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Interview with Daniel Bernath [4/19/2007]

Lindy Hughes:

Good morning, this is Lindy Hughes and I'm representing the Tualatin Historical Society for the Veterans History Project. It's April 19, 2007 and I'm here with Dan Bernath. Mr. Bernath will be sharing some of his military experiences and memories with us, today. So, Dan, can I have you state your full name and branch of service?

Daniel Bernath:

Daniel Alan Bernath and my branch of service was U.S. Navy and it was from December 15, 1966 to May something, 1970.

Lindy Hughes:

Dan, what were you doing before you joined the service and what got you involved in the war effort?

Daniel Bernath:

Well, let's see. I went in. I joined the Navy at 15. No, I must've been 16. I had a Michigan Driver's Learner's Permit. It was paper. So, I took an eraser and changed my date of birth and made myself 18 instead of 16. I'd joined the Navy and all the papers were signed and they were coming by. The Chief Petty Officer, the recruiter, was coming by the house at the last minute to have some further papers signed and I wasn't there. They said, "How can Danny be joining the Navy when he's 16?" So, that didn't work. So then, as soon as I turned 17, I joined again. That time, they said, "Fine, now you're 17." So, I was just a high school student. I think before that, I had dropped out of high school and I went to live with my brother on an Air Force base, Kinchlow Air Force Base, in upper Michigan. I was a disc jockey. They had a base radio station. So, I was a disc jockey. He was interested in photography and he got me interested in photography and I started to that, maybe some darkroom work and some pictures.

Daniel Bernath:

I wanted to be in the Navy rather than other branches of the service because the Navy took you everywhere. I knew that we were at war, but the Navy is all over the world. So, I didn't know where they were going to send me. In fact, Vietnam was only part of my service in the 3 years 5 months. So, let's see. So, having lived with him on the Air Force Base for 3 months, I was sure I didn't want to join the Air Force because it seemed real boring. So, I went in the Navy. Then, they sent me to boot camp. They put us on a train from, Great Lakes, Illinois was where Navy boot camp is. They put us on a train from Detroit to Chicago and Chicago to suburban Illinois. Chicago. So, on the train we're riding like civilians and they said, "OK, it's time for dinner." I thought, "OK now, they are going to hand me a sandwich." But, we went to the dining car and there's this beautiful little steak and tiny little potatoes and all that, like ice water in a nice glass. I thought, "Boy, this Navy is really nice." I'd never been treated this well. But, of course, that was just the train. Anyway, boot camp, and that was--even though I'm a high school dropout, I went in the Navy we're taught by an ensign if you wanted to and we got our high school diplomas and then after that I went to college and after that I went to law school. I'm one of the few dropouts that became a lawyer. I say this, that Navy boot camp and law school were the two of the hardest things I've done in my life. People are surprised to hear that, but Navy boot camp was very rough, more psychological than physical, maybe because I was so young. The whole idea was that you--they never allow you to sleep more than 4 hours a day. Daniel Bernath:: I think that and then there's so much information coming at you. It was so cold and you know. So, that was very hard, but it proved to me at a very young age that I could do anything if I just applied myself. So, I kept telling myself that my Dad made it through boot camp and I can make it through boot camp no matter how tough it got. You are up at 2 in the morning peeling potatoes or whatever the thing was. I'm always thinking, "My Dad made it through boot camp and so can I." I get out of boot camp and I go, "Gee was that tough, Dad, but I kept saying to myself, 'Dad made it through boot camp'--because he was in WWII in the Army--'and I can make it through boot camp.'" He looks at me and he says, "I never went to boot camp." He says, "It was WWII, you know, and the Michigan National Guard drafted me and I went right into combat." I go, "Oh, OK. I'm glad you told me after instead of before because that was how I got through it. Dad can do it." Then, they sent me to the Kearsarge which is an aircraft carrier--an Essex Class carrier. It wasn't built in time for WWII, but it was one of the swift carriers, the fast carriers, that the Navy attributes to winning the war because they do 32 knots. The Japanese had nothing that could--it was just an overwhelming force. So, that was one of them. We spent a tour 6 months off the coast of North and South Vietnam. Then, there was a-- Then they said, "The Kearsarge needs to be renovated. So, we are going to go into the yards when we get back to California." I knew what that was like. That's 140 decibels. You're living inside a ship that's being renovated. I said, "Gee, can I ship over and go on the next carrier that's coming out to replace us?" They thought that was great. So, three or four of us did that. We went to the Yorktown. I'm glad I did because I remember it was just at that point that we got word that the communists, the North Koreans, had captured the USS Pueblo. There was speculation as to what we were going to do. Were we going to attack them? Were we going to try to do a rescue mission? The people on the Kearsarge were going, "Well, we're going home. Too bad. This doesn't affect us." By then, my orders had come through that I was going to transfer to the Yorktown. They go, "What? You're going to"--they're making jokes like-"You're going to have to learn to pronounce *Pyongyang [Capitol of N. Korea] and all that stuff. See you later, Dan. Haha. You're going to Korea." I'm like, "Oh, shit, what have I done?" So, the Kearsarge comes in to Japan for a few hours to reload and get more supplies and I get off and I take my stuff off and my 2 or 3 buddies who are also transferring and the Kearsarge goes and then the Yorktown comes right there. Suddenly, I'm on the Yorktown. Word comes down that guess what, the Kearsarge and the Yorktown are both going to Korea. So, I thought, "That's a joke on them, too."

