October 24, 2014

Elyria
Intermittent clouds
36°F
test

15 Minutes: Meet Navy veteran William Slay

William Slay
Age: 66
Lives in: Elyria
Pursuit: Navy Veteran

You’re a veteran and you served in the Vietnam War?

Yes. I was in the United States Navy on the USS Arlington, a communications ship. The ship was a spy ship. The whole Vietnam theater came through it. I was in supply.

What years were you in?

From 1964 to 1968. I was at Herbert Hoover’s funeral. I was one of the complement representing the Navy. I was right out of basic, stationed in Washington, D.C., fall of ’64. The one thing that stands out in my mind is the riderless, black horse with the stirrups on backwards and the horse going down Pennsylvania Avenue sideways. I could see all the dignitaries and limos.

So just when you were getting out, the USS Pueblo was attacked in North Korean waters.

Actually, we went from the line in Vietnam to North Korea when the Pueblo was captured. We (individual sailors) didn’t know what was going on. We stayed there about four days. We sailed around. I woke up that morning and saw a carrier out there and all the escort ships. Our ship was similar in mission, but a lot larger than the Pueblo. We had 853 officers and men. The Pueblo went closer in, but we stayed farther out. We had all those masts — imagine telephone poles — on the deck. That’s all obsolete now because you have this wireless and everything. When you went into our “war room” you could see maps — a radio man took us in there — and you could see maps of anything that was going on. You could call home from 10,000 miles away.

What was life like aboard the ship?

Well, when you mentioned the Pueblo, that was the longest time we were out to sea, 91 days. But that reminds me, when we would pull into port, and when the ship would pull out, you would wonder, “What happened to so and so?” Guys would be missing. You would never hear of them again. This happened a couple of times. I think they were killed.

What if they were just AWOL?

They would eventually come back to the ship or you would hear something. I live in Elyria, but guys in Cleveland or Mansfield that might know guys who would hear something. It’s like they just dropped off the face of the earth. We were hated all over the globe because we had our nose in everything.

Did you experience any bias in the Navy?

Yeah, you do. I saw only one black officer — this was ’64-’68. There were guys from the South who were reluctant to go home because there was so much civil unrest and disturbance down south at the time.

Did blacks get worse duty on the ship?

Well, I recall a situation where one guy didn’t smile. The chief had a problem with that, so he gave him — he was a black guy — extra duty ’cause he wouldn’t smile. Another chief explained to him that the guy was from the South and had some issues. I felt that was wrong. There wouldn’t be a situation like that today, but we’re talking 1964-68. We also hauled Agent Orange. At that time nobody knew what it was. About 85 percent of the guys on my ship are diabetic. Do you think that’s coincidental?

What have you done since then?

Three days after I got out, I started working at Bendix Westinghouse for seven years. I’ve been at U.S. Steel for 36 years and 8 months this May. I’ll be retired on May 1.

What do you do for hobbies?

My wife and I work out in the yard. We’re RVers. I’ve seen it, but I’d like to take the wife to see the USS Arizona. They still raise and lower the flag. It’s still a commissioned ship.

Who’s in the family, wife and kids?

Emma, and the kids — Eddie, Henry and Tasha.

Anything else you would like to mention?

What got me was coming back (after serving) to see the protests. Mostly college students protesting the war. I had mixed emotions. Someone also sent a picture of Carl Stokes and his wife imposed in a champagne glass after he was elected mayor of Cleveland — the first black mayor of a major U.S. city. But is was hard seeing the protesters — raising hell — and some guys “paid the price” over there.

Coming out of Midview High School in 1964, I had a football scholarship to Prairie View College, but I joined the Navy. I would do it all over again.

Chronicle photographer Chuck Humel shines the spotlight on the people of Lorain County each week. Know someone worthy of 15 Minutes? E-mail chumel@chroniclet.com.

Follow The Chronicle on Twitter at Twitter.com/YourChronicle and become a fan on Facebook to get updates on stories like this and more!