USS Conway's Fate

 
 

For some time now, I’m not exactly sure how long, it has been accepted by the members of the Conway Veterans Association that the USS CONWAY was sunk as a target vessel in 1970.  For many members of the Association this apparent ignomeous end was unsettling.  Any sailor who has served on a United States Naval ship feels as though they are a part of that ship.  It is as though flesh and blood have become infused into gray steel.  It is difficult to hear that your ship has been stricken from the Naval Vessel Register and then disposed of as a Naval asset.  In our eyes our ship being used as a target deminishes her heroic service to our nation.

New information has come to light about the sinking of CONWAY.  The USS HENLEY (DD-762) is the destroyer that sunk the CONWAY.  The crew of the HENLEY has heard and read stories of how HENLEY sunk CONWAY as a target vessel.  The HENLEY crew has not felt good about having this distinction.  Through the diligent research of our brother sailors of the USS HENLEY Association we can now know exactly how the CONWAY was sunk.  The following information comes from Richard Douglas, editor of the HENLEY Association newsletter “ The Steamer”.  The story is reprinted from Richard Douglas’s letter to the USS CONWAY VETERANS ASSOCIATION dated 3 July 2008.  This is what he says of the incident.

“I made a plea for anyone aboard HENLEY at the time she sunk CONWAY to come forth.  A few weeks later I received a telephone call from the one person who could best know the true story – the C/O of the HENLEY during the incident, Captain Tom Vojtek.  He had an interesting story to relate, and one that contradicted the previously reported story that HENLEY sunk CONWAY as a “target”. 

Captain Vojtek recalls, ‘We were on a reserve training cruise, June 1970.  It was a foggy morning.  I received a dispatch that a destroyer under tow had broken loose from a sea-going tug..  It was too dangerous to re-attach the cable and the drifting tin can represented a hazard to shipping.  The order was to sink the CONWAY.  We had to get close enough to make sure we had the right ship and that nobody was on board.  We were able to get the job done safely, sinking the USS CONWAY with 5 inch gunfire’.

LTjg. Jim Claxton, was operations officer aboard HENLEY, June 1970.  Because he was hospitalized for an injury, he was not on board at the time of the sinking of CONWAY.  Jim lives near Washington D.C.  He offered to see what more he could learn by gaining access to the National Archives.  His report follows.  The deck log information,  being in Navy jargon,  may not be very understandable to those of us not regular around the bridge.

‘I spent awhile yesterday at the National Archives.  It was very interesting.  Within two hours the clerks had pulled the original deck logs for the HENLEY for 1970.  When I opened the logs for the month of June, I saw that I had the in port watch on 1 June.  Kind of an awesome feeling to see your own signature on something held in the National Archives!’

 

DECK LOG:  The ship got u/w on 15 June 1970 with ResCrew o/b IAW CRDD5ND OPORD.  Bloodsworth Is. On 18 June;  Newport on 19 June;  VACAPES on 24 June.  NGFS exercises, highline and line transfers, brief anchorages at Lynhaven Anchorage.  (The only entry possibly relevent to the question at hand was on 26 June.)  On Friday, 26 June, “1417, arrived vic SINKEX.  1449 SINKEX completed with no need of our assistance”.  John J. Beall Jr, LT USNR-R signed the entry  for that watch.  (There was no mention of why the ship was there, not any geoloc on the event).  27 June,  moored port side to USS DAMATO (DD-871) at D&S piers”.

There is a call to the members of the HENLEY Association by the editor of “The Steamer” for any other crew members who might have been on board at that time to come forward with additional verification of the story.  Recollections of HENLEY Captain Vojtek and the research of Operations officer Jim Claxton indicate that we all  now know what the fate of CONWAY was.”

Captain Tom Vojtek, Operations officer Jim Claxton, Steamer Editor Richard Douglas

There are still many unanswered questions that will require more thorough investigation.  Editor of “The Steamer” Richard Douglas asks, “Where  were the other destroyers in their division?  How many shots were fired?  How long did it take CONWAY to sink?  Where did the false target story come from?”  Questions I have are, Where was CONWAY being towed to and for what purpose?   Was there time to remove the ship’s bell?  I have a feeling that there will be a list of questions for us to pursue.

A portion of my response to Richard Douglas of HENLEY is as follows: “This information you have given us will be shared with our crew.  It is never a good feeling, as well you know, to lose a ship that has meant so much to so many people.  For me I now feel that the CONWAY went down not as simply a target, but that she gave herself up so that she would not endanger others.  Please pass this information on to Captain Vojtek, Operations Officer Jim Claxton and the rest of your crew members.”  

Tom Keane

Co-Historian

Conway Veterans Association

 
 
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