Daniel Bernath:

So, anyway, I went to Korea and we went right from Japan straight into Korea. We were the first ship, in our task force, was the first ship in the task force to go to Korea. We just, to rattle sabers and to do a show of force. So, the orders were very strange in that they said, "Don't use your radar and just go at flank speed." So, that's what Captain Bennett did. They made him the Admiral. There was no Admiral at the time on the ship. So, they made him the temporary Admiral. He just died recently. We just roared off the coast of North Korea to show them that, "You can't do that." Of course, they did. There is supposed to be a list going around about who wanted to train with the Marines. The Marines were going to be the nucleus and we were going to go in. It was just silly that we were going to have a group that was going to somehow rescue these sailors from the USS Pueblo. The orders were, "Shoot anything that comes near you." Then, the orders were downgraded, "Identify. Don't shoot unless they're hostile." Then, "Don't shoot unless they shoot at you first." So, it just kept getting--Lyndon Johnson was President, then. It just kept getting downgraded. The Russians, for their part, seeing as they thought that was their sphere of influence, reacted to us in the way that they had a spy ship follow us where ever we went. The spy ship would try to cut into us. Like we would be cruising along doing flight operations or whatever. The Russian ship would cross our bow and the orders from the Captain were, "Don't divert. If we're going to hit them, we're going to hit them."

Daniel Bernath:

So, that went on for 30 ["correction: 45] days. That was one way the Russians reacted to us. The other thing was that our radar showed, we have a screen of destroyers around us and at one point in the night the Russian had gotten inside our screen. So, you have the carrier and you have the destroyers on each side of you and one behind you. The Russians had gotten in between us, which we considered to be an act of war. Do we blow him up now or do we wait until dawn? What do we do? By dawn, he had moved out. So, it was pretty tense. We didn't know what was going to happen. The other thing about the Russians is that they had this thing called Bear Bombers and they are propeller driven and very loud and they would fly over us very low altitude to test us to see how fast we could react. So, we would go to general quarters. Jets from the Enterprise would go up and meet them. This is what the Cold War was all about where we'd play "chicken" with the Russians and they would play "chicken" with us all the time. So, we would be up there with our A-4s. In the North Atlantic, this also occurred. The Yorktown jets in the North Atlantic, we would be up there it looked like feet behind them. So, you're standing there on the flight deck and you're watching 2 or 3 Russian Bear Bombers. Just consider this gigantic airplane, propeller driven, and then behind it would be this tiny, in comparison, A-4 United States Navy plane. I'm sure he was all ready to go. He was locked and loaded. You twitch then the Navy plane is going to blow the Russian out of the sky. That was how we played "chicken" with the Russians during the Cold War. So, I always considered the Vietnam War just to be a major battle in the Cold War. What did you ask me? So, then after that, I think, we went to Vietnam. There was search and rescue. Our main mission was anti-submarine. There were no Russian submarines in the Gulf of Tonkin. So, we were the base for a search and rescue. A plane would be shot down and if the search and rescue squadron was aboard then they'd leave from our ship. We'd rescue people. That was our main job and constant squadron activity. So, we left Vietnam and then we got back--I don't know where I got the word, but I got word that we were going to, I remember walking in the photo lab and I one of my buddies said, "Hey, Dan, did you hear? We are going to pick up the astronauts." I said, "You know, we're too busy for that, you know. Can't they use a cruiser or something, you know, because we're like an aircraft carrier and we've got all these squadrons. We've got work to do. We're looking for Russian submarines." That was my attitude. It's kind of funny now, you know. Here's this amazingly prestigious thing for the whole country, like my God, we are sending the first men to the moon. I'm like, "We've got real work to do." The President and the Chairman of the Naval Operations never asked for my opinion. So, it just went forward. So, what did we do next?

Lindy Hughes:

Getting back to your search and recovery, you were recovering ship or planes that went down in the ocean? 8

Daniel Bernath:

Pilots would be, sometimes, they would crash into the ocean. They would just punch out over the ocean, the Gulf of Tonkin, or they'd punch out over North Vietnam. The "helios" would go in and capture them. The Kearsarge was famous for going right into, I think it was Hanoi Harbor, just roaring right into the heart of North Vietnam, and rescuing a Navy pilot. So, that's what the Kearsarge is famous for. The squadron would leave. There was always, the search and rescue squadron was always there. So, I mean, the ships needed relief. They had to go into port. So, the squadron would switch from carrier to carrier.

