Sunday, April 29, 2018

Close Calls: The Life of Paul Whitman Raney (1913-2005) Part VIII


         Close Calls: The Life of Paul Whitman Raney  

                                                                                       By Patrick Raney

Some of Paul's assignments were top secret, only now coming to light with a little research.  During the Cold War, probably sometime in the 1960s, he served aboard the USNS Albert J. Myer, (T-ARC-6), a Cable Laying/Repair Ship, assigned to the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS), its exact dates of activity still classified. It is not listed on Paul's service record, but he possessed this plaque, which he gave to grandson Mark Raney, telling him the ship's primary mission was in support of electronically spying on Soviet subs that were off the coast of Japan in the highly classified SOSUS program. HERE 
Named for the first chief of the U.S. Signal Corps, launched in 1945, the Albert J. Meyer  was the last ship to have reciprocating steam engines; its assignments were to transport, deploy, retrieve and repair submarine cables, test acoustic devices, and conduct acoustic hydrographic and bathymetric surveys

     Paul was licensed to “All ships, All waters, Steam, Steam Turbine, Diesel, Diesel Electric, Automated Bridge" and, possibly, early nuclear.  Not bad for a man, who as a kid, had to put cardboard in is his shoes because his family couldn't afford new ones or to resole his current ones.

        Near the end of his career, he completed missions to Vietnam carrying supplies to servicemen stationed there.  On two occasions he met up with his nephew, Frank Raney, son of Denny and Junice, stationed with the army at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. On his first visit, he found Frank bar-tending at the officers' club, his back to the bar.  Paul slammed his hand down on the bar, loudly proclaiming he wanted a drink NOW. You can imagine Frank’s surprise when he turned around to see his uncle standing there wearing that great smile. They had as fine a visit as one can in wartime.

1967: Frank Raney and mother Junice on his return from Vietnam

       On one trip, his ship sailed far up the Mekong River to supply units in the Delta.  A security force squad came onboard at Saigon before the foray upriver because of possible attack from snipers and from enemy underwater swimmers attempting to attach magnetic mines to ships.

Paul in Vietnam
      Off duty on a late afternoon, Paul ate supper and was walking the deck with another officer, enjoying the Delta’s jungle sounds.  Pausing near the railing, Paul noted a ripple in the water to port.  Focusing on it, he realized the rest of the river was smooth as glass.  Alarmed, he alerted the armed G. I. security, pointing to what he saw.  Weapons ready, they watched and waited. When the dark object swam closer on its approach to the ship, the guard opened fire until a reddish bloom appeared on the water’s surface.

      The captain ordered an immediate stop so a motorized boat could be lowered for retrieval. A few moments later the boatswain dragged a body into the boat, identified as Asian.  In the satchel found strapped to his body was a magnetic mine.  The ship and all aboard had dodged peril in a hostile area. If damaged, it would have invited more attacks.

                                           Last Call 

      When he retired in 1973, Paul came ashore convinced he was finished with the “briny.” He had no hobbies; didn’t collect things; just sent or carried home souvenirs for his extended family.

      He did enjoy listening to classical music and reading.  He read an article in the Sunday paper about a new type of hydroponic greenhouse for tomatoes and decided to invest in this venture.  He purchased a unit in 1974 and had it installed in Maltby, Washington, where some laid-off Boeing engineers had installed their own greenhouses.  It included everything: pumps, fans, and eleven hundred tomato seedlings. He diligently planted the tomatoes in pebble beds and watched them grow.  It was an exciting time for him.  Daily work included tying up the plants and suckering them to have only one vine with multiple groupings of fruit. I analyzed the hydroponic solution at our lab and then we made adjustments to the nutrients.  Saved a bunch of money not having to purchase chemicals from the outfit that sold Dad the greenhouse.  Dad and I called our enterprise “Techni-Gardens.” 

