Following is a short history of my time aboard the LST 1090,
USS Russell County and my first WestPac Tour.
I went into the Navy on my 17th birthday, July 26, 1959. Upon graduation from basic training in San Diego, I was assigned to the Russell County. She was already overseas in Japan. Upon my graduation, I went home for one week and then returned to San Diego where I was sent overseas by plane to catch the Russell County in Sasebo, Japan. Upon boarding the Russell County, I was assigned to the deck force, swabbing and painting the old girl. Definitely got good at slapping on the red lead, deck gray and haze gray. Iím good with a chipper as well.
Being assigned to the deck force, I was berthed in the forward port compartment on the very bottom bunk. Thank goodness I wasnít claustrophobic. I remember the night watches and being assigned as forward lookout with the headphones. I also learned the helm and steered the ship when at sea. Do you remember the joy stick?
Not more than a few days after I boarded the Russell County, we headed for Okinawa with a load of Marines on board. I was scared to death that I would get sea sick as we almost immediately hit a storm. Well I never got sick but remember watching some Marines that werenít doing so well in the head. It was great riding out that first storm and experiencing going under the swells with the old flat bottom girl. What a pounding she would take and would come right out the other side of the swells.
I vaguely remember the bars in Sasebo, Yokoska, Okinawa, Hong Kong, Buckner Bay, Olongapo and of course all the pretty women, right? My $99.00 dollars a month didnít go very far, I do remember that.
We did a lot of GQ drills while I was on board and I remember once firing the 40ís at a sleeve being pulled by a plane. We must have done pretty good because we carried a white E and a red E for proficiency.
After the WestPac Tour, we went back to San Diego and headed up the West Coast with only a skeleton crew for de commissioning the ship. I was allowed to stay on board because I was from Eugene, Oregon, (my home town). We sailed within sight of the coast all the way to the mouth of the Columbia River where we brought the Russell County to Tongue Point Naval Station. After arrival, the civilian workers at the base began to strip her down. I remember them taking her guns off and a lot of the guys got to take home some souvenirs, like ash trays from the Officers mess, flashlights, flow weather gear, etc. For some reason, I never took anything. Guess Iíve never been one much for collecting stuff. It saddened me to watch her being stripped down. I knew she had a great war history about her and many men had served aboard her with great honor. You just canít watch something like this without feeling something was being taken away from every sailor that had once served on her decks.
You know I kept trying to remember why I didnít remember the de commissioning ceremonies. It finally dawned on me that I didnít stay in Astoria to the end. As I said, we had arrived with a small skeleton crew and during the de commissioning process, we began to get our new orders and were transferred out. I got my request for Yoeman School and headed back to San Diego after a quick stop in Eugene to visit my family.
It was when I was in San Diego during my Yoeman training that I saw the Russell County once again and for the last time. She was painted some God awful pink, beige color. She had been sold to Indonesia and was berthed in San Diego, probably headed for her new home. I could still see the highlight of her numbers, LST 1090 thru the new paint job. Just didnít look right. For those of you that didnít have to see this, I am very glad. You will always remember her as she was meant to be, one of the best ships to ever sail the high seas and to bring honor to her country along with the men that served aboard her, with pride and dignity.
All for now.
Regards, Grant Barber, YNSN retired.