Cheever and Ken Chambers. For those unfamiliar with the exhibit, it centers around a 1972 nighttime raid by four surface warships of the U.S. Navy deep into enemy waters. The ships successfully bombarded enemy shore positions, and with the assistance of A-7 Corsair II aircraft, fended off a counterattack by North Vietnamese torpedo boats.

The Providence veterans were in town for their annual reunion, and one of the many items on their busy itinerary was a visit to the Washington Navy Yard and the Navy Museum. Early on the afternoon of 3 May, they crowded into the Cold War Gallery, and circled around the Foundation’s Dr. Dave Winkler, who gave them a brief history of the Washington Navy Yard, and explained the reasons behind the development of the Cold War Gallery. After descriptions of the Trident I C4 missile at the Gallery’s entrance, the Ready Room Theater, and the Covert Submarine Operations exhibit, Winkler described the basics of the new Lion’s Den exhibit. It quickly became apparent that two veterans of the battle were in the crowd, and Winkler asked if they wanted to share their experiences. Gary Cheever observed the battle from the vantage point of the bridge, and he offered to speak briefly to the gathered crowd. Following his remarks, we were lucky enough to speak to both Cheever and Chambers.

Providence Reunion 1

Gary Cheever (center, with hat and glasses, turned to his left) speaks to the gathered crowd about Operation Lion's Den

Gary Cheever retired from the U.S. Army as a Lieutenant Colonel, but in 1972 he was a seaman on board the cruiser USS Providence as she steamed towards Haiphong Harbor. The evening of the battle, he was serving as Duty Corpsman on bridge. He watched as the cruiser steamed in formation behind USS Newport News (CA 148) at high speed approaching the harbor. He felt the ship vibrating, as her powerful engines pushed her through the dark water. As they entered the harbor they began a long, u-shaped turn, heading into the narrow harbor, towards their enemy targets ashore. The ship leaned noticeably in the high speed turn, and Cheever felt like the port screw at times was close to the surface of the water, causing the vibration that he felt. All was dark and silent until, according to Cheever, “it seemed like the order to fire was given at the same time for all our ships, I saw that our 6 inch guns were fully depressed, and the next thing I know it was like daylight outside.” He could see enemy shore batteries firing back, using what appeared to be anti-aircraft guns. He was outfitted with a flak jacket and helmet, but when enemy .50 caliber rounds began striking the exterior of the bridge, he ducked for safety behind a bulkhead, peeking out for views through a porthole. Providence steamed at full speed throughout the entire bombardment mission, and consequently Cheever recalls that the strike was over rather quickly.

Providence Reunion 3

Ken Chambers in the Cold War Gallery (model of USS NORTHAMPTON in background) just a few yards from the location of the upcoming "Into the Lion's Den" exhibit

Ken Chambers was stationed in the Emergency Diesel Compartment on board Providence on the night of the battle. While he couldn’t see what was going on outside the ship in Haiphong Harbor, sounds and vibrations told him all he needed to know. As they approached the harbor, Chambers “felt the shafts speeding up, and I knew something was going on.” Fortunately for those below wondering what was going on, without a porthole to gaze out through, the communications system had been patched into the ship’s PA. Sailors throughout the ship could hear their shipmates navigating the Providence and directing fire on the enemy. The ship began shelling shore positions, and Chambers could hear enemy rounds striking the water around them.

We were thrilled to have a brief chance to speak to these two Operation Lion’s Den veterans, and to welcome all of the Providence veterans to the Cold War Gallery. If you’d like to learn more about the new exhibit remembering this daring night raid behind enemy lines, please visit our Fundly page, and consider making a donation to support its construction.

This entry was posted in Cold War Gallery, History, Navy Museum, News and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to USS Providence Veterans Recall Operation Lion’s Den

  1. Pingback: Into the Lion's Den Exhibit: USS Robison (DDG 12) | Naval Historical Foundation

  2. Byron Halterman says:

    I was there. USS Providence smoke watch between the stacks of fore and aft firerooms. As said, what a night. Lots of water spouts between CLG 6 and screening destroyer. Didn’t know 50 cal fire was received, thought air burst.

