Here we share some of the stories and photographs of the American personnel on the base, ships and subs that came to the Holy Loch. If you have a story to share with us get in touch
Band of Brothers: The Witherow Sons and the US Military
We start with the story of Charlie Witherow and his brothers. Charlie was the only one to serve in Cowal but they all did military service in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
The Political Context
China had become communist in 1949 and communists were in control of North Vietnam. The USA was afraid that communism would spread to South Vietnam and then the rest of Asia. In March 1965, President Johnson made the decision, with a vast support of the general public, to send U. S. combat forces into battle in Vietnam.
The Witherow Family in Pennsylvania
We lived in a small coal mining town in North Central Pennsylvania called Wellsboro. Thomas, the oldest, was born on 10 April 1945, I was born on 26 May 1948, and our younger brother, Gary, was born on 14 February 1951. Our sister Cheryl Ann was born on 1 July 1960. We all graduated from high school and worked at different jobs after leaving school. In the mid 1960s, it seemed that every time you turned on the TV, there was reporting on the newest deaths in Vietnam, actually listing them on the screen. Men of draft age had to register with the Selective Service System, “Draft Board”, within 30 days of their 18th birthday. A lottery system, depending on your date of birth and a random selection chart for each year would determine when you would be called up for active service.
My brothers and myself all decided to enlist into the military. There were several reasons for our decisions. Instead of being drafted into the US Army, we decided to choose which branch we would like to serve in. Our little borough of Wellsboro, lovely as it was, had little to offer for a career. Several of our classmates were either drafted into the Army, or had enlisted. I believe we all thought that it was the right thing to do. Tom enlisted in the US Navy in 1963 and served until 1975. I enlisted in the US Navy in 1967 and served until 1987, and Gary enlisted in the US Air Force in 1970, and served until 1976. For approximately 5 years, 1970-1975, the three of us were on active duty during the same period, and while it was worrying, it was very rewarding for our Mom and Dad to say they were proud to have three sons serving their country at the same time.
MOM & DAD: We were brought up in and around the small town of Wellsboro, PA. During our teenage years, there were not many factories or industries where employment could be sought except for coal mining and truck driving, a branch of the Corning Glass Works, Mergenthaler Linotype, a Borden’s Milk Condensery plant and a few smaller businesses. What our town survived on was tourism, including Hunting and Fishing. Wellsboro is also the home to the beautiful Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. Our Dad, as far as we can remember, was never without work. He was a linesman for the electric company, a maintenance man for the milk plant and did odd jobs whenever the chance arose.
Our family home was built from the foundation up by Dad, but in 1975 while working in our basement he had a massive stroke, and was bed ridden for the remainder of his life. Sadly, Dad passed away on 27 October 1976. Our Mom, wonderful in so many ways, had a full time career bringing up 4 children, with very little money but always a delicious meal on the table, always clean clothes and always there for each of us. To get a little extra money, Mom would sometimes take in very young children, which helped out their mothers, and was also very rewarding for Mom. Mom had several health issues and sadly died on 10 December 1997.
CHERYL: Cheryl graduated from high school in 1978. She worked waiting tables and working in factories until the factory she was working in (Osram, formerly Corning Glass) sent part of their business to Mexico. She qualified for a program to attend college due to losing her job because of a foreign country taking work from the Wellsboro factory. She obtained a degree in Human Services in 1995, which included studies in psychology, abnormal psychology, sociology, child development, etc... She got a job at Human Services in Wellsboro a few months before she even graduated. Her job involved going into families homes to teach parenting, household management, budgeting; what could be called the essentials of parenting. She retired in 2015 and resides in our family home. Cheryl loved her job at Human Services, and to this day has people come up to her, and tell her just how much she still means to them. All three of us sons were always thankful that our sister, Cheryl, remained close to our home and was always there to help, look after and comfort both Mom & Dad at times of need.
The Witherow Sons and the US Military
TOM: Upon completion of basic training at Recruit Training Command, 1963, Great Lakes, Illinois, Tom received orders to Submarine School (diesel) prior to receiving orders to the USS Ulysses S. Grant SSBN-631, then on to the USS Howard W. Gilmore AS-16 until 1966. Upon completion of Draftsman A school Tom transferred to the USS Vulcan AR-5, Norfolk, VA. In 1968 he received orders to Headquarters, Naval Support Activity, Danang, Vietnam. From 1969-70, Tom was assigned to Mine Force Atlantic Fleet and his final years in the USN was at US Fleet Forces Command until 1975. Tom went on to pursue a career in law enforcement and spent his remaining working life as a police officer. Sadly, on 30 March 2016, Tom passed away at Sharp Chula Vista Veterans Hospital in California. Tom was plagued with many illnesses, some attributed to Agent Orange from his tour of duty in Vietnam.
