By Burl E. Gilliland, CAPT, USNR, Retired

As a Navy Ensign, I crossed the Pacific in December, 1950, and reported aboard the USS HERON (AMS-18) in early January, 1951 at Pusan, South Korea. I had been a Fireman (diesel) on the World War II LST-912 that landed Occupation troops in 1945 in Northern Japan immediately following Japan's surrender. I was transferred to LST-775 at Guam in early 1946. That ship distributed island residents (forced laborers and their families from WWII Japanese concentration camps in the Marianas) throughout the Caroline Islands back to their original homes in those widely scattered islands. After WWII, I attended college and was commissioned by the Navy. Subsequently, in early 1951,

ENS Burl Gilliland entering Sasebo harbor following minesweeping operations in North Korea, 1951
I found myself assigned as engineering officer aboard the minesweeper that was in the midst of the fiercest of the Korean War's minesweeping operations. MINDIV 54, of which my ship was a part, consisted of three ships: USS FIRECREST (AMS-10), USS HERON (AMS-18), and USS WAXBILL (AMS 39).

DIXON LADEMAN. So the voice communication would go something like: "Al, this is Dixon, over." "Dixon, this is Al, we just got underway because this bale of straw looks very suspicious, so we're going to check it out, over." "Al, that looks just like any other dumb bale of straw, so we're staying put, over." "Dixon, I suggest that you get underway immediately, because we cannot fire on the bale of straw because you're right in our line of fire and the thing is headed directly your way in the current, over."

USS Firecrest, AMS-10. Lead ship in MINDIV54

This mine was right under our nose. Korea 1951
Well, as you have undoubtedly surmised by now, as soon as the current carried the innocent looking bale of straw safely away from us, the FIRECREST positioned itself so that the line of its fire was away from the HERON and the WAXBILL. Then AL SMITH ordered his gunner's mate to open fire on the bale of straw using a 50 caliber machine gun, mounted on a corner of the FIRECREST's flying bridge. As the machine gun bullets began to kick up the water and spray around the floating bale of straw, we laughed as rambunctiously as if we were watching a Bob Hope or a Red Skelton USO show. Our laughter came to a screeching halt, however, when the bale of straw suddenly erupted (WHOOM!) in a tremendous explosion. Spray and black smoke mushroomed upward hundreds of feet. We stopped poking fun at
AL SMITH and the FIRECREST and were embarrassed over our premature, ill advised, risky, immature behavior. Subsequently, on our ship, we did not talk much about that straw incident.

Following that episode, the officers and enlisted men went inside and quietly completed eating our dinners. But we, on the USS HERON, never again took for granted any item of flotsam that drifted around in the currents of Wonsan Bay!

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Photographs by Burl Gilliland, Ens, USNR

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