The ePilot

Serving Port Hueneme, Oxnard, and the World!
Vol. II, No. 20, October 2016

Norton Sound Memories

Norton Sound veteran Bill Stewart shares a laugh with Dr. Lu

Norton Sound veteran Bill Stewart shares a laugh with Dr. Luskin and Mayor (Ret.) Orvene Carpenter

From Seaman to Chancellor

Ventura County Community College District Chancellor Dr. Bernard Luskin recounted his career as a Yeoman on the USS Norton Sound AVM-1 as part of the Port Hueneme Historical Society Museum Distinguished Speakers Series.

With a history that began in the Pacific Theater of World War II, the Norton Sound was originally commissioned as a sea plane tender, became the first missile test ship, and finished her career as the Naval Defense Test Ship known as "The Galloping Ghost of the Hueneme Coast".

Remarking on the number of Norton Sound veterans in attendance, Dr. Luskin said, "I can't lie. Too many of you know the history."

Reporting aboard in 1956, Seaman Luskin was asked if he knew how to type. An affirmative answer resulted in his being appointed the Captain's Yeoman. Apart from being the "Captain's major go-fer," he recounted, "I was in charge of liberty chits — I was a big shot!"

In 1958 the Norton Sound set off for the South Atlantic on a mission that was so secretive that course was set around Cape Horn rather than through the Panama Canal. "Most of the crew had no idea what was going on," Dr. Luskin recalled.

The Argus mission was to complete the first launch of a nuclear missile from a ship at sea "in the history of the world." Although this has been described as "the most dangerous missile launch ever," to the young Yeoman it just "looked like a giant video game." "I thought it was just a game... I didn't know it was dangerous 'till I started researching this talk!" he exclaimed.

Yeoman Luskin's station during the launch was on the bridge of the Norton Sound wearing a headset and relaying communications from all of the Argus participants. While the official Navy film of the event "looked good, ... I heard what was going on. They fired 'em and prayed. They didn't know if they'd come back and hit us! Most of the officers went and hid," he recalled.

Operation Argus led to the discovery of the Van Allen Radiation Belt. Dr. Luskin called it "one of the greatest nuclear experiments ever." "The whole world changed in 1958 and the Norton Sound was right in the heart of it."

Lamenting that the ship was sold for scrap after her service as a Test Ship, Dr. Luskin said, "The Navy is not too smart some times. They took this iconic ship and made it into soup cans. The Norton Sound should be sitting in this harbor like the Midway in San Diego. It's as important as the Wright Brothers' airplane."

Marveling at his own career advancing from Seaman to Chancellor, Dr. Luskin credited an "arrogant Ensign" who berated him for his lack of education. "You ought to go to college," he was told. Taking the advice, he enrolled at Ventura College and spent the next 15 years attending classes while working part time. "I never missed a semester," he said. "I went to Ventura College and now I'm the Chancellor."

With 48,000 veterans in Ventura County, Dr. Luskin is working to establish a Veterans' Center in the Community College system. The "New GI Bill is changing the character of America," he said.

Recognizing the efforts of his students, he remarked, "There are a lot of people like me, except I'm the Chancellor." Appreciative of the success in his life he gave credit to his time in the Navy, "Being on the Norton Sound and the GI Bill changed my life."


Yeoman Luskin's service medals

Yeoman Luskin's service medals

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