USS JOHN PAUL JONES Rescues PORTERFIELD Sailor

The following is a series of descriptions of an incident that occurred off the coast of southern Japan in April 1969.  Sorry, no pictures, but these words will certainly inspire some vivid mental pictures.

Transcribed from an article in the San Diego Times Union (check name of paper) dated Sunday Morning, April 20, 1969.
Courtesy Mike Conerty.

2 HOURS IN SEA
Sailor Brushes Death off Japan
By: Jamie Bryson
There was a little something Machinistís Made third class Jim Devin, a husky six-foot, 200 pound sailor from Chula Vista, had to tell his wife, Janece, yesterday when Devinís ship came home from the Western Pacific. He told her while he and Mrs. Devin stood by a rail near where it happened last April 5, 60 miles off the coast of Southern Japan. "I fell overboard," said Devin, 22. "You didnít!" said Mrs. Devin, her eyes widening. "Well, I did," Devin said, "and I bobbed around in a big storm for two hours." He hadnít written to her about the incident, Devin told his wife of seven months, because he wanted to tell her of his brush with death in person.

OFF JAPAN
Devin said that his ship, the destroyer Porterfield, was in a storm off Japan and he had gone on deck to take pictures about 8 a.m. "It was real rough," he said. "The wind was blowing 45 miles an hour and the waves were 20 to 25 feet high. We were rolling around a lot." Devin, of 245 Woodlawn Ave., Chula Vista, said a particularly big wave washed the ship and when the water cleared, he saw a man apparently unconscious on the deck at the fantail.
MET CORPSMAN
"I went down to help him," Devin said. "Met the shipís hospital corpsman on the main deck and together we worked our way back to the fantail." The two reached the unconscious man, who later recovered from injuries he had suffered when he was thrown against a railing by a giant wave. "The next thing I knew, I was swimming," Devin said.  With no life jacket, Devin, in the Navy three years, resorted to a procedure he had learned in recruit training. "I took off my trousers tied knots in the legs and inflated them with air by waving them over my head," he said. "It worked. They kept me afloat."
Meanwhile, the Porterfield and the guided missile destroyer John Paul Jones had started a search for Devin. The chances of his being found in the storm were slight - 1,000 to one, an officer on the John Paul Jones said later. Devin watched as the ships criss-crossed the area for two hours searching for him. Twice the John Paul Jones passed within 150 yards.

GRABS HOLD OF RAIL
"Finally the Jones came straight for me," said Devin. "I waved my arms like crazy and they saw me. Later, a lookout told me it
looked like I was walking on the water. Believe me, I was trying." Devin canít remember his first words as he was hauled over the railing of the John Paul Jones, where he was wrapped in a blanket, fed brandy and given dry clothes, "but it took five guys to break my grip on that rail," he said. "I wasnít about to let go of that ship once I got hold." Devin was among more than 500 officers and men returning to San Diego Naval Station yesterday morning aboard the Porterfield and the destroyer Morton after six-month deployments in the Vietnam combat zone.

WITH BATTLESHIP
The ships had been traveling until mid-week with the battleship New Jersey, which was bound home to Long Beach after a Vietnam tour, then was ordered to proceed instead to the area of North Korea. A homecoming for the New Jersey was canceled in Long Beach.
Porterfield is commanded by Comdr. John H. Bres of 1032 Olive St., Coronado.
Captain of the Morton is Comdr. Wayne P. Hughes, Jr. of 808 I Ave., Coronado.

From the Porterfield Web site:

Jim Devin MM3 - Man Overboard

April 5, 1969


While digging up information to include on the shipsí histories page, we asked people to contact us with stories. We started to get messages from crew members who were aboard in 1969 talking about a man who was washed overboard during a typhoon. We expected it to be the story of a death. Bill Engle BT3 wrote about the event and mentioned the name of the sailor who was washed overboard, which was Jim Devin. On a hunch, we checked the Association Membership Roster and, lo and behold, we have a member named Jim Devin from 1969. We immediately got in touch with him. Indeed, he is the man who took an ďunauthorized swim callĒ that day. This is his account, which we took from his personal website

(with his permission).

In his own words:

ďAs far as not being dangerous aboard ship, let me relate something to you. As we were steaming back from our cruise and heading home, we were caught up in a severe storm about 80 miles off Japan. I had gone topside with a friend when I noticed someone laying on the deck, not moving, with blood all around him. I told the guy with me to get the Hospital Corpsman while I went to help the injured man. As I came down the ladder to the main deck, the Corpsman just happened to come out through a watertight door. I grabbed him by the arm and started pulling him with me. We reached the injured man and I had just picked him up under the arms and the Corpsman had him by the legs, when the ship took a roll to starboard, the water hit, and the next thing I knew, I was swimming. In conditions like we were in, the ship has to maintain a high rate of speed and head directly into the swells. When the ship rolled, it was about 40 degrees to starboard. The water was about 50 degrees, the swells were 20-30 feet high and the wind was blowing at about 50 knots. Not the best conditions - and me without a life jacket!

My first thought - get away from the props or I was going to be fish food! My next thought was of my wife. We had just been married 37 days before we deployed. Then, I thought about sharks! I remembered something they taught us in boot camp - use your pants as a flotation device! I'm here to tell you it works!! Approximately 2 hours later I was picked up by the USS
John Paul Jones DDG-32. My ship had to proceed on to port because the Corpsman had sustained injuries after the last roll and now there was no one to administer first aid. So you see, you didn't have to be face to face with someone to die! Everyone who went has my eternal respect and support.Ē

We have also found out that the injured man, the Oil King - James Detlefsen BT1, survived and is living in Oregon.