Lindy Hughes:

Did your assignments on the ship change during the time you were on the Yorktown?

Daniel Bernath:

Well, when I first was on the Kearsarge, I was a photographer. I'd taken the test and had qualified as a Photographer's Mate Petty Officer 3rd Class. I'd taken the test and they said--didn't say anything. I thought I had gotten it. I got the recommendation and all that sort of thing and then I transferred. So, I went to the Yorktown and I said, "Here I am. I'm your new photographer's mate. Where's the photo lab?" They said, "No. No. We need Bosun's Mates. Is that what you're asking about?" I said, "No. No. I'm the photographer." They said, "Well, we've got all we need of those."

Daniel Bernath:

What had happened is, before I got aboard, one of my bosun's mate buddies was on the helm. So, he knew what happened. The helm control just stopped during an underway replenishment. An underway replenishment, also known as an *unrep, is when the oiler will come up aside us and then we send lines over and they send over a huge hose and they fill us up with black oil and JP5, the jet plane fuel. What happened is that, for some reason, the helm control was lost when my buddy was on the helm. He said it just made this big hum noise and he reported it to the captain or the officer of the deck, "I've lost helm control." The captain jumped up like he was shot and looked at him like it was his fault, you know. What happened is the Yorktown could not be steered for those few seconds until they went to auxiliary control. So, it started to drift away from the oiler, pulled the oil hose out, and it sprang black oil along the side of the Yorktown. So, I show up and they're going, "Well, we need somebody to--bosun's mates are going to have to clean that up." So, that's my first job. I'm out there with JP5 fuel, with my new friends and we're like putting sponges into the jet plane fuel. We're washing the side of the ship because it's covered in jet plane fuel. I said, "You know, I took the test. I'm a photographer. I'm a Petty Officer 3rd Class." They said, "Well, not until we get official word that you are. So, get back to work." So, I spent 3 months as a Bosun's Mate. It was probably one of the *best 3 months of my life. I'm like kicking and screaming because I was like a real sailor, you know. I wasn't like one of these perfumed princes. I was like a real sailor, you know. I'm out there hanging off the side of the ship on nets. Part of the job. [*A Salt Spray in the Face Sailor] There's 2 or 3 watches we were responsible for in 2nd Division. We had bridge watch and then we also had the, we called it the 6 inch gun but other people called it the 5 inch 38s or something. So, we manned the guns and then we also did the bridge watch. Manning the gun was kind of boring except that we could see North Vietnam being shelled, at night. You'd just look out and see it looked like lightning, we were that close. It was just flash, flash, flash. So, that was the only interesting part of that, but we'd sit on the gun and be ready to power her up and load her while fire control took over. You'd work all day long and then you'd have these watches which was 4 hours. You'd either do the deck ['engine order telegraph] or you'd do the helm or you would do the gun. So, some of my buddies hated to be on the bridge because it was very tense, you know. You had to wear a clean shirt and you had to wear your white Navy hat and there were all these high ranking officers running back and forth and they're very tense. I thought that was a blast. So, I would trade with these other guys. They'd say, "Oh my God. I got the damn bridge." And I'd say, "I'll trade you. I got a gun watch. You sit on my gun watch and I'll do your bridge watch." So, I go to the point where I could do all these. The fun part was that, who steers the ship? The deck crew does. Who's actually got their hands on the helm? So, I got 8 hours on the helm and with 10 hours you get a certificate saying you're an official helmsman with that comes the trust of the captain or whoever that you can be the helmsman during flight operations. So, I'd be on the helm before my 10 hours. We'd start to recover planes or launch planes and I had to be relieved by somebody who had the certificate. I go, "Oh this. OK, fine." I had to step aside. Then, we'd recover the planes and then I'd take over again. I got 8 hours.

Daniel Bernath:

Looking back 40 years, I'm thinking the biggest regret that I have is that after was Promoted back to the photo lab, I didn't just go up there and say, "Could I just take the helm for 2 hours and you can put in the log book that I'm on the helm and I'd get 10 hours and I'd be like one of the only photograph's mate certified, qualified helmsman. That's the biggest vessel I've ever driven, like a 900 foot aircraft carrier. You think, well you just point it and it goes, but it's constantly either the currents are hitting the side and the rudder and all that. So, you're constantly keeping it on course. It's like driving a car. You're constantly turning the wheel. The real fun part is was that you headed to-- there's pride among the helmsman. They always called me the Airedale because they all knew my story, see. They were like, "You don't belong here." They'd call me the Airedale because I'm an aviation person. I'm actually an airman and they're all seamen. So, I'm on the helm and they taught me how to do that. The real fun part is when the officer of the deck would give you an order to make a severe turn. Then, you would--you wouldn't want to just turn--you would spin this big brass wheel, you know, like you're standing up and it's this big. You'd spin this big brass wheel as far as you could go and you'd watch the nose of the ship turning toward the new heading. Then, when you got maybe 5 degrees from that new heading, you would spin the wheel in the opposite direction so that the rate of return would decrease and it would decrease to the point where, if you did this correctly, the ship would stop directly on the new heading that the officer had ordered and there'd be no sloppiness where you went under one degree or you were over one degree. You would just stop the ship directly on that new heading. Now, if you did this correctly then all your friends who were standing there in the dark with you would go, "Cool man. Far out." If you did it wrong, then they would harass you for days afterwards. That was the real fun thing was that you'd do something like that. It looks easy. You just kind of do that. Well, no, there's a lot more to it like anything else a lot more to it.

