February 8, 2011
Navy torpedoman Cliff Fromm saw duty in the Gulf of Tonkin
By Cliff Fromm '60
I joined the Navy after high school in 1960. I turned 17 in April, graduated from Division Avenue High School in June and left for boot camp in August with classmates Jimmy Halpin and Bruce Garabrant. In 1961 I was sent to San Diego to the USS Gregory DD802, a Navy Destroyer, as a torpedoman. We were deployed to the South China Sea and operated in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam to add to the United States presence.
Although the U.S. wasn't officially at war in Vietnam, the first battlefield casualty was in 1961. When we got back to the South China Sea our sister ship, the USS McDermott, and my ship were tracking a submarine when we collided. My ship caught fire and all the training and drills came into play and everyone knew their job to save her, although she was no longer usable as a war ship.
The Gregory was somehow brought back to the U.S., decommissioned, and used for target practice and by the Navy Seals for underwater demolition. She was sunk off San Clemente Island to the heartbreak of those who served with her.
After the collision, I was transferred to the USS Ingersoll DD652. We operated out of Yokosuka, Japan and were there for R&R in November of 1963 when President Kennedy was shot. I was assigned to Shore Patrol (the Navy's equivalent of Military Police) when the photo of me (see above) was taken with the United States flag at half mast behind me.
President Johnson wanted to increase the military's presence in the Gulf of Tonkin so my enlistment was extended. I got out of the Navy in 1966 but my last year or so was in the reserves on the USS Bristol DD857 out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In 1965 I met Marilyn on a blind date and we got married in 1966. This May will be 45 years. We tell everyone we got married when we were 10.
My first job out of the Navy was in construction working for a company building one-family homes in Smithtown, Long Island. I then got a job working for General Electric in its finance operation. I went to school nights and weekends getting my BS in Accounting from C.W. Post College and my MBA in Finance from New York Institute of Technology. G.E. paid for most of my tuition and, taking full advantage of the G.I. bill, I also received subsistence allowance from the Navy.
I left General Electric in 1980 and started my own company in corporate finance. Evenutally the economy started to have a negative affect on my business so at 62 I decided to retire. Now I'm always so busy that I don't know how I ever had time to work. Marilyn is a nurse at a New York State Psychiatric hospital and plans to retire in about a year. We live in New City, New York.
We've traveled a lot and plan to spend our children's inheritance doing more. Three years ago Marilyn and I went with my veterans' group back to Vietnam where we, along with the local Rotary, are supporting an orphanage and a school. It was a very rewarding experience.