      Midway through the growing season, Uncle Sam came calling, needing him for more ship service.  To entice him, they offered 10 years of retirement time for 7 years of service.  He couldn’t say no, so he passed his tomato venture on to Mark, then a high school junior, and to me. As it turned out, they used him only 5 years, but kept to their pledge.  Mark and I harvested well over 15000 lbs. from those 1100 tomato plants. We stripped the lower leaves from the vines, coiled them up and strung up the tops. Some vines grew over thirty feet by end-of-season. We formed a coop with the other growers, sorting the fruit by size into attractive boxes.  But the entire enterprise “came a cropper” as grocery stores had all sorts of impediments preventing them from buying our produce.  We averaged about 25 cents a pound.  Our costs were nearly that with rent on the land and electricity.  When a carload of tomatoes from Yakima would show up in Seattle, our prices were too high.  We’d be in dog heaven now with everyone wanting natural foods.  Mark and I kept it going one year more and then shut it down. We gave a lot of tomatoes to Northwest Harvest and sold in the neighborhood. Dad gave the structure to the Love Family, a commune with a house on Queen Anne.  I’d befriended a fellow there, who brought his home school class to the lab for science labs.  The commune hauled the greenhouse up to Arlington to their farm.      
         Paul had one more assignment outside of his normal duties. In the closing days of the Vietnam War, when the North Vietnamese captured Saigon on April 30, 1975, more than 120,000 South Vietnamese fled, most ending up in refugee camps on Guam. The United States expected to process most for resettlement in America, but as the days wore on, about 1500 refugees decided they wanted to return to Vietnam, despite the consequences. Some were sailors from South Vietnamese Navy ships, who had been evacuated against their will; some felt they were too old to start new lives in America. Tran Dinh Tru, a South Vietnamese naval officer, had failed to have his wife and children evacuated, and wanted to return to them. It took pleas, hunger strikes, militant marches through Guam, and finally the burning of a camp building, before the United States agreed to give them an old commercial ship, the Viet Nam Thuong Tin, on which to return home. It would have a Vietnamese crew and Tran Dinh Tru would be its captain. Read about his 2017 published memoir, Ship of Fate  HERE.
The ship Viet Nam Thuong Tin

        The Navy called on Chief Engineer Paul Raney, noted for his expertise in repair and maintenance of steam propulsion systems. His mission was to inspect, repair and service the engine, electrical system and plumbing of the ship Viet Nam Thuong Tin to guarantee its safe voyage back to Vietnam. 
      On arrival in Guam, he was greeted by his assistant, a veteran New Zealander with similar credentials as Paul.  There was only one fly in the ointment - the power plant had been made by Fiat and all the papers, instructions and engine room plaques were either in French or in Vietnamese.  With the help of some of the Vietnamese, the two engineers were able to rehabilitate the aging engine room and support facilities.  Paul recalled that when he later watched on TV as the ship left Guam for Vietnam, he was pleased to see just a trace of smoke come from the stack. Scroll right to read the letter of appreciation he received.




                                     Final Retirement
         After this episode in his life, Paul settled down to a final retirement.  He celebrated his 50th anniversary with Grace in 1984.

       After she passed away in 1989, he became the typical “snow bird,” traveling to the Phoenix area where a former shipmate and his wife lived.  He enjoyed a week-long trip on the US aircraft carrier, USS Ranger, courtesy of his grandson-in-law, and which included other male family members.  While onboard, he reprised his role as an engineer, much to the delight of the Navy engineer partnering him in the engine room.  Paul spent an afternoon quizzing young sailors on the workings of the ship engine and environs. The USS Ranger was the last of the diesel-driven ships. 
Paul (Right) on U.S.S. Ranger

This was his last trip and a fitting completion of a long career.
1980 Paul, sister Jean, and brother Denny
1991 Paul with sisters Jean and Mary Agnes
      He married Elizabeth Greenwood, whom he met in Sun City, Arizona, and they lived there until Paul died on December 23, 2005, of a sudden stroke at age 92, his luck still holding.