Lindy Hughes:

Can you tell me about your role as a photographer, about the assignments you got, and if you were the photographer for the Apollo 8 recovery?

Daniel Bernath:

When my promotion came through, you know, then I went down to the personnel office because the list came in and said "Dan Bernath promoted to Petty Officer 3rd Class, Photographer's Mate. So, I went down to the personnel office and I said to the warrant officer, "See." He was, "Like I cared, you know." He goes, "Well, I want to assign you to the photo lab, but I was seeing the guys up there still like scraping paint. So, I wanted to keep you in the deck division." I said, "I'm a Petty Officer 3rd Class, Photographer's Mate, now." So, he just sat back at his desk and roared in laughter, "I was just kidding. Congratulations. Go ahead. Go to the photo lab." I think by then I was already promoted, but the word got to us later. So, I went to the photo lab and we get to that story where we are doing, off the coast of Vietnam for 6 months. Then, I don't know what happened. We went to Hawaii or something. I don't know how we got word, but I got word that now we're going to pick up this stupid capsule and waste our time when we've got other more important things to do. So, the next step after that was they brought aboard a boiler plate, they called it, which looked like the capsule. Maybe, it was the same weight and all that. They would drop it into the ocean and we would go out and get it. We'd practice. So, over and over again we'd practice getting that capsule and bringing it aboard. Then, the press came aboard and ABC television must've won the--or it was their turn, I don't know what--but ABC came aboard and they brought gigantic trucks full of equipment. We just picked it up and put it on our hangar deck and tied it down.

Then, we went out 1,000 miles off Hawaii and basically waited because they'd already been launched. A friend of mine said it was the weirdest thing because he was in boot camp in Florida and he watched the Apollo take off and he left Florida. He went to the Yorktown just as we were about to pick the capsule up. So, it was just the most bizarre thing. He saw it actually being launched and recovered. I mean, I don't know how many people actually saw that. He just happened to be in boot camp and they said, "OK, if you look out to the east"--or where ever it was--"you'll see Cape Canaveral and that white line going up is Apollo 8, the first people to go to the moon." So, he had the unique perspective. My perspective was that, the thing I liked about being a photographer was that I was everywhere and everyone just kind of accepted that I was there. When you're on a ship in the middle of the ocean, there's no TV to watch, there's nothing to do. So, you just kind of like go visit your buddies--just go from division to division and say "hi" to people and that sort of thing. So, people are just kind of used to see me around. So, that's what I would do. I knew all the navigators. I liked to visit the navigators because they never told us where we were. So, I would just kind of like, "I wonder where we are? I wonder what we're doing?" [*The navigator knew and would tell me.] I would go visit the navigators and say, "Where are we?" They'd say, "We're right here, Dan. We're right here." They'd always get--we'd never really know where we were going next. So, are we going to go to Hong Kong? Are we going to go to the Philippines? Are we going to go to Japan? Australia? We'd never know. So, they had the best word because they hung out and they would get word to set a course for or it's probable you'll go to the Philippines next. So, I'd ask them, "Where are we going?"

That was fun. I remember before the capsule came to us, the astronauts came to us, we were just killing time. So, we put on -I think they call it a "smoker" where we put on like a talent show and, I don't know, they must've had try outs because these guys were reasonable. They weren't just awful. They were all like 4 or 5 or 10 people and were actually pretty decent and they'd play the guitar or they'd tell jokes or whatever. So, ABC was there and they were bored because they had nothing to do. So, what they did was film this thing. Here we are, these amateur musicians and such and they're bored so they filmed it and then they put together this package. They said it looked like an Elvis extravaganza, you know. So they did that. We had this closed circuit TV system for watching a movie--one movie a night. They made a video tape of this because they were bored and it was like phenomenal. Buddies, you know, people I knew playing the guitar and like they'd be singing some Beatles' song or something like that and they'd be close above them and then they'd superimpose the close up of their hands. They're like panning and zooming out. It was like amazing. Then, the captain thought we should have some recreation time and he said, "We're going to allow you to swim." Here we are in the middle of the ocean and he stops the ship and I remember it was very strange because the sensation is always you're moving forward and the ship is always vibrating. We'd stop dead in the Pacific and hundreds of guys were like climbing off the ship in the nets and jumping in there. The Marines are standing up on the flight deck with their rifles in case there're sharks. Both times, the captain cut it short because somebody said there was a shark and they all had to get out of the water. The other time, I forget, the weather was too bad. So, that's what we were doing waiting for them. Then, there was--the thing about being in the Navy is that you never know what day it is and you never know--the only way we knew that it was Christmas is that you go around to the mess decks and the cooks would put up decorations or something. You'd go, "Oh, must be Christmas, today." You'd look at the calendar, "Oh, OK. December 25th. It's Christmas. Oh, OK, fine."

