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Thursday, August 1, 2019

Operation Steel Pike

     I came across the below video on Operation Steel Pike which was the largest peacetime amphibious landing exercise in history, conducted by the United States Navy and Marine Corps and taking place on the coast of Spain in October to November 1964. It brought back some memories because I was on it. 
     The operation involved 84 naval ships and 28,000 Marines of the 2nd Marine Division, and was commanded by Vice Admiral John S. McCain, Jr. and Lieutenant general James P. Berkeley. Note that Admiral McCain was the father of John S. McCain III (August 29, 1936 – August 25, 2018), an American politician and military officer who served as a United States senator from Arizona from January 1987 until his death. 
     In the opening hour of the landing, two helicopters collided in mid-air, resulting in the deaths of nine Marines and causing injuries to 13 others. I well remember this...while I did not see the crash, from our location the smoke from the crash was visible. Also, a Navy Corpsman friend received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal that is awarded to those who, while serving in any capacity with the Navy or Marine Corps, distinguish themselves by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy. For acts of lifesaving, or attempted lifesaving, it is required that the action be performed at the risk of one's own life. He pulled several Marines from the burning helicopters. Another Marine was crushed to death by a tank while asleep in his sleeping bag. 
     During the trip over the ships were divided into three convoys sailing under war time conditions with ASW escorts. There were many civilian ships contracted to the Navy to transport military personnel and cargo to the landing area. Once the ships were anchored in place the landings began. There were two or three days of landing men and equipment ashore, then one day of rest for the landing craft. After that, the task force started back loading men and equipment back aboard the ships.  It was then off to different liberty ports.  As I remember the best liberty port was Porto, Portugal.

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