Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of weekly feature stories about West Side veterans. The series will continue through Veterans Day (Nov. 11) as a tribute to all who have served. Newman resident Ken Andrade, a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Navy, is featured this week.
NEWMAN - Local resident Ken Andrade looks back on his years in the military with a deep sense of pride and patriotism.
Andrade’s life journey took him into the U.S. Navy in the mid-1960s and a role in the Vietnam war, where he served aboard a tanker ship which served as a floating fueling station for everything from massive aircraft carriers to the gunboats which patrolled Vietnam rivers.
Andrade was born and raised in rural Newman, where his father did custom farming work for the area’s many dairies.
He graduated Orestimba in 1964, and with a cousin, Robert Mattos of Gustine, enlisted in the Navy in November 1965.
“I had an uncle in the Navy. I always wanted to be in the Navy,” Andrade explained. “I wanted to go Navy. I didn’t want to go anywhere else. To me, being on a ship was the appeal.”
Andrade started basic training in March 1966 in San Diego. After graduating in June, he made four deployments aboard the USS Platte AO 24, which was home-ported in Long Beach.
“We would be overseas for eight months at a time, come home for three and a half months and then turn around and go back,” Andrade recalled. During those years, Andrade married his wife Sharon, who he had started dating when both were students at Orestimba.
Regular letters back and forth were their primary form of communication when Andrade was deployed.
Aboard the Platte, Andrade supervised the processes of delivering fuel to other ships and, when the tanker had exhausted its eight million-gallon supply of fuels and returned to Subic Bay, the Philippines, taking fuel on board.
“We would go out to sea full of fuel, over to Vietnam, and we would refuel anywhere from four to 24 ships a day. They would empty us out in eight days,” he recalled.
The Platte could fuel two ships at a time if need be, Andrade noted, one to port and one to starboard.
Each refueling required exact precision as the ships being fueled coordinated courses and speeds with the Platte.
Crew members, Andrade said, referred to the “AO 24” ship designation as meaning “Always Open, 24 hours.”
The tanker carried diesel fuel and black oil for ships, as well as the volatile aviation fuel for the planes housed on carriers.
“The one you had to watch out for was the av gas,” Andrade said.
The refueling process did not always go without a hitch.
The Platte was once involved in a collision with the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk....and got the worst of it.
“The Kitty Hawk wiped out our whole port side,” Andrade shared.
Compared to super-sized ships such as the Kitty Hawk and Enterprise, he added, the Platte was like “a little cork in the water.”
The Platte also delivered supplies and munitions for the U.S. forces.
And, in a solemn reminder of the grim toll of war, the ship on one occasion brought coffins back to Subic Bay.
His Gustine cousin Mattos served with Andrade on the Platte throughout his time in the service, he said, and Jim Swartz from Newman joined the crew during Andrade’s final year in the service.
Andrade left the service in October 1969 and went to work for an oil refinery in Wilmington.
“With my background of handling the ship and going to petroleum school, I had no problem finding a job,” he explained.
The Andrades and their two daughters moved back to Newman in 1977, and he worked at a number of jobs before retiring in 2012.
He has been a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Joseph G. Rose Post 7635, and American Legion, Manuel M. Lopes Post 240, for about 25 years. Andrade also serves on the honor guard, which provides military honors at veteran funerals.
While he bears emotional scars, Andrade related, he is proud to have served.
His Navy years were a time of personal growth.
“Being on my own, I grew up a lot,” he shared. “Aboard ship, you have your shipmates and you grow up. You see how life is.”
Andrade said he holds the flag and others who have served in defense of freedom in the deepest respect.
“Being a veteran makes me feel good. If it wasn’t for the veterans, who knows what (our nation) would be,” he reflected. “It makes me proud. I would do it all over again.”