Your day's not changed, you know. You'd work a full day and then you'd have a watch of some kind. You had additional duties. So, we had maybe ham, too. "Why are we having ham, today? " Otherwise, it's just another day. Then I remember we were in our--it was after working hours and I was in my compartment, berthing compartment. The captain came on, he said, "Men of the Yorktown, we're just gotten word that the astronauts have spoken to us or have just made radio contact, again. They were on the other side of the moon and we didn't know if they were going to keep going or if they made it, but they've just talked to us." There was a big cheer. I could hear throughout the ship people cheering because that meant that they were alive. Then, what did we do? I don't remember if it was the next day or how long it took them to go from the moon to the earth. I don't remember that, but the day of them coming back, we knew what day that was going to be. I think I got up at 4 a.m. I got into my dress white uniform because that was the orders because we're going to be on television today around the world. I remember getting up and I was really excited instead of getting up at 4 a.m. and going, "Shit. It's 4 a.m. It's 0400." I just got up and I was like, "OK, what am I going to do, today?" My chief said, "OK, what you're going to do is you're going to be--we had this whole list. We're going to record history for the Navy because the Associated Press is there. ABC is there. It's mostly pooled. It wasn't hundreds of photographers. It was mostly pools like there's Reuters [sp], Associated Press, UPI, but it wasn't thousands of photographers. So, we were recording it for the Navy. Then, we'd give the pictures out to the press in case we got something they didn't get. So, my job was to get pictures of the Capsule as it was picked up out of the water and then brought aboard. So, other people had other jobs and I was only a Third Class Petty Officer. So, the First Class Petty Officer, Richard Starkey, assigned himself the coolest job which was to actually be on the flight deck as the helicopter came in.

I had nothing to do at the moment. So, I went up to where the signalmen were. I think that was around the 06 or 05 level, I forget which. The guys who do the semaphore and do the flags. I went up there and then before the--I said, "I can't--where is it? Where's the capsule?" They said, "What kind of Navy is this that we have a blind photographer, geez, it's right there."--it's 4 a.m.--"It's right there you dumb ass." I go, "OK, fine." Sailors talk to each other and nobody saw it come down. We're all waiting for it to come down. Where is it? Where is it? We're thinking that it is only reasonable that we should look out and see it coming down. What happened is that NASA--they're new to this game--they had calculated that it would come down and it was almost going to hit the Yorktown. Memos were written by NASA later about how dangerous was this? It almost hit the Yorktown. I mean, if we had looked straight up, we probably could've seen it coming at us. So, it could've been the biggest tragedy ever in the space history if they make it all the way to the moon and back and hit the aircraft carrier. So, they said, "Maybe, we should be off by a few miles. And they'd go out and get it." So, it was coming right at us. So, I'm on the 06 level with the signalman because my job isn't kicking in, yet. But, it gave me one of the best vantage points of seeing them come aboard. The way it operated was that HS-4, Helicopter Squadron 4, somehow had fallen into being the Navy helicopter squadron when it comes to spacemen. Maybe they did it once or twice, but from then on it had to be HS-4. Got to get HS-4. So, HS-4 and then they had one helicopter, somehow old 66. It looks like a flying boxcar, you know, these HS-3A Sikorsky Helicopters. Old 66--big 66 on the side--that had to be the airship that would get the astronauts. It's like this Navy tradition that somehow developed. Old 66 went out there and got them. The UDT sailors were already in the water. They are called Seals, now. They were called UDT, then, Underwater Demolition Team. They brought them aboard.

Old 66 came on and landed and then the door opens and the three of them come out and I thought, "Were they practicing this?" Because, I think it was Anders, Astronaut Anders, Air Force Colonel, I think, he came down 1 or 2 steps and then I can't remember exactly, but Borman and Lovell, they kind of stood up there. It was like the Iwo Jima picture. How can it be so posed? Like one was down one step and one was over here like this and one's like that. It was like this perfect picture of them coming out and everybody just roaring with applause. They came down and our Captain met him. I think it's a Navy tradition. You just don't come aboard a ship, you ask permission. I think that Capt. Lovell saluted Capt. Fifield and said, "Request permission to come aboard." Permission was granted and then they walked from there to Elevator Number, I think it was Elevator Number 3, and then they went down and they went to sick bay and then the President called and they talked to President Johnson on the telephone over some sort of radio connection. I thought that was kind of bizarre, kind of weird, because here we are, they had left their [capsule]. They really looked kind of scummy because they hadn't shaved or bathed. I thought, "This is kind of strange, you know." It's funny, you're right in the middle of history. You don't really think that. You are thinking something else and I'm thinking, "This is kind of odd " Here they are sitting on my Yorktown, my home, in my sick bay looking kind of scummy, wearing pajamas, talking to the President of the United States, my Commander-in-Chief. In the service, as a civilian, you look at the President as somebody you elect or don't elect. But, as a sailor or a Marine or a soldier, you look at the President as being your boss. He's actually the highest officer. You know, you have your chief and your lieutenant and your captain. Chief of Naval Operations, you know, Secretary of Defense, and the President. He's just one of them. I'm thinking, "This is really of odd." What did we do next?

