Arranging a Bennington Homecoming

Bob Vollum

The Bennington was my first duty station after graduation from Supply School in early 1956. I chased it all over the Pacific until I finally caught up with it in Yokosuka, Japan. By then, it was about half-way through its first WESTPAC cruise, after having been redeployed from the East Coast to the Pacific Fleet via Cape Horn.

As has been noted by others, one of its boilers broke apart in late April, 1953, shortly before our 2nd Class cruise, killing 11 and injuring a few more. Apparently, there was a string of other accidents also, and in late May of 1954, one of the catapults exploded. More than 100 were killed and another 200 or so were injured. Most of those killed were officers having breakfast in the wardroom. As bad as those numbers were, speculation was that a few minutes in either direction would have caused and even bigger loss, as it happened between two major mess seatings.

Following the cat explosion, the Bennington was the first carrier to receive the “C” conversion-hurricane bow, angled deck, and steam catapults. When it was ready to rejoin the fleet, the thought was that a change of coasts, back to where it had served with distinction in WWII would give it a fresh start and maybe a change of luck. The Navy threw a going away party for it in Norfolk with Marilyn Monroe there to kiss the boys goodbye.

On the way home, a plan was put together to throw an arrival bash when the “Benny” arrived at its new berth at NAS North Island on Coronado Island in San Diego Bay. The two most expendable officers, the ship’s dentist and the new “George” boot Aviation Stores Officer, Ensign Vollum, were flown ahead from Hawaii to Hollywood with instructions to arrange a world-class wing-ding. As I remember, the only explicit instructions was we had no budget, so everything had to be either donated or “cumshaw”, and that we had to be sure to get Marilyn again! We had two weeks to make it happen. They had to be two unforgettable weeks, with Public Affairs, the various movie studios, and the musicians union actually doing all the work. And we got it all done—except the MM part. She was on location and not available!