STATEMENT OF JOHN WARREN WHITE ON GULF OF TONKIN RESOLUTION HEARINGS
Chairman is Senator J. William Fulbright (D-Arkansas)
January 10, 1968
Mr. WHITE. My name is John Warren White. I live at ødeleted¿ Connecticut.
The CHAIRMAN. Where were you born, Mr. White?
Mr. WHITE. I was born in New York City. Do you want other biographical information?
The CHAIRMAN. Just a little. You were in the Navy?
Mr. WHITE. Yes.
The CHAIRMAN. Where did you go to school, and when you were in the Navy, and just tell us briefly. Mr. WHITE. I am 28 years old. I was educated at Dartmouth College from which I graduated in 1961. I attended Dartmouth on an ROTC scholarship, so right after graduation I went into the Navy for four years active duty, and then I had two years Reserve time. I am now working as a high school teacher of English in Cheshire.
The CHAIRMAN. You entered the Navy in 1961?
Mr. WHITE. Right, active duty. I entered in 1957 when I signed into the ROTC program.
The CHAIRMAN. Active duty in 1961.
Mr. WHITE. Right.
The CHAIRMAN. How were you assigned, what happened?
Mr. WHITE. I was first assigned aboard a destroyer in Newport, Rhode Island, as, well, working in a number of positions, primarily anti-submarine warfare and gunnery, although the following year I also branched into nuclear weaponry, and so for the last three years of my active naval experience I was active in anti-submarine warfare and nuclear weaponry.
The CHAIRMAN. When did you leave the Navy?
Mr. WHITE. I was released from active duty in June of 1965.
The CHAIRMAN. 1965.
Mr. WHITE. However, I still had Reserve time to fulfill my six-year obligation.
The CHAIRMAN. I see.
Mr. WHITE. I have resigned my commission now.
The CHAIRMAN. Were you at any time in the Tonkin Gulf?
Mr. WHITE. No. At no time was I directly involved in the events at Tonkin on August 2 or 4.
The CHAIRMAN. What was the Pine Island?
Mr. WHITE. A seaplane tender which is a pretty large ship, about 600 feet long, and we were the flagship for an admiral who wore several hats. Our primary duty was to provide a base of operations and repairs for seaplanes.
The CHAIRMAN. And you were on the Pine Island?
Mr. WHITE. That is right.
The CHAIRMAN. But it did not go into the Gulf of Tonkin?
Mr. WHITE. That is correct.
The CHAIRMAN. Where did it go?
Mr. WHITE. On August—well, during the Tonkin events we were located at Iwakuni, Japan, which is in the south part of the main Island of Honshu. At that time when radio messages indicated a possible state of war impending, we immediately switched into a state of greater readiness, got under way [deleted] then proceeded to Danang, South Vietnam, and we arrived there on August 15.
The CHAIRMAN. August 15. How did you get to Danang without going through the Tonkin Gulf?
Mr. WHITE. Senator, Tonkin Gulf is north of the——
The CHAIRMAN. 17th Parallel?
Mr. WHITE. Well, I believe this is, Tonkin is located between an island and the mainland, and Danang is located to the south of this island which, as I understand it——
The CHAIRMAN. You mean the Island of Hainan, is that what you are calling it?
Mr. WHITE. I believe so.
The CHAIRMAN. What do you know, if anything, about the incident of in August, between the Turner Joy and the Maddox?
CLASSIFIED RADIO MESSAGES
Mr. WHITE. I should say that whatever I could say would be limited just to the events of August 4. My knowledge of the first one, although there has been publicly acknowledged by North Vietnam, from just what I have read in the papers——
The CHAIRMAN. Yes.
Mr. WHITE [continuing.] Concerning those events on August 4, Senator, I had access to the classified radio messages which were sent by those destroyers in the performance of my duties on the Pine Island. I had to read secret messages. These radio reports were classified Secret, and in reading my own messages pertaining to my duties, I did read some of the messages sent by the destroyers which we monitored.
The CHAIRMAN. Yes.
Mr. WHITE. These messages indicated, and here I am giving Secret information——
The CHAIRMAN. Yes.
Mr. WHITE. Is this permissible?
The CHAIRMAN. Yes. This committee receives Secret information.
Mr. WHITE. The messages indicated very large numbers of torpedoes being fired at the ship. The first messages indicated this, and the number, the figure, that I recall, is 34. I could be wrong in this. I would be on firmer ground just to say a significantly large number of torpedoes, 30 or more, and then several hours later a message came from a destroyers, and I cannot identify which one, indicating possibly no torpedo attack at all; that the torpedoes earlier reported might simply have been a mistake on the part of the destroyer sending the message.
I believe the words that I recall at—I cannot say with accuracy what the words were, just generally indicating the possibility that there was no attack.
The CHAIRMAN. Well, where were you, I mean did you receive these messages while you were in Subic Bay, the Pine Island was in Subic Bay?
Mr. WHITE. I do not recall, Senator.
The CHAIRMAN. But you received them while you were—what were your duties while on the Pine Island?
Mr. WHITE. My position was called nuclear weapons officer, and by that I had—I mean to say I was responsible for the training and readiness of what were called the special weapons.
The CHAIRMAN. How did you happen to see these communications?
Mr. WHITE. Well, all secret radio messages are contained on one message board which an enlisted man routes to various officers on the ship, containing, and the board contains all kinds of messages.
The CHAIRMAN. I see.
Mr. WHITE. So some pertained to me, and in looking through them I did see these other messages.
The CHAIRMAN. And the first ones indicated, this was on August 4, that there were a number of torpedoes, and then subsequently— this was on the evening of the 4th, was it not?
Mr. WHITE. I do not recall the time of the message.
The CHAIRMAN. That is when the attack was supposed to have taken place.
Mr. WHITE. So I understand.
The CHAIRMAN. And then subsequent messages indicated it may have been a mistake?
Mr. WHITE. Correct.
CONVERSATION WITH MADDOX CREW MEMBER
Mr. CHAIRMAN. Did you ever talk to anyone who actually was on the Maddox or the Turner Joy?
Mr. WHITE. Yes, I did.
The CHAIRMAN. Who?
Mr. WHITE. I talked to a sailor in Longbeach Naval Shipyard in March of—let me make that February or March of 1965. I do not recall the exact time, but it was about six months after the Tonkin events.
This man was dressed in a chief petty officer’s uniform. I met him just by chance as I was walking through the shipyard one day toward the main gate. As I turned a corner or rather as he turned a corner, we met. We proceeded toward the main gate together, and as we walked along we talked. I do not recall what his name was, and I am not certain that I really did know his name. In other words, we might not have exchanged names, we just kind of made small talk as we walked along.
But in the course of our conversation he indicated to me that he was on-board the Maddox, and he told me he was a sonar man, so he would have been a chief petty officer sonar man aboard the U.S.S. Maddox.
He also told me that he had been in sonar, in the sonar room during an attack. Now, I say an attack because I am not certain which he was talking about. I can only assume, surmise, that it was the August 4 events that he refers to, since there is no doubt about the first one.
All right. He told me he was in sonar during the attack, and that his duty during the general quarters condition onboard the ship during an experience such as that would be to evaluate the visual presentation on a sonar scope, which he said he did, and on the basis of his experience and what he saw on that scope at that time, he said there were no torpedoes being fired at the ship. This is the evaluation that he made during the attack, and he said he reported this to the bridge, and so that the commanding officer of the Mad- dox would have received a report from his experienced sonar man saying there are no torpedoes in the water.
I do not know if anything appeared on the scope or if something did it would have been evaluated as simply a false image, but this is just guesswork on my part. I do not know what he saw.
The CHAIRMAN. But he said he did not see anything.
Mr. WHITE. He said there were no torpedoes, he evaluated the whole picture as no torpedoes.
Senator HICKENLOOPER. Did that appear to you as rather peculiar that an utter chance acquaintance, just one sailor to another on the street, that he would divulge all that information to you within a few minutes?
Mr. WHITE. Yes—— The CHAIRMAN. Were you in uniform, too?
Mr. WHITE. Oh, yes, I was a lieutenant, junior grade. The CHAIRMAN. You were still on active duty?
Mr. WHITE. No, sir; I have resigned my commission.
Mr. MARCY. Then.
The CHAIRMAN. Then, at that time.
Mr. WHITE. I was on active duty, right. My ship was at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard. I have learned since from newspaper paper accounts that the Maddox and Turner Joy were there also at this time on return from Vietnam. But in answer to your question, Senator, yes, it is a little improbable if you are not in the context of the immediate situation. But two sailors in uniform, walking along together for ten or fifteen minutes in a situation such as I described it, would be quite natural to talk about events, especially the more recent exciting events of one’s life. If I could offer——
Senator HICKENLOOPER. No wonder the Russians find out every- thing we do with those kinds of loose lips we have around the armed services.
Mr. WHITE. One other thing, too, that I might mention, and this is just an evaluation of the whole experience. It seemed to me though that he was a little, I use the word ‘‘miffed,’’ that his professional judgment had been doubted by the commanding officer. In other words, the tone of voice, the attitude, was one of——
Senator HICKENLOOPER. Isn’t that occasionally the attitude of subordinates in almost any branch of the service, the old man doesn’t know a damned thing?
Mr. WHITE. It could be, yes, except——
Senator HICKENLOOPER. Not all. I think that gets out and about once in a while——
Mr. WHITE. This man had several what are called hash marks, I believe, on his uniform.
The CHAIRMAN. What is that?
Mr. WHITE. A gold stripe on the arm indicating four years of service, so he would have been an experienced petty officer.
Senator HICKENLOOPER. That is why it was rather surprising that he would talk.
The CHAIRMAN. He was, was he, a regular Navy man as far as you know?
Mr. WHITE. I would assume so, yes.
The CHAIRMAN. Bill, do you have any questions?
Mr. BADER. No, sir.
STEVENSON MADE SPECIFIC ACCUSATIONS
Senator HICKENLOOPER. Have you read the statement of Adlai Stevenson before the Security Council?
Mr. WHITE. No. Senator, I have not.
Senator HICKENLOOPER. Well, the reason I asked that is because he is so specific—of course, everyone realizes he was not there, and he had to get this information from some place else, but he makes these positive statements, and this is after a considerable period of time, and I mean in some detail about machine gun fire.
Mr. WHITE. Is this on August 2 or August 4?
Senator HICKENLOOPER. On August 2, machine gun fire on August 2 he talks about:Two of the attacking craft fired torpedoes which the Maddox evaded by changing course. All three attacking vessels directed machine gun fire at the Maddox. Now, it is the August 4 incident you have been talking about?
Mr. WHITE. That is correct.
Senator HICKENLOOPER. Correct. It is not the 2nd.
The CHAIRMAN. It was the 4th.
Senator HICKENLOOPER. It would seem to me it would have been very difficult to be terribly mistaken that vessels change course to avoid torpedoes, that would be pretty evident if they did, but that referred to the 2nd, the incident of the 2nd, not the 4th necessarily.
The incident on, the 4th, according to his statement before the United Nations, was that: At 2:35 p.m., August 4, when it was nighttime in the Gulf of Tonkin, the Destroyers Maddox and the C. Turner Joy were again subject to an armed attack by an undetermined number of torpedo boats of the North Vietnamese Navy. At this time the American vessels were sixty-five miles from shore, twice as far out on the high seas as on the occasion of the previous attack. At this time numerous torpedoes were fired. The attack lasted for over two hours.
NOT A SHADOW OF A DOUBT
Those are some pretty positive statements by a person in the echelon of national representation that Adlai Stevenson had at the United Nations.
Mr. WHITE. Did you say pretty positive or preposterous?
Senator HICKENLOOPER. No, I said pretty positive, very positive. I said that as alliteration. That is not very helpful and under- standing in my speech. It is a positive statement or they are positive statements. He said: There no longer could be any shadow of doubt that this was planned, deliberate military aggression against vessels lawfully present in international waters, and so on.
That is one of the things that, I think, has concerned us, which is the definite and detailed statements which were presented to an international body based not upon his knowledge, of course, but upon the reports and the information coming from out there.
I understand you are repeating what you were told, I mean, you are repeating what this man alleged to you.
Mr. WHITE. That is correct.
Senator HICKENLOOPER. So it is not your statement. But I always take with a grain of salt—I should not say that, but a little more requirement of proof about some of the skuttlebut that goes on in the off-hours or when people are reminiscing about some of their experiences as to how many times they were shot at.
Mr. WHITE. I understand. The significance of what I had to say, if it is significant at all, is that the man who told me this, claiming he was a chief petty officer, chief sonar man on the Maddox, if it is so he would have been the most knowledgeable in that whole situation.
Senator HICKENLOOPER. Well, he would, without doubt, if he were genuine—without doubt he would have been in a position to have observed what or heard what the sonar reported, and should have been in the position to interpret it.
Mr. WHITE. Yes.
Senator HICKENLOOPER. There is no question about that. But I take it that he would not necessarily be the sole recipient of all of the information that went to make a decision here.
Mr. WHITE. Oh no, no. I could not claim that, but concerning the presence or absence of torpedoes in the water, the chief sonar man in sonar during the attack is the one in the best position to know.
Senator HICKENLOOPER. I do not disagree with you on that at all. It is a rather interesting thing. Of course, we are dealing with, almost with a ghost here. You do not know who that man is, where he is now.
Mr. WHITE. Correct.
Senator HICKENLOOPER. You do not know anything about him. So——
IDENTIFYING THE INFORMANT
The CHAIRMAN. Could you by chance describe him a bit?
Senator HICKENLOOPER. It is hearsay.
The CHAIRMAN. Was he an old man, a young man, middle-aged
or what? Can you remember that?
Mr. WHITE. Senator, I could only describe him in such general terms that it could apply to 10,000 petty officers in the Navy. Senator HICKENLOOPER. Do you think you could recognize him if
you saw him again?
Mr. WHITE. I seriously doubt it.
Mr. MARCY. If I showed you a list of the names of the sonar men,
I take it you would not recall his name?
The CHAIRMAN. How many sonar men would be on a boat like
Mr. WHITE. It varies depending on the mission of the ship, the needs of the service at the time, perhaps. There is a need for more sailors in a particular area of the world or particular fields so that they might not be up to their normal complement, but my experi- ence leads me to guess nine or ten, including a chief petty officer, several or I will say two——
The CHAIRMAN. Did you have sonar men on your boat?
Mr. WHITE. Not on the Pine Island, no. There was no sonar on the Pine Island. I saw a newspaper account in which it was reported that a third- class petty officer actually manning the sonar scope said there were torpedoes in the water. It is improper for a third-class to say something like that during a general quarters condition. It is not his duty or responsibility to make an evaluation like that. It is the responsibility of the sonar supervisor, who would be the chief petty officer or the ranking sonar man on-board.
The CHAIRMAN. Anything else?
Mr. BADER. No.
The CHAIRMAN. Carl?
Mr. MARCY. No.
Senator HICKENLOOPER. Nothing from me.
The CHAIRMAN. Anything further, Mr. White, you would like to say?
INTENTIONS BEHIND THE TESTIMONY
Mr. WHITE. Yes, sir; I do have to catch a plane. I would like to make a statement of my intentions underlying the letter which I wrote to the Register. I really did not know that it would have the widespread precipitating action that it did.
My intention, Senator, was to help you, if it could amount to that, because of your remark about the Gulf of Tonkin resolution replacing the Constitution is what really focused my feelings on the matter.
But I also want to say if in any way my brief experience several years ago has been colored or exaggerated or distorted because of my later developed opinions or beliefs, then I can only be publicly— make a public admission of my guilt in this matter because I think it is wrong for me to let the facts be distorted by my personal feelings, so I hope that I have recalled accurately everything in this matter.
The CHAIRMAN. Well, I think it is perfectly proper for you. You are a free American citizen. You are as interested in this business as, we are, and it is perfectly proper for you to say what you believe and what you think, so long as you tell the truth.
Mr. WHITE. Yes, but not to confuse the two.
The CHAIRMAN. Yes. Well, thank you very much.
Mr. WHITE. All right, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you for coming down.
Mr. WHITE. Thank you.
[Whereupon, at 4:00 p.m., the committee was adjourned.]