So, they got new clothes. The thing I noticed about them is they were just 3 of the nicest guys. I remember they went up to a buddy of mine, a Marine, who was assigned to follow them and guard them--I don't know from what--but Capt. Lovell came up to him and said, "Sorry that you missed your Christmas." The Marine said, "What a great privilege it is to be here." That goes back to what I was telling you about Christmas. Christmas is just another day. If you didn't tell me it was Christmas, you could tell me a week later and say, "You know we had Christmas last week?" I would say, "Oh, really? Fine. Did I get a candy cane or something?" But, they would, they constantly just walked around. They went up to us and shook our hands and asked us about where we were from. They were just a great bunch of guys. The thing about being a photographer, I'd been in every--we had a thing we called a cruise book which means we put together a book of, basically we were out to sea for 6-8 months--we put together a bunch of pictures and individual pictures of each other and pictures of our divisions at work. So, I liked doing that because I was sent to every division on the ship and I got to see everybody and I got to meet everybody. I got to know the Marines. We had a Marine detachment. So, what they had done was they took the capsule when it came back to earth, then they had a heat shield on the bottom of it. So, as it encountered the atmosphere, then it would burn off and thus the astronauts would survive the intense heat. What was left behind were fragments of the heat shield that was still connected to the capsule. It was just burnt off. So, I went to, they put ropes up around--a parameter around the capsule. We tied it down just like it was another aircraft. This aircraft that had gone to the moon and back. It was just another aircraft to us. We tied it down as we usually do and then the Captain put a Marine to guard it 24 hours a day, which didn't mean anything because the Marine wasn't a Marine to me. The Marine was a buddy of mine.

So, I went up to him and I said, "You know, it would really be nice, Mike"--I forgot his name--"if you would go up there and just rip off a part of that heat shield and give it to me." He goes, "Yeah. Why not." So, he just went up there and he ripped off a part of the heat shield and gave it to me. It was like golden foil and there's also a little bit of a screw that was attached to it. I go, "That's kind of cool." So, I kept it for years and years and years in a box. Then, I found out later that the Yorktown became a museum. It's in Charleston, South Carolina harbor. I said, "Would you like to have this?" They said, "Yeah." So, based on--that's like one of the center pieces of their whole exhibit. They took part of the hangar deck and I had a picture that was set in a box that had the UDT guys. They had the UDT guys in the foreground and their raft. Then, you had the capsule floating. Then, you had the Yorktown coming towards you in the background. So, I had an 11 X14 black and white picture of that and I gave that to the Yorktown Museum and I gave that gold piece of the heat shield to the Yorktown Museum. Then, I see what they have done with that little picture I gave them, they made that picture as big as the side of a building and they took that foil and they put it into a case that says, "Property of Dan Bernath" you know, "on loan from". All those pictures I gave them that I took and my shipmates took, they just made this huge display. Then, a school, a trade school in the area made an exact duplicate of the Apollo 8 Capsule. I'm thinking, "Gee, if you guys had only asked, I'd have given it to you a lot sooner. I didn't know it was history sitting in my closet here. So, you can have it." Now, I'm told that 600,000 people a year visit that and look at those pictures. A friend of mine says, "I visited the Yorktown. I saw your name there on the exhibit.

