|By late 1973 America's ground troops had left South Vietnam, leaving only a handful of US personnel behind. But the South China Sea was still owned by the US Navy and its carrier battle groups, which continued to patrol the coastal waters of Vietnam and the Tonkin Gulf. Just over the horizon, Vietnamese were still dying. Caught in the restlessness of being in neither war nor peace, missions were flown, sorties counted, bombs loaded and missiles and rockets armed. Hurry up and wait. The saga of Vietnam was not over yet, and as America strained to put the war behind, the sailors and Marines of Task Force 77, known as the "Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club," continued their vigilance. Wedged between the ennui of withdrawal from Vietnam and confrontations with the Soviets in the Cold War, Task Force 77 faithfully plied the green waters of the South China Sea.
The situation was best summed up by a popular phrase from that war: "If you're not confused, you don't understand the situation."
Jeff Manthos was a Helicopter Aircrewman during this period, deployed on Forrestal class super carriers in the South China Sea, Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. The flight deck was the center of activity for him and the rest of the Air Wing. Given rare time off from long hard days of flight operations at sea, air crews and sailors would congregate on the flight deck for sun and relaxation. As a result, the flight deck was affectionately called "Steel Beach."