By Dan Smaczny, National Museum of the American Sailor Contract Curator
For historians, oral histories and personal recollections are important pieces of evidence. Often, ties to our past are even closer than we think. In our museum, we find valuable ties to our past through our volunteer corps. One of our volunteers, Steve Winston, not only generously gives us his time but shared some of his memories of Vietnam as well.
Born in New York, Steve’s family moved to Illinois when he was a child. A quick learner and smart student, he was “double promoted” three times in school and as a result, he graduated from Niles East High School at the age of sixteen. Eager for a job, he quickly discovered upon graduating that most permanent jobs required candidates to be eighteen years old. Undaunted, he discovered that the Navy had a program called the “Kiddie Cruise,” which allowed seventeen-year-olds to enlist and serve three-year enlistments. As Steve recalled, “when they saw my ASVAB scores, [Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery] they said I could have any job I wanted and they would train me for it. I looked at all the ratings and said, ‘Electronics Technician – that sounds like the thing of the future!’ And I selected that.”
Winston went through boot camp at U.S. Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois from September to October 1965. He spent much of his Navy career on the Gearing-class destroyer USS Chevalier (DD 805). During his deployment, the “Chevy” played a role in the Sea Dragon Operations off the coast of North Vietnam. Winston’s Cruise Book from the Chevalier describes the operation well, stating that “the tremendous impact of Sea Dragon has caused the North Vietnamese to reroute overland many of their previously unmolested arms shipments.” The ship was also a part of the Pilot Search and Rescue (SAR) team in the Tonkin Gulf.
In addition to the ship’s missions, Steve recalled fond memories of the different ports the ship visited. As he recalled, “all of the liberty ports that just a regular kid like me got to see were an amazing adventure and opportunity. Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Subic Bay, Philippines; Kaohsiung and Keelung, Taiwan; Hong Kong; Auckland, New Zealand; Brisbane, Australia; and Yokosuka, Japan” and many more.
Steve returned to the United States in the Spring of 1968 and found his own home port back in Illinois when he married his high school sweetheart in May 1968. He spent his last few months of active duty stateside where he ended his Navy career as an Electronics Technician 3rd Class. After the Navy, he worked as a successful car salesman and manager at Z Frank Chevrolet in Chicago, a thriving dealership, and then spent ten years working for the Selective Service System near Naval Station Great Lakes before retiring.
Steve Winston is one of three Vietnam veterans currently volunteering at NMAS. Not only does the generous gift of their time help support the museum’s mission, but the gift of their Navy memories inspires the work we do here on a daily basis. We are truly grateful for the assistance of all of the museum’s volunteers. Help us tell and preserve these memories by volunteering at the National Museum of the American Sailor. To learn more, visit the Get Involved page on our website.
The museum has a large collection of World War I and World War II artifacts and is working to increase our post World War II collection. To learn more about the museum’s collections, visit the Historical Collections and Research page on our website.
Do you want to hear more about the USS Chevalier and her mascot? If so read our blog article titled E-3 Cindy.