Like I'm saying, when you are 17 or 18 or 19, you don't know that all this stuff is happening. It's interesting that, when I finally got back to Detroit, my hometown, then it was like, if I did mention that I'd been on the Apollo 8 recovery, no one would've cared because it was old news. That's kind of amusing. It's kind of like, "So, what else is new? What have you done, lately? The Captain [*Fifield] realized, or he may have been under orders to get them back as soon as possible. I think the President wanted to see them right away. So, he ordered that all of our boilers be fired up which meant we could do flank speed back to Hawaii. So, we're doing just--they call them 8 boiler Fifield which is what the press called them--because we were just hauling ass getting to within range of Hawaii. I think they'd taken urine samples from the astronauts and other samples, medical samples. Of course, they couldn't wait to get this. What they had to do, it was like a James Bond movie. They took--they put the samples into a box of some type and then they hoisted it in the weather balloon high above the Yorktown and then this huge plane came by with what looked like a cow-catcher on it and it snatched the thing and flew off to Hawaii while they reeled this box in. Everything was just beyond description. Everything was over the top. NASA came aboard and they had their own photographer. Our equipment, I was used to using speed graphics that they had bought during WWII with negative this big and all that and sometimes we'd have a *Rolleflex film, *4 X 5 inches, you know, the negatives were this big. But, NASA came aboard and their photographer had the highest quality Hasselblad equipment, you know. I'm like, "Don't you work for the same Uncle Sam that I do? Why do you have all this Hasselblad stuff when we're using WWII stuff?" "Well, we're NASA. We're the sweetheart agency. You're just the Navy." So, we're going back to, we're close enough to Hawaii that they're going to be flown off to great ticker tape parade on Broadway in New York City. They're going to go see the President. They're going to give a speech at the United Nations. So, we get close enough and the way an aircraft carrier works is that, to get enough speed to actually leave the ship, you have to attach the aircraft to a catapult.

So, this is standard procedure ever since the Korean War. You go from zero to 120 mph in 3 or 4 seconds and then you're airborne. Then, you fly back to Hawaii. So, the astronauts are getting ready to go and one of the COD pilots--gee, what does COD stand for? Carrier Onboard Delivery pilots. He's talking to the astronauts. One of the astronauts says to him, "Gee, I don't know. We're getting launched off an aircraft carrier, go from zero to 125 mph." He says, "Sir, respectfully. What are you talking about? You just went to the moon and back. This should be quite easy for you." They laughed and then the astronauts got onboard and they flew off and then they went off, you know, and they met President Johnson, also President Nixon because it was right at the time that Nixon was taking power. So, that was the last I heard from them. A friend of mine, one of the Marines that was guarding him, he went to go see Capt. Lovell who runs a restaurant north of Chicago with his son. He's got a mural of Apollo or whatever. So, he went to go see him and he is still alive and he's just the most charming guy. He says, "Capt. Lovell, I'm Corporal Corpoza [sp]. I met you on the Yorktown. I guarded you on the Yorktown after you got off Apollo 8." If you know anything about history, Capt. Lovell was the one who was on Apollo 8 and he also stepped on the moon. He was also the commander on Apollo 13 that they made that movie about. Tom Hanks played him. It was the one where they almost died. He says, "Remember Apollo 8?" Capt. Lovell says, "No, which one was that? I get them mixed up in my mind. Which one?" The guy has done so much. He said, "It's the one where you were at the moon at Christmas and came back." He said, "Oh, that one. OK, I remember that one. The Christmas one." That is about it.

Lindy Hughes:

Were you able to keep any of the photos that you took personally or you took photos and then turned them over to the Navy?

Daniel Bernath:

We took pictures and we gave them all to the Navy. They went to a place called the Navy Retention Center in Washington. They would then distribute them to the press. I kept some copies, but then when I found out there was a Yorktown Museum, then I gave it all to them. So, if you go to the USS Yorktown at Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, then on the hangar deck you'll see my pictures that I took plus pictures by Chief Milt Putnam, because we went there in 2001 after the attack of 9/11 and we looked at all the pictures that were up there and we figured that 90 percent of the pictures that were up there were pictures that either he did or I did. So, you know, it's interesting in that, as I said, when it was happening it was just another job and then you just forgot about it. So many people say Apollo 8 was so much more significant than even the first landing on the moon. It was anti-climatic to0, because they pushed it. They made it happen sooner than they were really ready because they wanted to beat the Russians and they were willing to take the risk.

Lindy Hughes:

Do you remember the last day of your military service? What was that like?

Daniel Bernath:

Yeah. I remember a First Class Petty Officer yelled at me. Let's see. These funny things. I was really sick. I had mononucleosis and I had a temperature and my face was red and I was sicker than a dog. I knew if I told them, they wouldn't let me leave. They'd say, "Well, you have to stay until we cure you."

Daniel Bernath:

I wanted to go. So, I showed up at sick bay redder than a beet and somehow bluffed my way through a physical. I don't know how, but they said, "OK, fine. You're healthy." When you're being discharged, the Navy will put your papers into a white envelope that says, "Department of the Navy" and it's white. [*lt was only used for holding discharge papers.] So, if you see anybody walking around in those days with a white envelope, then you're going, "Shit. He's getting out." So, I know a Lt. (JG). I forget his name. I think I just got my discharge papers and they tell you, "We gave you your discharge papers, but you're in the United States Navy until midnight tonight. So, don't fuck up." I don't know why. Because I guess they think you are in uniform, you are going to do something like you're going to-l don't know what you're going to do--you're going to leave the ship, you're going to do something. So, you're in the Navy until midnight. So, I got this white envelope and there's a Lt. (JG) I knew and he sees it, he goes, "Shit," he says, "You're leaving?" I said, "Today, I'm leaving and I out rank you because today I'm a civilian and you're just a lieutenant, junior grade." He goes, "Give me that envelope." He takes it and he writes--because you heard about chicken shit, right? He goes, "Give me that thing." He takes his pen out and he goes, "Very good." Then, he goes, "This is better than very good. Very good and a star." He prints a star and he gives it back to me. He walks off fuming that I'm leaving and he's staying.