Bill Engle gave his account of the typhoon:

ďI was on watch in the forward fire room and had been down there for awhile, as no one could go topside. I was standing the water check watch when the man overboard whistle blew. We received a Stop bell, which caused a 53 degree roll to the port side and then to the starboard side. The five gallon can of paint I was sitting on shot to the port side, landing in the pump alley on the lower level and never opened up! Talk about luck. When the ďPĒ was on her side, I could see the ocean through the hatch above. At first, I could not believe that we could have lost a man overboard, but with the weather conditions as they were, it was possible. I can also remember seeing the battleship New Jersey with her 16Ē guns pointed straight up in the air with the bags on the barrels. I guess the ďN.J.Ē had given us permission to surface a couple of times. That was one typhoon that I will never forget. We were allowed to enter port before the ďN.J.Ē because of our injured Oil King, James Detlefsen BT1. I canít remember ever entering port that quick.Ē

Anthony J. Basile, Remembers that day:

I reported aboard the Porterfield from Harbor Clearance Unit One in the Philippines on Dec. 1, 1968, I departed the Porterfield on Oct. 20,1969. I reported aboard as a GMG3, and held that rate until discharged. I was involved in the man overboard, GMG2 McCoy and myself had our post on the bow of the Porterfield -shark patrol, but the bow was taking such heavy seas that we stuck ourselves under the Conn. we could barely hold on to our weapons, and keep from going overboard. There were a few people injured, in that storm, and we were very happy when they recovered our shipmate unhurt. Anthony J. Basile

This story was copied and pasted from the JPJ Association Christmas 2002 newsletter:

"Man Overboard" -

On April 5, 1969, 13 years to the day that JPJ DD-932 was commissioned in Boston, the ship, converted to DDG-32 in 1967, picked up a sailor washed overboard from the destroyer, USS Porterfield. That sailor was Jim Devin of Vacaville, Calif. Hereís his story:

"After 33 years, the events have been distorted depending upon who you talk to. All I know is, it wasnít my time to go. And since Iím still here, alive and kicking, and enjoying my grandchildren (all 5 of them so far), I assume I havenít done all thatís in store for me. Iíve had a lot of people ask/tell me how lucky I am. As if I have to be told!

I was quite scared at first, and I began to talk to God as if I were talking to someone in front of me. I said, ĎLord, I donít want to die! Iím too young. I havenít lived my life yet, and thereís so much I want to do. I donít want my wife to be a widow at her age. I wonít make any promises, Lord, because I donít know if I could keep them. I put my life in your hands - Thy will be done!í

I remember every word as if Iíd just said it 5 minutes ago. Immediately after saying those words -- literally within seconds - I felt calm and at ease, and I knew I would be found and picked up.

Iím still married to the same beautiful woman I married back then, and we just had our 34th wedding anniversary on Sept. 21. Sheís blessed me with 5 children, ranging in age from 18-31. Thatís the part where Iím lucky! What happened April 5, 1969 was a prelude to the beginning of my "luck".

Jim Devin, Vacaville, Calif.

And, next an e-mail from Douglas Weiser about this story:

From: Douglas Weiser [mailto:dweiser@communitybanks.com]
Sent: Tuesday, December 05, 2006 11:54 AM
To: JPJONES ASSN
Subject: RE: Sailor off the Porterfield

Hildy, Chief Miller, Fred Bryant and I were all on board when this happened Iím not sure if anyone who comes to the reunions, was or not. I was on watch in CIC and was working the dead reckoning table when we were notified of the man overboard. We marked the assumed location of where the Porterfield was at the time of the notice. I wish someone would have kept the paper we used to mark our crisscrossing the marked spot.

One thing he did not point out was that the sun was setting when we found him. It was that time of the early evening when the Ocean turns green and the white caps are brightly contrasted but you canít see anything else.

He was on a wave almost eye level to the bridge when Captain Lester saw him. It was a struggle, as waves receded, to keep him in our sight. Maneuvering in the kind of seas we were in to pick him up was not easy. We could not lower a launch and going dead in the water and not lose sight of him was quite a feat. Our Deck Crew actually waited for the ship to roll to his side and grabbed him from the water and pulled him in when the Ship rolled him out of the water. The only injury he received was getting scraped up when we pulled him onboard. His life is truly a miracle.

Douglas J Weiser
Assistant Vice President
Business Development Officer
2796 Old Post Road
Harrisburg, PA 17110
Phone: 717-909-3427
Fax: 717-909-3411
Cell: 717-576-3690
dweiser@communitybanks.com

And, an e-mail from Jim Devin 8 December 2011:

My words of thanks are directed to the crew that was aboard DDG 32 on the way back from WestPac on the morning of April 5, 1969. Iím the one that was washed over the side off the Porterfield DD 682 that morning. I am still alive and kicking thanks to all who were involved in my rescue which is the entire crew. If it were not for their efforts, I would not still be married to my wonderful wife, would not have my 5 great children or my 4 grand children. Everything happened so quickly that morning but I know the greatest sight to that point in my life that I had ever seen (except for my new wife at the time) was the appearance of the Jones coming to get me. The skill levels of all involved in my rescue was all top notch. Please convey my heartfelt thanks on your website to all the former crew members. Thank you.................Jim Devin Vacaville,Calif.

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