                  Final Call:  “Farewell, Ancient Mariner”

        Paul donated his body to UCLA Medical School.  The students used it for a short in their anatomy studies.  After it was cremated, the remains were sent to daughter Paula.  In April 2006, the family acceded to Paul’s wishes to be buried at sea.  The family hired a boat from the “Good Time” company for a trip out on Elliott Bay.  When the time came for the final goodbye, Father Tony Haycock, a family friend, read a blessing.  Paul’s five children descended to the lowest deck and went aft, facing the water.  At the moment they released the ashes, a gust of wind blew Paul’s remains back onto the boat – as though Paul was telling everyone that he belonged on a ship.  He would have enjoyed the family’s good laugh at the end of his long and adventurous life.


This blogger’s note:
     Because Uncle Paul and his family moved to Seattle before I formed memory, my first recollection of him was when I was about five, late autumn of 1950. We were living in the little house in the Spokane Valley. It was dark outside, a fire was burning in the fireplace in our small living room and I was sitting on the rug, coloring on the coffee table. Dad was away, working swing shift at Kaiser. A knock at the door hurried Mom to open it, and exclaiming, she embraced the man standing there. In my mind he wore a dark uniform with gold stripes on his cuffs - but Pat says he never wore his uniform on shore leave.  I knew that what was happening was terribly wrong. Strange men didn’t come to the house when Daddy was away and Mommy never kissed strangers.  Still holding his arm, she turned to me and said, “This is my brother . . . he’s your Uncle Paul.” That was when I realized she had two brothers.

      At sea so much of his life and in Seattle when on shore, I seldom saw Uncle Paul. At Grandpa and Grandma’s 50th wedding anniversary in 1960; at Dad’s funeral in 1994; when we both visited Mom in the late '90s and had some delightful conversations over a few days. That’s not to say I had no contact with Uncle Paul. Through the years he sent fascinating gifts – A maroon set of silk pajamas embroidered with peonies from Hong Kong for Mom that I later wore as a Halloween costume. About 1954 – that would be when he was ferrying Vietnamese refugees from Haiphong to Saigon – four straw coulee hats showed up at the Denny Raneys where I was spending a week with the cousins. I finally sold my hat on eBay a few years ago. There was a Japanese dragon porcelain tea set for Grandma and Grandpa, the face of a geisha visible in the cup bottoms when held  to the light.  Decorated brass trays on mahogany legs from Thailand were Christmas gifts to his siblings. While David Hunter, Louise’s boy, was living with us, Paul carried Louise’s photograph to Hong Kong and had her portrait painted as a gift for David.  And then there was the large pink lace mantilla from the Philippines, which I wore to mass throughout high school and college. And and this letter I kept, dated 2 May 1961.

Pusan, Korea
Dearest Karen, Jean & Al,
         Received your nice note before I left and I am glad you liked the veil. That of course is all the headgear the gals wear in the Philippines. Actually, the weather is so hot – not much else is worn.
         Did the school year go fast for you, Kerry? Now a sophomore or nearly. You will have to be on your guard as you know sophomore means, “intellectually immature,” so be on your guard. I can remember one professor so many years ago who made an opening statement prefacing a wonderful talk. “I wish I knew as much as a freshman thinks he knows” and darn it, I catch myself being a freshman all over again. So in the maturing process of the mind it is wise to be on guard against the “sophism” which somehow never changes.
       From here we go to Hong Kong where I plan on mailing this note. We leave here tomorrow, Wednesday, and arrive after Formosa, Saturday, 6th May, then back to Inchon, which is north from here and then back to Japan, almost my favorite place. So we should be back in the States about 6 June. My plans are somewhat immature from that date. Guess I’ll take a trip somewhere and rest up.
       Grace received a note from Mother Superior at Inchon, Korea (Star of the Sea Orphanage) for canned milk. It is 85 [cents a] can so you can understand their need. So Grace is getting busy & calling & collecting cases of milk so I’ll have quite a job next trip out.
       So hope everyone is well & happy and hope to see you before too long. Hope you can be in Seattle sometime when I am there. So with love, Paul
Paul and Denny 1928 Princeton, Indiana