So, a buddy of mine was going to give me a ride to the airport or something. He was on the ship still and I was off the ship. It was in May and it was hot. The Navy uniform is extremely tight. I mean, it's tight, very tight, you know, and it's made of wool. So, what sailors will do sometimes, is on their own they'll go to a tailor and they'll have a zipper put in here [*the side of the jumper].

That's so you can get in and out of it because you can't really get in and out of it doing the way you're suppose to which is over your head. So, I had that zipper put in like most sailors did. So, I'm standing there by the gang plank, at the bottom of the Yorktown. I'm off the Yorktown. I had my white envelope in my hand which is like advertising to everybody, "He's leaving, today. He's leaving, today." It's hot. So, I unzip it. Sometimes you do this when you're like on the ship and you're like, "It's hot. It's tight." You just unzip it and you're like you're unzipped. Underneath is your white T- shirt. So, a First Class Petty Officer came up to me and ordered me to zip it up, you know, "Zip up your uniform." I'm obviously, I've got minutes left to go in the Navy--hours to go. Guys are walking by me and going, "What a chicken shit outfit. The guy's out of the Navy and he's getting orders." So, I'm thinking, what do I do? Do I tell him to "bite me" or do I zip it up? I'm in the Navy until midnight. So OK, there you go- zipping myself up and back to being a boot, a recruit, you know. Perfect uniform. That was the last day.

Lindy Hughes:

That was the last day. Then, on a plane and back.

Daniel Bernath:

Back to Detroit, yeah.

Lindy Hughes:

So, your career after the war.

Daniel Bernath:

My Mother kept saying that, "You should go into the Navy Reserve." I thought, "I can't do that. They might call me back into service. That was like my biggest fear was they would call me back." My Dad used to say that during the Korean War that people came up to my Dad and said, "Hey, you should go into the Army Reserve. They give you 50 dollars a month and all you do is show up for a drill once a month." He said, "No. No. No. I've had enough of the Army." Then, suddenly the Korean War broke out and ail of these Army Reservists were suddenly active duty Army. They're coming to him, "What do I do, Irving? What do I do?" He said, "You shouldn't have stayed in the Army." So, I resisted the temptation to stay in the Navy Reserve. Dale Potts, you met him. He stayed in the Navy Reserve 30 years and made it to Captain. I knew him when he was an Ensign. So, I got out and I went to college and then I became a news reporter on radio stations. I worked in Detroit and then St. Louis, New York City, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, New Orleans, back to New York. It's a very volatile business. It's non- existent, now. There's really no radio news, but then there was no media concentration like there is now. So, I said, "Look." I got tired of being fired because you worked at big stations and they hired and fired people all the time. So I said I was impressed by the lawyers because they seemed to have swagger and penuche and they don't get fired and they work for themselves. So then, I went to Law School. After 2 years of that, then I became a lawyer in Los Angeles and then came up here [Portland, OR.]. And you know, I felt burn out for a while and I stopped practicing for about 10 years and was a photographer. I've just gotten back into practicing law again about a year and a half, two years back into doing it.

Lindy Hughes:

Is there anything else you'd like to share, today?

Daniel Bernath:

No, that's about, that's my [story].

Lindy Hughes:

All right. Well, we want to thank you very much for a great interview. That was great and oh my gosh you have some great stories. Serious and hilarious, too.

Daniel Bernath:

Oh really?

Lindy Hughes:

Yeah. I just love it because you're candid and you know you're not afraid of the camera. That's great, the Apollo thing. My Dad was a harbor master at Pearl Harbor for 35 years. So, I'm trying to think if I've ever seen the Yorktown. I'll have to, if I ever go to, is it South Carolina?

Daniel Bernath:

Yeah, Charleston harbor.

Lindy Hughes:

I'll have to make it a point to see that. I remember the Enterprise when that came in. My Dad would always bring me to work. He said, "I'm going to show you a really big aircraft carrier." I was really young, then. So, it just seemed like, I don't know, bigger than King Kong, you know.

Daniel Bernath:

That's small now compared to the Nimitz Class Carriers.

Lindy Hughes:

Oh, man.

Daniel Bernath:

We can project power anywhere we need to. One of the true questions is who said, "Where are my aircraft carriers?" Every president since Theodore Roosevelt "Where are my aircraft carriers?"

Daniel Bernath:

If there was a crisis he goes, "Where are my aircraft carriers?" That's the first thing they do. You think, "Well, gee, they look like they are so easy to blow up, but they've always been the key, the first instrument the president uses."

Lindy Hughes:

My Mom worked at Pearl Harbor, too, in the Naval Supply Center. [End of Transcript]

 
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