▶️ Navy veteran recalls friendships forged, lives lost aboard USS Durham

By HANNAH SIEVERT
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY

On Monday morning, the U.S. Navy released a video of missiles exploding into the USS Durham during a training exercise.

Anyone who sees the video will see the destruction of a ship that served the military for 25 years.

But when Bend resident Lyle Hicks sees it, he watches the end of a place he once called home.

“It was a place that was very important to all of us,” Hicks said. “The hardest part is to watch it blown up. Three rockets go in and it’s gone.”

Hicks grew up in Gilchrist and enlisted in the Navy at 18 years old. He stepped onto the USS Durham for the first time at a port in San Diego in 1972.

“It was where I grew up,” Hicks said. “I went aboard as a boy and left as a man. A lot of who I am, how I am, how I react to things, were forged aboard that ship.”

Hicks worked on the ship for three years as it carried cargo and Marines from the Philippines to Guam, Taiwan, Okinawa and Vietnam.

He was on the ship in 1975 when it was surrounded by boats filled with Vietnamese refugees, who were escaping after the collapse of Cam Ranh Bay.

600 men on the USS Durham saved more than 4,500 refugees before the ship was ordered to leave.

“The fact that we saved 4,500 lives, that doesn’t happen very often,” Hicks said. “But I still remember as we pulled away those boats floating out there, people waving at us. They thought we were coming back but we weren’t.”

Hicks found out later that many of the refugees the boat wasn’t able to pick up were killed.

“That impacted me deeply and still does in a lot of ways,” Hicks said.

The hard times bonded the Durham’s crew for life.

“We have a deep, deep connection that someone who wasn’t in the military probably can’t understand” Hicks said. “They’re all brothers. They’ll always be brothers.”

 

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