Editor's note: This is a rerun of Sunday's C4 story that misidentified the veteran.  

Though he is a little hard of hearing from the concussion of Navy guns fired in Vietnam, Edward Vanover, of Bismarck, knows his experience was a bit more serendipitous than that of many others who served during that tumultuous era.

Vanover, 69, served two tours in Southeast Asia throughout 1968-69, first spending a year aboard the USS Gridley and then some time the following year aboard the USS Samuel Gompers.

During his tour aboard the Gridley, he was among the crew members sweeping and scrubbing the deck twice a day as well as lengthy shifts on watch duty.

“We did every crummy job there is on the ship,” Vanover recalled.

For the Topeka, Kan., native, he split time between multiple branches of service.

During a single year at Kansas State University, he was drafted into the U.S. Army but got a student deferment.

“That was a rude awakening to get that in the mail,” Vanover said of the draft notice.

He did serve in the Air Force ROTC program during his college years. Afterward, he moved to a data-processing job with the Santa Fe Railway.

In 1967, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, completing boot camp at Navy Station Great Lakes in Illinois.

From there, he was assigned to the USS Gridley, which was already on its way to Southeast Asia. During his first tour, spent in and around the Gulf of Tonkin, the ship would be out to sea for three to four weeks at a time, then would move closer to shore or docked for several days to a week.

Vanover still finds himself a bit hard of hearing because of the time spent helping load and fire the ship’s guns at the enemy.

“You feel the concussion of every one,” Vanover said of the large guns.

During his time aboard the Gridley, he became acquainted with a little-known officer aboard while on watch: John Kerry, who went on to become a U.S. senator, unsuccessful 2004 Democratic candidate for president of the United States and later U.S. Secretary of State.

“I talked to him every day,” said Vanover, adding that, on a couple of occasions, Kerry claimed he’d be president one day.

Toward the end of 1968, the Gridley returned to the United States; within a month, he was assigned to the USS Frank E. Evans and was headed back to Vietnam.

“A miracle happened. I was reassigned to the USS Samuel Gompers,” Vanover said.

For Vanover, it was a big deal because timing was everything. 

Early on the morning of June 3, 1969, the Evans was performing military exercises in the South China Sea with ships from multiple other countries. The Australian aircraft carrier Melbourne collided with the Evans during early morning maneuvers, after the Evans turned in front of the far, far larger ship.

The impact sliced the Evans in two; 74 crew members died.

Vanover had been reassigned shortly before the collision.

During his tour of duty aboard the Samuel Gompers, he was a data processor, a much more desirable job that matched his private sector experience.

After returning to Kansas, he spent time in the Navy Reserves, his service ending in December 1975.

Vanover moved to Bismarck in 1977 and worked in the insurance business, first for a local firm and later independently. He retired about 10 years ago, but, due to the increase in oil activity he now works part-time, managing his mineral acre interests in the western part of the state.

He also served with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary for a few years in the mid-1980s but was never deployed.

“Anybody that’s been in the military, it’s changed them in some way forever. Some good and some bad,” Vanover said. “Probably everyone should have a little taste of the military.”

(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)

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