  3. I remember the night well, I was loading powder shells in the 5 inch gun turret. It would be great to hear from any of the members of the MARINE DETACHMENT or MEMBERS of the crew, or Capt. Gibbons. If any more ribbons were awarded after that night, please let me know, as I was sent home on a emergency Red Cross leave when we docked in San Diego, My 26 year old sister and 3 month old god child, had been Murdered back home! Any replies are more then welcome!!! SEMPER FI GUYS , CPL.Joseph C. Mallo U.S.M.C.

    • Raul Alvarez says:

      My name back then was Seaman Alvarez. I was attached to the Boatswain division. I took was loading but in the six in gun turret. I remember you hanging with the Chicano crowd and playing cards at night. I too remember when that helo went down killing that officer and crew. I too will never forget.
      I remember another marine by the name of Polfaol (in sound only). Don’t know if he was aboard during that mission or came after you left. Anyway glad to see your comment. God bless.

      • danny bagley says:

        Alvarez. Now that is a familiar name. Seaman Bagley. Do you have any attachments to Roberto Perez or Saunders? Hey like to stay in touch with you and all if can .we were a pretty good team of guys.

      • Roland R says:

        Alvarez, perhaps you may remember me. I came aboard Prov during decommission in ’73. We hung out at the barracks on base (San Diego). You had a brother in the Marines I recall. You and another guy used to reenact a story about fighting the “g..ks” overseas. You should look into signing up for membership at USS God Bless you and yours.

      • Diana Borrero says:

        My husband was on the ship when the helicopter went down…his name is Edward Borrero

  4. W.D. Truesdell PC3 says:

    I was in g.q.station aft high sky that night.

  5. cecil c. Mc Lauglin says:

    AI as a watertender 3rd class on the uss providene when it was put into commision.
    We went to Cuba from Boston came back to boston then was headed for the South Pacific and to 2 days out of Cuba the droped the A bomb and the war was over. We went back to boston for a short time ant then went to Europe for 8 months and was dischared from there..
    Cecil C, Mc Laughlin


  6. Herbert Sprankle says:

    I was the Electricial phone talker in main control during the raid. My dad sent me a newspaper clipping from the Indianaplois star telling about the raid.

  7. Glynn A. Crooks says:

    I was a yeoman that served on board the USS PROVIDENCE (CLG 6) the night
    Rear Admiral Rembrandt C. Robinson, USN was killed. I worked in the Captains
    office. The Admiral was the first Flag Officer to be killed in the Viet-Nam Conflict.
    I served with a lot of great men. I really miss all those I served with.

    • Michael Bekemeier says:

      The only Flag Officer to die in that war. I was onboard that night too. Can’t forget it.

    • Jeremiah Jones says:

      Hey Glynn, I remember you being part of the X Division gang and keeping the library in order. You had quite a knack for getting the word out and about the mess deck. You are the only guy I ever knew who was serious enough to write a letter to the President of the U.S.

  8. John J Reynolds 111 says:

    I was there that night at my station in 6 inch gun turret. I was the right gun projectile man. We could not see what was going on from inside. When we came out after it was over the deck of the ship was covered with brass powder casings. I was a seaman in the 1ST div. I also was the swimmer for 1St div. that night we lost the Admiral

    • Ed Rice says:

      3rd class GMG and left gun captain in the 6″ turret. Was hot work that night and many others. While concerned about enemy fire I felt it more likely that any causalities would be from a gun malfunction. Hang fires, jammed breach block with projectile in a hot barrel, over heated recoil system, faulty projectile fuse seal, etc.
      On a side note the 3 guns were Left, Center and Right. Someone had named them after women so they had their names painted on them, Linda, Cindy, Rose. My first wife was name Cindy, and my second/current wife is name Linda. Have yet to meet Rose.

    • rachelle oliveira says:

      Hi Jon, its Tim Wilburns (animal!) How you doing after all these years

  9. Norm Neifert says:

    I was also with the Marine Detachment. I would have been in the 5 inch gun mount, working in the handling room just below the gun mount. I don’t remember the night very well, they all seem to run together.
    I stayed on the Providence until it returned to San Diego and was decommissioned. I was then reassigned to an aircraft carrier and went back to Vietnam for another year.
    I would have most likely been a Lance Corporal at the time.
    Norm Neifert, “Semper Fi.”

