On Liberty, at War: Intrepid’s Ports of Call during the Vietnam War

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Between 1966 and 1969, the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid served three tours of duty off the coast of Vietnam. Between combat periods, the crew enjoyed liberty, or time off, in friendly ports. Explore ports of call through the collections of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

American involvement in the Vietnam War lasted from 1961 to 1975. Between 1966 and 1969, the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid served three tours of duty off the coast of Vietnam.

Three times, the crew of 3,000 men lined the rails of the ship while family members waved and wept on the pier. Their sons, fathers and husbands would be deployed for seven to eight months.

Intrepid in Combat
Intrepid was a floating military airfield, and the flight deck was the center of the action. Intrepid participated in Operation Rolling Thunder, a massive bombing campaign against North Vietnam. The fast pace of flight operations, coupled with the stifling heat, made the flight deck a brutal place to work.

Day after day, for weeks at a time, the crew worked grueling 16-hour days, with brief breaks to eat. Each night, exhausted crew members fell into their bunks.

Intrepid had about two weeks "off the line" between 30-day combat periods. During this time, the ship was repaired and resupplied, and crew members had liberty in friendly ports. The crew took advantage of the opportunity to relax, explore and let off steam.

Sailors carried passes to show that they had been granted liberty. They were supposed to turn in their cards upon returning from liberty, or they risked being charged with unauthorized absence.

Navigating a new port was exhilarating as well as intimidating. The ship's print shop produced booklets about ports of call. This one highlights tourist attractions in Hong Kong.

The booklets also included practical information, like this currency conversion chart.

Intrepid crew members purchased souvenirs as gifts for loved ones or as personal mementos. They learned how to bargain for electronics, custom suits and other souvenirs.

A crew member purchased this souvenir ashtray in Japan.

Letting Loose
Intrepid's crew—enlisted men and officers—saw port calls as much-needed breaks from shipboard life. These visits gave Intrepid sailors access to two diversions that were not available on the ship: alcohol and women. In ports of call, bars and brothels catered to sailors.

Certain destinations had particularly notorious reputations, such as Olongapo, near the now-closed Naval Base Subic Bay in the Philippines.

Discipline and Consequences
Liberty was not an escape from Navy regulations. Men caught breaking rules faced punishment by the Navy or local law enforcement. The Navy established shore patrol to preserve peace and order. The shore patrol tried to stop trouble before it started.

For minor incidents, the commanding officer conducted a hearing called a captain's mast. The captain heard the facts and determined punishment. This document lists punishments related to liberty in Japan in August 1966.

Most violations involve drunk and disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and failing to obey orders. Punishments include reduction in rate (demotion), loss of pay and restriction to the ship.

Visiting brothels resulted in a different consequence. Sexually transmitted infections were prevalent in some ports.

Medical personnel tried to educate the crew about sexually transmitted infections, then called venereal diseases. This document warns crew members not to play a "game of chance with venereal disease."

Documenting Their Adventures
Cameras were a popular purchase for crew members on liberty. Sailors snapped photos or slides, sometimes numbering in the hundreds.

Sam Taylor, owner of the Yashica camera, took hundreds of slides during his time on board Intrepid. Many images feature his buddies exploring ports of call.

Taylor also captured images of tourist attractions, such as this view from Victoria Peak in Hong Kong...

...which includes a view of Intrepid in the harbor, waiting until the crew's next combat period.

Welcome Home
Today, Intrepid veterans recall their Vietnam War service in different ways. Some take pride in the work they accomplished, while others question U.S. involvement in the war. For many sailors, their adventures in foreign ports stand out from the demands and complexities of their wartime Navy service.
Credits: Story

The Intrepid Museum's Oral History Project is generously supported by James L. Nederlander.

President, Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum: Susan Marenoff-Zausner

Curator: Jessica Williams

Collections and Oral Histories: Rebecca Bacheller, David Dzendzel, Jennifer Milani, Ann Stegina

Video Producer: Liam Marshall

Editor: Adrienne Johnson

The Intrepid Museum wishes to thank the former crew members of Intrepid for sharing their collections and their stories with us.


Visit the exhibition "Ports of Call" at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, opened in November 2016.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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