OSAGE — Patrick Mackin of Osage never stepped onto Vietnam soil. Instead, he spent his three Vietnam deployments on the U.S.S. Long Beach, a nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser.
“I had a different veteran’s experience,” Mackin said. “I didn’t lay in the jungles and get shot at.”
Mackin, 68, graduated from Osage High School in 1966 and was appointed to the Naval Academy in Annapolis that year. He graduated in 1970, then was accepted into the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program.
He was then assigned to the Long Beach to help operate the plants.
“Work days on a ship are very long because there’s a lot to keep functioning. They’re like a small city,” Mackin said. “I’d say we generally put in 16-hour days.”
His primary job was to ensure that the ship had propulsion and he was responsible for the electrical division.
“When I started I was a lieutenant junior grade, O2, and when I left the ship I was a lieutenant which is O3,” Mackin said.
The Long Beach monitored the Gulf of Tonkin, providing radar support and assisting damaged aircraft.
His first deployment lasted eight months, the second six months and the final deployment was scheduled to last six months.
“Halfway through that last deployment I was transferred off the ship to another assignment,” Mackin said. “I was off the coast the whole time.”
The ship monitored aircraft over Vietnam.
“We had missiles on our ship that were capable of engaging the enemy aircraft and on two occasions I remember, we actually fired missiles at North Vietnamese aircraft that was threatening returning aircraft and the ships we were with,” Mackin said.
Mackin did not see too much action during his service but he remembers those few times as tense. The whole ship is informed of the possible dangerous encounter, he said.
“You might save or not save the life of one of our pilots or our ship itself could be attacked,” Mackin said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The long hauls at sea made him miss civilian life, he said. “Go out with friends, go somewhere in your car, play sports, just those kinds of things.”
Adjustment back to civilian life was quick for Mackin, just a few days.
“You looked forward to getting back home,” he said.
Mackin spent 20 years in the Navy before retiring in 1990.
“The Vietnam War really did divide our country and various people have their strong opinions on whether that was something we should have done or not, but I would say those fighting the war were doing their duty,” Mackin said. “They are certainly not accountable for whether or not our country did the right thing or not.”
Mackin said he believes that the United States has learned important lessons from the war and has seen decisions over the years where the country has learned from that history and times where it has forgotten the past.
After living in California for a while and later San Antonio, Mackin came back to Osage with his wife three years ago.