Korean war vet remembers time on USS Rochester, 'Grey Goast of the Coast'
HAMILTON, Ohio — From days of bombardments to nights of freezing weather, from secretive meetings to R&R; in exotic locations, Hamilton native Jeff Hubbard counts his four years fighting in the Korean War as the most satisfying and harrowing time of his life.
Hubbard served during the Korean War on the USS Rochester, nicknamed “The Grey Ghost of the Coast.” Nearly 60 years after the war ended, Hubbard has put his recollections of his time serving in the war on paper in a 35-page memoir.
“I didn’t want it to be about me,” Hubbard said. “I wanted it to be about the ship and all the people that were on it and everything we went through.”
Hubbard’s family had a long history of serving in the Navy, which was why he originally enlisted when war broke out between communist-backed North Korean forces and the western-backed South Koreans.
“Many people call the Korean War the ‘forgotten war,’ and I guess it is to a lot of people,” Hubbard said. “It got sandwiched between World War II and Vietnam in a lot of histories. But there were a lot of good men who fought and died in that war.”
Hubbard joined the Navy in March 1950 at the age of 18. He travelled from Cincinnati by train to San Diego, where he attended boot camp, then boarded three troop ships before catching up with the Rochester in Japan.
One of the ship’s most notable ventures was taking part in the landing at Inchon, a four-day invasion of the North Korean coast that was a massive victory for U.S. forces. But to get to the site, the Rochester first had to fight through a typhoon off the Japanese coast.
“The entire fleet was thrown together on the move,” Hubbard wrote. “The ship lurched and bucked under 90 knot winds and high seas that caved in the two forecastle gun tubs.”
Once the boat made the coast ,it had to move through a narrow channel, clearing the area of submerged mines in order for other boats to safely pass.
“Perhaps the biggest compliment we received was from a marine officer who said the troops were greatly impressed by our fire and if he could do anything about it ‘the Rochester would be called on in the future.’ Apparently, the feeling was mutual,” remembered Hubbard.
Hubbard said that as planning for the attack on Inchon drew near, more top commanders filled the ship, and mess halls and lounges were converted into make shift offices and strategy rooms.
“The crew’s lounge became the war room,” Hubbard wrote. “You couldn’t pass by it when the brain trusts were in session. The Warrant Officers mess disappeared and into this space tumbled 21 bunks and 18 ensigns.”
The Rochester was one of only two ships to be attacked by air assault during the Korean War.
“I was on watch that morning in gun mount 56. Gene Biber and I looked out the hatch and saw one of the planes flying from starboard to port…there were black puffs of smoke and shells were going off all around the planes.”
Hubbard said his crew was lucky because they had been placed on a station of relaxed readiness.
“Had we gone to General Quarters, our decks would have been full of people,” Hubbard remembered. “We were very lucky in a lot of ways. Every bomb they dropped but one missed the Rochester.”
The winter times were particularly brutal on the crew as temperatures plunged to well below zero. Men on night watch dressed in bundles to stave on frostbite, a luxury men fighting on land didn’t necessarily posses, Hubbard said.
“Considering the heat in the south, bitter cold in the north and months at sea, I remember my time on the Rochester, the places we went, the people we saw as the most interesting, exciting, intense, sometimes scary and productive years of my life. The life I enjoyed as a civilian never brought the thrill of accomplishment the Navy gave me,” Hubbard wrote
Hubbard said he isn’t sure what he will do with his finished memoirs.
“I just worried that if I didn’t get it down, someday the memories would be gone forever,” Hubbard said. “A lot of people don’t talk about the war. I had a best friend in Hamilton and I never knew he was a Korean War veteran until I saw it on his license plate one day. Maybe this is a way to get people to stop and think about the war.”
Hubbard spent four years on the boat, seeing much of the Far East and working missions. During one mission, he spent 81 days on the boat without setting foot on land. When the war ended, he returned home to Hamilton.
“Things had changed while I was away,” Hubbard wrote. “Most of my friends were married. The ones not married were still sitting in the same bars telling the same jokes. The only thing that didn’t change was my family.”
Hubbard took a job at Wilson Motor, where he worked for 40 years. He married Mary Jane and had three children. Mary Jane passed away in September of this year, which was one of the reasons Hubbard decided to finally share his story.
“Even though we would go to reunions, she was never comfortable,” Hubbard said. “She was younger than me and hadn’t really been a part of the Korean War effort so she didn’t understand it.”
Hubbard had started writing his memories down in 1978. He connected with another veteran of the Rochester named Joe West who was working on a similar project. He had also kept “cruise books” — year books made by the sailors about their exploits on the boat that helped him to recall his adventures.
In the early 2000s a lot of information about the Korean War and the Rochester’s exploits was declassified, allowing Hubbard to cross reference his memories and update his material.