  10. Howard Westney, DP1, Dept. IFDS says:

    I was onboard Providence in IFDS, Integrated Flagship Data System, on that August night. The majority of the crew only had a hint that something was going down that night when they went through the chow line and Steak and Lobster was being served. Within hours the crew knew what the basic plan was. What I do know from that night is that what I experienced is and has been vividly recorded in my memory. When flag called down to us in IFDS for the latest info on the ‘Mine Fields’ we all knew that this night was going to be very different and no cake walk. With general quarters solidly set it began. We were told that we were third ship in line entering Haiphong Harbor, two destroyers in front of us and one destroyer aft since the only significant armament aft was our Surf-Air Missiles. Providence shuddered as she increased speed and she listed significantly port then starboard multiple times negotiating turns as she navigated the ‘Mine Fiedls’ and then the command to fire occurred and when it was over the Providence had very little 6 inch and 5 inch ammunition left in her magazines. Hours afterward we were at a reduced general quarters when our captain said that we were very successful at the mission and congratulations were coming from the highest authority and command but because of the nature of the mission that the world would probably not hear about the mission for quite sometime. I still wonder to this day why all crews have not been recognized for ‘Lions Den’ with a Medal/Award. Does anyone know differently ? I gratefully thank all my fellow brothers-in-arms for their service and professionalism, especially on that August night in 1972. – See more at:

    • John Wilbur says:

      Hey Howard,
      How are you? I was there, a long time ago…remember it well….I thought we lost power in the harbor and several patrol boats were headed out way when they fired the ship up?
      Hope you are well and good!
      I left San Diego in 1998 – Live in Vegas

  11. greenaway d. r. says:

    Those Gunners mates and gun crews did some fine work that night. Breach open Bore Clear, No casualties.

    • Jeremiah M. Jones says:

      I too was a seaman on board the USS Providence for this spectacular event. A time in my life I will never forget, the blazing fire from the ships gun barrels and the thunderous noise of the raging battle. I was a seaman at the time attached to the Executive Division, Captain’s office, but working in many areas throughout the ship during GQ, whether in CIC, the gun turrets, or working on a fire team to fill in the gaps where personnel were needed. I will never forget the crew of the Providence, and the bond that was formed during that time in our lives. I retired from the Navy in 1993 and still live in San Diego, CA very close to the Naval Station. I would love to hear from anyone of the crew members who served on board Providence during that cruise.

      • Royce Brown says:

        I was at my GQ station in the passageway behind the 5 inch 54 gun mount. Me and another shipmate stepped out on the port side to watch “the shit hit the fan”. For an FA with no experience, that was a huge wake up call! Then the long days and nights rearming and refueling. Carried a ton of 5 inch on the working parties. After we returned to San Diego, I was on the decommissioning crew and sadly took her apart to be mothballed.

  12. Phil Schommer "Smiley" says:

    I was on board during that period and often thought on the “impressive teamwork and camaraderie”. I would like to reunite.

  13. Alan Larimer says:

    I was a CT who volunteered to go aboard on 24 hours notice in San Diego and did the entire cruise. I was assigned to Admiral Robinson’s staff although I rarely saw him. I did contact one of his sons several years ago and mailed him my cruise book which was dedicated to Admiral Robinson, Captain Taylor and Commander Leaver.

    Haiphong Harbor was one of the more intense nights.

  14. Pingback: Why do non-combat veterans get as much respect in public as combat veterans?? - Page 2

  15. michelle rechlin says:

    I am looking for someone named D.H Renz who I have seen a photo of from the 1st Div. in the ’60-’61 cruise book that someone sent me. He was a Gunners Mate 3rd class in the photo. He was aboard the U.S.S. Providence. There is something about Turret One with him as well. I have something of his and would like to locate him, and or a family member to see if they would be interested in having it. Any information would be helpful. I have no D.O.B or even what his initials stand for.

  16. Woodrow W. Walker says:

    Center gun captain, during all of this, only almost 19 years old was asked to cool a hot gun 5″38 with two other seaman on one of those nights, we lived !!!!!!!!!