CHARLIE: Tom suggested that I should look into the possibility of becoming an Opticalman. In 1966, I was working at one of the few factories in Wellsboro, Mergenthaler Linotype. At the time I was waiting to start collage at the Williamsport Area Community Collage to train to become a diesel technician. One day while walking past the Post Office where the various recruiters were, I decided to pop in and talk to the Navy Recruiter. About 5 months later I took the 120 mile bus journey to Wilkes-Barre, PA., where I had my enlistment physical and got sworn in to the US Navy under the 120 delay program. From May - July 1967, I received my basic training at Great Lakes and requested brother duty upon completion, which was approved. Brother duty was a program that allowed recruits from basic training to opt out of attending “A” school, and report instead aboard a ship, which their brother was serving on at the time. I had qualified for Opticalman “A” school where we had been taught basic theory, repair of navigational instruments and machine shop.
In August 1967 I reported aboard the USS Vulcan R-5 and ended up working in the Optical Shop, next door to where Tom was working as a Draftsman. In 1971, I attended Opticalman “C” School at SSC Great Lakes, Periscope Repair, then transferred to the US Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Connecticut for a 2 year tour. In 1973, as an Opticalman First Class Petty Officer, as I had re-enlisted for orders to Scotland, I received orders to the USS Canopus AS-34 at the Holy Loch. In 1975 when our father had a severe stroke, from which he never recovered, I received a humanitarian transfer stateside to the USS Sierra, Charleston, South Carolina. After about 8 months, I re-enlisted again for orders back to Scotland and received orders to the USS Holland AS-32. In 1977 I was advanced to Opticalman Chief Petty Officer and in 1982, I cross-decked over to the USS Hunley AS-31 which was relieving the USS Holland as the depot ship at Site One, Holy Loch, Scotland. I retired from the US Navy in 1987 with 20 years service. Laura and I had no intention of leaving Dunoon so shortly after retiring from the US Navy, I started up my own engraving business, “The Name Tag” which I ran for about 30 years.
GARY: Our younger brother Gary stated that growing up in the turbulent 60s had always maintained a strong liking for airplanes. Sometimes, Mom and Dad would go for a ride to the nearest airport (50 miles away), and they would stand by the fence and watch planes take off and land. Gary was 12 years old when our oldest brother Tom left for boot camp in the US Navy. The United States had not sent any forces to Vietnam yet. About 3 years later, Gary’s next older brother Charlie, left for boot camp in the US Navy. By then, Gary’s curiosity was starting to develop as he was 16 when Charlie left. At this time, our country was fully involved in the Vietnam conflict. When Gary was a senior in high school, 1968-1969, he knew an important decision needed to be made. He talked to the recruiters from all 4 branches of the military and took the test to find out what job he would be best qualified for. He was leaning more towards the US Air Force (that love of airplanes still weighing on his mind.)
In December 1969, the first Vietnam Draft Lottery took place, and his birthday was the 4th one drawn. The Air Force Recruiter called him the next day, congratulated him on his win and informed him that there was an opening in 2 weeks, and, without any further thoughts, he accepted the invitation to enlist. Gary said he had a rebellious chip on his shoulder, but the first couple days of boot camp soon knocked that chip off. Even with all the protests going on concerning America’s involvement in Vietnam, Gary felt his duty was to his country and so volunteered for duty in Vietnam.
Upon return to stateside in November 1972 he got stationed in Oklahoma where he stayed until he re-enlisted. He was then transferred back to New Jersey. He had volunteered for overseas duty and received orders to go to Korea for a 2 year tour. Long story short, those orders were cancelled, so he proceeded to end his time in the Air Force, getting an Honorable Discharge in April 1976. In 1977 Gary used his GI Bill and pursued a 2 year college degree and was employed by the PA Department of Education from 1979 to 1988. It was one of those jobs where the chances for advancement were slim, and Gary stated that 9 years being a desk jockey was just detrimental to his mental health. He took tests for the US Postal Service, got hired in 1988 and worked there until he happily retired in 2011.
Service Beyond Active Military Service
HLAVA: In 2002, after the 911 attacks, we decided to hold a parade in Dunoon called The March of Thoughts and then a wreath laying service at the USN Memorial Cairn in the Castle Gardens. At this time, my friend Richard and myself decided to form an association so we established the Holy Loch American Veterans Association (HLAVA). Our members include veterans, spouses, partners, widows and family members and number around 40. The object of HLAVA is to support and assist our members; to provide a focal point for information and to cultivate and maintain good relations within the community. Our members have provided Military Honor Guards for departed shipmates over the years, including remains for ashes received from the families of former Site One personnel and spouses.
If you have a story to share with us get in touch at our Memory Box and Visitors Page