U.S. Marines embarked aboard DD-710 in 1961.

The account below is from Ed Shea, a member of the Marine platoon assigned to USS Gearing in the South Atlantic in early 1961. He tells how it came about that Marines were assigned to a destroyer as well as the amazing story of the recapture of the hijacked passenger-liner Santa Maria.

Ed provided the photos on this page. He is the Marine sitting on a DD-710 40mm gun mount at left. Standing behind him is Pfc. Meredith L. Phillips. The Gearing sailor giving instruction is GM2 Herb Gray.

By Ed Shea (USMC ret.)...

In trying to recollect the events of the time, they were as follows.

The SOLANT AMITY (aka South Atlantic Amity or "goodwill" cruise) started in the late fall of 1960. A company of grunts out of Camp LeJeune, North Carolina had originally embarked upon the USS Graham County (LST-1176) from which, it had been planned, amphibious tractors would from time to time over the coming six months deposit the troops on various shores of Africa. A sort of a show-and-tell thing with lots of noise and blank firing cartridges to liven things up. As it turned out, only two such landings occurred: one in the more recently and much maligned Naval Training area on the isle of Viegues, PR and the other on the beaches of Monrovia, Liberia on the date of that nation's celebration of independence from European domination, in the Spring of 1961.

But there was much else going on in the vicinity at the time, which brought the Marines to the decks, engine room, CIC and bridge of the USS Gearing shortly after New Years 1961.

The Graham County was directed to the Belgian Congo to assist in the evacuation of seriously injured and disease ridden forces engaged in fighting a rebellion in the area. To do so, the ship had to be emptied of its American cargo: "G" Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines. Divided into platoons of roughly more than thirty men, the company was distributed among a number of ships, one of which was the Gearing.

Initially, there was little for the Marines to do besides clean their weapons and exercise on the limited deck space. Not that Marine infantry ever does much of anything aboard the ships of the "Gator" fleet...but a destroyer? Within a few days, however, it was decided that the grunts would share the watches, throughout the ship, with the Sailors. So it was that engine rooms, the CIC, the bridge et al were occupied by Navy blue and Marine green work clothes. Something of a perceived and great unlikelihood in Naval history.

Then, on January 22 of that year, "Henrique Galvao and a team of 24 Portuguese and Spanish rebels, operating from a base in Venezuela" hi-jacked the passenger liner 'Santa Maria' to protest the dictatorships of Franco in Spain and Salazar in Portugal. Traveling as passengers, the armed band seized the ship, ceased all communication and, for several days, the whereabouts of the ship remained unknown. A massive sea and air search finally detected the liner and negotiations for the surrender of the ship were initiated off the coast of Recife, Brazil.

News personnel from around the world converged on Recife. They and their interpreters then converged upon the waiting Gearing at dockside and the ship then set to sea, stopping some miles outside the port perhaps 500 yards starboard of the liner. All then watched and waited. Sailors, Marines, the media and their Brazilian interpreters alike. They continued to watch and wait as a fool from the French magazine Paris Match, who'd rented the equivalent of a Piper Cub after missing the Gearing's departure, parachuted into the shark infested waters between both ships with the even more foolish intent of trying to land on the liner's forecastle. His effort, it was presumed, was to "scoop" the mob of reporters already on scene.

Needless to say, his jumping from the plane caught all by surprise and was cause for a great deal of frantic activity among the reporters trying to position themselves on the forward, port side deck of the Gearing to observe and photograph his flight, landing and aquatic efforts at survival. Still struggling with the harness, he was retrieved from the water safely while Marines were assigned to control the exuberant, pushing and rubber-necking concerned-citizens-of-the-world reporters who were getting a little too close to the Gearing's life-lines.

Subsequent to these events, Galvao surrendered the ship without further mayhem. It all made for a really interesting day but is not the most exciting thing that might have occurred. That has remained very much a secret until now.

Nowhere in any of the literature surrounding this event will there be found the plans made to recapture the Santa Maria: U. S. Marines had been told, prior to leaving the port of Recife, that they would likely have to "lay down a base of semi-automatic and Browning automatic rifle fire upon the decks and portholes of the passenger liner, while forces supplied by the Brazilian Marine Corps attempted to scale the sides of the liner with grappling hooks." Fortunately, that never became necessary...

Those weeks on the Gearing were for this Marine among the best of my four years in the service, including the time when what seemed like half the ships complement and nearly all the Marines received Captain's Mast for "Smoking During Refueling Operations." But that's another story.

Ed Shea (CLICK to email)

In a separate email, Ed Shea also added...

"Never did get to like the coffee on the bridge, but the experience has been this long remembered. And, I'm proud to say, it's likely that few Marines such as myself have EVER handled the helm of a destroyer!"