    I was assigned to third division for my entire tour, even though I had graduated from gunnery school, but was made center gun captain, and after 12 hours in the guns, 6 on 6 off I had to work 6 hours with the deck crew. Speak of an injustice. But those where the times

  17. Greg La Mere says:

    SMSN La Mere, yessir, quite a night, especially from the signal bridge. God bless us all

  18. Bill Enderland BM-3 says:

    I was very proud to be a part of Operation Linebacker. We had a ship of very good men and I’m honored to call each and every one of them friend.

    • Bill Enderland BM-3 says:

      I was on the Providence CLG-6 at the time. Operation Lion’s Den was embedded into every sailor’s memory, I know it is in mine until the end of my life.

      • Phil Schommer says:

        Over the years I have thought of you and how disciplined you were and dedicated to the cause. You provide the direction I needed. Not sure where you are living now but I am in PA and perhaps we can reconnect. Take care

  19. Jack Reppond GMG-3 says:

    Just like my buddy Bill Enderland said, that night is embedded in all our minds.
    I was Petty Officer in charge of the 6″ shell deck that night and we sent a bunch of
    rounds up there in a hurry. She was running wide open and leaning to starboard
    and it was hard to stand up for a while. I had some good guys in there with me and
    all did a great job. Yes there is still a lot of brass at the bottom of the Gulf of Tonkin and the South China Sea.

    • Bill Enderland BM-3 says:

      Jack went on to be successful in life, as did most of the men on the Providence. There was an attitude of “Keep moving forward”. On a sad note, Donald Greenaway BM-1, LPO of third division passed away from colon cancer the 9th of November of 2015. As they said in the song “Big John”………at the bottom of this mine lies a big, big man.

      • I am so so so sorry to hear the Donald Greenway passed in the recent months. It has been so so many years since we have all been contacted . I would like to extend my support for all of us that experience that period of Haiphong Harbor on the USS Providence. A GREAT ship and a GREAT crew, By best to everyone and let’s try to organize a reunion

      • Jeremiah Jones says:

        So sorry to hear about the passing of Donald Greenaway. He was my first supervisor when I reported aboard USS Providence at age 17. Donald was very inspirational to this rookie kid fresh out of boot camp. I will always remember is his strong spirit and salty lingo…Rest in peace my friend!

    • Ed Rice says:

      Jack your tireless quick witted sense of humor and the many pranks you pulled help make a tough time entertaining. You got the best of Golieb on
      many occasions.

  20. Danny Richmond says:

    I was on throttle 3 aft engine room during that run . watchin that steam gauge as we rolled out at flank

  21. Harry Milligan SN says:

    I was there that night. In main battery plot on the stable vertical actually firing the 6 inch guns.We gave them heck that night.

  22. Remembrance:
    Smoking lamp was out, all white lights were off, only red light could be used throughout the ship. We were getting close to our destination in the Tonkin Gulf. (As per John Bunn, we were close to the Chinese Island of Hainan) It appeared that helos were landing on the fantail and dropping off personal for planning in the war room or CIC. This mission included a number of ships of the 7th fleet.

    That night it happened, a helo returning from the USS Coral Sea that was trying to land on the fantail touched down to close to the edge of the ship and plunged over the starboard side with the whole crew. It sunk like a rock. I understand there were no survivors. (Don Greenaway indicates that three (3) crewmembers were rescued and that the Rear Admiral and his staff died). I remember approximately 6 small boats in the water in a slow quiet search in the dark with only red lights illuminating the sea. Providence was just floating lifeless on the sea as the search continued for several hours. I could sense our vulnerability in the water as we were in enemy waters, but a thorough search was made just the same. It was cold that night, the search seemed to last a long time; you could barely make out the small boats under red lights. They had on those hard hats and life jackets with their eyes to the water.

    Hours later, we were underway again to Haiphong Harbor on our mission. As we got closer I remember seeing bright lights flickering and glowing in the distance. It looked beautiful as if someone were celebrating a 4th of July or something of that sort. Then I was enlightened that shore guns were firing at the ship and that we were out of range at this time. We were approaching our target off Haiphong Harbor. It was reality time, (10 May 1972) I was on a ship somewhere off north Vietnam and it was time for general quarters.

