Tualatin Life Columnist Dale Potts had active role in four months of fame aboard aircraft carrier Yorktown known as “The Fighting Lady”

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Ltjg Potts (right) greeting Mayor at Valparaíso, Chile on Apollo Goodwill trip. Next stop was Rio De Janerio during Carnival Week.

For four months, the glamour of show business, followed by international coverage of the first manned lunar shot recovery and transit of module around South America, kept me extremely busy as the Public Affairs Officer for the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown.  It started with the Oct 16, 1968 filming aboard of an episode of the TV series “Get Smart” at our Long Beach, CA homeport and ended on Feb 26, 1969 with the Yorktown docking at our new homeport, Norfolk, VA. I had been promoted from Ensign to Lieutenant Junior Grade (Ltjg) on our transit back from Vietnam. The primary advantage in that was moving from the Junior officer bunkroom to a four man stateroom.  Both had bunk beds.

Get Smart

“Get Smart” TV series – Max and Agent 99.

Yorktown was finishing maintenance work at the Long Beach shipyard and preparing for refresher training when converted into a bustling stage for the “Get Smart” episode “Temporarily Out of Control”.  In the show, Don Adams, as Maxwell Smart, and Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) were prevented from going on their honeymoon.  Max received orders, as a Naval Reserve Officer, to two weeks active duty, beginning on the next day.  I escorted Barbara Feldon everywhere on the Yorktown like a bodyguard, including lunch in the crew’s mess where I had her rotate tables and the next day in the Captain’s In-port Cabin. One sailor remarked how her “sultry look” made her sexy.  She responded that her look came from being near sighted. It took an hour in makeup to transfer the 50 plus aged Don Adams to a youthful secret agent. So the rest of the cast did not arrive until 9 am.  There was a Navy helicopter involved in Adam’s escape from the brig. I took the helo crew to Hollywood for dinner at the Brown Derby and overnight stay at the Hotel Knickerbocker.  Visiting Hollywood at night was fun but what I enjoyed most was not having to get up for the daily 6:30 am morning muster on the hangerdeck.

Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney

Jerry Mahoney and Paul Winchell.
Jerry Mahoney and Paul Winchell.

Knowing we had sea time coming up for the holidays, with help from the Beverly Hills Navy League, I coordinated a family Christmas party in November. We provided gifts for children and recruited ventriloquist Paul Winchell and his more famous wooden sidekick, Jerry Mahoney, for the entertainment.

Tora, Tora, Tora

Tora, Tora, Tora - Yorktown flight deck crew wore WWII  Japanese Navy uniforms.
Tora, Tora, Tora – Yorktown flight deck crew wore WWII Japanese Navy uniforms.

In early December, 20th Century Fox transformed the Yorktown into Imperial Japanese Admiral Nagumo’s flagship, Akagi, for the movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!”.  The movie title came from the battle cry of the flight commander Mitsuo Fuchida: “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” as the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. Thirty aircraft configured as Zero fighters, Val dive bombers and Kate torpedo bombers were hoisted by cranes to the Yorktown flight deck in San Diego.  Cruising off the Southern California coast, our flight deck crewmen wore Japanese sailor uniforms and head gear. The Japanese flag was flying from the bridge level for the filming (not appreciated by our crew) when, in the early morning, the aircraft took off under their own power (our catapult gear had been camouflaged).

The lead plane, a reconstructed SNJ (AT-6), closely resembled a Mitsubishi Zero, including a 3 blade propeller.  When launched, the Zero raced toward the bow with full throttle. But as it lifted from the flight deck it suddenly dropped from sight, directly in front of the ship. Many crewmembers gasped, thinking we would run over it.  But the Zero regained altitude, similar to what happened on Dec 7, 1941. I was watching all this with news media reporters from the superstructure.  The aircraft landed at North Island and then were loaded back onto the Yorktown for transport to Hawaii for that portion of the film.

Apollo 8 recovery  

From Yorktown Crier - ship’s newspaper - Apollo capsule being prepared to be lifted aboard Yorktown.
From Yorktown Crier – ship’s newspaper – Apollo capsule being prepared to be lifted aboard Yorktown.

On Dec 27, the world watched us recover the Apollo 8 lunar shot in the Pacific, 1,000 miles Southwest of Hawaii.  We had embarked news media and NASA officials in Hawaii and enjoyed a joint Christmas on the way to our recovery position. Using a pool system, UPI had a photographer and AP a photographer.  ABC provided trailers full of technical equipment, NBC – reporter Ron Nesson onsite and CBS – Dallas Townsend. Other print media were also represented. After piloting their spacecraft through the final re-entry stage, astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, Jr. and William Anders, splashed down at 4:52 am, Yorktown time, only 2 ½  miles from our 25 year old carrier. The NASA communications director offered me a job when I got out of the Navy; but when that time came, newspaper headlines announced massive NASA layoffs

The Fighting Lady

Yorktown took a duplicate Apollo capsule on a goodwill tour around South America to new homeport, Norfolk, VA.  Then to training in Caribbean and a North Atlantic NATO exercise with visits to England, Germany, France and Denmark. With Vietnam winding down, ship went to Boston for decommissioning. I was asked to extend to serve as curator but declined.  It was fitting that Yorktown (CV-10) had a glamorous ending. Yorktown (CV-5) had been sunk in Battle of Midway.  When CV-10 replaced her in WWII, she carried a Hollywood crew. Narrated by Robert Taylor, with actual combat footage, their movie  “The Fighting Lady” won an Academy Award and was the basis for Yorktown’s  nickname.