Beats sitting behind a desk: Destin vet patrolled “where all the bad guys” were

Retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Dave Adams holds a patrol squadron VP-40 yearbook. The portrait is of him as the unit’s command master chief. Also pictured is Adams’s flight suit nametag.

He patrolled land and sea in turbulent South Asia during the Cold War. He served two combat tours aboard aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ranger in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War.

He retired from the Navy in 1987 with the elite rate of master chief petty officer.

Dave Adams of Destin tends to downplay his status as a veteran, saying many others had it tougher. He adds that he chose to serve, which meant doing whatever job was assigned to the best of his ability.

Among the tasks he relished most were those that involved flying, even if it was as a GIBB — Guy in the Back of the Bus.

“I thought it would be real exciting to be naval aircrew. I thought it would be real fun,” said Adams, who then paused and added dryly with a grin. “Oh, wait. There was also the flight pay.”

Starting early in his Navy career, Adams flew with patrol squadron VP-4, which operated twin-engine P2V-7s. Adams was a radioman and his aircraft fitted with radar and antisubmarine warfare equipment. It also collected signals intelligence.

Patrols covered a broad swath of South Asia waters, including the Formosa Strait, where communist and nationalist Chinese faced off across the narrow sea lane.

Adams also patrolled off the coasts of the Korean peninsula, China and Russia, or the places “where all the bad guys are.”

He added that operating in this theater of vast distances meant that, “We landed low on fuel a lot. We pretty much never had a day off.”

Though often flying close to hostile or war-riddled countries, one of the most dangerous moments for the retired noncommissioned officer was a friendly fire incident during an operational training mission involving an allied warship.

Adams was aircrew aboard a utility squadron VU-1 S-2 aircraft towing an aerial target. The warship, it was British or Australian, mistook the S-2 for the target and opened fire with practice rounds.

“They locked on us instead of the target,” he explained. “The target was two miles behind.”

As the aircraft shook from the turbulence caused by detonating projectiles, the pilot calmly reported that the warship was shooting at his tow plane. The response was akin to, “Sorry about that, mate.”

After his VU-1 tour, Adams would serve two, nine-month Vietnam combat deployments aboard Ranger. He was attached to F-4 fighter squadron VF-154, maintaining electronics.

Ranger would alternate daytime and nighttime flight operations with another aircraft carrier, which also was stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Adams recalled many facts about his Ranger tours, but started by making an observation.

The Destin man said bombs to be used in strikes against North Vietnamese targets were constantly being brought aboard the aircraft carrier.

“I can’t believe we didn’t win that war, with all the bombs we dropped on those people,” he added.

His duty days aboard the warship were 12 hours, more often than not stretching to 14. He had two sets of uniforms, one to be used during and some time after a Ranger tour because he would shed 30 pounds while aboard the vessel.

For awhile, Adams also served with an F-4 fleet replacement squadron but returned to electronics school to prepare for the chief petty officer qualification test.

His next airframe was the P-3, a four-engine surveillance and antisubmarine warfare platform with a pressurized cabin. The cabin allowed the P-3 to fly higher by keeping air pressure at a comfortable level for the aircrew. The higher flying airplane — which Adams never called a spy plane — also could monitor more territory.

It was with P-3 squadron VP-40 based in Japan that Adams reached what he described as the highlight of his career, command master chief in charge of 350 enlisted personnel.

Though he described the job, with a grin, as “babysitting,” Adams was proud of the accomplishment.

Eventually, he encountered the inevitable, a tour at the Pentagon.

Adams’s job was enlisted assignment officer. If that duty had one advantage, it was this: Adams was able to assign himself with little trouble to the U.S. Naval Academy when its commandant asked him to serve as a brigade master chief.

Adams relished his 26 years in the Navy.

“You get to really enjoy the work,” he said. “It’s rewarding. It’s exciting. It beats sitting behind a desk.”