    I was down in the computer room for GQ and soon could hear rocks being thrown against the hull of the ship and soon realized that it was shrapnel from exploding projectiles. I understand we made a few assaults on the mainland and inflicted good damage. All the ships then left the area quickly till we reached safe waters. The ship was vibrating from the engine and prop noise as we steamed away. It was hard to get good info on this happening for it seems that info is given on a need to know basis.
    Sam Villa Ftm-3

  23. Ronald Matthew says:

    I to was on the USS Providence

  24. Lonnie Kimberling says:

    I was a Gun Fire Control Tech. 3rd class on Providence and I was at my GQ station in the 6 inch gun director during the Haiphong Harbor raid. I was at my director trainer position and was radar tracking a shore reference point. The reference was fed to the Mark 48 fire control computer for firing solutions. I remember we were really Rockin’ and Rollin” with all guns that night. I do also remember the big fear was the possibility of the ship becoming disabled by enemy fire or a mechanical issue. We would have to perform a rescue or tow under the noses of the North Vietnamese ! Thankfully the Providence ran like a Swiss Watch. The old Cleveland class Cruisers were some quality American ships built by “The Greatest Generation”. My fellow FTs were a class bunch of professionals even though we were basically kids at the time.

  25. Newt Robinson, ICC, RET; USS Newport News says:

    27 Aug ’72; Newport News along with Providence, Rowan and Robison entered into the Lion’s Den to strike at designated targets near Cat Bi Island, North Vietnam. All went as planned until the Task Group started to withdraw. Radar detected several PT boats in attack formation approaching Newport News. Many eight, five and three inch rounds were fired, the first salvo removing one PT from the battle. Soon after a second PT began to burn, and the crew appeared to transfer to the third PT. All the while the PT boats pressed the Newport News closer to the mine field restricting our ability to maneuver. As Newport News made for sea the final PT was seen to be burning in the distance. As stated by crew members of Providence many rounds of hostile fire was received both air burst and water burst. At my GQ station in Forward Gyro, I could hear the clanging of steel against the hull and every so often, the muffled explosion of a close call. Ranges to the PT boats, given by the Lookouts, were often less than one mile, well within torpedo range. Admiral Hollaway, in his U-Tube sea story, gives all the credit for the destruction of the PT boats to Naval Air, but the recording that I made of the attack, described by the lookouts, does not mention the air support until they came to finish off the final burning PT. A Providence officer posted a very descriptive depiction of the entire attack. By the way Rowan supported Newport News, and did a very heroic maneuver when they steamed between the Newport News and the possible torpedo launched from the third PT. The Navy Unit Commendation presented to Newport News gives credit to Her and Rowan for the destruction of one PT and the damage of two others, no mention of Naval Air support. Providence, Rowan, Robison and the Newport News made history that night, but as history goes, very few knew and even less care. Fair Winds and Following Seas.

  26. Phillip L. Stanley, ex-FTM1 USN says:

    I was a FTM2 in Weapons Control on top of the missile house. I remember the sounds, while sitting on a radar scope. When we departed the raid, the radar screen went white from all the jamming. Out of range, OIC of weps control sent me to after con to check on the 22 men not answering the sound powered phone circuits. They were all missing. Not a trace of 22 men. I looked around for several minutes, then checked the barbette of the SPQ-5 radar. inside were the missing men, with the flak jackets and helmets arranged to cover them. I returned to WEPS Control to report to the CDR. It released all the tension and we all got a good laugh out of it. NOTE: One Purple Heart earned on this raid. A Marine 2LT got a scratch on his neck when an airburst knocked his night vision mount over on top of director 2. He was embarrassed. NOTE 2: The published maximum firing rate for a dual gun Mk38 Mod 5, 5″ was 15 rounds/gun/minute. The first minute they sent 32 rounds, the second was 31, the third was 30. 9 minutes later, they were still sending 28 rounds/minute. OORAH

  27. patrick mcnally says:

    i also remember that night,and the helo rolling off deck and tearing into our sleeping quarters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *