Sid Bye recalls his days on board the USS America and his return to his hometown.

A Walk Down Memory Lane with Sid Bye

“I’m a shellback and a member of The Order of Magellan,” said Sid Bye, “but most people wouldn’t know what that means unless you’ve been in the Navy. It means that you’ve been around the world and crossed the equator. I did it twice.”

In September 1967, Sidney Nelson Bye joined the Navy. He was assigned to the USS America. The America was the fourth vessel to bear the name, but only the first warship to be commissioned into service. Bye was part of the division responsible for the operation and maintenance of the America. “The work was hard and the shifts were long. I worked from 4 AM to 8 PM, got eight hours off, and was back again at 4 AM.”

“Even though it was hard work, I’m so glad that I enlisted in the service,” said Bye. “We went all over the world and made stops in so many countries. I went to places like Hong Kong, Brazil, the Philippines, Japan, Manilla, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Greece, and Spain. They were great places, and some were just so beautiful. I would never have had the opportunity to travel like that and see all those countries.”

Sydney, Australia, was Bye’s favorite stop that the America made. “It was the only place people liked Americans. We stopped there for four days on the way home from Vietnam. The people loved us. They were so welcoming. Wherever you went, people wanted to talk to you. They’d buy you drinks, and they just wanted to talk. They liked to hear our accents. The city was beautiful and so were the people. I’d like to go back there someday,” he said. “It’s on my bucket list.”

“Things were heating up in the Middle East and in Vietnam. We were sent to Vietnam twice and provided military support in the Middle East, too. But I must say, I was lucky. We were never in a position in which we were being fired upon.” Being an aircraft carrier assigned to the Seventh Fleet, the America provided military support and served as a flight operations base for helicopters and fighter jets. It also served as a training facility for new Marine pilots who needed to learn and practice the techniques of landing their jets on the deck of a carrier.

“I loved to go up on the flight deck and watch the jets taking off and landing,” Bye said with a smile. “It was better than the Fourth of July!”

“One day, the new Marine pilots were on the flight deck for training. They were getting ready to take off and start the training when this one guy ejects himself out of his plane and splashes into the ocean. He had to be rescued by the helicopters that are kept in the air during the training just in case something happens and someone goes down,” Bye recalled.

“The pilot said he ejected because the ship pitched and he thought he was going to slide overboard in the plane. We all thought it was kind of funny because there’s very little pitch on an aircraft carrier. We were all used to its movement. We didn’t even notice it anymore,” he added.

Bye’s enlistment ended in November 1971. He took a position at the West Point Military Academy as a boiler mechanic but left after a year because he wanted to return home to East Hampton. He later landed a position as a boiler mechanic at the Montauk Air Force base for the 773rd Radar Squad. He also worked for the East Hampton Post Office as both a clerk and a letter carrier and is currently working with the Town Trustees providing pump-out services in Montauk.

In August 1979, Bye married his wife Pattie shortly after they met at a party. “I asked her to marry me after only six months,” he said. “I just knew it was right. We both knew.” Coming up on their 40th wedding anniversary, they both have a strong affiliation with the American Legion in Amagansett. Bye served as commander from 1990 to 1995 and Pattie was the president of the Ladies Auxiliary during that time as well.

During his time as commander, the American Legion underwent renovations and an expansion. “Everyone was a volunteer. They worked hard and people from all around the community donated the materials, supplies and even shrubs and refrigerators and all sorts of appliances to make it what it is today,” he said.

“The Gulf War was going on at that time. Patriotism was high. People wanted to help. It took time, but we got it done. It was a lot of work and I was always there working. I couldn’t ask someone to come and work if I wasn’t there doing the same. We made it what it is today. Now people rent out the hall to have parties and wedding receptions. We still have our area which is solely for our members so we always have a place even if something is going on in the hall,” said Bye.

Bye comes from a military family. His father was originally in the Coast Guard and enlisted in the Navy during World War II. “He was in the occupying fleet that went to Japan,” said Bye. Although Bye is the recipient of many a medal during his time in the service, he is most proud of his sons. “They’re good men. One served for 10 years in the Air Force, another served as a merchant marine, and another is an air traffic controller at LaGuardia Airport.”

Sitting on a stool at a table in the Legion’s lounge, Bye shrugged when asked if he had attended any USS America reunions. “We used to have reunions, but then they kind of stopped. No one organized them anymore. Every few years I get together with my friend, Tom Raum. We served together. We did everything together. We worked together, ate together, slept in the same quarters. We were at sea for months at a time,” he said. “When we were on leave, we’d go to Tom’s house and his poor wife would put up with us. She’d have 10 to 12 Navy guys who were maybe 18, 19, 20 years old who had been at sea for months. She was always nice and welcoming.”

“I remember one time,” he said with a huge smile, “my ex-wife was there with our son, Sid, Jr. He was just a baby. We opened one of the drawers in the chest of drawers and put some blankets in it and put my son in there to sleep while we all had a party. He slept through it. We had some great times.”

“Whenever I do get to see my friend Tom, it’s like no time has passed. It feels like I just saw him yesterday and the years have not passed between us. We just start talking and it’s like we didn’t skip a beat. It’s a friendship that has withstood the test of time.”

valerie@indyeastend.com